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4 days ago
Round 13 is the halfway mark of the NRL season and the ladder is starting to sort itself out. It comes as no surprise to many that St George Illawarra Dragons are leading the comp, but to see the Gold Coast Titans sitting at the bottom of the ladder has shocked many - probably no one more than the Titans themselves.
Melbourne hasn't let the tumultuous events of 2010 - nor their roster clean-out to get back under the salary cap - dissuade them from regaining the form that saw them reach four grand finals in a row. Manly Seas Eagles are another side that has found the form that saw them claim the 2008 title. And after several years in the wilderness, how good is it to see the North Queensland Cowboys performing well again?
But for the teams that are outside the top eight, there is still time to turn their fortunes around and sneak into the finals on the back of a momentum-fueled run home. The Canberra Raiders did it last year and perhaps they're gearing up for another. There are a few teams that are playing on Friday night that are desperately hoping that they can do the same.
PARRAMATTA EELS VS ST
GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
The team that has no consistency goes up against the team who has way too much of it. The Dragons are looking to continue their club-record winning streak of nine matches when they come up against the struggling Parramatta Eels.
The Eels have been hot and cold over the last two weeks, displaying against the Sharks their capabilities as a winning unit and then demonstrating why they're not in the top eight against the Knights the week after. Until the Eels stop their form resembling a game of Russian Roulette, their season will cease at the last round of the regular season.
The same can't be said of the Saints, who are marching into the finals once again on the back of their unrelenting style of play. But with injuries to winger Brett Morris and centre Matt Cooper, the Dragons have a weakness in their left side defence.
Expect to see Parramatta try and exploit the lack of experience and communication down that corridor of the Dragons' defensive line. Expect to also see the Dragons do their best to force the Eels into making mistakes and frustrating their way out of the contest.
Last time these two played, the Dragons won 30-0. It might not be such a dominating performance this time around, but it's Parramatta who are under the most pressure to perform in this encounter.
CRONULLA SHARKS VS
The Sharks and the Broncos are two teams who started their seasons well but have let their performances drop in quality. Ok, so the Sharks have only won three games, but early on in the season they showed signs that they were capable of turning their misfortunes of 2009 and 2010 around. Once five-eighth Albert Kelly and fullback Nathan Gardner - the two players who were igniting their attack in those early rounds - were injured, it's been back to the Sharks of years gone by.
The Brisbane Broncos have also found themselves out of the winner's circle of late. Their last victory was back in the end of April and against both the Penrith Panthers and the Manly Sea Eagles, their once formidable defence has become flaky and is beginning to show cracks.
This is a must-win for both teams. If the Broncos lose they will not only slip further down the ladder, but will need to start desperately searching for the momentum that they created over the first nine rounds. The Origin period never treats the Broncos nicely; if they don't stem this flow of defeats quickly, the run to the finals is going to be an uphill battle.
For the Sharks, they would like to go into their bye next week with a win under their belts and put a few more points between them and the teams rounding out the ladder. After coming close to pulling off an upset against the Storm last week, can they put in the same sort of performance again? If they do, they might just find themselves coming away with the win.