Call me crazy, but five to eight weeks out from finals is the best time of the year. Origin is done and the race for finals is well and truly on.
The race for the minor premiership, tour four, top eight and to avoid the wooden spoon is raging.
Well, usually it's raging.
The race for the minor premiership is very much on. The Melbourne Storm and Penrith Panthers are going shot for shot while the Bunnies are keeping the pressure on just a win (and differential) behind.
They all play each other in the next two months and truthfully that Storm vs Panthers next Saturday Night is shaping as the game of the season.
The minor premiership aside, unfortunately, it looks as though the top four is set and I can't see any world where the Bulldogs can win enough games to avoid finishing last.
In terms of the top eight, the Melbourne Storm, Penrith Panthers, South Sydney Rabbitohs, Parramatta Eels, Sydney Roosters and Manly Sea Eagles are locked in. Placings aside, there'd have to be a scandal of massive proportions to shake that up.
The real fun begins when discussing places seven and eight.
This time last year the top eight was settled. Only the Sharks losing every game and the Warriors winning every game would have seen then swap spots, only for the Sharks to beat the Warriors and end the fun.
2021 however sees seven teams battling for two positions. You could even make an argument for the 14th-placed Warriors to be considered as an eight-placed option.
Four competition points, four, separate the eighth-placed Sharks from the 14th-placed Warriors. The seventh-placed Dragons sit just two points ahead of the Sharks.
Simply put: Over the next seven weeks, it is on for young and old
So who finishes 7th? Who finishes 8th? Who misses out completely?
St George Illawarra Dragons: 18 points (-24)
The Dragons supposedly sit in the driving seat for a finals spot. They have two competition points on the Sharks, Raiders and Knights and have the best differential of any of the sides in contention.
Over the next month multiple players will serve suspensions due to their involvement in the infamous Paul Vaughan BBQ. Vaughan has been released. Cam McInnes remains their only long-term injury.
With only three games left against teams below them on the ladder, contests against the Raiders, Cowboys and Titans shape as must-wins.
Cronulla Sharks: 16 points (-60)
The Sharks are the most average side in the comp. They finished eighth last year with a ten and ten record. Nothing has changed in 2021. On any given day I couldn't tell you whether they will win or not.
They have the softest draw of all teams here with only Manly and Melbourne above them. The game against Melbourne is the final round where they will potentially est players.
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Canberra Raiders: 16 points (-74)
Canberra are fresh off a win against the Sharks which brought them right back into the race for the top eight. They have the best roster of the sides in contention.
The Raiders are down to their fourth-string fullback without a real obvious answer. Otherwise, they are largely unscathed when it comes to injury.
Their run-in is difficult and they will have to be at their best to qualify. The Eels, Storm, Roosters and Manly await them. This looks tough.
Newcastle Knights: 16 points (-137)
The Knights are looking for a second straight finals appearance and thanks to two recent wins they're back in the reckoning.
If Newcastle can snag a win against the Roosters or Raiders in the next fortnight, they play Brisbane twice. Round 22 vs the Sharks looks a must-win.
Gold Coast Titans: 14 points (-74)
The Titans shouldn't be in the dog fight given their superstar roster. That said they have the players to drag them across the line if they're good enough.
Jamal Fogarty is out until at least Round 20 but otherwise they're at full strength.
They need to beat the Dragons this weekend. With games against Souths and the Storm, they face an uphill battle but they have only themselves to play.
Wests Tigers: 14 points (-130)
The Tigers looked gone this time last week. An exciting win over the Broncos has their fans raising that one eyebrow in possible excitement for a return to finals.
They have almost their full side at their disposal.
Penrith and Manly look like a step to far but otherwise two games against the Dogs. They need to beat the Sharks in Round 23 or they'll again miss out.
Val and the Hammer won't play until at least Round 23 meaning their two most potent attacking weapons are largely unavailable.
They won't beat the Eels, Sea Eagles or Storm but if they can bank eight points with four big wins... It looks a long shot at best.
New Zealand Warriors: 12 points (-93)
The Warriors need to win five or their next seven games to be in the race. They play the Bunnies this weekend without RTS. Rough.
Tohu Harris is out for the season while Egan and Berry both have long-term injuries.
Games against the Sharks and Raiders are must-win while they do play the Titans, Tigers, Broncos and Dogs.
Let us know below which two sides will finish seventh and eighth.