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Run to the finals: Part I

Another NRL finals appearance is on the horizon but before we get there we have eight big games to finish off the 2021 regular season.

Here’s part one of our look at how the run to the finals shapes up.

Round 18 v Newcastle at AAMI Park

We will welcome our team back home for the first time since the 40-14 victory against Cronulla on April 30. Since then they’ve won eight consecutive games to shoot to the top of the ladder and premiership favouritism. Newcastle are in the big pack fighting for a top-eight finish and will hope to have Kalyn Ponga available after playing for Queensland in Origin III. Newcastle has conceded almost twice as many points as Storm this season – 372 against 194 – but have a former Storm assistant coach in Adam O’Brien who will be desperate to get his first win as head coach against his old club.

Round 19 v North Queensland at QCB Stadium

This will be Storm’s first trip to the Cowboys’ new home ground after missing out in 2020. The Cowboys have had a hot and cold season but remain in the finals hunt under new coach Todd Payten. These games always have a bit of a family feel with plenty of players switching between the two clubs in the past decade including the likes of Felise Kaufusi and Brandon Smith (now with Storm) and Jordan McLean, Scott Drinkwater and Ben Hampton (now with the Cowboys).

Round 20 v Penrith at AAMI Park

This is the blockbuster to end all blockbusters – last year’s grand finalists, this year’s top two and the return bout following the Panthers’ epic two-point victory in round three. Storm have not lost a game since that 12-10 loss while the Panthers have dropped a couple during the Origin period. The winner could be in the box seat to claim the minor premiership. There’s some awesome match-ups to look forward to if the two teams are at full strength, highlighted by the halves where Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes are up against Penrith’s Origin duo Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai.

Round 21 v Manly at Brookvale Oval

Melbourne v Manly clashes always have something special and this one should be no different with the Sea Eagles, led by fullback Tom Trjojevic, in awesome form following a rough start to the year. Manly lost their first four games but have won nine of their next 11 to consolidate a top eight position. They’ve been scoring plenty of points – 172 in their last three matches as they tore apart the Cowboys, Titans and Bulldogs. Melbourne has won its last three against Manly and hasn’t lost to them in Sydney since 2015.