Matthew Gallagher looks at h...
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The NRL premiership ladder is deceiving.
Seven rounds out from the September finals, the Bulldogs are four points clear and riding a 15-game streak.
On form they seem near certainties for a sixth minor premiership.
But the mounting pressure of breaking the Roosters' 28-year-old record of 19 straight wins and looming danger games set the scene for an intriguing finale to a season bookmakers Centrebet say has totally confused punters.
The Bulldogs have lost one game in 17, Brisbane has dropped matches after each Origin game while the Warriors loom as the big finishers capable of snatching the minor premiership.
Completing the equation is defending premier Newcastle, heavily reliant on champion halfback Andrew Johns and facing the toughest finish.
The Bulldogs hit the home straight with 35 points, four clear of Brisbane (31) with the Warriors and Newcastle on 30 points.
But if their stunning streak stops this weekend, Brisbane continues Parramatta's woes and the Warriors topple Canberra, there'll only be three points splitting the four teams.
The Bulldogs face danger games against the Warriors (away Rd 22) and Parramatta (home Rd 23) before hosting Brisbane in the last round in a clash which may ultimately decide the 2002 minor premiership.
Likewise, Brisbane has some tough assignments starting with Parramatta this weekend before tackling the Roosters (home Rd 22), the Warriors (away Rd 23), Newcastle (away Rd 24) and finally the Bulldogs.
The Warriors play the Bulldogs and Brisbane back-to-back at home in rounds 22 and 23 and end the season with games against the Northern Eagles and West Tigers.
Surprisingly, punters have turned away from the four leaders in search of the 2002 premiers.
"It's our quietest year ever on premiership betting because punters have no confidence, it's just too hard to call," said Australian CentreBet manager Gerard Daffy.
"Betting on games each week has been sensational but punters aren't prepared to try and pick the premiers."
Daffy said punters still considered Newcastle a "one man side" adding the Bulldogs still had plenty of critics who doubted they could keep going into the finals.
"Punters are more interested in backing St George Illawarra, the Sharks and Roosters and even Melbourne," he said.
"The competition this year is so even one of the teams in the bottom of the eight could go all the way."