These are the glory bound rounds. All sixteen NRL clubs begin their run home with just six rounds remaining before the business end of the season. Eight spots are up for grabs and in light of recent weeks, still 11 teams are in the running. The smell of semi-final football is in the air.
Round 21 National Rugby League: 31 July - 1 August 2009
St George Illawarra Dragons v Melbourne Storm Friday 31 July 2009 19:35 - WIN Jubilee Stadium Referees: Jared Maxwell & Matt Cecchin Sideline Officials: Jeff Younis & Steve Chiddy Video Referee: Bill Harrigan
DRAGONS: 1. Darius Boyd 2. Brett Morris 3. Beau Scott 4. Chase Stanley 5. Wendell Sailor 6. Jamie Soward 7. Ben Hornby (c) 8. Justin Poore 9. Nathan Fien 10. Michael Weyman 11. Dean Young 12. Ben Creagh 13. Neville Costigan Interchange: 14. Dan Hunt 15. Matt Prior 16. Luke Priddis 17. Jarrod Saffy; Reserves: 18. Nick Emmett 21. Jon Green STORM: 1. Billy Slater 2. Steve Turner 3. Will Chambers 4. Greg Inglis 5. Joseph Tomane 6. Brett Finch 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Brett White 9. Cam Smith (c) 10. Jeff Lima 11. Sika Manu 12. Ryan Hoffman 13. Dallas Johnson Interchange: 14. Ryan Hinchcliffe 15. Scott Anderson 16. Aiden Tolman 17. Matthew Cross
An intriguing round 21 of the Telstra Premiership gets underway with the Dragons tackling the Storm. In recent years, the Storm have appeared to have had the edge over their red-and-white counterparts, but the Dragons are the real deal this year as evidenced in their four-point break at the top of the ladder. In the previous five encounters, the Dragons only victory was against a severely depleted Melbourne side in the midst of Origin in 2008. The Storm snuck home in golden point in round 1 this year, but a lot has happened since then. The Storm appear to have lost the aura that was associated with them during the 2006 to 2008 seasons and in recent weeks have lost games they perhaps should have won against the Raiders and Eels. Interestingly enough, both games have been away from home. Should the Dragons beat the Storm, it will go a long way to proving to those few who remain, that they are premiership favourites. Who knows, that mental edge the Storm have over the Dragons just might come to the fore.
Tip: Dragons by 2.
Gold Coast Titans v North QLD Cowboys Friday 31 July 2009 19:35 - Skilled Park Referees: Tony Archer & Ashley Klein Sideline Officials: Steve Carrall & Chris James Video Referee: Steve Clark
TITANS: 1. William Zillman 2. Kevin Gordon 3. Esikeli Tonga 4. Brett Delaney 5. David Mead 6. Preston Campbell 7. Scott Prince 8. Matt White 9. Nathan Friend 10. Michael Henderson 11. Luke Bailey 12. Mark Minichiello 13. Brad Meyers Interchange: 14. Aaron Cannings 15. Will Matthews 16. Josh Graham 17. Kayne Lawton COWBOYS: 1. Matthew Bowen 2. Michael Bani 3. Ty Williams 4. Willie Tonga 5. John Williams 6. Grant Rovelli 7. Johnathan Thurston 8. Shane Tronc 9. Anthony Watts 10. Matthew Scott 11. Carl Webb 12. Scott Bolton 13. Steve Southern Interchange: 14. Travis Burns 15. Steve Rapira 16. Antonio Kaufusi 17. James Tamou; Reserves: 18. Manase Manuokafoa 19. Dayne Weston
The Gold Coast Titans will be looking to make it a perfect 10 when they host the Cowboys in the other Friday night blockbuster on the Gold Coast. The Titans have swept aside anything that has stood in their way on their home surface and it is difficult to see anything else other than a Titans victory as they surge towards their maiden semi-final appearance. However, in saying all of that, the Cowboys were rather disappointing in going down to the Panthers last week in Townsville and led by Johnathan Thurston, will be looking to make amends. The Titans are struggling with injuries, especially in the back row, with Luke Bailey winding back the clock and finding himself partnering Mark Minichiello. The Cowboys have their own problems, with Thurston rumoured to have been involved in a disagreement with coach Neil Henry in recent weeks. If there is any truth to that rumour, all will be forgotten should the Cowboys come up with a rare away victory. In the last five encounters, the Titans have won four, including a 14-10 victory at Dairy Farmers in round 5. This game is yet another toss of the coin job, but the Titans at home are difficult to go past.
Tip: Titans by 4.
Canberra Raiders v Brisbane Broncos Saturday 1 August 2009 17:30 - Canberra Stadium Referees: Jason Robinson & Gerard Sutton Sideline Officials: Peter Kirby & Mohamad Fajajo Video Referee: Chris Ward
RAIDERS: 1. Josh Dugan 2. Daniel Vidot 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Joel Monaghan 5. Phil Graham 6. Terry Campese 7. Josh McCrone 8. Dane Tilse 9. Alan Tongue (c) 10. Troy Thompson 11. Glen Turner 12. Bronson Harrison 13. Nigel Plum Interchange: 14. Joel Thompson 15. Travis Waddell 16. Josh Miller 17. Trevor Thurling; Reserves: 18. Daniel Joyce BRONCOS: 1. Karmichael Hunt 2. Antonio Winterstein 3. Steve Michaels 4. Justin Hodges 5. Dale Copley 6. Darren Lockyer (c) 7. Ben Hunt 8. David Taylor 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Joel Clinton 11. Lagi Setu 12. Ben Te Like