With seven rounds to go before the NRL finals series begins, it could be the case that the top 8 is already settled — at least in the minds of the bookmakers.
According to Playright’s price monitoring, the only two teams who are currently outside of the 8 with any chance of making the finals are the 9th-placed Raiders and Tigers in 10th at $3.85 and $4 respectively, with Newcastle in 11th and the 12th-placed Cowboys a long way out of the betting at $26.
On the other hand, the sides who currently fill the top 8 places are all currently odds-on to remain there. The Rabbitohs, who after round 18 sit atop the ladder with 28 points, are a lock to make the finals at $1.01, while the Brisbane Broncos, currently in 8th, are priced at $1.36 to finish the season still in the top half, so the sports books don’t seem to be predicting much movement between now and the final game of the home and away series.
So what are the chances of at least one of Canberra or Wests sneaking into the finals and displacing one or more of the current top 8?
The Raiders are currently sitting on 18 points (+62), but their run home is a tough one. They play the Tigers, Roosters and Rabbitohs at home, and have four away games against the Sharks, Storm, Panthers and Warriors — with the exception of Wests, all of whom are currently finals-bound sides.
The draw also sees Canberra travelling across the ditch for the last match of the season in a game that could, if things have gone their way before then, be the decider for their season. Likewise, the match against Wests could also be crucial — lose that and the Tigers will likely leapfrog them on the table in the push for a final 8 berth.
Added to this, the Raiders’ task was unquestionably made more difficult this week with the news that captain and designated kicker Jarrod Croker will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on a dislocated knee cap. To increase their woes, halfback Aidan Sezer, who was set to take over the kicking duties from Croker, is also injured and set to miss the Raiders’ next game against Cronulla.
These are just the latest in a long line of Canberra players who have been missing from the starting line up in recent weeks, following on from the suspension for the rest of the season of Jack Wighton after pleading guilty to assault, the two-week suspension for dangerous contact of Joseph Tapine, and a calf injury to Shannon Boyd. However, they have undoubtedly been boosted by the mid-season returns of Josh Hodgson and prop forward Junior Paulo.
All things considered, even the most optimistic Raiders fan would have to concede that it is going to take a remarkable push for them to make the finals, considering their draw and who is currently on the sidelines. The bookies’ assessment of $3.85 looks about right.
Wests Tigers are also on 18 points with Canberra, but wth a For/Against of -49, they are in all reality a point behind. The Tigers do, however, have an easier run in over the last seven games. Aside from the classic four-pointer against the Raiders away on 12 August, Wests play the Rabbitohs, Dragons and Sea Eagles at home, as well as a second game against the Bunnies away, along with the Bulldogs and Knights. This means that only three of their remaining games are against top 8 sides, making their finish to the season markedly easier than that of the Raiders, although having to play two games against South Sydney may be what halts any prospective finals charge.
Although picking up Robbie Farah and Moses Mbye mid-season has undoubtedly had an impact on the side, losing five-eighth Josh Reynolds for the run in is going to hurt Wests, even though he has not been a regular throughout a season in which he has been plagued by injury. Losing backrower Chris Lawrence has also put a dent in the Tiger’s chances, although they are hopeful of being able to regain winger Mahe Fonua for the last few matches of the season.
Of the two sides just outside the 8 pushing for a finals berth, the draw looks a little kinder to Wests Tigers than the Raiders and, although they also have their injury issues, their playing resources also seem a little less depleted. Therefore, if the bookies are going to get it wrong and one of the sides who is currently in the finals spots drops out, the $4 you can get on Wests being the one to replace them looks the better bet.