Six weeks to go, 11 teams still in finals contention – there’s no crystal ball that we can use to work out exactly which matches will have the highest stakes, but here’s a couple from each week that are shaping up to be big games:
Sea Eagles (current ladder position: 9th) vs Roosters (8th) – Thursday, 7.50pm
Forgetting everything about the jersey controversy that has derailed the rugby league world for the past two days, the ramifications of this game are gigantic – each team currently sits on nine wins and nine losses, four competition points adrift of the seventh-placed Eels.
A loss here doesn’t end either team’s season, but it gets a whole lot harder.
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Sharks (3rd) vs Rabbitohs (6th) – Saturday, 5.30pm
The Rabbitohs have possibly the worst run home of any team, but are yet to lose a game since Latrell Mitchell’s return. A win over Melbourne, no matter how many injuries the Storm have, is as rare as hen’s teeth for Souths and will give them confidence going into a brutal last six weeks.
A win here by a healthy margin would see them leapfrog Cronulla, who don’t face another team that’s currently in the top eight for the rest of the season following this clash.
Roosters (8th) vs Broncos (4th) – Thursday, 7.50pm
Brisbane’s incredible season has catapulted them all the way up to fourth place, but they’ll have to face a few more tough opponents in the final few weeks, including the Roosters. With the Storm, Eels, and Dragons still to come for Kevin Walters’ men as well, if they do end up with that second chance in the finals, they’ll definitely have earned it.
Sea Eagles (9th) vs Eels (7th) – Friday, 7.55pm
Both teams face stern tests this coming round, and will then lock horns at Brookvale a week later. The Eels’ season has been wildly inconsistent and should they fail to defeat Penrith for the second time this year, there’s a world where a loss here would put them out of the top eight with four games to go.
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Panthers (1st) vs Storm (5th) – Thursday, 7.50pm
There isn’t a lot of intrigue in Penrith’s run home as first place is essentially sewn up already, but it would be remiss not to mention them at least once, and they do have a few intriguing clashes coming up in the next six weeks as they take on five teams that still harbour finals hopes, including a Storm side that looks increasingly desperate each week.
Raiders (10th) vs Dragons (11th) – Sunday, 2pm
Depending on how things shake out over the next fortnight, this fixture is a potential top eight eliminator. Both are currently equal on points with the eighth-placed Roosters, and the loser of this one can probably start planning their Mad Monday.
Broncos (4th) vs Storm (5th) – Friday, 7.55pm
Like two ships passing in the night, Brisbane’s fortunes have rapidly improved since their defeat to Melbourne in mid-June, while the Storm haven’t won a game since. Melbourne will be heavily-favoured in their next two matches against the Warriors and Titans, but then finish with four tough clashes – including this one that could be a battle for fourth.
Sea Eagles (9th) vs Sharks (3rd) – Saturday, 5.30pm
You could almost put Manly on this list every week, but this Saturday afternoon fixture against a Cronulla side that is still hoping to finish in the top four is going to have plenty riding on it.
Broncos (4th) vs Eels (7th) – Thursday, 7.50pm
A re-match of last week’s demolition job, Brisbane will welcome the Eels up to Lang Park for the return fixture, with the Eels desperate for revenge.
Rabbitohs (6th) vs Cowboys (2nd) – Saturday, 7.35pm
North Queensland have a bit of breathing room in the top four as it stands – following their controversial win over the Tigers – but it could be a slightly different picture by the time they play both of last year’s grand finalists in the final two rounds.
Eels (7th) vs Storm (5th) – Thursday, 7.50pm
Parramatta’s horror run to end the season concludes with a Thursday night game against Melbourne – and the way both of these teams are travelling at the moment, there’s a world where one, or both, could be fighting for their top eight lives.
Roosters (8th) vs Rabbitohs (6th) – Friday, 7.55pm
Regardless of what’s on the line, the first game at the new Sydney Football Stadium will be absolutely box office, as matches between the Roosters and Rabbitohs often are. But this year, there could be top eight or top four implications on the line, depending on how the preceding five weeks go.
Regardless, there’ll be fireworks.
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