Parramatta Eels vs Melbourne Storm – Thursday night – CommBank Stadium
Fifth plays fourth in what is effectively a battle for the final spot in the top four - the mathemagicians will tell you there are some other potential outcomes, but the numbers they are talking about are crazy outliers (eg, Storm lose by 30 and Roosters win by 40) and they just aren't going to happen. Either way, the team that ends up in fourth sport is 'rewarded' with a first week final against the Panthers at Penrith. Not much of a reward, although it's notable that the Eels have beaten Penrith twice this season and the Storm won 16-0 out at Penrith just a few weeks ago. These sides have already met once this season but it was a while ago. In round 3 the Eels won 28-24 in Melbourne in daytime conditions. The Eels were close to full strength in round 3 (although they were without Maiko Sivo on that all-important left edge). The only other players from that round 3 game that would likely be in the seventeen on Thursday (if available) are Ray Stone and Nathan Brown. Heading into the finals, this is one team in good physical shape. Back in round 3 the Storm were without Harry Grant, Kamikamica, Coates and Nofoaluma, but have lost Paphenhuyzen and Reimis Smith. Their casualty ward has less empty beds than the Eels, but this seventeen is (arguably) stronger than the round 3 team, and they're finding form at the right time of the year. With so much on the line, I'm assuming CommBank will be heaving with Eels fans on Thursday night. They'll be boisterous, and they'll point out to the officials every time anyone from the Storm looks like they've breached the rules. I can't see Big Nelson getting much love from the crowd. That additional scrutiny on the away team could be vital on the night.
Verdict – Eels by 1
Result – Eels 22 defeated Storm 14
Canterbury Bulldogs vs Manly Sea Eagles – Friday night –Accor Stadium
From a game that means quite a lot to a game that means next to nothing. Whatever the outcome the Sea Eagles will end what has been a disappointing season in 11th place. The Bulldogs are currently 12th, and a win means they can fall no lower than that. Since the debacle around the Manly 7, the Sea Eagles haven't won a game, and each loss has been worse than the loss before it. In the last four rounds they have scored just 56 points and conceded 168. They're in freefall. Other than putting it all together to send Kieran Foran out with a win, it's hard to come up with any reason why the Sea Eagles would suddenly deliver a match-winning performance. The Bulldogs have lost there last four games too, but have been a little more competitive. They're also at home, so they can give their most ardent of supporters a reason to cheer in their last game of the season.
Verdict – Bulldogs by 20
Result – Bulldogs 21 defeated Sea Eagles 20
Sydney Roosters vs South Sydney Rabbitohs – Friday night – Allianz Stadium
This game is proper weird - it's 6th versus 7th and regardless of the outcome these two teams will end the season in 6th and 7th. That means they'll play each other again next week. What could change is the venue for that match. Notably the Roosters schmicky new home ground is only ten minutes from Redfern, and it sounds like the Bunnies wouldn't mind if that were there home ground too. On that front, the Chooks have been playing funny buggars and using whatever home ground advantage they can get before this game. The Rabbitohs are blowing up, but I imagine they would do exactly the same thing to the Chooks if they could. Just another chapter in the book of feuds. For the Chooks, this is their first chance to play in the schmicky new stadium so it's quite an occasion for them. They've lost Collins, Radley and Tupou for this contest after that fairly brutal affair with the Storm last week. The Chooks have to back up from that and lift again, and then they have to lift yet again for a finals campaign. All that effort might break them eventually (and the Storm are in a similar position). That said, there's no denying that the win over the Storm was impressive - away from home and with their key inforcer binned for a period (after eating the head of an opponent....ah rugby league, what a funny game you are). For the Bunnies, Damian Cook has another week off, and the absence of Graham in the centres is a big loss. It's must-watch footy really. Make sure you're in front of it.
Verdict – Roosters by 2
Result – Roosters 26 defeated Rabbitohs 16
New Zealand Warriors vs Gold Coast Titans – Saturday afternoon – Mt Smart Stadium
It's barely possible that the Titans could end up with the wooden spoon if they lost this game, but they would need to lose by a lot, and even then the Tigers would need to beat the Raiders. Looks pretty unlikely. The Warriors could potentially jump one or two places up the ladder with a win, so that's something. It's also a home game for the Warriors, and they haven't had many of those. They've played just three games at home this season so far, with two dominant wins and one competitive loss to the Storm. That's good enough to win this.
