How will your team fare in the run to the NRL finals?
How will your team fare in the run to the NRL finals?

Run home: Top four sides looking over their shoulder

With four rounds to go spots in the NRL top eight are all still up for grabs as teams jostle for the double chance and the outsiders look to force their way in.

ADAM MOBBS predicts how the ladder will finish.

1 MELBOURNE STORM

Run home: Rd 22 v Raiders (H), Rd 23 v Titans (H), Rd 24 v Sea Eagles (A), Rd 25 v Cowboys (H)

Analysis: Get the J.J. Giltinan Shield to Melbourne, because the Storm will collect their fourth legitimate minor premiership in the next fortnight.

Three wins and a massive points differential advantage means the Storm can afford to drop a game, or two, in the lead-up to the finals, and still charge into September with home-ground advantage and a grand final berth at their mercy.

 

Cameron Munster and Melbourne Storm are flying high. Picture: Getty Images
Cameron Munster and Melbourne Storm are flying high. Picture: Getty Images

 

2 SYDNEY ROOSTERS

Run home: Rd 22 v Warriors (H), Rd 23 v Dragons (A), Rd 24 v Panthers (H), Rd 25 v Rabbitohs (A)

Analysis: A win clear of Canberra and Souths after defeating the Raiders, a top-two spot beckons. The Roosters are building nicely, have a favourable draw and a final-round clash against the Rabbitohs should have them primed for a home final, and the luxury of not having to rush back Boyd Cordner and Sio Siua Taukeiaho from their respective calf injuries.

3 CANBERRA RAIDERS

Run home: Rd 22 v Storm (A), Rd 23 v Sea Eagles (H), Rd 24 v Sharks (A), Rd 25 v Warriors (H)

Analysis: Lost few admirers in their defeat to the Roosters, but it's likely to cost them a top-two spot and a first week home final.

While their impressive points differential gives them an added buffer, that tough run home - which continues with the Storm in Melbourne in round 22 - has the Green Machine suddenly looking over their shoulder at top-four chasers Parramatta and Manly. The Raiders are still yet to beat a top-five team, although it would require a total train wreck for Canberra to slip out of the four.

4 SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS

Run home: Rd 22 v Bulldogs (H), Rd 23 v Broncos (A), Rd 24 v Warriors (A), Rd 25 v Roosters (H)

Analysis: Manly's surprise defeat to New Zealand softened the blow of South Sydney losing to Melbourne and keeps them in the top four for now. Souths have three very winnable games ahead against Canterbury, Brisbane and New Zealand before a final-round clash with the Roosters. The Rabbitohs have already beaten all four of their upcoming opponents this season.

Adam Reynolds' back injury threatens to derail their top-four push, however, and could dictate whether they finish as high as third.

 

An injury to Adam Reynolds could disrupt South Sydney’s top four push. Picture: Getty Images
An injury to Adam Reynolds could disrupt South Sydney’s top four push. Picture: Getty Images

 

5 PARRAMATTA EELS

Run home: Rd 22 v Titans (A), Rd 23 v Bulldogs (H), Rd 24 v Broncos (A), Rd 25 v Sea Eagles (H)

Analysis: Three straight ugly victories in games they should have won showed Parramatta are in for the fight, following their shocker against Manly. Continually told they have an easy run to the finals, but two trips to Queensland to face the Gold Coast and Brisbane will test the Eels ahead of their round 25 return clash with the Sea Eagles at Bankwest Stadium, the latter of which could be the difference between finishing fourth or sixth, given Souths' injury concerns and tough runs home for Canberra and Manly.

6 MANLY SEA EAGLES

Run home: Rd 22 v Wests Tigers (H), Rd 23 v Raiders (A), Rd 24 v Storm (H), Rd 25 v Eels (A)

Analysis: Shock loss to New Zealand keeps Manly at arm's length from a top-four spot. Must beat the Tigers ahead of three tough fixtures to have any chance of getting a double bite of the finals cherry.

