With five rounds remaining, NRL fans are unsurprisingly predicting big guns Melbourne and Penrith will again meet in the grand final in 2021.
Using data collated from NRL.com’s ladder predictor, the Panthers have had overwhelming support across the board this season, but the Storm have surged past them into first place.
After a rocky start to the season, the return of red-hot fullback Tom Trbojevic helped the Sea Eagles rocket up the rankings into third-most likely premiers based off fan votes while the Roosters have slipped in fans' expectations in part due to a horror injury toll.
A recent run of hot form has kept the Bunnies in fourth on the ladder predictor, while the Eels are dropping based on fan expectations after a couple of recent losses.
With five rounds remaining, NRL.com looks at how each club is placed and who they face in the lead-up to the finals.
1st. 36 pts. +465 points differential
- Round 21: Sea Eagles (A)
- Round 22: Raiders (H)
- Round 23: Titans (A)
- Round 24: Eels (H)
- Round 25: Sharks (A)
Easily accounted for an under-strength Penrith in round 20, with their monster +465 differential making their one-game gap at the top as good as two games.
Despite battling injury concerns for much of the season and being forced to navigate life post-Cameron Smith, the Storm continue to impress with their consistency and flair despite struggling to put away the Cowboys in round 19.
They sit atop the Telstra Premiership ladder having won 16 straight and scoring scored 40 or more in an extraordinary 11 games thus far. Their 689 points scored and +465 differential after 19 games are both all-time premiership records.
All five remaining opponents are ranked ninth or better but it's all the same to Melbourne at the moment.
Match Highlights: Storm v Panthers
2nd. 34 pts. +306
- Round 21: Roosters (A)
- Round 22: Dragons (A)
- Round 23: Rabbitohs (H)
- Round 24: Tigers (H)
- Round 25: Eels (A)
Penrith’s fairytale run has hit a few speedhumps in 2021 with some key injuries recently but should welcome back a few stars to face the Roosters in round 21 with their season stuttering a little.
They are undefeated this season when full strength, having scored 40 or more on four occasions.
Have a few tricky games remaining with the Roosters, Rabbitohs and Eels on the run home but will still be targeting a top-two finish.
Cavalry coming, but Cleary unlikely to face Roosters
South Sydney Rabbitohs
3rd. 34 pts. +231
- Round 21: Eels (A)
- Round 22: Titans (H)
- Round 23: Panthers (A)
- Round 24: Roosters (A)
- Round 25: Dragons (H)
Moved level with Penrith in round 20, easily putting away the Dragons and bringing a top-two placing within striking distance.
The Bunnies’ season has been marked largely by attacking brilliance with worrying periods of inconsistency. They have lost just three games all year but two of those were huge ones at the hands of Melbourne (50-0) and Penrith (56-12).
Face the Eels, Panthers and Roosters in a tricky run home but will make a big statement heading into the finals if they can win those clashes.
Match Highlights: Dragons v Rabbitohs
4th. 28 pts. +189
- Round 21: Rabbitohs (H)
- Round 22: Sea Eagles (A)
- Round 23: Cowboys (H)
- Round 24: Storm (A)
- Round 25: Panthers (H)
The Eels' top four aspirations copped another hit with a dire loss to the Roosters in round 20, with the Tricolours drawing level with the Eels on the ladder.
The Eels have looked a shadow of their former selves over the past fortnight and desperately need Mitch Moses back as they look to get their season back on track.
Their run to the finals doesn't get easier, with another meeting against Penrith to come, as well as clashes with the Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles and Storm.
Match Highlights: Roosters v Eels
5th. 28 pts. +146
- Round 21: Panthers (H)
- Round 22: Broncos (A)
- Round 23: Dragons (A)
- Round 24: Rabbitohs (H)
- Round 25: Raiders (A)
A big win over the Eels was virtually a four-point result in the Roosters' quest for a top-four finish as they drew level on 28 points.
