North Queensland Cowboys vs Brisbane Broncos – Thursday night – 1300SMILES Stadium
If the NRL had a reliable time machine they would go back to the start of the season and schedule this match for round 25 – this game looks a much more suitable finale for Jonathan Thurston. Sadly, funds were diverted away from the time machine project to build the bunker, so here we are. To be fair, few would have expected the Cowboys to miss the top eight this season, let alone be in a fight to avoid the wooden spoon. What a disappointing season it has been. The Broncos are all over the shop in 2018, which is unusual for a team that prides itself on the consistency of its performances. Sam Thaiday joins the elite '300 club' on Thursday night – he's member number 33 and one of just 15 to reach the milestone with one club. Any team would be a better team for having Thaiday in their squad...congratulations to you sir. Recent contests between these sides have been some of the best NRL games you could wish to see. Let's hope both sides lift their standards and give us a game to remember. I'm tipping the Broncos – they've had some extra time to prepare and we all saw how well they bounced back after their dismal showing against the Warriors.
Verdict – Broncos by 4
Result – Cowboys 34 defeated Broncos 30
New Zealand Warriors vs Newcastle Knights – Friday night – Mt Smart Stadium
The Knights find themselves in that dead zone on the ladder – they can't make the finals and they won't be winning the wooden spoon. Given the results in recent seasons, avoiding the wooden spoon would be quite the relief. This is the first of three successive away games after a long run of games at home. My instincts tell me they won't be as competitive playing away from their ever-faithful fans in Newcastle. Mind you, the Warriors are getting all inconsistent again just as the competition gets serious. They were flogged by the Panthers, then they flogged the Broncos. After that they competed with the Storm, and then they were flogged by the Titans. To borrow from Forrest Gump – they're like a box of chocolates. Unless they are the quince log on Friday night they should be tasty enough to win this.
Verdict – Warriors by 14
Result – Warriors 20 defeated Knights 4
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Sydney Roosters – Friday night – ANZ Stadium
I don't have to tell any of you this is the game of the round. After a couple of flat performances from the Bunnies they pulled out all stops against the table-topping Storm, and in doing so moved into the top spot on the ladder (funnily enough, that was the only change the NRL ladder after round 21...first and second swapping places). The most remarkable thing about the Rabbitohs performance was that they were down 16-6. We've seen plenty of comebacks in the NRL this season, but the Storm are the best in business at defending a lead. That Bunnies left edge is a joy to watch, and they'll be adding Greg Inglis to that left edge in the weeks ahead. I'm tipping them here even though I'm an old chook myself. The Bunnies beat the Chooks convincingly in round 6, and while the Roosters have improved since then they're an easier team to defend without Luke Keary in the halves. What a game. Get there.
Verdict – Rabbitohs by 4
Result – Roosters 18 defeated Rabbitohs 14
Gold Coast Titans vs Penrith Panthers – Saturday afternoon – Cbus Super Stadium
Didn't this game get a whole lot more interesting all of a sudden? Thanks Gus. Cameron Ciraldo takes the reins at Penrith (for now) and we should get a real feel for just how much the Panthers players didn't like what the coach was doing. There's a part of me that hopes the Titans win by 40, and if they did I could just sit and watch Gus throughout. It's not likely though.
Verdict – Panthers by 16
Result – Panthers 17 defeated Titans 16
Manly Sea Eagles vs Canterbury Bulldogs – Saturday night – McGrath Foundation Stadium
Last week we were reminded that no-one wants a wooden spoon. Teams currently in 13th, 14th and 16th all won, and the team running 15th competed against the current premiership favourite. Two of those teams play each other here, and the team that wins all but guarantees that the wooden spoon has been dodged. Manly have (proudly) never won a spoon. The Dogs have surprised me with their recent performances, but Manly just look like the better team and I'll tip them at home.
Verdict – Sea Eagles by 2
Result – Sea Eagles 18 defeated Bulldogs 6
Parramatta Eels vs St George Illawarra Dragons – Saturday night – ANZ Stadium
The Dragons have won just one from their last five outings, against the Cowboys in round 19. Their last win prior to that was over the Eels, and they only just got there. I'm tipping them regardless, as I feel their losses against the Chooks and the Warriors were (at least) competitive. Am I confident? Not remotely.
Verdict – Dragons by 1
Result – Eels 40 defeated Dragons 4
Canberra Raiders vs Wests Tigers – Sunday afternoon – GIO Stadium
Many teams have struggled to break through the Tigers defence this season, but the Raiders aren't one of them. In round 15 the green machine was firing on all cylinders, racking up 9 tries and falling just short of the half century. Daytime conditions, and the return to Canberra, leave me thinking they'll be putting on another big show. An upset of sorts, but:
Verdict – Raiders by 8
Result – Tigers 24 defeated Raiders 22
Melbourne Storm vs Cronulla Sharks – Sunday afternoon – AAMI Park
It's a niggly Sunday afternoon, with both sides coming off losses and desperate to atone. Keep an eye out for late team changes – if the Storm rest Cameron Smith just about everyone will be tipping the Sharks. As I tend to do I'll stick with the purple machine for now. That loss to the Rabbitohs was a high quality game, while the Sharks loss to the Sea Eagles was pretty crappy. The Sharks beat the Storm earlier this season, but (assuming Smith plays) not this time.
Verdict – Storm by 1
Result – Sharks 17 defeated Storm 14
Wally Lewis - round twenty-two selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
- COWBOYS vs Broncos
- WARRIORS vs Knights
- Rabbitohs vs ROOSTERS
- Titans vs PANTHERS
- SEA EAGLES vs Bulldogs
- Eels vs DRAGONS
- RAIDERS vs Tigers
- STORM vs Sharks