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The run home: Each team’s outlook heading into final stretch

With seven rounds remaining, NRL fans are unsurprisingly predicting that the co-competition leaders, premiers Melbourne and Penrith, will again meet in the grand final in 2021.

Using data collated from NRL.com’s ladder predictor, the Panthers have had overwhelming support across the board this season, but the Storm have surged past them into first place in recent weeks.

After a rocky start to the season, the return of red-hot fullback Tom Trbojevic has helped the Sea Eagles rocket up the rankings into third-most likely premiers based off fan votes while the Roosters have slipped in fans' expectations in part due to a horror injury toll.

A recent run of hot form has kept the Bunnies in fourth on the ladder predictor, while the Eels now sit in fifth on fan expectations.

Of the teams currently outside the top eight, fans hold the most hope for the Raiders and Knights. 

With seven rounds remaining, NRL.com looks at how each club is placed and who they face in the lead-up to the finals. Team by team, here is how each team is shaping up heading into the last nine rounds of the Telstra Premiership.

Melbourne Storm

1st. 32 pts. +434 points differential

  • Round 19: Cowboys (A)
  • Round 20: Panthers (H)
  • Round 21: Sea Eagles (A)
  • Round 22: Raiders (H)
  • Round 23: Titans (A)
  • Round 24: Eels (H)
  • Round 25: Sharks (A)

Despite battling injury concerns for much of the season and being forced to navigate life post-Cameron Smith, the Storm continue to impress with their consistency and flair.

They currently sit atop the NRL ladder having won 14 straight and have scored 40 or more in an extraordinary 11 games thus far. Their 632 points scored after 17 games is an all-time premiership record.

Four of their final seven clashes are against current top-eight teams including blockbusters against the Panthers and Sea Eagles.

Penrith Panthers

2nd. 32 pts. +326

  • Round 19: Broncos (H)
  • Round 20: Storm (A)
  • Round 21: Roosters (A)
  • Round 22: Dragons (A)
  • Round 23: Rabbitohs (H)
  • Round 24: Tigers (H)
  • Round 25: Eels (A)

Penrith’s fairytale run has hit a few speedhumps in 2021, the most notable being dual injuries to halves Nathan Cleary (shoulder) and Jarome Luai (knee) recently but with each hopeful of returning for the final month of the regular season, they are still genuine contenders.

They are undefeated this season in games featuring their Origin stars, having scored 40 or more on four occasions.

Their run home is not easy – they will face the Eels again, as well as the Storm, Roosters and Rabbitohs – but there is no doubting their premiership credentials.

Match Highlights: Rabbitohs v Bulldogs

South Sydney Rabbitohs

3rd. 30 pts. +157

  • Round 19: Warriors (H)
  • Round 20: Dragons (A)
  • Round 21: Eels (A)
  • Round 22: Titans (H)
  • Round 23: Panthers (A)
  • Round 24: Roosters (A)
  • Round 25: Dragons (H)

The Bunnies’ season has been marked largely by attacking brilliance with worrying periods of inconsistency, which was on show again in an unconvincing round 18 win over the last-placed Bulldogs.

They are just two competition points behind the ladder leaders but have already endured troubling losses to Melbourne (50-0) and Penrith (56-12).

Five of their remaining seven games are against current top-eight sides, but two of those are against the up-and-down Dragons and two more are against sides they have already beaten this year (the Eels and Roosters). 

Match Highlights: Titans v Eels

Parramatta Eels

4th. 28 pts. +219

  • Round 19: Raiders (H)
  • Round 20: Roosters (A)
  • Round 21: Rabbitohs (H)
  • Round 22: Sea Eagles (A)
  • Round 23: Cowboys (H)
  • Round 24: Storm (A)
  • Round 25: Panthers (H)

The Eels look primed to finish fifth or higher for the fourth time in the past five seasons, but the true measure of their success will come in the finals.

Having lost only the four games this season, the Eels have proven themselves to be a handful on the back of their strong pack and classy playmakers.

Their run to the finals, however, is noticeably tough, with another meeting against Penrith to come, as well as clashes with the Roosters, Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles and Storm.

