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With seven weeks to go and no more byes in sight, the race for the Telstra Premiership top eight is in full swing. The Storm are the only team guaranteed a spot in the finals while there are five teams separated by just two points who are battling it out for a place in the top four. Can the Dragons hold onto eighth spot or will the chasing pack reel in the Red V? 

Brisbane Broncos

Run home: Bulldogs (H), Eels (A), Titans (A), Sharks (H), Dragons (H), Eels (H), Cowboys (A)

Home/Away split: 4/3

Key clash: The finals will come a week early for the Broncos when they travel to Townsville in Round 26 to take on the Cowboys in what has become the greatest rivalry of the modern era. Brisbane have lost five matches in a row at the venue and the Thursday night blockbuster could be the difference between a double chance or an elimination game in Week One of the finals. 

Crystal ball: With five of their remaining seven matches against sides currently in the top eight, Brisbane will be battle-hardened come the business end of the season. You'd expect them to start favourites in five of those games, and with troops starting to return, they are well placed to earn a spot in the top four. 

Canberra Raiders

Run home: Storm (H), Rabbitohs (A), Sharks (A), Warriors (A), Panthers (H), Knights (H), Storm (A) 

Home/Away split: 3/4

Key clash: There are plenty to choose from but the Round 24 home game against the Panthers looms as a virtual elimination final for two teams battling it out for a spot in the eight. The Raiders will be hoping home ground advantage gets them over the line as it did in last year's finals series. 

Crystal ball: The draw hasn't been too kind to the Raiders, but to be the best you've got to beat the best. Their golden point win on Friday kept their season alive but it will count for little if they don't back it up against the table-topping Storm. Their season goes on the line with games against last year's finalists in the next three weeks. If they lose those, it's curtains for their 2017 campaign. 

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

Run home: Broncos (A), Panthers (A), Eels (H), Rabbitohs (A), Sea Eagles (H), Titans (A), Dragons (A) 

Home/Away split: 2/5

Key clash: It doesn't get any bigger than a showdown with the old enemy, and the Bulldogs will be desperate for revenge when they face an Eels side that pipped them in golden point only a few weeks ago. The blue and whites have lost three on the trot against Parramatta but could derail the Eels' season with a surprise win. 

Crystal ball: Boasting the worst attack in the league after 19 rounds, it's a testament to the Bulldogs' character that they are still a chance of playing in September. They'll need a lot of things to go their way if they want to make the finals for the sixth-straight year under Des Hasler. 

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 

Run home: Rabbitohs (H), Warriors (A), Raiders (H), Broncos (A), Cowboys (A), Roosters (H), Knights (A) 

Home/Away split: 3/4

Key clash: A trip to Brisbane in Round 23 will tell us plenty about Cronulla's hopes of defending their title. The Sharks have won three in a row at Suncorp Stadium and will be keen to avenge their season-opening loss to Wayne Bennett's men.

Crystal ball: The Sharks only managed two wins from their final seven regular season matches last year, and while it didn't cost them in the end, a similar fall from grace will see them drop out of the top four and face elimination from the get-go in September. Back-to-back games in Queensland followed by a clash against the high-flying Roosters will be a litmus test of their premiership credentials. Their best is good enough to beat anyone, however consistency and hunger will be their biggest challenges moving forward. 

Gold Coast Titans 

Run home: Panthers (A), Tigers (H), Broncos (H), Dragons (A), Eels (A), Bulldogs (H), Roosters (A) 

Home/Away split: 3/4

Key clash: There is no better time than the present with the Titans facing a must-win scenario against the Panthers this weekend. The teams are separated by just two competition points and victory would potentially see the Titans move within a win of the eight-placed Dragons. 

Crystal ball: Their last-start win has kept them firmly in the hunt for the top eight but there is little wiggle room for Neil Henry's men. They face a challenging draw to finish the season and must realistically claim wins over the Eels, Dragons and Panthers if they want to leapfrog the teams above them on the ladder. They've been valiant all season, but you'd be a brave tipster to have them in your top eight. 

Manly Warringah Sea Eagles

Run home: Dragons (A), Storm (A), Roosters (H), Tigers (A), Bulldogs (A), Warriors (A), Panthers (H)

Home/Away split: 2/5

Key clash: People have been waiting for the Sea Eagles to fall all season, but a win against the Storm in enemy territory would silence their critics once and for all. The Round 21 blockbuster doubles as Cameron Smith's 350th NRL match but Manly can take solace from the fact they challenged their arch rivals back in Round 7. 

