The 11 teams battling it out for a top-eight finish on the NRL ladder and a place in the finals.
A closer look at the 11 teams in the running for a top-eight finish and a place in the NRL finals.
THE BIG GUNS
The perception: Battle-hardened, experienced and know exactly what it takes to win big games.
The reality: Haven’t been at their best in recent weeks. But experience counts for a great deal in September.
Strengths: Not missed the finals for 10 seasons and have the best halves combination and backline in the NRL.
Weaknesses: A lack of quality front-rowers has seen the Manly pack struggle in recent weeks and is cause for concern.
The perception: Have the squad to win a first premiership in 43 years but still living off past glories.
The reality: An outstanding pack and explosive backline but shown to be flaky on the biggest stage.
Strengths: Hard to stop when they get on a roll and capable of blowing teams away.
Weaknesses: The pressure of expectation from a long-suffering fanbase. Every loss is the cue to a crisis, every win a step close to utopia.
The perception: Big-spending, latte-sippers blessed with a talented roster full of big-name stars.
The reality: A superbly coached side who raised the bar last year with an impressive march to the premiership. Have timed their run perfectly after a slow start.
Strengths: A mobile but physical pack coupled with a back-line that combines class with speed makes the Roosters one hell of a proposition when they’re in the mood.
Weaknesses: Not many, although history does go against them with no team winning back-to-back premierships in a united competition since Brisbane in 1992-93.
The perception: Take Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith out of this champion side and they’re an average team.
The reality: The big-three are the heart and soul of the side but the likes of Will Chambers, Kevin Proctor, Jesse Bromwich and Ryan Hoffman have all proved their worth this year.
Strengths: The only team to rival Manly in terms of big-game experience. A strong culture of success helps turn average players into very good ones. Very hard to beat on home soil.
Weaknesses: An ageing side with key men closer to the end rather than the start of their careers. Is the improved, but much-maligned Ben Roberts good enough to be in a premiership-winning five-eighth?
The perception: Punching above their weight, won’t be able to last the pace, how do they keep winning?
The reality: Ivan Cleary is one of the most unheralded coaches in the game and turned the team from also-rans into challengers thanks to an outstanding recruitment policy and talented local juniors.
Strengths: A reborn Jamie Soward is playing the best football of his career and young fullback Matt Moylan is a superstar. The Panthers aren’t flashy, but they are very effective.
Weaknesses: Injuries to key players have hurt the Panthers and they struggled against a strong Melbourne team on Monday. Inexperience in finals football could hurt them.
The perception: Hard to beat, uncompromising outfit who love nothing better than grinding teams into submission.
The reality: Des Hasler is one of the most innovative coaches in the NRL who regularly comes up with gameplans to beat the top sides.
Strengths: Forwards James Graham, Josh Jackson and skipper Michael Ennis are outstanding players in one of the best packs in the game.
Weaknesses: The lack a top-class fullback and halves that don’t have genuine star power mean the Bulldogs rely on endeavour rather than flamboyance.
The perception: A richly-talented team who can’t win outside of Townsville.
The reality: Have the world’s best player in Johnathan Thurston and a forward pack that is the envy of any team in the NRL.
Strengths: Confidence is sky-high after their excellent win at South Sydney. With their final two games of the season at home they could head into the finals as the team to fear.
Weaknesses: Travelling from Townsville every other week is a huge burden and their overall record in Sydney is still poor.
The perception: A one-man team, relying on Jarryd Hayne far too much to be a true contender.
The reality: A barnstorming attacking force led by Hayne with Chris Sandow and Semi Radradra also playing starring roles in turning around this sleeping giant.
Strengths: Under rookie coach Brad Arthur the Eels have been transformed from a laughing stock into one of the most exciting teams in the comp. Hayne’s form has been as good as 2009 when he guided the team to the grand final.
Weaknesses: A youthful forward pack prone to errors and giving up big scores. Being one of the most penalised teams in the NRL is testament to that.
The perception: The biggest club in the world with the pick of Queensland to choose from – should be in contention every season.
The reality: Haven’t been to a grand final since 2006 and have struggled to reach the heights of the Wayne Bennett-era since he left in 2008 which is why they’re bringing him back.
Strengths: Sam Thaiday and Justin Hodges are proven performers and halfback Ben Hunt has been a surprise success. Big home crowds always a huge advantage.
Weaknesses: Star signing Ben Barba has struggled this year, despite last week’s hat-trick. A lack of quality means there’s an over-reliance of the ageing Hodges.
The perception: Enigmatic. Can win in Melbourne one week and lose to Cronulla the next.
The reality: On their day there’s no better side to watch, but when they are bad they can be awful. Hard to know what you are going to get from one week to the next.
Strengths: Shaun Johnson is one of the best halfbacks in the world and his running game a joy to watch. English fullback Sam Tomkins has shown his class only in glimpses this year but a fine player when on song.
Weaknesses: Can drop their heads too easy and often give up big scores when the chips are down. Attitude of players has been questioned on many occasions.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA
The perception: One of the great names in the game who lost their way under former coach Steve Price but getting it back under club great Paul McGregor.
The reality: McGregor has been a breath of fresh air since taking over from the introverted Price and will enhance his reputation further if he turns around a season that was heading nowhere in June.
Strengths: After a slow start Benji Marshall has rediscovered his confidence and alongside Gareth Widdop the Dragons have a classy halves pairing. Wingers Brett Morris and Jason Nightingale are two of the best in the game.
Weaknesses: A small pack has been dominated at times this year and may prove to be what prevents a top-eight finish.