With last week’s win by the PNG Hunters, our minor premiers and semi-finalists are decided with a week remaining in the regular season.
All that remains is the jockeying of positions within the top six, none of which is more important than the teams who can finish in the top two.
With the six-team finals system that was introduced with the inclusion of the Blackhawks in 2015, there is a tremendous advantage in finishing the regular season in one of the top two positions.
The Hunters will finish top regardless of what happens this weekend – which leaves Redcliffe and Easts to fight it out to not only earn a week off, but avoid sudden-death finals football until at least the preliminary final.
With a one-point lead over the Tigers, the Dolphins head into their final round clash with the Pride in Cairns knowing that a win guarantees safe passage into Week 2 of the finals, but a loss opens the door for the Tigers to sneak past with a win over Burleigh.
After a horror start to the year, the defending premiers Burleigh are eyeing six straight wins to end the season and coach Jim Lenihan knows from his experience last year just how valuable a top two finish can be.
The Bears finished second behind Redcliffe, and when they knocked the Dolphins over on their home ground in the major semi-final, they went straight through to the decider.
Whether it’s Redcliffe or Easts that finish second, they will travel to Port Moresby in Week 2 of the finals to face the Hunters and while he admits it is a daunting prospect, Lenihan is adamant that finishing top two is still the preferred path.
“It's a long 25-week comp, so it's no fluke to land in the top two,” Lenihan said. “You might think it is, but everyone else has had to go through the same path and … the sides that are there are the ones that deserve it.
“The trip to PNG used to be quite an emotional trip because you had guards everywhere; you're whisked into hotels behind doors and hidden away, so there was something of a fear factor involved, but that's not as great now as it was.
“If I was Redcliffe, I'd rather finish second than third because if you get it right on the day … and you win this game you book a day in the grand final.
“I'd certainly prefer that path than having to put three games together.”
The other three teams that will play this year's finals series are Sunshine Coast, Souths Logan and Townsville, all of whom who will have to survive three weeks of sudden death football to even make the grand final on September 24.
It's by no means an impossible task, but given the evenness of the competition, represents a difficult road to the big dance.
“You can win it from outside the top two, but, you go from having to win two games to win it, to four; and in this competition – where we've had the longest winning streak of the comp but can't make the finals – it's hard to put together three or four wins in a row,” Lenihan said.
“Everyone in this competition can win every week, there's really no top half or bottom half of the comp.
“You'd be foolhardy to throw anyone away for sure but finishing in that top two is a massive advantage.”
Did You Know?
On paper, the Dolphins should account for the Pride to wrap up second position – but history suggests it won't be as straightforward. The Pride have not lost to Redcliffe in Cairns since the first meeting of the two teams in 2009 with the Pride victorious in the eight games played since. If that trend continues, Easts will have the chance to leapfrog Redcliffe into second with a win over Burleigh.
A former editor of Big League, Tony Webeck is the Chief Queensland Correspondent for NRL.com.