Brisbane Broncos vs Parramatta Eels – Thursday night – Suncorp Stadium
There has been much discussion about the Broncos potentially dropping out of the top eight, and they certainly could. What's less likely, but still possible, is that the Eels drop out of the top eight. They are currently fifth, so it only happens if the four teams below them finish above them, but the Eels points differential isn't flash and if results go a certain way over the next two rounds they fall all the way to ninth. The solution of course, is to win on Thursday night and knock that possibility on the head. On form they should, but we have said that many times about the Eels over the years. The Broncos captain will be celebrating his 250th NRL game on Thursday night. That's not the only reason the Broncos should lift on Thursday, but do they have the team they need? There's just once change (Brenko Lee in for Delouise Hoeter) to a side that conceded 60 at home last week in front of 42500 fans. I can't see it.
Verdict – Eels by 10
Result – Eels 53 defeated Broncos 6
Penrith Panthers vs New Zealand Warriors – Friday night –BlueBet Stadium
The Warriors don't enjoy playing in Sydney as a general rule, so a trip to Penrith on a Friday night doesn't look like a lot of fun. The Panthers have secured the minor premiership and could, potentially, rest some players before the finals. That doesn't appear to be happening this week, with Luai and Fisher-Harris set to return to a line-up that beat the Rabbitohs last week. I suspect the Warriors will be saving themselves for a round 25 performance in Auckland. With that in mind, I'll predict that the Panthers will get out to a comfortable lead and start resting key players for the last 30 minutes.
Verdict – Panthers by 28
Result – Panthers 46 defeated Warriors 12
Melbourne Storm vs Sydney Roosters – Friday night – AAMI Park
Plenty of us (even me probably) have doubted both these teams this season. Just about everyone thought the Storm empire was starting to collapse, and just about everyone doubted if the Roosters would make the top eight. The Roosters (like the Eels) could still drop out but they probably won't, and the Storm are just about assured of another top four finish. Now they play each other, and there's no doubting that both teams are coming into form at exactly the right time of the year. For a team in a town that apparently doesn't care, the Storm have now amassed more than 40,000 members. They have doubled their membership in five years, and it's yet another example demonstrating why this club is one of the most professional sporting teams in the country. There's also whispers that they may retain the services of Cameron Munster on an extended contract - huge news if true. A few big returns for this game too, with Kaufusi returning from personal leave for the Storm and Collins and Taukeiaho returning on the bench for the Chooks. Matt Lodge is going so well he's held his position as a starting prop (and will be rewarded for another contract next year). With no mens AFL on this weekend, I'm expecting plenty of those 40,000 members to turn up on Friday night. With all that support I'll pick the home side. It's easily the game of the round, and potentially one of the games of the year.
Verdict – Storm by 4
Result – Roosters 18 defeated Storm 14
Canberra Raiders vs Manly Sea Eagles – Saturday afternoon – GIO Stadium
If the Raiders do make the finals they will most likely replace the Broncos. By the time the Raiders take to Viking Field on Saturday they will already know if the Broncos have lost to the Eels this round. Should that be the case, the Raiders could be in the top eight with a round to spare. In any case, this is the Raiders last game at home for the year so you would hope they'd turn up with their boots on. As for Manly, I wrote them off in round 23 and there's no reason for me to change that point of view. I don't think many of you were planning to tip Manly in this, but if you were, let me share this tidbit of info with you. They've played 11 games away from home this season, and the only two away games they won were against the Knights and the Tigers.
Verdict – Raiders by 16
Result – Raiders 48 defeated Sea Eagles 6
Cronulla Sharks vs Canterbury Bulldogs – Saturday night – PointsBet Stadium
The Bulldogs are giving every indication that they've put the cue in the rack. Note the return of Luke Thompson at lock after an extended absence, with Tevita Pengai Jnr dopping out of the seventeen altogether. The Sharks meanwhile, keep on keeping on, and their chief playmaker could very easily run down Ben Hunt and claim Dally M honours this season. They'd love a top two finish if possible, because they'd rather be in Sydney for the week of the finals instead of (probably) Townsville or (maybe) Melbourne. A real opportunity for the Sharks to improve their points differential which is a fair way behind the other top four teams.
Verdict – Sharks by 16
Result – Sharks 16 defeated Bulldogs 0
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs North Queensland Cowboys – Saturday night – Accor Stadium
The Rabbitohs went oh so close to beating the Panthers last week but couldn't get it done. They're in terrific form though, and Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker might have a few reasons to try and impress Wayne Bennett this weekend (if the rumours are true). The Cowboys are clinging to a top two spot but have two difficult games to close out the regular season. They've also lost their halfback to an injury I'd prefer not to discuss. Drinkwater moves into the halves and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow gets a rare chance to start a game for the Cowboys at fullback. The Hammer is terrific, but he has a task here, assessing and calling the defensive reads against a team with an attack that can shimmer and shake with the best of them. I suspect that could be the difference between winning and losing in what should be a terrific game of rugby league.
Verdict – Rabbitohs by 7
Result – Rabbitohs 20 defeated Cowboys 10
Wests Tigers vs St George Illawarra Dragons – Sunday afternoon – CommBank Stadium
I've watched a lot of footy this year, even more than I usually do. I don't think I can watch this. Not sure what Old Thinker can get up to on a Sunday afternoon but I'll find something else. Might wash the car.
Verdict – Dragons by 8
Result – Dragons 24 defeated Tigers 22
Gold Coast Titans vs Newcastle Knights – Sunday afternoon – Cbus Super Stadium
Slim pickings on a Sunday this weekend with 15th playing 14th. There's still plenty of rumblings about trouble in Newcastle. If there's any truth to it, a weekend on the Gold Coast doesn't sound like the best way to solve it. To me this looks like the game where the Titans can officially dodge the wooden spoon for 2022.
Verdict – Titans by 16
Result – Titans 36 defeated Knights 26
Wally Lewis - round twenty four selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- Broncos vs EELS
- PANTHERS vs Warriors
- STORM vs Roosters
- RAIDERS vs Sea Eagles
- SHARKS vs Bulldogs
- RABBITOHS vs Cowboys
- Tigers vs DRAGONS
- TITANS vs Knights