With State of Origin behind us, all eyes are on the race to the finals with several teams currently out of the top eight still in contention. Which of them has the best chance of reaching the business end of the season? The NRL.com experts have their say.
NRL.com's experts view
Brett Kimmorley (Former NSW halfback)
The Dragons. They have the best team on paper of the teams outside the eight and I think they'll get it done. They need their Origin players back uninjured and then they'll also get James Graham and Zac Lomax back soon. They're good enough to make the finals from here.
Jamie Soward (Former NSW five-eighth)
Penrith have regained their winning ways and have the talent to climb into the eight come finals time, with James Maloney to bring his Origin form back to clubland.
Michael Chammas (NRL.com Chief Reporter)
The Panthers have gone on a run over the past six weeks and have the roster capable of competing with the best teams in the competition. Don't underestimate the effect an Origin series win will have on the confidence of James Maloney and Nathan Cleary.
Steve Renouf (Maroons legend)
I'm leaning towards the Wests Tigers. They are thereabouts but have the team and the style of footy to get them there with some tough wins.
Brad Walter (NRL.com senior reporter)
Penrith. Many people expected the Panthers to be premiership contenders this season and after a poor start they are now running into good form. With five consecutive wins, Penrith are now equal eighth and a top-four finish isn't beyond them.
Margie McDonald (NRL.com senior reporter)
Wests Tigers. As much as I'd like to think the team with the current Dally M winner would make the top-eight – the 11th placed Warriors – I'm going to lean towards the ninth placed Wests Tigers. Their home record is pretty good (5-3) and they have two games at Leichhardt and one at Campbelltown in their four remaining home games this year.
Tony Webeck (NRL.com reporter)
It took the Panthers a long time to find their mojo under Ivan Cleary but five wins on the trot will quickly rectify a lowly ladder position. They've got James Maloney, Nathan Cleary, Viliame Kikau and enough time to push into the eight. Just.
Chris Kennedy (NRL.com reporter)
Just looking at every team's draw I actually think the top eight will stay as is. The teams currently in the bottom half of the eight I can see winning enough games to make it tricky for the rest. The Cowboys with Drinkwater on board look the best team in the bottom eight right now but have a very tough run home. Wests Tigers mostly face teams around them on the ladder so their fate is in their hands. If I had to pick one it's probably Panthers, just because they have a few very winnable games in the next month.
Lone Scout (NRL Fantasy expert)
Brisbane have obviously underperformed this year but their run home presents a huge opportunity to make up ground, with six games against bottom-eight sides. They have key players still to return and several young stars now with Origin experience under their belt, and could easily make up a win or two on the teams directly above them on the ladder.
Alicia Newton (NRL.com reporter)
Can I be bold and say the top eight won't change? I like the look of the Broncos' run home but feel they've left it all a little bit too late. Based on the magical 28 competition points number they'd have to win at least seven of their final nine games. I had Penrith and Wests Tigers in my top eight to start the year but they have some tough clashes against top sides ahead.
Paul Suttor (NRL.com Editor in Chief)
The Panthers are in prime pouncing position to continue rising as high as fourth place. After overcoming all their early-season on and off-field distractions, they have been one of the form sides over the past month and a few teams in front of them are treading water.
Maria Tsialis (Big League editor)
The Panthers are well-poised to make a run to the finals. In the next four weeks they play the Titans, Dragons, Raiders and Bulldogs – three of those teams are outside the eight and two should be easy pickings. In their current form, they should be there come September.
Mary Konstantopoulos (Ladies Who League)
Penrith have a favourable draw over the next five weeks, playing both the Titans and Bulldogs during that period giving them the opportunity to jump into the top eight. Additionally, the Panthers have found form at the right end of the season and if James Maloney helps lead the Blues to victory on Wednesday night, he will come back ready to do the same with Penrith as they charge towards the finals.
Zac Bailey (NRL.com video reporter)
The Panthers. Unwanted off-field incidents resulted in a poor start to the season, but things seem more settled now at Penrith. Ivan Cleary has made some fairly significant changes to his playing roster but so far they've paid off. With the class of James Maloney and Nathan Cleary in the halves, the Panthers are capable of winning the big moments.
Corey Rosser (NRL.com reporter)
The Panthers. Ivan Cleary's men have turned the corner after a horror start to 2019 and are close to the form team in the competition right now. Penrith also have a favourable run home, with five of their last nine games against teams currently sitting outside of the top eight.
Tanisha Stanton (NRL.com reporter)
The Panthers have turned their season around after coming away victorious in their past five matches. Despite winning their last two games by just one point, a win is a win. As well as proving that they are capable of closing out matches, their combinations are only going to further develop from here. Penrith's run to the finals is also in their favour, in the nine games that remain they only facing four teams that are currently in the top eight. James Maloney will be instrumental in their charge to the finals.
Joel Gould (NRL.com reporter)
The Broncos are just two points outside the eight and have six of their remaining nine games at home. They don't leave Queensland until round 25 and with Anthony Milford back and one of the best forward packs in the competition they can go on a late run.
Kenny Scott (NRL.com podcaster)
Those with calculating heads will pick the Panthers, for the obvious reasons around quality of players available and the fact they've been there for the last few seasons. However, those with romantic hearts will cling to the idea that fairy tales do indeed come true, and if 2005 is any indicator then the stage is set for an epic Tigers run straight into the top eight.