League Guru's round 21 preview

Last weekend produced some of the closest results of the season, with two games going to golden point to decide the winner and both matches had finals ramifications. This weekend promises more of the same with some mouth-watering matchups so let?s get cracking.

Tonight?s game sees the Bulldogs and the Panthers go head to head at Telstra Stadium. The momentum is definitely with the Dogs at present and they are having a dream run with injuries, hence their lofty place on the ladder. The Panthers have three enforcers out in Ross, Clinton and Gulavao and against a physical pack like the Bulldogs, that?s a lot of firepower sitting on the sidelines. That?s not to say Penrith can?t win the match because they most certainly can, but it will all hinge on the fortunes of Craig Gower and his kicking game. If he can control the flow of possession, the Panthers backs have far too much speed for the Dogs but at the end of the day, I think the Panthers will struggle to make it over the advantage line and go down fighting. Bulldogs by 12

The last time the Broncos and Sharks met, the Broncos were given a lesson by the Sharks but the Broncos won?t be easy beats this time round as the Sharks are still missing gun playmaker Brett Kimmorley and he is the man that gives the Sharks their edge. The Sharks are on the fringe of the top eight and a loss here could see them three points adrift if results go against them where as a win would see the Sharks as high as seventh if results go their way. The Broncos are still a chance of winning the minor premiership so there is much to lose on both sides of the fence but again the class of Darren Lockyer will be enough to see the Broncos home in enemy territory. Broncos by 10

The Dragons travel to Townsville to take on the vastly improved Cowboys, who are no longer the easy beats of the NRL, even if they miss the finals. They play a percentage style of footy and have two of the biggest props in the game crossing the advantage line at will to create an excellent platform for their backs. Paul Rauhihi and Shane Tronc are near unstoppable at the moment and the Dragons will have to play the perfect game to win this one in front of what should be a massive home crowd for the Cowboys. The Dragons have already lost to the Cowboys at WIN Stadium and have an average record in Townsville and on the back of that, I am tipping the Cowboys to continue their push for a maiden finals berth and give the people of North Queensland something to really cheer about. Cowboys by 6

The local derby between the Tigers and Eels always draws a good crowd and promises some niggle and biff between the two arch rivals. Both teams are still a mathematical chance of making the finals but the loser is definitely gone and the winner will still need results to go their way on top of a lot of praying for some divine intervention. The Eels lost a heartbreaker to the Storm and the game was marred by some questionable decisions along with cheap shot merchant Alex Chan flattening former team mate Nathan Hindmarsh with a late high tackle off the ball. The Tigers were also the on the wrong end of a nail biter against the Dogs with some of the worst refereeing I have ever seen costing the Tigers dearly. The only way to form an opinion on this game is to look at the match between the two sides earlier in the year and in that game the Tigers put the Eels to the sword 33-6 and the Eels are looking for some payback. I don?t think they?ll get it unfortunately and Brian Smith can start planning for season 2005 whilst Tim Sheens can keep the dream alive for another week at least. Tigers by 2

It?s a return to the eighties when the Raiders and Sea Eagles go head to head at Brookvale Oval on Sunday afternoon. Both teams will be wearing the strips they wore in the 1987 grand final, the last to be played at the SCG. The Raiders have won four of their past five and are still a slim chance at the top four which is remarkable when you consider they have not played anywhere near their best at all this year and still find themselves in the thick of the action. Even though Manly are currently 14th on the ladder, this game looms a danger so the Raiders need to be on their game if they are continue their charge towards an unlikely top four berth. I think the Raiders will have too much grunt up front for Manly and should win the game if they remain focused. If not, the Raiders finals aspirations will be dealt a sever blow, one they may not recover from. Raiders by 8

The Roosters travel to one of the hardest places to win a game in Rugby League, Olympic Park Melbourne. Like all the other matches, this one has finals significance because the Roosters currently hold down first place on for and against and the Storm are in fifth, with an average record against the top four sides so they need to win here or face the prospect of elimination footy in the first week of the finals as they have by far the hardest run to the finals of all sides currently in the top eight The Roosters struggled to beat Souths last weekend and knocked off an under strength Dragons the week before so form would suggest this game is going to be very close. I still think the Roosters will have too much class for the Storm, who are missing several key players through injury and suspension. If Orford and Hill fire, they have the weapons to wreak havoc on the Roosters and the Roosters have been on the end of a hiding at Olympic Park before. I?m leaning in favour of the Roosters, just. Roosters by 4

Souths and the Knights round out round 21 and the Knights are looking at missing the finals for the first time since I don?t know when after their golden point loss to the Cowboys last weekend. The Knight need to win five of their last six to make the finals and have no bye up their sleeve so it?s a tall order in anyone?s language. Facing Souths is also no easy task. The Rabbitohs are playing well enough to avoid the wooden spoon and would fancy their chances against the Knights, whose confidence would be at an all time low. Rookie half back Joe Williams is improving game by game and would be looking forward to taking on another up and comer in Kurt Gidley. Newcastle will be desperate no doubt, but do they have the firepower to make the finals? I don?t think so and I think Souths will hammer the final nail into the coffin on Sunday afternoon and give us all a clearer indication of how the final eight may pan out. Souths by 14