Origin is finished and the NRL re-takes centre stage. There are only seven rounds left it’s down to the business end of proceedings – time to get serious! The race for the Top 4 is hotting up. It’s congested just below the summit, while the teams sitting on the edge of oblivion need to find a way to force their way into the finals or start checking for cheap flights to Bali. Round 20 is the ‘Women in League’ round where we celebrate the role of women in our great game. From the mighty Jillaroos to junior footy, from the boardroom to the bleachers cheering, women are a huge part of the fabric of rugby league. Without women heavily involved in our game there would be no rugby league. As Tina Turner sang back in my day, they are ‘Simply the Best’.
Brisbane Broncos v Canterbury Bulldogs
The Broncos have their Origin big guns Matt Gillett and Josh McGuire back and just in time as the Bulldogs will bare all their teeth knowing that a loss here and it’s sayonara to their season. Anthony Milford returned last week and the Milf was smoking hot and will worry the big Bulldogs boppers as they tire. Sam Thaiday has been told by the Broncos that he’s surplus to requirements at end of 2018, so he’ll want to show Clint Bennett, the old Bronco gunslinger himself, that he still has a few bullets to fire, it just takes this ageing war horse a bit longer to get the Colt out of the holster. The Bulldogs will be fired up and David Klemmer will wage a one-man war, he’ll go at the Broncos like a dog battling over a bone. The Maroons Josh McGuire will take great glee in gloating about the Origin victory and I’m sure the Klemminator will see red, which equals must see TV! If the Broncos survive the initial onslaught from the Bulldogs, they’ve got too many points in them. Hasta la vista Doggies.
Broncos by 12
Sydney Roosters v Newcastle Knights
Looking at the ladder, this looks a massive mismatch. The Roosters may be fresh off the bye but they are vulnerable this week with injuries hitting the feather dusters hard. Co-captains Boyd Cordner and Jake Friend are out while fullback and goal kicker Michael Gordon is out for 2 months after doing a pectoral muscle. Luckily Trent Robinson has depth at his disposal and the Chooks are still chock-full of talent. Mitchell Pearce will want to put the disappointment of Origin behind him and he’ll welcome the warmth of the Roosters wings wrapped around him. The Knights were as usual brave in defeat last week, the Knights must be sick of this – second verse same as the first. Time to write a new song, hopefully a winning one. Adding a twist to this game is the debut of Shaun Kenny-Dowall for the Knights against his former team mates. SKD will want to have a blinder and leave a trail of tattered feathers in his wake. The man known to the Chook Pen as ‘Skids’ will want to leave his mark on this match. The Knights have plenty of attack, led by the strong charges of Daniel Saifiti, but dodgy defence and concentration lapses are coach killers. Despite the players absent, the Roosters will crow but it won’t be a landslide.
Roosters by 8
Cronulla Sharks v South Sydney Rabbitohs
Both sides are hoping for the bounce back factor after losses last start. Cronulla in particular were woeful in the wet on the Titans home ground that was more akin to a shark tank. Bunnies beware as the Sharks will have been belted physically and verbally by Shane Flanagan all week and will look to take it out on the ragged Rabbitohs. Andrew Fifita has had an ordinary time on and off the field this past month and he’ll look to find some form. The Sharks need their man main firing. The Rabbitohs are playing for pride and no one shows pride in their jersey more than Sam Burgess. He and Angus Crichton have been the shining lights in a season that’s dimming. Adam Reynolds needs to feed these two back row behemoths more ball as they are the key to success. Completion rates are wrecking the Rabbitohs, errors eroding their confidence. The Sharks have more to play for so should win, I wrote that last week and look what happened. Lightning won’t strike twice. It’s also Luke Lewis’s 300th game and the man known as ‘white lightning’ for the speed he has shown of late will be celebrating a win.
Sharks by 10
Penrith Panthers v Gold Coast Titans
This is a massive game for both teams. The Panthers need to continue their roll on as they’re edging closer to that Top 8, while a loss for the Titans and its pretty much curtains. Great news for the Panthers as Matt Moylan returns, reuniting his dangerous halves combination with Nathan Cleary. On song, Cleary and Moylan can take the Titans apart, Cleary will hope to continue his rare form of last start. Trent Merrin is out for up to two months so Anthony Griffin will look to his senior forwards James Tamou and Reagan Campbell-Gillard to step up and fill the void. Ash Taylor was brilliant against the Sharks and for the Titans to win he will be the man to weave the wand. The Taylor versus Cleary battle will be fascinating as these wonderful wizards turn Pepper Stadium into Hogwarts. The Titans need some magic to make a miraculous run into finals footy. After the season they have had they deserve some luck but the Panthers need the two points so won’t be in a generous mood.
