THE NRL GAMES THAT WILL DECIDE THE MAKE-UP OF THE TOP EIGHT
ROUND 23: COWBOYS V RABBITOHS
A loss here will bounce the Bunnies out of the top four and, with games against the Bulldogs, Broncos and Roosters to come, they might not force their way back in. That would mean a tough row to hoe for their premiership defence through the knock-out side of the playoffs draw. A win for the Cowboys would almost secure a vital top two spot and move them closer to a first-ever minor premiership.
ROUND 23: SHARKS V STORM
The Storm have flown under the radar recently after the season-ending shoulder injury to Billy Slater and some indifferent performances, but they remain a finals threat. A Melbourne win here would be a blow to the Sharks’ top-four chances and could position the Storm to sneak in for two bites at the finals cherry.
ROUND 24: ROOSTERS V BRONCOS
If ever there was a four-point game this is it, and it will likely determine who claims a top two spot alongside the Cowboys. The Roosters face the Eels this week and the Broncos a Benji Marshall-less Dragons, if both sides get past those matches unscathed this Allianz Stadium clash shapes as a season defining encounter.
ROUND 25: SEA EAGLES V ROOSTERS
After matches they should win against Canberra and Parramatta, Manly face the Roosters at home in a match they have to win to qualify for an 11th successive final series. A 12-man Roosters outfit won a spiteful late season Brookvale Oval clash on their way to the 2013 premiership. If they can snuff out the Sea Eagles’ playoff hopes here, their confidence will sky rocket.
ROUND 26: BRONCOS V STORM
The result of the opening fixture of the final round of the regular season will leave Brisbane’s and Melbourne’s fellow top-eight aspirants with a clear idea of what they need to do over the weekend to best position themselves for a playoffs run. Meanwhile the Broncos and the Storm have their destiny in their own hands here.