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The run home: Each team’s outlook heading into final stretch

With six rounds remaining, NRL fans are unsurprisingly predicting the co-competition leaders, premiers Melbourne and Penrith, will again meet in the grand final in 2021.

Using data collated from NRL.com’s ladder predictor, the Panthers have had overwhelming support across the board this season, but the Storm have surged past them into first place.

After a rocky start to the season, the return of red-hot fullback Tom Trbojevic helped the Sea Eagles rocket up the rankings into third-most likely premiers based off fan votes while the Roosters have slipped in fans' expectations in part due to a horror injury toll.

A recent run of hot form has kept the Bunnies in fourth on the ladder predictor, while the Eels now sit in fifth on fan expectations.

With six rounds remaining, NRL.com looks at how each club is placed and who they face in the lead-up to the finals. Team by team, here is how each team is shaping up heading into the last nine rounds of the Telstra Premiership.

Melbourne Storm

1st. 34 pts. +438 points differential

  • Round 20: Panthers (H)
  • Round 21: Sea Eagles (A)
  • Round 22: Raiders (H)
  • Round 23: Titans (A)
  • Round 24: Eels (H)
  • Round 25: Sharks (A)

Despite battling injury concerns for much of the season and being forced to navigate life post-Cameron Smith, the Storm continue to impress with their consistency and flair despite struggling to put away the Cowboys in round 19.

They sit atop the Telstra Premiership ladder having won 15 straight and scoring scored 40 or more in an extraordinary 11 games thus far. Their 652 points scored after 18 games is an all-time premiership record.

Four of their final six clashes are against current top-eight teams including blockbusters against the Panthers and Sea Eagles.

Match Highlights: Cowboys v Storm

Penrith Panthers

2nd. 34 pts. +332

  • Round 20: Storm (A)
  • Round 21: Roosters (A)
  • Round 22: Dragons (A)
  • Round 23: Rabbitohs (H)
  • Round 24: Tigers (H)
  • Round 25: Eels (A)

Penrith’s fairytale run has hit a few speedhumps in 2021, the most notable being dual injuries to halves Nathan Cleary (shoulder) and Jarome Luai (knee) recently but with Luai now back and Cleary getting close, the Panthers are still genuine contenders.

They are undefeated this season in games featuring their Origin stars, having scored 40 or more on four occasions.

Their run home is not easy – they will face the Eels again, as well as the Storm, Roosters and Rabbitohs – but there is no doubting their premiership credentials.

Match Highlights: Panthers v Broncos

South Sydney Rabbitohs

3rd. 32 pts. +195

  • Round 20: Dragons (A)
  • Round 21: Eels (A)
  • Round 22: Titans (H)
  • Round 23: Panthers (A)
  • Round 24: Roosters (A)
  • Round 25: Dragons (H)

The Bunnies’ season has been marked largely by attacking brilliance with worrying periods of inconsistency, which was on show again as they racked up 60 points against the Warriors while still letting in four tries. 

They are just two competition points behind the ladder leaders but have already endured troubling losses to Melbourne (50-0) and Penrith (56-12).

Four of their remaining six games are against current top-eight sides, but two of those are against the up-and-down Dragons and two more are against sides they have already beaten this year (the Eels and Roosters). 

Match Highlights: Rabbitohs v Warriors

Parramatta Eels

4th. 28 pts. +217

  • Round 20: Roosters (A)
  • Round 21: Rabbitohs (H)
  • Round 22: Sea Eagles (A)
  • Round 23: Cowboys (H)
  • Round 24: Storm (A)
  • Round 25: Panthers (H)

The Eels look primed to finish fifth or higher for the fourth time in the past five seasons, but their top four aspirations copped a hit with a hard-fought loss to the Raiders in round 19.

it was just their fifth loss of the season, but allows the Roosters and Sea Eagles  to close the gap.

Their run to the finals only gets tougher, with another meeting against Penrith to come, as well as clashes with the Roosters, Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles and Storm.

