A series of injuries and suspensions to the leading contenders has thrown the race to the title wide open as teams jockey for finals positions in the remaining four rounds.
The loss of Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai, Jahrome Hughes and Ryan Papenhuyzen has placed uncertainty around the finish to the regular season for the premiership favourites in the Panthers and Storm, while the Eels are flying despite an injury to Mitchell Moses.
Only eight teams will get a crack at knockout footy in September and push their claim for a tilt at the premiership.
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The Panthers are sitting pretty on top of the competition, but there’s a chasing pack led by the Cowboys, Sharks, Eels, Storm, Broncos, Rabbitohs and Roosters who are all desperate to prove the premiership isn’t a one-horse race.
The current ladder is set a few more twists and turns before the end of the regular season, with a number of clubs fighting for top eight and top four berths.
In The Run Home, foxsports.com.au analyses every team’s remaining four games and predicts how it will all play out based on the draw, form and injuries.
PREDICTED LADDER AFTER ROUND 25
1. Panthers (44 points)
2. Cowboys (40)
3. Sharks (38)
4. Eels (34)
5. Storm (30)
6. Rabbitohs (30)
7. Broncos (30)
8. Roosters (28)
9. Raiders (28)
10. Sea Eagles (26)
11. Dragons (26)
12. Bulldogs (16)
13. Knights (16)
14. Warriors (14)
15. Tigers (8)
16. Titans (8)
PREDICTED FIRST WEEK OF FINALS
First qualifying: Panthers vs Eels
Second qualifying: Cowboys vs Sharks
First elimination: Storm vs Roosters
Second elimination: Rabbitohs vs Broncos
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TEAMS ANALYSIS: Broncos’ backline shake-up; Knights recall enforcer
1. PENRITH PANTHERS (38, +314)
Run home: Storm (H), Rabbitohs (A), Warriors (H), Cowboys (A)
Analysis: The loss of Nathan Cleary to suspension and Jarome Luai to a knee injury has thrown a real spanner in the works for the remainder of the regular season, but so far the Panthers have been able to weather the storm. The pair won’t play again until the finals, but luckily they have a commanding six point lead in the race for the minor premiership and they can wrap it up this weekend given their commanding points differential.
Injuries: Viliame Kikau (hip TBC), Eddie Blacker (hamstring Round 21), James Fisher-Harris (suspended Round 24), Nathan Cleary (suspension finals), Jarome Luai (knee finals)
Projected results: WWWL
Predicted finish: 1st (44 points)
2. NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS (32, +222)
Run home: Roosters (A), Warriors (H), Rabbitohs (A), Panthers (H)
Analysis: The Cowboys are on fire after taking care of business against a plucky Bulldogs side and have a real chance to go through to the finals on the back of seven straight wins. Valentine Holmes is in the form of his life, while Jeremiah Nanai is second on the try-scorers list behind only Alex Johnston. Given they are almost at full fitness after Jordan McLean was named to return this round, the Cowboys have a real shot to go from second last to premiers in the space of one season.
Injuries: Kyle Feldt (hamstring Round 22), Jordan McLean (hamstring Round 22), Mitch Dunn (knee season), Heilum Luki (knee season)
Projected results: WWWW
Predicted finish: 2nd (40 points)
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Run home: Tigers (A), Sea Eagles (A), Bulldogs (H), Knights (A)
Analysis: The Sharks are riding high after a victory over arch rivals the Dragons and given their soft run home they have all but cemented a top four spot. Injuries to spine players William Kennedy and Matt Moylan are big blows, but given the form of Nicho Hynes the Sharks can step up in the playmaking department until they return.
