As crazy as it sounds, Parramatta are still an outside chance at making the top eight. I know this theory will more than likely be blown out of the water by the Cowboys next weekend but just hear me out before you think about having me committed.
The Eels still have two byes in hand which would leave them at a bare minimum of twelve points for the season if they failed to win another game.
Having canvassed the Eels run home it is arguably the easiest of any team in the NRL. The Eels hardest matches will be against the Knights in Newcastle and the Broncos in Brisbane. Let?s have a look at each game for the Eels round by round and see how things could pan out come semi final time.
Round 15 v Cowboys @ Parramatta Stadium. Definitely a winnable game and two points here would see the Eels begin to close the gap on the top eight.
Round 16 v Knights @ Newcastle. Very tough game but in the Eels favour, the Knights will have close to half a dozen players backing up after Origin II but it will still be out of their reach. So after 16 rounds the Eels will be on ten points.
Round 17 v Manly @ Parramatta. Another winnable match that would see Parramatta gain some momentum in the run to the finals. Eels would be on 12 points.
Round 18 v Bye. A crucial week off that will see Parramatta have most of their squad back from injury. Eels move to 14 points.
Round 19 v Souths @ Aussie Stadium. A must win and victory here would move the Eels up the ladder onto 16 points with seven rounds to play. Hope is not lost.
Round 20 v Dragons @ Parramatta. The Eels will be fresh coming off the bye and should be too strong for the inconsistent Dragons. Eels move to 18 points.
Round 21 v Wests Tigers @ Parramatta. Another winnable match and a win here would see the Eels gain momentum at a rapid rate. Eels move to 20 points.
Round 22 v Bye. Eels move to 22 points and are within sight of the finals. Possibly two wins outside the top eight.
Round 23 v Storm @ Olympic Park. Crunch game. A win on the road would see the Eels just one game away from the top eight but this will be one of their hardest matches of the season. I?ll give the Eels this one but only just. They should have beaten Melbourne a few weeks back. Eels move to 24 points.
Round 24 v Sharks @ Parramatta. Winthis one and the Eels are in the finals for the sixth straight time under Smith and will be one of the only sides to have made the finals every year since the NRL started. Eels move to 26 points.
Round 25 v Broncos @ Suncorp. Parrmatta are always competitive against the Broncos north of the border and an upset would be a huge win for the Eels but I?ll give this one to the Broncos. Eels remain on 26 points.
Round 26 v Panthers @ Penrith. Last match of the regular season and a tough one against one of the seasons big improvers. If Parramatta are at full strength this one will go down to the wire. Parramatta only just. Eels move to 28 points and are in the finals.
So there you have it. All is not lost for the Eels and if they can get Nathan Hindmarsh, Nathan Cayless, Brett Hodgson, Luke Burt and to a lesser extent Adam Dykes and Michael Vella back on the paddock, it could provide for a marvellous late season flourish for the Eels that has the potential to capture the imagination of the Rugby League community.