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Toughest schedule, predicted finish for rest of NRL season after Round 21

There’s a month left in the regular season, four weeks which will determine more than just who misses the playoffs.

Careers are on the line for players, coaches and administrators as the 16 NRL teams jockey for position over the closing weeks of the schedule.

Premiers Penrith are now almost certain to finish first after maintaining their six-point gap on the second-placed Cowboys by rebounding from their Eels upset with a controversial win in Canberra.

Parramatta’s rousing win over Manly was enormous in the context of the finals race – the Eels have climbed abover Brisbane to fifth with the Broncos slipping to seventh after going down to the Roosters.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

For-and-against records are likely to come into play in deciding final rankings – the Roosters hold a 100-plus advantage on Canberra on that front in the race for eighth and are now two points clear of the Raiders as well so the Green Machine will probably have to win all four games to be any chance.

The Sharks have the easiest run home with Souths facing the toughest schedule.

In working out the strength of schedule for each team in the closing rounds, it is calculated by a tally of the remaining opposition’s current competition points on the ladder. 

South Sydney have the highest cumulative total from their final four opponents with 122 compared to the lowest in Cronulla’s 58, therefore the Bunnies have the hardest strength of schedule. 

The best/worst case scenario for each team is based on the best possible mathematical outcome – basically if they won all their remaining games and the other results go that team’s way to the optimal degree. It is calculated by a standard winning margin in each match of 12 points (there could be much bigger swings in the for and against but then we’re getting into true trainspotter territory, not the cool Begbie kind).

Team Strength of schedule
Sharks 58 (easiest)
Raiders 64 (2nd easiest)
Knights 66 (3rd)
Dragons 66 (4th)
Sea Eagles 74 (5th)
Knights 86 (6th)
Broncos 90 (7th)
Bulldogs 90 (8th)
Warriors 92 (9th)
Eels 94 (10th)
Tigers 96 (11th)
Roosters 96 (12th)
Cowboys 100 (12th)
Panthers 108 (14th)
Storm 118 (15th)
Rabbitohs 122 (16th)

The run home for each team

1. Penrith (1st, 38 points, +314 differential) 

Run home: Rd 22 Storm (H), Rd 23 Rabbitohs (A), Rd 24 Warriors (H), Rd 25 Cowboys (A).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 1st, could slide as low as second if they win no more and the Cowboys don’t lose.

Strength of schedule: 108 (14th easiest)

Predicted finish: 1st. You can all but lock it in.

2. North Queensland (32pts, +222)

Run home: Rd 22 Roosters (A), Rd 23 Warriors (H), Rd 24 Rabbitohs (A), Rd 25 Panthers (H).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 1-6. The Cowboys are all but guaranteed a top-four berth now.

Strength of schedule: 100 (13th easiest)

Predicted finish: 2nd. They are three wins adrift of Penrith and the minor premiership would be handy but their main focus needs to be keeping Cronulla from second spot.

3. Cronulla (30pts, +113)

Run home: Rd 22 Tigers (A), Rd 23 Sea Eagles (A), Rd 24 Bulldogs (H), Rd 25 Knights (A).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 2-8

Strength of schedule: 58 (Easiest) 

Predicted finish: 3rd. Top-four destiny is in their own hands after the win over the Dragons on Saturday night. Despite having the softest schedule, they need the Cowboys to slip up twice to sneak into the top two.

Connor Tracey is hit high in a tackle by Tariq Sims. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

4. Melbourne (28pts, +195)

Run home: Rd 22 Panthers (A), Rd 23 Broncos (A), Rd 24 Roosters (H), Rd 25 Eels (A).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 2-9.

Strength of schedule: 118 (15th easiest)

Predicted finish: 6th. They are no longer sure things to make the top four, particularly with Ryan Papenhuyzen out for the year. They will miss the top two in what will be their lowest regular-season placing since 2015 – that’s how successful the Storm machine has been in recent years.

5. Parramatta (28pts, +54)

Run home: Rd 22 Rabbitohs (H), Rd 23 Bulldogs (H), Rd 24 Broncos (A), Rd 25 Storm (H).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 2-9

Strength of schedule: 94 (10th easiest) 

Predicted finish: 4th. Beating Manly was massive and they should now avoid the prospect of doing it the hard way in the finals from the bottom half of the bracket.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

6. South Sydney (26pts, +108)

Run home: Rd 22 Eels (A), Rd 23 Panthers (H), Rd 24 Cowboys (H), Rd 25 Roosters (A).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 2-10.

Strength of schedule: 122 (Toughest) 

Predicted finish: 8th. They have a tough draw to overcome to ensure their playoff spot – this weekend’s clash with Parra will have a gigantic say on whether they make it or not.

7. Brisbane (26pts, +51)

Run home: Rd 22 Knights (H), Rd 23 Storm (H), Rd 24 Eels (H), Rd 25 Dragons (A).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 2-10. 

