Brisbane Broncos vs South Sydney Rabbitohs – Thursday night – Suncorp Stadium
Successive Thursday night losses for the Broncos (against teams they should be beating) have seen one of the biggest teams in Australian sport drift from top four contender to the cusp of drop-out territory. A loss here and the Tigers could easily replace them in the top eight...and stay there. If their season isn't over, this next fortnight gives the Broncos an opportunity to redefine their season, but they probably need to defeat the Rabbits and the Chooks to convince any of us that they're back. They've had a season full of distractions, and those distractions haven't gone away. The Bunnies still look like contenders to me – their left edge has sparkled in attack but circumstances took their sparkle away last start. Despite that, they still only lost by 4 points to the premiership favourites. Inglis may return this week, although I suspect he won't. If he plays and he's ready they win. If he doesn't...they'll win anyway.
p.s. I could grubber kick to the Broncos sparkly new headquarters from my joint. If I happen to see the Rabbitohs coach touring the facilities on Friday I'll let you know :-)
Verdict – Rabbitohs by 10
Result – Broncos 38 defeated Rabbitohs 18
Manly Sea Eagles vs Gold Coast Titans – Friday night – Lottoland
While the Rabbitohs coach is (potentially) checking out Red Hill, the Broncos coach might take a road trip down the M1 to have a look at the digs on the Gold Coast. Bennett would like the look of AJ Brimson, who has clearly emerged this season as a player with enormous potential. The Titans should secure his tenure as soon as they can, or someone else will. With both teams in limboland this season (outside of finals and wooden spoon contention) it's hard to get enthused about this game as a contest. Whichever team can find a way to get enthused about this contest should win. I'll take a punt that the Sea Eagles are that team. Why? It's their last game at Brookvale for the year. That's reason enough.
Verdict – Sea Eagles by 4
Result – Titans 42 defeated Sea Eagles 34
Melbourne Storm vs Parramatta Eels – Friday night – AAMI Park
If the Eels were in the top four they'd be close to premiership favourites on the back of that performance last weekend. A 93% completion rate, 40 points in attack, 4 points conceded and a Jarryd Hayne hat-trick...all against a team in the top four. A repeat of that sort of performance and they'll be winning again, and frustrated Eels fans will be asking where this team has been all season. Mind you, few fans know frustration like an Eels fan. Meanwhile the Storm have lost two games in a row, and I've pointed out many many times how rarely that happens. I have no idea how often they lose three games in a row, but I suspect the last time it happened was years ago. Strangely they got through the Origin period without a loss. I'm tipping them again, because they were very ordinary last weekend and almost won anyway. I expect Cameron Smith has had the kicking tee out all week, and he'll be better for it. The Eels are tied for last, but this is close to the game of the round.
Verdict – Storm by 4
Result – Storm 20 defeated Eels 4
Penrith Panthers vs Newcastle Knights – Saturday afternoon – Panthers Stadium
The Panthers could, if they were serious, cement a top four position with a big win here. Playing football from the kick-off would help. While their comebacks are very entertaining it's not a strategy to take into a finals campaign. The Knights might be in 11th place, but their points differential is the worst in the NRL...and by a very wide margin. That tells you that when they win they don't win by much, and when they lose they lose by plenty. I suspect they lose this game by plenty. The absence of James Maloney just means the Panthers won't leak as many points as they usually do.
Verdict – Panthers by 28
Result – Knights 20 defeated Panthers 12
Wests Tigers vs St George Illawarra Dragons – Saturday night – Leichhardt Oval
This is a game where results earlier in the round can have a profound impact. The Tigers are two points behind the Broncos, and if the Broncos lose (likely) the Tigers can get their whiskers into the top eight with a win. For the Dragons, the three teams directly above them on the ladder will have already played, and all three are likely to win. That makes any hope of a top four finish for them less likely. If the Dragons aren't looking back they'll be looking forward, and the two teams directly below them on the ladder are likely to go past them if the Dragons lose. Sheesus McSneezus...where do they look? The Tigers at Leichhardt for the last time this season, while the Dragons appear to be in a death spiral. Stripey cats it is.
Verdict – Tigers by 8
Result – Dragons 20 defeated Tigers 10
Cronulla Sharks vs North Queensland Cowboys – Saturday night – Southern Cross Group Stadium
The Cowboys win over the Broncos last round must have felt almost like a grand final after what has been, I think, the Cowboys worst season in their history. I have doubts about them performing at that level again, particularly with Taumalolo unavailable. The Sharks can stay in the hunt for a top four berth with a win. Their last game at home was a loss to the Sea Eagles, but they won't be letting their fans down this time. Expect Valentine Holmes to have a big game against his next club :-)
Verdict – Sharks by 4
Result – Sharks 28 defeated Cowboys 16
Canterbury Bulldogs vs New Zealand Warriors – Sunday afternoon – ANZ Stadium
While a top four finish for the Warriors looks unlikely, they would love to get themselves into 5th or 6th and play their first final at home. I think they can, and they look like the only team outside the top four with the firepower to knock off the likely contenders. There's some suggestions that Tuivasa-Sheck is a smokey for the Dally M medal, but I think Issac Luke will steal too many points off him. They'll win this though...surely.
Verdict – Warriors by 14
Result – Bulldogs 27 defeated Warriors 26
Canberra Raiders vs Sydney Roosters – Sunday afternoon – GIO Stadium
Few of you would be surprised to hear that the Roosters have conceded less points than any other team this season, but a few more of you would be surprised to hear that the 10th placed Raiders have scored more points than any other team this season. Seven of their ten losses this season have been by four points or less – they've been close, a lot, but they don't win the close games. Heading into this game they've lost four in a row, and they're facing a team that have won five in a row. It's taken the Chooks 22 rounds to get to the top of the ladder. I doubt they'll lose top spot this weekend.
Verdict – Roosters by 8
Result – Raiders 14 defeated Roosters 12
Wally Lewis - round twenty-three selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
- Broncos vs RABBITOHS
- SEA EAGLES vs Titans
- STORM vs Eels
- PANTHERS vs Knights
- TIGERS vs Dragons
- SHARKS vs Cowboys
- Bulldogs vs WARRIORS
- Raiders vs ROOSTERS