Three teams can make run at title even if they finish outside top four

Melbourne, Souths, Parramatta and even Brisbane are locked in a battle for fourth spot and are fighting it out over these next three weeks to grab a second chance in the finals. But I reckon some of these teams along with Roosters could go all the way to the Grand Final even if they end up in bottom four.

The Cowboys and Sharks should make the top four assuming they win at least one game on the run home because both have outstanding for and against +222 and + 137 respectively.

The Roosters, Rabbits and Storm have all found form as we head into the last few rounds and all can do plenty of damage in the finals.

All teams in contention have tough draws to finish and are playing each other including the Broncos vs Storm this week, the Broncos vs Eels in Rd 24 and Roosters vs Souths in Rd 25.

I think the Storm will probably just hang on to get fourth spot, which will mean they’ll take on Penrith in the finals for the third year in a row.

Sometimes at this time of year the slightest change to a team can have a dramatic impact.

When I was coaching the Knights in 2001 it was a season where we never quite got going until the last few weeks of the regular season.

We won the last two games leading into the finals and we finally had everyone healthy and playing their best when it counted.

Parramatta were worthy minor premiers and had been the best team all year. But possibly they had already played their best footy before the playoffs began.

But the year after, we were playing St George Illawarra in the first semi final and

Andrew Johns got crunched in a tackle by Jason Ryles and Luke Bailey and I can still remember the diagnosis – a transverse process fracture in his lower back. We lost that game by four points and were then straight out the back door in the second week when the Roosters thumped us who went on to be premiers.

Cameron Munster. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

For the Storm in the past few weeks, the decision to shift Cameron Munster could be that late-season impetus they needed.

A shift like that can be monumental when you’re trying to find the right formula.

Plus they’ve got Jahrome Hughes to come back, it looks like this Friday against Brisbane, their coach Craig Bellamy has seen it all before and his experience will be invaluable.

And another factor with Melbourne that I don’t think you can discount is the emotion they have for their jersey and wanting to send off a few of their departing players on the right note – Jesse and Kenny Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi off to the Dolphins and Brandon Smith to the Roosters.

The Storm are renowned for the way they lift for milestone games and they are usually able to harness that emotion so it’s channelled towards winning football games.

They won’t have it all their own way against the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium who have recruited experienced big game players in Adam Reynolds and Kurt Capewell.

Cody Walker of the Rabbitohs runs the ball

Cody Walker. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

With Souths, I’ve mentioned a couple of times before how they’ve hit their stride since Latrell Mitchell has been back in the side at fullback.

Defensively they’re also going well. In the last month of the season another of the main indicators I look at is how many points teams are conceding and the Bunnies held Parramatta scoreless last week and they kept the Warriors to 10 while putting 48 on them the previous round.

With the Roosters, that win over the Cowboys last Saturday was extremely impressive. Todd Payten said after the game it was like a finals game come early and I tend to agree with him.

I don’t think I’ve seen Matt Lodge play better than what he did last weekend and since he’s been in the team, they’ve got a pretty formidable middle forward trio with him, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Victor Radley.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

They’ve got toughness, experience and an aggressive mindset as a group.

The Roosters have got enough of those big-game players like James Tedesco, Joseph Suaalii and Joey Manu plus Luke Keary and Sam Walker are playing off the back of that.

They were a 9 out of 10 overall the other day and they will be a nightmare match-up for any team in the finals even if they have to do it the hard way from the bottom half of the eight.

It’s good to see three new teams in North Queensland, Cronulla and Brisbane in the finals, each with a coach making the playoffs for the first time in Payten, Craig Fitzgibbon and Kevin Walters. Plus we’ve got Jason Demetriou taking the Rabbitohs to the finals in his first year so it makes things a little bit more interesting with a few new faces in there.

Selwyn Cobbo. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

With the Sea Eagles, Knights and Titans dropping out of the playoffs from last year it’s a big fall from grace for them and particularly with Newcastle and Gold Coast, it shows the importance of an experienced halfback.

They’ve both gone backwards after letting Mitchell Pearce and Jamal Fogarty go.

I can’t see the Raiders sneaking their way into the top eight but they’re still not out of it.

Such is the theatre of rugby league that if Canberra can win their next couple, there’s still a chance that the Roosters vs Rabbitohs game in the final round will determine whether one of them makes the finals or not.

Even if it’s not an unofficial playoff for seventh or eighth spot that game will possibly determine who finishes higher out of those two great rivals and with all the argy-bargy about who’s hosting the game at the stadium, where Souths will play next year on top of their century-plus rivalry, it should be a cracker no matter what.

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