Verdict – Warriors by 8
Result – Titans 27 defeated Warriors 26
St George Illawarra Dragons vs Brisbane Broncos – Saturday night – Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Broncos coach Kevin Walters had an angry word or two for his troops after the confronting loss to the Eels last week. I imagine Broncos fans around the country had been saying similar things to their televisions during that performance. Let's be honest - their campaign this season is over. There were positive signs and they are clearly on the improve, but they are a young squad and a long season appears to have caught up with them. Should they dig deep, find something inside themselves, and win on Saturday night, their finals hope stay alive for at least one more day. Then they need the Tigers to beat the Raiders in the final game of the NRL season, and they'll need them to beat them by a margin. The Dragons don't have a lot to play for at all, although Ben Hunt wouldn't mind an improved contract offer. Should he claim the Dally M this year that should help with the negotiations (although I'll tell you later why he won't). On form the Broncos could lose this by 20, but I'm fairly reluctantly tipping the Broncos because they have so much to play for. It's the only reason I have - let's hope it's a good enough reason for the Broncos to turn up.
Verdict – Broncos by 4
Result – Dragons 22 defeated Broncos 12
North Queensland Cowboys vs Penrith Panthers – Saturday night – Queensland Country Bank Stadium
I heard a few of the media muppets last weekend suggesting the Cowboys have had an easy draw because they haven't had to leave Queensland much this year. For the record, they've played interstate seven times this year, so that's partly true. But here's a question without notice, how many times have Penrith played interstate this season? Three fricken times. This is just their fourth game outside NSW/ACT in 2022, and most of the team aren't even playing in it. It's fine to say a Cowboys game in Redcliffe is still in Queensland, but Redcliffe is 300 kilometres closer to Penrith than it is to Townsville. Buy yourselves an atlas ya muppets. Anyhoo.....rant over.
I don't gamble a lot on the NRL, but I was clever enough to back the Cowboys to beat the Panthers before the Panthers officially withdrew most of their best players from this game. It's nice to know I got something right this season :-) The list of missing Panthers is long so I won't go through them. I will say they are resting 12 of them - if you add Cleary to that list it's almost their entire starting thirteen getting a week off. No rest for the Cowboys in what could be their last home game of the season. A win gives them some hope of a top two finish and a home final. A loss and they could possibly slip to fourth, which would mean another game against the well-rested Panthers in Penrith next week. I think they'd rather play someone else in Townsville. So much so, that even Tom Deardon is a possible late inclusion. Brave kid, given the injury.
Verdict – Cowboys by 30
Result – Cowboys 38 defeated Panthers 8
Newcastle Knights vs Cronulla Sharks – Sunday afternoon – McDonald Jones Stadium
The bean counters have Nicho Hynes ahead of Hunt in the race to the Dally M, and another strong performance here could see him winning the prestigious award by a fair margin. Should the Cowboys find a way to lose to the hapless volunteers Ivan Cleary has cobbled together for the Panthers this weekend, the Sharks are assured of a top two finish and could potentially rest some players themselves. That's unlikely, but keep an eye on that just in case. This is the old boys game for the Knights and they always try to lift for this. I wouldn't say a Knights win can't happen, but I can't tip them.
Verdict – Sharks by 14
Result – Sharks 38 defeated Knights 16
Wests Tigers vs Canberra Raiders – Sunday afternoon – Leichhardt Oval
And here we are - the last game of the regular season for 2022. It could be really important or an absolute fizzer. Potentially the Raiders may have to win this game to secure a top eight finish. And potentially, the Tigers might be able to drag themselves out of last place with a win. It's also possible that neither of those things are true, so we just have to wait and see. Unfortunately we have to put in our tips before then. I've tipped the Broncos earlier, so that means the Raiders need to win this to make the finals, so I'll them here. They've been in pretty good form over the last few weeks, and if they can't beat the team running last they'll be struggling against the Eels, Storm or Roosters in the first week of the finals. Apologies to my Bronco neighbours. I suspect they'll be gathered together to watch their fate unfold, and now that I've tipped the Raiders I've no chance of getting an invite.
Verdict – Raiders by 10
Result – Raiders 56 defeated Tigers 10
Wally Lewis - round twenty five selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- Eels vs STORM
- BULLDOGS vs Sea Eagles
- ROOSTERS vs Rabbitohs
- WARRIORS vs Titans
- Dragons vs BRONCOS
- COWBOYS vs Panthers
- Knights vs SHARKS
- Tigers vs RAIDERS