Sydney Roosters

5th. 24 pts. +98

  • Round 19: Knights (H)
  • Round 20: Eels (H)
  • Round 21: Panthers (H)
  • Round 22: Broncos (A)
  • Round 23: Dragons (A)
  • Round 24: Rabbitohs (H)
  • Round 25: Raiders (A)

Injuries have unfortunately framed the Roosters' season – Luke Keary and Lindsay Collins suffered season-ending knee issues, Joseph Suaalii is now out for the rest of the year while Boyd Cordner, Jake Friend and Brett Morris have been forced into mid-season retirements.

They have, however, still managed to entrench themselves in the top eight and will look to bother some of the competition heavyweights come finals time.

Accounted for the Cowboys in round 18 to stay a win ahead of sixth-placed Manly with four of their final seven games coming against current top-eight teams, with a top-four finish not out of the equation.

Match Highlights: Cowboys v Roosters

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles

6th. 22pts. +131

  • Round 19: Tigers (H)
  • Round 20: Storm (A)
  • Round 21: Sharks (H)
  • Round 22: Eels (H)
  • Round 23: Raiders (A)
  • Round 24: Bulldogs (H)
  • Round 25: Cowboys (A)

The Sea Eagles looked dead and buried after losing their first four games by an average of almost 31 points, but now sit comfortably within the top six. 

Their Tom Trbojevic-centred attack has been electric, with the Sea Eagles surpassing the half-century in four different encounters this season.

Did enough to dispose of a disrupted Dragons in round 18 minus talismanic duo Trbojevic and Daly Cherry-Evans while their run home is very favourable with just three of seven remaining games coming against top-eight opposition. 

Match Highlights: Sea Eagles v Dragons

St. George Illawarra Dragons

7th. 18pts. -24

  • Round 19: Titans (H)
  • Round 20: Rabbitohs (H)
  • Round 21: Raiders (A)
  • Round 22: Panthers (H)
  • Round 23: Roosters (H)
  • Round 24: Cowboys (H)
  • Round 25: Rabbitohs (A)

The Dragons’ first season under the tutelage of Anthony Griffin has been an inconsistent one, but they have exceeded expectations.

Untimely injuries and suspensions have not made things easy, but disappointing losses to the Bulldogs, Tigers, Warriors and Sharks could well hurt them come  season’s end.

Still have a few weeks of suspension interruptions as players pay the penalty for a COVID breach and face a tough run home that features clashes with the Panthers, Roosters and Rabbitohs twice.

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

8th. 16pts. -60

  • Round 19: Bulldogs (A)
  • Round 20: Sea Eagles (H)
  • Round 21: Warriors (A)
  • Round 22: Knights (H)
  • Round 23: Tigers (A)
  • Round 24: Broncos (H)
  • Round 25: Storm (H)

The Sharks are another side that have put a slow start behind them and now have their eyes on the finals.

Clinging to the edge of the eight, the Sharks missed a huge opportunity to put a gap in the bottom half of the draw when they went down to the Raiders in round 18.

They still have a very favourable run home, with just two of their final seven matches against current top-eight teams and three games against sides sitting in the bottom three.

Canberra Raiders

9th. 16pts. -74

  • Round 19: Eels (A)
  • Round 20: Knights (A)
  • Round 21: Dragons (H)
  • Round 22: Storm (A)
  • Round 23: Sea Eagles (H)
  • Round 24: Warriors (A)
  • Round 25: Roosters (H)

Consecutive wins over Manly and Cronulla draws them level with the eighth-placed Sharks on points. 

The Raiders have endured a frustrating season, with much of the mojo that got them to a grand final two years ago appearing to have worn off with just five wins in the first 16 rounds.

Five of their final seven games come against current top-eight sides, including away clashes against Parramatta and Melbourne.

Match Highlights: Raiders v Sharks

Newcastle Knights

10th. 16pts. -137

  • Round 19: Roosters (A)
  • Round 20: Raiders (H)
  • Round 21: Broncos (H)
  • Round 22: Sharks (A)
  • Round 23: Bulldogs (A)
  • Round 24: Titans (H)
  • Round 25: Broncos (A)

Their confidence and differential each took a big hit at the hands of a ruthless Melbourne in a tough round 18 but they are still level with eighth-placed Cronulla on points.

Tyson Frizell is back but Kalyn Ponga, David Klemmer, Mitch Pearce and Dan Saifiti were missed against the Storm.

