Canberra Raiders vs South Sydney Rabbitohs – Thursday night – GIO Stadium
The Raiders have a very solid record against the Bunnies in Canberra, but I'm doubting them this week. Omitted from their seventeen is their unofficial heart (Papalii) and their unofficial soul (Croker). Both have been below their best in recent outings but I still think the Raiders are a better unit with those two on the paddock. Even more concerning is the Raiders performances against the better sides this year. The Panthers beat them by 20 and the Eels beat them by 25, and getting run down in the second half by the Cowboys doesn't read well, particularly for this contest against a side that racked up 30 points in the second half to run down the Titans on the Coast. As for Benji Marshall, he was great value when he was one of the highest paid players in the NRL. Last week, earning two-fifths of buggar all, he put on a clinic in the halves and delivered one of his best performances ever. Walker stays at fullback and Marshall stays in the halves. It works. They'll win.
Verdict – Rabbitohs by 7
Melbourne Storm vs Cronulla Sharks – Friday night – AAMI Park
I am not a rugby league team, and never was to be honest, but if I were a rugby league team and my next opponent was the Melbourne Storm in Melbourne I'd want to be ticking a few things on my 'very good football team' checklist. You'd want your forwards fit. You'd want your playmakers brimming with confidence. You'd want a team that had confidence in each other, the coaching staff, and the game plan. You'd want a game plan full stop. I'm not ticking a lot of boxes if I were the Cronulla Sharks, and a loss to the Bulldogs (sorry Bulldogs) is about as low as things go. The Sharks have three genuine first graders back for this game but it won't be enough. The big change for the Storm is Brandon Smith could be replacing the 200cm and 135kg (apparently) Nelson Asofa-Solomona. That's pretty funny.
Verdict – Storm by 10
Brisbane Broncos vs Gold Coast Titans – Friday night – Suncorp Stadium
There have been 30 South East Queensland derbies thus far, and the Broncos have won 20 to the Titans ten. That looks like dominance, but the Titans have won five of the past seven so in reality it's the Titans that are the dominant team in this region at the minute. Last week they were part of a very entertaining game with the Rabbitohs but they did leak 30 points in the second half. While a little disappointing, it was a better effort than the Broncos who went back to their old ways with a 46-6 drubbing at the hands of the Eels. In their last two games the Broncos only tries have come through their forwards, and forwards don't score enough tries to win games of footy. Their spine continues to struggle in attack, and the Broncos have swung the axe again my dumping Croft and Deardon and bringing in Gamble (literally) and the very recently axed Milford. Kevvie Walters can only work with what he has to work with, but he doesn't have a lot to work with. Meanwhile the Titans attack looks terrific, and my mad suggestion that Fifita would be the team's top try scorer for the year is starting to look sensible. Don't worry...I'm still mad.
Verdict – Titans by 22
Penrith Panthers vs Manly Sea Eagles – Saturday afternoon – Carrington Park, Bathurst
That late night run through the Manly Corso by Tommy Turbo looks a costly mistake. Since he's back on the field the Sea Eagles have scored 76 points in two games and conceded just one try. If the competition was just two weeks old they'd be on top of the ladder. Saturday afternoon should give us a read on how good the Sea Eagles truly are. The Panthers remain undefeated and this is the first game of the season where they will name what I think is their best seventeen. While I'm expecting a genuine contest in what is the match of the round the Panthers are becoming that team that always find a way to win. Teams aim up to them and the Panthers stand up to it...and prevail, as they have done in their last two games. I'm expecting a similar outcome in this.
Verdict – Panthers by 8
Canterbury Bulldogs vs Parramatta Eels – Saturday night – Stadium Australia
Parramatta are averaging more than 28 points per game this season, and scored 81 points in their last two games (and both were away from home). The Bulldogs, winners last start to be fair, are averaging just 10 points per game. They have played top four teams on three occasions, and their losing margins in those games were 28, 38 and 34. I've done the maths so you don't have to.
Verdict – Parramatta by 26
Newcastle Knights vs Sydney Roosters – Saturday night – McDonald Jones Stadium
I've been holding back on making a decision on this game as I have a feeling Tedesco could be a late withdrawal. The Chooks are, to their credit, taking more care with their players and concussion issues than anyone. Right here right now (early Thursday morning) he is playing so I'll run with that. If he doesn't, expect Manu to play where fullback (where he has been terrific when needed). The Knights competed with the Panthers for much of the 80 minutes in round seven but eventually faded late. I give them a real chance here but I can't quite tip them. The only teams to beat the Roosters this season are the Rabbitohs and the Storm, and the Knights are clearly a level below.
Verdict – Roosters by 2
New Zealand Warriors vs North Queensland Cowboys – Sunday afternoon – Central Coast Stadium
Cowboys coach Todd Payten takes on his old team and you'd think he'd have a fair understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of his opponent here. Meanwhile his new side are starting to warm into their season, winning three in a row for the first time in a very long time. I expect they've gained a lot of confidence out of that come from behind victory over the Raiders in round seven, and the return of Jason Taumalolo can only make them stronger. They're the outsider in this and probably should be, but I'm happy to tip them here.
Verdict – Cowboys by 4
St George Illawarra Dragons vs Wests Tigers – Sunday night – Win Stadium
There's been plenty of attention focused on the self-imploding Broncos but the Tigers have a sniff of the train wrecks about them at the minute too. I feel like they've been rebuilding now for ten years, and I still can't work out what they're trying to build. If I still think the Dragons are going to make the top eight (and I do) then they'll need to be winning this. Note the likely return of Ben Hunt. Walking around on a broken leg. I can't get you out of my head.
Verdict – Dragons by 8
Wally Lewis - round eight selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- Raiders vs RABBITOHS
- STORM vs Sharks
- Broncos vs TITANS
- PANTHERS vs Sea Eagles
- Bulldogs vs EELS
- Knights vs ROOSTERS
- Warriors vs COWBOYS
- DRAGONS vs Tigers