Panthers by 7
Canberra Raiders v Melbourne Storm
The golden point victory against the Dragons wasn’t pretty but it may add the touch of confidence the Raiders required to find some form. They need something because the league leading Melbourne Storm are coming to town in what is shaping up as the match of the round. The Raiders must lift and it starts with their attitude and line speed in defence. The Storm stars on the ball Cooper Cronk and Cameron’s Smith and Munster must have time and space taken off them or they will give the Raiders a Viking Slap. If Smith rules the ruck, the Raiders will struggle and Billy Slater swooping around the back will unlock any poor defensive reads, Joey Leilua has been guilty repeatedly this season. He needs to be perfect or he’ll be picked apart. The Raiders forwards must provide a platform for Josh Hodgson and the brilliant backs to work off. The Green Machine go forward has been lacking and they need to blast the Storm backwards or they’ll be sent packing. Josh Papalii is a huge loss but Joseph Tapine is a great talent and now is the time to rev up and reveal it. The sideline highlight is the duel of the coaches. Ricky Stuart has gone from cranky fellow to mellow yellow, while Craig Bellamy has gone from angry ant to monster raving loony rant! If the Storm lose Bellyache will make them bus it back to Melbourne! I’d rather spend eight hours on the Greyhound than a half hour stuck on the plane next to him. This clash has ambush written all over it, unfortunately the Storm have read the book.
Storm by 10
North Queensland Cowboys v New Zealand Warriors
The Warriors are running out of last chances. Shaun Johnson is out for up to 8 weeks, so basically the rest of the NRL season but potentially good news for New Zealand’s World Cup hopes. Mason Lino comes in for his first NRL match in almost two years, which means Kieran Foran has all the responsibility and needs his forwards to find a way to power over the top of the massive horse flesh in Paul Green’s forward pack. They’re the size of draught horses but some like Jason Taumalolo have the speed and agility of a thoroughbred. Taumalolo is a frightening prospect at full throttle, the goose step he added to his repertoire last week coming at Cody Walker was gobsmacking. The Cowboys halves, Michael Morgan and Te Maire Martin are in fine fettle and will seek to put the Warriors to the sword, ending the New Zealanders season, and keeping their own Top 4 hopes alive. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will need to step out of his boots for the Warriors to win. The Cowboys are too consistent and will win in a canter.
Cowboys by 14
St George Illawarra Dragons v Manly Sea Eagles
The Dragons are stuck halfway down a helter skelter that has had olive oil poured on it. The golden point loss has them teetering on the brink. Manly are in menacing form, off the back of monster metre eaters Brenton Lawrence and Marty Taupau the brilliant Sea Eagles halves Daly Cherry-Evans and Blake Green are toying with teams pulling all the right strings. The Dragons need to clip the Eagles wings and must close down the halves before the ball gets out to the devastating finishing of Akuila ‘The Thriller’ Uate. Api Koroisau has been ruled out which is a huge loss for Manly as he has been in great form and gives the Saints hope they can spring a surprise. The Dragons must turn the tide around before their finals fantasy flows out to sea. It all starts with defence and if the forwards can win that battle they can give Gareth Widdop something to work off. Josh Dugan has been in the news this week, Red V fans hope he makes the headlines leading the way to an upset victory. This will be a close call but DCE is just playing out of this world and will snuff the puff out of the Dragons.
Sea Eagles by 1
Wests Tigers v Parramatta Eels
This is a danger game for the Eels. The Tigers have vastly improved in the past couple of weeks. Ivan Cleary’s men are beginning to click. Tuimoala Lolohea is settling in, Luke Brooks is playing with confidence and departing Origin stars James Tedesco and Aaron Woods will look to end their Tigers tenure in style. With nothing to lose the Tigers will throw the ball around and be an awkward obstacle to overcome. The Eels must win to keep ahead of chasing pack and get their points for and against into the black. The Eels forwards look to have too much power for the toothless Tigers, their pack the soft underbelly that is consistently exposed. Corey Norman, Mitchell Moses and Clint Gutherson have been growing in confidence and combination and they will have too much firepower for the Tigers. Moses in particular will want a monstrous match against the team he left midway through the year. The former Tiger may have changed his stripes but his teammates will not have forgotten and will look to leave a few claw marks on him… if they can get hold of him. We’ll find out on Sunday if Moses and the Tigers parted on good terms.
Eels by 8
Enjoy the footy and remember gamble responsibly. My bet of the week is that the fallout over the disastrous end to the Blues campaign will continue to rumble on. Origin is over but the controversy hasn’t stopped. Apparently Blues brothers Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson aren’t allowed to go out on a day off from camp, knock back a couple of brews, have a punt and do the Nut Bush on the dance floor. Tina Turner would be shocked at the state of rugby league these days the NRL is fast becoming a nanny state. Origin muck raking is so endless and aimless I’d rather the media focus on beautiful images like the magnificent farewell the Warriors gave one of their legends Manu Vatuvei last Friday night. The haka was a tremendous and fitting tribute for a great servant which brought the big man to tears. Enjoy life in the Super League Manu, you’re a champion!