The Roosters and Rabbitohs look strongest — for now. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
The Roosters and Rabbitohs look strongest — for now. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The toughest job in rugby league right now

LIKE a lot of NRL fans, I'm really struggling with my tips this year.

In fact, with three rounds of the regular season to play, I'm in a three-way battle with Dean 'Bulldog' Ritchie and Ray Hadley to avoid The Daily Telegraph's wooden spoon.

Bulldog and I are equal last on 86 points with Hadley on 88, while James Phelps and Paul Kent are in safe territory on 94 points.

Out in front, Phil 'Buzz' Rothfield leads the way on 102 ahead of Nick Walshaw on 101, while Michael Ennis and Matt Logue are back on 100 but still within striking distance.

 

So after declaring I have absolutely no idea on how to tip a rugby league winner in 2018, they've left it to me to try and tell you how the season is going to pan out from here.

And sorry to all the Roosters fans, but I'm going to put the mock on you right here by saying the Chooks will just edge out South Sydney to claim the minor premiership.

Anthony Milford and the Broncos are in danger of missing the eight. Picture: AAP
Anthony Milford and the Broncos are in danger of missing the eight. Picture: AAP

Brisbane will hold off the late charge from Wests Tigers for eighth spot, and the Bulldogs will join Bulldog holding the spoon.

With 24 matches of the regular season still to play, TAB records show this has already been the most unpredictable competition since NRL betting records started in 2007.

And that's my excuse.

There have already been 67 upsets this year, which is the most since 2012 when there were 68.

Mapping out the run home for the nine teams still in the race for the finals is not as easy as it looks.

Usually after seven rounds they reckon you start to get a gauge on form.

But this season the form line has been thrown out the window.

Billy Slater and Melbourne couldn’t get it going against Cronulla. Picture: AAP
Billy Slater and Melbourne couldn’t get it going against Cronulla. Picture: AAP

One week the Tigers will beat the St George Illawarra who were then on top of the table and back it up over Souths, but then go down to the Bulldogs.

It makes no sense.

Still, the Roosters and Souths are equal leaders on 32 competition points, and could quite easily go unbeaten in their last three games.

The Roosters' remaining games are against Canberra, Brisbane and Parramatta, while the Rabbitohs have Brisbane, Canberra and the Tigers.

If both win all their games and finish equal on 18 wins, the Rabbitohs would have to make up 27 points differential to knock the Roosters off top spot.

Cronulla have the class to edge their way into fourth. (Graham Denholm/Getty Images)
Cronulla have the class to edge their way into fourth. (Graham Denholm/Getty Images)

Regardless, it will be the least amount of wins for the minor premiers since 2015, when the Roosters also finished with 18 wins.

Melbourne and Penrith are currently on 30 points and sit third and fourth respectively, while St George Illawarra, Cronulla and the Warriors are all on 28 points and still in the top four hunt.

With the Storm's remaining games against Parramatta, Gold Coast and Penrith, they also could go through unbeaten to claim a spot from first to third.

Of the others, I reckon Cronulla have the best draw with games against North Queensland, Newcastle and Canterbury.

While there is no such thing as a sure thing, given the Sharks' win over Storm last Sunday in Melbourne, they are my tip to finish fourth.

The Broncos are one team that could still drop out of the eight - and they also have a tough finish with games against the Rabbitohs, Roosters and Sea Eagles.

Sitting just one win ahead of the Tigers but with better points differential, the Broncos could miss out on the eight if they lose their next three matches and the Tigers - who play the Dragons, Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs - win one of those games by a large margin and lose the other two in close games.

As for the race for the spoon, the Cowboys, Eels and Bulldogs are on 14 points, one win behind the Titans and Sea Eagles.

The Sea Eagles and Titans play this Friday night so the winner will be safe.

But for mine the Eels and Bulldogs have the toughest draws.

The Eels play the Storm, Cowboys and Roosters while the Dogs take on the Warriors, Dragons and Sharks.

Given Canterbury have three top eight teams to play and Parra only two, I don't like the Bulldogs' chances, just as I don't like Bulldog's hopes of beating me.

Then again, what would I know?

How far can Penrith go without a coach? (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)
How far can Penrith go without a coach? (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)

WHAT THE CONTENDERS FACE

SYDNEY ROOSTERS (1st, 32pts, +163)

Canberra (a), Brisbane (h), Parramatta (a)

SOUTH SYDNEY (2nd, 32pts, +136)

Brisbane (a), Canberra (a), Wests Tigers (h)

MELBOURNE (3rd, 30pts, +161)

Parramatta (h), Gold Coast (a), Penrith (h)

PENRITH (4th, 30pts, +78)

Newcastle (h), Warriors (a), Melbourne (a)

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA (5th, 28pts, +65)

Wests Tigers (a), Canterbury (h), Newcastle (a)

CRONULLA (6th, 28pts, +46)

Nth Queensland (h), Newcastle (h), Canterbury (a)

WARRIORS (7th, 28pts, +2)

Canterbury (a), Penrith (h), Canberra (h)

BRISBANE (8th, 26pts -10)

South Sydney (h), Sydney Roosters (a), Manly (h)

WESTS TIGERS (9th, 24pts, -34)

St George Illawarra (h), Manly (h), South Sydney (a)