The NRL's 2016 season has, as you would expect from the greatest game of all, been completely overshadowed by off-field scandals, controversies and misbehaving players and board members.

Bookmakers could be forgiven for replacing points with sex tape appearances in most over/under betting markets.

The game has never needed a feel-good story more.

A fairytale Cronulla premiership - even a third club minor premiership - is the deliverance NRL boss Todd Greenberg needs.


Unfortunately, the greatest circus of them all has different ideas for the conclusion to this NRL season.

It's a fairytale that will be snatched on the second last day of the regular season.

Here's how we see the run into the NRL finals playing out:


Melbourne have an incredibly difficult run home, but if the Sharks drop a game before round 26, the minor premiership will be decided at AAMI Park in the final round of the regular season when the two best teams in the competition face off.

As long as Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith are healthy, the Storm must be favourites to finish on top of the table.

Run home: Roosters (h), Cowboys (a), Rabbits (h), Raiders (a), Sea Eagles (a), Broncos (h), Sharks (h)


Cronulla has to lose sooner rather than later. Right? In the age of the salary cap and teams using more than 30 players-per-season, nobody stays red-hot for more than a couple months. The premiership is won in October. The Sharks have peaked too early.

Run home: Knights (H), Titans (a), Raiders (h), Dragons (a), Rabbits (a), Roosters (h), Storm (a)


Have looked nothing like the team they resembled coming out of the State of Origin period last year. 12 months ago the Cows went 14-1 in the middle of the year. They've won just three of their past seven. Michael Morgan's return should spark a finals run.

Run home: Bulldogs (h), Storm (h), Tigers (a), Roosters (a), Warriors (h), Bulldogs (a), Titans (h)


Brisbane are seriously out of form, but their kind run to the post means Wayne Bennett's men should win at least five of their last seven games which will be enough to secure a top four spot.

Run home: Panthers (h), Roosters (a), Dragons (a), Eels (h), Bulldogs (h). Storm (a), Roosters (h)


You can almost taste another Des Hasler miracle. The mad scientist of the NRL's coaching fraternity knows how to get his team firing at the back end of the season, but two clashes against Johnathan Thurston's Cowboys makes it extremely difficult for the Dogs to squeeze into the top four.

Run home: Cowboys (a), Dragons (h), Knights (a), Sea Eagles (h), Broncos (a), Cowboys (h), Rabbitohs (h)


The green machine can play. Josh Papalii is their only injury concern. Ricky Stuart's men can give their mentor the perfect ammunition to silence the "Ricky Stuart can't coach" doubters.

Run home: Warriors (h), Rabbitohs (a), Sharks (a), Storm (h), Eels (h), Sea Eagles (a), Titans (a)


Penrith appear the most likely team to challenge the current top 6 on the NRL ladder, but are too hot and cold to give their fans hope they can do more than qualify for the finals. The five-year plan still has a few years to go.

Run home: Broncos (a), Warriors (a), Roosters (h), Knights (a), Tigers (h), Titans (a), Sea Eagles (h)


After a 2015 season dominated by a police investigation and court hearing for cocaine charges against several top players, the Titans looked like serving up more scandals than competition points this year. We were wrong. It now looks like Neil Henry's men will do just enough to crack the top eight. Incredible achievement.

Run home: Eels (h), Sharks (h), Warriors (h), Tigers (a), Knights (a), Panthers (h), Cowboys (a)


The Warriors have always been too volatile to count on - and this year is no different. Another year of falling short. Another year of underachievement.

Run home: Raiders (a), Panthers (h), Titans (a), Rabbitohs (h), Cowboys (a), Tigers (h), Eels (h)


Still in the finals hunt, but will not be for much longer. Have won four of their past six, but have shown nothing to suggest they are legitimate finals contenders.

Run home: Dragons (a), Eels (a), Cowboys (h), Titans (h), Panthers (a), Warriors (a), Raiders (h)


An extremely difficult three week period coming up will end the Dragons' season. Coach Paul McGregor has tried just about everything. Scoring points is the one thing he hasn't tried.

Run home: Tigers (h), Bulldogs (a), Broncos (h), Sharks (h), Roosters (a), Eels (a), Knights (h)


Manly's dramatic roster overhaul over the off-season changed everything but their ladder position. Trent Barrett's boys are heading for another finish just outside the top eight.

Run home: Rabbitohs (a), Knights (h), Eels (a), Bulldogs (a), Storm (h), Raiders (h), Panthers (a)

13. EELS

Still technically a mathematical chance of stealing the last spot in the finals. Even for the NRL, that is an impossible fairytale. Jarryd Hayne may not be enough to rescue this hot mess masquerading as a football club.

Run home: Titans (a), Tigers (h), Sea Eagles (h), Broncos (a), Raiders (a), Dragons (h), Warriors (a)


The Rabbitohs would need to win at least six of their final seven to make the playoffs. It isn't happening. It's going to get worse before it gets better at Redfern.

Run home: Sea Eagles (h), Raiders (h), Storm (a), Warriors (a), Sharks (h), Knights (a), Bulldogs (a)