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Who has toughest schedule for rest of NRL season with careers on the line

The final eight 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 but the race to fill the other seven playoff berths is a long way from being sorted.

Technically all teams are still in contention to make the final eight but the last-placed Tigers, Titans and Bulldogs need more than a minor miracle to somehow jag a spot while the Knights and Warriors are more mathematical than realistic 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.

(Photo by Brett Hemmings/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 – the bottom five teams are all in a deficit of more than 100, making their remote chances even less probable.

Parramatta will be homebodies over the final two months with six matches at CommBank Stadium, a short trip to Manly and one flight to Brisbane.

The Wests Tigers and Roosters have five of their last eight fixtures on home turf while the Storm, Sharks, Rabbitohs and Warriors will be on the road five times apiece in the final eight rounds.

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 and Wests Tigers have the highest cumulative total from their eight opponents with 166, therefore they have the hardest strength of schedule. The Rabbitohs get last spot because they have three home games left and the Tigers have five.

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.

Team Strength of schedule
Knights 122 (easiest)
Sea Eagles 124 (2nd)
Dragons 128 (3rd)
Broncos 130 (4th)
Raiders 132 (5th)
Titans 132 (5th)
Cowboys 140 (7th)
Bulldogs 142 (8th)
Sharks 144 (9th)
Storm 146 (10th)
Roosters 148 (11th)
Panthers 152 (12th)
Warriors 158 (13th)
Eels 160 (14th)
Tigers 166 (15th)
Rabbitohs 166 (16th)

The run home for each team

1. Penrith (1st, 32 points, +306 differential) 

Run home: Rd 18 Tigers (Away), 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 sixth.

Strength of schedule: 152 (12th toughest)

Likely finish: 1st. It would take a horrific injury toll for the Panthers to lose top spot in the closing rounds.

2. North Queensland (26pts, +195)

Run home: Rd 18 Sharks (H), 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: 1-12. The Cowboys are all but certain to finish top four but in a nightmare scenario they could drop as low as 12th.

Strength of schedule: 140 (7th toughest)

Likely finish: With the way the team has been playing under Todd Payten, even the impact of a high representative contingent shouldn’t stop them finishing in the top four. Keeping Melbourne and the Sharks at bay will be their big challenge.

Reece Robson scores

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

3. Melbourne (24pts, +181)

Run home: Rd 18 Raiders (H), 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: 146 (10th toughest)

Likely finish: They have lost four of their past seven so they’re not sure things to make the top four. 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.

4. Cronulla (24pts, +102)

Run home: Rd 18 Cowboys (A), 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: 1-13

Strength of schedule: 144 (9th toughest) 

Likely finish: Destiny is in their own hands but the Broncos and Eels are more than capable of taking their top-four berth.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

5. Brisbane (22pts, +57)

Run home: Rd 18 Titans (A), 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: 1-15. 

Strength of schedule: 130 (4th toughest) 

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, +26)

Run home: Rd 18 Warriors (H), 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: 1-15

Strength of schedule: 160 (14th toughest) 

Likely finish: Parra have six 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 (20pts, +51)

Run home: Rd 18 Bulldogs (A), 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: 1-16. Anything is literally possible. But smack bang in the middle is likely. 

Strength of schedule: 166 (16th 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 (18pts, +2)

Run home: Rd 18 Knights (H), 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: 1-16

Strength of schedule: 124 (2nd toughest) 

Likely finish: They should leapfrog Souths and maybe another team or two but top four is a bridge too far.

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

9. St George Illawarra (18pts, -84)

Run home: Rd 18 Roosters (A), 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: 1-16

Strength of schedule: 128 (3rd toughest) 

Likely finish: With a relatively soft draw to finish the season, the Dragons should challenge for a playoff spot but don’t bet on this inconsistent team rising any higher. They will likely drop down the ladder a rung or three.

10. Sydney (16pts, +21)

Run home: Rd 18 Dragons (H), 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: 148 (11th toughest) 

Likely finish: The heat is on the Chooks and Trent Robinson needs to make changes – definitely in performance and perhaps in personnel as well – if this team is going to sneak into the eight. Looks like it will come down to the final round against the Rabbitohs at the new Allianz Stadium opening match to decide eighth spot.

11. Canberra (16pts, -41)

Run home: Rd 18 Storm (A), 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: 132 (5th toughest) 

Likely finish: It doesn’t look like the Green Machine will be returning to the finals. Like the Dragons, 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)

12. Newcastle (12pts, -164)

Run home: Rd 18 Sea Eagles (A), 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: 122 (Easiest draw) 

Likely finish: The good news for Knights fans is their remaining schedule is the easiest of any team. The bad news is their team has not beaten any of the top eight sides all year and is unlikely to rise any higher than their current predicament.

13. New Zealand (12pts, -165)

Run home: Rd 18 Eels (A), 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: 3-16

Strength of schedule: 158 (13th toughest) 

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 14th are their likely finishing spot.

14. Canterbury (10pts, -119)

Run home: Rd 18 Rabbitohs (H), 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: 142 (8th toughest) 

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

15. Gold Coast (8pts, -172)

Run home: Rd 18 Broncos (H), 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: 6-16. So you’re saying there’s a chance – Lloyd Christmas. Nuff said.

Strength of schedule: 132 (6th toughest) 

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, -196)

Run home: Rd 18 Panthers (H), 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: 6-16

Strength of schedule: 166 (15th toughest) 

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.

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