The NRL is in the process of finalising the schedule for the first week of the finals, with minor premiers Melbourne looking likely to play on Saturday night next weekend.
NRL officials are going through all potential machinations of the final round, however the greatest consideration will be given to player welfare and ensuring fair turnaround times for all teams.
Other considerations include NRLW scheduling, AFL finals fixtures, broadcasters and maximising crowd attendance.
While things could change over the weekend, the Storm have been told to plan for a Saturday night 5.40pm fixture against the fourth-placed team, which after Thursday night's result will be either the Rabbitohs or Raiders.
If the Storm win, it’s almost certain they will host a Friday night preliminary final to avoid clashing with the AFL grand final on the Saturday of week three of the NRL finals.
The rest of the week-one finals schedule is still up in the air, however the second-placed Roosters are guaranteed to host a game and will likely play on Friday night or the Saturday 7.45pm timeslot.
The NRL will finalise the schedule and make an official announcement on Sunday after the Tigers-Sharks clash determines the make-up of the playoffs, however it is expected the Roosters will host the Raiders or Rabbitohs at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
That would provide all teams at least a minimum seven-day turnaround.
The NRL is also mindful of the women’s game, with the NRLW locked in as the curtain-raiser to the first Saturday men’s final and the Sunday men’s final as part of the broadcast deal.
Parramatta are the other team guaranteed a home final for finishing fifth or sixth, however the NRL is reluctant to schedule the Eels on Friday night if they play against Cronulla or the Tigers.
The Tigers and Sharks square off at Leichhardt Oval this Sunday afternoon, meaning a Friday fixture against the Eels would only allow them a five-day turnaround.
The Friday night Eels match at Bankwest Stadium could be an option if Parramatta are drawn against the Brisbane Broncos, who play on Saturday this weekend.
The Rabbitohs cemented a top-four spot with a win over the Roosters on Thursday night.
ANZ Stadium is capable of hosting a double-header, however there are restrictions at Brookvale Oval that the Sea Eagles will need to meet if there are to be two matches on the same day at the venue.
The Sea Eagles are in the same boat as the Eels, with the timing of their fixture to be determined by their opponent and their turnaround time from the previous week.
RCG closing in on Eels switch
Reagan Campbell-Gillard has moved another step closer to joining the Eels next year. NRL.com understands his manager Mark Stewart met Panthers officials on Thursday to discuss his future.
The Eels are still keen to lure the out-of-favour Panthers prop to the club next year despite the former Blues forward still having another five years to run on his deal.
Parramatta are willing to pay just shy of $600,000 a year for his services, however the Panthers need to determine if they want to cover close to $300,000 in the difference of his current deal.
The Eels remain in the box seat to secure his services with a potential deal to be inked in the coming weeks.
Old Tiger Woods returns home
Sharks prop Aaron Woods is expected to be the most hated man at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday afternoon as he makes his return to his beloved ground for the first time since leaving the club.
However, the prop says it’s nothing new to him.
“Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been booed at Leichhardt,” Woods joked.
“And last time I was in the home side, so this will be a bit of fun. It’s obviously going to be a bit different. But I love Leichhardt. I love the club. The Tigers will always hold a special place in my heart. I will always support them. It’ll just be hard playing against them for a spot in the finals on the line.
“But I’m really excited about taking my little man [son Buster] to show him where his dad grew up. It’ll always be home for me, no matter what.”
Woods said there was plenty of extra emotion knowing one of his friends – Robbie Farah or Paul Gallen - would retiring after this game.
“It’s the end for Robbie or Gal,” Woods said.
“I have two close mates in both sides and for one of them it will draw an end to a champion career. That’s going to be tough to see.”
Cronk rattled by friendly fire
Cooper Cronk was so concerned after the freak injury he suffered at the hands of his one-year-old son last week that he rushed to hospital in fear that he had permanently lost vision out of one eye.
Cronk was rattled after his son Lennox threw a children’s book into his eye, forcing the halfback out of last week’s game against the Panthers at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
However Cronk, who played with a broken shoulder in last year’s premiership triumph, was cleared of any long-term damage and is expected to play against South Sydney on Thursday night.
Wayde on way out at Panthers
The Panthers have told hooker Wayde Egan he is free to find a new club in 2020. With Api Koroisau heading back to Penrith next year, and the club happy with rookie Mitch Kenny's progress, Egan is the unlucky man.
There are a number of clubs - including the Wests Tigers, Bulldogs and Warriors – on the lookout for a hooker next season.
Nominees get worthy tribute
In a fitting gesture, the NRL is paying tribute to some of the game’s best off-field performers throughout the final round of the season.
Above the Telstra Premiership logo on each player’s jerseys this round will be a special edition embroidery to recognise the players who have been named as finalists for their contributions to the community.
The likes of Cronulla's Josh Dugan, Dragons five-eighth Corey Norman, Warriors forward Agnatius Paasi, Cowboys veteran Gavin Cooper, Brisbane hooker Andrew McCullough and Newcastle utility Connor Watson will each wear a custom-designed wordmark to commemorate their nominations.
The 2019 Ken Stephen Medal winner will be announced during grand final week, with this year’s four finalists being recognised at the Dally M Awards.
Bennett gets lucky with Robbo
Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson was a guest speaker at a Men of League Foundation breakfast on Thursday, taking time out of his day just a few hours before the grudge match against South Sydney.
As part of his obligations, Robinson was asked to draw the winner out of a raffle. The name on the winning business card was none other than Wayne Bennett, who'll be in the opposition coaches box on Thursday night. Robinson thought it was a prank, but it turns out the winning ticket was legitimate.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.