Gold Coast Titans vs Cronulla Sharks – Thursday night – Suncorp Stadium
A home game for the Titans...almost. There could be as many Sharks fans at Suncorp on Thursday night. The weather gods have been kind in Brisbane with warm days and dry nights so let's hope the surface handles eight games in four days. The Titans have named Michael Gordon and Tyrone Roberts but both have to pass concussion tests. Dale Copley may replace Phillip Sami but he may not be ready to go just yet. Matt Moylan won't be back this week so Josh Dugan gets another chance to enjoy the number one jersey. Wade Graham is probably another week away for now. Two of the better forwards packs going around here and while both teams are dealing with line-up issues in the backline the Sharks look slightly more settled on that front. A win over the Melbourne Storm last week isn't a bad form reference either.
Verdict – Sharks by 4
Result – Sharks 26 defeated Titans 18
Wests Tigers vs Penrith Panthers – Friday night – Suncorp Stadium
Team changes for the Titans and Sharks pale into insignificance when compared with the Penrith Panthers who have lost Kikau, Maloney, Watene-Zelezniak (Malikai), Yeo for the Ye(o)ar and Gould for forever. Coach Cleary has so much on his mind he'll just about forget that he's taking on his old club. This week he is calling on a whole bunch of kids to come into first grade for the big Brissie weekend. It's a big ask, but if there's one thing Penrith have it's plenty of talented young kids. On Friday night they face the wily old stagers Farah and Marshall, and a Tigers side who beat the Broncos at this venue not so long ago. It's a cat fight...but the Tigers will get the points.
Verdict – Tigers by 8
Result – Tigers 30 defeated Panthers 4
Manly Sea Eagles vs Brisbane Broncos – Friday night – Suncorp Stadium
It's not often The Thinker has a news scoop before the rest of the rugby league world but I do today. Just a couple of hours ago I walked past Andrew McCullough on his way to his car...on crutches and wearing a brace on his knee. He's out. But that's okay because Kodi Nikorima can slot straight into the number nine jersey. Wait! What? Oh dear. So the Broncos, struggling on every front, will have an inexperienced nine and seven on Friday night. On top of that, Roberts and Isaako will be playing in the reserves. Isaako has been down on confidence but his goal kicking will be missed, but that's okay because Kodi Nikorima can step right up and take on the goal kicking duties. Wait! What? Oh dear.
Verdict – Sea Eagles by 4
Result – Broncos 26 defeated Sea Eagles 10
Canterbury Bulldogs vs Newcastle Knights – Saturday afternoon – Suncorp Stadium
In the last two weeks something has clicked for the Knights. Through the first six rounds they were scoring between 10 and 18 points at every outing. Since then they've racked up 28 points over the high-flying Eels and 36 points over the Warriors in New Zealand. So what's changed? Part of the solution was Ponga moving back to the fullback role, but the rocket strategically placed under Mitchell Pearce two weeks ago seems to have made quite the difference too. Nick Meaney joined the Bulldogs when Ponga signed with the Knights, knowing that his opportunities at fullback for the Knights would be few and far between. He's pretty good, but Ponga is next level. Klemmer takes on his former kennel mates for the first time – that should add some spice in the middle.
Verdict – Knights by 8
Result – Knights 22 defeated Bulldogs 10
New Zealand Warriors vs St George Illawarra Dragons – Saturday night – Suncorp Stadium
Kodi Nikorima slots straight into the halves for the Warriors – note he was halfback for the Broncos and he's five-eighth for the Warriors...if it matters. Whether he can improve the fortunes of the Warriors is yet to be seen, but it can't hurt that he's playing at Suncorp (and technically playing for the home team so it's the same locker room). That second half fade-out by the Dragons against the Eels worries me, because the Dragons have made a habit in recent years of fading out in the second half of the season. That Corey Norman is out for some time with a cheekbone injury worries me even more. I'll take the Warriors in what I'm assuming would be something of an upset. Watch for those magic feet of Tuivasa-Sheck on a nice dry paddock on Saturday night.
Verdict – Warriors by 4
Result – Warriors 26 defeated Dragons 18
Melbourne Storm vs Parramatta Eels – Saturday night – Suncorp Stadium
Bellamy stripped a few layers of skin off most of his players last weekend. He made it very clear he would have to drop players if they don't perform, then he picked the same seventeen again anyway. Regardless I doubt the Storm seventeen would take the threat likely. The Eels have been one of the genuine surprise packets this season and they'll make a game of this. Gutherson probably isn't the best player at the Eels but he fair dinkum might be the most important. His contributions in attack (and his ability to read the best time to contribute) has been first class. Why the Eels haven't extended his contract is a mystery to me. If they aren't careful Craig Bellamy will snap him up. It's not the game of the round but it's not far from it. Purple...but only just.
Verdict – Storm by 1
Result – Storm 64 defeated Eels 10
Sydney Roosters vs Canberra Raiders – Sunday afternoon – Suncorp Stadium
This is the reason the Storm vs Eels isn't the game of the round. First plays third at a neutral venue, and not only are both sides winning but they are both playing an attractive style of football. Mitchell did more with 7 or 8 touches last week than many centres can do in a season. To think he is just 21 years old and his best football is still years away. For a while the comparisons to Inglis seemed premature. Perhaps they still are, but I'm keen to watch him grow. John Bateman is out for some time for the Raiders so their pack is a little less ominous, but Jordan Rapana returns on the wing and he has enough size to lend a hand from time to time with the hard stuff. I have to tip the Chooks but what a game...and a Sunday afternoon timeslot to boot.
Verdict – Roosters by 4
Result – Roosters 30 defeated Raiders 24
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs North Queensland Cowboys – Sunday afternoon – Suncorp Stadium
It was nice to see the Cowboys finally cobble together a win last weekend, it was nice to see Taumalolo make a successful return from injury, and it was nice to see John Asiata playing in the halves again. That's a lot of nice, but nice doesn't win you football games, not against the very good sides at least. Wayne Bennett brings his Bunnies to a venue he's very familiar with, and he gets the home team dressing room too.
Verdict – Rabbitohs by 8
Result – Rabbitohs 32 defeated Cowboys 16
Wally Lewis - round nine selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
- Titans vs SHARKS
- TIGERS vs Panthers
- Sea Eagles vs BRONCOS
- Bulldogs vs KNIGHTS
- Warriors vs DRAGONS
- STORM vs Eels
- ROOSTERS vs Raiders
- RABBITOHS vs Cowboys