Penrith Panthers vs Gold Coast Titans – Friday night – Panthers Stadium
With the Titans out of finals contention already, they are essentially playing for pride (and wooden spoon avoidance). They are much more likely to be proud at home in front of the fans that have stuck solid through a very dry spell. The Panthers, despite being fairly awful all season, have slowly crept their way up the ladder. Their wins have come during the Origin period where depth and youth has been a considerable advantage. I doubt them at the business end of the season when all the big guns are gearing up for the serious stuff, but they should be winning this. Note that Cleary has been named on an extended bench and is a possible (albeit unlikely) late inclusion.
Verdict – Panthers by 8
Result – Panthers 24 defeated Titans 2
Newcastle Knights vs Canterbury Bulldogs – Friday night – McDonald Jones Stadium
The Knights, a proper top eight team for the first time in many a year, have won 7 of their last 9. Their only losses during this run were to the appearingly unstoppable Storm and a last start loss to the Warriors. The Knights were under-strength against the Warriors and almost won anyway. Also note that one of those seven wins was against the Bulldogs during magic round in Brisbane. They return to their spiritual home and another bumper crowd and you would expect them to win again. Several of their players have to back up from Origin duty, but backing up hurts less when you win, and three quarters of the Knights won on Wednesday night. The Bulldogs will be desperate to drag themselves out of wooden spoon position. They proved with their win over the Sharks that they can do it, but this looks a stretch.
Verdict – Knights by 10
Result – Bulldogs 20 defeated Knights 14
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Manly Sea Eagles – Saturday afternoon – ANZ Stadium
The Sea Eagles haven't lost a game for more than a month, and during that period the Rabbitohs haven't won a game. Granted the Rabbits have faced slightly sterner opposition, but Manly have won two games interstate during that time. The Rabbitohs strength is in their forwards, particularly with their best Burgess brother set to return, but Manly have held their own against some pretty decent packs of forwards in recent weeks (Cowboys and Dragons). The other issue for the Bunnies is their attack isn't firing right now, while Manly have scored 30+ points two weeks in a row. The red and green are a warm favourite, but I'm with Manly in a bit of an upset.
Verdict – Sea Eagles by 1
Result – Rabbitohs 21 defeated Sea Eagles 20
Brisbane Broncos vs New Zealand Warriors – Saturday night – Suncorp Stadium
Like clockwork the Broncos find a way to win as soon as I put the boot into them...their coach must wish I did it every week. In fact, I put the boot into both these teams last weekend and they both won. I'm a wizard. Given the circumstances you would have to say the Broncos victory was the more impressive of the two, and they welcome back most or all of their Origin players on Saturday night. They also welcome back Anthony Milford and they're at home. That's quite a few positives against a team that are hard to be positive about. The Warriors usually get their fair share of support at Suncorp but I'll, rather tentatively, tip the Broncos at home.
Verdict – Broncos by 4
Result – Broncos 18 drew with Warriors 18
Melbourne Storm vs Cronulla Sharks – Saturday night – AAMI Park
The 300 club is still a pretty small group in the NRL. It's a proper milestone. Cameron Smith is about to play his 400th. He plays in one of the busiest positions on the field, plays 80 minutes, makes more tackles than most, and does the goal kicking. He's also racked up more Origin games and International appearances than just about everyone too. Whatever you might think of the bloke, and some don't think much of him, it's an extraordinary achievement. The Storm are absolute rippers at getting up for important games. I can't imagine they would stuff this one up.
Verdict – Storm by 10
Result – Storm 40 defeated Sharks 16
Sydney Roosters vs North Queensland Cowboys – Sunday afternoon – Central Coast Stadium
If Luke Keary can stay fit and well, and that's a genuine question mark right now, the Roosters will probably win back to back premierships in 2019. That's how good he is, and that's how much better the Chooks are when Keary is in the halves. Jake Friend is likely to return this Sunday, with Radley back to lock. The Cowboys meanwhile, are making up the numbers in what has been a very disappointing season. They'll avoid the spoon, but as season highlights go that's a pretty low bar.
Verdict – Roosters by 14
Result – Cowboys 15 defeated Roosters 12
Wests Tigers vs Parramatta Eels – Sunday afternoon – Bankwest Stadium
It doesn't matter how long I spend assessing this contest, I will keep returning to one key thought. When these sides met at this venue earlier in the year the Eels won 51-6. I'm sure I tipped the Tigers in that game...and I shan't be doing that again.
Verdict – Eels by 8
Result – Eels 30 defeated Tigers 18
St George Illawarra Dragons vs Canberra Raiders – Sunday night – WIN Stadium
The Dragons have named Norman in the halves and their other three Origin players on an extended bench so keep your eyes peeled for team changes. Note that James Graham has also been listed on that bench but I wouldn't have thought he'd be ready. The Raiders meanwhile, have named Papalii and Wighton in their starting thirteen. I'm pretty keen on the Raiders on a cool Sunday night at the Gong. Ricky Stuart didn't hold back with his criticism after their loss to the Eels. They should be nice and fresh after the bye and are about to commence a run of winable games that should see them shore up a top eight finish should everything go to script.
Verdict – Raiders by 4
Result – Raiders 36 defeated Dragons 14
Wally Lewis - round seventeen selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- PANTHERS vs Titans
- KNIGHTS vs Bulldogs
- RABBITOHS vs Sea Eagles
- BRONCOS vs Warriors
- STORM vs Sharks
- ROOSTERS vs Cowboys
- TIGERS vs Eels
- Dragons vs RAIDERS