St George Illawarra Dragons vs Brisbane Broncos – Thursday night – Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Traditionally, the Broncos squad are decimated at this time of year as their squad would regularly make up the bulk of the Queensland Origin line-up. This year, only Xavier Coates will be wearing the maroon (and he won't be a Bronco soon). They do also lose Payne Haas to the Blues, while the Dragons lose Tariq Sims for the same reason. Jack De Belin has been quietly added to the Dragons interchange as a result - no doubt his return will generate plenty of...interest. How the Dragons respond to the return of De Belin is anyone's guess. The Dragons also see the return of Dufty, Ravalawa and Kerr, while the Broncos welcome back Lodge, Gamble and club captain Alex Glenn. Former Bronco Jack Bird has been named in the second row, and will be keen to deliver a big performance against his old club. The Dragons have won just one from their last eight, and that was a win over the team running last. The Broncos aren't faring much better, winning two from their last nine, but the teams they have lost too (Storm twice, Rabbitohs, Panthers, Eels, Cowboys and Sea Eagles) are much better sides than the Dragons. I can't tip the Broncos confidently, but I can't tip the Dragons confidently either, even with the home ground advantage. Clearly I'm short on confidence but...
Verdict – Broncos by 2
Result – Dragons 52 defeated Broncos 24
Wests Tigers vs Penrith Panthers – Friday night – Leichhardt Oval
A touch of luck for the Tigers, jagging the Panthers when their Origin players are unavailable. In this instance the Panthers are missing Cleary, Luai, Yeo, To'o, Koroisau and Martin. To add to the challenge, Moses Leota is suspended for a week and won't play. It's a massive shake-up, given the way Koroisau, Cleary, Luai and Yeo combine in the middle - that quartet are fundamental to the way the Panthers set up their play in attack. And still, I can't tip against them. Burton will relish the opportunity to play in the halves, Tyrone May is no slouch, and I think the Panthers have an edge in the forwards. Talk about depth. As for the Tigers, even with the touch of luck, they look out of their depth in this contest.
Verdict – Panthers by 4
Result – Tigers 26 defeated Panthers 6
Melbourne Storm vs Gold Coast Titans – Saturday night – Sunshine Coast Stadium
The Storm may be the defending premiers but they are less impacted by Origin than the Titans - it must be all those Victorians in their seventeen. The Storm lose Addo-Carr who was under an injury cloud, Kaufusi who probably would have been suspended if not for Origin, and Harry Grant who hasn't been playing anyway. The Titans are without Brimson, Fifita, Fotuaika and Fa'asuamaleaui. Those four played for the Titans last week, and they lost 38-10 to a side well outside the top eight. Now they take on a team that, during their last nine performances, have averaged more than 40 points per game in attack while conceding an average of less then 12 per game in defence. Stats just the way it is. Note the relocation of this game to the Sunshine Coast - not a bad place to be stuck when the alternative is Melbourne in June.
Verdict – Storm by 16
Result – Storm 20 defeated Titans 14
Newcastle Knights vs Parramatta Eels – Sunday afternoon – McDonald Jones Stadium
Way back in round six I suggested the Eels might start to drop off after a strong start to the season. I had just about convinced myself I was wrong, but now I'm starting to think I was just a little early (Hey Thinker...that still means you were wrong). They're very much entrenched in the top four, with no team emerging as a likely challenger for that spot, but the Eels have conceded 66 points in their last two games (and top four sides shouldn't do that). One of those losses was to Manly, who then lost to the Knights one week later. With that in mind, you'd think the Knights are at least competitive in this, particularly on a Sunday afternoon in Newcastle. They're $4 outsiders so I'm probably wrong, but...
Verdict – Knights by 2
Result – Eels 40 defeated Knights 4
Wally Lewis - round thirteen selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- DRAGONS vs Broncos
- Tigers vs PANTHERS
- STORM vs Titans
- Knights vs EELS