After six weeks of sitting just outside the top eight the Penrith Panthers have put themselves back into the finals frame and with a month to go in the regular season former Knights premiership winner Danny Buderus believes they will shape the final make-up of the top eight.
Starting with the sixth-placed Cowboys this Saturday night at Pepper Stadium the Panthers play four teams all still fighting for a finals berth and could either crush their dreams or see their own hopes of a top eight finish fall by the wayside.
A win this week could see Penrith move as high as sixth on the ladder but a loss could see them again drop out of the top eight, a position of power that Buderus says they must take full advantage of.
"With a month left we're getting closer to the final makeup of the top eight," Buderus writes in the Round 23 issue of Big League.
"There are 32 games left in the regular season, but the run home that will cause the most intrigue is that of Penrith, who sit eighth on the ladder.
"They face the Cowboys (sixth), Raiders (10th), Dragons (ninth) and the Sea Eagles (seventh) in the remaining rounds – all contenders to either make it or keep their place in the top eight.
"The Panthers' destiny – and that of their rivals – is in their own hands, which is better than saying the 'mathematical chance' line that you often hear at this time of the year."
Predicting that teams will need at least 30 points to finish in the top eight this season, Buderus says that the win by the Raiders over Cronulla last weekend kept their season from being placed on life support and ensured the final four weeks will be full of plot twists.
"The Raiders' win over Cronulla last week made things really interesting," says Buderus.
"Everyone knew they had it in them and they've had the least amount of disruptions to their spine over the past two seasons, which has played together 37 times.
"If they can get some consistency in defence, look out.
"The Dragons might be in a free-fall but I believe they've got a little fire left in them.
"Usually 28 competition points is enough to get you in the finals, but this year it looks like it will be higher with the Cowboys and Sea Eagles already there, Penrith on 26 and the Dragons on 24.
"Last year the Titans slipped into the finals with 27 points and with a month left in 2016 they were already on 24.
"As we know, some teams fell down around them, so we can expect plenty of twists and turns to come from the rest of this season."
The Round 23 issue of Big League goes in-depth on how the Parramatta Eels won back the trust of their supporters, how his belief in the Storm kept Will Chambers in Melbourne, Rabbitohs tyro Angus Crichton vows to play through the pain, a special commemorative Paul Gallen poster and the top eight acts of sportsmanship. On sale now at newsagents, supermarkets, at the ground and via www.magsonline.com.au/big-league.