Brisbane Broncos vs Parramatta Eels – Thursday night – Suncorp Stadium
A lot can change in a month. The Gold Coast need a new coach. Ms Thinker has completely different coloured hair and the Broncos are a raging hot favourite to beat the Eels on Thursday night. Astonishing really, given the Eels ran roughshod over the Broncos just four weeks ago when they won 28-14. The longer that game wore on the stronger the Eels looked – they won the last 70 minutes of that game 28-2. On the back of that performance I'd pencilled the Eels in as a team that could give the premiership a shake...so what's changed? Well...in the three weeks since the Broncos haven't looked like losing, conceding just 22 points while they scored 110. Those are compelling figures at the business end of the season, particularly when two of those games were against teams that really wanted to win. The Eels have had three games in a row against teams outside the top eight, so they'll need to lift here, but given what happened four weeks ago they should, at the very least, go into this game with some self-belief. I'm tipping the Broncos, because this weird Thaiday/Hunt strategy seems to be working a treat, and the Milford/Nikorima halves pairing hasn't lost a game all season. Note the return of Frank Pritchard on the bench for the Eels – I'd all but forgotten he was still in the NRL. What a game on Thursday night folks – round 25 peaks early.
Verdict – Broncos by 4
Result – Eels by 18
Canberra Raiders vs Newcastle Knights – Friday night – GIO Stadium
There was talk that the Raiders finals hopes were dashed with their loss to the Panthers on Sunday, but that isn't strictly true. They will need to win their last two games (which may not be as hard as it looks on paper) and they'll need games they aren't involved with to go their way. Once you're facing that equation you're in a spot of bother...but this isn't over until Dave Taylor sings karaoke in a backpacker bar in Thailand. Whatever happens this is the last home game for the Raiders this season, and I hope they give their loyal followers a performance worthy of The Clap (note to Dave Taylor – take care in Thailand my good man). Theoretically the Knights can still avoid the wooden spoon...but I think that's more unlikely than the Raiders making the eight.
Verdict – Raiders by 10
Result – Raiders by 18
Wests Tigers vs North Queensland Cowboys – Friday night – Campbelltown Stadium
Unlike the Raiders the Cowboys finals prospects are still in their hands. If they win their last two games a top eight finish is theirs. Some big inclusions for the Cowboys in Cooper and Coote but note that they are named in the 21 man squad and not the 17 man squad – that leaves me thinking they are very unlikely to play. The Tigers have played three games at Campbelltown this season and been comprehensively flogged every time. If this were their last home game of the year I'd be tipping Tigers, but I might save that tip for next week. The Cowboys have lost four in a row but their opponents in all four games (Roosters, Storm, Panthers, Sharks) were better teams than their opponent on Friday night. I'm tentative...but Cowboys
Verdict – Cowboys by 2
Result –Cowboys by 8
Gold Coast Titans vs Canterbury Bulldogs – Saturday afternoon – Cbus Super Stadium
Des Hasler you fox you! For months we've all been wondering when you were going to get the sack, and here you are, the penultimate round of the season and you're taking the lads up to the Goldie for the weekend. And you're playing a team that just sacked their coach. And you won last week against a team you used to coach. Well played Des Hasler. Well played indeed. I have no idea how the Titans are going to respond on the field following the dramas off the field in the last week, and I doubt they know how they'll respond either. I'm going to assume Jarryd Hayne will have a bloody blinder, because the only way to get him to pull his finger out is to put a rocket under him. He needs to show the fans on the Coast that he actually cares enough to make a positive difference instead of tearing the joint apart. I think he can do that....for one game.
Verdict – Titans by 4
Result – Bulldogs by 12
Melbourne Storm vs South Sydney Rabbitohs – Saturday night – AAMI Park
The purple machine have wrapped up the minor premiership so it's worth watching for significant changes to the Storm line-up. If there were ever a game for Bellamy to rest a few players this would be it. To demonstrate just how dominant the Storm have been this season the team in second place (and the second favourite to win the premiership) played the Storm at home and got absolutely towelled up. They've lost just once since then (to the Eels) and in the last seven weeks they've been conceding (on average) around 12 points per game while scoring (on average) more than 27. The Rabbitohs most prolific try-scorer is unavailable with injury, and I can't possibly imagine how the Rabbitohs can score anywhere near enough points here. Unstoppable.
Verdict – Storm by 16
Result – Storm by 58
Cronulla Sharks vs Sydney Roosters – Saturday night – Southern Cross Group Stadium
Take note tipsters – I haven't had a ton of success tipping for or against the Sharks this season. While their performances at home have been pretty ordinary this season this is their last game at home for the year. Also note that when these sides met on the Central Coast not so long ago the Sharks gave us arguably their best performance of the season. They've been beating up on the Roosters for a while now and I suspect they can do the same on Saturday night. Third plays fourth and there's much at stake. These teams need to decide if they want to travel to Melbourne or Brisbane in the first week of the finals. Decisions Decisions...
Verdict – Sharks by 4
Result – Roosters by 2
New Zealand Warriors vs Manly Sea Eagles – Sunday afternoon – Mt Smart Stadium
I can't believe I'm saying this – I miss the old unpredictable Warriors. I used to tune in every single time they played, because there was about a 30% chance they would deliver the most entertaining rugby league you were going to see all weekend. But now...now I don't even have to watch them. My eyes deserve better than that, and your eyes don't need to read me crapping on about them either. So instead, I'm just going to sing my Manly song (which isn't Eagle fricken Rock).
Oh Manly. Well you came and you gave without taking. But I sent you away. Oh Manly. You keep losing and I am not learning. And I've tipped you again. Oh Manly.
Verdict – Oh Manly by Barry Manilow (and by 8)
Result – Oh Manly by 1
Penrith Panthers vs St George Illawarra Dragons – Sunday afternoon – Pepper Stadium
The Panthers are on a seven match winning streak, and I don't know how many teams can say they've won seven games in a row this season. While many of their opponents during this run have been pretty ordinary, seven wins is seven wins, and my early tip for the Premiership this season can still, believe it or not, finish in the top four this year. While the Panthers were winning seven games in a row the Dragons have lost five of their last seven. Their only two wins during that period were over the 14th placed Titans and the 16th placed Knights. Moylan is out for the Panthers but they have another exciting young talent stepping in to take his place. Last week when the game was there to be won, Tyrone May walked off the bench and into the game and scored the winning try. Two Tyrones in the one team...it wouldn't have happened in my day. Three Garys maybe. Four Steves sure. Even a couple of Alans in the backline. The names have changed to protect the innocent.
Verdict – Panthers by 8
Result – Dragons by 2
Wally Lewis - round twenty five selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
- BRONCOS vs Eels
- RAIDERS vs Knights
- Tigers vs COWBOYS
- Titans vs BULLDOGS
- STORM vs Rabbitohs
- SHARKS vs Roosters
- Warriors vs SEA EAGLES
- PANTHERS vs Dragons