Three things The Thinker learned in round ten
- The value of home ground advantage appears to be diminishing – through the last five rounds teams playing at home won 54% of games (compared to 67% through the first five rounds).
- With the Dragons and the Panthers in the top two, and the Rabbitohs, Roosters, Tigers and Sharks in the top eight it's becoming clear that Sydney teams are dominating the competition this season.
- Cameron Smith tried to make a wish on the weekend. Not granted.
Penrith Panthers vs Wests Tigers – Thursday night – Panthers Stadium
I can see Cleary now the pain has gone. Nathan Cleary returns for the Panthers in time to give his old man a few headaches. Maloney has stepped up with the absence of Cleary and there is some risk they may take a game or two to find their feet as a couple. The Tigers are a genuine top eight team and the return of Russell Packer makes them more formidable. That said, the Panthers are undefeated at Panthers Stadium this season and there should be a pretty good crowd on hand (by Thursday night standards) to push them home. It's the game of the round I say.
Verdict – Panthers by 7
Result – Panthers 16 defeated Tigers 2
Parramatta Eels vs New Zealand Warriors – Friday night – ANZ Stadium
Some of the Eels were in tears after their loss to the Bulldogs in round ten, and so they should be. They've won less games than every other team in the NRL and that's a long way from where most expected them to be this season. I have a gut feel (and it's all it is) that they'll give us a show on Friday night. The crowd will be tiny on Friday night (it's not easy getting to ANZ Stadium for a 6pm kick-off) and I actually think the Eels will respond to that postively rather than negatively. Hopefully they look at all those empty seats and tell themselves they're getting the crowd they deserve. The Warriors, so consistent early in the year, seem to be drifting back to their inconsistent unpredictable ways. The Kiwis are a warm favourite, and should be, but I'm taking them on.
Verdict – Eels by 4
Result – Warriors 24 defeated Eels 14
Brisbane Broncos vs Sydney Roosters – Friday night – Suncorp Stadium
At the start of the season I was talking about how lucky the Roosters were with the draw. They never left Sydney through rounds 1 to 9, and they were mostly average throughout. Last week they skipped town and gave us their best performance all year. Maybe they just needed to get out of Sydney (I know that's how I feel about Sydney if I've been there for more than a long weekend). The road trip continues as they head north to Brisbane, and a repeat of the form we saw in New Zealand wins this game. A read through of the Broncos results this year is a grim read indeed. They've won five games this year but you could argue they were lucky to win four of those. They certainly weren't unlucky with any of their five losses. I think something is wrong. A big loss here and it's time to start asking the tough questions.
Verdict – Roosters by 8
Result – Broncos 28 defeated Roosters 22
Gold Coast Titans vs Newcastle Knights – Saturday afternoon – CBus Super Stadium
A few important (likely) inclusions for the Titans this weekend with Peats and Arrow expected to return (watch for the official team lists though). They return to their home ground for just the third time this season where their performances have been better than usual (a narrow win over the Raiders and a one point loss to the Sharks). Jarrod Wallace has inked a long term deal and is the sort of character that will reward the team with a best-on-ground performance. I wouldn't be surprised if the rest of the Titans pack follow his lead and give that speedy Titans backline a chance to show its wares.
Verdict – Titans by 8
Result – Titans 33 defeated Knights 26
North Queensland Cowboys vs South Sydney Rabbitohs – Saturday night – 1300SMILES Stadium
Deeply concerned with the performances of the Cowboys this season, the Thinker is hauling himself onto a plane and heading north to watch this game in person. Hopefully my attendance is enough to drag the tropical giants out of their slumber and give this competition one almighty shake. They aren't playing like it though. The Rabbitohs on the other hand, are over-performing at the minute and head north after comprehensively outplaying the competition front-runners last weekend. Given the form on the board the Rabbitohs pick themselves...but I hope I'm wrong.
Verdict – Rabbitohs by 2
Result – Rabbitohs 20 defeated Cowboys 19
Melbourne Storm vs Manly Sea Eagles – Saturday night – AAMI Park
Well it's hard not to mention Cameron Smith given the big news...and he's not even playing this weekend. Wow! An emotional time for the purple machine (if a machine can feel emotion) and I expect the Storm to lift on the back of this news (his availability for Melbourne throughout the Origin period of the season is a big boost to the clubs prospects). Manly impressed against the Broncos but I'm doubting that form at the minute, and backing up after a win in Brisbane with a win in Melbourne is a big ask.
Verdict – Storm by 4
Result – Sea Eagles 24 defeated Storm 4
St George Illawarra Dragons vs Canberra Raiders – Sunday afternoon – Glen WIllow Oval
The people of Mudgee jag a very good game of the football with the table-topping Dragons taking on the always entertaining Raiders. That the game gets the Sunday afternoon timeslot sweetens the deal. Both sides will be looking to bounce back after surprising losses last round. With conditions to suit attacking football I have to stick with the Dragons, who have scored more points this season than all others. Their defence is the second best too (behind the Chooks surprisingly) and that's good enough for me. Looks a cracking game of footy and a Raiders win wouldn't surprise me but...
Verdict – Dragons by 10
Result – Dragons 25 defeated Raiders 18
Cronulla Sharks vs Canterbury Bulldogs – Sunday afternoon – Southern Cross Group Stadium
I'm not having a lot of luck tipping against the Sharks in recent weeks – call me a slow learner but I'll tip them this time. In the last four weeks they've beaten the Panthers, Titans, Eels and Raiders. Recent wins by the Bulldogs over the 15th placed Cowboys and the 16th placed Eels isn't enough to convince me they're anything but an also-ran this season.
Verdict – Sharks by 10
Result – Sharks 22 defeated Bulldogs 16
Wally Lewis - round eleven selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
- PANTHERS vs Tigers
- EELS vs Warriors
- BRONCOS vs Roosters
- Titans vs KNIGHTS
- COWBOYS vs Rabbitohs
- STORM vs Sea Eagles
- DRAGONS vs Raiders
- Sharks vs BULLDOGS