Injuries have framed the Roosters' season – Luke Keary and Lindsay Collins suffered season-ending knee issues, Joseph Suaalii is now out for the rest of the year while Boyd Cordner, Jake Friend and Brett Morris have been forced into mid-season retirements and Josh Morris and Matt Ikuvalu won't see much if any footy before the finals.
The Panthers and Rabbitohs are their only top-eight opposition over the final five rounds with a top-four spot well within reach.
Shrugged off more injuries to pile on a big win against the Knights in round 19 to stay a win ahead of sixth-placed Manly and stay well in the hunt for a top four finish.
Four of their final six games come against current top-eight teams so will have to earn a top-four spot the hard way.
Match Highlights: Sharks v Sea Eagles
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
6th. 26pts. +169
- Round 21: Storm (H)
- Round 22: Eels (H)
- Round 23: Raiders (A)
- Round 24: Bulldogs (H)
- Round 25: Cowboys (A)
The Sea Eagles looked dead and buried after losing their first four games by an average of almost 31 points, but now sit comfortably within the top six.
Their Tom Trbojevic-centred attack has been electric, with the Sea Eagles surpassing the half-century in four encounters this season.
easily overcame the Sharks in round 20 to keep the Roosters and Eels in their sights while their run home is favourable with just two games to come against teams above them on the ladder.
Match Highlights: Bulldogs v Titans
Gold Coast Titans
7th. 18pts. -24
- Round 21: Cowboys (H)
- Round 22: Rabbitohs (A)
- Round 23: Storm (H)
- Round 24: Knights (A)
- Round 25: Warriors (H)
Consecutive big wins have flung the Titans into the top eight and almost erased their negative differential, with the side now up to seventh.
They have a far healthier differential than all the teams outside the top eight, providing an extra buffer as they look to return to the finals zone with their fate well within their own hands.
The run home provides the Titans with an opportunity to climb further up the standings, with just two of their five remaining games coming against sides above them on the ladder in Souths and Melbourne.
8th. 18pts. -58
- Round 21: Warriors (A)
- Round 22: Knights (H)
- Round 23: Tigers (A)
- Round 24: Broncos (H)
- Round 25: Storm (H)
The Sharks are another side that have put a slow start behind them and now have their eyes on the finals, although they copped a Tom Trbojevic masterclass in round 20.
They dropped one spot to eighth on the back of that result and are level with four other teams with only differential keeping them in the top half of the ladder.
They now get four straight games against sides below them before running into the Storm so will want to keep the wins ticking over to ensure they don't slip further given how congested the ladder is.
9th. 18pts. -82
- Round 21: Dragons (H)
- Round 22: Storm (A)
- Round 23: Sea Eagles (H)
- Round 24: Warriors (A)
- Round 25: Roosters (H)
A shot at a fourth straight win fizzled out with a poor showing against the Knights as a big chance to move into the top eight went begging for Canberra in round 20.
The Raiders have endured a frustrating season, with much of the mojo that got them to a grand final two years ago appearing to have worn off.
Three of their final five games come against current top-eight sides, with clashes against the Storm, Sea Eagles and Roosters to make life tough as they attempt to climb into the finals zone.
Fractured arm could end Hunt's season
St George Illawarra Dragons
10th. 18pts. -82
- Round 21: Raiders (A)
- Round 22: Panthers (H)
- Round 23: Roosters (H)
- Round 24: Cowboys (H)
- Round 25: Rabbitohs (A)
Weren't expected to beat the Rabbitohs given the troops they were missing but the huge hit to their differential could be important as they drop out of the top eight for the first time since round one.
The Dragons’ first season under the tutelage of Anthony Griffin has been an inconsistent one, and with a very tough draw ahead their hopes of returning to the top eight look forlorn on the back of news skipper Ben Hunt will miss at least a month with a broken arm.
Untimely injuries and suspensions have not made things easy, but disappointing losses to the Bulldogs, Tigers, Warriors and Sharks could well hurt them come season's end with the Panthers, Roosters and Rabbitohs in wait on the run home.