The draw is quite kind to them for the run home, with meetings against the Broncos twice, as well as the Titans and Bulldogs on the menu.

Gold Coast Titans

11th. 14pts. -74

  • Round 19: Dragons (A)
  • Round 20: Bulldogs (A)
  • Round 21: Cowboys (H)
  • Round 22: Rabbitohs (A)
  • Round 23: Storm (H)
  • Round 24: Knights (A)
  • Round 25: Warriors (H)

It's one step forward and two steps back for the Titans, who were outplayed by the Eels in round 18 to keep them a win adrift of the finals zone.

They still sit just two points outside the eight though and the run home provides the Titans with an opportunity to jump up the standings, with four of their seven remaining games coming against sides around them on the ladder. 

Wests Tigers

12th. 14pts. -130

  • Round 19: Sea Eagles (A)
  • Round 20: Warriors (H)
  • Round 21: Bulldogs (A)
  • Round 22: Cowboys (A)
  • Round 23: Sharks (H)
  • Round 24: Panthers (A)
  • Round 25: Bulldogs (H)

Climbed two ladder spots in round 18 with an impressive win over Brisbane sparked by Adam Doueihi's return to the halves to snap a three-game losing streak. 

Remarkably still just a win outside the eight, further clashes against the Bulldogs (twice), Broncos again plus Warriors and Cowboys will keep Tigers' fans dreams alive for now.

Match Highlights: Broncos v Wests Tigers

North Queensland Cowboys

13th. 14pts. -203

  • Round 19: Storm (H)
  • Round 20: Broncos (A)
  • Round 21: Titans (A)
  • Round 22: Tigers (H)
  • Round 23: Eels (A)
  • Round 24: Dragons (A)
  • Round 25: Sea Eagles (H)

Went down to the Roosters after a strong start to leave their season on life-support, in 13th place with the worst differential of the three sides on 14 points. 

A finals berth is still on offer for the Cowboys, although their run home consists of four games against current top-eight sides with the ominous Storm in wait next week.

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New Zealand Warriors

14th. 12pts. -93

  • Round 19: Rabbitohs (A)
  • Round 20: Tigers (A)
  • Round 21: Sharks (H)
  • Round 22: Bulldogs (H)
  • Round 23: Broncos (A)
  • Round 24: Raiders (H)
  • Round 25: Titans (A)

Nathan Brown and the Warriors will be left wondering if they are cursed after giving it their all in round 18 despite managing most of the contest with no players on the bench.

Inspirational forward Tohu Harris's season-ending injury was a bitter blow, with Wayde Egan also unlikely to return until 2022.

Only two of their remaining seven games come against current top-eight sides but with the eighth-placed Sharks two wins ahead and a horror injury toll to deal with, things aren't looking good.

Brisbane Broncos

15th. 10pts. -260

  • Round 19: Panthers (A)
  • Round 20: Cowboys (H)
  • Round 21: Knights (A)
  • Round 22: Roosters (H)
  • Round 23: Warriors (H)
  • Round 24: Sharks (A)
  • Round 25: Knights (H)

Backed up a morale-boosting round 16 win over the Sharks with a dire second-half collapse against the struggling Tigers and missed a huge opportunity to push outside of the bottom two. 

Still two wins clear of Canterbury and sitting one win behind the Warriors, Brisbane are a chance of climbing outside the bottom four with winnable games to come against the Cowboys, Warriors and Sharks.

Lewis sent to the sin bin amid crazy scenes

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

16th. 6pts. -310

  • Round 19: Sharks (H)
  • Round 20: Titans (H)
  • Round 21: Tigers (H)
  • Round 22: Warriors (A)
  • Round 23: Knights (H)
  • Round 24: Sea Eagles (A)
  • Round 25: Tigers (A)

Have fallen just short in consecutive weeks against the Roosters and Rabbitohs and still sit two wins adrift of 15th-placed Brisbane with the wooden spoon looming.

In Trent Barrett’s first year at the helm the side has managed just two wins from 17 starts while their attack trails the next-worst side in Brisbane by 70 points.

The Bulldogs will have to win, at the very least, two more games to have a chance at avoiding the wooden spoon, with a pair of encounters against the Tigers likely their best shot.

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