Finals race heats up in Central Highlands

It has been another successful season in the Central Highlands Rugby League competition and with only three weeks of the regular season remaining, the race to the finals is really heating up.

Six teams are still in the hunt for the final four spots of the Purcell's Engineering Men's competition, here are the scenarios:

#1 – BLUFF RABBITOHS

POINTS: 26
THIS SEASON: 12W, 0L, 0D
F&A: +280
LAST 5: W-W-W-W-W
DRAW: Bye, Clermont (away), Blackwater (home)
BEST FINISH: 1st
WORST FINISH: 2nd

Bluff have been the benchmark again this season, continuing their era of dominance by qualifying for their seventh-straight finals series.

To make things sweeter, they've "got the band back together" with premiership-winning players Mitch Wyatte, Danny Allen, Mitch Power and Justin Daniels hoping to do it all again this season under Allen's leadership.

The forfeit by Dysart against the Rabbitohs last week has allowed the extra week to rest any niggling injuries and sets them up for their final two matches against Clermont next week and then Blackwater in the final week, hoping to retain the Kelly O'Brien Memorial Shield.

They face the toughest draw to finish the season but are guaranteed a top two spot regardless and face the Crushers in the first week of the finals.

#2 – BLACKWATER CRUSHERS

POINTS: 23
THIS SEASON: 9W, 1L, 1D
F&A: +244
LAST 5: W-W-W-W-W
DRAW: Clermont (home), Cowboys (away), Bluff (away)
BEST FINISH: 1st
WORST FINISH: 2nd

Over the past few seasons, Blackwater always started the year with a bang, but have fizzled out in the back end; however this year is a completely different story.

They're guaranteed a Top 2 finish alongside their arch-rivals from 'down the highway', and much like the Rabbitohs, some key recruits – new and old – have bolstered the strong playing roster.

The Crushers welcome back coach Peter Bass to the helm as well as a few seasonal campaigners including Casey Faine (retirement) and Michael Morrissey (Middlemount).

A few new recruits also have joined the roster, including the Tanner brothers; Dan (Norths Rockhampton) and Josh (Wests Bundaberg) and ex-Gold Coast Titan Jai Ingram (Hervey Bay).

They've been one of the benchmark teams to beat this season with only two games they'd dwell on – a 30-30 draw with Springsure after the Mountain Men got away to 24-0 lead and a 26-24 loss to Bluff, where the Crushers led 20-6 at halftime and probably 'put the cue in the rack' a little too early.

A major semi-final spot is already guaranteed, so it will be interesting to see how the premiership hopefuls approach the final three home and away games against Clermont, the Cowboys and Bluff.

#3 - CLERMONT BEARS

POINTS: 16
THIS SEASON: 6W, 5L, 0D
F&A: +154
LAST 5: L-L-L-W-W
DRAW: Blackwater (away), Bluff (home), Cowboys (home)
BEST FINISH: 3rd
WORST FINISH: 6th

Clermont are in the mix again after a dominant season last year, minus the finals when they bowed out in straight sets.

Their experienced forward pack mixed with their young and crafty backs has made them a force to be reckoned with.

Adding to this, linchpins Brodee Barrett (halfback) and Tom Murray (hooker) have both been bolstered by their further representative call-ups this season, boosting their confidence at the right time of the year.

The Bears face the top two sides in the next two weeks before a reprieve at home against the Cowboys in the final round.

They may need a little bit of luck to get through to the playoffs, but they'll also need to remember the old cliché "to be the best, you have to beat the best".

#4 - EMERALD TIGERS

POINTS: 16
THIS SEASON: 6W, 5L, 0D
F&A: -4
LAST 5: L-W-L-L-W
DRAW: Springsure (home), Dysart (away), Middlemount (home)
BEST FINISH: 3rd
WORST FINISH: 6th

Much like Clermont, the Tigers have been in contention this season, warming fourth spot on the ladder for a majority of the year.

