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Four sides in a scrap for eighth

Whilst the Panthers are a lock for the minor premiership, eight points clear on the ladder and no chance of being headed or matched, the race behind the mountain men looks mighty enthusiastic and somewhat refreshing.

Few, if any, would have had the Cowboys and Broncos in their pre-season top four, the Sharks have stepped things up a gear in 2022 and now loom as a serious threat and the Melbourne Storm’s recent faltering has them in free fall. The finals race has freshened up somewhat.

The Rabbitohs and Eels are likely to slot in somewhere between second and seventh on the ladder, barring late-season collapses that seem unlikely, yet it is the race between the four clubs immediately behind them that stands to be one of the most compelling storylines across the final six weeks of the competition.

Four clubs – the Roosters, Sea Eagles, Raiders and Dragons – now sit on 20 competition points, with 12 more on offer before the finals. Despite all being inconsistent in 2022, they will have their sights set on what now looks likely to be a mightily contested eighth finals spot.

So, which of the four will make the required run and earn the NRL’s golden finals ticket?

Sydney Roosters run home: Sea Eagles, Broncos, Cowboys, Wests Tigers, Storm, Rabbitohs

Aside from what should be an easy two points against the luckless and unjustly treated Tigers, the Roosters face a tough run home.

Four match-ups with top-eight opposition and a crucially important clash with the Sea Eagles tonight, present a task likely to prove a little too tough when it comes to securing a place in the knock-out phase of the competition.

Two or three wins seem possible, yet the Chooks are unlikely to do enough to scrape into eighth considering the draw laying ahead.

Manly Sea Eagles run home: Roosters, Eels, Titans, Sharks, Raiders, Bulldogs

Things look a likely rosier for the Sea Eagles, especially if a win can be achieved against the Roosters at Brookie tonight. The smart money will have them toppling the Titans, Raiders and Bulldogs on the run home and a fourth win would be enough to see them qualify for late September action.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Despite blowing hot and cold, coach Des Hasler will be hopeful that a more consistent Manly will march into the finals, with other sides certain to be wary of their scoring potential and the danger they present when the planets align.

Canberra Raiders run home: Titans, Panthers, Dragons, Knights, Sea Eagles, Wests Tigers

Newly re-signed Canberra coach Ricky Stuart could not really have asked for a better run home for his troops, barring a probable loss against the Panthers in Round 21.

Off the back of three wins in their last four, the Raiders now move into a set of matches where three victories look highly likely, with other points possible against the Dragons and Sea Eagles.

Like Manly, the matches are there to be won and if the opportunities presented are capitalised upon, the semi-finals look well within Canberra’s reach.

St George Illawarra run home: Cowboys, Sharks, Raiders, Titans, Wests Tigers, Broncos

The Dragons will be banking on wins against the Titans and the Tigers, yet do face a tough road ahead if they are to find the two further wins required to make the finals.

Potentially, the match-up with the Raiders at GIO Stadium could be the tipping point for both clubs, yet with the Cowboys, Sharks and Broncos likely to prove a bridge too far for the gutsy yet inconsistent Red V, under-pressure coach Anthony Griffin may well be planning for 2023 a little earlier than he expected.

The wash-up? Things look a little beyond the Dragons and Roosters, with the Sea Eagles and Raiders the two most likely to scrape their way into the 2022 finals.

With the best draw of the four clubs, it could well be that Ricky’s Raiders advance to another finals series, in what would be a decent effort after some very ordinary performances early in the season.

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