Crystal ball: They've done all the hard work to sit in third spot after 19 rounds; now they must consolidate their position with a strong finish to the season. Games against the top two sides (the Storm and Roosters) in consecutive weeks will be tough, but they have a fairly soft draw after that. If they stay healthy, they should sneak into the top four. 

Melbourne Storm

Run home: Raiders (A), Sea Eagles (H), Cowboys (A), Roosters (H), Knights (A), Rabbitohs (H), Raiders (H)

Home/Away split: 4/3

Key clash: Pipped at the post in an epic golden point loss at Adelaide Oval, the Storm will be keen for revenge when they host the Roosters in Round 23. Craig Bellamy's men produced an un-Melbourne-like capitulation to fall to the Tricolours a few weeks ago, but with their troops back on deck you can expect them to make a statement similar to their Round 26 takedown of the Sharks last season. 

Crystal ball: Currently two points clear at the top and with a healthy for-and-against, the Storm – injuries aside – are too professional an outfit to fall from their perch. The well-rested ladder leaders face a tricky month before things start to ease. They should claim the minor premiership, but can they match last year's haul of 42 competition points?

Newcastle Knights

Run home: Roosters (A), Dragons (H), Warriors (H), Eels (A), Storm (H), Raiders (A), Sharks (H) 

Home/Away split: 4/3

Key clash: It's been another tough year for the Knights but they'll fancy themselves at home against a Warriors side that will be missing Shaun Johnson when the sides meet in Round 22. Newcastle have lost four in a row against the Warriors and will be keen for revenge after conceding 50 points in the corresponding clash last season. They'll take solace from the fact they pushed the Kiwis all the way in Round 1. 

Crystal ball: With games against last year's grand finalists, as well as the second-placed Roosters, the next seven weeks are unlikely to bring much joy to Newcastle's loyal fans. However, with four matches at home, you'd like to think they have one more win in them this season.  

North Queensland Cowboys

Run home: Warriors (H), Roosters (A), Storm (H), Panthers (A), Sharks (H), Tigers (A), Broncos (H)

Home/Away split: 4/3

Key clash: It would be easy to say their Round 26 clash with the Broncos, but the Round 23 game against the Panthers could be just as important. The Cowboys have won three of their past four matches in Penrith but will likely face a Panthers side desperate to keep their September hopes alive. Given how tough North Queensland's draw is, this shapes as a must-win game for Paul Green's men if they want to keep in touch with the top four. 

Crystal ball: With four games against current top five teams, the Cowboys couldn't have asked for a tougher run to the finals. Needing one more win to reach 28 points, the 2015 premiers are all but assured a spot in the playoffs. They've been brilliant without Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott, but the post-Origin period will be another tough test. 

Parramatta Eels

Run home: Tigers (A), Broncos (H), Bulldogs (A), Knights (H), Titans (H), Broncos (A), Rabbitohs (H)

Home/Away split: 4/3

Key clash: The Eels play the Broncos twice in the final seven rounds and if they want to make a statement before the finals then they must knock off Brisbane in either Round 21 or 25. They've lost three in a row against Wayne Bennett's men but will want a big scalp to strike fear into the rest of the competition. 

Crystal ball: Apart from their two games against Brisbane, the Eels won't play another top-eight team again until the finals. It's a draw that a team in their position can only dream about, and it's imperative that they don't waste the opportunity to become the first Parramatta team since 2009 to make the finals. 

Penrith Panthers

Run home: Titans (H), Bulldogs (H), Tigers (H), Cowboys (H), Raiders (A), Dragons (H), Sea Eagles (A) 

Home/Away split: 5/2

Key clash: Depending on how the next five weeks pan out, Penrith's Round 25 game against the Dragons could be do-or-die for both teams. The Panthers are just one win behind the Red V after 19 rounds and have a bit of momentum following back-to-back wins over Manly and the Warriors. They were thrashed by the Dragons in Round 1 so expect them to lift with it all on the line. 

Crystal ball: They were tipped by many to go far in 2017, but last year's surprise packets haven't got going this season. Five games at home should help, as will three straight games against sides currently below them on the ladder. If Nathan Cleary can replicate his recent form – and with attacking weapons Matt Moylan, Peter Wallace and Bryce Cartwright on the comeback trail – the Panthers have the artillery to shake up the playoff picture. 

