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Who has toughest schedule for rest of NRL season after Round 18

The final seven games of the regular season 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 two months of the schedule.

Premiers Penrith are all but certain to finish first after opening up an eight-point lead after Round 18 but the race to fill the other seven playoff berths is a long way from being sorted.

Technically, 14 teams are still in contention to make the final eight with the last-placed Tigers and Titans officially out of the playoff race after Round 18. The Bulldogs need more than a minor miracle to somehow jag a spot while the Knights and Warriors are only slightly less unrealistic mathematical chances.

The Dragons, Raiders and Roosters are lurking just outside the cut-off point with the Broncos, Eels, Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles in their sights.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 17: Viliame Kikau of the Panthers is tackled during the round 18 NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the Penrith Panthers at CommBank Stadium, on July 17, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Cronulla, North Queensland and Melbourne are in the top four and look playoff certainties but each of them have tricky schedules as they try to secure an all-important second chance in the finals.

For-and-against records are likely to come into play in deciding final rankings with a deficit of more than 100 adding further weight against the Dragons’ slim chances.

Parramatta are homebodies over the final two months with five matches of their final seven fixtures at CommBank Stadium, a short trip to Manly and one flight to Brisbane.

In working out the strength of schedule for 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 seven opponents with 164, therefore they 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).

Team Strength of schedule
Knights 112 (easiest)
Raiders 112 (easiest)
Titans 114 (3rd)
Sea Eagles 122 (4th)
Cowboys 122 (4th)
Sharks 124 (6th)
Dragons 128 (7th)
Bulldogs 128 (7th)
Broncos 128 (7th)
Roosters 136 (10th)
Storm 140 (11th)
Tigers 142 (12th)
Warriors 142 (12th)
Panthers 150 (14th)
Eels 158 (15th)
Rabbitohs 164 (16th)

The run home for each team

1. Penrith (1st, 34 points, +308 differential) 

Run home: Rd 19 Sharks (Home), Rd 20 Eels (A), Rd 21 Raiders (A), 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 fifth.

Strength of schedule: 150 (14th easiest)

Likely finish: 1st. It would take a horrific injury toll for the Panthers to lose top spot in the closing rounds. They rested seven rep players on the weekend, still won their game and extended their competition lead from six to eight points with the Cowboys losing to Cronulla.

2. North Queensland (26pts, +181)

Run home: Rd 19 Tigers (H), Rd 20 Dragons (A), Rd 21 Bulldogs (A), Rd 22 Roosters (A), Rd 23 Warriors (H), Rd 24 Rabbitohs (A), Rd 25 Panthers (H).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 1-11. The Cowboys are all but certain to finish top four but in a nightmare scenario they could drop as low as 11th.

Strength of schedule: 122 (4th easiest)

Likely finish: The loss to Cronulla on Friday could prove costly but even the impact of a high representative contingent, they should finish in the top four. Keeping Melbourne and the Sharks at bay will be their big challenge.

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

3. Cronulla (26pts, +116)

Run home: Rd 19 Panthers (A), Rd 20 Rabbitohs (H), Rd 21 Dragons (H), Rd 22 Tigers (A), Rd 23 Sea Eagles (A), Rd 24 Bulldogs (H), Rd 25 Knights (A).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 1-11

Strength of schedule: 124 (6th easiest) 

Likely finish: Destiny is in their own hands and the 14-point Round 18 road triumph over North Queensland was a massive boost for their top-four hopes and chances of sneaking into the top two.

4. Melbourne (24pts, +177)

Run home: Rd 19 Rabbitohs (A), Rd 20 Warriors (A), Rd 21 Titans (H), Rd 22 Panthers (A), Rd 23 Broncos (A), Rd 24 Roosters (H), Rd 25 Eels (A).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 1-13.

Strength of schedule: 140 (11th easiest)

Likely finish: They have lost five of their past eight so they’re not sure things to make the top four. Could drop as low as sixth or seventh now Ryan Papenhuyzen is out for the year. Even missing the top two would be their lowest regular-season placing since 2015 – that’s how successful the Storm machine has been in recent years.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JULY 16: Adam Reynolds of the Broncos runs the ball during the round 18 NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the Brisbane Broncos at Cbus Super Stadium, on July 16, 2022, in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Adam Reynolds. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

5. Brisbane (24pts, +61)

Run home: Rd 19 Eels (A), Rd 20 Tigers (H), Rd 21 Roosters (A), Rd 22 Knights (H), Rd 23 Storm (H), Rd 24 Eels (H), Rd 25 Dragons (A).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 1-13. 

Strength of schedule: 128 (7th easiest) 

Likely finish: A dream draw to finish the season means a top-four spot is a distinct possibility after collecting the wooden spoon two years ago and placing 14th last year. Round 19 and 24 vs Parra will be key clashes.

6. Parramatta (22pts, +36)

Run home: Rd 19 Broncos (Home), Rd 20 Panthers (H), Rd 21 Sea Eagles (A), Rd 22 Rabbitohs (H), Rd 23 Bulldogs (H), Rd 24 Broncos (A), Rd 25 Storm (H).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 1-13

Strength of schedule: 158 (14th easiest) 

Likely finish: Parra have five matches at home, punctuated by trips to Manly and Brisbane, but their lack of travel is counterbalanced by one of the toughest schedules to finish the season. Probably won’t make top four but should qualify for finals.

(Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

7. South Sydney (22pts, +59)

Run home: Rd 19 Storm (H), Rd 20 Sharks (A), Rd 21 Warriors (A), Rd 22 Eels (A), Rd 23 Panthers (H), Rd 24 Cowboys (H), Rd 25 Roosters (A).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 1-15. Anything is literally possible, except for the spoon. But smack bang in the middle is likely. 

Strength of schedule: 164 (Toughest) 

Likely finish: Jason Demetriou would love to get back a few upset losses earlier in the season to teams like the Tigers, Dragons and Raiders. No guarantee to make the finals but will probably finish 7th or 8th.

8. Manly (20pts, +32)

Run home: Rd 19 Dragons (A), Rd 20 Roosters (H), Rd 21 Eels (H), Rd 22 Titans (A), Rd 23 Sharks (H), Rd 24 Raiders (A), Rd 25 Bulldogs (A).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 2-15

Strength of schedule: 122 (4th easiest) 

Likely finish: They should leapfrog Souths and maybe another team or two but top four is a bridge too far. The 30-point win over Newcastle on Saturday was a handy percentage booster.

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

9. Sydney (18pts, +49)

Run home: Rd 19 Knights (A), Rd 20 Sea Eagles (A), Rd 21 Broncos (H), Rd 22 Cowboys (H), Rd 23 Tigers (H), Rd 24 Storm (A), Rd 25 Rabbitohs (H).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 2-16 

Strength of schedule: 136 (10th easiest) 

Likely finish: The Roosters enhanced their chances of sneaking into the eight by thrashing the Dragons to leapfrog them into ninth. It looks like it will come down to the final round against the Rabbitohs at the new Allianz Stadium opening match to decide eighth spot.

10. Canberra (18pts, -37)

Run home: Rd 19 Warriors (H), Rd 20 Titans (A), Rd 21 Panthers (H), Rd 22 Dragons (H), Rd 23 Knights (A), Rd 24 Sea Eagles (H), Rd 25 Tigers (A).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 2-16 

Strength of schedule: 112 (equal easiest) 

Likely finish: The odds are against the Green Machine returning to the finals despite upsetting the Storm. They don’t have a lot of higher-ranked teams on their schedule but you can’t rely on them to string enough wins together to make the eight.

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

11. St George Illawarra (18pts, -112)

Run home: Rd 19 Sea Eagles (H), Rd 20 Cowboys (H), Rd 21 Sharks (A), Rd 22 Raiders (A), Rd 23 Titans (H), Rd 24 Tigers (A), Rd 25 Broncos (H).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 2-16

Strength of schedule: 128 (7th easiest) 

Likely finish: With a relatively soft draw to finish the season, the Dragons could challenge for a playoff spot but don’t bet on this inconsistent team rising any higher, especially after their tackle-shy loss to the Roosters on the weekend. They dropped two spots on the weekend and will likely go down the ladder another rung or three.

12. New Zealand (12pts, -175)

Run home: Rd 19 Raiders (A), Rd 20 Storm (H), Rd 21 Rabbitohs (A), Rd 22 Bulldogs (H), Rd 23 Cowboys (A), Rd 24 Panthers (A), Rd 25 Titans (H).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 6-16

Strength of schedule: 142 (12th easiest)

Likely finish: Let’s Gone Warriors? This season is already 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.

13. Newcastle (12pts, -194)

Run home: Rd 19 Roosters (H), Rd 20 Bulldogs (H), Rd 21 Tigers (A), Rd 22 Broncos (A), Rd 23 Raiders (H), Rd 24 Titans (A), Rd 25 Sharks (H).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 3-16

Strength of schedule: 112 (Equal easiest) 

Likely finish: The remaining schedule is not too tough but neither are the Knights these days. They have not beaten any of the top eight sides all year and are unlikely to rise any higher than their current predicament.

14. Canterbury (10pts, -127)

Run home: Rd 19 Titans (Home), Rd 20 Knights (A), Rd 21 Cowboys (H), Rd 22 Warriors (A), Rd 23 Eels (A), Rd 24 Sharks (A), Rd 25 Sea Eagles (H).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 5-16

Strength of schedule: 128 (7th easiest)

Likely finish: They should rise up another couple of rungs based on their recent form under interim coach Mick Potter.

15. Gold Coast (8pts, -176)

Run home: Rd 19 Bulldogs (A), Rd 20 Raiders (H), Rd 21 Storm (A), Rd 22 Sea Eagles (H), Rd 23 Dragons (A), Rd 24 Knights (H), Rd 25 Warriors (A).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 9-16.

Strength of schedule: 114 (3rd easiest) 

Likely finish: Avoiding the spoon and the sack will be the two main missions for Justin Holbrook. A slight uptick to 14th is their probable end point, which may not be enough to prevent the latter.

Tino Fa'asuamaleaui of the Titans is tackled.

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

16. Wests (8pts, -198)

Run home: Rd 19 Cowboys (A), Rd 20 Broncos (A), Rd 21 Knights (H), Rd 22 Sharks (H), Rd 23 Roosters (A), Rd 24 Dragons (H), Rd 25 Raiders (H).

Best-worst mathematical case scenario: 9-16

Strength of schedule: 142 (12th easiest) 

Likely finish: At least caretaker coach Brett Kimmorley has a few home games on the schedule but the wooden spoon is all but certain to be housed at Concord after Round 25. They blew a golden chance on Sunday to bank two competition points against the depleted Panthers without seven Origin stars.

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