1. Melbourne Storm
Week 1: Qualifying Final v Parramatta Eels on Saturday, 4.10pm at AAMI Park
How we look: You can not argue with a seven game winning streak heading into finals but that would have been forgotten by the boys the moment the home and away season came to an end. Storm have won their past three games by an average margin of 39 points, all be-it against opposition outside of the top eight. Against fellow finals contenders, Melbourne have a 9-3 record this season with two of those defeats suffered without their Origin stars. The September journey begins with a Qualifying Final against the Eels on Saturday, the prize up for grabs is a home Preliminary Final.
2. Sydney Roosters
Week 1: Qualifying Final v Brisbane Broncos on Friday, 7.55pm at Allianz Stadium
When they played us: Sydney got the chocolates back in Round 16 against a Storm side missing its Origin stars, a Mitchell Pearce golden point field goal all that separated them. Melbourne were the last team to beat Trent Robinson’s men when they came to AAMI Park four weeks ago. The Roosters controlled the football for much of that game and it took an inspired defensive effort for Storm to get over the line. Sydney have since gone on a three game winning streak with victory over Cronulla at Shark Park the highlight.
3. Brisbane Broncos
Week 1: Qualifying Final v Sydney Roosters on Friday, 7.55pm at Allianz Stadium
When they played us: One of the games of the season in Round 3, when Storm were forced on the back foot for much of the game before Josh Addo-Carr’s try in the 76th minute saw the men in purple take out a two-point win. That margin blew out to 30-points in the return bout when Melbourne ran in eight tries to two at Suncorp Stadium, their 12th win over Brisbane in the last 14 games. In that game the Broncos were significantly undermanned though with Darius Boyd, Corey Oates and Anthony Milford all missing while Josh McGuire was forced from the field early.
4. Parramatta Eels
Week 1: Qualifying Final v Melbourne Storm on Saturday, 4.10pm at AAMI Park
When they played us: The last team to beat Melbourne. That game was in Round 18 when they came to AAMI Park and left with a 22-6 victory. They were at full strength that night while Storm were without six Origin players. The playing field will be significantly more even this Saturday night. A loss to the Knights a month ago remains their only blemish from the last 10 games. Semi Radradra was dominant last time out against Melbourne with a game-high 201 metres so it will be a tough test defensively for the Melbourne right edge. Back in finals for the first time since 2009, the Eels will be counting down the day until Saturday’s showdown.
5. Cronulla Sharks
Week 1: Elimination Final v North Queensland Cowboys on Sunday, 4.10pm at Allianz Stadium
When they played us: Two of arguably the toughest games of the season were against Cronulla. The Sharks inflicted Storm with their first defeat of the 2017 season when they triumphed 11-2 in the pouring rain at AAMI Park back in Round 6. Melbourne returned serve on a June Thursday night at Shark Park with a gutsy 18-13 victory. Cronulla’s form may be patchy but they are an experienced team made for finals football. Should they win against the Cowboys, they will travel to face the loser of Storm v Parramatta.
6. Manly Sea Eagles
Week 1: Elimination Final v Penrith Panthers on Saturday, 7.40pm at Allianz Stadium
When they played us: Storm jumped the Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval back in Round 7 with four tries inside they opening 20 minutes. Manly clawed their way back though, falling short by just four points. Things were a little more convincing for the men in purple a few months later at AAMI Park for Cameron Smith’s 350th game, when they scored in seven tries to one in their biggest ever win over Manly. Two crucial wins in the last fortnight to get into the finals should fill the Sea Eagles with confidence.
7. Penrith Panthers
Week 1: Elimination Final v Manly Sea Eagles on Saturday, 7.40pm at Allianz Stadium
When they played us: It was in Round 5 that Storm ran in three unanswered tries in the second half to record a comfortable 22-point win at AAMI Park. Penrith have beaten Craig Bellamy’s side just once from their last 18 attempts and not in Melbourne since 2005. Before losing their last two games, the Panthers rattled off seven straight wins to be one of the form sides of the competition.
8. North Queensland Cowboys
Week 1: Elimination Final v Cronulla Sharks on Sunday, 4.10pm at Allianz Stadium
When they played us: The Cowboys were upset at AAMI Park in June by a Storm side missing Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith. Melbourne then took a near-full strength side to Townsville in Round 22 and emerged victorious by 18 points. North Queensland have a significant injury toll that includes season-ending injuries to Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston. Should they win against Cronulla on Sunday night, they will earn the chance to play the loser of Storm’s Qualifying Final against the Eels.