Anyone feeling a sense of déjà vu? Mitchell Moses club movement, diving, bunker bungle apologies, like a one-legged duck swimming the NRL merry-go-round continues to lead us in circles taking us back to where we came from. There’s also a familiar look at top of the table with last year’s grand finalists the Storm and Sharks leading the way.
Cronulla Sharks v North Queensland Cowboys
The Sharks are winning without looking overly impressive, which must worry opposition sides as there’s plenty of improvement in them. They haven’t hit their straps in attack but love getting into the grind and a winning attitude at this level is paramount. Shane Flanagan won’t be worried as he’ll pace his side like a Melbourne Cup stayer. The NRL finals are a long way off but the Sharks will want to stay in the Top 4 coming into Origin. The Cowboys were awesome in disposing of the Bulldogs and their task is to back it up especially Michael Morgan who has the Cowboys hopes riding on his back. The clashes in the forwards between Jason Taumalolo and Coen Hess versus Paul Gallen and Wade Graham will shake the Shire. The Cowboys barrelled the Bulldogs but the Sharks hit men will be harder to handle.
Sharks by 8
New Zealand Warriors v St George Illawarra Dragons
The Warriors blew a huge lead last week as only they can do – they are the Pakistan cricket team of the NRL, talented yet unpredictable and prone to fold spectacularly. Play that way again and the finals are a mirage, they cannot afford more meandering in the desert or the Dragons will eat them for dessert. The Dragons were unlucky against the Sharks, and coped well without injured stars Gareth Widdop and Josh Dugan. Their forwards stacked up well against the Sharks and it’s in this area where they’ll seek to dominate. Paul Vaughan and Tyson Frizzell have Origin jerseys to fight for, while Russell Packer will want to prove he’s card carrying Red V member for the season having just signed for the Tigers for 2018. The Warriors will hope that second half capitulation was a blip and back on home soil they’ll be determined to bury the Dragons in it. I’m putting my faith in the Warriors but do they believe in themselves?
Warriors by 10
Brisbane Broncos v Wests Tigers
On paper this looks like an easy two points for Benny’s Broncos. This game is all about attitude. Wayne has been around for quite a while and seen it all – he played on the wing for the Bethlehem Basket Weavers (champions in 17AD) and knows the NRL is the type of comp that you cannot take to the field with a poor mindset. Bennett, as always, will have his Broncos ready to buck especially James Roberts back making a belated dash for Blues duty and a bee line for Tigers red zone. The Tigers have finally sorted the Mitchell Moses drama out, releasing him to the Eels. Moses parting to cross the Parramatta River may have a positive effect on the players left behind as Moses looked apathetic last week and that malaise can spread through a side. Aaron Woods returns but that is the only good news I can find for the Tigers.
Broncos by 20
Gold Coast Titans v Manly Sea Eagles
The Titans are buzzing after bringing down the Storm in the most amazing match of the year. Three wins in a row has them on the edge of the eight and eyeing a fourth triumph against a weakened Manly side – welcome to the Titans world, they’ll find no sympathy on the Glitter Strip. The Titans have named Jarryd Hayne and he’s one of a few Titans players seeking big games to push for Origin selection, Jarrod Wallace in particular would look good in maroon. The Sea Eagles had their wings clipped last week in the process losing star Tom Trbojevic for up to 8 weeks and, to compensate the huge hole he leaves, need to show Titan-like steel. Daly Cherry-Evans returns to the city he nearly called home and that hosts the Commonwealth Games next year. DCE put in a great trial for the diving team last week and let’s hope he doesn’t do any more Greg Louganis impressions, the game is better than that.
Titans by 8
Parramatta Eels v Canberra Raiders
Beware the bounce back factor as both sides look to put last week behind them. The Eels were horrific in defeat against the Roosters and are without talisman Corey Norman. Mitchell Moses, named on an extended bench, may start but don’t expect him to gel immediately or receive a warm handshake from Clint Gutherson who has been the Eels shining light this season and may lose his desired number 6 jersey with Moses arrival. The Raiders are in a slump having lost their past three matches and need to stop the rot. The Green Machine is wobbling and welcome Josh Papalii back from his club imposed ban and the Raiders will look to Big Papa to take the wheel and steer the team back on track. The Raiders risk for reward strategy has dug up more rocks than diamonds lately but the side is full of gems and expect them to shine in Sydney’s golden west.
Raiders by 10
Newcastle Knights v Penrith Panthers
The Knights were brilliant in knocking off the Raiders, Daniel Saifiti and Sione Mata’utia laid the platform which Brock Lamb and Jaelen Feeney fed off. The task for the Knights is to take the next step in their development and back it up this week. The worry is whether the Knights partied so hard they woke up on the tiles next to a tiger, clucking chickens and Mike Tyson playing drums. The Panthers great escape against the Warriors must have the joint rocking and they now need to use those good vibes to springboard further up the leader board starting this week. It’s a big game for the Panthers, if they cannot defeat the Knights last week meant nothing and their season is shot. Bryce Cartwright is starting to get his game on, expect his sparkling style to kick start the Panthers attack handing the Knights a humungous hangover.
Panthers by 14
Canterbury Bulldogs v Sydney Roosters
The Bulldogs must forget last week or use it as motivation. They were extremely flat and better show some heart or Des will apply the defibrillator to spark a pulse. Will Hopoate has had an epiphany sent from above, the top floor of the Bulldogs Football Club, that his religion now does allow him to play footy on Sundays. The Bulldogs faithful must pray Hoppa can find the answers to the many questions the Roosters attack will ask of them. The Roosters were allowed to run riot by the inept Eels, they’ll find a fired-up Bulldogs a far tougher proposition. Expect a massive match from Mitchell Pearce as he seeks to sew up Origin selection and a chance at rep redemption. Sunday’s sermon will feature Des Hasler reading from the Book of Revelation highlighting the chapter that reveals the Chooks can chalk up tries at a rate the Bulldogs won’t match.
Roosters by 12
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Melbourne Storm
The Bunnies better be ready for the Bellamy backlash. The Storm rarely receive treatment like they did from the Titans, they’re wounded and looking for retribution. The Rabbitohs are the unlucky dish served up to the Storm this week but if the Bunnies continue with last start’s effort they have nothing to fear. Sam Burgess is in stellar form. Between his power and energy, Robbie Farah’s guile and Cody Walker’s wizardry the Rabbitohs have the game to unsettle the Storm. The Storm’s Big 3 were fantastic in the loss to the Titans and they are the obvious danger. Cameron Smith controls the ruck and his battle with Robbie Farah could be a precursor to Origin I. Injuries and suspension leave the Storm’s forward depth exposed, but Melbourne are top of the table for a reason, they are the complete killing machine but not perfect. This could be a close one.
Storm by 2
Enjoy the footy and gamble responsibly. It’s ‘Beanie for Brain Cancer Round’ so instead of having a punt why not place some of your hard earned into brain cancer research? Wear your team’s beanie, Souths fans don’t need reminding they wear beanies 24/7, and make a donation. It’s for a great cause plus it’ll keep you warm watching your side go around and if they get beat you can pull it down over your melon and hide your face with it, team logo showing of course, no fairweather fans here. Have faith in your side and back them win, lose or draw, here endeth the lesson.