With only five rounds left of the regular NRL season, coaches are readying their squads for post-season football.
While some teams can put their feet up and relax, even with a number of key players out, others are sweating on the fitness of a number of players.
Eleven teams are fighting to slot into the top eight and squad fitness, form and suspension loom as key factors in every team’s run to the September.
Read below for every club’s health check and their chances coming into the finals period!
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1. PANTHERS (36 points)
Injuries: Mavrik Geyer (thumb, Round 20), Eddie Blacker (hamstring, Round 21), Jarome Luai (knee, finals)
Suspensions: Nathan Cleary (suspension, finals)
How they sit: It was smooth sailing at the foot of the mountain until star centre Stephen Crichton suffered a gruesome injury to his ear in Round 19. While he is set to return against the Raiders, Jarome Luai was the next man to fall, suffering an MCL injury against the Sharks which will see him sidelined until finals football. But the big casualty was Nathan Cleary, who took the early guilty plea for an ugly lifting tackle on Eels playmaker Dylan Brown. He will also return in the first week of the finals. Meanwhile, Mitch Kenny and Kurt Fal1s have been named this week, while the remainder of the club’s injury list are unlikely to feature in the top 17. The Panthers will be hopeful Luai can return to full fitness and be firing come early September — meanwhile, Cleary is afforded a five-week break. Penrith sit six points ahead of the Cowboys in second place and are a strong chance of entering the finals series on top of the ladder — but is hardly the run into the finals Ivan Cleary would have wanted.
Run home: Raiders (A), Storm (H), Rabbitohs (A), Warriors (H), Cowboys (A)
Grade: Battling a cold
2. COWBOYS (30 points)
Injuries: Jordan McLean (hamstring, Round 21), Mitch Dunn (knee, season), Heilum Luki (knee, season)
How they sit: Todd Payten’s men have been nothing short of spectacular in 2022 and have been afforded a mostly clean bill of health for the season. Mitch Dunn suffered a season-ending knee injury in Round 2, while Jordan McLean’s hamstring has left Payten short a front rower. Meanwhile, young gun Heilum Luki is also out for the season, but the Cowboys have done a great job of filling holes. Luciano Leilua’s early signing was a masterstroke and the former Tiger has been impressive, even slotting into the front row interchange. Meanwhile, cult-hero Reuben Cotter made a timely return in Round 20. The Cowboys are currently sitting pretty in second, one win ahead of the Sharks, but will be praying key players aren’t sidelined leading up to the finals. Reece Robson, Tom Dearden, Chad Townsend and Scott Drinkwater are the men Payten will be hoping remain unscathed and will be crucial factors in the Cowboys’ finals chances.
Run home: Bulldogs (A), Roosters (A), Warriors (H), Rabbitohs (A), Panthers (H)
Grade: Fit as a fiddle.
3. SHARKS (28 points)
Injuries: Royce Hunt (shoulder, TBC), William Kennedy (ankle, finals), Sione Katoa (shoulder, season), Jack Williams (shoulder, season)
Suspensions: Dale Finucane (suspended, Round 22)
How they sit: Craig Fitzgibbon’s side have mostly escaped serious injuries — up until recent weeks. As it stands, the Sharks are without two of their regular outside backs, Sione Katoa and Will Kennedy. Katoa will be sidelined for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury, while Cronulla bosses are hopeful Kennedy will return for finals football after having surgery on a syndesmosis injury. Meanwhile, Dale Finucane will return from suspension prior to finals football — and will be a key player with finals experience. Cronulla’s spine have largely managed to steer clear of the casualty ward, and Fitzgibbon is another man praying that the bulk of his team remains healthy and can enter finals in one piece.
Run home: Dragons (H), Tigers (A), Sea Eagles (A), Bulldogs (H), Knights (A)
Grade: Got the sniffles.
4. STORM (26 points)
Injuries: Nick Meaney (shoulder/head knock, TBC), Jack Howarth (shoulder, Round 21), Tepai Moeroa (shoulder, Round 21), Will Warbrick (quad, Round 21), Xavier Coates (ankle, Round 21), Trent Loiero (back, indefinite), Ryan Papenhuyzen (knee, season), Reimis Smith (pectoral, season), Christian Welch (Achilles, season), George Jennings (knee, season)
Suspensions: Brandon Smith (suspension, Round 21)
How they sit: This season has been nothing short of a nightmare for Craig Bellamy. Every week it seems a new man will spend time on the sidelines. To start the year, regular starters George Jennings and Christian Welch suffered season-ending injuries — and his woes continued from there. Xavier Coates suffered a syndesmosis injury in Origin, Reimis Smith’s season was ended by a pectoral injury and to cap it all off, Ryan Papenhuyzen shattered his patella in gruesome scenes. Bellamy was left scrambling for a fullback and Nick Meaney was the obvious man to take over. In Round 20 the former Bulldog copped a shoulder blow and is now out for an indefinite period. Storm bosses were scrambling to find a man to wear the No.1 jersey in weeks gone by, landing Tigers flyer David Nofoaluma to fill a spot on the wing. But the super coach is still without a fullback. The Storm are not the intimidating force they once were coming into the finals period — but doubt them at your own peril. Five-eighth Cameron Munster has a knack of standing up and delivering when his back is against the wall, and he still has trusty sidekicks Jahrome Hughes and Harry Grant aside him.
