Craig Bellamy has declared the Melbourne Storm can still win the competition despite the fact they will finish outside the NRL top four for the first time since 2014.
Melbourne's 22-14 loss to Parramatta on Thursday night consigned the Storm to finishing outside the top four for just the second time since 2006, with a do-or-die month of finals football ahead.
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The Sydney Roosters and South Sydney Rabbitohs also face a similar scenario, with the two arch-rivals all but guaranteed to face off two weeks in a row and in an elimination final next weekend.
History would suggest the Storm, Roosters and Rabbitohs are now all out of contention to win the comp, with no team in the NRL era having come from outside the four to win the premiership.
And while Bellamy understands why it is so difficult to do so, he believes there is still any chance the trend can be bucked this season.
"It's hard to do that. To win the comp, you have to win four games in a row, and the last three of them you're travelling," Bellamy said on Thursday night.
"It is difficult without a doubt, but it's going to get done at some stage.
"There's some quality teams this year, and there's not a lot of difference in the teams.
"Certainly, Penrith were probably the real stand out early in the season, but there's a lot of things that change towards the end of the season, after Origin.
"I still think there'll be a few twists and turns that come before it all finishes."
While there hasn't been a non-top four team to achieve the feat in the NRL era, Canterbury came from sixth spot in 1995 to shock minor-premiers Manly in the grand final.
In the AFL, which uses the same top-eight system as the NRL, the Western Bulldogs won from seventh position in 2016, while Adelaide did likewise from fifth in 1998.
Storm likely to face Canberra in elimination final
The most likely scenario remains that the Storm will face Canberra in Melbourne next weekend in an elimination final, provided the Raiders beat Wests Tigers to finish eighth above the Broncos.
Canberra were able to knock over the Storm at AAMI Park in July, and have won their last four games in Melbourne dating back to 2019.
Working firmly in Melbourne's advantage will be an extra three days of rest on Canberra, with Storm halfback Jahrome Hughes also likely to be back from a calf complaint in time.
"The benefit of tonight is we've played Thursday," Bellamy said after the loss to the Eels.
"And we won't have to travel. So that's our biggest benefit. Hopefully, we can use that wisely.
"The Raiders have had the wood on us, probably at home the three or four (games).
"We'll take a couple of days to rest up and then we'll get into our preparation and, hopefully, we'll be a bit fresher next week."
Despite Bellamy's optimism, fans and pundits don't think the Storm can win the competition.
NRL top four-cast: Clear skies. No chance of Storm. #NRLEelsStorm
— Sportsbet.com.au (@sportsbetcomau) September 1, 2022
— Lachlan McKirdy (@LMcKirdy7) September 1, 2022
— Michael J Peade (@MichaelJPeade) September 1, 2022
That's the first time @storm will miss the the top four since 2014 after going down to @TheParraEels 22 points to 14 at CommBank Stadium. Melbourne have not won a grand final in their history outside the four. pic.twitter.com/QyX12nYLBj
— Coen Vass (@Coen_Vass) September 1, 2022
2 things I didn’t think i would say eels can win the comp storm can’t
— Anson smith (@Ansonsmith6) September 1, 2022
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