The NRL moves into the second half of the season as the governing body and the RLPA (Rugby League Players Association) holds crucial meetings. Apparently the talks are going as well as a reunited rock group’s comeback tour, two days in you realise why you broke up in the first place – you cannot stand each other. Get the band back together quickly turns into get stuffed! Smoke the peace pipe peeps please. Just sort this out before we end up with industrial action including player strikes which will certainly achieve one thing, fan backlash!
Cronulla Sharks v Melbourne Storm
What a mouth-watering clash to start to Round 14. Grand Final re-match, potential Grand Final preview, top of the table 1 v 2, it doesn’t get better than this. The Sharks have had the week off, but let’s face it so did the Storm in their training run thrashing of the Knights. Last time they met, the Sharks bashed and smashed the Storm, stifling their attack to leave them try-less. That blue print will be unrolled as the Sharks look to get in the face of the Storm’s much vaunted Big 3, now unfortunately down to the Big 2 as Cooper Cronk has been pulled out late. Wade Graham will get up so close and personal with new No 7 Cameron Munster, he’ll be able to decipher his brand of deodorant. Billy Slater’s Origin audition has moved from Vaudeville against the hapless Knights to Broadway, an away trip against the meanest pack in the NRL. Cameron Smith returns to add more polish to the Storm but that won’t concern the Sharks big men, Andrew Fifita and Paul Gallen will enjoy raging against the machine.
Sharks by 7
Manly Sea Eagles v Newcastle Knights
Word on the street is Manly’s boy genius Tom Trbojevic will return from injury, which is great timing as they lost Jorge Taufua for the season last week. Even without Tom Turbo, this should be a stroll along the esplanade for Manly. Look to Brenton Lawrence to throw his hat in the ring as a Maroon’s possible for Origin II, his agility around the ruck in attack and defence would greatly improve QLD and will cause the Knights no end of headaches. Martin Taupau will torment the Knights and scatter them like ten pins. Addin Fonua-Blake adds punch off the bench and will clean up any spares Taupau leaves behind. With Daly Cherry-Evans and Blake Green pulling the strings off the back of plenty of second phase ball, the score line could get large. The Knights started the season brightly and battle bravely each week but they’ve got the wobbles badly. They’ve fallen off the drawbridge and are floating face down in the moat.
Sea Eagles by 26
Brisbane Broncos v South Sydney Rabbitohs
Jock’s sure fire guarantee this week: the Broncos will score more points than words spoken by the coaches in the post-match presser. Bennett versus Maguire, if these two were paid per syllable they’d be living under a bridge sharing a cardboard box. Hopefully the footy is more cheerful than Moaning Madge and Grumpelstiltskin. The Broncos welcome back the MILF to sex up the attack and Anthony Milford’s happy feet will run rings around the sluggish Rabbitohs ruck. The lumbering Burgess twins, Tom and George, bookend the front row and they’ll need to be on their twinkle toes to keep in touch with Milford. George has been atrocious this year and if he needs inspiration, big brother Sam who has been the Bunnies best by far will provide it. Out wide, the Broncos scintillating centre pairing of James Roberts and Tautau Moga will burn the Bunnies. The Broncos have way too much class.
Broncos by 20
Gold Coast Titans v New Zealand Warriors
Jarryd Hayne dreamed of playing fullback in the NRL again. The lethal weapon’s prayers have been answered, whatever Jarryd wants, Jarryd gets. It could be a masterstroke from Neil Henry as it allows Hayne to inject himself as he sees fit, if Hayne is in the mood its alarm bells for the Warriors. Tyrone Roberts has been fantastic at the back but now shoved onto the bench. Henry is playing a dangerous game if he’s appeasing Hayne as the Titans team spirit is their greatest virtue. Nathan Peats makes a timely return as his titanic tackle counts and ruck defence will be in high demand against the flashy but flaky Warriors who love raiding through the middle via Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. Issac Luke needs to lift his game up a notch as his dummy half scoots are momentum shifters that are vital to the Warriors chances. This is a massive game, both sides are drinking at the Last Chance Saloon, the loser can just about drown their sorrows at falling out of Top 8 contention. While at the bar, raise a glass for Ryan Hoffman reaching game 300, a great milestone.
