Super Rugby's finals race: Who will reach the playoffs?

Quade Cooper [C] looms as a key weapon if the Rebels are to scramble a playoffs place Scott Barbour/Getty Images

It promises to be a thrilling conclusion to Super Rugby's regular season with only the Reds and Sunwolves officially out of contention for the playoffs.

Each of the conference winners could be decided by the time Round 17 wraps up in Buenos Aires but the race for four of the five wildcard positions will continue into the closing weekend of regular season action.

We've analysed the run home of each of the contenders and delivered some fearless predictions below.

Crusaders: 53

Draw: Rebels H, Bye

Predicted finish: 58

The two-time defending champions have been put on notice by coach Scott Robertson after they were run down by a determined Chiefs side in Suva last week. Robertson has demanded an instant reversal in form, which is bad news for the Rebels who visit on Saturday afternoon. The Crusaders can still be caught by the Hurricanes, but a win at home this week guarantees top spot.

Jaguares: 41

Draw: Sharks H, Sunwolves H

Predicted finish: 50

The form team of the competition, the Jaguares are back at home after winning three from four on their Australasian tour for a total of 14 points from a possible 20. That outstanding month overseas means they require just one more win to top the South African conference; but they will be wary of a Brumbies side who could still sneak up and claim second spot overall, and the right to host a semifinal. The long haul back from Australia looks the only concern here, but a fourth and fifth straight win to finish the regular season is expected.

Brumbies: 39

Draw: Waratahs A, Reds H

Predicted finish: 47

Another team finding form at the right end of the season, the Brumbies' bonus-point win in Tokyo last weekend put them in the box seat to claim Australian conference honours. Dan McKellar's side have won four on the bounce and six of their last seven, proving they do possess the ability to score points away from their dominant rolling maul in the process. They will also recall a trip to Sydney from a similar point last year in which they completely outplayed the Waratahs; you expect this to be a tighter affair with the same result, a victory the Brumbies will replicate at home to the Reds in the final round.

Hurricanes: 44

Draw: Lions A, Blues H

Predicted finish: 53

Different year, same old story. The Hurricanes have long bemoaned the inequitable conference system, and they will likely do so again even if they manage just one win over their closing two fixtures. The second leg of their South African tour looms as a tough assignment with the Lions coming off a resounding win over the Stormers last week, though the Canes themselves were strong in defeating the Sharks in Durban. They'll be far too strong for the Blues at home the week after, whatever their Round 17 result, which, looking even further ahead, sets them up for a likely date with the Crusaders, arguably a week earlier than it really should.

Lions: 35

Draw: Hurricanes H, Bulls A

Predicted finish: 40

Part of the topsy-turvy South African conference, it's been hard to get a read on the Lions' claims to a fourth-straight Super Rugby decider. Injuries and Springboks rest weeks have made 2019 a challenging season, so too the issues that have surrounded coach Swys de Bruin. But here they are in the finals hunt, with two testing but winnable games to come, armed with the confidence drawn from one of their best performances of the season. One win should be enough for them to secure a finals berth, but it could well be a nervous final few minutes on Saturday week to see whether they get it.

Rebels: 34

Draw: Crusaders A, Chiefs H

Predicted finish: 35

On track for a maiden finals appearance just a few weeks ago, the Rebels' 2019 campaign is starting to resemble their frustratingly poor finish to last season. Yet another loss to the Waratahs, last Friday, has left Dave Wessels' side needing to beat either Crusaders in Christchurch [good luck!] or the resurgent Chiefs at home a week later. Victory over the Waikato men is certainly attainable but, over the last few weeks, it appears teams have worked the Rebels' game plan out and there is no real sense of a Plan B. The one thing that could play into their hands in the final round is the fact the Chiefs may need a bonus-point win to reach the playoffs, creating the prospect of a potentially expansive game that the Rebels are more comfortable with.

