Just three rounds remain in the 2020 NRL season and the finals picture is slowly starting to crystallise.
We saw plenty of close finishes with five of the eight games decided by six or fewer points despite four of those five hitting the over.
The Panthers mathematically could claim the minor premiership this weekend with a win over the Eels in their Friday night blockbuster and the Cowboys upsetting the Storm.
As the teams continue to jockey for position heading into one of the most unique finals series in history there’s still plenty of value to be found.
We’ve gone through the stats, numbers and data to present our five key takeaways from Round 17 right here.
1 – The Storm Are Back on Track
Punters had a fill up on Friday night when the Storm got home against the Rabbitohs as Craig Bellamy’s made a statement with their win.
While its not exactly the all-conquering Storm side featuring Smith, Slater and Cronk from previous years, they are still pretty strong from 1-17 and will be in the mix for another Grand Final victory here.
You could have made a decent case for the Bunnies heading into the match after a pair of convincing wins but as we all know, this is the time of the season when the Storm have that irritating ability to find an extra gear.
It’s fair to say Melbourne’s 14-0 loss to the Eels a fortnight ago was nothing more than an off night as they extended their competition best record against the spread to 12-5.
2 – The Eels Might Have Already Played Their Grand Final
Speaking of the Eels, despite sitting in third place there are major concerns about their fortitude heading into crunch time this season.
After defeating the Storm, they were thumped by Souths and this weekend were well below par when they took on a gallant Warriors side.
On the plus side this was the first time they scored more than 20 points in a match since Round 11 but they appear to be the leading contender for a straight sets exit from the sides still in contention for the top four.
They can alleviate some of those fears Friday night when they take on the ladder leading Panthers but at this stage, you have to be concerned about how they are travelling at the moment.
3 – Manly Are Ready for the Offseason
You could say that Manly’s season unofficially ended back in Round 6 when Tom Trbojevic was lost to injury but now they are well and truly in the “Just End the Season” category.
Every year with a few weeks to go, a side that entered the year with high hopes that were derailed by injury, luck or form decides that it’s time to focus on next season.
That was sealed by their monumental collapse against the Tigers on Saturday, leading 32-20 with 12 minutes remaining.
In a vacuum you would say they have three very winnable games remaining but they have the look of a side that is already on holidays now.
4 – The Titans Are Not
One of Manly’s upcoming opponents, the Gold Coast Titans, might be out of the finals, but have acquitted themselves fantastically in the past fortnight.
While Manly is ready for their season to end, the Titans look like a side that is playing for something even though they know they only have three weekends remaining.
Back to back wins over the Dragons and Bulldogs have vaulted them into the “playing spoiler” role and they will be a team that seems set to have higher than normal expectations heading into 2021.
5 – The Panthers Seem Poised to Upset the Storm-Roosters Duopoly
The two most dominant sides of the millennium to date, the Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters have been ever present at the business end of the season.
One or both of them have made six of the last eight NRL Grand Finals with five titles shared between them in that time (including the last three) and you wouldn’t be opposed to backing a repeat, but that would be boring.
Right now the minor premiers elect Penrith Panthers appear to be the best placed side to upset that duopoly in 2020.
Not only are they in superb form, winning their last 12 on the trot, they are doing it in different ways.
If they can hold onto top spot (which seems likely), they should catch a break in the first round as the Storm and Roosters seem destined to face off there.
Right now it is a three horse race between these sides in our Premiership market with those teams sharing favouritism at $3.75 to lift the Provan-Summons Trophy late next month.