Parramatta Eels vs Gold Coast Titans – Thursday night – ANZ Stadium
With Jarryd Hayne potentially looking for a new contract somewhere, this is the sort of game where he may pull his finger out and deliver a match-winning performance. A Titans win does seem unlikely, but they did beat the Eels pretty convincingly way back in round three (without Hayne and another former Eel in Nathan Peats). If the Titans were serious I'd be tempted, but with four losses in a row I've assumed they have given up, because prior to that run of losses the Titans were a team you could rely on to have a red hot go. In their last three games they've conceded 122 points and scored just 20...and that doesn't look like trying. Prior to that surprise loss to the Knights the Eels had won six in a row. I'm prepared to write off that performance last weekend as an oddity – we are talking about Parramatta after all, and for quite some time they've been a rocks or diamonds team (often during the same game). 60 minutes of diamonds (or more) from the home side and that should be enough, and I'm quietly hoping that Bevan French has a game to remember and tells everyone that Parramatta don't need to look elsewhere for a fullback.
Verdict – Eels by 8
Result – Eels by 22
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs New Zealand Warriors – Friday night – ANZ Stadium
Worriers....Bah! You don't deserve a preview.
Verdict – Rabbitohs by actually trying...and by 14
Result – Rabbitohs by 18
Brisbane Broncos vs St George Illawarra Dragons – Friday night – Suncorp Stadium
For reasons that seemed perfectly cromulent at the time I took on the Broncos last week and they never looked like losing, despite the fact that they weren't anywhere near their best. Now that they've found themselves in the top two they'll be rather desperate to stay there. Top two means they avoid the Storm in week one of the finals and they play in Brisbane rather than Sydney. Based on what's left of the draw it looks like they'll need to win their last three games to stay where they are. The Dragons have at least as much to play for, as they hover just out of but close enough to the top eight. It's starting to look like the Cowboys are the team most likely to drop out of contention. Gazing into my crystall ball and in the final round of the season I suspect the Dragons will have an opportunity to replace the Cowboys in the top eight. But before that...this. I dare not take on the Broncos again after they made me look quite the fool last week. Since round one the Broncos have lost just once at home this season and that was to the Storm. The Dragons are not the Storm..
Verdict – Broncos by 8
Result – Broncos by 12
Newcastle Knights vs Melbourne Storm – Saturday afternoon – McDonald Jones Stadium
The Storm haven't quite won the minor premiership yet, but a win on Saturday and the J.J. Giltinan Shield is theirs to take home to Melbourne town. It's not often you get to say that the game between 1st and 16th is the game of the round, but this looks suspiciously like the game of the round. What an almighty statement the Knights would be making with a win here, and that statement would read 'Watch out 2018'. I'd love to see it, but I can't tip it. In a competition where so many teams let you down so often the Storm rarely do. They have dominated this competition in season 2017 and are worthy minor premiers.
Verdict – Storm by 10
Result – Storm by 32
Sydney Roosters vs Wests Tigers – Saturday night – Allianz Stadium
One of the great things about the resurgence of the Knights in recent weeks has been the signs of life in Tigertown – clearly neither team wants the wooden spoon this year. The Roosters showed everyone they have a team that can (at least) compete with the Storm, and the Tigers showed the Roosters they need to take this game seriously. Given their thoroughly entertaining victory over the Sea Eagles the Roosters won't take this game lightly. The Chooks pack is first class, their bench has depth and Michael Gordon returns at the back. A top two finish is still a very real prospect and I doubt they'll drop their bundle here.
Verdict – Roosters by 10
Result – Roosters by 4
North Queensland Cowboys vs Cronulla Sharks – Saturday night – 1300SMILES Stadium
The Sharks don't win in Townsville too often but they won't get many better chances than this. The Cowboys have the longest casualty list in the NRL (nine) and every single one of them is out for the seazson. While the Sharks have been deeply disappointing for a fortnight their team on Saturday night is near enough to the seventeen that won a premiership in 2016. The bench in particular, looks a lot stronger on Saturday night, which is hardly a surprise given the mounting injuries up north. I would urge the Cowboys to hand the pill to Taumalolo and have him run at the right hip of James Maloney all night. The little big men for the home side just need to follow him through and scoop up the rewards. That tactic might be enough to get the Cowboys home. I hope they win, but I can't quite tip them. Not quite.
Verdict – Sharks by 1
Result – Sharks by 10
Canberra Raiders vs Penrith Panthers – Sunday afternoon – GIO Stadium
I'm not the first to point it out (because I'm running late) but this is the game of the round. Two teams in form and two teams with much to play for. Those with reasonable memories would recall that when these sides met earlier in the season they gave us one of the games of the year, with the Panthers scoring two tries in the last three minutes to claim the win. I struggled over this game for quite a while (hence I'm running late) but I've found a way to split them. The Panthers have won just four away games this season, and those four wins were against the teams running 12th, 13th, 15th and 16th. The Raiders, on current form, are better than that. Note that the Raiders haven't set GIO Stadium on fire this season, winning five from ten at home. In recent weeks however, their form at home has been much stronger, even if they aren't winning. They were competitive (but lost) to the Storm and the Broncos, and they are our top two teams at present. I'm taking the punt on that form being strong enough. If you only watch one game this weekend try and make it this one.
Verdict – Raiders by 2
Result – Panthers by 4
Canterbury Bulldogs vs Manly Sea Eagles – Sunday afternoon – ANZ Stadium
My thesis about the Bulldogs remains intact – they can't score enough points to win. It's been forever since they managed to score 20 points in 80 minutes. Meanwhile the Sea Eagles have scored 20 or more thirteen times this season. The argument seems even more compelling when you look back to when these sides met in round 4. Sea Eagles 36 : Bulldogs 0. I feel for Des. I truly do.
Verdict – Sea Eagles by 16
Result – Bulldogs by 14
Wally Lewis - round twenty four selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
- EELS vs Titans
- RABBITOHS vs Warriors
- BRONCOS vs Dragons
- Knights vs STORM
- ROOSTERS vs Tigers
- Cowboys vs SHARKS
- RAIDERS vs Panthers
- Bulldogs vs SEA EAGLES