It seems only a few weeks ago that we were heralding the start of another Intrust Super Cup season, yet the arrival of Round 18 this weekend also comes the realisation that the start of the finals series is now just eight weeks away.
With Burleigh flying high, the Blackhawks struggling with a mounting injury toll and Ipswich threatening to mount a late defence of their 2015 title, I thought the time was right to delve into the run home for each team and make some predictions as to which six teams will play finals football this season.
Burleigh Bears: Able to revel in the bye this weekend on the back of four straight wins, Jim Lenihan's men are in prime position to push for their first premiership in more than a decade. They have the luxury of two byes in the final nine weeks and four home games at Pizzey Park but face fellow finals aspirants Townsville, PNG, Northern Pride, Easts and Souths – not to mention Ipswich – in a challenging end to the season. Predicted finish: Minor premiers
Redcliffe Dolphins: They may have dropped their first two games of the season but Redcliffe coach Adam Mogg did a wonderful job in getting the Dolphins back on track on the road as they awaited the opening of the revamped Dolphin Oval. A five-game winning streak ended at the hands of Wynnum last week and they have had both their byes so face a long run to Grand Final day. Home games against the Hunters and Pride will be crucial with clashes against the Capras and Tweed in the final two weeks a chance to take momentum into September. Predicted finish: Third
PNG Hunters: Undefeated at home this year and with four home games in their final seven, the Hunters have the opportunity to finish strongly and sneak into second ahead of Redcliffe who they face in Round 19 at Dolphin Oval. They will have plenty of support in their two other away games at Townsville and Cairns and if they can snare one of those could even give Burleigh a run for their money for the minor premiership. Predicted finish: Second
Townsville Blackhawks: The raging hot favourites at the start of the season have been decimated by injuries and have dropped three of their past four games to fall to fourth. Two byes in the final eight weeks will give coach Kristian Woolf some respite and a chance for his players to recuperate. The final make-up of the top six may come down to the results of their home games against Burleigh (Round 20) and Hunters (Round 23). Predicted finish: Fourth
Easts Tigers: Undefeated for the first six weeks of the season, the Tigers have dropped games to Burleigh and Sunshine Coast in recent weeks but should be too strong for the Capras this weekend. A trip to PNG in Round 20 and home games against Burleigh and Redcliffe will likely determine whether Scott Sipple's men get two bites of the cherry come finals time. Predicted finish: Sixth
Northern Pride: The Pride have only twice won back-to-back games and so desperately need to find some consistency in the closing weeks if they are to qualify. With away trips to Burleigh and Redcliffe and home games against Townsville and PNG the Pride may struggle to maintain their place in the top six. Predicted finish: Eighth
Souths Logan: The Magpies position on the ladder could have been a lot better if they had been able to turn their two draws with Sunshine Coast and Mackay into victories. They stamped their credentials with a convincing win over the Blackhawks last weekend and with a run home that includes Sunshine Coast, Norths, Mackay and the Capras are close enough if good enough. Predicted finish: Fifth
Sunshine Coast Falcons: The Falcons may have knocked off the likes of Burleigh, PNG and Easts this season, but going into Saturday's clash with Redcliffe are in danger of losing touch with the top six. A game against the Hunters in PNG in Round 25 may sound the death knell for Craig Ingebrigtsen's team. Predicted finish: 10th
Ipswich Jets: Co-coach Ben Walker warned a couple of weeks ago that the Jets were heating up and are now riding the momentum of a three-game winning streak into a trip to Cairns this weekend to face the Pride. Away clashes at Burleigh and PNG will define a season where they may have left their run just a week or two too late. Predicted finish: Seventh
Wynnum Manly Seagulls: News of Jon Buchanan's departure at the end of the year inspired Wynnum to a one-point win over Redcliffe last weekend but channelling that emotion into an eight-week run may be beyond them. Their draw is OK but they need to deliver far better performances than we've seen for the first 17 weeks. Predicted finish: Ninth
Norths Devils: They currently sit only three points outside the top six but away games in the next three weeks at Burleigh and Souths Logan may put paid to any hope of a finals berth this season. There are also clashes with highly fancied teams Redcliffe and Townsville that will test them. Predicted finish: 12th
CQ Capras: Needing just two wins to better their season best record of seven victories, the Capras have arguably had a successful season even though a finals berth appears unlikely. A bye and four homes in their last six may give the fans in Rockhampton something to cheer about. Predicted finish: 11th
Tweed Heads Seagulls: Defence has been an issue for Tweed, conceding 30 points or more on eight occasions including their past three losses on the trot. They have the benefit of the bye this week, but then six away games in their last seven games including trips to Rockhampton, Sunshine Coast, Redcliffe and Ipswich. Predicted finish: 13th
Mackay Cutters: The first team to lose their coach this season Mackay only got their second win of the season last start against Sunshine Coast and look certain to finish the year with the wooden spoon. Predicted finish: 14th