The 2016 premiers knocked off the Bears in both occasions and have provided a scare to Bluff in both their encounters, but just couldn't finish the job in the second halves.

The experienced forwards have paved the way this season with Mitch Donohoe, Wade Campbell and Kyle Mattingley the leaders of the pack.

However, their most lethal weapon is fullback Isaiah Huet who has recorded 104 points this season to date, including 14 tries in his nine appearances.

Everything is on the line for the club against the Mountain Men with the loser most probably missing out on finals glory, but aiding the challenge will be the Tigers Old Boys who will be roaring in support whilst attending the 1998, 2002 and 2003 premiership reunion this weekend.

#5 - SPRINGSURE MOUNTAIN MEN

POINTS: 15
THIS SEASON: 5W, 5L, 1D
F&A: +84
LAST 5: W-L-W-W-L
DRAW: Tigers (away), Middlemount (away), Dysart (home)
BEST FINISH: 3rd
WORST FINISH: 6th

Springsure have been touted the dark horses of the competition after recovering from their horror start to build on last year's breakthrough season.

Despite sitting fifth, they have a positive for and against margin and it could be said that they have the easiest run home out of all six Top 4 contenders.

Coach Warren Sullivan has his blue men firing at the right time, but would be wary of history repeating itself.

Last year at this point of the season, the Mountain Men were top of the ladder - however lost their final two matches to slip to third, and to rub salt into the wounds, they also lost the semi-final at home to finish their campaign.

This season however, the more experienced side have a great chance to advance deep into the finals, providing much joy for the mighty Springsurians.

#6 - DYSART BULLS

POINTS: 12
THIS SEASON: 5W, 7L, 0D
F&A: -86
LAST 5: L-L-W-W-L
DRAW: Bye, Tigers (home), Springsure (away)
BEST FINISH: 3rd
WORST FINISH: 6th

Dysart are a $501 chance of making the top four after a heartbreaking forfeit to Bluff last week.

They must win both remaining games by a large margin, plus hope that Middlemount can upset Springsure and the Tigers in their final matches.

It's a tough end to a team that have had some gutsy wins this year and shown so much resilience through the season.

ALLIED PICKFORDS WOMEN'S COMPETITION

The Blackwater Crushettes have all but secured the minor premiership following just the one loss in their 10 games played and are set to face the Emerald Tigers in the first week of finals.

Whilst it's still mathematically possible for the Tigers to take top spot, they must win their three remaining games by 50+ margins.

The minor semi-final will be contested by the Dysart Bulls and Emerald Cowgirls with the Bulls looking for revenge after the Cowgirls knocked off Dysart in last year's final round to qualify for the finals.

Coincidentally, the final home and away fixtures in Round 16 will be curtain-raisers to the following week's finals, with the draw a duplicate to the semi-final makeup.

There will be no doubt that all four coaches will have pen and paper at the ready to take notes ahead of the following week where the result will really matter.

CH FINALS DATES - 2018

TIME DATE GAME VENUE
Week 1 - Semi Finals
6pm Fri Aug 24 Women's 1v2 Women's #1
8pm Fri Aug 24 Men's 3v4 Women's #1
5.30pm Sat Aug 25 Women's 3v4 Men's #1
7.30pm Sat Aug 25 Men's 1v2 Men's #1
Week 2 - Preliminary Finals
5.30pm Sat Sep 1 Women's Loser 1v2 v Winner 3v4 Men's Loser 1v2
7.30pm Sat Sep 1 Men's Loser 1v2 v Winner 3v4 Men's Loser 1v2
Week 3 - Grand Finals
5.30pm Sat Sep 8 Women's Winner 1v2 v Winner PF Men's Winner 1v2
7.30pm Sat Sep 8 Men's Winner 1v2 v Winner PF Men's Winner 1v2

Catch all of the finals action live streamed on the Central Highlands Rugby League Facebook page.

*Cameron Stallard is the QRL Operations Manager for the Central Highlands region.