How these 10 teams can make the NRL Finals

We're heading into Round 11 of the season so things are starting to get real.

Lock the Roosters, Rabbitohs and Storm into the Top 8; they've been doing this for years and are all but assured of another finals appearance.

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At the opposite end of the ladder, a line can already go through the Panthers, Titans and Bulldogs as finals contenders. There's a chance one or two of these three finish the season well and rise above 14th on the ladder, but they're not going to be relevant to the Top 8 heading into the August.

That leaves us with ten clubs trying to fit into five spots so we're going to have a look at why each team will and won't feature in the finals.

Canberra Raiders

Why they will: This is a different Canberra Raiders team to their 2018 version. Those nightmare periods of a match that cost the Raiders a place in the Top 8 last season are largely non-existent now. The pack is consistent, mobile, and effective on both sides of the ball. But it's the defensive improvements that have put the Raiders in a position to challenge the top four. After conceding 22.5 points per game in 2018, they're letting in just 14.8 points per game through ten rounds in 2019. History suggests a team defending that well is in the hunt for a finals spot.

Why they won't: Injuries. They've already put a handbrake on their season. Joey Leilua is gone for the year while John Bateman and Jordan Rapana are still out on the sidelines. While the important duo will return a long time before September, another significant injury threatens to derail things.

Predicted finish: 4th

Sea Eagles

Why they will: Once you get over the shock of seeing the Sea Eagles at 5th on the ladder, you begin to realise they might just stay there or thereabouts for the season. Playing without Daly Cherry-Evans and Tom Trbojevic, Des Hasler has turned them into an elite defensive team that does the little things well. Coaches love talking about "one-percenters" and that is where Manly is thriving. They have the makings of a very good football side, and when the talent is back, the Sea Eagles could well look every bit like a finals team by September.

Why they won't: The next month is massive for the Sea Eagles. They play the Titans (twice), Panthers, Cowboys and Dragons. Currently 6-4, they'll want to win at least three of the five to be 9-6 after their Round 16 bye. They need to pile up wins with eight of their last nine games coming against teams currently inside the Top 8. The Warriors are the only team that is currently outside the eight and that's an away trip to New Zealand. If Manly miss out, there's a good chance we're circling this favourable five weeks on the draw as to why.

Predicted finish: 7th

Newcastle Knights

Why they will: The Newcastle Knights are finally a relevant team in the middle of the field. After conceding the most metres while running for the fewest themselves at 1,353 metres per game in 2018, the Knights are finding 1,558 metres per game in 2019. It's laying a platform for Mitchell Pearce who has been in scintillating form throughout the current four-game winning streak. It's no surprise to see a correlation between Pearce's form - and that of the team - with running metres. The Knights are running for 1,659 metres in the games they win compared to 1,454 metres in those they lose. If they can keep it up in the middle, the Knights will be in with a sniff.

Why they won't: Those first five weeks might come back to haunt the Knights. Gifted four games at home in the opening five rounds, they had a golden opportunity to get off to a flier. Instead, they went 1-4 while mucking around with Kalyn Ponga in the halves. With a nightmare run up against the Roosters, Rabbitohs, Storm and Broncos in their next four, being 5-9 at the end of Round 15 is a very real possibility. They would then need to win seven of their last ten just to be a chance.

Predicted finish: 10th

Wests Tigers

Why they will: When the brains trust in Robbie Farah, Benji Marshall and Luke Brooks are all singing the same tune and conducting the choir around them, the Wests Tigers are a force to be reckoned with. Farah is back to his best out of dummy half, Marshall's game-management is up there with the best in the NRL, and Brooks is running for 116.9 metres per game - up from 83.2 metres in 2018. There's a trio of forwards that can be relied upon to do their job too. Alex Twal, Ryan Matterson and Matt Eisenhuth are genuine first-grade footballers and capable of anchoring a premiership contending team. The foundations of a finals side are there, even if the timelines of each respective career don't match up. 

Why they won't: The Tigers just can't seem to string a lengthy period of good footy together. They've gone win-loss-win-loss-win-loss over their last six games. Meanwhile, they've managed just one three-game winning streak in their last 62 rounds of footy. Cohesion plays a massive role in rugby league, and with the regular turnover in coaches, Wests haven't been able to develop any. There's a good chance that lack of cohesion and consistency costs them a finals spot. 

Predicted finish: 12th

READ: Power of Cohesion

Parramatta Eels

Why they will: Ready to plug "their back-three is one of the best in the NRL" here, Brad Arthur has switched it up. When they're fit and in form, Clint Gutherson, Blake Ferguson and Maika Sivo make for a dangerous and powerful back-three. It was the area of the field most-attributed to their 4th-placed 2017 season, and if anything, this trio is better. With Ferguson and Sivo providing the power and Gutherson with the finesse, they've got all of the bases covered. All three feature inside the NRL's Top 20 for running metres per game. However, Ferguson has now been pushed into the centres with Geroge Jennings taking over on the wing. If the Eels are to remain in the Top 8, the back-three - whoever is in it - will be a large reason why.