South Sydney Rabbitohs

Run home: Sharks (A), Raiders (H), Dragons (A), Bulldogs (H), Warriors (H), Storm (A), Eels (A)

Home/Away split: 3/4  

Key clash: The finals remain a mathematical possibility for Michael Maguire's men but given their points differential, the 14th-placed Bunnies probably have to win their remaining games if they want to feature in September. Anything but a win away to the defending premiers on Friday will spell the end of their season.  

Crystal ball: There have been patches of brilliance from the Rabbitohs in 2017 but nowhere near enough to suggest they will play finals this season. Anything but a bottom four finish would be a good result. 

St George Illawarra Dragons

Run home: Sea Eagles (H), Knights (A), Rabbitohs (H), Titans (H), Broncos (A), Panthers (A), Bulldogs (H) 

Home/Away split: 4/3

Key clash: With all things being equal, there is every chance the Dragons and Panthers could be level on points heading into the final round. That'll leave the Red V needing to beat the Bulldogs, a team they've defeated just once in 11 matches, in order to qualify for the finals. Throw in the fact it'll be Josh Reynolds's final game in blue and white and it suddenly looms as a daunting task for Paul McGregor's men. 

Crystal ball: It wasn't long ago that Dragons fans were dreaming of a top-four finish, but following four losses from their past five games it's now a matter of whether they can hold onto a spot in the eight. The Red V are on the precipice but remain just inside the top eight with seven rounds to go and have three very winnable games against sides in the bottom half of the ladder. You get the feeling their last-start golden point loss might have knocked the stuffing out of their playoff push. 

Sydney Roosters

Run home: Knights (H), Cowboys (H), Sea Eagles (A), Storm (A), Tigers (H), Sharks (A), Titans (H)

Home/Away split: 4/3

Key clash: Having been pumped by the defending premiers on the Central Coast, you can expect a fired-up Roosters to respond when they travel to the Shire in Round 25. They've lost six on the trot against Cronulla but still boast a dominant record over their southern rivals and will be keen to claim what could be a telling two competition points just a fortnight out from the finals. 

Crystal ball: Fresh from the bye, Trent Robinson's men face a good mix of opposition in the final seven rounds with games against the bottom two sides as well as a couple of top four teams. Injuries to Michael Gordon and Jake Friend couldn't have come at a worse time so the next few weeks will test their depth. Currently in outright second spot, the next month will determine if they are challengers for the minor premiership or battlers for fourth. 


Run home: Cowboys (A), Sharks (H), Knights (A), Raiders (H), Rabbitohs (A), Sea Eagles (H), Tigers (A) 

Home/Away split: 3/4

Key clash: It's not often the Warriors get to play at ANZ Stadium so expect them to make the most of a rare trip to the Olympic precinct. They've played just twice at the venue since the 2011 grand final, with their last win coming that year against the Rabbitohs. They'll hope history repeats when they take on the Bunnies in Round 24. 

Crystal ball: The Warriors' hopes of playing finals footy all but ended when news filtered through that star halfback Shaun Johnson had ruptured his PCL in Friday's crucial loss to Penrith. They still have three winnable games but they'd need to jag at least two more wins without their chief playmaker. The Warriors haven't made the post-season since 2011 and it doesn't look like that trend will end any time soon.  

Wests Tigers

Run home: Eels (H), Titans (A), Panthers (A), Sea Eagles (H), Roosters (A), Cowboys (H), Warriors (H)

Home/Away split: 4/3

Key clash: They mightn't be able to make the finals but the Tigers will have plenty of motivation when they farewell star duo James Tedesco and Aaron Woods against the Warriors at Leichhardt Oval in Round 26. 

Crystal ball: The Tigers should approach the remaining seven rounds with two key objectives: avoid the wooden spoon and start putting things in place to ensure there are marked signs of improvement in 2018. A roster overhaul means their line-up for next season will be very different from what we see in the coming weeks, and that means fringe players have a seven-game audition to show Ivan Cleary they belong in his top 17 going forward. 

Predicted ladder

1. Storm (44 points) 

2. Sharks (40) 

3. Sea Eagles (38)

4. Roosters (36) 

5. Broncos (36) 

6. Eels (34) 

7. Cowboys (32) 

8. Panthers (30)*

9. Dragons (30) 

10. Raiders (26) 

11. Titans (22)

12. Rabbitohs (20) 

13. Warriors (20) 

14. Bulldogs (18) 

15. Tigers (14)

16. Knights (8)

*We predict the Panthers to finish with a for-and-against of +58, with the Dragons on +51.

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Acknowledgement of Country

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs respect and honour the Darug and Eora nations, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.