The NRL’s top-eight race is alive after a Sunday of upsets saw Brisbane’s gap over the chasing pack of Canberra and Wests Tigers reduced to just four points.
After the eight finals teams looked set a fortnight ago, Brisbane’s 26-6 humbling at the hands of the Warriors on Sunday left them on 22 competition points, still likely needing three wins to wrap up a playoffs spot.
Canberra and Wests Tigers are on 18 points, likely needing to win five of their last seven after the Raiders flogged North Queensland 38-12 on Saturday and the Tigers kept their season alive with a shock 20-16 win over St George Illawarra.
Working against the Broncos is that Sunday’s hammering has left them with an 88-point inferior for-and-against record to the Raiders, while the Tigers are the worst off with a differential 23 points below Brisbane at -49.
Canberra have the most difficult draw with six games against top-eight teams in the final seven rounds, while the Tigers also face South Sydney twice and the Dragons once more.
Brisbane have games against top-four hopefuls Penrith and Cronulla over the next fortnight, along with later games against the Sydney Roosters and South Sydney in the run into the finals.
A strong finish has them still in contention for the top four – a poor one could leave them in danger of being swamped by the Raiders.
“It’s too early to call yet,” Broncos coach Wayne Bennett said.
“We played poorly today and have to get that right but we have seven games to go and are still in a pretty good position.
“We manage one of these games a year since I have been back and had them in the past before. You hate them when they come but it’s always this time of year it happens.”
Meanwhile the Warriors’ victory and Dragons’ shock loss left a six-team logjam between second and seventh, all separated by just two points.
Souths are clear of that pack on 28 points with Melbourne second on 26 along with the Dragons who are third. The Sydney Roosters have gone to fourth (24 points) after beating the Gold Coast 20-12 without James Tedesco, Latrell Mitchell, Boyd Cordner and Cooper Cronk on Sunday night.
Penrith are out of the top four (on percentage) for the first time since round three after they were beaten by Cronulla on Friday night, the Sharks up to sixth and looking ready for a crack at the top four with a soft run home.
The Warriors are then seventh, seemingly set for their first finals appearance since 2011 after Sunday’s win.