NRL finals: Who’s a lock and who has the dreaded ‘mathematical chance’?

NRL finals: Who’s a lock and who has the dreaded ‘mathematical chance’?

Mathematically possible – is there a more thrilling pair of words to a Wests Tigers fan?

With three rounds left before the NRL finals, we’ve almost got our top eight locked in, with the sixth-placed Knights’ 21 points meaning the Novocastrians are guaranteed to play knockout footy for the first time since 2013.

As a long-suffering Newcastle fan, I’ve got to say it feels pretty great. After three years of last-place finishes I got a proper kick out of the red and blue beating the Panthers in August 2018 because it meant we mathematically couldn’t pick up a fourth consecutive wooden spoon.

So to have locked up a place in the eight with three rounds remaining leaves me with a sensation I don’t recall having for years. I think I’m… happy? It’s weird.

Obviously this also means the five teams sitting higher on the ladder than Adam O’Brien’s men – the Panthers, Storm, Eels, Roosters and Raiders – are all certainties for the play-offs as well.

But from seventh to 12th we’re still in the realm of what’s mathematically possible.

One more win and the seventh-placed Bunnies will have booked their tickets, while eighth-placed Cronulla can seal their spot with two victories.

Of course that’s become substantially more difficult for the Sharks, who have lost Chad Townsend for the rest of the regular season following his disastrous shoulder charge on Kalyn Ponga on Friday night – the disaster being he hit KP with all he had and the Newcastle custodian didn’t even need to go off for a head impact assessment. If you get sent from the field, you at least want to do a bit of damage first. Pretty lame, Chad.

Add a two-week suspension for captain Wade Graham – they really are a hard team to like – and the Sharkies will do it tough over the coming couple of weeks.

The best part for neutrals is that the first match of their run home is against the resurgent Warriors, who are in tenth spot. That said, with a points differential of -107, you can effectively put a line through the Kiwis’ chances.

It’s been a hell of a ride and we thank them for their service in this crazy season, but Todd Payten and his charges are done.

Likewise the Dragons and Sea Eagles, who can both make the eight – in so far as it’s possible if they win all their remaining games by huge margins and the Sharks go 0-3 in embarrassing circumstances to finish the year – but logically you wouldn’t hold out much hope.

And so we come to the team sitting ninth.

Of course it’s the Tigers.

Harry Grant looks on

With 14 points to their name, going undefeated in the final rounds would be enough to propel Michael Maguire’s men into the finals provided the Sharks lose at least two of their games.

However, it’s not enough for the Tigers to just get three wins to the Sharks’ one. Cronulla would also have to go down by large margins seeing as their for-and-against differential is 18 compared to the Tigers’ -31.

It’s a tall order for the Tigers, make no mistake, and you wonder what role Russell Packer and Josh Reynolds will play.

The pair are in strife with the fans after both left Brookvale at halftime on Sunday, missing the amazing scenes as their teammates scored an incredible come-from-behind win over Manly.

The club has gone on the record saying neither player is in actual trouble, because they weren’t part of the matchday 18 and therefore weren’t required to be at the game.

What’s more, both Elijah Taylor and Luke Brooks have said Packer and Reynolds have nothing to be sorry for, the halfback telling, “They weren’t required to be there. It doesn’t affect us. We didn’t even notice they had left. Personally I don’t care and it’s fine by me.”

But if we’re being legit, Packer and Reynolds have surely played their last games for the club, certainly for this season.

Josh Reynolds

It may not be part of their contracts, but turning up to a game and supporting your teammates has got to be the minimum you expect from the players in your squad, especially in a season where so few are allowed inside a club’s bubble.

There may be more to it – for the two players’ sake there would want to be – but leaving the game at halftime is a bad look for a club that, with that win, kept their finals hopes alive.

But two of the best-paid, if least played, blokes in the squad made the trip to the northern beaches then decided to leave when the game was still in the balance.

The likes of Brooks and Taylor might say the right things when a microphone is put in their face, but you’d think behind closed doors they’d be pretty dirty on teammates who don’t even care enough about the team to sit through a ‘cold’ night at a footy stadium.

Like, seriously, I pay money to do exactly that – the Tigers’ duo get paid for it!

You wonder what the reaction would have been if the 34-32 scoreline had been in Manly’s favour instead but, short of a massive injury toll, the two have surely torched the trust their teammates and coach had in them. They’ll have to put in a long, hard preseason before either is regarded as being a worthy teammate again.

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But before the Tigers start thinking about preseason, they’re still dreaming about the postseason. Because they’re the Wests Tigers and they’re coming ninth and it’s still mathematically possible they’ll play finals footy.

Just beat the Bunnies, Storm and Eels.

Oh right. Never mind.