1. Final eight date
The top eight is set for the finals. The Warriors, Panthers, Roos and Mounties consolidate top-four positions, while the Bulldogs, Knights, Bears and Sea Eagles secure their spots in the eight.
All eight teams will be motivated to improve their standing with their last regular-season matches.
2. Who will win?
History shows the premiers eventuate from the top four. The Panthers, Roos, Mounties and Warriors are in the driver’s seat to taking out this year’s VB NSW Cup. All four sides are loaded with talent and plenty of NRL experience that is extremely valuable for finals football.
The Panthers are hungry to go back-to-back while the Roos and Mounties are eager to convert their strong seasons into premiership success. Penrith hold the best defence in the league, while Mounties are the best attacking side. Wyong are a well-balanced side, maintaining the second-best defence and fourth-best attack.
If the unpredictable Warriors are more hot than cold, they could easily seal grand final glory.
However, there are several dark horses with potential to take it all.
3. Who are the dark horses?
The Bulldogs and Knights were touted as potential premiers during the season. The Knights are determined to avenge last year’s Grand Final defeat against the Panthers and the Bulldogs are loaded with talent throughout the side. The resurgent Bears have taken the VB NSW Cup by storm and as you know, you can never count out Manly.
All four sides are dangerous in attack – Manly and the Bulldogs are ranked second and third (respectively) in attack, while the Bears have been scoring points at will in recent times. The Bulldogs are capable of holding out their leads, tied fourth in defence with the Knights.
4. North Sydney – Contenders or pretenders?
In the most anticipated match of the round, the eighth-placed North Sydney Bears earned plenty of encouragement in their narrow 18-16 loss to the Wyong Roos. The Bears faced an early 18-0 deficit against the competition heavyweights but were courageous in fighting back and will take plenty out of the match moving towards the finals.
As the old adage goes, the Bears were due for a loss after their red-hot streak and it could be the loss they need to motivate them for September football. This will serve as opportunity for Ben Gardiner’s men to fine tune their performance in time for the finals.
5. One last dance
Round 25 is sure to feature several more twists and turns to close out the regular season.
In two tantalising finals-preview matches, it’s sixth vs seventh with the Knights against Manly, while the league-leading Mounties aim to clinch the minor premiership against the fourth-placed Warriors.
It’s imperative that teams build on confidence in the last round before entering the finals.