Anasta: Crunch time for finals hopefuls
EVERY year we seem to say that the competition has never been closer and that the top eight will go down to the wire, but never has that been as true as in 2019.
Heading into this weekend there are still 12 teams with a shot of making the top eight, but for a number of those sides this weekend shapes as their last-chance saloon.
The round kicks off on Thursday night with the Bulldogs trying to keep their fairytale run alive against the Cowboys in the final game to be played at 1300Smiles Stadium.
If you would have told me three months ago that the Bulldogs would be a chance of making the finals I would have laughed in your face, but coach Dean Pay has done a tremendous job galvanising this young Bulldogs side.
The Cowboys proved against the Panthers last weekend that they're a different side with Jason Taumalolo and I think the emotion of the night will be enough to get the Queenslanders home and unfortunately end the Bulldogs' faint finals hopes.
It's do-or-die for the Broncos on Friday night against the Eels at Suncorp Stadium but they showed last week against the Rabbitohs that they are capable of matching it with the big guns.
I know it's a surprising thing to say, but I thought the Broncos' loss to the Rabbitohs was one of their best games this season.
In the Broncos' favour on Friday night is an Eels side with nothing really to gain from the match - win, lose, or draw the Eels will be in the top eight, but win, lose or draw, they're unlikely to improve their spot on the ladder.
If David Fifita, Payne Haas and Matt Lodge can continue the devastating form they've shown in the past month then I think the Broncos will finish the weekend clinging to eighth spot.
There's been some David v Goliath battles in rugby league history but few have been dire and more pronounced than Saturday night's Roosters v Panthers clash.
Even after losing to the Cowboys in Townsville last weekend, the Panthers remain in finals contention but will need to find a way to bring Goliath down if they're going to keep their September dream alive.
Plain and simple, there's no better side in the NRL than the Roosters. The Roosters are like a racehorse sitting one off the fence heading into the straight, they've timed their September run to perfection and should have little trouble snuffing out the Panthers finals charge.
The game of the round this weekend has to be the Sharks v Raiders on Sunday.
If there's one team in the bottom half of the eight that the top-four sides won't want to play, it's the Sharks. They have an uncanny ability of winning the big games and they don't come much bigger than against the Raiders this weekend.
Not only will a win secure the Sharks a top-eight berth, it will also provide the perfect Shark Park send-off for arguably their best player yet, Paul Gallen.
While a loss wouldn't be terminal for the Sharks' season, a win will definitely ease the pressure going into the final round of the regular season.
That leaves us with the Dragons v Tigers at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Sunday. Trying to pick a form line in this game is like trying to pick a broken nose with a broken finger.
While the Tigers were brilliant last weekend, they were brilliant against a very ordinary Knights side.
Also, the Tigers have made a habit this year of being consistently inconsistent.
On paper this game should be an easy two points for the Tigers but I have no doubt that Michael McGuire will be feeling the nerves heading into the match.
Watch every game of Round 24 LIVE, ad-break free during play and in HD on FOX LEAGUE and streamed on Foxtel Now. Sign up today at Foxtel.com.au