The final make-up of the NRL’s top eight won’t be decided until the last game of the regular season after yet another round of unpredictable results.
In a pulsating second-last round, premiership frontrunners Melbourne lost to resurgent Brisbane, North Queensland moved into the top four at the expense of fading Canterbury, Cronulla enjoyed their first win in more than a month, and Wests Tigers remained a playoff chance.
Minus their No.1 player, James Tedesco, the Tigers secured one of the most spirited fightbacks of the season by defeating the Warriors 36-24 in Auckland on Sunday.
Mitchell Moses starred for the ninth-placed Tigers, who need to rely North Queensland (fourth) to defeat Gold Coast (eighth) in Townsville on Saturday, then beat Canberra (third) at Leichhardt Oval to claim the final playoff spot.
That’s just one of the many permutations ahead of the nine teams that remain in the finals hunt, of which the centrepiece will be the minor premiership showdown between Melbourne (first) at Cronulla (second) at AAMI Park.
“It was a great performance. Before we even look at what is coming we need to reflect on the effort and the energy the guys produced,” Tigers coach Jason Taylor said.
“There was some real never-say-die stuff from us.
“We will start thinking about Canberra in about an hour. We just want to enjoy this first.”
The Warriors have failed to qualify for the playoffs since their 2011 grand final appearance.
The round began with the Bulldogs losing 24-16 to a Johnathan Thurston-inspired Cowboys at Belmore Sports Ground on Thursday.
In his 250th NRL game Sam Thaiday led Brisbane to an upset 26-16 win over the Storm at AAMI Park on Friday.
Cronulla ended a three-game losing streak with a comprehensive 37-12 win over Sydney Roosters at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Saturday night.
The Sharks sit a point behind Melbourne, who have 40 points.
Earlier in the day, the Raiders beat Manly 44-30 at Brookvale Oval to stay keep their chances of a top-two finish afloat.
If Canberra beat the Tigers and Cronulla lose, the Raiders will host a qualifying final in week one of the finals.
Skipper Paul Gallen knows the Sharks control their destiny.
“It’s a massive game for us. We know what we have to do,” he told the Nine Network’s Sunday Footy Show.
“If we win, we get a home final. If we don’t, we might be travelling to Canberra for one.”
Matt Moylan produced a man-of-the-match effort on Saturday evening, including kicking the match-winning field goal in Penrith’s 15-14 defeat of the Titans at Cbus Super Stadium.
Penrith can finish as high as fifth and host a sudden-death final if results fall their way in the final round.
South Sydney inflicted Newcastle’s 17th successive loss at Hunter Stadium on Sunday, 34-12 in a match with no bearing on the finals.
Parramatta host St George Illawarra in the last match of round 25 – two more sides out of finals contention.