The run-in - five rounds to go
Monday 30 July 2012 10:25 AM
With five rounds left, the guesswork is well and truly on over the cut-off point for the NRL’s top eight.
While the bad news is the Vodafone Warriors are now 12th on the ladder after slipping to their third straight close loss – the margins have been two points, five points and two points – there is some good news as well, although with the proviso they simply must beat Cronulla in Sunday’s 22nd-round match at Mount Smart Stadium (2.00pm kick-off local time).
One positive out of a challenging predicament is that the Vodafone Warriors remain just two points outside the top eight, the unlikely Gold Coast Titans now in eighth spot on 22 points with a gaggle of teams right behind them – Newcastle, Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra all on 22 with the Titans and the Vodafone Warriors and Canberra on 20.
Another upside is the team’s positive points for and against reading of plus 23, the other five in this group all in negative range – Gold Coast (-2), Newcastle (-4), preseason title favourites Wests Tigers (-35), St George Illawarra (-50), and Canberra (-69).
Ahead of these six teams, the Vodafone Warriors’ next opponent Cronulla hasn’t been travelling so well. After being as high on the ladder as third not so long ago, the Sharks have drawn with the Sydney Roosters and lost to St George Illawarra, Canberra and Penrith in their last four games.
They still hold a three-point buffer sitting on 25 points but their points for and against has drifted to minus 12. They’ll be desperate to arrest their slide when they come to Auckland this weekend knowing their run-in is arguably the most demanding of all; after the Vodafone Warriors they’re away to Newcastle, home to South Sydney, away to Melbourne and home to North Queensland.
Just one point ahead of the Sharks is Brisbane, North Queensland and Manly. Brisbane can move to a reasonably safe position on 28 by beating bottom-placed Parramatta tonight but over the last five weeks all three of these teams have testing schedules.
The Broncos are away to Canberra, away to the Bulldogs, home to the Storm, away to Manly and home to Penrith; the Cowboys are home to Manly, home to the Vodafone Warriors, away to St George Illawarra, home to Newcastle and away to Cronulla; the Sea Eagles are away to the Cowboys, away to South Sydney, home to Newcastle, home to Brisbane and away to Gold Coast.
And what of the Storm’s quite alarming run of defeats? They’ve had five losses on end and six in the last seven games since beating the Vodafone Warriors in Auckland on June 3; The week after that win they lost at home to Wests Tigers then beat Manly away before losing to the Bulldogs, Canberra, North Queensland, Parramatta and St George Illawarra.
In the final five rounds of the regular season they face Penrith at home (where they haven’t won since May 25), Gold Coast at home, Brisbane away, Cronulla at home and Wests Tigers away, a draw which will surely see them regain winning touch.
With the end-of-season run-in in mind, the magic number to make the finals becomes the focus of discussion. Will it be 30 this year, or 28? Or, in Cronulla’s case, will it be 29 or even 27?
Last year 28 was good enough for Newcastle, making it ahead of Canterbury-Bankstown on points for and against. Manly qualified with 28 in 2010 and Parramatta clinched eighth spot with 29 points in 2009 (when it went all the way to the grand final). In 2008, the Vodafone Warriors needed 30 points to finish eighth (one of three teams to do so) and finished within a win of the grand final.
With only one bye in the 2007 season, the Vodafone Warriors finished fourth with only 29 points while Parramatta was fifth with 28 followed by the Bulldogs and South Sydney on 26 and Brisbane eighth on just 24 with an 11 win-13 loss record.
The previous five seasons the minimum required (with two byes in place) was 28 in 2006 and 2005, 26 in 2004, 28 in 2003 and 25 in 2002.
Maybe this will be another season when 28 points is enough.
Whatever it is the Vodafone Warriors know they need to pick themselves up against the Sharks and make sure the winning feeling returns this week.
Here’s how the run-in looks with five rounds to go. Listed below are the matches left for all 16 teams (position, current points and points differential in brackets):
Bulldogs (1, 32 points, +170) – Knights (a), Broncos (h), Tigers (h), Raiders (a), Roosters (h).
Rabbitohs (2, 30 points, +103) – Titans (a), Sea Eagles (h), Sharks (a), Eels (h), Knights (a).
Storm (3, 28 points, +147) – Panthers (h), Titans (h), Broncos (a), Sharks (a), Tigers (a).
Broncos (4, 26 points, +82) – Eels (h), Raiders (a), Bulldogs (a), Storm (h), Sea Eagles (a), Panthers (h).
Cowboys (5, 26 points, +82) – Sea Eagles (h), Vodafone Warriors (h), Dragons (a), Knights (h), Sharks (a).
Sea Eagles (6, 26 points, +35) – Cowboys (a), Rabbitohs (a), Knights (h), Broncos (h), Titans (a).
Sharks (7, 25 points, -12) – Vodafone Warriors (a), Knights (a), Rabbitohs (h), Storm (a), Cowboys (h).
Titans (8, 22 points, -2) – Rabbitohs (h), Storm (a), Eels (h), Panthers (a), Sea Eagles (h).
Knights (9, 22 points, -4) – Bulldogs (h), Sharks (h), Sea Eagles (a), Cowboys (a), Rabbitohs (h).
Tigers (10, 22 points, -35) – Eels (h), Dragons (h), Bulldogs (a), Roosters (a), Storm (h).
Dragons (11, 22 points, -50) – Roosters (a), Tigers (a), Cowboys (h), Vodafone Warriors (h), Eels (a).
Vodafone Warriors (12, 20 points, +23) – Sharks (h), Cowboys (a), Panthers (h), Dragons (a), Raiders (h).
Raiders (13, 20 points, -69) – Broncos (h), Panthers (a), Roosters (h), Bulldogs (h), Vodafone Warriors (a).
Roosters (14, 17 points, -154) – Dragons (h), Eels (a), Raiders (a), Tigers (h), Bulldogs (a).
Panthers (15, 16 points, -125) – Storm (a), Raiders (h), Vodafone Warriors (a), Titans (h), Broncos (a).
Eels (16, 12 points, -191) – Broncos (a), Tigers (a), Roosters (h), Titans (a), Rabbitohs (a), Dragons (h).