Don’t give up just yet Dragons fans. Hang in there, Cowboys supporters. Ditto to the Warriors faithful, your team is still a chance.
With six rounds of the Telstra Premiership remaining, 14 teams are still in contention for the finals as just 25 points may be all that is required.
While many have assumed that 28 points would be required for a place in the top eight, a team winning less than half of their games could gain a place in the play-offs for just the fifth time in NRL history.
Channel Nine commentator Peter Sterling suggested on the weekend that 26 points would secure a finals berth and Phil Gould declared 25 points may be enough – a prediction supported by NRL.com Stats.
Gould said the round 17 extra-time draw between the Broncos and Warriors could prove decisive, adding: “I think the ninth team will be on 24, there you go”.
According to NRL.com’s Strength of Schedule, Brisbane are forecast to win up to three of their remaining six games and the Broncos are considered to have one of the more favourable run homes, along with Parramatta, St George Illawarra and Wests Tigers.
Brisbane are currently eighth on 19 points, ahead of Newcastle, Cronulla and the Tigers, who are each on 18 points.
If the Broncos were to finish on 25 points, teams behind them would need to win at least four games, with the Tigers the best placed.
Behind them are the Warriors on 17 points, with North Queensland on 16 points and St George Illawarra on 14 points.
In contrast to last year’s race to the finals, which was all but decided two months out as the gap between eighth and ninth place was six points, this season’s top eight battle is one of the most congested in history and play-off spots may be decided by for-and-against.
Fans of Melbourne (32 points), South Sydney (28), Sydney Roosters (26) and Canberra (26) should be preparing for the finals now, while Manly (24) and Parramatta (22) supporters are likely to be able to do so in coming weeks.
However, eight teams are battling for the remaining two positions in the play-offs, with Penrith (20 points) desperately trying to hang on to seventh place and the Broncos hoping their draw with the Warriors can continue to provide a buffer from the chasing pack.
20 Panthers (-61)
Bulldogs (a), Sharks (h), Broncos (a), Cowboys (a), Roosters (a), Knights (h)
Appear to have the best draw as they meet only one opponent above them on the ladder.
19 Broncos (-20)
Storm (h), Cowboys (a), Panthers (h), Rabbitohs (h), Eels (h), Bulldogs (a)
Face the Storm and Rabbitohs but don’t play outside Queensland until the final round.
Graham Annesley weekly football briefing - Round 19
18 Knights (+9)
Sea Eagles (A), Eels (A), Cowboys (H), Tigers (A), Titans (H), Panthers (A)
Four away trips against top 8 rivals makes their task tougher.
18 Sharks (-7)
Rabbitohs (h), Panthers (a), Dragons (h), Warriors (h), Raiders (h), Tigers (a)
Need to make Pointsbet Stadium a fortress as they have more home games than any other contenders.
18 Tigers (-66)
Cowboys (h), Bulldogs (a), Sea Eagles (a), Knights (h), Dragons (a), Sharks (h)
Fate is in their own hands as they play four of the other contenders, while Manly is their only opponent above them on the ladder.
17 Warriors (-36)
Raiders (h), Sea Eagles (h), Roosters (a), Sharks (a), Rabbitohs (h), Raiders (a).
Have the toughest draw with matches against four of the top five teams, including Canberra twice.
Roosters look to improve on second-half performances
16 Cowboys (-71)
Tigers (a), Broncos (h), Knights (a), Panthers (h), Bulldogs (h), Storm (a)
Need to win their next four games against other teams vying to get into the finals to stay in contention.
No fairytale finish for Widdop
14 Dragons (-104)
Eels (h), Titans (h), Sharks (a), Roosters (h), Tigers (h), Titans (a).
Must win all of their remaining games.
Strength of schedule
It may seem unlikely that the Dragons could still be in contention after last Friday night’s 20-16 loss to South Sydney but according to statistics used to measure the strength of schedule across all 16 clubs they have the most favourable run home after Parramatta.
Tackle of the week: Round 19
Strength of Schedule is calculated by the average competition points accrued by upcoming opposition teams, with a team’s points inflated by their home winning percentage.
According to NRL.com’s strength of schedule, Brisbane is forecast to win 47 per cent of the remaining games, which if rounded up would see the Broncos triumph in three of the six matches and finish on 25 points.
The Tigers (21) have a sightly better ranking than Brisbane (23), while the Sharks and Panthers are considered to have the next best Strength of Schedule with a ranking score of 24.
The Eels (19) and Dragons (20) have the best ranking scores, according to the Strength of Schedule.
Newcastle and North Queensland have a ranking score of 27, while the Warriors (32) are considered to have the worst run home.
If the Broncos were to make the top eight on 25 points, they would become the first team to win less than half of their 24 matches to qualify since 2016 when the Titans scraped in on 27 points from 11 wins and a draw.
Brisbane qualified in 2007 after winning 11 matches and losing 13, as did the Raiders in 2004, while St George Illawarra finished eighth in 2002 after winning nine matches and drawing three.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.