Souths favourites for minor premiership, but rivals are circling
The finals are just seven weeks away, but there's still plenty of time for teams and players to prove themselves.
Round 19 marks the beginning of the run to the finals with all State of Origin stars returning to their clubs. The representative period is over and players can focus on the NRL.
All 16 teams – no matter where they sit on the ladder – have something to prove and fans have plenty of reasons to be excited.
There are seven weeks until the minor premiership is decided and several teams are genuine chances to lift the JJ Giltinan Shield following round 25.
Sitting two points clear at the top of the ladder, South Sydney have to be considered favourites to finish in first place. They've won nine-straight matches and have hit red-hot form.
Even Sam Burgess reckons they're playing better now than they did in 2014 – the year they won the premiership.
The Dragons and Panthers may have slipped down the ladder during the Origin period, but with several rep stars in those sides, they'd have to be considered strong chances to make a return to the top.
The Storm and Roosters are also on the rise and have the strike power and class to finish the season strongly.
For the Sharks, Warriors and Broncos – they have seven weeks to choose what they'll be doing in September.
For teams just outside the top eight, they have seven weeks to make a run to scrape into the finals. It was just a couple weeks ago everyone declared the top eight was locked in, but after a handful of shock results the season may just be alive again.
The Raiders – one of the more exciting teams going around – have the attacking prowess to strike, but a tough run home could limit their impact in 2018. They're still to face top eight teams: Sharks, Storm, Panthers, Roosters, Rabbitohs and Warriors.
The Wests Tigers are the other team just two wins outside the top eight after beating St George Illawarra last Sunday. While the Knights and Titans will fight until the end, they'll probably be looking towards next season.
There are also seven weeks to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon. Tonight's match between the Bulldogs and Eels could have a major impact on this. They're two proud Sydney clubs and they'll hate to finish last.
The Sea Eagles are two competition points clear of the bottom, but they'll need to be cautious not to slip.
And then there's Johnathan Thurston and his Cowboys. He'd hate to go out with a wooden spoon. He has the next seven weeks to lead his side up the ladder as he departs as a true champion.
Get ready for seven exciting weeks of rugby league.