After a dramatic weekend of NRL action in which highly regarded Cronulla and North Queensland both suffered confidence-sapping losses, Cowboys coach Paul Green believes a top-four finish is not a necessity for premiership success.
First placed-Melbourne and fourth-placed Canberra end round 23 on Monday night.
But regardless of who wins in the nation’s capital, the top eight has been hit with another shake-up due to the weekend’s unpredictable results.
The Cowboys top four chances have suffered in their 22-10 loss to a Mitchell Pearce-inspired Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium on Sunday.
It was the premiers’ third loss in a row and if the Raiders defeat the Storm at GIO Stadium, the Cowboys will be four points adrift of the top four with three rounds to play.
Green admitted the Cowboys were in a slump but said not all was lost as they chase back-to-back premierships.
A side hasn’t won the title outside the top four since Canterbury in 1995.
“I think a team can win from outside the top four,” Green said.
“There are a lot of factors, travel takes it out of you and those games go up a level and they do take it out of the boys. But I think it is possible.
“When you are in a slump there is no shortcut to get out of it, you have to work your way out of it,” Green said.
“We just have to get a bit of confidence, scrap and fight for a win. We are not that far off. It is important that we stick together and not lose confidence.
“There is still a long way to go (in the competition) and hopefully there is still a long way to go for us.”
Cronulla (second) also need to scrap for a win, after succumbing to 11th-placed St George Illawarra 32-18 at Kogarah on Saturday night.
The Sharks are unlikely to miss out on a top-two finish but risk going into September devoid of momentum after a winless three weeks.
In enjoying one of their best wins of the year, the Dragons remain in the finals hunt.
The ninth-placed Warriors might have blown their playoff chances after losing 41-22 to South Sydney in Auckland on Saturday night.
Canterbury (third) moved closer to a top-four berth courtesy of a Josh Reynolds golden-point try in the 20-16 win over Manly on Thursday night at ANZ Stadium.
Six-placed Brisbane are finding some momentum, Anthony Milford leading them to a 38-16 win over Parramatta at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
Gold Coast (eighth) breathed new life into their September chances when Jarryd Hayne nailed an 80th minute field goal in the 19-18 win over Wests Tigers at Campbelltown on Saturday.
And Penrith (seventh) thumped Newcastle 42-6 at Hunter Stadium on Sunday afternoon.