Time to look ahead to Sunday's decider! Rob Crosby has a full look at both teams and what to expect ...
10 hours ago
Canterbury Bulldogs v Parramatta Eels
Rivalry round begins with what was once perhaps a rivalry, but now an absolute mismatch. The Eels might be good enough one day to perhaps recapture the old hatred that exists between these two famous Sydney clubs, but on Friday night at ANZ Stadium it will be one way traffic. In what must be an insult to the great Parramatta teams of the past, this 2012 version of the Eels will take no motivation from history and continue to defend like they have somewhere better to be.
The 'Dogs are rolling from 1 through 17 and if motivated for the 80 minutes, should be ahead by plenty at the final siren. If you are curious about what 'plenty' means.... The Eels have been given an 18.5 start with some betting agencies and considering the 'Dogs have been scoring more points than that in bursts of 15 minutes this season, it is probably a tad generous. Also, let this be the last time I use 'tad' in a sentence.
My tip: Canterbury 40-12
Brisbane Broncos v New Zealand Warriors
The Warriors come into this match as underdogs. Even after winning 3 of their past 4, the bookies are not impressed. Perhaps understandable though as the Broncos welcome back their representative players; are at home on Friday night; and have had two full weeks to prepare for what shapes up as a beauty and your match of the round. This will be fast paced throughout with some of the best young footballers in the NRL on display.
The dazzling footwork of Shaun Johnson and Corey Norman, the youthful aggression of Josh McGuire and Ben Matulino, all mixed with the experience boasted by both clubs; we have the makings of a classic. Brisbane were basically mugged last start against the Sharks who treated their young reserves as speed humps on their way to victory. The home side will be out to atone for this treatment in front of their home fans and that intent will be the difference.
My tip: Brisbane 28-22
The Melbourne Storm v North Queensland Cowboys
It seems almost scary to imagine what Craig Bellamy has cooked up this week as he prepares to bounce back from the Storm's biggest loss of the season. A spoonful of rage, a bucket load of anger, a tank full of blue language and you have a broth ready to set on fire at AAMI Park on Saturday afternoon in Melbourne. If his players respond, the Storm will be at their best defensively and this makes for a cracker against the visiting Cowboys.
Speaking of the boys from Townsville, there is no worse time to be travelling to 'Bleak City' than in the middle of winter, after the home side has been belted by 40. Thurston and company will freeze their proverbial chaps off and won't warm up in time to overcome a committed Melbourne defence. Cameron Smith returns to find enough weaknesses in the Cowboys to get his side home in a low scoring grind.
My tip: Melbourne 18-12
Newcastle Knights v Manly Sea Eagles
In your second 5.30pm match on Saturday and one with plenty of history to fit right into rivalry round, the Knights host the Eagles at Hunter Stadium. Footy fans will never forget the 1997 Grand Final and neither will the TV station showing this match. Indeed it was a beauty and wonderfully representative of the hatred that existed between the bourgeoisie from the Northern Beaches and the hard working miners of the Hunter.
Pity that none of the young men involved in this match would remember, but Manly coach Geoff Toovey would know exactly how nasty those times were. Fingers crossed that Timana Tahu and Steve Matai get a hold of each other to turn back the clock but unfortunately is seems that times have changed. The Knights attack has not. It remains as stagnant as it was early in the season and the Eagles will benefit from a glut of possession and come away with a win.
My tip: Manly 25-12
Wests Tigers v Penrith Panthers
Never has the influence of Robbie Farah been more evident than in the past month. The Blues' best over three games in the origin series, Farah almost single handedly won the decider through his attack last week; and led the way with his defence in game 2. For the Tigers, he's proven to be more than their hooker and captain. Farah has fronted the media to face rampant criticism earlier this year and defended his teammates without hesitation.
Wests have lost their past three matches without him after winning 7 in a row. Lucky enough for the Tigers faithful in Campbelltown this Saturday night, Robbie is back. Even luckier for everyone wearing black and white and gold, they play the Panthers. Losers of their past 4 matches and struggling for morale after the media circus around Luke Lewis this week, Penrith will struggle to keep up. The Tigers bounce back.
My tip: Wests 30-14
Canberra Raiders v Gold Coast Titans
The Green Machine have won three from their past four and more importantly, two in a row against noted defensive specialists, the Dragons and the Storm. The era of the grind is over as Sam Williams joins Josh McCrone to put on the free-wheeling football we've been waiting for since that dark day when the very first wrestling coach was hired. And yes, I