Run home: Titans (H), Panthers (A), Broncos (A), Roosters (H), Eels (A)
Grade: Bad case of the flu
5. BRONCOS (26 points)
Injuries: Jordan Pereira (illness, TBC), Albert Kelly (foot, Round 21), TC Robati (arm, Round 21-22), Te Maire Martin (ribs, indefinite), Herbie Farnworth (biceps, indefinite)
How they sit: Kevin Walters has sparked a Broncos resurgence in 2022 and is set to welcome back a number of troops leading into the finals. Selwyn Cobbo is due to return from an ugly head knock in the Origin decider, while Albert Kelly is also due to return from a Lisfranc in the coming weeks. While he may not break into the team after Ezra Mam’s impressive start to his NRL career, he provides a proven replacement. Meanwhile, Te Maire Martin is likely to return before finals football, being named in the reserves in Round 21 — and in a huge boost, according to The Daily Telegraph, centre Herbie Farnworth could be set a return for finals football. Farnworth was one of the Broncos’ best players at the start of 2022 and Walters will be desperate to welcome his English import back in the fold. The Broncos will be confident coming into the finals period, but one man is key to their premiership chances — Adam Reynolds. The 32-year-old halfback has suffered a number of knocks this season including rib and hamstring injuries, but is currently fit and firing. Walters will be desperate to keep his marquee man on the field for the remainder of the year and may even consider resting him towards the back-end if their position in the finals race is secured.
Run home: Roosters (A), Knights (H), Storm (H), Eels (H), Dragons (A)
Grade: Got the sniffles.
6. EELS (26 points)
Injuries: Mitchell Moses (finger, TBC), Haze Dunster (knee, season), Ray Stone (knee, season)
How they sit: The Eels seemed to have overcome their early season injury woes. That was until Mitch Moses suffered a finger injury in the club’s Round 20 clash against the Panthers. Moses was originally thought to be facing at least a month out but could now return within a couple of weeks. Parramatta are fighting to slot into the top four and Jake Arthur has been handed the reins at halfback. As it stands, the Eels sit in sixth place — on equal points with the Storm and Broncos. But, Parramatta have one of the toughest runs home in the competition, facing the Sea Eagles, Rabbitohs, Bulldogs, Broncos and Storm. Moses will be a crucial figure for the Eels’ finals chances, but for now the pressure is on Clint Gutherson and Dylan Brown to deliver against multiple finals contenders and make their path to the grand final easier by finishing in the top four. To do so the Eels will have to find the consistency that has elluded them this season. An upset of the Panthers last round followed a disappointing 36-14 loss to the Broncos in round 19 and a shock defeat to the Tigers in Round 17.
Run home: Sea Eagles (A), Rabbitohs (H), Bulldogs (H), Broncos (A), Storm (H)
Grade: Battling a cold.
7. RABBITOHS (24 points)
Injuries: Jed Cartwright (hamstring, TBC), Peter Mamouzelos (wrist, Round 24), Hame Sele (hamstring, Round 25), Michael Chee Kam (thumb, Round 25), Campbell Graham (cheekbone, indefinite), Liam Knight (knee, season), Jacob Host (shoulder, season)
How they sit: Jason Demetriou’s side have had a turbulent year but have welcomed back one key man who has completely shifted momentum. Since returning from a hamstring injury, Latrell Mitchell’s influence cannot be understated. Mitchell slotted into fullback in Round 16 and made an instant impact, inspiring his side to wins over the Eels, Knights, Bulldogs and Storm before being downed by a Nicho Hynes field goal in Round 20. But overall, South Sydney are sitting pretty, carrying momentum towards the back-end of the season. Meanwhile, star centre Campbell Graham is due to return late in the regular season, Hame Sele and Peter Mamouzelos will also return and add depth to the squad coming into the finals period. But, while momentum is on their side, the Rabbitohs have a nightmare run home and face the Warriors, Eels, Panthers, Cowboys and Roosters in their bid to slot into the top four.
