Having been a class above for much of the season, the NRL top four teams are now racing the clock to rediscover their mojo ahead of a premiership tilt that appears anyone's for the taking.
The indifferent form of the competition's standout teams is highlighted by the fact the most in-form side heading into the finals is eighth-placed North Queensland - who won six on the trot to snare the last finals berth.
Perhaps it was a symptom of having little to play for over the closing rounds, when arch-rivals Sydney Roosters and South Sydney were locked into the top two and Manly and Melbourne were unable to be ousted from third and fourth.
Certainly Manly - having crushed the Storm the previous week - looked a little flat against Penrith yesterday, the loss dropping them to fourth and a qualifying final match-up against the minor premiership winning Roosters.
"I think it's been a long, hard year and hopefully we'll turn up a bit better next week than we did today," Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey said.
Ironically, the defeat may have improved the Sea Eagles' chances next week, giving them an extra day off ahead of the clash against a Roosters side that may be without prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
Waerea-Hargreaves is almost certain to be charged with striking for his raised forearm to Chris McQueen in Friday's win over the Rabbitohs, which not only secured the minor premiership but also ended a two-game losing streak.
"Oh look, you wouldn't concentrate on that," Toovey said of playing a Roosters side without their forward enforcer.
"They had a good win against the Rabbits and deserve to be minor premiers and that's how we have to treat them.
"They're a quality side and whilst it may take a little bit away if it does work out that way in their size in the pack, I'm sure they'll replace him with another big bopper as well."
The Rabbitohs now face a Storm side they haven't beaten in 2013 in the other qualifying final at ANZ Stadium on Friday night, with concerns still lingering over Greg Inglis' knee.
Melbourne aren't exactly setting the world on fire either however, needing golden point to beat Gold Coast at home on Saturday, a week after going down 28-8 to the Sea Eagles.
The winners of the qualifying finals earn a week off and will have home city advantage in the preliminary final, but Toovey played down the importance of victory next weekend.
"No you don't have to, I don't think that's right," Toovey said of having to win week one.
"But it is of some benefit, particularly if you've got a few players carrying niggling injuries.
"But again it's not vital." Newcastle sewed up seventh spot with a 54-6 hammering of Parramatta yesterday and will play Canterbury on Sunday.
A below-strength Sharks outfit posted a 20 points win over Canberra last night, confirming they would play their elimination final against the the in-form Cowboys in Sydney on Saturday at 4pm. AAP