With three rounds left, 13 teams remain in the race for the top eight. However, four of them – Newcastle, Wests Tigers, Gold Coast and Parramatta – could be eliminated on the weekend.
The 30-point scenario prompted Warriors coach Ivan Cleary to claim that his side was walking a tightrope.
The Warriors’ plight is exacerbated by their points differential, which means 28 points won’t be enough for the Auckland boys.
Asked why he believed 30 points would be necessary this year, Cleary pointed to the top and bottom of the table.
While last year Melbourne claimed the minor premiership with 44 points, this year it’s more likely to be 40, and could be 38.
Given each side has enjoyed two byes this season compared to one last year, that equates to three wins and possibly four which have been stripped from the Storm and shared among its rivals.
“Last year the front runners didn’t lose many games,” Cleary said.
“Melbourne only lost three games, Manly only lost five. Straight away there’s a few more wins.”
At the other end of the table, the Bulldogs and North Queensland have endured miserable seasons. Last year Penrith finished at the foot of the ladder but the Panthers won eight games.
The Bulldogs and Cowboys have barely won that many between them, again creating more opportunities for teams in the middle of the pack.
“Last year Penrith finished bottom and they finished the year going all right,” Cleary said.
While the bottom two sides have lost ground, the top two appear to have come back to the field.
The Storm’s record, however, must be balanced against the fact they lost three games during the State of Origin series when they were without their best players.
“The competition is fairly even,” Canberra coach Neil Henry said.
“So many teams are still in the running late in the year. It’s good for the game.”
Henry can say that because the Raiders look sure things to qualify for the finals. Although they are on 26 points, they face the bottom three sides in the lead-up to the finals. They also enjoy a strong points differential.
The shape of the top eight will be determined by several key games in coming weeks, most of which involve the Warriors.
They face St George Illawarra, Penrith and Parramatta, all involved in the top eight dogfight.
The Dragons also play the Eels while Gold Coast meets the Tigers in the final round, a game which could determine which of the two qualifies for the finals.
“It looks like you have to get to 30 points, that’s 13 wins,” Henry said.
“It means you’ll have to get more wins than losses, which hasn’t always been the case.”
Last year, eighth-placed Brisbane won 11 games and lost 13. In the two previous years, Canberra and Manly finished eighth, losing as many games as they won.
Asked whether he thought the competition was closer than ever, Cleary replied: “Not really, it’s been close for three or four years.
“I don’t see it as all that different this year. I don’t think it could be closer.”
In saying that, Cleary believes Manly and Melbourne retain a clear edge over the rest of the competition.
“I still think there’s probably a bit of a gulf between Manly, Melbourne and the rest,” Cleary said.
Given his side could face one of those sides in the opening week of the finals, it’s an alarming admission.
Cleary, though, has greater concerns. The Warriors still have to get there.
“The problem with what we did earlier in the year is we just can’t afford a slip-up,” he said.
“We’re certainly walking a tightrope.”