St George Illawarra Dragons vs South Sydney Rabbitohs – Thursday night – Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Two teams on the cusp of the top eight, and both will be keen to atone after narrow losses in round 11. Post-lockdown, the Rabbitohs have won four and lost five. If you dig a little deeper, you'll notice that the Rabbitohs have lost to the teams that are 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th on the ladder. The teams that they have beaten are currently 9th, 13th, 14th and 16th. This is a fair representation of where the Rabbitohs are this season - just behind the very best teams but clearly in contention for a top eight finish. I would put the Dragons in a similar boat, particularly on recent form, but the return of Ben Hunt to halfback (for the injured Adam Clune) has me concerned. It wasn't working before, and I see no reason to believe it will suddenly start working now.
Verdict – Rabbitohs by 4
Wests Tigers vs New Zealand Warriors – Friday night – Sydney Cricket Ground
Departures have commenced for the Warriors with four of their squad returning home for the season (including their two of their best finishers in Maumalo and Fusitu'a. While they were gallant in their last outing against the Chooks, gallantry will become harder and harder from here on in. For the Tigers, the return of Twal and Garner is timely, with Packer suspended and Chee Kam resting a sore head. The Tigers have lost more games than they've won, but they remain in contention for a finals spot and top eight teams need to be winning games like these.
Verdict – Tigers by 8
Brisbane Broncos vs Cronulla Sharks – Friday night – Suncorp Stadium
Turpin and Luke return for the Broncos this week, so suddenly they have more hookers than a Hugh Hefner birthday party (although I see there is speculation they could make a bid for the biggest hooker in the game). Corey Paix returns to an extended bench. The injury to Croft means Milford is back in the halves and Boyd puts on the number one jersey for the first time in a long time. Fullback is probably the best position for both Milford and Boyd, but I'm not convinced either of them want to be there or anywhere else at the minute. Hopefully they can prove me wrong. Meanwhile, the Sharks have two players reaching the same milestone on Friday night, with Dugan and Woods celebrating their 200th NRL games. They are up against a team that have scored one try in their last 160 minutes of football. Even worse, they have conceded 17 tries in their last 160 minutes of football. There's been money for the Broncos to win this game, but it's hard to understand why.
Verdict – Sharks by 10
Sydney Roosters vs Gold Coast Titans – Saturday afternoon – Sydney Cricket Ground
The ongoing wellness of Roosters captain Boyd Cordnor is a concern for the Chooks, but beyond that things are going relatively smoothly for the defending premiers. Negotiations with one of the biggest acronyms in sport continue swiftly and smoothly, and we can assume SBW will be in donning the red, white and blue any round now. The Titans are actually playing well in patches, but they lack the depth and polish to compete with the very best sides. The Roosters are clearly such an opponent.
Verdict – Roosters by 10
North Queensland Cowboys vs Canberra Raiders – Saturday night – Queensland Country Bank Stadium
Plenty of teams are struggling with injuries and roster management, but few can match the Raiders casualty list of eleven. It does look like they can bring that back to an even ten this weekend, with Bateman likely to lace on the boots in a much-anticipated return. Curtis Scott has also been named, but may need one more week. Despite the injury toll, the Raiders are on the fringe of the top four, and have beaten NRL heavyweights in their last two outings. The only thing that beats the Raiders on Saturday night is complacency, and even that might not be enough. Sadly, the Cowboys season is effectively over.
Verdict – Raiders by 14
Manly Sea Eagles vs Penrith Panthers – Saturday night – Lottoland
The Panthers haven't lost a game since they went down to the Eels in round five, but this will be their most difficult opponent they've faced in some time. While Cherry-Evans (rightly) gets plenty of attention, Cade Cust is gradually emerging as a genuine NRL playmaker. The venue is another big tick for the home team, and I'll back the Manly forwards to win the grind and lay the platform for an upset victory.
Verdict – Sea Eagles by 1
Canterbury Bulldogs vs Parramatta Eels – Sunday afternoon – ANZ Stadium
Rugby League is more than just a game of numbers, but the numbers matter. While the Bulldogs came up with an impressive win in torrid conditions last weekend, that was just their second win for the year. They've lost nine games this season, while their opponent on Sunday has won nine games. That doesn't mean the Bulldogs can't win, it's just much more likely that they won't.
Verdict – Eels by 8
Melbourne Storm vs Newcastle Knights – Sunday afternoon – Sunshine Coast Stadium
The Storm have won five in a row, and haven't lost to the Knights since 2015. The Knights 2020 season is starting to look a little like their 2019 season - starting with such promise but then fizzing out as the season progressed. They now find themselves outside the top eight...and looking fizzy.
Verdict – Storm by 4
Wally Lewis - round twelve selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- Dragons vs RABBITOHS
- TIGERS vs Warriors
- Broncos vs SHARKS
- ROOSTERS vs Titans
- Cowboys vs RAIDERS
- Sea Eagles vs PANTHERS
- Bulldogs vs EELS
- STORM vs Knights