Match Highlights: Roosters v Knights

Sydney Roosters

5th. 26 pts. +118

  • Round 20: Eels (H)
  • Round 21: Panthers (H)
  • Round 22: Broncos (A)
  • Round 23: Dragons (A)
  • Round 24: Rabbitohs (H)
  • Round 25: Raiders (A)

Injuries have unfortunately framed the Roosters' season – Luke Keary and Lindsay Collins suffered season-ending knee issues, Joseph Suaalii is now out for the rest of the year while Boyd Cordner, Jake Friend and Brett Morris have been forced into mid-season retirements.

They have, however, still managed to entrench themselves in the top eight and will look to bother some of the competition heavyweights come finals time.

Shrugged off more injuries to pile on a big win against the Knights in round 19 to stay a win ahead of sixth-placed Manly and stay well in the hunt for a top four finish.

Four of their final six games come against current top-eight teams so will have to earn a top four spot the hard way. 

Match Highlights: Sea Eagles v Wests Tigers

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles

6th. 24pts. +151

  • Round 20: Sharks (A)
  • Round 21: Storm (H)
  • Round 22: Eels (H)
  • Round 23: Raiders (A)
  • Round 24: Bulldogs (H)
  • Round 25: Cowboys (A)

The Sea Eagles looked dead and buried after losing their first four games by an average of almost 31 points, but now sit comfortably within the top six. 

Their Tom Trbojevic-centred attack has been electric, with the Sea Eagles surpassing the half-century in four encounters this season.

Eventually overcame the Tigers in round 19 to keep the Roosters and Eels in their sights while their run home is favourable with just two games to come against teams above them on the ladder. 

Match Highlights: Bulldogs v Sharks

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

7th. 18pts. -40

  • Round 20: Sea Eagles (H)
  • Round 21: Warriors (A)
  • Round 22: Knights (H)
  • Round 23: Tigers (A)
  • Round 24: Broncos (H)
  • Round 25: Storm (H)

The Sharks are another side that have put a slow start behind them and now have their eyes on the finals.

Made up for round 18's loss to Canberra with a big win over last-placed Canterbury that moved them up to seventh on the ladder. 

The win came at a cost with Shaun Johnson injured but a favourable run home that includes just two of six matches against current top-eight teams presents a golden opportunity to entrench themselves further in the finals zone. 

No 'jumping at shadows' for Hannay around Johnson injury

St George Illawarra Dragons

8th. 18pts. -46

  • Round 20: Rabbitohs (H)
  • Round 21: Raiders (A)
  • Round 22: Panthers (H)
  • Round 23: Roosters (H)
  • Round 24: Cowboys (H)
  • Round 25: Rabbitohs (A)

The Dragons’ first season under the tutelage of Anthony Griffin has been an inconsistent one, and with a very tough draw ahead the round-19 loss to the Gold Coast was a huge blow to their hopes of remaining in the top eight and dropping them one spot on the ladder. 

Untimely injuries and suspensions have not made things easy, but disappointing losses to the Bulldogs, Tigers, Warriors and Sharks could well hurt them come  season's end.

They still have a couple of weeks of suspension interruptions as players pay the penalty for a COVID breach and face a tough run home that features clashes with the Panthers, Roosters and Rabbitohs twice.

Match Highlights: Eels v Raiders

Canberra Raiders

9th. 16pts. -72

  • Round 20: Knights (A)
  • Round 21: Dragons (H)
  • Round 22: Storm (A)
  • Round 23: Sea Eagles (H)
  • Round 24: Warriors (A)
  • Round 25: Roosters (H)

Toppled the high-flying Eels to record a third straight win for the first time this year and push to the edge of the top eight.

The Raiders have endured a frustrating season, with much of the mojo that got them to a grand final two years ago appearing to have worn off with just five wins in the first 16 rounds.

Four of their final six games come against current top-eight sides, with clashes against the Storm, Sea Eagles and Roosters to make life tough as they attempt to climb another spot or two on the ladder. 

Match Highlights: Dragons v Titans

Gold Coast Titans

10th. 14pts. -74

  • Round 20: Bulldogs (A)
  • Round 21: Cowboys (H)
  • Round 22: Rabbitohs (A)
  • Round 23: Storm (H)
  • Round 24: Knights (A)
  • Round 25: Warriors (H)

Climbed a spot to 10th with a big win over the Dragons in round 19, keeping them just a win behind a trio of teams on 18 points and with a far healthier differential than all the teams level or below them on the ladder. 

