Looking at the remaining fixtures for each side, one club’s run home really stands out as being a big test, that of the reigning NRL premiers, the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
In their remaining five games the Bunnies will play Manly (A), the Cowboys (A), the Bulldogs (H), the Broncos (H) and the Roosters (A).
Manly, although outside the eight, have been in supreme form after dismantling the Warriors and Broncos within a fortnight, and look like they will now make an unlikely run at the top eight.
The Cowboys are equal on top of the NRL ladder as it stands, and have only lost one game since round three.
The Bulldogs will are locked in a desperate battle to play finals footy, and will treat every game as a Grand Final of sorts.
The Broncos are arguably the team of the season, and are guaranteed a top four finish.
The Roosters history with the Bunnies is well documented and games between the two are always huge events.
It’s hard to see an easy game within their five remaining fixtures, but this could be a positive, or a negative, and it all depends on the Bunnies themselves.
If they come through with three or four victories, not only will they secure a top four spot, but will surely be battle hardened.
Over the next five weeks the Bunnies will get a first-hand preview of finals footy. The Roosters, Broncos and Cowboys WILL be there, and will surely make up the top three spots, whilst the Bulldogs and Manly are right in the hunt.
Three or more wins would fill the Bunnies with confidence. Heading into the finals, having beaten a few of your top four rivals could be the mental edge that sees them able to defend the title they won in 2014.
On the flip side, they could very well drop three or four games, drop out of the top four, and enter the finals with huge mental demons.
The Bunnies have had their fair share of injuries in 2015, but have most of their squad back on deck.
Greg Inglis has shown signs of exploding over the past few weeks, while Dylan Walker is in season-best form. Adam Reynolds and Luke Keary are both fit and firing, and encouragingly for Bunnies fans, still have another gear to lift.
Although they’re missing Sam Burgess, Lote Tuqiri and Ben Te’o from last year’s side (Auva’a will return before the finals), the presence of Glen Stewart and Aaron Gray offset those losses.
In young Gray the Bunnies have found yet another young try scoring winger, while Glenn Stewart has added another dimension in attack for the Bunnies.
The Rabbits currently sit one win, and a fair points differential, in front of the fifth place Sharks, and four points in front of the Storm. Despite their tough run home, they’d be strong favourites to retain their spot inside the top four.
Just how the run home affects the Bunnies is completely up to them. It could make or break their season, but this is the time of the season where the genuine title contenders announce themselves.
Raiders Run Home The Opposite
Despite sitting two points outside the finals positions heading into round 22, the Raiders would fancy their chances of featuring in said finals.
In the next five weeks they play the Tigers (H), Sea Eagles (H), Titans (A), Panthers (H) and Eels (A).
The Sea Eagles aside, those fixtures would not strike fear into the Ricky Stuart coached side.
If the Raiders are genuine about playing finals footy, they won’t ever receive a better chance of doing so.
No disrespect to the Tigers, Titans, Panthers and Eels, but their seasons are over, and a genuine top eight side should beat all four sides.
Despite their disappointing home record in 2015, historically Canberra are hard to beat in the nation’s capital. The fact their most difficult game, on paper, is at home, should be of comfort.
The Raiders have played some entertaining footy this season, and deserve to be in the running for a spot in the finals.
Unlike the Bunnies, they’re probably not in a position to win the title, and will be flat out making the eight, so their run in to the finals is as close to perfect as they could have hoped.
For the record I believe the Raiders will have just enough to qualify for the finals, but I can’t see them advancing past the first week.
Their real opportunity will come next year when Aidan Sezer joins the side.
Finals Round Up
The below is how I see the competition table finishing up.
- The Cowboys have a much easier run in than the Broncos, and should finish top
- I can’t see the Knights winning another game. They will collect the wooden spoon
- The Bunnies will hold onto fourth spot
- The Roosters are hitting incredible form and will finish second
- The Sharks and Raiders will return to finals footy
- Despite their horror start to the season, the Sea Eagles will qualify
- Despite their brilliant start to the season, the Dragons will miss out