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Where your team fits into the finals equation

Title heavyweights, challengers, finals hopefuls and also-rans - where does your team fit into the finals equation?

There are three teams in the top category and it would be a big surprise if the eventual grand final winner didn't come from the Storm, Roosters or Rabbitohs.

There are also three teams at the bottom. You can put a line through the Dragons and they have now joined the Bulldogs and Titans as teams that can start making preparations for next year.

I think there is a gap right now between the eighth-placed Knights and ninth-placed Warriors. The five top-eight teams from Canberra down to Newcastle are a big chance of staying where they are.

They have a bit more quality than the teams below them but also a shortcoming that puts them a tier below the top three sides.

Then, the team from the Warriors to the Cowboys have a shot at pushing their way into the finals but they are just that bit less consistent or that bit more out of form right now compared to those already sitting in the eight.

The big three

The Storm have a three-game gap at the top and should take out the minor premiership. They are playing their style of footy and have maintained that level pretty much all year.

However, once you get into the finals things tend to go to another level and I'm not sure how many more levels they have.

The Roosters have arguably the easiest run into September of the big three and even without Jake Friend again they showed what they are capable of in that big win over Newcastle. I can see them catching Souths.

The Rabbitohs have a few tough games but they also have the most improvement left in them and once they get players like Sam and Tom Burgess and Alex Johnston back they'll be a real force.

The challengers

Canberra are rightfully the top of this tier and the most likely to challenge the top three teams. They play a tough, gritty style, they have their defence in order and they have mostly shaken off their habit of losing close games. 

Manly are the second-best team in this group. They can play high-quality footy at times and Des Hasler is really getting the best out of a roster that, outside of the top few players, looks thinner than the best teams.

I've got the Knights as the sixth-best team this year even though they've dropped off a bit lately. They can have some really enterprising attack but also go a bit sideways. They have a strong pack can dominate when they want to. 

Every try from Round 18

The Eels and the Panthers are quite similar. Both struggle with being able to wrest back momentum when it gets away from them and sticking to the game plan. They are more likely to resort to trick plays or desperation plays to get out of trouble. When they're on they can win convincingly but will have a tough time in the high pressure games at the end of the year.

The finals hopefuls

Any of the next five teams could still challenge for a spot in the bottom of the eight if they go on a run but in general, they are all too hot and cold.

The Broncos probably have the most potential but their entire game plan depends on their young forward pack. There are still questions over their halves and game management and if those young forwards don't stand up they've got nothing.

The Warriors are more hot and cold than anyone. On their day, with their forwards coming off the back fence getting Roger Tuivasa-Sheck on the front foot, they can compete with anyone. The problem is once the momentum goes it takes far too long to get it back.

The Sharks have really fallen away lately and have struggled to put a team together for most of the year but they also look like they have the most potential improvement. They are spluttering at the moment but their run in isn't the worst if they can get it together.

Milford believes the Broncos can make the finals

The Cowboys could really trouble some teams, like we saw against Souths, particularly once Michael Morgan is back, but it was a big missed opportunity on the weekend and they have some tough road trips coming up.

The Tigers may have just run out of puff. Their go-to guys are the oldest guys in the team. Whether those older players can lift them through the rest of the year is the big question and they just don't look like they've got the firepower to lift themselves into the finals.

The also-rans

Unfortunately for the Dragons, they are now closer to the wooden spoon than they are to the top eight. This year hasn't gone to plan at all.

They need to try and find some form to give them a lift heading into next year. Paul McGregor is still there for a couple of years and most of their squad will be the same next year.

It's a different story for the Bulldogs and Titans who I think should purely just start working on things for next year. Winning or losing shouldn't be the main focus and they have to treat the scoreboard as irrelevant when they're playing.

They need to set smaller goals through the week and just work on achieving those. By that I mean instead of building a comprehensive game plan, work to a limited plan and try and tick off one different thing each week.

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.