The run home provides the Titans with an opportunity to jump up the standings, with four of their six remaining games coming against sides below them on the ladder plus tough games against Souths and Melbourne. 

Newcastle Knights

11th. 16pts. -157

  • Round 20: Raiders (H)
  • Round 21: Broncos (H)
  • Round 22: Sharks (A)
  • Round 23: Bulldogs (A)
  • Round 24: Titans (H)
  • Round 25: Broncos (A)

It's been a horror fortnight for the boys from Hunter with a huge loss to the Storm followed by a confidence-sapping loss against an injury-ravaged Roosters side that should have been ripe for the picking. 

David Klemmer, Mitch Pearce and Bradman Best are all a chance to return next week but huge improvement is needed after one of their worst efforts of the year.

On the upside the draw is quite kind to them for the run home, with meetings against the Broncos twice, as well as the Titans and Bulldogs on the menu.

Wests Tigers

12th. 14pts. -150

  • Round 20: Warriors (H)
  • Round 21: Bulldogs (A)
  • Round 22: Cowboys (A)
  • Round 23: Sharks (H)
  • Round 24: Panthers (A)
  • Round 25: Bulldogs (H)

Took it to the Sea Eagles early but weren't able to stay with them as round 18's big win over Brisbane faded into the memory banks. 

They now sit two wins outside the eight and with time running out, but have a favourable run home with further clashes against the Bulldogs (twice), Broncos again plus Warriors and Cowboys, which will keep Tigers' fans dreams alive for now.

Brooks the spark for Doueihi to score

North Queensland Cowboys

13th. 14pts. -207

  • Round 20: Broncos (A)
  • Round 21: Titans (A)
  • Round 22: Tigers (H)
  • Round 23: Eels (A)
  • Round 24: Dragons (A)
  • Round 25: Sea Eagles (H)

Fought impressively against the seemingly unstoppable Storm and in the end probably missed an opportunity to nail one of the upsets of the season. 

A loss is still a loss though and Todd Payten's men need to make up two wins on the eighth-placed Sharks over the final six rounds with three of their final six games coming against top-eight sides. 

'Beyond us now': Brown admits finals chances gone

New Zealand Warriors

14th. 12pts. -131

  • Round 20: Tigers (A)
  • Round 21: Sharks (H)
  • Round 22: Bulldogs (H)
  • Round 23: Broncos (A)
  • Round 24: Raiders (H)
  • Round 25: Titans (A)

Nathan Brown and the Warriors will be left wondering if they are cursed after consecutive injury-ravaged losses as the 2021 season slips quickly away from them.

Only one of their remaining six games come against a top-eight side but with the eighth-placed Dragons three wins away and a horror injury toll to deal with, things aren't looking good.

We'll get him a game: Coates move south not reason for non selection

Brisbane Broncos

15th. 10pts. -266

  • Round 20: Cowboys (H)
  • Round 21: Knights (A)
  • Round 22: Roosters (H)
  • Round 23: Warriors (H)
  • Round 24: Sharks (A)
  • Round 25: Knights (H)

Fought hard against the might of Penrith in round 19, eventually going down by just six points

Still two wins clear of Canterbury and one win behind the 14th-placed Warriors, Brisbane are still an outside chance of climbing outside the bottom four with winnable games to come against the Cowboys, Warriors and Sharks.

Thompson on report and sent to the sin bin for late hit on Brailey

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

16th. 6pts. -330

  • Round 20: Titans (H)
  • Round 21: Tigers (H)
  • Round 22: Warriors (A)
  • Round 23: Knights (H)
  • Round 24: Sea Eagles (A)
  • Round 25: Tigers (A)

The Dogs are running out of time to dodge the wooden spoon with a big loss to the Sharks in round 19 making life a bit tougher and keeping them two wins adrift of 15th-placed Brisbane.

In Trent Barrett’s first year at the helm the side has managed just two wins from 17 starts while their attack trails the next-worst side in Brisbane by 58 points.

The Bulldogs will have to win, at the very least, two more games to have a chance at avoiding the wooden spoon, with a pair of encounters against the Tigers likely their best shot.

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