Josh Dugan of the Dragons in action.
Josh Dugan of the Dragons in action. Renee McKay

NRL: Which team can break into the top eight now?

RUGBY LEAGUE: The salary cap has been one of the main reasons why rugby league in the NRL era - since 1998 - has produced 10 different premiers in 17 seasons.

The closeness of the competition has always been a talking point, but this season is fast becoming the closest in history.

With 28 points traditionally being enough to play finals, only the Broncos (32), Cowboys (30 points), Roosters (26 points) and Rabbitohs (24 points) appear safe with seven rounds remaining.

The teams occupying positions five to eight - the Storm, Bulldogs, Warriors and Sharks - are all on 22 points and need three more wins to see some September action.

The big question is, can any team outside the top eight force their way in?

Mathematically, any of the bottom eight sides - including the last-placed Wests Tigers (14) if they were to win every game - could still make the finals.

We've run the rule over the remaining games to see whether the top eight is indeed set, or whether fans of the bottom sides still have hope.

9th Dragons (20). To play: Storm (A), Knights (H), Warriors (A), Broncos (A), Panthers (H), Titans (A), Tigers (H). Predicted finish: Ninth.

The Storm, Warriors and Broncos will prove hard to beat, but capabale of winning the other four which would give them an outside chance of sneaking into eighth spot.

10th Raiders (18). To play: Panthers (A), Cowboys (A), Tigers (H), Sea Eagles (H), Titans (A), Panthers (H), Eels (A). Predicted finish: 10th.

Should win four of their remaining seven games, but that would see them finish on 26 points, just outside the top eight.

11th Eels (18). To play: Cowboys (A), Titans (A), Panthers (H), Roosters (A), Sea Eagles (A), Sharks (H), Raiders (H). Predicted finish: 11th.

Like the Raiders, should win four of their remaining seven games, but that won't be enough either.

12th Panthers (18). To play: Raiders (H), Rabbitohs (A), Eels (A), Warriors (H), Dragons (A), Raiders (A), Knights (H). Predicted finish: 12th.

Injuries haven't helped their consistency after an outstanding 2014. Look set to miss September action.

13th Sea Eagles (16). To play: Warriors (A), Broncos (H), Rabbitohs (H), Raiders (A), Eels (H), Roosters (H), Sharks (A). Predicted finish: 13th.

Have a tough run home and will be lucky to win more than two of their remaining games.

14th Knights (16). To play: Rabbitohs (A), Dragons (A), Roosters (H), Tigers (A), Storm (A), Bulldogs (H), Panthers (A). Predicted finish: 16th.

Also facing a tough run home in what has been a hugely disappointing season. Could struggle to win another game.

15th Titans (16). To play: Broncos (A), Eels (H), Storm (A), Bulldogs (A), Raiders (H), Dragons (H), Cowboys (A). Predicted finish: 14th.

If returning five-eighth Aidan Sezer stays healthy, the Titans could jag a few wins from their run home and overtake the Knights.

16th Tigers (14). To play: Roosters (H), Storm (H), Raiders (A), Knights (H), Sharks (A), Warriors (H), Dragons (A). Predicted finish: 15th.

Their amazing 34-6 win over the Rabbitohs in round 14 showed what they were capable of. Capable of avoiding the wooden spoon.

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