In years gone by, the last couple of rounds of the NRL season have given coaches a chance to rest some stars before a finals run.

But, with just about every position in the top eight still up for grabs, no-one had that luxury heading into the penultimate round of the regular season.

That left a slew of stars in the firing line, and it’s cost major contenders in a big way, although it’s not all been bad luck. Some have brought it on themselves.

Here’s where your team sits before the final round of the regular season:

Brisbane Broncos

Best finish: 1st

Worst finish: 2nd

Who are they playing next? Melbourne Storm at Lang Park on Thursday, 7:50pm AEST

The Thursday night game will go a long way towards deciding the final make-up of the top four.

Brisbane have won seven straight games and are in the box seat for their first minor premiership this century, but also haven’t beaten the Storm since 2016.

The Broncos have lost 13 straight and 23 of past 25 games against Melbourne, but will win the JJ Giltinan Shield with a victory. If they lose, they’ll be banking on Penrith losing to still claim top spot.

What happened on the weekend?

Reece Walsh grabs his knee as he is hugged by Brisbane Broncos teammates

Reece Walsh appeared to injure his knee celebrating a late try.(Getty Images: Mark Nolan)

A 29-18 win in Canberra put the Broncos on top of the ladder and in control of their own minor premiership hopes.

Fullback Reece Walsh was once against instrumental with three try assists and a try and Selwyn Cobbo scored three down the right wing, but it wasn’t all good news.

Already missing captain and halfback Adam Reynolds with a calf strain, Brisbane lost star lock Pat Carrigan to a foot injury on matchday eve.

He was flown back to Brisbane for scans and the suggestion is he will miss the Storm game and likely a couple of weeks after that.

Walsh also gave everyone a fright when he was hobbling on his knee in the final few minutes of the game, although he insists he’s OK, but centre Kotoni Staggs will miss Thursday’s game after copping a one-match ban for a forearm shiver on Jordan Rapana.

Penrith Panthers

Best finish: 1st

Worst finish: 2nd

Who are they playing next? North Queensland Cowboys at Penrith Stadium on Saturday, 5:30pm AEST

One of four games this weekend between two teams with finals aspirations, the Panthers have a top-two spot sewn up, but a win would give them top spot if the Broncos lose on Thursday.

They could also end the Cowboys’ season with a victory.

What happened on the weekend?

Jarome Luai is helped off the field

Jarome Luai knew immediately how serious his injury was.(Getty Images: Mark Metcalfe)

Penrith wasn’t ready for a Parramatta Eels team eager to end their season on a high.

The Eels, who have a bye this weekend and are out of finals contention, put on the sort of performance that took them all the way to last year’s grand final against the team that beat them in the 2022 decider.

Not only did the Panthers lose 32-18, a scoreline that flattered them thanks to two consolation tries in the final five minutes, they also saw five-eighth Jarome Luai go off with a dislocated shoulder that caused “significant damage”.

According to the club, he doesn’t need immediate surgery, but will be a long shot to get back in the finals.


Best finish: 3rd

Worst finish: 4th

Who are they playing next? Dolphins at Lang Park on Saturday, 3pm AEST

Four Warriors NRL players celebrate a try against the Dragons.

The Warriors locked in their top-four finish in the second-last round of the season.(Getty Images: Dave Rowland)

The long-maligned team from across the ditch will have a double chance regardless of what happens when they take on the Dolphins in Brisbane on Saturday afternoon.

They have a mathematical chance of finishing second if they win by a record margin and the Panthers lose by a record margin, but since that seems unlikely, let’s say they’re locked into an away game in week one of finals.

There has been talk of moving their second finals game to Eden Park to get in a bigger crowd, but a lot of diehard Warriors fans want the game to stay at Mt Smart, particularly considering they were deprived of any home games for two years at the height of the COVID pandemic and they haven’t played a home final since 2008.

What happened on the weekend?

A Warriors fan holds up a sign saying "Eden Park is not our home" during an NRL game against the Dragons.

Warriors fans will have their first taste of a home finals match since 2008.(Getty Images: Dave Rowland)

The Up the Wahs campaign that has made the Warriors a lot of fans’ second team this year locked in their first top-four finish since 2007 with an 18-6 win over the Dragons.

It’s the first time they’ve finished higher than eighth and just the second time they’ve made the finals since 2011, when they made the grand final.

One of three teams in the league without a premiership, the two-time runners-up are in sensational form under rookie coach Andrew Webster, but copped a huge blow like so many other finals teams in the penultimate round.

Five-eighth Luke Metcalf, who has locked up the number six jersey in the back half of the season, left the game early and miserably with a hamstring injury.

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Melbourne Storm

Best finish: 3rd

Worst finish: 4th

Who are they playing next? Brisbane Broncos at Lang Park on Thursday, 7:50pm AEST

Melbourne have been relatively inconsistent within games heading into their huge clash against fellow top-four side Brisbane.

The Storm have only lost twice to the Broncos since 2010 and the Thursday night showdown in front of a big crowd at Lang Park will set the tone for the weekend going forward.

They need to win and hope the Warriors lose to jump up to third.

What happened on the weekend?

Ryan Papenhuyzen runs onto the field for an NRL game as Melbourne Storm fans cheer behind him.

Ryan Papenhuyzen is making a staged return from a serious knee injury.(Getty Images: Daniel Pockett)

The Storm beat the Titans 37-16 but the bigger story was what happened in the 62nd minute.

Fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen made his return off the bench after 405 days sidelined with a shattered kneecap, but that was counterbalanced by a fresh knee injury to halfback Jahrome Hughes.

The club said he would miss the Broncos clash with a minor medial ligament sprain, but he is expected back for week one of the finals.

Newcastle Knights

Best finish: 5th

Worst finish: 6th

Kalyn Ponga is injured on the turf during a Newcastle Knights NRL game.

Kalyn Ponga was one of a number of superstars cut down by injury on the weekend.(Getty Images: Jenny Evans)

Who are they playing next? St George Illawarra Dragons at Jubilee Stadium on Saturday, 7:35pm AEST

With the top four set, the Knights have a golden opportunity to sew up fifth in their clash with the last-placed Dragons.

Only one of the Sharks or Raiders can leapfrog them, so they’re locked into a home final in week one.

What happened on the weekend?

Kalyn Ponga copped a huge knock from Jesse Ramien while setting up a try in the Knights’ eighth straight win, a 32-6 hammering of Cronulla.

Newcastle confirmed the captain, who has sparked their brilliant run home since returning to fullback, suffered a “high-grade” injury to the AC joint in his shoulder.

He’ll miss the Dragons game and is up against the clock to play in the finals.

Cronulla Sharks

Best finish: 5th

Worst finish: 8th

Cronulla Sharks Nicho Hynes stands with his hands on his hips after an NRL game against the Dolphins.

The Sharks’ record against other finals teams and Nicho Hynes’s fitness are cause for concern heading into finals.(Getty Images: Bradley Kanaris)

Who are they playing next? Canberra Raiders at Shark Park on Sunday, 4:05pm AEST

The fifth- and sixth-placed teams face off in the final game of the weekend to lock the top eight into place.

If the Knights win, the Sharks can only go as high as their current sixth place, but could jump to fifth if Newcastle have lost.

What happened on the weekend?

The Sharks are playing down a quad injury that ruled star playmaker Nicho Hynes out of their round-26 loss to Newcastle, which continued their poor track record against other finals teams.

It put the Sharks at risk of dropping to the bottom, but not out, of the eight unless Souths and the Cowboys win, with the latter needing to bridge a for-and-against gap of more than 100 points.

Canberra Raiders

Best finish: 5th

Worst finish: 9th

Who are they playing next? Cronulla Sharks at Shark Park on Sunday, 4:05pm AEST

The Raiders are in a similar spot to the Sharks, but they have the worst points differential of anyone in the top 12, meaning they can drop out of the eight if they lose and the Cowboys, plus either the Rabbitohs or Roosters, win.

What happened on the weekend?

Losing to Brisbane is no reason to lose hope, but they will be without enforcer Corey Horsburgh as he is set to miss at least three weeks for a shoulder charge in the 29-18 loss to Brisbane.

Jordan Rapana was lucky to avoid a ban for a trip on Selwyn Cobbo, after multiple incidents over the past three weeks.

South Sydney Rabbitohs

Best finish: 7th

Worst finish: 10th

Who are they playing next? Sydney Roosters at Stadium Australia on Friday, 8pm AEST

The Rabbitohs face great rivals the Roosters in a Friday night shootout, with the winner all but guaranteed a spot in the finals.

What happened on the weekend?

The Rabbitohs had a bye, but their was still plenty of time for drama with any number of headlines, including reports that the team would boycott the Clive Churchill Medal after withering insults from Churchill’s son calling fullback Latrell Mitchell a “cancer” and “impostor”.

North Queensland Cowboys

Best finish: 7th

Worst finish: 11th

Kyle Feldt pumps his fist and yells in front of a crowd.

The Cowboys won a derby against the Dolphins in Brisbane on Friday night.(Getty Images: Bradley Kanaris)

Who are they playing next? Penrith Panthers at Penrith Stadium on Saturday, 5:30pm AEST

The Cowboys have comfortably a better for-and-against than the Raiders and Roosters, who are both in the negative, but they still need to beat Penrith in one of the toughest road trips in the league and hope the Raiders lose to have a shot at making the eight.

What happened on the weekend?

North Queensland kept their rollercoaster season alive with a 34-10 win over the Dolphins in the final Queensland derby of the season, but still aren’t completely in control of their own destiny.

Sydney Roosters

Best finish: 7th

Worst finish: 11th

Who are they playing next? South Sydney Rabbitohs at Stadium Australia on Friday, 8pm AEST

The Roosters’ game against South Sydney on Friday night could be the match of the round, with the Roosters rounding into some decent form after a mixed year.

What happened on the weekend?

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is sent to the sin bin by a referee during a Sydney Roosters NRL game.

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves hit Api Koroisau with a high shot and head-butted Stefano Utoikamanu in the ensuing melee.(Getty Images: Matt King)

If the Roosters are to win, they will have to do it without star prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and likely fullback Joey Manu.

Waerea-Hargreaves will miss at least three weeks after he pleaded guilty to a striking charge for head-butting Stefano Utoikamanu during their 32-8 win over the Tigers. He was also charged for an ugly high shot on Api Koroisau that sparked the tussle with Utoikamanu, although he will contest the grading of that high shot, risking a four-game ban.

Meanwhile, Manu, who filled in at fullback as captain James Tedesco continued recovery from a concussion, suffered a hamstring strain in the match.

It looked serious as he pulled up short in the in-goal, but the club said he will “be given every opportunity to prove his fitness for round 27”.