Injuries: Connor Tracey (head knock TBC), Matt Moylan (quad Round 22), Royce Hunt (shoulder TBC), Dale Finucane (suspended Round 22), William Kennedy (ankle finals), Sione Katoa (shoulder season), Jack Williams (shoulder season)
Projected results: WWWW
Predicted finish: 3rd (38 points)
4. MELBOURNE STORM (28, +195)
Run home: Panthers (A), Broncos (A), Roosters (H), Eels (A)
Analysis: The Storm are back in the winners circle and given their excellent for and against, a top-four spot is still a possibility. However, their growing casualty ward is a real concern and Ryan Papenhuyzen’s season-ending knee injury and a shoulder injury to Jahrome Hughes threatens to derail their title aspirations. Cameron Munster was a revelation at fullback, but Nick Meaney’s return and Hughes’ unavailability means he is needed in the halves this week. Justin Olam returns this week but there is a feeling their horror run with injury could finally catch up with the Storm in the finals.
Injuries: Jahrome Hughes (shoulder TBC), Jack Howarth (shoulder Round 21), Tepai Moeroa (shoulder Round 22), Will Warbrick (quad Round 22), Nick Meaney (shoulder/head knock Round 22), Trent Loiero (back indefinite), Ryan Papenhuyzen (knee season), Reimis Smith (pectoral season), Christian Welch (Achilles season), George Jennings (knee season)
Projected results: LWLL
Predicted finish: 5th (30 points)
5. PARRAMATTA EELS (28, +54)
Run home: Rabbitohs (H), Bulldogs (H), Broncos (A), Storm (H)
Analysis: The Eels beat the Panthers for the second time this season and made light work of the Sea Eagles, proving they have the team to go all the way if they continue finding some consistency before the finals. A finger injury to Mitchell Moses threatened to derail their top-four hopes, but Dylan Brown has stepped up in his absence. Just how they fill the Moses void will have a big baring on where the Eels finish on the ladder. However, if they are all fit come September, the Eels are a real shot at a drought-breaking title.
Injuries: Bailey Simonsson (hamstring Round 22-23), Mitchell Moses (finger Round 24-25), Haze Dunster (knee season), Ray Stone (knee season)
Projected results: LWWW
Predicted finish: 4th (34 points)
6. SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS (26, +108)
Run home: Eels (A), Panthers (H), Cowboys (H), Roosters (A)
Analysis: The Rabbitohs’ top-four hopes are all but over given the form of their main competitors, but they look to be peaking at the right time of the season. The Rabbitohs have a tough run home, but given the Eels and Panthers will be without their halfbacks, Souths can go on a bit of a run into the finals and if they can get Campbell Graham back at some point they will be a scary proposition come September.
Injuries: Campbell Graham (cheekbone Round 22-23), Jed Cartwright (hamstring Round 23), Hame Sele (hamstring Round 23-24), Peter Mamouzelos (wrist Round 24), Michael Chee Kam (thumb Round 25), Liam Knight (knee season), Jacob Host (shoulder season)
Projected results: WLLW
Predicted finish: 6th (30 points)
7. BRISBANE BRONCOS (26, +51)
Run home: Knights (H), Storm (H), Eels (H), Dragons (A)
Analysis: The Broncos juggernaut came to an abrupt halt with back-to-back losses that has all but ended their top-four hopes in the space of a fortnight. However, with their troops returning including Te Maire Martin and Herbie Farnworth in time for the finals and with three home games to come, the Broncos can get back on track in time for September, but a first title since 2006 looks a bit premature for this team.
Injuries: Jordan Pereira (illness TBC), Albert Kelly (foot Round 22), TC Robati (arm Round 222), Herbie Farnworth (biceps indefinite), Patrick Carrigan (suspension Round 25)
Projected results: WLLW
Predicted finish: 7th (30 points)
8. SYDNEY ROOSTERS (24, +107)
Run home: Cowboys (H), Tigers (H), Storm (A), Rabbitohs (H)
Analysis: The Roosters were dominant against the Broncos and face a real test of how far they have come against the Cowboys in Round 22. Luke Keary is back to his best and building a strong combination with halfback Sam Walker at the scrumbase. Trent Robinson appears to have his side starting to click at the right end of the season, but a growing casualty ward is making it tough to maintain the rage. The loss of Lindsay Collins is a big blow, but the return of Siosiua Taukeiaho and the signing of Matt Lodge can help set the platform for their star-studded backline to shine. As long as James Tedesco is in the team, write off the Roosters at your peril.
