Manly Sea Eagles vs Wests Tigers – Thursday night – Lottoland
An unusually sub-par performance from the Sea Eagles last start across the ditch. A return to what we have come to expect from them this season seems likely, although it's worth keeping an eye on the team list just in case Cherry-Evans is a late withdrawal. The Tigers finals campaign took quite the blow with their loss to the Bulldogs, and the official will have to give the team a standing eight count given the injuries to Robbie Farah and Moses Mbye. Luke Garner has been suspended too, so that Tigers forward pack has quite a challenge on its hand standing up to those Manly forwards at Brookvale. Tigers...on the ropes and looking wobbly.
Verdict – Sea Eagles by 8
Result – Sea Eagles by 20
Gold Coast Titans vs Parramatta Eels – Friday night – CBus Super Stadium
I could create quite a list of the things that aren't working for the Titans this season, but at the top of the list is their issues in defence. In their last five games they've conceded 190 points, which is a whopping average of 38 points per game. The Eels, still very much in contention for a top four finish, have scored more points this season than every other team outside the top four. If the Dragons can rack up 40 points against the Titans I suspect the Eels can too.
Verdict – Eels by 20
Result – Eels by 24
Brisbane Broncos vs Penrith Panthers – Friday night – Suncorp Stadium
The Broncos won last round but it was hardly impressive. If nothing else I'll give them a wrap for playing until the final whistle, although much of the playing was pretty underwhelming. It seemed clear to me that the quality of football in the Panthers vs Sharks game the following night was of a higher standard. With that in mind I'm tipping the visitors here – James Maloney returns and he has a knack for winning football games, while two of the more experienced Broncos (Glenn and Gillett) are still in doubt. With those two missing, those young inexperienced Panthers aren't much more inexperienced than the Broncos.
Verdict – Panthers by 1
Result – Broncos by 12
Newcastle Knights vs North Queensland Cowboys – Saturday afternoon – McDonald Jones Stadium
The Knights are a very short priced favourite here – a little unusual given they've lost six in a row. They're playing at home, but they've lost their last three at home too, and all those losses were to teams outside the top eight. I mentioned earlier that the quality of the Cowboys last game was quite poor, but I'm willing to entertain them in this. Kahu returns, and you wouldn't think a winger could make that much difference but the Cowboys have been crying out for experience and quality in the backline. He can also, potentially, take over the goal-kicking, which is one less thing for Clifford to worry about. They've lost McGuire from their forward pack, but it's still a very good pack.
Verdict – Cowboys by 2
Result – Knights by 36
Melbourne Storm vs Canberra Raiders – Saturday night – AAMI Park
I've noticed a few people pointing out the way the Storm forwards cart the ball up the paddock (with a raised elbow) – I'm sure Jarrod Croker will mention it to the referees at the earliest opporunity. While I'm tempted to tip the Raiders here it's very hard to tip against the Storm when they win almost every time (and only just lose when they don't). Jahrome Hughes returns after Nicho Hynes impressed on debut. Some thought this team may struggle in a post-Slater universe, but they've got so many good fullbacks coming through they are sending some of them off to other clubs. The Raiders are in the middle of a very difficult part of their draw (Roosters, Storm, Sea Eagles). They were good without winning against the Chooks, and I expect something similar here. Game of the round...clearly.
Verdict – Storm by 2
Result – Raiders by 4
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Canterbury Bulldogs – Saturday night – ANZ Stadium
I feel like I'm saying the same thing about the Bulldogs every week, but I can afford to because they are spectacularly consistent (if a little predictable). When they do win it's not by much, and they get there with sheer tenacity and good defence. This season their highest score against a top eight team is 16 points. That was enough to win twice (against the Sharks and the Panthers). They played the Rabbitohs earlier in the season and scored just six points. It wasn't enough on that occasion and I doubt they'll score enough on this occasion. The Rabbits want a top four finish and a big win here can only help.
Verdict – Rabbitohs by 10
Result – Bulldogs by 8
Sydney Roosters vs New Zealand Warriors – Sunday afternoon – Sydney Cricket Ground
It's becoming a part of rugby league folklore – as soon as I write a team off for the season they pull out a win that no-one expects. The Warriors did exactly that last start with an impressive win over the Sea Eagles, but those sort of performances are just a reminder of how frustrating this side is. If only they could perform at that level they'd be in the top four every year and one of the powerhouses of the competition. I wish they were. Could they repeat a performance like that two weeks in a row? I suppose it's possible, but they usually don't. What's much more likely is they piddle around for 80 minutes and lose by 40. I wish that weren't true.
Verdict – Roosters by 40
Result – Roosters by 36
Cronulla Sharks vs St George Illawarra Dragons – Sunday afternoon – PointsBet Stadium
In a rare boost for the Sharks they have Moylan and Dugan on the field for the first time in what feels like forever. I'll believe it when I see it – one of them might break down in the warm-up. The Sharks were outplayed by an enthusiastic Panthers last weekend but they did come home strong. The Dragons had a rare win last round but they still conceded 28 points to the Titans. Defence like that won't beat the Sharks at home.
Verdict – Sharks by 8
Result – Sharks by 6
Wally Lewis - round twenty two selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- SEA EAGLES vs Tigers
- Titans vs EELS
- BRONCOS vs Panthers
- KNIGHTS vs Cowboys
- STORM vs Raiders
- RABBITOHS vs Bulldogs
- ROOSTERS vs Warriors
- SHARKS vs Dragons