New South Wales Waratahs hold only a slim mathematical chance of advancing to the Super Rugby playoffs, but the players are also aware they could be playing for places in Australia's Rugby World Cup squad, Kurtley Beale says.
The Waratahs, semi-finalists last year, were beaten 23-15 by the Jaguares in Sydney on Saturday, virtually ending their chances of making the quarterfinals.
The Sydney-based side are third in the Australian conference on 26 points, but their loss enabled the Brumbies (34) and Melbourne Rebels (33) an opportunity to open up a gap with three games remaining.
The Brumbies beat the Bulls 22-10, while the Rebels thrashed the Sunwolves 52-7 in Tokyo and are ranked third and fifth respectively on the overall table, with the conference winners guaranteed a top-three seeding.
The Waratahs are 11th on the overall table and face the Rebels, Brumbies and Otago Highlanders in their final three games.
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said after the loss to the Jaguares that his side's chances of making the playoffs were "very difficult" but Beale felt there was still hope.
"It's really important for us to not be down," Beale told reporters of the remaining matches in their season. "They are all grand final matches and you have to be hopeful at this stage of the season.
"Our season is not at the end. We play another three games, if [we] get those, we have got to be hopeful."
Those hopes go through Melbourne on Friday where Beale is likely to be matched up against Dane Haylett-Petty in a showdown for the vacant fullback role in the national side after Israel Folau had his contract terminated on May 17.
Beale, who has been used by Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has a utility has been playing fullback for the Waratahs since Folau was stood down last month by the team.
The 30-year-old Beale acknowledged there had been additional sting in the games against other Australian sides this season, which he expected to continue as players tried to impress Cheika they deserve to be in the squad for the tournament in Japan.
"With the games this year there are definitely one-on-one battles happening throughout the year, which has been awesome," Beale said.
"You can see guys really stepping up in certain positions.
"But as a player you are playing against a mate in the opposition, it's always a tough encounter.
"We have a big, big challenge ahead of us."