Stat Attack: History shows not too late for bottom eight to make finals
Not once in the past 10 years has the top eight after 14 rounds remained unchanged through to the finals and it is current bottom-eight hopefuls Canberra who most often make a habit of late-season surges.
In 2017, 2016, 2012 and 2011 there was one team who came from outside the top eight after 14 rounds to play in September while in the other six seasons from 2008 to 2015 there were two teams each year that forced their way in, according to NRL.com Stats.
Most of those years featured a big late surge from at least one side. The Raiders did it three times while the Cowboys, Warriors and Eels each produced two memorable runs over the back halves of seasons.
The 2008 Warriors (from round 18), 2009 Eels (Round 18), 2010 and 2012 Raiders (both round 21) and 2013 and 2014 Cowboys (rounds 21 and 17 respectively) were all in the bottom four when they began their late-season charge.
Looking both at this season and historically, the Raiders look the most likely to continue the trend in the 2018 Telstra Premiership.
They are currently two wins behind eighth-placed Brisbane but should be much higher up the ladder after throwing away three or four wins already this year with poor options late in games. The early return of Josh Hodgson from a knee reconstruction should hopefully help. Their crucial next four games are against sides just ahead of them or below them on the ladder and most of their remaining games look winnable. A trio of away trips to Cronulla, Melbourne and Penrith in rounds 19 to 21 will be very tough but seven wins from 11 games could get them there.
In 2012 a few early-season wins had them briefly in the eight at the start of the year before looking buried after winning just once between rounds six and 13. They went on to win nine of 12 including their last five straight to finish sixth.
In 2010 Canberra won just twice in the first seven rounds and were still three wins adrift of eighth after 17 rounds before winning eight of their last nine to scrape into seventh. They spent just two weeks all year in the top eight – rounds 25 and 26.
They narrowly beat Penrith in a qualifying final that year before losing a heart-stopping semi-final 26-24 to Wests Tigers with Jarrod Croker famously missing a late penalty goal to square things up.
The Green Machine also managed it in 2008. That year they were two wins behind eighth at the halfway mark before finishing with seven wins from nine games to climb to sixth. Canberra have been a confidence team for a long while and if they spark this year they are capable of forcing their way in.
The Cowboys also have form in this department so while most are writing off their chances following last week's dire loss to last-placed Parramatta, coach Paul Green has rung the changes in hopes of a repeat to 2013 and 2014.
In 2014 North Queensland won just two of their first seven but came home with a wet sail, winning seven of their last eight to go from two wins behind eighth after 17 rounds to finishing fifth. Just one year prior they were three wins outside the eight after 18 rounds having won just four of their first 13 before finishing with six wins on the bounce to scrape into eighth (although the less said about Sharks winger Beau Ryan's seventh-tackle try to knock them out the following week, the better).
They probably need to win eight of 10 and six of those 10 games are against current top-eight teams so there's no question they are up against it.
Of this year's teams just outside the eight, Wests Tigers and Newcastle aren't known for late-season surges but are definitely still in the mix. Of teams that have done it before, the Warriors are already in the eight while the Eels are coming from a very long way back but are no strangers to strong finishes.
Last year Parramatta won 11 from 13 from round 11 on to finish fourth after being outside the eight in round 15, and who could forget their stunning Jarryd Hayne-inspired run in 2009 which featured seven straight wins.
The Eels would need an incredibly unlikely nine wins from 10 games from here to have a chance this year, however every team remains a mathematical chance at this stage if they win and keep winning.