South Sydney star Damien Cook will be a key player in the run to the finals.
South Sydney star Damien Cook will be a key player in the run to the finals.

NRL Run Home: Broncos made to sweat

AS WE enter the business end of the competition there's only one thing that's certain; the uncertainty of the NRL competition.

These next three weeks will not only be the hardest for those in tipping competition, they'll also be the hardest for the players involved in the run home to the finals.

For those already entrenched and assured a spot in the top eight there's the mental battle of finding the motivation to get up for every game, every week knowing that the "real" competition for them gets underway in three weeks' time.

For those battling for a spot in the eight there's the pressure of knowing that each week is do or die. Then there are those who can't make the eight, those with nothing to lose.

They're the teams who pose the biggest threat to those in contention.

With that in mind let's run a rule over the nine teams still in contention for the top eight and see where they'll finish when all is said and done.

 

Cooper Cronk has been brilliant for the Roosters. Picture: AAP
Cooper Cronk has been brilliant for the Roosters. Picture: AAP

ROOSTERS

Points: 32. For/Against: +163.

Run home: Raiders (A), Broncos (H), Eels (A).

Looking at the Roosters' run home and the form they're in there's no reason they can't win three from three. During the seaso, you break the games into monthly blocks and in those blocks you circle games you'll win and those that are 50/50.

For mine, the Roosters will expect wins against the Raiders and Eels - with their only 50/50 match being the Broncos in round 24. In saying that, the Raiders and Eels have nothing to lose and will be tough but you'd expect the Roosters to do a number on both those sides.

The key to the Roosters' success, as proven last week, is Cooper Cronk. His experience, leadership and kicking game are second to none.

Ladder prediction: 1st

 

 

Souths and NSW representative hooker Damien Cook has been a key for the Bunnies in 2018.
Souths and NSW representative hooker Damien Cook has been a key for the Bunnies in 2018.

RABBITOHS

Points: 32. For/Against: +136.

Run home: Broncos (A), Raiders (A), Tigers (A).

IT'S hard to see South Sydney dropping a game before the finals. The Raiders and Tigers lack the strength to compete with the Bunnies and the Broncos are struggling at the moment.

The round 25 clash could be a tricky one if the Tigers are still in contention for the top eight but the Rabbitohs still have plenty of players to come back into their side over the next three weeks which makes them even more dangerous.

Greg Inglis will be back fresh and ready to go and that spells danger for the Rabbitohs' rivals. Despite their 18-14 loss to the Roosters last week I've got the Bunnies as the favourites to win the competition.

When Damien Cook is on, he's incredible. At some stage in the game the defence will tire and someone will get lazy in the ruck and when they do, it's Cook who will make them pay.

Ladder prediction: 2nd

 

 

Storm fullback Billy Slater can’t break through the Sharks defence. Picture: Getty Images
Storm fullback Billy Slater can’t break through the Sharks defence. Picture: Getty Images

STORM

Points: 30. For/Against: +161.

Run home: Eels (H), Titans (A), Panthers (A).

You can guarantee the Storm will be thinking they can win three from three. The Rabbitohs and the Sharks have shown the Storm are beatable but I can't see the Eels, Titans or Panthers beating them.

The only danger game for mine is their final-round clash with the Panthers. Penrith have been an enigma this season and have shown they're never beaten.

Billy Slater retiring at the end of the year will give the Storm motivation but you also have to remember they won the comp last year. Will they be as hungry come September?

Ladder prediction: 3rd

 

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James Maloney of the Panthers has suffered a serious knee injury. Picture: Getty Images
James Maloney of the Panthers has suffered a serious knee injury. Picture: Getty Images

PANTHERS

Points: 30. For/Against: +78.

Run home: Knights (H), Warriors (A), Storm (A).

I think the Panthers will win one of their final three games - the Warriors and Storm away won't be easy.

James Maloney is a major loss for the Panthers, particularly in big games.

You can question his defence all you like but there's no doubting that when the game is on the line he's the man the Panthers look to to get them home. The biggest concern for the Panthers is their defence.

