Going into the final round of matches from this Thursday night, there is little certain about the make-up of the top eight other than the leading seven teams will play in the finals.
Melbourne are the only team assured of a home semi-final in week one, as they can’t finish lower than second.
The Titans’ scenario is obvious: beat the Cowboys in Townsville and eighth place is assured. A draw would also assure a finals place unless Wests Tigers beat Canberra by 67 points or more – highly unlikely.
However, as you see from below, who our opponents would be would depend on the Broncos-Roosters (Thursday) and Bulldogs-Rabbitohs (Friday) clashes played before our game is played.
This is how the first week of the finals works, with the top four separated from the bottom four – the top group going into ‘second chance’ matches and the bottom half into sudden death:
Qualifying final 1 (1st v 4th), Friday September 9
Elimination final 1 (5th v 8th), Saturday September 10
Qualifying final 2 (2nd v 3rd), Saturday September 10
Elimination final 2 (6th v 7th), Sunday September 11
So, if the Titans retain eighth place we should play Saturday night against Brisbane, North Queensland or Canterbury. However, Suncorp Stadium is booked for an Australia v New Zealand rugby union Test on Saturday night which may affect this draw. More to be clarified there …
Anyway, let’s look at who plays who in round 26 and what shuffling may occur:
Broncos (5th) v Roosters (14th), Suncorp Stadium, 7.50pm Thursday
If the Titans beat the Cowboys and the Broncos knock over the Roosters, Brisbane will jump from sudden death in the bottom half of the eight to top four and a second chance … unless the Bulldogs win by a 44-point plus score. If the Cowboys win, Brisbane stay fifth and play the eighth-finishing side.
Bulldogs (6) v Rabbitohs (13), ANZ Stadium, 7.50pm Friday
The Bulldogs would need the Titans to win and to beat the Rabbitohs by a massive score to get back into the top four. If they lose to the Rabbitohs, they could finish as low as seventh.
Cowboys (4) v Titans (8), 1300SMILES Stadium, 5.30pm Saturday
If the Titans win in Townsville, they wrap up eighth spot and could relegate the Cowboys to fifth or sixth should the Broncos and or Bulldogs win. If the Cowboys win, the Titans would rely on Wests Tigers losing or drawing with Canberra to stay in the eight.
Storm (1) v Sharks (2), AAMI Park, 7.30pm Saturday
This is the showdown for the minor premiership with consequences for other teams too.
The winner takes the minor premiership, or if there is a draw the Storm stay on top. If Cronulla wins, Melbourne stay second and both have home semi-finals. If Cronulla lose and Canberra win, the Sharks finish third and have to go to chilly Canberra for their semi-final in week one. But all three teams avoid sudden death.
The Storm can’t finish worse than second and thus are assured of a week-one semi in Melbourne.
Wests Tigers (9) v Raiders (3), Leichhardt Oval, 2pm Sunday
The consequences for these two teams will be determined before they play on Sunday.
If the Titans win, the Tigers can’t make the finals. If the Titans lose, the Tigers are alive but have to beat the Raiders to finish eighth.
For Canberra, if Cronulla win they can’t finish higher than third and would have to play Melbourne in Melbourne in week one. If Melbourne win, the Raiders have second spot and a home semi-final within reach.
Panthers (7) v Sea Eagles (12), Pepper Stadium, 6.30pm Sunday
The Panthers have secured seventh spot but would need the Bulldogs to lose, and for Penrith to close the six-point differential gap between them and the Bulldogs, to climb above them and secure a home semi-final. Their 40-point differential deficit compared to Brisbane make it unlikely that they can jump the Broncos.
Lose and they’ll finish seventh and have to visit either the Bulldogs, Broncos or Cowboys in a week one elimination final.
Plenty of supposition there, but for the Aquis Gold Coast Titans there is only one formula the team is focussing on – win in Townsville and our place in the eight is safe.