Hard to fathom Bradman Best is only 19
11th. 18pts. -147
- Round 21: Broncos (H)
- Round 22: Sharks (A)
- Round 23: Bulldogs (A)
- Round 24: Titans (H)
- Round 25: Broncos (A)
Bounced back from two poor losses with a much-needed win over Canberra in round 20 in what was one of Newcastle's best efforts this year.
The result didn't move them up the ladder at all but it did keep them level with four other sides on 18 points from the seventh-placed Titans down.
On the upside the draw is quite kind to them for the run home, with meetings against the Broncos twice, as well as the Titans and Bulldogs on the menu.
Match Highlights: Wests Tigers v Warriors
New Zealand Warriors
12th. 14pts. -129
- Round 21: Sharks (H)
- Round 22: Bulldogs (H)
- Round 23: Broncos (A)
- Round 24: Raiders (H)
- Round 25: Titans (A)
It was probably too little too late in terms of the Warriors' top-eight aspirations but round 20's hard-fought win over the Wests Tigers was built on plenty of character.
Nathan Brown and the Warriors will be left wondering if they are cursed after a horror injury toll brought their year undone but it makes their round 20 victory all the more impressive.
Only one of their remaining five games come against a top-eight side but with five teams in equal seventh still two wins away, finals may be a bridge too far.
13th. 14pts. -152
- Round 21: Bulldogs (A)
- Round 22: Cowboys (A)
- Round 23: Sharks (H)
- Round 24: Panthers (A)
- Round 25: Bulldogs (H)
Missed a huge chance to keep their finals hopes alive against the Warriors, producing one of their worst performances of the season to slip to 13th.
They remain two wins outside the eight but with time running out and a poor differential.
They do at least have a favourable run home other than a Penrith meeting with further clashes against the Bulldogs (twice), Broncos again and the Cowboys, but probably need to win almost all those games to be a realistic chance of September footy.
Corner specialist: All of Feldt’s 100 tries
North Queensland Cowboys
14th. 14pts. -226
- Round 21: Titans (A)
- Round 22: Tigers (H)
- Round 23: Eels (A)
- Round 24: Dragons (A)
- Round 25: Sea Eagles (H)
If Todd Payten's men were going to be any hope of an unlikely run at the finals over the closing rounds, they simply had to knock off the 15th-placed Broncos.
As it is they slip to 14th with the Broncos now within a win and a genuine chance of pushing the Cowboys into the bottom two.
Technically the side is still just two wins outside the eight but with a horror differential they probably need four if not five wins from here, including tough games against the Eels and Sea Eagles to come.
Match Highlights: Broncos v Cowboys
15th. 12pts. -248
- Round 21: Knights (A)
- Round 22: Roosters (H)
- Round 23: Warriors (H)
- Round 24: Sharks (A)
- Round 25: Knights (H)
Produced one of their best efforts of the year to more than account for Queensland rivals the Cowboys and move to within a win of three sides on 14 points.
With all three of those sides dealing with some significant challenges, Brisbane will back themselves to move outside the bottom two and maybe even the bottom four over the final five rounds.
Face two top-eight sides on the run home, although two further games against the Knights are far from easy based on Newcastle's round 20 form.
16th. 6pts. -358
- Round 21: Tigers (H)
- Round 22: Warriors (A)
- Round 23: Knights (H)
- Round 24: Sea Eagles (A)
- Round 25: Tigers (A)
Round 20 could be the week that confirmed a wooden spoon for Trent Barrett's men, with Brisbane jumping three wins clear while the Dogs slumped to a heavy defeat at the hands of the Titans.
In Trent Barrett’s first year at the helm the side has managed just two wins from 17 starts while their attack trails the next-worst side in Newcastle by 83 points.
The Bulldogs would have to win most of their remaining games to have a chance at avoiding the wooden spoon, although they do get three shots against fellow battlers Wests Tigers (twice) and the Warriors.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.