Strength of schedule: 90 (7th easiest) 

Predicted finish: 5th. A top-four spot is a strong possibility after collecting the wooden spoon two years ago and placing 14th last year. The back-to-back losses to the Tigers and Roosters could have ramifications in the race for fourth spot.

8. Sydney (24pts, +107)

Run home: Rd 22 Cowboys (H), Rd 23 Tigers (H), Rd 24 Storm (A), Rd 25 Rabbitohs (H).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 3-11.

Strength of schedule: 96 (11th easiest) 

Predicted finish: 9th. Four straight wins have enhanced the Roosters’ chances of sneaking into the eight. Three of their last four games are at home. It still could come down to the final round against the Rabbitohs at the new Allianz Stadium opening match to decide their playoff destiny.

Team Best-worst finish
1. Penrith 1-2
2. North Qld 1-6
3. Cronulla 2-8
4. Melbourne 2-9
5. Parramatta 2-9
6. South Sydney 2-10
7. Brisbane 2-10
8. Sydney 3-11
9. Canberra 6-12
10. Manly 7-13
11. St George Illawarra 7-13
12. Canterbury 10-16
13. Newcastle 10-16
14. New Zealand 10-16
15. Wests 12-16
16. Gold Coast 12-16

9. Canberra (20pts, -33)

Run home: Rd 22 Dragons (H), Rd 23 Knights (A), Rd 24 Sea Eagles (H), Rd 25 Tigers (A).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 6-12

Strength of schedule: 64 (2nd easiest) 

Predicted finish: 7th. The odds are shortening for the Green Machine returning to the finals after three wins from their past four starts. They don’t have any higher-ranked teams on their schedule but the question remains if they can be relied upon to string four straight wins together to make the eight.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

10. Manly (20pts, -8)

Run home: Rd 22 Titans (A), Rd 23 Sharks (H), Rd 24 Raiders (A), Rd 25 Bulldogs (A).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 7-13

Strength of schedule: 74 (5th easiest) 

Predicted finish: 10th. Three straight losses will prove to be the difference between the finals or the final round being the end of their season.

11. St George Illawarra (20pts, -130)

Run home: Rd 22 Raiders (A), Rd 23 Titans (H), Rd 24 Tigers (A), Rd 25 Broncos (H).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 7-13

Strength of schedule: 66 (4th easiest) 

Predicted finish: 11th. With a relatively soft draw to finish the season, the Dragons should be challenging for a playoff spot but don’t bet on this inconsistent team rising any higher. Their woeful for-and-against is also a huge factor to overcome.

12. Canterbury (14pts, -117)

Run home: Rd 22 Warriors (A), Rd 23 Eels (A), Rd 24 Sharks (A), Rd 25 Sea Eagles (H).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 10-16

Strength of schedule: 90 (8th easiest)

Predicted finish: 12th. Their recent form under interim coach Mick Potter has been a breath of fresh air.

Dominic Young. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

13. Newcastle (14pts, -234)

Run home: Rd 22 Broncos (A), Rd 23 Raiders (H), Rd 24 Titans (A), Rd 25 Sharks (H).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 10-16

Strength of schedule: 86 (6th easiest) 

Predicted finish: 14th. They won their Grand Final on Sunday with the victory over the Tigers ensuring they won’t get the wooden spoon. They have not beaten any of the top-eight sides all year and are unlikely to rise any higher than their current predicament.

14. New Zealand (12pts, -237)

Run home: Rd 22 Bulldogs (H), Rd 23 Cowboys (A), Rd 24 Panthers (A), Rd 25 Titans (H).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 12-16

Strength of schedule: 92 (9th easiest)

Predicted finish: 13th. Let’s Gone Warriors? This season is long gone and poor old Stacey Jones has not only inherited a basket case, he’s been passed over for the opportunity to turn them around next year despite being a club legend who’s done the hard yards as an assistant coach. At least their home games are now in Auckland but the not so dizzying heights of 13th or 14th are their likely finishing spot.

15. Wests (10pts, -189)

Run home: Rd 22 Sharks (H), Rd 23 Roosters (A), Rd 24 Dragons (H), Rd 25 Raiders (H).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 11-16

Strength of schedule: 96 (11th easiest) 

Predicted finish: 15th. Caretaker coach Brett Kimmorley need to beat the Knights in Round 24 to ensure the wooden spoon won’t be housed at Concord after Round 25. 

16. Gold Coast (8pts, -216)

Run home: Rd 22 Sea Eagles (H), Rd 23 Dragons (A), Rd 24 Knights (H), Rd 25 Warriors (A).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 12-16.

Strength of schedule: 66 (3rd easiest) 

Predicted finish: 16th. Avoiding the spoon and the sack will be the two main missions for Justin Holbrook. If they beat Newcastle and the Warriors, they could dodge the spoon but it may not be enough to save the coach’s skin.

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