After the storm of Origin calms, we re-enter the world of club footy. Our Origin warriors drag their weary and wounded bodies back onto the battlefield, while others have had two weeks to rest and rejuvenate. Hardly seems fair but that’s the price the best of the best pay for being elite. They also back up after Origin and pride themselves on starring for their clubs within days, you must marvel at their resilience and brilliance.
Melbourne Storm v Newcastle Knights
Top of the ladder versus bottom, the outcome should be a done deal. No surprises here, it is. The only chance the Knights have of causing the year’s biggest upset is Origin taking out Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk. I doubt Smith will play the full 80, he usually gets a rest if the Storm are well ahead post-Origin. Another chink the Storm will expose in the Knights flimsy armour is Billy Slater will want to remind QLD selectors he isn’t ready to become a FOG (Former Origin Great) yet. To make matters even worse for Newcastle, Jesse Bromwich returns out to make amends for his footpath dalliance recorded for posterity on CCTV. Unfortunately for Bromwich not much happens in Canberra after midnight, so he couldn’t play ‘Where’s Jesse?’ hiding among a throng of revellers. One positive for the Knights is the Ross Dog returns from the pound after a club imposed sanction and Nathan Ross will take any half chances on offer. Against a raging Storm at AAMI Park, slim pickings are all that’s on the menu.
Storm by 14
Parramatta Eels v New Zealand Warriors
Only two points separate these sides and for the Warriors especially, it’s a big match. The Warriors need to find consistency and show the NRL, their fans and themselves they are a good football side, reproducing last week’s fine form will be a great start. The Eels are still missing Corey Norman but Mitchell Moses proved he will be an astute buy. He ripped the Rabbitohs apart and it wasn’t a coincidence the Eels dipped when Moses hurt his hip. Parramatta’s back row of Nathan Brown, Manu Ma’u and Tepai Moeroa is one of the strongest in the competition, the Warriors better muscle up. The Eels mammoth pack will hand Kieran Foran a warm welcome back to Parramatta, as strong as elephants and like the pachyderm they don’t forget. Shaun Johnson is the man who can unhinge the Eels hard men, he blitzed the Broncos but Johnson must fire to get the Warriors home and into the finals if we look ahead. A tough game to call, the home ground advantage may be enough for the Eels to slip past the Warriors.
Eels by 4
St George Illawarra Dragons v Wests Tigers
The Dragons Origin players have been named out of the 17 but will play if they survive the cauldron. Gareth Widdop has also been named on the extended bench which is a great boost for the Big Red V, he’s obviously close to a comeback, there’s even rumours it’s this round! The Dragons have been excelling, minus the stars, led by the fiery pack who have players like Paul Vaughan, Jack De Belin and Cameron McInnes primed to enter the Origin arena if tapped. Kurt Mann and Josh McCrone are holding the fort fantastically while Widdop has been out, playing their role perfectly. The Tigers role as the NRL’s class clowns is going so well they’ll be pigeon-holed like Stephen Seagal’s acting roles, the man of a thousand faces all the same. Ivan Cleary has acted and brought over Tuimoala Lolohea from the Warriors to replace Mitchell Moses. The Tigers need any inspiration they can find and Lolohea may be the spark who can light the way for the toothless Tigers. Don’t expect miracles from Lolohea immediately, the Dragons will be too strong and snuff out any resistance.
Dragons by 10
Sydney Roosters v Brisbane Broncos
This is will be a bell ringer. Hopefully the plethora of players involved in Origin return unscathed as this shapes as the match of the round. The Roosters look to their dangerous left edge to obliterate the Broncos with Boyd Cordner, Latrell Mitchell and Daniel Tupou lurking. The halves battle between Chooks Mitchell Pearce and Luke Keary and Broncos Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford will be an absolute pearler and the game breakers. Hopefully Pearce and Milford have recovered from game ending blows suffered in Origin. Andrew McCullough returns from injury and he is not only all heart, he is the heart beat of the Broncos. They have missed his relentless effort and titanic tackle counts. Featuring so many players backing up from Origin, this could be a case of last man standing. The benches will get a huge workout, the Roosters must watch for Tevita Pangai Jr offloading and Kodi Nikorima stepping through tired players. Jake Friend will patrol the ruck like the King cock strutting around his coop. The Roosters have less backing up, that could swing things their way. Golden point anyone?
