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Finding the finalists for 2017

By Tony Webeck

ISC17_News_TonyWebeck_Round19
The Hunters should claim the minor premiership.

I'll give you a moment to catch your breath after yet another extraordinary finish to a State of Origin series that grows exponentially with each year that passes.

All good?

Right, next order of business is the Intrust Super Cup semi-finals, which, if you will quickly look at your calendar, are now only seven weeks away.

Each of the 14 teams have a bye in the closing seven rounds – the second-placed Falcons and Norths Devils have two – and a look at the ladder suggests that the battle for the top six is now a race in seven after Ipswich upset Souths Logan last weekend to keep their hopes alive.

So, given the importance of finishing in the top two, how are the next seven weeks going to play out? Here are my fearless predictions for the closing weeks and how the ladder will look at the end of 25 rounds.

PNG Hunters

Current position: 1st (30 points)
Predicted finish: 1st (42 points)

Although they haven't been unbeatable at home this year, a bye this week and three further games at home should see the Hunters maintain their current position and claim a historic minor premiership. Away games to Redcliffe (Round 21) and Townsville (Round 23) will give us a tasty pre-finals insight into all three teams.

Sunshine Coast Falcons

Current position: 2nd (27 points)
Predicted finish: 2nd (41 points)

The Round 1 draw with Easts may prove to be a bonus for the Falcons who look like carrying momentum and a relatively fresh playing group into September. Starting with the bye this weekend, Sunny Coast have a guaranteed four points still to collect and play Burleigh, the Capras, Mackay and Norths before a final-round showdown with the Blackhawks.

Easts Tigers

Current position: 4th (25 points)
Predicted finish: 3rd (35 points)

Unbeaten since going down to Redcliffe 22-12 in Round 14, the Tigers have an excellent run in the back-end of the season, with Souths Logan the only opposition they face currently in the top six. This weekend's meeting with Ipswich is a danger game, but Scott Sipple's men could be lining up a late charge.

Redcliffe Dolphins

Current position 3rd (26 points)
Predicted finish: 4th (34 points)

Injuries to Aaron Whitchurch, Christian Hazard, Moses Pangai and Myles Taueli will test the depth of Adam Mogg's squad for the next month although their draw doesn't look too bad. Hosting Wynnum Manly this weekend, the Dolphins have trips away to the Capras, Tweed Heads, Norths and the Pride in the final seven weeks with a bye in Round 24 timely given their injury toll. The Capras in Clermont could be a danger game but they should have enough class to win at least four of their remaining six games.

Townsville Blackhawks

Current position: 5th (24 points)
Predicted finish: 5th (34 points)

It's been hard to get a read on the Blackhawks in 2017. They have knocked off competition heavyweights such as Redcliffe and Sunshine Coast, but lost games to Burleigh, Souths and Easts and had draws with the Cutters and Capras. On paper, they remain one of the most powerful line-ups in the competition and as they are unbeaten in their past five starts, might be shaping up for another tilt at a grand final. Their current three-game winning run could extend to as many as seven before finishing the regular season with assignments against the Hunters and Falcons.

Souths Logan Magpies

Current position: 6th (22 points)
Predicted finish: 6th (34 points)

They may have lost three of their past four, but Jon Buchanan's men were in every contest against tough opposition, their largest losing margin just eight points last week against the Jets. Away to Norths in this Sunday's Channel Nine game, the Magpies face only one team currently among the top seven in their closing rounds so should be able to secure a finals berth for the first time since 2011. Have away trips to Cairns and Mackay, but clash with Easts in Round 23 could be the one that impacts their final position the most.

Ipswich Jets

Current position: 7th (20 points)
Predicted finish: 7th (30 points)

The mathematicians will be called in if the Jets drop another game, but for now Ben and Shane Walker's boys have plenty to play for. Having won their past two, they can make a statement against Easts at Suzuki Stadium this Sunday but have the Blackhawks (home) and Hunters (away) to contend with in the closing weeks. Might have left their run too late again. But then again, footy can be a funny game and is anything, but predictable so there is still plenty of room for surprises.

Did you know?

Former Bronco John Te Reo becomes just the 16th player to reach 200 Cup games this weekend when he starts at hooker for Wynnum Manly against Redcliffe. Originally from New Zealand, Te Reo began his Cup career playing with Brisbane affiliate the Toowoomba Clydesdales and when they folded he joined the Aspley Broncos.

A former editor of Big League, Tony Webeck is the Chief Queensland Correspondent for NRL.com