Wests Tigers took a giant step forward to clinching a finals berth in 2018 with a thrilling 22-20 victory over the Canberra Raiders at GIO Stadium on Sunday.
Ending their dismal recent record against the Green Machine, Ivan Cleary's side moved to within two points of the eighth-placed Brisbane Broncos with three games remaining in the regular season.
With two home games coming up at the club's suburban grounds of Leichhardt and Campbelltown, it's certainly going to be a fascinating final three weeks as Wests Tigers look to try and sneak in to the eight.
Meanwhile, the Intrust Super Premiership competition is also shaping as a close-run affair leading in to the finals with a logjam of teams competing for a top four spot. Western Suburbs' incredible last-second win over Mounties in Round 22 saw them keep pace with a number of sides around them in the run to the finals, with just two games left in the season to try and secure a crucial top four position of their own.
Wests Tigers Jersey Flegg side cannot make finals football, currently sitting in 12th spot on the ladder.
With potentials finals spots on the line, it's certainly going to be fascinating last few weeks of the regular season for both the NRL and Intrust Super Premiership boys as they look to feature in September footy!
Ladder Position | 9th (24 points, -34 F/A)
Teams Around Them | Dragons—5th, Sharks—6th, Warriors—7th (28 points), Broncos—8th (26 points)
Remaining Fixtures | Dragons—5th (H), Sea Eagles—12th (H), Rabbitohs—2nd (A)
They went to the nation's capital knowing anything other than a win would likely end their season, and Wests Tigers delivered when it mattered most — holding on in a tense finish to record a crucial two-point win. The result could have been better for Wests Tigers if not for a late Canberra comeback which didn't exactly help their for-and-against, but they did enough to win and that was the main thing for the moment.
Wests Tigers will head to Leichhardt Oval this week as they face the Dragons, who are in somewhat of a free-fall after losing star playmaker Gareth Widdop in a 40-4 thrashing at the hands of the lowly Eels. There's no doubting that the Red V will come out firing on Saturday after dropping out of the top four for the first time all season, and with an intriguing run home against the Bulldogs and Knights to follow.
The team that all eyes will be on is Brisbane, however, with the Broncos facing off against the top teams in the competition over the next fortnight. After going down in a thriller to the North Queensland Cowboys last week, Wayne Bennett's side will certainly appreciate being back at Suncorp Stadium for this week's game against the South Sydney Rabbitohs, who will likely come in to the match without both Alex Johnston (hamstring) and Greg Inglis (thumb). The Broncos did get the points when these two teams met earlier in the year, but if they do go down on Thursday night, the door will be open for Wests Tigers to potentially finish the round inside the top eight should they get the job done against the Dragons.
After winning their respective games on the weekend, it's unlikely that either the Cronulla Sharks or New Zealand Warriors will find themselves slipping out of the top eight with three games remaining, but funnier things have happened in rugby league. Both have pretty favourable runs home in terms of the schedule, with the Warriors facing off against the Bulldogs in Sydney and the Sharks against the Cowboys at home.
Match: Wests Tigers v Dragons
Round 23 -
Venue: Leichhardt Oval, Sydney
Ladder Position | 6th (26 points, +23 F/A)
Teams Around Them | Dragons—2nd (28 points), Jets—3rd, Mounties—4th, Bulldogs—5th (26 points)
Remaining Fixtures | Wyong Roos—8th (A), Newtown Jets—3rd (A)
Tyson Gamble's last second field goal has kept Western Suburbs hopes at a top four finish alive for 2018 with the Magpies moving to 26 points — level with the Jets, Mounties and Bulldogs. All three of those sides are two points behind the Dragons on 28 points, and while all five teams do look to have a finals spot guaranteed this year, the final two games of the year will go a long way to deciding their finishing position.
Western Suburbs will face off against Wyong this week, with the Roos desperate to avoid defeat as it could see them end the round outside the top eight. If the Magpies can secure another two points, there's a chance they could end the round in third or fourth as Newtown and the Dragons both have tough fixtures.
The remaining fixtures for the teams around them on the ladder are as follows:
- Dragons, 2nd — Away to Blacktown Workers (9th), Away to Mounties (4th)
- Jets, 3rd — Home to NZ Warriors (7th), Home to Western Suburbs (6th)
- Mounties, 4th — Away to Wentworthville (11th), Home to Dragons (2nd)
- Bulldogs, 5th — Home to North Sydney (10th), Away to Wentworthville (11th)
Of those, the clash between the Dragons and Mounties in Round 24 is going to be key in the top four race, as will next week's clash between the Magpies and Jets — all four of which are in the race for the top four.
However, those fixtures are all next week and there's plenty of football still to be played this coming weekend that will no doubt prove pivotal in the Intrust Super Premiership ladder position.
Match: Roos v Magpies
Round 23 -
Venue: Morry Breen Oval, Central Coast