Parramatta Eels vs Canterbury Bulldogs – Thursday night – Bankwest Stadium
What I said about the Bulldogs last week (and the weeks prior) still holds. They're winning games on the back of water-tight defence, and keeping a top four team tryless for 80 minutes is worthy of platitudes. Note that the Eels have conceded just 30 points in their last three games too, so we have two well-drilled defensive units on display on Thursday night. I keep tipping against the Bulldogs and I'm not alone. If they win again I wouldn't be surprised but I'm with the Eels for a raft of reasons:
- a top four finish is well and truly alive
- their record at Bankwest is hard to knock
- their victory over the Bulldogs in round two was comprehensive and away from home
Whatever the result, having two competitive teams in Sydney's golden west is good for the game. Should be a fair crowd by Thursday night standards.
Verdict – Eels by 4
Result – Bulldogs 12 defeated Eels 6
North Queensland Cowboys vs Penrith Panthers – Friday night – 1300SMILES Stadium
The Cowboys could rally together and win a game for retiring monolith Matt Scott, but my gut feel is they might do that next week in their last home game of the season. Taumalolo has been named on an extended bench but I usually interpret that to mean he isn't quite ready. With that in mind, and with what the Knights did to the Cowboys without JT last weekend, I have to tip the Panthers. A top eight finish is still a possibility...barely.
Verdict – Panthers by 10
Result – Cowboys 24 defeated Panthers 10
Brisbane Broncos vs South Sydney Rabbitohs – Friday night – Suncorp Stadium
I had a beer with Anthony Siebold and Allan Langer last Saturday. When I say 'had a beer' what I mean is I loitered nearby while they had a beer. Why would either of those blokes want anything to do with a mug like me? Anyhoo they seemed in good spirits, especially after Siebold tipped Alfie into a winner at Eagle Farm. A bit of chat in the lead up to this game has added some extra spice. We may see some of that spill onto the field, particularly if Sam Burgess can get himself fit in time. If he doesn't, the Rabbits pack could struggle, particularly with brother Tom unavailable. The Broncos lose Pangai Jnr for this and probably the rest of their season, but Matt Gillett and Alex Glenn return just in time. The suspension of Jake Turpin might be harder to overcome, so the Broncos need Boyd to deliver alongside O'Sullivan in the halves. When these sides last met the Rabbitohs won in an absolute canter, but it's hard to believe it's the same team that couldn't score a try against the Bulldogs last weekend. The Bunnies are slight favourites but I'll tip the home side in front of what should be a sizeable crowd.
Verdict – Broncos by 4
Result – Rabbitohs 22 defeated Broncos 20
Cronulla Sharks vs New Zealand Warriors – Saturday afternoon – PointsBet Stadium
Apparently the Warriors are still a chance of making the finals – it must take some particularly special form of mathematical wizardry to get them there. Any loss and it's over...if it isn't already. It was fleeting but Moylan and Dugan both played last start, which means they actually had four good hamstrings to share for a change. It was short-lived with Moylan succumbing to, you guessed it, a hamstring issue. Dugan back to fullback this weekend, hamstrings permitting. I say the best form of revenge is to live your life well, and Shaun Johnson gets to exact some revenge on the team that punted him by putting the Warriors finals hopes to the sword. I've been saying the Warriors season is over for a while now. I'll be right eventually.
Verdict – Sharks by 8
Result – Sharks 42 defeated Warriors 16
Wests Tigers vs Newcastle Knights – Saturday night – Campbelltown Stadium
The winner here keeps their finals hope alive while the loser plans their holidays. As such, this becomes one of the most important games this round. These sides met less than a month ago in Newcastle, where the Tigers prevailed 28-26. This games moves to Campbelltown which aids the Tigers cause, but they head into a must win game with two of their wisest, steadiest heads (Farah and Mbye) on the sidelines. The Tigers lost their second string dummy half last week, so they've dragged Josh Reynolds out from wherever they've been hiding him for another run. I'm sure he'll relish the opportunity but it's a big ask. Ponga and Pearce were back to their best last weekend and they'll be hard to contain if they repeat that performance. Take note the news regarding Nathan Brown too – it's amazing how often teams respond positively to such things.
Verdict – Knights by 4
Result – Tigers 46 defeated Knights 4
St George Illawarra Dragons vs Sydney Roosters – Saturday night – Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
The Chooks have won five in a row and have scored 190 points (averaging 38 per game) in the process. It's been an age since a team won back-to-back premierships but they look likely don't they? The Dragons just don't have enough points in them to make this a contest. Sure they scored 40 points against the Titans, but this is a proper football team they're up against here. Taukeiaho returns from injury to make the tricolours even more formidable. We are the Roosters...the red, white and bluesters.
Verdict – Roosters by 16
Result – Roosters 34 defeated Dragons 12
Melbourne Storm vs Gold Coast Titans – Sunday afternoon – AAMI Park
You'll notice I'm languishing on the tipping ladder this season. Don't worry, I noticed too. It's partly because some of you people are freaking geniuses, and it's also partly because I've made some pretty dud calls this season. One of the biggest was tipping the Titans to beat the Storm earlier this season. The Storm rested five Origin players and they still beat the Titans on the Gold Coast 38-18. Given that result, what will the purple machine do back in Melbourne with all their Origin players available? Do rugby league scoreboards have space for triple figures?
Verdict – Storm by 68 (not a typo)
Canberra Raiders vs Manly Sea Eagles – Sunday afternoon – GIO Stadium
For the third week in a row the Raiders give us the game of the round. After a very competitive loss to the Chooks they came from behind to run down the Storm in Melbourne. That's the two best teams in the NRL so form doesn't get much better than that. The weather looks pretty good on Sunday (for Canberra) so there'll be no shortage of vikings in the stands. Manly have struggled somewhat away from Brookvale this season (winning five from eleven) but one of those wins was against the Storm. The Raiders are a warm favourite here, and should be, but I'll tip the visitors in an upset. Manly beat the Raiders earlier this season at Brookvale and they won that game without Tommy Turbo and Addin Fonua-Blake. What a game though, and thank heavens it gets the free-to-air Sunday afternoon timeslot.
Verdict – Sea Eagles by 1
Wally Lewis - round twenty three selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- EELS vs Bulldogs
- Cowboys vs PANTHERS
- Broncos vs RABBITOHS
- SHARKS vs Warriors
- Tigers vs KNIGHTS
- Dragons vs ROOSTERS
- STORM vs Titans
- RAIDERS vs Sea Eagles