Five rounds to go and the make-up of the bottom half of the top eight for the finals is as wide open as it invariably is at this stage of the NRL season. Photo: Photosport


In the top half of the ladder the Sydney Roosters and South Sydney are out in front on 34 points with Melbourne and Manly seemingly in good shape as well on 29 points.


Theres some real anxiety for the Rabbitohs, though. While the Roosters, Melbourne and Manly all registered big wins this weekend, the faltering Rabbitohs slipped up with a 12-30 loss to North Queensland and have injury concerns over not just the already-sidelined Greg Inglis but also John Sutton and Adam Reynolds.


With their 22-30 loss to the Vodafone Warriors last Sunday, the Storm had dropped four of their last five games heading to Canberra today. The Raiders had impressed plenty of judges lately, especially with their home form. They hadnt lost there since well back into last season but their world unravelled as the Storm emphatically restated their credentials by bouncing back with a brutal 68-4 demolition of the home side.


If this served the purpose of reigniting Melbournes campaign then it also boosted the Vodafone Warriors prospects after they were tripped up by Cronulla 18-14 on Saturday night. That result prevented the Vodafone Warriors climbing to 24 points, level with the Sharks and inside the top eight for the first time this season.


However, the Canberra result couldnt have been more helpful. While the Raiders remain seventh on 24 points for this week at the very least, the 64-point losing margin means their points for and against equation of minus 104 is now a lot worse than the Vodafone Warriors minus 67. It takes on greater significance because the two sides meet at Mount Smart Stadium on August 31.


Of the Vodafone Warriors last five games, four are against sides in varying states of contention for the bottom half of the top eight.


After their away trip to face Manly in Gosford on Sunday, their next home assignment is against Penrith. While the Panthers are 11th on 20 points and still a chance of playing their way into the finals, theyve lost their last three matches to the Roosters (6-42), Cronulla (10-38) and Newcastle (14-32).


Following that the Vodafone Warriors travel to Gold Coast to face the Titans, back in the frame after coasting past Wests Tigers 36-6 today. Coming off a run of four defeats, the Titans have now moved ahead of the Vodafone Warriors into ninth spot on points differential (minus 21) although four of their last five matches are on the road against the Bulldogs, Cowboys, Roosters and Storm.


After facing the Raiders at home, the Vodafone Warriors take on St George Illawarra in the final round of the regular season. If the Dragons can pick up another upset win over Canterbury-Bankstown tomorrow night (they caused a Monday night boil-over against the Rabbitohs two weeks ago) they would also have a faint sniff of making a late charge for the play-offs.


So many sides have reasons to believe they can still make it. Take the Broncos, for instance. They sneaked a point from Friday nights extra-time draw with Newcastle, a result which might prove invaluable as they look towards a run-in which gives them four home games against the Dragons, Eels, Knights and Bulldogs with just one away trip to face the Panthers.


Heres how the final five rounds line up for each club (current points and points for and against differentials in brackets; Dragons v Bulldogs tomorrow night):


1 ROOSTERS (34, +273)

Raiders (h), Tigers (a Allianz), Sharks (a), Titans (h), Rabbitohs (a)


2 RABBITOHS (34, +200)

Storm (a), Sea Eagles (h Gosford), Bulldogs (h ANZ Stadium), Tigers (a Allianz), Roosters (h)


3 SEA EAGLES (29, +197)

Vodafone Warriors (h - Gosford), Rabbitohs (a Gosford), Raiders (a), Storm (h), Panthers (h)


4 STORM (29, +144)

Rabbitohs (h), Knights (a), Eels (h), Sea Eagles (a), Titans (h)


5 SHARKS (26, -9)

Knights (h), Dragons (a), Roosters (h), Cowboys (h), Raiders (a)


6 BULLDOGS (24, +38)

Dragons (a), Titans (h), Raiders (a), Rabbitohs (a ANZ Stadium), Panthers (h), Broncos (a)


7 RAIDERS (24, -104)

Roosters (a), Bulldogs (h), Sea Eagles (h), Vodafone Warriors (a), Sharks (h)


8 KNIGHTS (23, +79)

Sharks (a), Storm (h), Cowboys (a), Broncos (a), Eels (h)


9 TITANS (22, -21)

Bulldogs (a), Cowboys (a), Vodafone Warriors (h), Roosters (a), Storm (a)


10 VODAFONE WARRIORS (22, -67)

Sea Eagles (a - Gosford), Panthers (h), Titans (a), Raiders (h), Dragons (a)


11 PANTHERS (20, -17)

Cowboys (h), Vodafone Warriors (a), Broncos (h), Bulldogs (a), Sea Eagles (a)


12 BRONCOS (19, -36)

Dragons (h), Eels (h), Panthers (a), Knights (h), Bulldogs (h)


13 COWBOYS (18, -29)

Panthers (a), Titans (h), Knights (h), Sharks (a), Tigers (h)


14 DRAGONS (16, -115)

Bulldogs (h), Broncos (a), Sharks (h), Tigers (h), Eels (a ANZ Stadium), Vodafone Warriors (h)


15 TIGERS (16, -229)

Eels (a), Roosters (h Allianz), Dragons (a), Rabbitohs (h Allianz), Cowboys (a)


16 EELS (10, -304)

Tigers (h), Broncos (a), Storm (a), Dragons (h ANZ Stadium), Knights (a)