Brisbane Broncos vs Canterbury Bulldogs – Thursday night – Suncorp Stadium
The biggest concern for the Broncos this week is the scheduling – they've played five Thursday night games this season and lost them all. To counter that unnerving statistic somewhat, only two of those games were played at home, and they were close contests on both occasions. The Bulldogs are still dragging themselves away from the foot of the ladder, but you have to start taking them a little more seriously after back to back wins over top eight teams. This will be a contest I am sure, but the injuries to two key Bulldogs forwards (Aiden Tolman and Sauaso Sue) means I'm tipping the home team. The Broncos forward pack is so strong that two QLD Origin forwards can't make the starting thirteen.
Verdict – Broncos by 4
Result – Broncos 28 defeated Bulldogs 6
New Zealand Warriors vs Cronulla Sharks – Friday night – Westpac Stadium
I blame Andrew Johns – since he highlighted the Sharks as his premiership dark horse they haven't won a game. If they lose this the Warriors will be above them on the ladder. I'm tipping them to win here, primarily because Shaun Johnson is likely to have one of those memorable games he can extract from the ether from time to time. In that respect, he personifies his former team. Take note that his halves partner Chad Townsend also spent a few years at the Warriors not so long ago, so I'm expecting big games from both of them. Dugan is out with a hamstring issue but Moylan returns following his hamstring issue. Despite the run of losses I'm keen on the Sharks to atone, moreso because the Warriors have taken this home game away from Mt Smart.
Verdict – Sharks by 7
Result – Warriors 19 defeated Sharks 18
Penrith Panthers vs St George Illawarra Dragons – Friday night – Panthers Stadium
Six wins in a row for the Panthers so I probably should stop bagging them...a little. This run has coincided with the Origin series so I still have my doubts but at least they are in the top eight now, which is where this club should be. Those six wins have been built on good defence, with the Panthers conceding an average of around 13 points per game. Here is where the Dragons have a little problem, because their attack has struggled for much of the season. They have scored 20 or more points on just four occasions this season, and those games were against the Broncos (13th), an understrength Cowboys (10th) and the Bulldogs twice (15th). As I see it, the Dragons simply won't score enough points to win. Take note that Cleary is set to return in the halves with Maloney, making the task for the Dragons all the more difficult.
Verdict – Panthers by 10
Result – Panthers 40 defeated Dragons 18
Sydney Roosters vs Newcastle Knights – Saturday afternoon – Sydney Cricket Ground
The standout game this round, even though both sides lost in round 17 to teams in wooden spoon contention this season. There are key inclusions for both sides and a daytime schedule which usually lends itself to better football. Tedesco and Cordnor are back for the Chooks, and Waerea-Hargreaves is free to play. Ponga is back for the Knights, which gives their attack an entirely new level of awesome. In round 11 the Knights absolutely demolished the Chooks at home (38-12), and it was after that result that most started taking the Knights seriously. They were brilliant on that occasion, but it's worth noting that the Roosters rested Cooper Cronk, and Luke Keary went off with concussion in the 8th minute. The Roosters have racked up plenty of minor premierships in recent times, but that looks a bridge too far for them now. What they would like is a top two finish, so this run into the finals is pretty important given the pack of teams currently 2nd through 6th. I'm with the Chooks but not confidently so.
Verdict – Roosters by 1
Result – Roosters 48 defeated Knights 10
Canberra Raiders vs Wests Tigers – Saturday night – GIO Stadium
These sides met in round 13, only a few weeks ago really, and the Raiders won 28-0 away from home. Recent form would suggest little has changed since then. Last weekend the Raiders dismantled the Dragons despite having a player sent off, while the Tigers were disappointing against the Eels given the circumstances (NRL game number 300 for Benji Marshall). The Raiders should be aiming for a top two finish this season – that said, they have a few challenging games ahead of them so they need to be winning games like this.
Verdict – Raiders by 16
Result – Raiders 20 defeated Tigers 12
North Queensland Cowboys vs South Sydney Rabbitohs – Saturday night – 1300SMILES Stadium
It's rather odd to look at a Rabbitohs team list and not see the Burgess name at least once. The Bunnies pack is a fairly cobbled together bunch of what Wayne Bennett could find in the Play School useful box. That includes Ethan Lowe, who may not be on the best of terms with his former Cowboys team-mates it must be speculated. The Cowboys pack is pretty bloody good – it's so good that their interchange bench is Coen Hess, Matt Scott, Scott Bolton and Francis Molo. This pack is set to dominate and they're playing at home. I do worry about the Cowboys backline though, which is even more cobbled together than the Rabbitohs forwards. Morgan is on an extended bench, but given his recent concussions I think he's incredibly unlikely. The Cowboys got over the Chooks last weekend in a low scoring tussle and they may have to do that again here. They're the outsider, but a win here and the Cowboys can almost start thinking about the top eight again.
Verdict – Cowboys by 2
Result – Rabbitohs 30 defeated Cowboys 18
Gold Coast Titans vs Melbourne Storm – Sunday afternoon – Cbus Super Stadium
A few years ago I tipped the Titans to beat the Storm. At the risk of patting myself on the back too hard, I was the only person in the country that did so...and they won. It's arguably the greatest thing I have ever done (but, to be fair...I don't do a lot). Now I don't want anyone to think that I'm living in the past or that I'm taking the wrong medications...but I'm tipping them again. The Titans have punted the coach, which is a shame because Brennan seems like a good egg, but if he was part of the problem then the actual footballers get an opportunity here to actually prove it. The Storm are using this opportunity to rest a number of their key players...and it's quite a list – Munster, Chambers, Addo-Carr, Kaufusi and Welch. That the Storm are doing this should put a proverbial rocket up the Titans collective proverbials, and I think they'll fire up. The Storm are still bringing a very good team to the Coast, and they deserve to be favourites, but they have quite a gap on the team running second. Bellamy has started his pre-finals taper, and the Titans can reap the benefits.
Verdict – Titans by 4
Result – Storm 38 defeated Titans 18
Manly Sea Eagles vs Parramatta Eels – Sunday afternoon – Lottoland
If I knew Turbo Tom was going to be rested last round I probably wouldn't have tipped the Sea Eagles, but give me three 'ifs' and two 'buts' and I could win the Dally M this year. Manly nearly won without him (and actually scored more tries than the Bunnies), and they'll definitely have Turbo Tom on Sunday afternoon. The Sea Eagles have the luxury of naming what is close to their best seventeen, and it's a luxury they haven't had for much of this season. Meanwhile the Eels are naming the same seventeen that took care of the Tigers last weekend. I'm with the Sea Eagles because I have a man-crush on Turbo Tom, and they're at home, and their forwards are just bloody great I have to say. Looks a proper game of rugby league this one. Find a couch and make yourself comfortable.
Verdict – Sea Eagles by 4
Result – Sea Eagles 36 defeated Eels 24
Wally Lewis - round eighteen selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- BRONCOS vs Bulldogs
- Warriors vs SHARKS
- PANTHERS vs Dragons
- ROOSTERS vs Knights
- RAIDERS vs Tigers
- Cowboys vs RABBITOHS
- Titans vs STORM
- SEA EAGLES vs Eels