The race to 28 points is on.
With the State of Origin period behind us, and the silverware back in Queensland’s trophy cabinet, the 16 NRL teams have now set their minds back to the club competition.
Nine rounds remain and the make up of the top eight is still in the air.
An all-Queensland grand final is looking more likely by the week with Brisbane top of the table followed closely by North Queensland, while the Sydney Roosters remain the premiership favourites with the bookies.
The other 15 teams remain in precarious positions and will be aiming for 28 competition points, which has been the top eight cut off for the last five years.
There is a logjam of five teams on 20 points – St George Illawarra, Melbourne, South Sydney, Warriors and Canterbury – occupying spots five to eight.
All five have performed well at one time or another over the course of the season but have not been able to put it together for extended periods.
“We’ve certainly given ourselves a good opportunity,” Warriors coach Andrew McFadden said.
“It’s very congested and we can go up quickly or we can go down quickly. We just have to keep focusing on performance but there’s no doubt that our expectations are that we are in the finals at the end of the year.”
Just outside the eight are Cronulla and Penrith and no-one will be writing either side off.
The Panthers are showing promising signs after getting senior players back and Cronulla have claimed some big scalps (Roosters, Cowboys and Rabbitohs) this year.
Behind them on 16 points are Gold Coast, Parramatta, and Canberra, who play Newcastle on Friday night. They all look like they have too much to do.
As do Manly who will fail to play semi-final football for the first time in a decade unless they can string together seven wins from nine games.
Monday’s meeting between the Gold Coast and Manly will have extra spice – being Daly Cherry-Evans’ first visit to Cbus Super Stadium since reneging on his deal to join the Titans. It will also be key to both sides’ quickly fading finals hopes.
“With nine games to go we’d have to win six really and there’s quite a few teams in the same boat,” Titans coach Neil Henry said.
“This game (Manly on Monday night) is really important to us and then we’ve got the Knights away … Manly are fighting now, they’ve got a little bit of momentum with a couple of wins in the past few weeks, they’ll be keen, got their full-strength backline there.”