South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Sydney Roosters – Thursday night – ANZ Stadium
It's still the biggest rivalry in the game (at club level), so it's nice to see them square off before the finals, in case they don't square off again. Second plays fourth and it's unlikely the result here will change the final finishing order – the Roosters will remain second no matter what while there's a slim chance the Bunnies could slip to fifth. The Chooks welcome back Cordnor and Cronk here – handy inclusions to be sure, although it's worth watching for late team changes in this round. Taukeiaho is out with a rib injury, while Kyle Turner (quadricep) is the only change for the Bunnies. While it looks like there's little to play for here, the rivalry between these two sides means we're likely to have a finals-like level of effort and passion one week early. I like that. I like that very much. The Bunnies are outsiders but I'm tipping them here – they have a little more to play for and those attacking combinations involving Cook, Murray and Walker are going to give plenty of finals opponents headaches in the weeks ahead. Not quite the game of the round given the circumstances, but it's a must-watch contest nonetheless.
Verdict – Rabbitohs by 2
Result – Rabbitohs 16 defeated Roosters 10
Parramatta Eels vs Manly Sea Eagles – Friday night – Bankwest Stadium
Fifth plays sixth and again, perhaps not a lot to play for here. Manly could potentially sneak into the top four with a big win (should the Rabbitohs lose), but otherwise both sides are guaranteed a home final next weekend. The big news leading into this game is the season-ending injury to Tommy Turbo. While we can only applaud the performances of Manly earlier this season when he wasn't available he's a massive out for a finals campaign against the best teams in the competition. The Eels are one of the better teams in the competition, but after back-to-back losses to the Bulldogs and the Broncos you would expect them to be desperate to find some winning form. With that in mind, and with an enviable record at this ground, I'm with the Eels.
Verdict – Eels by 4
Result – Eels 32 defeated Sea Eagles 16
Melbourne Storm vs North Queensland Cowboys – Friday night – AAMI Park
I've had two NRL bets this season (gamble responsibly). Now my first bet this season (Broncos to win the premiership) is looking pretty ordinary right now, so take this second bet with a grain of salt. At $5.50, I'm backing the Cowboys to knock off the Storm in Melbourne on Friday night. It's madness of course, because I think the Storm have taught me a royal purple lesson all season on the rare occasions I have tipped against them, but here I am doing it again. Clearly I am a sucker for punishment. The Storm are resting Munster, Addo-Carr and the less important (but still altogether useful) Smith (Brandon). It wouldn't completely surprise me if the more important Smith (Cameron) gets a rest too, and there could be other changes in the forwards as well. But that's wild speculation isn't it? What we do know is that the Storm don't have any real reason to give their best here, other than a win in front of their fans before they lift the JJ Giltenan Shield. Is that enough? It probably is, but I'll take them on anyway. Madness.
Verdict – Cowboys by 2
Result – Storm 24 defeated Cowboys 16
Canberra Raiders vs New Zealand Warriors – Saturday afternoon – GIO Stadium
The Raiders would slip to fourth if they lose here and the Rabbitohs win, but that doesn't seem to worry Ricky Stuart too much. He's resting Nicoll-Klokstad, Rapana, Soliola and Bateman before the finals. Perhaps the Raiders would rather play the Storm in Melbourne than the Roosters in Sydney. Regardless, the Canberra faithful will turn up in numbers for another afternoon of viking mischief. The Warriors are resting injured players with Harris-Tevita, Hiku and Herbert finishing their season one week early. I suspect many of their team-mates wish they could join them.
Verdict – Raiders by 8
Result – Warriors 24 defeated Raiders 20
Canterbury Bulldogs vs Brisbane Broncos – Saturday night – ANZ Stadium
While it looks like the Broncos are playing finals football this year there is a slight possibility that they don't. If they lose this game and the Tigers and Sharks game ends in a draw the Broncos slip to 9th. The Broncos are the only team in the top ten with a negative points differential, which would imply their wins have been by narrower margins than their losses. The Bulldogs have given their fans something to look forward to with improved performances at the back end of the season, but their inability to score points remains a problem.
Verdict – Broncos by 8
Result – Bulldogs 30 defeated Broncos 14
Gold Coast Titans vs St George Illawarra Dragons – Saturday night – Cbus Super Stadium
15th plays 16th and it's a shame we don't have a battle for the wooden spoon on our hands. What we do have is a Titans team hoping to give whoever bothers to turn up to watch them on Saturday night a reason to cheer, and a Dragons team hoping to prove they're a lot better than the team that ran last. It's hard to make a compelling argument for either side, but the Dragons have lost their most competitive player (McInnes) to a broken leg, while the Titans have a chance to give one of their most popular players (Michael Gordon) a win in his last ever game. Titans it is.
Verdict – Titans by 2
Result – Dragons 24 defeated Titans 16
Wests Tigers vs Cronulla Sharks – Sunday afternoon – Leichhardt Oval
The winner plays finals football so it's the game of the round, and it's not the free-to-air game on the Wide World of Sports (Thinker shakes head). Let's hope the weather plays nice in Sydney on Sunday afternoon and this beautiful suburban ground gets to show itself off. Robbie Farah is running freely at training despite breaking his leg not so long ago. He's been named in the reserves along with Moses Mybe, so watch for late team changes going into this game. For those that missed it, the Sharks would have finished in third place this year if the NRL didn't have conversions. Ouch! Shaun Johnson is back after hurting himself in the warm-up last weekend. His absence was probably the difference between winning and losing last weekend. The challenge for the Sharks is to pick themselves up after a shattering loss, and defeat a team who finished with plenty of momentum last weekend. No-one expected Robbie Farah to be playing here, but if he does, look out Sharks.
Verdict – Tigers by 2
Result – Sharks 25 defeated Tigers 8
Penrith Panthers vs Newcastle Knights – Sunday afternoon – Panthers Stadium
I'm not sure if the presence of Gus Gould and Joey Johns at Channel Nine has played a part, but it's a shame the last game of the regular season is a meaningless fixture between 10th and 11th. I'm tipping the Panthers at home, because James Maloney is a competitive buggar and he'd like to win before he heads to the Super League in the UK. But who cares really?
Verdict – Panthers by 1
Result – Panthers 54 defeated Knights 10
Wally Lewis - round twenty five selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- Rabbitohs vs ROOSTERS
- EELS vs Sea Eagles
- STORM vs Cowboys
- RAIDERS vs Warriors
- Bulldogs vs BRONCOS
- Titans vs DRAGONS
- Tigers vs SHARKS
- PANTHERS vs Knights