With the Origin distraction now behind us, attention now turns to the final seven rounds leading up to the finals. Can Cronulla become the first side to win back-to-back premierships in a full competition since the Broncos in 1992-93? Can early premiership favourites Penrith and Canberra crack into the top eight after sluggish starts? Can the Tigers avoid their first wooden spoon?
From 2008-15, the team that went on to win the grand final had won either four or five of their last seven games. Last year the Sharks bucked that trend when their woeful end-of-season run saw them win two games and pick up a draw in their last seven matches, before rallying to take out the trophy.
The following is a look at each of the top 10 contenders’ records over the last seven rounds from 2008-16, as well as their last seven games this year.
1st – Melbourne
History: The Storm have won 8 of their 9 games in Round 26 since 2008, the only loss being by 40-8 to the lowly Roosters in 2011, when the Storm rested both Smith and Slater. They’ve won 7 of 9 games in Rounds 22, 23 and 24. Their only weakness is in Round 25, where they have recorded just 3 wins. They have the best record over these last 7 rounds of all clubs, winning 69.84% of the time.
Best Run: 2014 – Placed 9th after their 24-12 loss to the Dragons in Round 16. The Storm won 6 of their last 9 games to climb to 6th on the ladder.
Worst Run: 2012 – Placed 1st after their 26-22 win over Manly in Round 15, they then lost their next 5 games before winning the last 5 of the year to finish 2nd.
2017: The Storm have 2 games against top-four sides, Manly and Sydney Roosters, however they are both home games which come in a rough three-week run where the games are separated by a trip to Townsville to play the sixth-placed Cowboys. They will also play Canberra – who are still a chance of making the finals – twice.
2nd – Sydney
History: The Roosters have their most significant success in Round 21, where they have won 8 of 9 clashes. They’ve had 6 wins in the final two rounds. They have won 58.73% in the final seven rounds since 2008, the third-best record.
Best Run: 2014 – Placed 5th after their 16-12 loss to the Knights in Round 20, just 1 win ahead of 12th placed Parramatta, the Roosters won all of their last 6 games to claim the minor premiership.
Worst Run: 2010 – Placed 3rd after their 48-12 win over the Eels in Round 21, they won 2 of their last 5 games to finish 6th.
2017: Have three road games, but they are against their three toughest opponents: Melbourne, Manly and Cronulla. Home games against the Titans, Knights and Tigers even matters out. Their only other game is also at home, against the Cowboys.
3rd – Manly
History: They have won 7 of 9 Round 20 games and have won 6 games in Rounds 21, 24 and 25. They have the second-best win percentage in the run home and are the only team aside from the Storm with over 60% success, coming in at 61.90%.
Best Run: 2009 – Placed 9th after their 48-18 loss to the Dragons in Round 18, Manly won 6 of their last 8 games to climb to 5th place.
Worst Run: 2010 – Placed 5th after their 38-20 win against the Tigers in Round 20, they lost 4 of their last 6 games to finish 8th.
2017: They have some travelling to do, with trips to Melbourne and Auckland coming up, while they have a further three games away from home against other Sydney sides. Their two home games are against Penrith and the Roosters.
4th – Brisbane
History: Are very consistent over the last 5 rounds, winning 6 games in Rounds 22, 25 and 26 and 5 wins in Rounds 23 and 24. They are ripe for the picking in Rounds 20 and 21, as they have won just 3 games in each since 2008. Their 54.76% success rate is the fifth-best in the competition.
Best Run: 2009 – Placed 10th after losing 56-0 to the Raiders in Round 21, the Broncos won all of their remaining 5 games to finish in 6th place.
Worst Run: 2010 – Placed 7th after beating the Cowboys 34-26 in Round 22, they lost their last 4 games to finish in 10th place.
2017: The Broncos are the only side who won’t play any of the top-four sides in the final seven rounds. They will, however, play five games against the remaining top eight sides. They could well challenge for the minor premiership.
5th – Cronulla
History: The Sharks have the worst record of all the teams across the run home since 2008, winning just 35.71% of games. They have lost more than half their games in every round, with Rounds 23 and 26 producing just two wins apiece.
Best Run: 2015 – The Sharks were placed 10th after their 28-16 loss to Manly in Round 17 before winning 7 of their last 9 games to finish in 6th place.