Bulls: 34

Draw: Highlanders A, Lions H

Predicted finish: 35

The Bulls have one more game to come, on what has been a reasonable Australasian tour, the Pretoria side earning the full set of results with a win, loss and last Friday's nail-biting draw with the Blues. Those two points - which would have vanished had Harry Plummer's post-siren penalty split the uprights - could be vital for the Bulls who this week confront a refreshed Highlanders side in Dunedin. That looks a tough fixture, as does a final-round derby with the Lions at home, particularly after the long flight home from New Zealand. Might two losing bonus points be enough to see them sneak into the finals? The shock return of fly-half Handre Pollard, who has flown to New Zealand for one game, will certainly help.

Sharks: 33

Draw: Jaguares A, Stormers A

Predicted finish: 34

The Sharks have the toughest finish to the regular season of any side, given they head to Buenos Aires in Round 17 and are again on the road, away to the Stormers, a week later. Winning either or both games is certainly not beyond them -- they beat the Waratahs in Sydney and drew with the Crusaders -- with one likely to be enough for them to reach the playoffs. The Cape Town clash looms as the easier assignment, and perhaps coach Robert du Preez will look to spare some players from that journey with an eye to throwing everything at the Stormers a week later?

Chiefs: 31

Draw: Bye, Rebels A

Predicted finish: 35

The Chiefs saved their best performance of the year for their biggest crowd of the year, which came in Suva last Saturday. That stirring come-from-behind victory, over the Crusaders no less, was a throwback to Chiefs' performances from recent times; the kind of which have been in short supply in 2019. It has also left them needing a miracle of sorts to reach the postseason as they put the feet up with the Round 17 bye. Upset wins for the Bulls and Sunwolves would throw the Chiefs right back into playoff mix ahead of their trip to Melbourne on Friday week.

Waratahs: 30

Draw: Brumbies H, Highlanders A

Predicted finish: 31

A gutsy 20-15 victory in Melbourne last Friday ensured the Waratahs' finals hopes would survive another week in what has been a trying season. Four losses at home, across three different venues, are largely to blame for their tenuous position, so too the distractions of the Israel Folau saga. Saturday night's local derby against the Brumbies is a significant hurdle to cross, particularly after they were embarrassed in the corresponding fixture from 2018, before they will likely have to confront a Highlanders side in the absence of five key Wallabies. That is unless coach Daryl Gibson breaks an agreement with Test coach Michael Cheika; an interesting subplot will emerge should NSW notch a maiden win at Bankwest on Saturday night.

Stormers: 30

Draw: Sunwolves H Sharks H

Predicted finish: 38

Badly beaten by the Lions last start, the Stormers can at least take solace in the fact they have one of the more desirable closing fortnights of the regular season. A Sunwolves side that has conceded an average 42.2 points in their last five outings offers up an excellent opportunity for a bonus-point win, before what could be a winner-takes-call clash with the Sharks a week later. It will also require the Stormers notching back-to-back victories for the first time since Round 4/5. They have shown glimpses of form that warrants a finals berth, but must find the consistency to match.

Highlanders: 29

Draw: Bulls H, Waratahs H

Predicted finish: 38

Refreshed after a bye following their return from South Africa, where they lost to both the Stormers and Lions, the Highlanders have it all to do over the next two weeks. But with both games to come at Forsyth Barr Stadium, the second of which should see them face a seriously undermanned Waratahs team, there is still plenty of life left in their season yet. The return of All Blacks blindside Liam Squire is a timely boost, with Ben Smith also reportedly in line for a comeback against the Waratahs. They clearly need two victories to feature in the postseason, but a formidable home record against teams from outside New Zealand, which dates back to Round 9 2016, should have Highlanders supporters brimming with confidence.

Blues: 28

Draw: Reds A, Hurricanes A

Predicted finish: 32

A disappointing draw at home to the Bulls last week has left the Blues with the unenviable task of needing two wins on the road to secure an unlikely return to the playoffs. Defeating the Reds in Brisbane is a distinct possibility, so too doing so with a bonus point should the likes of Ma'a Nonu and co. get going, but it's hard to see them replicating that result against the Hurricanes in Wellington a week later. That will bring the curtain down on another frustratingly familiar season for the fans in and around Auckland.

Final ladder

Crusaders 58

Jaguares 50

Brumbies 47

Hurricanes 53

Lions 40

Stormers 38

Highlanders 38

Rebels 35