MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 30: Cameron Smith of the Storm poses with his team mates after he played his 350th match during the round 21 NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the Manly Sea Eagles at AAMI Park on July 30, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

With just four rounds of the regular season left to be played, the Minor Premiership has is all but decided. The Storm holds a four point lead and has a far superior points differential to their closest challenger, the Roosters.

Only a Storm winless run combined with a run of big wins by the tricolours can deny the Storm retaining the shield they captured in 2016 on the final day of the season with a ruthless victory over the Sharks.

Over the past month, it is almost like nobody else wants to win it. Each of the other top eight sides, Parra aside, have struggled to put together a run of performances to strike fear into Craig Bellamy's men. The Eels have shown amazing form over the past five weeks, but given their indifferent start to the season, they too have shown they're prone to a drop in form.

Below are the sides most likely to challenge the Storm, and a verdict on whether or not they can get the job done.

Sydney Roosters

On paper, the Roosters have a win over the Storm already this season and are sitting pretty in second place. In reality, the win was against a hugely under strength Storm side in a game they probably should have lost, although they are worth their second place standing on the table.

The Bondi boys certainly have the talent to match the Storm, with their two big men Napa and JWH among the game's elite and most aggressive. If Boyd Corder can return to full fitness, he adds an avenue of attack most of the surrounding clubs are unable to match. Jake Friend is also set to return and probably could have played against Manly.

Throw in the combo of Pearce and Keary who have torn sides to shreds all season, and the Roosters look perhaps the most likely to bother Melbourne.

That said, Daniel Tupou's season looks done, we're unsure of when Michael Gordon will return to action, and there are big question marks over the fitness of Cordner post Origin.

Verdict: At full fitness, a possible threat

Cronulla Sharks

Conquerors of the purple pride on last season's Grand Final day, the Sharks shape as perhaps the most likely to deny a Storm premiership yet again in 2017. The Sharks sit in the top four despite playing some of the worst football by any side this season.

Their discipline has been poor, their completion rate is akin to that of a struggling NSW cup side, and their home record is absolutely diabolical.

The danger signs are that, without playing well consistently, they sit inside the top four, have beaten Melbourne once this season (in Melbourne) and have shown that on their day, they can blow any side apart.

Whether or not the Sharks can find 'their day' in September is another story altogether. When they're hot, they're untouchable. When they're not, they're head-ache inducing, and make struggling sides look like world beaters.

On the bright side, the Sharks turned in a dour stint of football about this time last year, then tore threw the three best sides in the competition when it counted to claim their maiden title. They welcome back James Maloney this weekend, with Jayden Brailey returning in a week or two meaning they'll be back at full strength.

Verdict: Dark horse, but unlikely

Brisbane Broncos

The Broncos just turned in one of their best performances of the season, thumping rivals the Titans by more than a half century of points. Wayne Bennett is better than anyone at timing his side's run into the finals, and judging by their effort against the Gold Coast, the switch may have been flicked.

This Friday's game against the Sharks will reveal a lot. If they can roll the premiers, then the Broncos are dead set a chance at premiership glory in 2017. If not, questions will surface and doubts will rise very quickly.

There's no doubt they have the talent. Milford and Boyd are two of the game's best-attacking weapons, but they have lost their general in Andrew McCullough. Hunt or Nikorima will likely continue in the number nine role, but neither can provide the work rate that their first choice hooker can.

For the Broncos to go deep into September, they need to finish second and stay in Brisbane until the Grand Final. If they are forced to leave the cauldron that is Suncorp, I don't fancy their chances against Melbourne or the Roosters.

Verdict: Will need a lot to go their way

Parramatta Eels

Arguably the form team of the competition, the Eels have now put together over a month worth of victories. For all the grief that I gave him, Mitch Moses is playing a far better brand of football, but it is the Eels big men who are dominating their opponents.

They have beaten the Broncos and the Storm already this season, although the Storm was Origin-affected. There is a very real chance that the Eels can finish top four. If they are going to worry Melbourne and co, this is absolutely vital.

They can't do it from outside the top four. The Dogs and Eels themselves have had incredible runs from outside the four in the past, only to be belted on Grand Final day by well-rested sides who didn't have to travel.

Clint Gutherson was arguably the form player of the competition over the past few weeks. His loss is what rules the Eels out for me. They have beaten some great sides, but the game changes in finals, and I can't see them being able to lift.

Verdict: Long way off

The Rest

The Sea Eagles and Cowboys are capable of anything. That said, no one outside the top four is going to win the competition, and I can't see either doing so at this stage.

If Thurston makes an expected recovery, the Cowboys are in with a shot, but even a fully fit Thurston would struggle to lead his side against the Smith/Cronk/Slater lead Storm.

If Manly can finish top four, maybe ... but no.

Verdict: No chance

So there you have it. The Storm looks like the only team capable of beating themselves. If they play their footy and can avoid major injuries, they'll send Cooper Cronk out a winner and avenge their 2016 Grand Final loss.

If anything, with the return of Slater, they're a better side in 2017. Scary.

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