Stat Attack: Rating your team's run home to the finals
NRL.com Stats has crunched the numbers on every team's draw over the remaining seven rounds and discovered the teams just outside the eight face a huge task to try and force any change to the current top eight.
A horror run for the Raiders and tough draw for Wests Tigers make each club's hopes of displacing either the Broncos or Warriors at the lower end of the top eight even more unlikely given both of those clubs are in the easier half of the draw.
The Warriors have the seventh-easiest run and are three wins clear of ninth. Brisbane are just two wins ahead of ninth but have the fourth-easiest draw of any side.
The formula ranks each club's draw based on the Telstra Premiership competition points of their remaining seven opponents. Away games are given extra loading based on that opponent's home record (for example the Dragons, who are 9-1 at home this year, would receive a bigger boost to their 26 ladder points than the Warriors, who are 4-4 at home, would get to their 24 ladder points).
Six of Canberra's seven games are against current top-eight sides (with the remaining game against the Tigers); this run includes four away games and horror games against top-two sides South Sydney and Melbourne to hand them easily the toughest run home.
"It is a tough run but we can do it, we totally believe we can do it and there's no better way to prepare for the finals than playing against and beating the top teams in the competition," said winger Jordan Rapana.
Canberra's Michael Oldfield was also happy to take on the best in the closing seven rounds.
"We need to beat the best teams to be in the eight, so we're happy to go to Shark Park and see what we can do," Oldfield said. "We've got some other tough games coming up, but if we can't beat them now then we're not going to beat them in September, so we'll just take it as it comes."
The Tigers face the top-ranked Rabbitohs twice in the run home and also have four away games. The run includes slightly more winnable games against the Knights, Bulldogs and Sea Eagles but they'll still have to knock off some top-eight sides to have any hope of finals footy.
Five-eighth Benji Marshall said the Tigers have tended to make a habit out of beating good teams and losing to bad ones, adding the team's draw would be irrelevant if they couldn't continue to produce the sort of energy that helped them to an upset win over the Dragons last week.
"There's been a lot of reason for us to play well the last couple of weeks and we didn't, but we turned up against the Dragons with a good attitude then that gives us a chance to win - if we don't it doesn't matter who we play," Marshall said.
"The rest of the season is tough... At the start of the season when we played the way we played, we showed a blueprint of how to beat good teams and we probably lost that for the last eight weeks.
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"There's no easy games, Souths are going to be tough because they've been on a roll, really confident, won nine in a row. It doesn't get easier but if we can complete our sets the way we did on the weekend and play with the same attitude at least we give ourselves a chance to be in the game and try and win."
The battle to cling to the lower end of the eight and/or push for a top-four finish is also intriguing.
The Warriors have four of seven games at home and just three games against top-eight sides; this weekend's home game against the Storm and round 21's trip to WIN Stadium plus a round 24 rematch against Penrith present the toughest asks.
Brisbane also have four home games and the way the draw lands, with the Sharks and Panthers at home and lower-ranked teams away, they should be even money or better in at least five of their remaining games.
The Panthers and Sharks look the two teams most likely to force a reshuffle to the current top four but the current fourth-placed side, the Roosters, have the fifth-easiest draw meaning the Panthers (second-hardest with five away games) have some serious work to do, and the Sharks (third-easiest) may actually be the best-placed side to force their way into the top four.
"It is a pretty good run home but in saying that there is no easy game in the NRL," Sharks prop Matt Prior said.
"But we do want to win every game so we can finish as high up on the ladder as possible. That's our target."
Predictions of a late-season wobble for the Dragons may be premature; Paul McGregor's men have the second-easiest run home of any side with five bottom-eight teams in their final seven games including the bottom three teams in Canterbury, North Queensland and Parramatta.
Bad news for Eels fans hoping to avoid the wooden spoon; Parramatta have the fourth-hardest run from here with the Cowboys (eighth-easiest) and Bulldogs (sixth-easiest) both mid-table. That may change if they can beat the Dogs this weekend but a loss would seemingly seal their fate.