Three things The Thinker learned in round seven
- If you asked me to pick the three teams I was most confident would win in round seven, I would have chosen the Dragons, Tigers and Panthers...and they all lost. As always, there are no certainties in the NRL.
- Jarryd Hayne is a curse – thirteen black cats walking under a ladder.
- While some are critical of the inclusion of sporting events on ANZAC Day, I feel they make a positive contribution to what is probably Australia's most important national holiday. Lest we forget.
St George Illawarra Dragons vs Sydney Roosters – Wednesday afternoon – Allianz Stadium
I've plonked myself down in a plastic seat at my fair share of rugby league games over the years, but I'm yet to get to an ANZAC Day clash between the Chooks and the Dragons. I will though...one day I will. The Warriors beat the Dragons in round seven with defence, so that's the blueprint the Chooks can take into round eight. Luckily for them they beat the Bulldogs with defence in round seven too. Now I accept that the Dragons attack is harder to contain than the Dogs, but for the Chooks to keep their opponent to 0, in a game where the Dogs had so much of the possession, is quite the feat. Don't forget that a week earlier the Dogs racked up 27 against the Cowboys in Townsville. The Dragons are the logical favourite but I'm with the Chooks in what should be yet another ANZAC Day classic. Note the team lists for both sides – the number 21 for the Dragons is Reece Robson and the number 21 for the Roosters is Reece Robinson. What are the odds?
Verdict – Roosters by 1
Result – Dragons 24 defeated Roosters 8
Melbourne Storm vs New Zealand Warriors – Wednesday night – AAMI Park
It doesn't get the attention of the other ANZAC Day game, but it means a lot to these two teams – particularly the Warriors who like to remind us all that you can't spell ANZAC without NZ. Their win over the Dragons was a joy to watch – they showed a steely determination that is so often lacking in Warriors sides of old. A repeat of that intensity and they win again, but a repeat of that performance is quite an ask, particularly away from home. The Storm have had an unusually rocky start to the season, but they were better against the Knights and better again when they beat the Broncos. They appear to be returning to the form we expect from them, and they usually show up for this contest. Jesse Bromwich joins Dale Finucane in casualty so their forward depth will be tested, but I expect them to pass. Meanwhile the Warriors are without Johnson, Harris, Kata and Beale for at least one more week. Purple just...in a smorgasbord of quality football on ANZAC Day 2018.
Verdict – Storm by 4
Result – Storm 50 defeated Warriors 10
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Brisbane Broncos – Thursday night – ANZ Stadium
The Rabbitohs lose Sam Burgess to yet another suspension, but they went pretty well two weeks ago without him. I'm sure they are a better team with him there, but I think the Bunnies are less affected by his absence than the Broncos are by the absence of McCullough. Who plays in the number 9 for the Broncos is anyone's guess – McGuire, Thaiday, Nikorima? The Rabbits are switched on under their new coach, and this happens to be game number 250 for Greg Inglis.
Verdict – Rabbitohs by 10
Result – Broncos 24 defeated Rabbitohs 20
Manly Sea Eagles vs Newcastle Knights – Friday night – Lottoland
The Sea Eagles have lost three games in succession, conceding 114 points in the process. What's worse is that the results are worsening with each loss, scoring less and conceding more. Last week they conceded 44 points to a team they beat 54-0 in round two. Clearly all is not well. In round six they lost 38-12 to the Tigers, and the Knights beat the Tigers in round seven. Things are never that simple – the Knights have to replace Mitchell Pearce and their record at Brookvale (two wins from 18) is the worst in the league. I'm tipping them anyway.
Verdict – Knights by 4
Result – Knights 18 defeated Sea Eagles 12
Penrith Panthers vs Canterbury Bulldogs – Friday night – Panthers Stadium
You can't win a football game if you can't score a point. In 80 minutes of football the Bulldogs couldn't get off the mark despite having the lions share of possession against the Chooks. Through seven games this season the Bulldogs are averaging less than 15 points per game. It's a problem. Scoring points hasn't been a problem for the Panthers – they've scored more than 15 points in all but one of their games this season. Slow starts has been a problem though. It cost them victory against the Sharks last weekend and it cost them victory against the Bulldogs in round three. I expect a better start on Friday night, and I don't think the Bulldogs have the attack to chase a team down if they fall behind. The list of casualties at Penrith is long but I'm tipping them at home.
Verdict – Panthers by 8
Result – Panthers 22 defeated Bulldogs 14
Gold Coast Titans vs Cronulla Sharks – Saturday night – CBus Super Stadium
The Titans are back at home on the Gold Coast for the first time since their round one victory over the Raiders. It helps. The Sharks surprised most of us with their gutsy win over the Panthers in round seven but they did have that boisterous home crowd pushing them on. Whether they can repeat that on the Gold Coast is the quandary, but the potential return of Bukuya and/or Graham will certainly help. Note that the Titans beat the Sharks twice last season and no-one expected them to. I'm tipping them to surprise us again with a better, smarter performance after some choice words from their coach.
Verdict – Titans by 4
Result – Sharks 10 defeated Titans 9
North Queensland Cowboys vs Canberra Raiders – Saturday night – 1300SMILES Stadium
Jonathan Thurston turns 35 on ANZAC Day, and age has not wearied him yet. We saw an improved performance from the entire team in round seven but they are coming off a low base. The Raiders found some winning form and then took a stumble last week on the road. That's three losses from three away games for the Raiders and it's reason enough for me to stick with the Cowboys in what I hope is a return to some serious form.
Verdict – Cowboys by 8
Result – Raiders 18 defeated Cowboys 8
Parramatta Eels vs Wests Tigers – Sunday afternoon – ANZ Stadium
While the Eels produced a dominant victory in round seven it's likely that their opponent that day was a rabble. We will know more about the Eels if they can produce a similar performance against a contender. These sides met only a few short weeks ago where the Tigers prevailed 30-20. That final score makes it look like a contest, but take note that the Tigers led by 30-6 until the 62nd minute. Gutherson and French are added to the Eels line-up this time around, while Hayne returns to the hyperbaric chamber for another stint on the sidelines. The Tigers went down to the Knights last weekend in an entertaining contest but Chris Lawrence, Elijah Taylor and Jacob Liddle all look set to return on Sunday. Tigers to bounce back I say.
Verdict – Tigers by 4
Result – Eels 24 defeated Tigers 22
Wally Lewis - round eight selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
- DRAGONS vs Roosters
- STORM vs Warriors
- RABBITOHS vs Broncos
- SEA EAGLES vs Knights
- PANTHERS vs Bulldogs
- Titans vs SHARKS
- COWBOYS vs Raiders
- Eels vs TIGERS