Sydney Roosters vs Brisbane Broncos – Friday night – Allianz Stadium
Second plays third and this will be the third time these sides meet this season. Back in round 6 the Broncos were convincing winners at home (32-8). Dominant the Broncos were, but they had quite a bit to deal with that night – Corey Oates withdrew before kick-off, Ben Hunt went off injured just after half time, Korbin Sims went off injured with 20 to go and Josh McGuire played much of the game with one good arm. Despite all that, the Broncos were simply too good. Later in the season these sides met at this very venue and it was the Chooks who prevailed in a tighter contest (18-16). That game was played during the Origin period and both teams had playmakers unavailable (Milford and Pearce). Note that Benji Marshall played in the halves in that game, as he will on Friday night. The big difference in this game compared to that last encounter is the Brisbane spine, with Boyd and McCullough unavailable. Nikorima slips into the all-important number one jersey. It's a big ask, but note that this Broncos spine played for 40 minutes against the Cowboys last week. The Cowboys, with everything to play for, couldn't get through the Broncos defence until the 80th minute. The Roosters have shown all year that they can win the tight games. They've been in 11 games where the margin was 4 points or less this season, and they won 9 of them. The Broncos by comparison, have lost 4 of the 7 games they played where the margin was 4 or less. The Chooks are a warm favourite but I'm willing to take them on here. We should have a dry track in Sydney on Friday night and that will, in my opinion, favour the visitors. Last weekend Phil Gould suggested that the Broncos were no hope of beating the Roosters this weekend. One of us is going to be wrong.
Verdict – Broncos by 10
Result – Roosters by 2
Melbourne Storm vs Parramatta Eels – Saturday afternoon – AAMI Park
To give the Eels fans a glimmer of hope they were the last team to beat the Storm – way back in round 18, and that was played in Melbourne too. Here's where I take that glimmer of hope and rudely stamp on it in my size 11 steelcaps – in round 18 the Storm didn't have Smith, Slater, Cronk, Munster, Chambers and Glasby. While I don't think this game is as good as over, I simply can't ip the Eels to win. It really is that simple.
Verdict – Storm by 13
Result – Storm by 2
Manly Sea Eagles vs Penrith Panthers – Saturday night – Allianz Stadium
How much can change in a week? These sides faced off just seven days ago and the Sea Eagles led 26-0 until the 75th minute. The Panthers scored a few late tries to make the final score less awful but if was a pretty convincing display by the Eagles against a genuinely disappointing opponent. The team line-ups are much the same unless Dylan Edwards is a late call-up for the Panthers at fullback...but that's unlikely. The big difference between this game and the round 26 game is the venue. Manly fans are notoriously poor travellers so the Panthers will probably end up with the lions share of support in the stands. Is that enough to turn the result from seven days ago? Possibly, but I doubt it.
Verdict – Sea Eagles by 7
Result – Panthers by 12
Cronulla Sharks vs North Queensland Cowboys – Sunday afternoon – Allianz Stadium
If the Cowboys run out of room in their casualty ward the Sharks could probably help them out. The Sharks might not be in the form they were in last season but their best seventeen (or close enough to it) are fit and available on Sunday. The Sharks prevailed in the two previous encounters between these sides this season and they are a red-hot favourite on Sunday. I give the Sharks next to no hope of a repeat premiership and I'm barely convinced they will win this, but I think they can scrape home. And I mean scrape. The Cowboys have had a few extra days to prepare for this and they'll need that time just to strap up their troops. The Sharks will no doubt benefit from some dubious decision at some point and Cowboys fans will collectively shake their heads and say 'here we go again'. I can't tell you much I hope I'm wrong.
Verdict – Sharks by 2
Result – Cowboys by 1
Wally Lewis - round twenty six selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
- ROOSTERS vs Broncos
- STORM vs Eels
- SEA EAGLES vs Panthers
- SHARKS vs Cowboys