Titans by 8
Penrith Panthers v Canberra Raiders
The NRL goes bush as the Panthers once again take their annual pilgrimage to Bathurst to entertain the Raiders. This should be a ripsnorter! The Panthers have found their mojo led by the magic of Matt Moylan and Nathan Cleary, but only once the solid platform has been set. Josh Mansour is the ultimate metre eater and his amazing return added much needed thrust to the Panthers go forward. The snarl was back in the pack and Penrith looked the premiership favoured side they were in preseason. If the Raiders cannot limit the offloads the Panthers will run riot. The Raiders had their hearts ripped out again by Manly last week, losing Shannon Boyd and Dunamis Lui in the process, so have to show some character and rebound fast. The Green Machine’s big men need to stand up as Jordan Rapana cannot continue to bail them out. The Mount Panaroma race track is nearby, you’d love to see speedster Rapana racing down Conrod Straight alongside Waqa Blake and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak. There’ll be points aplenty but I think the Panthers will take the chequered flag.
Panthers by 10
Parramatta Eels v North Queensland Cowboys
The roadshow rolls on as the Eels take on the Cowboys in Darwin. The Territorians were about to enter a depression after the highs of the thrill of Pippa Middleton spending her honeymoon there, don’t be bummed out, the faux royal flavour continues as the red carpet gets rolled out for King Gutho. Clint Gutherson is in regal form and if the Eels are to get on top of the Cowboys, he’ll play a commanding role. The Eels may have the King but Cowboys could play the ace in the pack. Jonathan Thurston has been named in jersey 19 but rumours are strong he’ll return for this match and make his run to reclaim his rightful position on the Maroon throne. The sea shells on the beach are also whispering Corey Norman will play too, a massive boost to the Eels. The backrow’s are both belters and the meeting of Nathan Brown and Jason Taumalolo will be more brutal than the NRL’s with the RLPA. Coen Hess and his charge for Origin selection may tip the scales the Cowboys way, the Hess Express could leave the Eels in a mess.
Cowboys by 6
Wests Tigers v Sydney Roosters
The Tigers take on the Roosters on Sydney’s western outskirts at Campbelltown. The Tigers season is in tatters and this could work in their favour. Playing with the freedom of nothing to lose and the addition of Tuimoala Lolohea, attack will be in the forefront of the Tigers game plan. It has to be because the pages that had tackle written on them have been torn out. James Tedesco is back after his brilliant Origin exploits and he’ll want to show his tricolour team mates for next season what they’ve invested in. The Roosters had a gruelling encounter with the Broncos last start and will relish the softer underbelly the Tigers present. The inspirational Boyd Cordner will bend the Tigers backwards and poke through the line relentlessly. Mitchell Pearce returns from his Origin concussion and his combination with Luke Keary will be too hot for the Tigers to handle. Attitude is everything so if the Roosters bring their A game out west they’ll travel home east cock-a-hoop.
Roosters by 16
Canterbury Bulldogs v St George Illawarra Dragons
Des Hasler, the Lord of Dog Town is on the nose and being attacked from all angles. The Bulldogs character and style is being questioned by every fan and his dog. The Bulldogs resorted to holding the traditional troubled team’s honesty session to work stuff out. We’ll find out Monday if it was a success but Hasler still has a heartbeat and no effigies of him were burned, so that’s a positive sign. An enthusiasm transplant wouldn’t go astray so Josh Reynolds could not have timed his return from injury better. Flowing attack would help too which makes Brenko Lee’s dumping hard to fathom as he’s been one of the Bulldogs few highlights this season. The Dragons are cooking with gas and will expose any cracks in the Dogs camp. The Dragons forwards are tough and will revel in taking on the big boppers in blue, the Bulldogs better be up for a scrap and willing to put up a fight. Gareth Widdop and Josh Dugan are the obvious danger men in attack but the best thing about the Saints of this season is the teamwork, they are combining beautifully and it’s the unity that will get them home against the dispirited Doggies. One honesty session will not be enough to fix their deep-seated issues.
Dragons by 8
Enjoy the footy and remember gamble responsibly. Jock’s hot tip for this week is: don’t follow his tips. Jock proudly picked the round last week (yes I know it was only 7 games but ‘near enough is good enough’ is one of Jock’s motto’s) and that happens about as often as Wayne Bennett cracks jokes in press conferences.
Follow Jock’s predictions at your own peril, do so consistently and you will end up living under a bridge. You have been warned.