For supporters of the Top 4, you’re ridin’ high and sleepin’ easy. Apart from some possible jostling at the top for the Minor Premiership (and I expect the Roosters to go hard, preferring to play Manly in Week 1), the teams and order is pretty much settled.
For supporters of the Knights, Bulldogs, Sharks, Raiders, Panthers, Warriors and Titans (positions five through 11), there will be a few more anxious moments over the last seven rounds. Sleep will be harder to come by, stress levels will rise, and life will be a little bit less fun. You may even scream uncontrollably at the TV screen on occasion.
Don’t despair. This is why the Dr is here – to provide you with some literary stilnox to solve this problem (and I am aware how that reads …). Then again, I did pick the Cowboys for the Top 4 before the season began, so read on at your own risk!
Surprisingly, even though these seven teams are separated by a solitary game, positions 5-7 appear to be almost straight forward (yes, famous last words). The 8th finalist, however, is harder to pick than a broken nose. Let me tell you who, and why.
Using highly UNsophisticated modelling techniques that cover the form through Round 19 and the upcoming strength of each team’s draw, we can make a relatively simple, yet logical judgement about each team’s fortunes.
Ranking each team’s opposition over the final seven rounds using the Dr’s 11 secret herbs and spices, a distinct hierarchy emerges. Clearly, the Bulldogs have the ‘easiest’ draw, followed by the Knights etc. But look at the difference between the Bulldogs’ draw ranking and the Raiders! 49 vs 72 – that’s quite a hurdle for the Raiders to overcome.
The second column of numbers looks back at the way each team has performed at home and away, and actually how well they’ve performed as measured by their winning margin (1-12 or 13 plus, with losses scoring zero).
The rankings change marginally across the group, but the top two teams remain the Bulldogs and Knights, in that order. Looks like we know who will be hosting the first finals in this part of the draw!
The Sharks have done well enough to rank 3rd and 4th respectively, so on the balance of probabilities (ASADA effects aside), we may well have found our 3rd finalist. I’m assuming we don’t have a Jana Novotna-like collapse here in all cases!
The remaining spot is the one open to more conjecture.
At this stage, the teams most likely to battle out this remaining spot are the Panthers and Warriors. This hurts me to say, in a way, because I always love seeing the Raiders in the finals, but given their run home, it’s going to be nigh on impossible! Having said that, the Warriors and Panthers are just awesome to watch when they get it right, particularly the Warriors.
The Panthers are in an enviable position here with respect to For & Against. They are currently ahead of the Raiders by 91 points despite being a game behind. Further, they are 118 points ahead of the Warriors, meaning as long as they can keep their form up, they can shut them out of the finals.
As far as the Warriors are concerned, For & Against is currently their major obstacle as you can see in the graphic below. Whilst I place them 4th best in terms of their draw ahead of the finals (just pipping the Panthers), their form to this point is the equal worst of this group alongside the Raiders.
The good news for them is that they have hit a rich vein of form now that the ‘structure overload’ seems to have been removed from their game. They need to take advantage of this and simply keep winning to make up for lost time and points, and hopefully throw a huge margin in there somewhere to improve the For & Against, and therefore their chances of squeaking into the Top 8. Who doesn’t want to see the Warriors in the finals?
I noted after the earlier mauling by the Panthers that the Warriors were good enough to turn their season around, and that it was in their hands. Almost poetically, they play the Panthers at home before the finals, and must win that game. It really is in their hands!
The Titans’ draw is almost equally as appalling as the one facing the Raiders, and includes the Warriors, Roosters and Storm on consecutive weekends to round out the season. Along with a performance record so far that is insignificantly different to both the Warriors and Raiders, the door is hardly even ajar for these guys.
So, while the mathematical ruler has already put a line through the Eels, and will soon do so for the Broncos, Dragons, Tigers and Cowboys, the Titans look to the be the first of this group of seven to face the same fate.