Roosters by 1
North Queensland Cowboys v Gold Coast Titans
The Titans travel north hoping their rag tag posse of unfancied players can take down the gun slinging Cowboys. The Titans had scraped their season back in shape until Manly derailed them a couple of weeks ago. Neil Henry’s men love a challenge and won’t fear the Cowboys in this all-QLD duel. They’ll unclip the holster and come out firing. Titans big men Jarrod Wallace and Ryan James will revel taking on the colossal Cowboys big men led by the human boulder Jason Taumalolo, who along with fellow back rowers Ethan Lowe and Coen Hess will attempt to trample over the Titans. What do they feed these North Queenslanders?!? The cattle they run onto the paddock are bigger than a blue ribbon winning Beefmaster Brahman! Jonathan Thurston has been named 19th man but didn’t run out for the Maroons and I cannot see him playing here, which opposing half, future Origin star, Ash Taylor will take advantage of. Taylor’s kicking game is crucial to pinning back the Cowboys and giving cult hero Anthony Don bombs to fly high for. The Titans will give a good account of themselves but think the Cowboys will send them packing south with buck shot in their backsides.
Cowboys by 10
Manly Sea Eagles v Canberra Raiders
The Sea Eagles triumphed in golden point in Round 8 ending a spiteful clash not forgotten in a hurry. Dylan Walker riled the Raiders and left the Green Machine a wreck, kicking the match winning goal and finishing victor of the verbals. The Raiders will seek retribution and look to square the ledger, hoping to let their football do the talking this time. Joey Leilua loves to trash talk but his play of late has been rubbish and he needs to walk the walk and forget the talk. Ricky Stuart reckons teams have been cheating at marker to temper Josh Hodgson’s influence on games and the Raiders fluency. Here’s a tip Sticky: move to plan B because the markers of every team have been standing side by side all season and referees have shown no interest in blowing the pea. Martin Taupau is a one man wrecking ball and offloading machine, he is a major factor in Manly’s free flowing footy (see Manly can do it Ricky!) that has the Sea Eagles singing. Manly’s home form at Lottoland has been scratchy and needs to improve if the Sea Eagles are to soar to greater heights. The Green Machine have won their past two but are not firing on all cylinders, the Sea Eagles will be too slick in an expected vengeful match.
Sea Eagles by 4
Canterbury Bulldogs v Penrith Panthers
Both teams are on ten points and as we move through the Origin period, these tight games against evenly matched teams make or break seasons. The Bulldogs battled bravely against the Sharks yet came home empty handed. On paper this is a good side but something is lacking, lots of bluster but for all the effort the lack of reward is leaving the Doggies flustered. Points are hard to come by and that could be a problem against the Panthers. Slow starts have been dogging the Panthers, do it again and they’ll find the Bulldogs tenacious defence a lot harder to run rings around. Bryce Cartwright’s long term injury has brought a change that will improve the Panthers. Matt Moylan moves to five-eighth where I believe he plays his best football. Moylan and Nathan Cleary will look to react off Trent Merrin’s offloads and pierce through the sizeable Bulldogs pack, that’s the PC version – bloody monstrous is another way of putting it, especially when Sam Kasiano enters the fray. It’s like a rack of Rottweilers playing against a clutch of Ragdoll kittens! The Dogs will try drag the Panthers into a bar-room brawl, if the young cubs handle that confrontation they’ll have too many points in them for the Bulldogs.
Panthers by 6
Enjoy the footy and remember gamble responsibly. Hopefully the current pay dispute is sorted out before rugby league dissolves into some messy dispute, fans don’t need this. The players aren’t greedy either, they send their bodies into car crash collisions every weekend and provide pure theatre, they deserve every cent they get.
I just hope League Central looks after the bush and grass roots footy because it all begins on those field of dreams replicating our heroes. Ole Jock was once a skinny whipper snapper thinking he was Wally Lewis dummying and stepping past players, in his head, unfortunately Jock had all the rugby league talent of Jerry Lewis and speed of Huey Lewis instead of Carl!