Chasing a top-two finish

Will Ferrell's character Ricky Bobby famously said in Talladega Nights (a satirical look at Nascar racing) “If you ain't first, you're last.”

When it comes to the Intrust Super Cup, however, being the “first loser” is almost as valuable as finishing the year as the minor premiers.

With just three rounds remaining, there are four teams fighting it out for a top-two finish that guarantees teams passage into the preliminary final at the very least and needing to win just one game to qualify for the grand final at Suncorp Stadium on September 25.

Redcliffe’s win over Easts Tigers last weekend and Burleigh’s loss to the Hunters in Papua New Guinea saw the top four tighten up to the point where just three points separates all four teams.

And with pivotal games to be played this weekend, that could all be turned on its head once again.

As it stands at present, Redcliffe lead the competition on 34 points, one point ahead of Burleigh who have the luxury of the bye this weekend.

The Hunters sit in third place on 32 points – just one point ahead of the Blackhawks who they face in Townsville on Saturday afternoon.

With the Dolphins facing a tough assignment at Ipswich against a desperate Jets outfit, they could drop to second and have either the Hunters or Blackhawks breathing down their necks while Burleigh will progress to 35 points courtesy of their bye. The Blackhawks have their second bye in Round 24.

In the final round of the regular season, the current top four teams will all start favourites with Redcliffe hosting Tweed Heads, Burleigh at home to Souths Logan, Townsville facing Norths in Brisbane and the Hunters welcoming Sunshine Coast to Port Moresby.

He gets to sit back and watch it unfold this weekend, but Bears coach Jim Lenihan has kept the equation for his team to secure a top two finish very simple.

“Our situation is that we can't afford to lose another game this year if we want to finish in the top two,” said Lenihan, with Burleigh facing a tough assignment against Easts Tigers at Suzuki Stadium following the bye.

“It's always nice to win the minor premiership, but to finish in the top two ultimately gives you two chances to play in a grand final and one of those is at home.

“You get two chances to play in a game that will get you into a grand final which is a long way from finishing from third to sixth which is certainly a lot more daunting.”

A 79th minute field goal by Ase Boas was all that separated the Blackhawks and Hunters when they met in PNG back in Round 6 and the loser this weekend will face an uphill task to push into the top two in the ensuing fortnight.

In Week 1 of the finals, the third-placed team will host team No.6 while fourth has the home ground advantage against the team that finished fifth.

Easts, Sunshine Coast, Souths Logan, Ipswich and Wynnum Manly are all still mathematical chances of grabbing one of the two remaining finals spots on offer and Lenihan knows that a sudden-death clash against either of those teams is to be avoided if at all possible.

“If you finish third you face the prospect of getting knocked out in an elimination game against six – which could quite easily happen,” Lenihan said.

“It's pretty tough on that third side that is pretty close to the top and is facing elimination first week but everyone understands that situation.

“It's certainly a huge advantage considering the difference between second and third and at the moment there's not much between the top four teams.

“We don't want to put extra significance on [finishing in the top two] because that will devalue finishing third where you've still had a great season and are a good chance, you're just going to go the long road, that's all.”

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