South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Melbourne Storm – Thursday night – Stadium Australia
Significant line-up changes forced upon the Bunnies this week, with Reynolds, Murray, Graham and Paulo all injured. Mitchell is still, like the Golden Gate Bridge, suspended. Given those challenges, Bennett has named Marshall at halfback, Cody Walker returns to five-eighth, Johnson moves to fullback, Arrow moves to lock, and Tatola returns in the front row. The other new faces in the backline are Steven Marsters, Taane Milne and Braidon Burns. That's a lot of player movements to manage, and they face one of the toughest opponents one can face under those circumstances. If Bellamy can see weaknesses in an opponent, he will target those weaknesses and do so with precision. Asofa-Solomona and George Jennings return for the Storm, with Papenhuyzen given one more week to rest his shoulder. If not for all the missing players for the Rabbits this would be quite the contest. It still might be, as Bennett will say all the right things to those given a rare opportunity to show their best. The contest in the forwards looks pretty even, but that Storm backline should prove the difference on the scoreboard.
Verdict – Storm by 10
Penrith Panthers vs Cronulla Sharks – Friday night – Bluebet Stadium
We all know how well the Panthers are going, so let's focus on the Sharks. In their last four outings they have played some very good teams and some not so very good teams. They lost them all, including a loss to the Bulldogs who haven't managed to beat anyone else. It seems to me they were going a lot better before they sacked the much-loved coach. Expecting them to turn their fortunes around against a team that have lost just one game in 11 months looks unlikely. Actually, unlikely isn't the word I'm looking for...make that impossible.
Verdict – Panthers by 22
Parramatta Eels vs Sydney Roosters – Friday night – Bankwest Stadium
Not many clubs can match the Rabbits for injury concerns right now...but the Chooks can. Nine players are currently unavailable, and four of those nine are out for the year. Those four are all Origin standard players (Keary, Friend, B Morris and Collins), and I haven't included Cordnor in that list. The Roosters will be pleased to see James Tedesco back, who will claim the captaincy role with so many club captains unavailable. Those criticising the ruling to allow Joseph Suaalii to play first grade this season take note that the Chooks have resisted the temptation to throw him into the seventeen despite all the roster challenges. Few, if any, other clubs would be doing the same given the challenges the Roosters are facing at the minute. Despite all those challenges the Chooks are still in the top four, and their only losses have been to the Bunnies and the Storm. People may not like the Chickens, but you have to (perhaps begrudgingly) admire the way they go about their business. They really shouldn't be winning this game, particularly at Bankwest where the Eels have a dominant record, but bloody the heck heck I think they will.They will win this for BMoz...and for themselves.
Verdict – Roosters by 2
Canberra Raiders vs Newcastle Knights – Saturday afternoon – McDonalds Park, Wagga Wagga
There are plenty of whispers of unrest at the Raiders and while I am not a fly on the wall it's not a good look when wives of players are having a crack at the coach on Instagram. The return of Hodgson and Croker has been delayed and Soliola has been dropped altogether. George Williams has been named but we are hearing he is homesick, and Papalii has been named after he basically dropped himself recently. It's hard to know what to make of it all, but recent results would indicate there's truth to the whispers. Take note that three of their last four losses have been against the top three teams. I'm not convinced the picture is much rosier at Newcastle - the only team they've beaten in recent memory is the Sharks. Phoenix Crossland replaces the injured Green in the halves in a team that has scored just two tries in their last 160 minutes of football. Perhaps the road trip to Wagga Wagga will galvanise one of these teams..but which one? I'll take the Raiders...warily.
Verdict – Raiders by 8
Wests Tigers vs Gold Coast Titans – Saturday night – Campbelltown Stadium
The Titans conceded six tries in a 54 minute period against the Sea Eagles, six tries in a 51 minute period against the Rabbitohs, and six tries in a 33 minute period against the Broncos. That looks to me like their defence is getting worse, particularly when you consider that the Broncos attack hasn't looked like scoring much at all. The other way to look at those figures, and stay with me here because it's a bit weird, the period of time when their defence turns to mush is getting shorter each week. If their defence can hold for say, 70 minutes, they can probably start winning football games - particularly against the lesser teams like their opponent on Saturday night. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui returns from suspension, and that should harden them up in the middle somewhat. There attack seems to be going okay - it's pretty to watch - so I'll tip them here to outscore the Tigers who are averaging just 12 points per game over their last three encounters.
Verdict – Titans by 4
North Queensland Cowboys vs Brisbane Broncos – Saturday night – Queensland Country Bank Stadium
Did the Broncos find a halfback last week? He's been under their noses for years but Tyson Gamble found his voice and then some in the Broncos extraordinary and possibly ridiculous win over the Titans. Perhaps all the Broncos needed was a playmaker who was prepared to yell at everybody, and back it up by trying his guts out. They're the outsider in this - as they should be - but I think they can get themselves up for this and knock off their northern rivals. Milford with a field goal to prove the difference.
Verdict – Broncos by 1
Manly Sea Eagles vs New Zealand Warriors – Sunday afternoon – Lottoland
These sides met only a month ago, with the Sea Eagles winning by a point thanks to a Cherry-Evans field goal. Since then, the Sea Eagles have improved considerably, coinciding with the return of Turbo Tom at fullback. Manly have lost two of their biggest middle men for this clash in Aloiai and Taupau, but the Sunday afternoon crowd at Brookvale will be in fine voice and will help lift those that take their place. Note that Ben Trbojevic is named in the reserves for this game - we are getting close to seeing all three brothers in first grade together.
Verdict – Sea Eagles by 4
St George Illawarra Dragons vs Canterbury Bulldogs – Sunday night – Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Is Josh McGuire cursed? In round five the Dragons were good enough to score 26 points against the Eels. Since then they've played three games with Josh McGuire and lost them all. When Josh McGuire left the Cowboys they won three in a row and, you guessed it, they didn't win a game while McGuire was there. Josh McGuire is cursed...especially so if they lose this.
Verdict – Bulldogs by 2
Wally Lewis - round nine selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- Rabbitohs vs STORM
- PANTHERS vs Sharks
- EELS vs Roosters
- RAIDERS vs Knights
- Tigers vs TITANS
- COWBOYS vs Broncos
- SEA EAGLES vs Warriors
- DRAGONS vs Bulldogs