Injuries: Lindsay Collins (concussion Round 23), Siosiua Taukeiaho (cheekbone Round 23), Billy Smith (knee season), Sitili Tupouniua (knee season)
Projected results: LWWL
Predicted finish: 8th (28 points)
9. CANBERRA RAIDERS (22, -33)
Run home: Dragons (H), Knights (A), Sea Eagles (H), Tigers (A)
Analysis: The Raiders late season charge to the finals has hit a severe roadblock with their loss to the Panthers leaving them two points behind the eighth-placed Roosters with a poor points differential. Compounding the loss was Ricky Stuart’s post match spray at Jaeman Salmon, which has seen him banned form the club for a week. On the field, Zac Woolford has been a revelation at hooker, while Jamal Fogarty and Jack Wighton are showing what might have been had they played the whole season together. The Raiders have a soft draw, but their poor points differential means they need to win their four remaining games and hope other results go their way.
Injuries: Joseph Tapine (ribs TBC), Ryan Sutton (head knock TBC), Semi Valemei (ribs TBC), Xavier Savage (ankle TBC), James Schiller (ankle Round 22), Nick Cotric (suspended Round 23), Harry Rushton (jaw Round 25), Jarrod Croker (shoulder season), Josh Hodgson (knee season), Harley Smith-Shields (knee season)
Projected results: WWLW
Predicted finish: 9th (28 points)
10. MANLY SEA EAGLES (20, -8)
Run home: Titans (A), Sharks (H), Raiders (A), Bulldogs (H)
Analysis: The Sea Eagles are a team in turmoil after the Pride jersey boycott threatened to derail their season and cause a divide in the playing ranks. Given their poor points differential, the Sea Eagles will need to finish on more competition points than the Roosters to nab a finals berth, which is unlikely after their convincing loss to the Eels left them four points out of the eight with just four games left. A soft draw could see them finish the season strong, but they could live to rue that fateful loss to the Roosters.
Injuries: Sean Keppie (shoulder Round 23), Tom Trbojevic (shoulder season), Karl Lawton (knee season)
Projected results: WLWW
Predicted finish: 10th (26 points)
11. ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS (20, -130)
Run home: Raiders (A), Titans (H), Tigers (A), Broncos (H)
Analysis: The Dragons’ loss to the Sharks all but ended their push for a top eight berth given their horror points differential. Ben Hunt is in career best form, but he can’t do it all on his own and there is not enough creativity elsewhere in the team at present. The loss of Cody Ramsey and Moses Suli were big blows and Anthony Griffin’s reluctance to play Tyrell Sloan has been confounding to say the least. The Dragons need to be brave with their selections to win some games by a big margin or they will have to start planning for next year.
Injuries: Cody Ramsey (knee Round 22), Jayden Sullivan (shoulder Round 23), Mikaele Ravalawa (hamstring finals), Moses Suli (ankle finals), Tariq Sims (suspended finals)
Projected results: LWWL
Predicted finish: 11th (26 points)
12. CANTERBURY BULLDOGS (14, -117)
Run home: Warriors (A), Eels (A), Sharks (A), Sea Eagles (H)
Analysis: The Bulldogs are riding high on the back of four wins from their last seven starts and have become the great entertainers of the back half of the season. Unfortunately they have left their run too late for a finals berth, but they can still have a massive say in how the ladder finishes up. Matt Burton and Josh Addo-Carr have made the Bulldogs a must-watch team, with their brilliant combination producing some scintillating tries and they pushed the Cowboys all the way last week. However, a tough run home will see them finish just outside the bottom four, which given how they started the season is still a massive outcome.
