The NRL home stretch

With two rounds left in the NRL, the top eight is just about sorted, with only St. George-Illawarra and Canberra an outside chance. Put a big black line through Souths, Canterbury, NZ Warriors, Gold Coast Titans, Wests Tigers and Newcastle.

Melbourne (40 points) have deservedly secured a second straight minor premiership, a fitting reward for the most consistent NRL team. With two home finals and the pain of last year’s grand final, Melbourne will be hard to top for a third official premiership.

There’s a big top two battle between Brisbane (34) and Sydney Roosters (34). Both sides have rebounded from disappointing 2016 campaigns to challenge Melbourne. Brisbane finish with winnable games against Parramatta (Lang Park) and North Queensland (Townsville). If they play their cards right, the Broncos may not leave Queensland until grand final day. The Roosters have a blockbuster against Cronulla in round 25 and an easy win against the Gold Coast Titans in round 26. Brisbane should get the coveted top two spot.

The biggest battle is for fourth, with Cronulla (32), Parramatta (32) and Penrith (30) in contention. The Sharks are giving the premiership defence a decent crack, though may have a tough qualifying final in Melbourne or Brisbane after finishing fourth. Parramatta have rebounded fantastically from their horror 2016. They have a tough trip to Brisbane and a final round game against Souths. They should finish fifth. After just two wins from their first nine games, Penrith are top four smokeys with winnable games against St. George-Illawarra and Manly. They might just miss out on top four but will get a home qualifying final.

North Queensland (28) and Manly (28) round out the top eight. After seemingly settling without Thurston, North Queensland have lost four straight, consigning them to an elimination final. Manly are also struggling, with a surprise loss to Canterbury. They should beat the hapless Warriors but will lose to Penrith to finish eighth.

The Dragons (26) and Canberra (24) are still slim finals chances. The Dragons have a tough game against Penrith and a winnable one against Canterbury. Still won’t be enough. Lastly, Canberra are the dreaded “mathematical chance”; they should beat Newcastle at Bruce but the Storm game depends on how many players Melbourne rest before the finals. Even if they do win both games, they’ll need a lot of results to fall their way.

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