As the thoroughbreds prepare for Origin II, the nags left behind are either rested grazing in a good paddock for a week or reshod, saddled up and sent back out to plough the field of dreams. Split rounds force the NRL into the background as the care factor lowers, if your side isn’t playing it hits zero. Origin takes over the back pages, the NRL shafted somewhere between the obituaries and the cartoons. Hopefully League Central sorts the scheduling out soon as the thinking behind the split rounds belongs in the time of the Flintstones.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Gold Coast Titans
The Titans are in turmoil with three missing from Origin including Jarrod Wallace cleared to make his debut, and injuries forcing out Kane Elgey and Karl Lawton. Will Jarryd Hayne be missed by the Titans? Probably but the fact is his output for the Gold Coast has not matched his wage bill and it wouldn’t surprise if they actually play better with the Hayne Plane in the hangar. Chris McQueen has been shifted to five-eighth to partner Ash Taylor, which means Taylor will run the show. He’ll see more cardinal and myrtle coloured traffic heading his way than peak hour on Cleveland Street. Kevin Proctor returns from the naughty corner and the Titans will need him to fire immediately if they are to cause an upset. The Rabbitohs are completely unaffected by Origin and were much improved against the Broncos last week. Sam Burgess will, as usual, lead the way and if his fellow Bunnies bounce out of the burrow with half the energy Slammin’ Sam shows, they’ll lap the Titans. Both teams are all but out of the finals race but the loser can definitely begin ordering the fancy dress costumes for Mad Monday.
Rabbitohs by 14
Melbourne Storm v North Queensland Cowboys
This match is the reason Origin needs to move to three stand-alone weekends. Eight players in total are stripped from the two sides, with another two from the Storm missing due to injury. A potential box office blockbuster is now relegated to B grade flicked straight to DVD release. You’ll find it on the shelf beside any film starring Val Kilmer post Top Gun. Do you feel the need, the need for speed? Well the Storm and Cowboys players are going to need speed dating sessions to get to know their team mates there are so many changes to these sides. The advantage in this match goes to the Storm due to the brilliant systems Craig Bellamy has in place. The Storm will continue to play their way the jerseys are just filled by different automatons. Two future champions to keep an eye on are halfback Ryley Jacks and dummy half Brandon Smith who has massive wraps on him. The Cowboys backrow stocks are so thin they’ve moved centre Kane Linnett there, hopefully Coen Hess has left him the map to the try line Linnett doesn’t find often. X marks the spot Kane. Jason Taumalolo will take it upon himself to start a Cowboys stampede but he won’t have a strong enough posse riding beside him to pouch the points.
Storm by 10
Cronulla Sharks v Wests Tigers
The Sharks are hit hard with five players missing including the formidable frame of Andrew Fifita, the form forward of the NRL. The Shire’s Sherriff Paul Gallen has the strength of ten men and will shoulder the burden and take it upon himself to fill the gaps. Gallen has an iron will and comes with an iron clad guarantee: he will play a blinder and inspire those around him to lift. Nu Brown comes in at five-eighth and he’ll love the opportunity hand to show off his silky skills. Brown is first grade quality. Finally some good news for the Tigers, Luke Brooks makes a welcome return and his control and game management should free up Tuimoala Lolohea to drift and inject himself whenever and wherever he bobs up. Up front is where the Tigers have troubles and they must aim up against the physicality of the Sharks or the scoreboard could get scary. A pregame pump up from Mick Fanning on shark punching would not go astray, as the Tigers have shown this season they could barely stave off a cranky sea cucumber. Failure to find some fight and the Cleary Bus will limp home with punctured tyres, a shattered Cleary behind the wheel trying to steer the club to the Promised Land, the NRL Finals. Hold that thought Ivan and move the too hard basket out of the office.
Sharks by 6
Parramatta Eels v St George Illawarra Dragons
This game cannot come quickly enough for the Dragons. They were terrible on Monday, albeit against a fired up Bulldogs, but that was back to the dire Dragons of 2016. Mary McGregor will hope that was just a blemish and not a sign of things to come. Missing Josh Dugan and Tyson Frizzell, the Saints will seek a huge improvement from their forwards who were out-enthused by the Dogs, and that has not been the way of the Dragon in 2017. Gareth Widdop was mute last week, strangely out of sorts, expect him to show more spark this week and run the ball. The Eels were hit by tropic thunder in Darwin last week, caught in the eye of a Jonathan Thurston cyclone. Corey Norman’s comeback was lost in the heat haze and Stormin’ Norman will be out to fire against the Dragons after shooting blanks in the one-sided duel with the Cowboys. Brad Arthur’s puzzle is how to fit Norman, Clint Gutherson and Mitchell Moses into the thirteen with the least disruption. Gutherson has been the best of the three by far but the one to move to accommodate Moses. On the outer edge of the Top 8 the Eels cannot afford a slip and beating any side above can only improve their finals aspirations. The backrow clash will be a highlight the winner of those bragging rights will be decisive and lay the platform for their halves to bring it home. Origin doesn’t affect the Eels and that could be the factor that douses the Dragons flame.
Eels by 8
Enjoy the footy and remember gamble responsibly, which means don’t throw any mad multi’s at this round. The split rounds are a lucky dip. Coaches prepare their charges minus their top players as best they can with limited time and hope the bounce of the ball goes their way.
For those players with the week off, enjoy the break, your battered bodies will love you for it, just steer clear of Star City casino! With the NSW Blues staying in camp there’s more than enough temptation on offer without the Sydney Roosters rocking up with their dancing shoes on and drinking elbows cocked.