Injuries: Paul Alamoti (cheekbone, Round 22), Ava Seumanufagai (calf Round 22), Corey Waddell (suspension, round 25) Corey Allan (groin Round 25), Reece Hoffman (hand Round 25), Luke Thompson (concussion indefinite), Jack Hetherington (shoulder season), Billy Tsikrikas (knee season)
Projected results: WLLL
Predicted finish: 12th (16 points)
13. NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS (14, -234)
Run home: Broncos (A), Raiders (H), Titans (A), Sharks (H)
Analysis: After a horror week the Knights just needed a win against the Tigers and they got the job done albeit just to ease the pressure on the club and their coach Adam O’Brien. The Knights’ season was in danger of imploding on the back of a woeful defensive record that is the worst in the NRL despite showing signs of improvement last week. The Knights are also missing key attacking players Kalyn Ponga with Anthony Milford struggling to carry the playmaking load in his absence. A clash with the Titans loom as the Knights’ best chance of salvaging some more pride, but it is all about planning for next year from here on out.
Injuries: Edrick Lee (foot TBC), Hymel Hunt (abductor TBC), Lachlan Fitzgibbon (shoulder TBC), Kurt Mann (leg Round 22), Chris Vea’ila (leg indefinite), Kalyn Ponga (concussion indefinite), Bailey Hodgson (elbow season), Dylan Lucas (pectoral season)
Projected results: LLWL
Predicted finish: 13th (16 points)
14. WARRIORS (12, -237)
Run home: Bulldogs (H), Cowboys (A), Panthers (A), Titans (H)
Analysis: The Warriors put in a horror display against the Rabbitohs, with their season in danger of getting really ugly in the final month with the Titans in the last round their best chance of salvaging some pride. The injury to Chanel Harris-Tavita means Daejarn Asi has come in for yet another change to their halves. Reece Walsh is playing like his mind is already at the Broncos and the warriors would be a real chance for the spoon were it not for the Titans’ horror season.
Injuries: Jesse Arthars (quadricep Round 22), Chanel Harris-Tavita (knee Round 22-23), Ben Murdoch-Masila (elbow Round 24), Jazz Tevaga (shoulder season), Ronald Volkman (shoulder season)
Projected results: LLLW
Predicted finish: 14th (14 points)
15. WESTS TIGERS (10, -189)
Run home: Sharks (H), Roosters (A), Dragons (H), Raiders (H)
Analysis: The Tigers thought they had turned a corner after pushing the Cowboys all the way in a game they should have won, before toppling the red hot Broncos at home. But a loss to the lowly Knights saw them come crashing back down to earth. A season-ending injury to inspirational lock Jackson Hastings will be tough to overcome because he gives the side a point of difference and an extra playmaker. Jock Madden has showed promise in the absence of the injured Luke Brooks, but needs more time in first grade to develop his craft. Adam Doeuihi is showing what might have been had he not missed half the season to injury. If they can rediscover the form they showed against the Cowboys and Broncos the Tigers can cause a few upsets at the back end of the year, but a tough draw will make it hard for them to win another game.
Injuries: Luke Garner (neck Round 22), Tommy Talau (knee Round 24-25), Luke Brooks (calf Round 24-25), Stefano Utoikamanu (wrist Round 24-25), Jackson Hastings (ankle season), Alex Twal (concussion season), Shawn Blore (knee season)
Projected results: LLLL
Predicted finish: 15th (12 points)
16. GOLD COAST TITANS (8, -216)
Run home: Sea Eagles (H), Dragons (A), Knights (H), Warriors (A)
Analysis: The most disappointing team this season given they went within a pass of the semi-finals last year. Like the Knights, the Titans have massive issues defensively which is hurting their ability to stay in games long enough to challenge for wins. Justin Holbrook’s public criticism of his spine is perplexing, given he was the one that put his faith in a young core at the start of the season. Given they have the lowest casualty rate in the NRL, the Titans are out of excuses and that falls back on the man who built their 2022 squad in Holbrook as they stare at an almost certain wooden spoon.
Injuries: Joe Vuna (knee indefinite), Shallin Fuller (leg season), Aaron Booth (knee season)
Projected results: LLLL
Predicted finish: 16th (8 points)