For the first time in more than a decade, a team that has lost more than half their matches is set to make the NRL finals.
While the Storm, Panthers, Rabbitohs, Eels, Roosters and Sea Eagles are guaranteed places in the top eight, a further seven teams are vying for the remaining two spots and it is likely that at least one of those sides will qualify for the finals with 13 losses in 24 matches.
The Broncos of 2019 and the 2016 Titans scraped into eighth position with 11 wins and 12 losses but both teams also had a draw so their losing ratio was 50 per cent – a record Gold Coast, Canberra and Newcastle can only better by winning their remaining four games.
Should they lose just one of the four matches, the Titans, Raiders and Knights would have a 50 per cent losing record for the regular season but two or more defeats would leave them with losses in more than half of their matches.
The last team to make the finals after losing more than half their matches during the regular season was Brisbane in 2007, with a record of 11 wins and 13 losses to finish eighth on 24 points.
The 2004 (11-13) and 2001 (10-14) Canberra teams also finished eighth with a worse than 50 per cent losing record.
The Titans, Raiders and Knights have each won nine of their 20 matches played so far and with two byes are on 20 points, with Cronulla and St George Illawarra two points behind on 18 points and the Warriors and Wests Tigers a further two points back on 16 points.
The Sharks and Dragons would have to win all four of their remaining matches to avoid a losing record worse than 50 per cent record, while such a feat is already beyond the Warriors and Tigers.
All seven teams can still make the play-offs but besides the Knights and Warriors they each face matches against the top six sides in the run home, including:
- Titans v Rabbitohs (R22), Storm (R23)
- Raiders v Storm (R22), Sea Eagles (R23), Roosters (R25)
- Sharks v Storm (R25)
- Dragons v Panthers (R22), Roosters (23), Rabbitohs (25)
- Tigers v Panthers (R24)
The Knights play Cronulla and the Gold Coast, as well as the 15th placed Broncos and bottom-of-the-table Bulldogs, and Kangaroos second-rower Tyson Frizell said those matches were likely to determine Newcastle’s finals hopes.
"There's a cluster in there to make the eight and the Sharks are one of those teams,” Frizell said.
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“I think probably most of the teams we're [playing] in the next four rounds are looking to push themselves into the eight as well.
"There are a lot of teams that are fighting to take out that seventh and eighth spot.
“We want it as much as other teams that want to be a part of that. We're doing everything we can in preparation to be able to give ourselves an opportunity to be there.”
St George Illawarra coach Anthony Griffin also insisted his team was focused on the job at hand this week against his former club Penrith.
With the 12 Dragons players who breached the NRL’s biosecurity protocols by attending a BBQ at Paul Vaughan’s house having served their one-match suspensions, Griffin has been able to name a side with few changes for the first time since before Origin.
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“To be honest I haven’t looked at that. I am just worried about tomorrow night,” Griffin said. “We have a good week and it is the first time in five or six weeks we have been able to put close to the same team on the park so that has helped.
“To have the majority of the side, particularly the spine and most of the forward pack, the same this week has made things a lot easier.”
The match against the Panthers will also be the first time since round 12 and 13 that St George Illawarra have fielded the same spine in back-to-back matches, although halfback and captain Ben Hunt is missing with a broken hand.
Griffin said Jack Bird would again play fullback, with Corey Norman and Adam Clune in the halves and Andrew McCullough at hooker.
"Having those four guys together again for the second week, we have worked really hard this week on just making sure we take our chances and doing work on our attack without worrying too much about Penrith," Griffin said.