North Queensland Cowboys vs Brisbane Broncos – Thursday night – 1300SMILES Stadium
One thing these sides have in common, beyond a disappointing 2019 season, is back-rowers playing in the centres. Coen Hess retains his spot on the edge for the Cowboys and Alex Glenn gets the job of keeping Hess in check. Neither side is short of class in the forwards to be sure. It's those backlines, for both clubs, that are a patchwork job of cobbled together bits and pieces they could find on Gumtree and between the cushions on the couch. That's the reason, in both cases, these sides find themselves outside the top eight. The Cowboys have a fair run home and could easily win four of their last five matches – they could even win them all, especially if the Storm are so far in front of the competition come round 25 they rest half their team. Four wins takes them to 24 points, and right now 6th place is on that mark. So if they put it all together, I still can't see them getting there, and I can't see how they can put it all together anyway. The Broncos run home isn't bad either. They're close enough to get there and have a team that could do it. The Storm gave them a belting last round, but they often do, and the Broncos did stick with them for a fair chunk of the first half. This is easier, and they'll want it more.
Verdict – Broncos by 4
Result – Broncos 18 defeated Cowboys 14
New Zealand Warriors vs Manly Sea Eagles – Friday night – Mt Smart Stadium
The Warriors threw the towel in last Friday night, and coach Kearney kicked it right back in their face. He didn't have much of a kicking game as a back-row forward but he didn't miss last weekend. The Warriors have now lost six in a row at Mt Smart, and their last five games this season are against Manly, Roosters, Sharks, Rabbitohs and the Raiders. It's over.
Verdict – Sea Eagles by 16
Result – Warriors 24 defeated Sea Eagles 16
Penrith Panthers vs Cronulla Sharks – Friday night – Panthers Stadium
Seventh plays seventh and these are the sort of games you really want to be winning when you're in the battle for a top eight finish. These sides met in round 6 where the Sharks ran down the Panthers in the second half after trailing by 20-6. Matt Moylan is unavailable (but he wasn't in round six either) and James Maloney gets a week off through suspension. The absence of Maloney is the swing factor here, because the Panthers are struggling to find a suitable replacement in their roster. The Panthers scored just 8 points against the Bulldogs so it's a big ask for a new playmaker against a team that appears to have found their mojo again. The return of Wade Graham made an enormous difference, and the rest of the team seem to respond to his presence.
Verdict – Sharks by 4
Result – Panthers 26 defeated Sharks 20
St George Illawarra Dragons vs Gold Coast Titans – Saturday afternoon – Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
14th plays 16th and while the Dragons are unlikely to run last this season, winning this game just about makes sure that they won't. That Titans loss to the Roosters looked a like a team that has given up. If they have, we could have a similar scoreline here.
Verdict – Dragons by 30
Result – Dragons 40 defeated Titans 28
Parramatta Eels vs Newcastle Knights – Saturday night – Bankwest Stadium
Knights coach Nathan Brown has named an unchanged line-up from the seventeen that lost to Manly last week. He must have seen something I couldn't see, or perhaps he's run out of options. What looked like a promising 2019 campaigned has unravelled completely with five straight losses. Two of those losses were against propert NRL teams and they were beaten by hefty margins, while the three losses at home were to sides they should be beating. Two of those teams (Warriors and Tigers) were beaten by the Eels in recent weeks. The Eels are a better team when Blake Ferguson isn't infected, but I think they'll win regardless.
Verdict – Eels by 8
Result – Eels 20 defeated Knights 14
Canterbury Bulldogs vs Wests Tigers – Saturday night – ANZ Stadium
The Bulldogs reminded everyone that they shouldn't be taken lightly as an opponent, which could be a problem for them here. That win over the Panthers just reminds the Tigers to turn up for the contest. They're clinging to 8th spot as things stand so this an important game to win (particularly with the two teams above them on the ladder playing each other). The only time the Bulldogs won successive games this season was when they had a bye round in between. This isn't beyond them by any means, but I can't tip them.
Verdict – Tigers by 4
Result – Bulldogs 18 defeated Tigers 16
Canberra Raiders vs Sydney Roosters – Sunday afternoon – GIO Stadium
Two fabulous games of footy on Sunday afternoon but this is the pick of them. Both teams were dominant winners last start but the Raiders win over the Warriors in New Zealand is probably better form than the Roosters win over the Titans in Sydney. These sides met in magic round earlier this season but it's hard to gauge the form from that. The Roosters racked up 30 points by the 42nd minute. The Raiders finished strong to lose by six but the Chooks lost Cordnor, Mitchell and Tupou before halftime. The Raiders get the nod from me because they have a few additions for this game (Sezar, Bateman, Tapine) that didn't play when last they met. That Raiders pack can do the job at home, particularly with Cordnor and Taukeiaho unavailable for the tricolours. The Raiders defence has been great this season. The Roosters attack has been great this season. What a game.
Verdict – Raiders by 2
Result – Roosters 22 defeated Raiders 18
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Melbourne Storm – Sunday afternoon – Central Coast Stadium
If things go to plan the Rabbitohs will drop out of the top four this weekend for the first time all season. Sam Burgess gets a reprieve at the judiciary so he laces on the boots – I'm sure the Storm will have a plan to give him as much niggle as they can and hope he does something silly. I'm sure Wayne Bennett hopes that he doesn't. On the back of that dominant performance against the Broncos I have to tip the Storm. This team just knows how to win. Their biggest loss all season was by 2 points, and their only other losses this year were both in golden point extra time. It's hard to tip against them.
Verdict – Storm by 8
Result – Storm 26 defeated Rabbitohs 16
Wally Lewis - round twenty-one selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- Cowboys vs BRONCOS
- Warriors vs SEA EAGLES
- Panthers vs SHARKS
- DRAGONS vs Titans
- EELS vs Knights
- Bulldogs vs TIGERS
- Raiders vs ROOSTERS
- Rabbitohs vs STORM