Penrith Panthers vs Manly Sea Eagles – Thursday night – Panthers Stadium
Granted the Panthers won last week, but that game against the Eels is leading the pack to win the title of 'Worst Game of the Season". Parramatta did us all a favour by showing everyone how badly you have to play to lose to the Panthers. James Maloney is back from suspension but they lose Nathan Cleary. Fisher-Harris has to pass the concussion protocols, Dean Whare is in doubt and Waqa Blake is months away from a return. The Sea Eagles lose Jake Trbojevic but could gain Tom Trbojevic. Cherry-Evans is in camp with the Queenslanders but he hasn't been playing anyway. The Sea Eagles have lost two of their last three but their overall form has been at another level to the Panthers. Penrith, despite the win last round, are struggling to score points, and with their chief playmaker and architect in Origin camp I doubt they'll improve. Maloney could pull out one of those 'I have a point to prove' performances. He's done it plenty of times before and he could easily do it again. If he does, I'm wrong.
Verdict – Sea Eagles by 8
Result – Panthers 15 defeated Sea Eagles 12
Parramatta Eels vs South Sydney Rabbitohs – Friday night – BankWest Stadium
The Eels lost in one of the poorest performances I've seen in quite some time last week, and they face a team that stand alone at the top of the NRL ladder. But rugby league is funny, especially during the Origin period, and the Eels are a very warm favourite on Friday night. They're favourites because they don't lose a single player to Origin football and have a reasonably light list of injuries. Meanwhile the Rabbits lose four of their best personnel (Cook, Walker, Murray and Gagai) to Origin camp. Alex Johnston and Kyle Turner are still a few weeks away and Reynolds has to be some doubt given we all thought he broke his leg a week ago. That's quite a challenge for the Bunnies – and remember a decent chunk of their salary cap (GI) retired mid-season. Mind you, no coach would have more experience than Wayne Bennett at managing a depleted roster at this time of the year, and he still has three Burgess brothers and a Sutton in his pack of forwards. Ferguson is likely to shift back to the wing for the Eels after an unhappy night in the centres – he's a much more potent force out there and the Eels should use him at every opportunity against an understrength Rabbitohs backline (Moses with the kick out wide, Ferguson leaps high and scores). The Eels have lost three in a row and the Bunnies are 10 from 11, but rugby league is funny.
Verdict – Eels by 8
Result – Eels 26 defeated Rabbitohs 14
Canterbury Bulldogs vs Canberra Raiders – Saturday night – ANZ Stadium
Another game compromised by Origin duties, with Papalii, Wighton and Cotric out for the Raiders and Napa out for the Bulldogs. Complicating things for the Raiders is the thumb injury to Josh Hodgson. With Papalii and Hodgson out the Raiders are a very different forward pack and I think the Bulldogs can win that battle. Beyond that they just need the Bulldogs attack to fire – a challenge all season but this Bulldogs spine has been improving each and every week. Woof! Woof!
Verdict – Bulldogs by 2
Result – Raiders 12 defeated Bulldogs 10
Gold Coast Titans vs North Queensland Cowboys – Sunday afternoon – Cbus Super Stadium
The Cowboys have won three of their last four and it's no fluke that this little run of improved performances has coincided with the return of Jason Taumalolo. When the other JT signed that $10 million contract it raised a few eyebrows, but it could prove to be a great investment. That the Cowboys don't lose him to Origin duty is quite the blessing at this time of the year. The Cowboys do lose McGuire from their pack but Hess and Bolton look likely to return. Asiata and Clifford combine in the halves with Morgan unavailable, but they aren't inexperienced at this level. The Titans impressed with a big win over Manly at Brookvale but with Jai Arrow out I think the Cowboys pack will be hard to contain. Take note that the Cowboys run of improved performances I mentioned earlier started with a 28-14 win over the Titans. In a very short round this looks like the game of the round.
Verdict – Cowboys by 4
Result – Cowboys 6 defeated Titans 4
Wally Lewis - round twelve selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
- Panthers vs SEA EAGLES
- Eels vs RABBITOHS
- Bulldogs vs RAIDERS
- Titans vs COWBOYS