Why they won't: The lack of depth will really come to hurt the Eels if too many injuries occur. They've had to play fringe first-graders in Josh Hoffman, Will Smith and Jaemon Salmon too much already this season. Parramatta's first-choice 17 playing at Bankwest Stadium can beat anybody. It's the away games while fielding average replacements for those first-choice players that will see them struggle to feature in September. 

Predicted finish: 11th

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

Why they will: The Cronulla Sharks are 5-5 with roughly a third of their salary cap sat in the casualty ward. Matt Moylan, Shaun Johnson, Aaron Woods and Wade Graham are all scheduled to return shortly after Cronulla's Round 12 bye. By adding those four players to a middling team with half of the season to run, the Sharks can still be part of the premiership conversation. Cronulla's attack has been their issue and Moylan, Johnson and Graham come with the fixes on both sides of the field. Averaging only 18.8 points per game (10th) through ten rounds, an improvement is imminent.

Why they won't: The important thing for the Sharks is to ensure the mountain isn't too high to climb once they are at full-strength. It will take a few weeks for all four of the injured players to start playing their best football, and there's every chance their returns are staggered over the next month. They'll run the risk of leaving their run too late if they fall too far behind the pack.

Predicted finish: 5th

New Zealand Warriors

Why they will: The Origin period is where the Warriors make their run - if they ever make one. The draw is on their side in 2019. The Warriors face the Storm three days after Game 1, the Knights while Kalyn Ponga and David Klemmer are in camp for Game 3, and the Broncos three days after the series ends. The 15th and 16th-placed Titans and Panthers are in there too. The Warriors couldn't have pulled much of a better draw for the Origin period. If they're to play September footy, it will come off a strong six weeks through June and July.

Why they won't: The Warriors finished 2018 with a club-record eight wins away from home. With only one win in five games away so far in 2019, they've not been able to continue that form. Winning four from 12 cost them a finals spot in 2013 and 2014. It will be what decides their fate again this season.

Predicted finish: 8th

Brisbane Broncos

Why they will: The Broncos pack is one of the best in the NRL. Forget Anthony Seibold trying to lay blame on the age and inexperience of the pack when things went terribly wrong throughout the first two months; the middle has never been the issue. Payne Haas might be the best 20-year-old forward the NRL has ever seen, Matt Lodge is primed for a State of Origin appearance, David Fifita and Joe Ofahengaue aren't far away either. Add Tevita Pangai Jr, Matt Gillett and Alex Glenn and you've got a pack running for 1,630 metres per game (4th). With Anthony Milford playing better footy alongside Tom Dearden and Darius Boyd ever so slowly finding form, the best is yet to come from the Broncos. When they hit their best, it will be on the back of the pack.

Why they won't: If the Broncos can't pull it together enough to crack the Top 8, the reason why has already passed by. The 2-6 start to the season will be circled as where it all went wrong.

Predicted finish: 6th

St. George Illawarra Dragons

Why they will: The Dragons pack is better than what it's producing at the moment. For a side featuring Paul Vaughan, Tariq Sims, Tyson Frizell and James Graham, the Dragons should be a lot higher than 13th in yardage at 1,512 running metres per game. If they can recapture the fire that caused havoc for opposing sides in 2018, they'll get their season back on track. Corey Norman and Ben Hunt have shown to have a strong partnership on the field which gives hope to the recent issues in the spine being temporary. The players are there to play at a Top 8 quality.

Why they won't: Paul McGregor tried to crowbar Matt Dufty into the 17 when Gareth Widdop was healthy and it didn't work. Now Widdop is injured and Dufty has been dropped. So too has Mikaele Ravalawa, who really struggled in his first ten appearances in first-grade. McGregor also told his team Jack de Belin is all but sure to play only to have the courts decide otherwise and derail their preparations. The squad is there to make the Top 8, but is the coach?

Predicted finish: 9th

Queensland Cowboys

Why they will: Jason Taumalolo is back, he's leading the NRL in running metres at 185.8 metres per game, and the Cowboys look like a different side. It's not ideal, but the Cowboys have put all their eggs in one basket in the middle of the field. It's all on Taumalolo, Matt Scott, Jordan McLean and Josh McGuire to get the job done. NRL-leaders in post-contact metres at 482.4 metres per game, the Cowboys can get up the field enough to allow Michael Morgan to manufacture points. Only Penrith averages more than North Queensland's 32.3 tackles inside the opposition 20-metre line per game. The opportunities are there. The Cows can make the eight if they take them.

Why they won't: Given the quality the Cowboys have in the middle and the lack of flare out wide, they're one-dimensional. A look at their wins and losses paints the picture already. The Cowboys have lost to the strong packs in the Broncos, Sharks, Raiders, Storm Bulldogs and Rabbitohs while beating middling to poor packs in the Warriors, Titans and Eels. It's all about the middle, and as good as the Cowboys might be there, it's the only area they worry opposing sides.

Predicted finish: 13th

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Jason Oliver

As far as Jason is concerned, there is no better time of year than March through June. An overlap of the NBA and NRL seasons offer up daily opportunities to find an edge and fund the ever-increasing number of sports streaming services he subscribes to. If there's an underdog worth taking in either code, he'll be on it.

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