They give teams too many points and try to run them down. It's been OK for them in the past two weeks against Manly and the Titans, but if you give the Storm, Roosters or Rabbitohs a 10-point lead it's game over.

Ladder prediction: 7th

 

 

Gareth Widdop is out after dislocating his shoulder.
Gareth Widdop is out after dislocating his shoulder.

DRAGONS

Points: 28. For/Against: +65.

Run home: Tigers (A), Dogs (H), Knights (A).

The Dragons will think they're a chance of winning all three. Their toughest challenge is the Tigers at Leichardt Oval on Saturday night.

You can guarantee it will be a packed house and the fans will be right behind the Tigers as they make a late run for the finals. The loss of Gareth Widdop is a blow for the Dragons. His goalkicking, leadership and kicking game have been enormous.

The Dragons are capable of winning all three but after having seven players involved in Origin this year the side is looking a bit tired.

Ladder prediction: 5th

 

 

Valentine Holmes is red-hot.
Valentine Holmes is red-hot.

SHARKS

Points: 28. For/Against: +46.

Run home: Cowboys (H), Knights (H), Dogs (A).

The Sharks have flown under the radar this year but are peaking at the right time.

I see them winning all three of their remaining matches and stealing fourth place on the ladder. The Sharks won the comp in 2016 and there's no reason this side can't do the same this season. 

They've got a great forward pack, experience across the park and plenty of skill, and few teams play as tough.

Aaron Woods has been a great pick-up. When you've got a pack that boasts representative stars Andrew Fifita, Luke Lewis, Paul Gallen and Matt Prior and you can bring someone like Woods off the bench, you're doing well.

Val Holmes gives them that X-factor and James Segeyaro is an explosive player off the bench who can split the game wide open.

Ladder prediction: 4th

 

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Tohu Harris is out after injuring his other knee. Picture: Getty Images
Tohu Harris is out after injuring his other knee. Picture: Getty Images

WARRIORS

Points: 28. For/Against: +2.

Run home: Dogs (A), Panthers (H), Raiders (H).

The Warriors are a chance of winning all three but they're also capable of losing them. I have them winning two.

For them to win all three, they need to get their full complement of players back on the park.

Tohu Harris should be back on deck in the run to the finals, giving them a major boost - he adds so much to that pack.

The Warriors are in the same mould as the Sharks - teams won't want to play them in the finals and they've shown this year that they're capable of winning away from home.

Ladder prediction: 6th

 

 

Jordan Kahu is back in the Broncos side. Picture: AAP
Jordan Kahu is back in the Broncos side. Picture: AAP

BRONCOS

Points: 28. For/Against: -10,

Run Home: Rabbitohs (H), Roosters (A), Sea Eagles (H).

The Broncos may have two of their last three games at home but look unlikely to get past the Rabbitohs and Roosters. If that's the case their season would come down to their final-round clash against Manly.

The Broncos need to find something special against the Rabbitohs.

The Bunnies have the ability to put a score on the Broncos that will not only dent their chances of a top-eight spot, but also their confidence. My concern for the Broncos against the Bunnies is their edge defence.

The Broncos have leaked plenty of points on their edges all year and will be under plenty of pressure from Angus Crichton and John Sutton on Thursday night.

It's possible the Broncos will go 0/3, it's probable they'll go 2/3, but it's likely that they'll go 1/3 to finish the season.

Ladder prediction: 8th

 

 

Mahe Fonua is back from his broken arm for Wests Tigers. Picture: Brett Costello
Mahe Fonua is back from his broken arm for Wests Tigers. Picture: Brett Costello

TIGERS

Points: 26. For/Against: -34,

Run Home: Dragons (H), Manly (H), Rabbitohs (A).

The Tigers' season hinges on this weekend's game against the Dragons.

The Tigers need to win at least two of their last three games to be a chance of making the eight and I can't see them beating the Rabbitohs.

The positive for the Tigers is that their next two home games are at Leichardt and Campbelltown.

Momentum is the key for the Tigers. If they can win their next two games that sets them up for a final-round showdown with the Bunnies for a spot in the eight, which is a horrible place to be in!

Ladder prediction: 9th

 

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