NRL: Warriors chase home final in high-stakes final round

Canterbury Bulldogs' massive 38-0 win over St George Dragons has set up a final-round NRL playoff scramble in the NRL, with the Warriors in the thick of the frenzy.

The shock result sets up a regular-season climax with only four points covering the eight playoff positions and the prospect of seven teams finishing tied in second, with points differential deciding final standings.  

Heading into last weekend’s penultimate round, the Dragons were fourth with a positive differential (PD) of 75 points, but the loss saw them slip to sixth with a PD of 37.

As the NZ Warriors beat the Penrith Panthers 36-16 and the Brisbane Broncos shocked the Sydney Roosters 22-8, all eight playoff teams were confirmed, but with very little separating them.

All the teams currently between fifth and eighth - Dragons, Panthers, Broncos and Warriors - are tied on 30 competition points with a 29 PD separating them.

Meanwhile, the Sharks, Rabbitohs and Roosters are on 32 points, with better PD's.  

That leaves even more to play for heading into the final round - it’s feasible that the difference between first and eighth could be just two points, and seven teams could finish on 32 next week.

That puts more pressure on the Warriors if they want to lock down a home final. To do that, they will need to win their final game and have some results to go in their favour - which isn’t out of the question.

The Warriors face the Raiders in their final match before the playoffs.
The Warriors face the Raiders in their final match before the playoffs. Photo credit: Photosport

The Warriors have been critiqued for their inconsistent form, but they are not the only club truly struggling.

Currently, the Warriors are eighth and while no team has won the tournament from there, it isn't out of the question that they could make the final. The 2009 Eels and 2017 Cowboys both made the final after qualifying eighth - both losing to the Storm.

But when it all comes down to it, the Warriors may end up regretting those two late tries to the Panthers last Friday.

Regardless of where they finish, Kiwis coach Michael Maguire is backing the Auckland side to make a finals run.

"I've had a bit to do with the Warriors," he said on Sunday Night with Matty Johns on Fox Sports.

"They are sitting at the bottom of the eight, and I think they are in a good position to make a charge.

“I think Mooks [Stephen Kearney] has done a great job with the younger ones coming through.

"Plus, look at the top four and look at all the teams battling with injuries, which will play a part."  

Also on the show, Johns' dad, Gary, was asked who he thought would win and he said "Warriors".

How they shape up for the NRL regular season finale

Storm (First, 34 pts, +179 PD)

To play: Penrith (H)

After the Roosters loss, the Storm are in prime position to lock up their third-straight minor premiership on Friday night. The Panthers have been woeful in their last two games and haven't beaten the Melbourne since 2013.

Roosters (Second, 32 pts, +147 PD)

To play: Parramatta (A)

The Eels will be desperate to avoid another wooden spoon, but they have to beat one of the competition front-runners. The Tri-Colours will be without Dylan Napa for some time and need a big win, after losing their last two.

Roosters captain Jake Friend.
Roosters captain Jake Friend. Photo credit: AAP

Rabbitohs (Third, 32 pts, +104 PD)

To play: Wests Tigers (H)

The Bunnies are another side struggling, as they have lost their last three games. Like their fierce rivals, they will be determined to win and get some confidence heading into the finals.

Eliminated from playoff contention, the Tigers have little left to play for, except pride

Sharks (Fourth, 32 pts, +84 PD)

To play: Canterbury (A)

The Sharks have won their last three games, but face a team that has beaten the Dragons, Warriors and Broncos in the last month. A win could see Cronulla secure a home final, but a loss could see them drop out of the top four.

Past results benefit the Sharks, as they have won the last their last six against the Doggies.

Panthers (Fifth, 30 pts, +50 PD)

To play: Melbourne (A)

The Panthers have had a mixed bag, with miracle come-from-behind wins to go along with some scrappy performances at best. It’s unlikely they beat the Storm based on recent form and they'll likely slip down the ladder.

They look a shadow of the team that led the league in May and are a strong chance of losing a home elimination final, should they lose to the Storm as expected, and then either the Broncos or Warriors claim wins against teams below them.

Reimis Smith against the Dragons.
Reimis Smith against the Dragons. Photo credit: AAP

Dragons Sixth, 30 pts, +37 PD)

To play: Newcastle (A)

The Dragons desperately need a win - they're 1-4 in their last five games, but so are the Knights.

Both sides have injuries, but the Dragons' are more severe with Gareth Widdop, Euan Aitken, Paul Vaughan and Jason Nightingale all out.

Broncos (Seventh, 30 pts, +24 PD)

To play: Manly (H)

They have beaten the Rabbitohs and Roosters in their last two games, but they could easily slip up against the Sea Eagles, who are desperate to avoid the spoon. They could easily climb the ladder if they win.

Warriors (Eighth, 30 pts, +21)

To play: Canberra (H)

The Warriors have won three of their last four and will likely need a big win to lock up a finals home game. It’s not out of the question, as the previous six Warriors vs Raiders games in New Zealand have produced an average score of 41-14.