Townsville Bulletin - - RUGBY LEAGUE - PAUL MALONE

THE Bron­cos have the tough­est run to the fi­nals of any top eight side.

While no club plays fewer top- eight teams than the sev­enth and eighth sides, Par­ra­matta and St Ge­orge Illawarra, the Bron­cos play five of the cur­rent top- eight sides in the last seven rounds.

The Cow­boys and Syd­ney Roost­ers, two of the other three sides with 26 points, meet four each.

The Eels and Drag­ons have to play two each, hav­ing al- ready played most of their matches against the best sides, but need to get the job done against lower- placed teams in matches where the fickle na­ture of the NRL form guide is at play.

In­cred­i­bly, given their list of op­po­nents in Round 20- 26, six of the fal­ter­ing Drag­ons’ past seven op­po­nents have also been against sides not in this week’s top eight and they won only three games ( against the War­riors, Tigers and Knights).

The red- and- whites are now on the 10th line of premier­ship bet­ting at $ 34 with UBET. Mel­bourne are $ 2.65, with the Roost­ers $ 6, Sharks $ 7.50, Bron­cos $ 9, Sea Ea­gles $ 11 and Cow­boys $ 15.

The Bron­cos play Par­ra­matta twice in the last seven rounds, in­clud­ing an away match to­mor­row week which comes be­tween a clash against Can­ter­bury tonight and one against Gold Coast away.

From there Bris­bane play home matches against Cronulla, the Drag­ons and the Eels be­fore a last- round as­sign­ment in Townsville which will stop ev­ery league lover in a lounge room or bar. It could be that for- and- against de­ter­mines the top- four po­si­tions for the third year in suc­ces­sion.

Of the four sides in equal third place on 26 points, the worst for- against is North Queens­land’s (+ 56) and the best Manly (+ 68).

The Roost­ers, two points ahead in sec­ond place, have a + 53 for- against only and of their four re­main­ing matches against top- eight con­tenders three are away from Al­lianz Sta­dium.

Last year, North Queens­land and Bris­bane were fourth and fifth on 34 points apiece, with the Cow­boys tak­ing fourth and the dou­ble- chance on for- against. Can­ter­bury dropped to fifth in 2015 on for­a­gainst de­spite their 32 points be­ing the same tally as fourth­placed Mel­bourne.

In 2014, 34 points were needed for a top- four fin­ish. In 2015, it was 32 and 2012 36.

So it seems those sides on 24 points this week – Manly, Bris­bane, Cronulla and North Queens­land – would need to win at least four of their last seven games to be a chance of mak­ing the top four.

The Bron­cos are fourth fav- ourites at $ 1.65 to make the top four, with the Cow­boys a $ 3 chance for the top four but $ 1.15 to make the fi­nals.

Ninth- placed Penrith are not with­out a hope of mak­ing the fi­nals, hav­ing to play three top- eight sides, in­clud­ing the Drag­ons in round 25. By then, both clubs nor nei­ther might be in fi­nals con­tention.

Manly play their last four rounds against sides cur­rently out­side the eight, with Sun­day’s clash against St Ge­orge Illawarra and the fol­low­ing round’s as­sign­ment at AAMI Park car­ry­ing much weight.

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