Numbers game as NRL finals race heats up - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Numbers game as NRL finals race heats up

By Steve Jancetic 23/07/2008 09:13:02 PM Comments (0)

It's the time of year when all that stands between dreams of NRL glory and finals oblivion is mathematical probability, so much so that even the Bulldogs remain a top eight hopeful.

While a rematch of last year's NRL grand final is looking more and more likely, just who will join Manly and Melbourne in contesting this year's finals series remains wide open.

Only North Queensland can start making other plans for September, with the other 15 teams all still in with a shot.

The longshots are the Bulldogs, who would need to win all seven of their remaining games to be any chance, but considering they've won only five games this season, that seems unlikely.

South Sydney, who are two points better off than the Dogs, are also mathematically in the mix but realistically stand little chance of a second straight finals appearance.

The Bunnies could afford to drop one game and still make it, but with matches against top four sides Cronulla, Manly, Sydney Roosters and Melbourne still to come, Cinderella may struggle to get to the ball this year.

That leaves 13 genuine top eight contenders, with Newcastle and Parramatta walking the tightrope.

Both are expected to win this weekend, with matches against Souths and the Cowboys respectively, which will make their match-up on the following Monday night a virtual grand final for both teams.

From there the picture becomes a lot murkier, with three teams - Canberra, Wests Tigers and New Zealand Warriors - all locked on 20 competition points, just one point behind Penrith in eighth spot.

The Warriors have the worst differential of the three sides at minus 99, and their run home consists of games against top eight sides including Melbourne, Brisbane, Cronulla, St George Illawarra and Penrith.

Of those five games, only the Dragons contest is away from home.

Similarly the Raiders play four of their last seven games at home, and with halfback Todd Carney cleared by police following an incident at a Canberra nightclub on the weekend, the green machine look on track for a finals berth.

Saturday night's clash between the Tigers and Panthers is crucial with a spot in the top eight the prize for the winner.

The Tigers looked like they'd rediscovered some of their best form in beating Souths last weekend, but a loss here could leave them three points out of the eight by the end of the weekend.

A Panthers loss could send them spiralling out of contention, with Penrith still facing two games against top of the table Manly and a home clash with Melbourne.

Injury riddled Gold Coast are favoured to drop out of the eight, with the absence of co-captains Scott Prince and Luke Bailey compounded by a run which includes away games against the Storm, Broncos and Sea Eagles.

The Dragons have hit the wall with consecutive losses coming on the back of seven straight wins, the red and whites still needing three wins to guarantee a finals berth.

Games against traditional rivals the Bulldogs and Cronulla over the next fortnight will go a long way to deciding their fate.

Brisbane need to beat Cronulla on Friday night to be any chance of securing a top four berth, the Broncos trailing the fourth-placed Roosters by three points.

With the tri-colours having suffered back-to-back losses and facing a meeting with Manly on Sunday, a home final suddenly appears up for grabs, especially for a Brisbane side boosted by the return of Darren Lockyer, Peter Wallace and Justin Hodges.

With four of seven games at home, the Sharks should secure the three wins they need to guarantee a Toyota Stadium clash in week one of the finals, while they will also be sweating on either Manly or Melbourne slipping up as they chase a top-two spot.

All of which leaves last year's grand finalists at the head of the pack, their round 22 clash likely to decide the minor premiership though the Storm will still have to overcome a 75-point gap in points differential between the two sides.

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