A fifth or sixth-placed finish will earn the Sea Eagles a first week home final at Brookvale and, given this is the team who beat the Storm in Melbourne and dismantled Parramatta at Lottoland, finishing outside the top four won't be a disaster.

 

Manly’s top four hopes took a hit on the weekend. Picture: Getty Images
Manly’s top four hopes took a hit on the weekend. Picture: Getty Images

 

7 CRONULLA SHARKS

Run home: Rd 22 v Dragons (H), Rd 23 v Warriors (H), Rd 24 v Raiders (H), Rd 25 v Wests Tigers (A)

Analysis: Slipped out of the eight and cost themselves a shot at a home final with their defeat to Penrith. Given they play only one team above them (Canberra) and don't leave Sydney for the rest of the regular season, they should book a finals place.

But it will be a tough task to become just the third team in history to win the premiership from outside the top four.

8 PENRITH PANTHERS

Run home: Rd 22 v Broncos (A), Rd 23 v Cowboys (A), Rd 24 v Roosters (A), Rd 25 v Knights (H)

Analysis: Lose to Canterbury, beat Cronulla. Penrith's season in a nutshell. The Panthers once again have their top eight destiny in their own hands after a gutsy Nathan Cleary-inspired win over the Sharks.

It's tricky though - Brisbane are a point behind with an odd number of competition points, while the Sharks are two points back but with a far superior for-and-against.

Given they also face the Roosters in the run home, Penrith must beat the Broncos to make the finals, and might have to topple the Knights in round 25 in what could be a winner-takes-all battle. It will make for a fun month of watching what the Panthers can produce.

 

Nathan Cleary and the Panthers are back in the top eight. Picture: AAP
Nathan Cleary and the Panthers are back in the top eight. Picture: AAP

 

9 BRISBANE BRONCOS

Run home: Rd 22 v Panthers (H), Rd 23 v Rabbitohs (H), Rd 24 v Eels (H), Rd 25 v Bulldogs (A)

Analysis: They got away with one against North Queensland but will face much tougher tasks in the next month against mostly finals contenders.

Three straight home games from this weekend, all against top-eight sides, will determine their fate, although their odd number of competition points also throws a spanner in the works.

It's worth noting the Broncos have only lost once since the end of June, a 40-4 defeat to Melbourne, winning four and eking out that draw with New Zealand.

10 NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS

Run home: Rd 22 v Cowboys (H), Rd 23 v Wests Tigers (A), Rd 24 v Titans (H), Rd 25 v Panthers (A)

Analysis: Six straight losses has sent the Knights tumbling to be two wins outside the top eight and unable reach the traditional 28-point mark usually required to qualify for the finals.

But, such is the congestion of the ladder, they can still realistically finish seventh. They must simply win their remaining fixtures, which the 'mid-season' Knights could easily do, and hope their round 25 clash away to Penrith is a straight shootout for that final spot in the top eight.

11 WESTS TIGERS

Run home: Rd 22 v Sea Eagles (A), Rd 23 v Knights (H), Rd 24 v Dragons (A), Rd 25 v Sharks (H)

Analysis: A fractured leg to Robbie Farah could be season ending, for the Tigers as well as their inspirational hooker. The loss to Canterbury hurts, given they face Manly and Cronulla in the run home, while the game against Newcastle at Campbelltown in round 23 is crucial to their hopes. The Tigers have already accounted for Manly and Newcastle in 2019, so they aren't without hope.

 

Robbie Farah’s injury has hurt the Tigers’ finals hopes. Picture: AAP
Robbie Farah’s injury has hurt the Tigers’ finals hopes. Picture: AAP

 

12 NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS

Run home: Rd 22 v Roosters (A), Rd 23 v Sharks (A), Rd 24 v Rabbitohs (H), Rd 25 v Raiders (A)

Analysis: The impressive win over Manly puts them just two points outside the top eight. The Warriors now face the Roosters, Cronulla, Souths and the Raiders to sneak into the finals. If they do it on the back of that run, they can go on and win the comp. So, no, they're not likely to do it.

IT'S OVER FOR...

North Queensland

St George Illawarra

Canterbury

Gold Coast