If your team is sitting in the Top 8 at this time of the season, chances are you’re feeling pretty confident about having a vested interest in September footy.
But premiership history is littered with tales of extraordinary collapses during the back end of the regular season that derailed highly promising campaigns.
Relive these cautionary tales as the 2022 NRL finals race starts to get serious.
Looking to build on a fairytale 1973 campaign under coach Jack Gibson, Newtown was second on the ladder at the halfway mark of the ’74 premiership under new mentor Clarrie Jeffries.
The Jets managed only two wins and two draws from their last 12 matches, however, slumping to seventh place – five competition points out of the finals race – while Gibson led Easts to their first title in 29 years.
Newtown finished 10th the following season before collecting three consecutive wooden spoons.
After plundering archrivals Wests’ playing ranks to lure Les Boyd, Ray Brown and John Dorahy to Brookvale, Manly was strongly favoured to return to the premiership penthouse in 1980 after a dismal title defence the previous season.
The Sea Eagles sat alongside the Magpies at the top of the table after 13 rounds following a six-match winning streak.
However the bubble burst for Manly, as the heavyweights lost eight and drew two of their last 12 games – including defeats to lowly Norths, Balmain and Cronulla.
The Sea Eagles landed in seventh, one point off a playoff for fifth spot.
South Sydney (1982)
Battling South Sydney appeared on the cusp of a major resurgence after earning a share of the competition lead with eventual grand finalists Manly and Parramatta after 14 rounds of 1982, dropping just three games.
But the Bill Anderson-coached Rabbitohs crumbled badly, winning just three (including a major upset of the Eels) and drawing one of their last 12 games to finish sixth, three competition points adrift of the finals.
A season-ending injury to brilliant, but luckless, five-eighth Micheal Pattison proved critical in Souths’ dramatic decline.
Eastern Suburbs (1992)
After four seasons in the doldrums, Easts led the 1992 premiership at the halfway mark on the back of Gary Freeman’s Dally M Medal-winning form.
But NSW forward Craig Salvatori’s lengthy suspension for a headbutt sparked a six-match losing streak from which the Roosters never recovered.
A late flurry of wins was only good enough to get Mark Murray’s side to within one point of the playoffs.
Balmain also looked a bolter’s chance of a finals return with eight rounds to go, sitting just one point off second place, but Alan Jones’ Tigers could only muster two more wins and slumped to 10th-placed finish.
Wests Tigers (2000)
The Wests Tigers joint venture’s maiden campaign was exceeding expectations two-thirds of the way through the season – the gritty, aggressive amalgam of journeymen and battlers occupied a top-four spot from Round 5 until Round 17.
But with a debut-year finals berth at their mercy, the Wayne Pearce-coached Tigers lost eight of their last 10 games to slip from second to an eventual 10th-place finish.
The Tigers gave up a 23-point lead to lose to Penrith, while subsequent losses to also-rans St George Illawarra, North Queensland and the Bulldogs capped a spectacular tumble out of contention.
Buffeted by a heavy injury toll, Brisbane’s perennial post-Origin trough was deeper than ever in 2003.
The Broncos held the competition lead after 17 rounds but could only muster one victory in the final 10 weeks of the regular season, and were forced to rely on other results to scrape into eighth spot.
Without several representative stars for key periods of the run to the finals – headlined by Darren Lockyer and Gorden Tallis – the Broncos’ horror stretch culminated in a plucky 28-18 qualifying final defeat to minor premiers Penrith, extending their club record losing streak to eight games.
The Broncos’ endured another lamentable fadeout two years later. Wayne Bennett’s charges were sailing towards the minor premiership in 2005 on the back of a 10-match winning streak, and held a six-point ladder lead at the end of Round 21 after adequately negotiating the Origin period.
But losses in their last five matches – including an extraordinary late collapse against also-rans Penrith – saw the Broncos slip to third spot at the end of the regular season.
Finals losses to Melbourne (24-18) and Wests Tigers (34-6) extended their losing run to seven matches, prompting a major cleanout of Bennett’s coaching staff.
Gold Coast (2008)
A second-season finals appearance was on the cards for the fledgling Gold Coast in 2008, heading the NRL table after Round 10.
But captain and linchpin Scott Prince suffered a broken arm in the State of Origin decider, sending the Titans spiralling out of the Top 8.
Fourth at the halfway mark of the season, the Titans won just two further matches and averaged 31 points conceded to finish a dismal 13th.
The club endured a similar collapse in its maiden season, losing nine of its last 11 games to slide from a top-four position to 12th.
South Sydney (2010)
Following coach Jason Taylor’s bizarre, David Fa’alogo-aided exit from Redfern at the end of 2009, John Lang stepped into the breach and had the Rabbitohs humming in third spot at the halfway mark of the 2010 season with the arrival of British enforcer Sam Burgess a catalyst.
Souths’ second finals appearance since 1989 beckoned but they won only four of their last 12 games to fade to 10th.
Wests Tigers (2012)
One of the NRL’s genuine heavyweights of the previous two seasons, the Tigers started 2012 slowly but a seven-match winning streak catapulted them into the top four with 12 rounds remaining.
The Tigers could only add three more wins, though, and losses in their last three games saw them land two points outside the Top 8 in 10th.
Recriminations were swift: coach Tim Sheens was punted after a decade in charge, while senior players Gareth Ellis, Chris Heighington and Beau Ryan were allowed to walk.
Wests Tigers (2014)
The hapless Tigers were at again in 2014 after surging to second thanks to a 5-2 start and still occupying sixth spot at the end of Round 16 in their first post-Benji campaign.
Eight losses in their next nine games consigned the Tigers to 13th, however, and brought the axe down on coach Mick Potter as well as prompting another player cleanout.
The Warriors climbed to fourth spot by the end of Round 18 after thrashing the Storm at Mt Smart Stadium.
Shaun Johnson was the NRL’s hottest player and the Andrew McFadden-coached enigmas shaped as a genuine premiership smoky.
But Johnson snapped his ankle in the process of scoring another trademark solo try against Manly – and the club’s finals hopes immediately disintegrated.
The Warriors finished the season on an eight-match losing streak (in which they averaged 32.5 points conceded per game and scored just 11.3) to finish 13th.
St George Illawarra (2017)
The Saints’ penchant for starting the season strong and blowing out badly reached its zenith in 2017.
Paul McGregors’ side led the competition courtesy of six wins in their first seven games and were in third at the halfway mark of the premiership.
Red V fans celebrated only four wins in their team’s last 12 outings and suffered a final-round loss to also-rans Canterbury when a win would have secured seventh spot, ultimately landed an excruciating ninth.
Nathan Brown’s tenure at Newcastle appeared to belatedly bear fruit during 2019, with the talent-laden side’s run of seven wins in eight matches launching the club to sixth at the end of Round 15.
But a horrific six-match losing streak ruined the Knights’ Top 8 ambitions and a 46-4 thrashing at the hands of Wests Tigers saw Brown fall on his sword with two rounds remaining.