Worst Run: 2012 – Placed 3rd after their 14-all draw with the Roosters in Round 18, they won just 2 of their last 8 games to finish 7th.
2017: The Sharks have three home games remaining, but have a lot of travelling to do with their four away games all being outside of Sydney. They travel to Auckland in Round 21, Brisbane and North Queensland in Rounds 23 and 24, and Newcastle for the final round.
6th – North Queensland
History: Rounds 20, 25 and 26 have seen the Cowboys rack up 6 wins, while Rounds 21 and 24 have produced 5 wins. The other two rounds are very poor in comparison, with 3 wins coming in Round 22 and just 2 in Round 23. They have won 52.38% of games, ranking them 8th in the NRL.
Best Run: 2014 – Placed 13th after their 27-24 loss to the Dragons in Round 17, the Cowboys won 7 of their last 8 games to finish 5th.
Worst Run: 2009 – Placed 5th after beating the Sharks 24-4 in Round 17, they lost 6 of their last 8 games to plummet to 12th place.
2017: The Cowboys are the only team that has to play more than two games against the top-four sides, lining up against the Roosters in Round 21, the Storm the following week and then the Broncos in Round 26.
7th – Parramatta
History: The Eels have only excelled in 2 of the final 7 Rounds, picking up 6 wins in Round 22 and 5 wins in Round 20. They have recorded just 2 wins in Round 26 and 3 in the week prior. They’ve won 42.86% of their final 7 games since 2008, placing them at 13th in the NRL.
Best Run: 2009 – Placed 14th after their 18-12 loss to the Titans in Round 18, the Eels then won 7 of the remaining 8 games to finish 8th.
Worst Run: 2014 – Placed 8th after their 22-12 win over Manly in Round 24, Parramatta needed to win just one of their last two games against also-rans Newcastle and Canberra, but lost both and finished 10th.
2017: The Eels have possibly the easiest run home, as they are the only side that gets to play all of the bottom four teams in their final seven games. They do have a pair of games against the Broncos to overcome, however.
8th – St.George-Illawarra
History: The Dragons have a record of struggling in the back end of the year, except in Round 26, where they have won 7 of 9 games. They have 4 wins in Rounds 23 and 25 and just 3 wins in all the other four rounds. Their 42.86% success rate has them at equal 13th with the Eels.
Best Run: 2015 – Placed 10th after losing 22-4 to the Storm in Round 20, the Dragons won 4 of their last 7 to sneak into 8th place.
Worst Run: 2016 – Placed 8th after their 30-18 win against the Knights in Round 16, the Dragons dropped 7 of their last 9 games to slump to 11th place.
2017: St George Illawarra come up against top-four sides Brisbane and Manly but play four of the bottom five sides. Their Round 25 clash with the Panthers looms as the most vital for their finals aspirations.
9th – Penrith
History: The Panthers perform better in the last four rounds than in the three prior. They have just 2 wins in Round 22 and a high of 5 wins in Rounds 23, 24 and 26. They have won 45.24% of games, which places them 11th.
Best Run: 2016 – Placed 10th after their 26-10 loss to the Sharks, the Panthers won 7 of the last 8 games to finish in 6th.
Worst Run: 2008 – Placed 7th after beating the Tigers 24-10 in Round 20, they lost 5 of their last 6 to end the season in 12th.
2017: Apart from a trip to Brookvale in Round 26, the Panthers have a very handy run home, playing five games at home. Their other away game is a trip to Canberra, making their run home amongst the easiest in regards to travel. Will need to pull out a few big wins to help their cause.
10th – Canberra
History: Round 20 has provided the Raiders with 7 wins, while the final two rounds has produced 6 wins each. Round 21, though, has been less kind, with just 2 wins from 9 attempts. They have won 55.56% in the run home, which is the fourth-best in the NRL since 2008.
Best Run: 2012 – Placed 13th after losing 36-6 to Newcastle in Round 21. The Raiders won all 5 remaining games to finish 6th.
Worst Run: 2013 – Placed 7th after beating the Dragons 22-18 in Round 20, the Raiders then capitulated, losing all of their last 6 games and finished 13th.
2017: Have the arduous task of playing the Storm twice, while also having to travel to play the Sharks, Warriors and Souths. Their Round 24 clash at home with Penrith is also vital.