Barring a continuation of the most dramatic of Parramatta Eel collapses and the minute possibility that the Knights could still statistically leap above them on the ladder, seven NRL teams look likely to fight for the two remaining finals’ spots.
As tightly packed as those teams may be on the ladder, some have a much-preferred run home and look better chances than others to advance to the finals. So who is in the box seat as the final three rounds of action approach?
The Knights have the decided advantage of points superiority over the other teams in the battle for finals play and considering two of their final three games are against the Bulldogs and Broncos, they appear a lock for seventh.
They also face the Titans in Round 24 in a match that they could well drop yet still advance. Canterbury and Brisbane will be out to spoil the party, yet it seems almost certain that the men from the Hunter will be back in the finals in 2021.
Gold Coast Titans
The Titans have a tough run home. Round 23 pits them against the benchmark Storm, the Knights loom next in a potentially do or die game and they may face the exact same prospect against the Warriors in the final week. It looks a tough call and anything less than two wins in the final rounds will see them miss the cut by the narrowest of margins.
Similar to the Warriors, the Raiders are a far better team than they were earlier in the season and despite a close loss to the Storm in Round 22, have loomed into semi-final contention late in the season after winning just once between Rounds 5 and 12.
The run may come too late and a tough match-up against the Sea Eagles this Friday is followed by a vital clash with the Warriors in Round 24 and a final round stoush with the Roosters. To have any chance whatsoever, the men in green will need to win two of those matches, something that looks a tough ask right now.
A heart-breaking loss to the Knights in Redcliffe on Sunday has made Josh Hannay’s task of guiding his young team into the finals an extremely tough one. However, in his favour are two winnable games against the Tigers and Broncos over the next two weeks.
A Round 25 clash with Melbourne looms as the final nail in the coffin, with 22 competition points no chance of being enough to qualify. The Tigers match-up could well be pivotal; the winner keeping their hopes alive and the loser done and dusted for 2021.
New Zealand Warriors
The Warriors face a similar scenario with three wins required to give them a chance at the final’s play. After three straight victories, confidence will be high and six straight is a realistic possibility with games against Brisbane, Canberra and Gold Coast to finish the season.
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Often, one team will get on a roll and make a late yet seemingly forlorn charge for the finals. It could well be the Warriors in 2021 and it would be a great reward in what has been another challenging season for them.
St George Illawarra Dragons
The Dragons just keep losing and have not tasted a win since Round 17. Only the most optimistic soul could mount an argument to suggest that the Red V will or deserves to be involved in the finals and winning three straight to end the season looks unlikely.
Round 24 will not be a breeze against the Cowboys and that game is bookended by tough opponents in the form of the Roosters and Rabbitohs. It will be a very disappointing end for a team that won four of its first five matches this season.
In much the same vein, it's almost impossible to see the Tigers knocking off the Panthers in Round 24 and adding to the four competition points they could very well pick up against the Sharks and Dogs on the run home. Doing so and with a little luck elsewhere, could produce a miracle and send them to the finals.
Sadly, nothing less than three straight will get it done and barring Penrith resting substantial numbers when they meet, the Tigers look almost certainly set for another frustrating finish just outside the eight; something they appear to have become the masters of in recent times.
In essence, seventh does appear to be the Knights to lose and with so many of the other clubs in the running meeting each other on the run home, eighth is near impossible to predict. The Warriors have the match-ups to do it, but a sneaky win for Canberra or Gold Coast could well see them scrape through.
Best of all, things will most likely come down to the final round, something the NRL will be very happy about indeed.