Run home: Warriors (H), Eels (A), Panthers (H), Cowboys (H), Roosters (A)
Grade: Go the sniffles
8. ROOSTERS (22 points)
Injuries: Lindsay Collins (concussion, TBC), Siosiua Taukeiaho (cheekbone, Round 21), Billy Smith (knee, season), Sitili Tupouniua (knee, season), Renouf Atoni (knee, indefinite)
How they sit: After the horror 2021 season, many would have thought luck would be on the side of the Roosters. In 2022, Trent Robinson’s side have been hit with a number of injuries to key players, again. Lindsay Collins suffered another head knock on Thursday on return from a concussion in the Origin series decider. The Tricolours take a cautious and considered approach with head injuries, and he is likely to sit out for an extended period. Meanwhile, Siosiua Taukeiaho is due to return in the coming weeks, but the pairing of Sitili Tupouniua and Billy Smith being sidelined for the remainder of the season is a huge blow to Robinson’s finals chances. As it stands, the Roosters sit in eighth spot, but are facing a huge fight to remain in the top eight. The Raiders sit equal on points but sit in ninth on differential, while the Sea Eagles and Dragons are breathing down their neck. The signing of Oliver Gildart affords the Roosters some cover in the outside backs, but another crucial injury could prove costly.
Run home: Broncos (H), Cowboys (H), Tigers (H), Storm (A), Rabbitohs (H)
Grade: A bad case of the flu.
9. RAIDERS (22 points)
Injuries: James Schiller (ankle, Round 21), Harry Rushton (jaw, Round 25), Trey Mooney (ankle, indefinite), Jarrod Croker (shoulder, season), Josh Hodgson (knee, season), Harley Smith-Shields (knee, season), Semi Valemei (knee, Round 21)
Suspensions: Jordan Rapana (suspension, Round 21)
How they sit: Ricky Stuart’s Raiders have been consistently hit with injury blows throughout the season and Adam Elliott’s most recent hip problem could be crucial coming into the finals period. The former Bulldog was taken off the field as a precaution according to Stuart, but was named in Round 21 — but is one to watch. Meanwhile, winger James Schiller, Harry Rushton and Semi Valemei will all return before finals football helping the team from the nation’s capital’s bid to slot into the top eight. The Raiders have a fairly comfortable run home and currently sit level with the Roosters on points, one spot out of the finals race. While their -13 differential may be an issue, Stuart will be hoping his side can pile on the points against the Knights and Tigers to take that factor out of the equation.
Run home: Panthers (H), Dragons (H), Knights (A), Sea Eagles (H), Tigers (A)
Grade: A bad case of the flu.
10. SEA EAGLES (20 ooints)
Injuries: Sean Keppie (shoulder, Round 21), Ben Trbojevic (head knock, Round TBC), Tom Trbojevic (shoulder, season), Karl Lawton (knee, season), Morgan Boyle (ankle, indefinite), Josh Aloiai (knee, Round 22)
How they sit: It has been a turbulent period for Des Hasler’s Sea Eagles. The fallout from the pride jersey saga is still rolling on, and the seven players who stood down will now have to integrate back into the side amidst reports of division in the squad. The club’s loss last week without the stood down players also dented Manly’s finals chances and they now sit in tenth. Hasler’s side will have to win at least four of five games if they are realistically a chance of making the top eight — and a number of crucial injuries throughout the season have resulted in a sub-par season thus far. Tom Trbojevic’s season-ending shoulder injury was a cruel blow to the Sea Eagles premiership hopes, even though Reuben Garrick has been outstanding at the back. Meanwhile, Karl Lawton’s knee injury, Ben Trbojevic’s continual head knocks Josh Aloiai’s knee injury have added to Manly’s headache.
Run home: Eels (H), Titans (A), Sharks (H), Raiders (A), Bulldogs (H)
Grade: On life support
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11. DRAGONS (20 points)
Injuries: Cody Ramsey (knee, Round 22), Jayden Sullivan (shoulder, Round 23), Mikaele Ravalawa (hamstring, finals), Moses Suli (ankle, finals)
How they sit: Three key injuries has seriously hampered Anthony Griffin’s side’s attacking potency in recent weeks. Moses Suli has been impressive all season but will now only return if the Dragons make the finals, meanwhile flyer Mikaele Ravalawa is in a similar situation after suffering a hamstring blow in Round 17. Cody Ramsey also looked impressive in an eight-game stint at fullback but suffered a knee injury in Round 19, ruling him out until Round 22. The Dragons have a reasonably tough run home, facing three finals contenders — and are another side who realistically need to win four out of five games to be chance of playing post-season. Their finals dreams look unrealistic as it stands, with a -124 differential that would see them unable to leap the Sea Eagles, Raiders or Roosters if they landed on equal points.
Run home: Sharks (A), Raiders (A), Titans (H), Tigers (A), Broncos (H)
Grade: On life support.