25 rounds, 192 games, #Origin on a Sunday, and a September Grand Final.
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Paul's back for another look at the weekend ahead. Check out his tips and see if yours will match up...
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Check out the Round 13 NRL Teamlists HERE.
Below, Paul runs the rule over Round 13:
A special night for Bulldogs coach Des Hasler. Finally, Dessie can play a game close to home. Finally, Dessie doesn't have to drive from the northern beaches to Belmore to catch the team bus on time. A horrible run, really. Military Rd - Eastern Distributor - Airport tunnel, how does he do it every day? Hasler is a perfectionist, so he probably does it well and there is no chance he won't be prepared for round 13's opener on Friday night at Brookvale oval.
Its 1 v 3 on the ladder and the only issue that can take away from this beauty would be injuries. With DCE and Choc Watmough rumoured to be ready, we may not have to worry. The Bulldogs will miss Josh Morris desperately, but with 2 weeks rest, Canterbury will be barking right from kick off. Eagles props Brenton Lawrence and Josh Starling will need to show maturity beyond their years to stand up to the visitors pack, but it's the Bulldogs bench forwards that will do the most damage here.
No secret that the Cowboys are winless on the road this year. In fact, their remedy to this problem was to announce during the week that they are in the market for a private plane to help ease the suffering of interstate travel. They also announced that this is a 30 year plan. So until the next Josh Hannay and Paul Bowman's grandchildren can improve this clubs away record, it's up to Jonathan Thurston and his crew to march into Pirtek Stadium and perform a miracle.
The bookies don't agree - they have the visitors as slight favourites but with the return of Jarryd Hayne and Parramatta's record at home this year, it's tough to tip against them. So, since I'm not in the business of making any tough decisions, let's stick with Parra. Luke Kelly gets a shot at the hooker position for the home side, replacing Nathan Peats and whilst these are huge shoes to fill, Kelly and the Eels forwards should aim up against the Australian front rowers and win a close one.
Saturday afternoon from Robina has the 2nd place Panthers visiting the struggling Titans. When they last met in round 7 this year, things were very different with the Titans sitting on top of the table and looking like a team destined to upset the apple cart. Now, just over a month later, John Cartwright's men have only won 1 match since and are losers of their last 3 while the Panthers are on a 3 match winning streak.
If you believe in momentum, well, Penrith will destroy the home side with their disciplined attack, ferocious defense and a couple of very hungry try-scoring weapons out wide. If you think the Titans have a little bit of dynamite left in the kit bag, and that the return of Greg Bird will light the fuse, then tip the home side and watch them play with that famous Titan pride. Peter Wallace and Jamie Soward too good for Albert Kelly and Maurice Blair, for mine. The halves win this one.
St George Illawarra Dragons v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
Saturday 7:30pm at WIN Stadium, Wollongong
13 v 16 on the table, but it won't matter. This famous local derby will still get the fires burning for Sharks and Dragons fans even though their collective seasons look to be a complete mess, at best. Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has been replaced by the reluctant Peter Sharp whilst the Dragons face their second week of the Paul McGregor era. A tough season for the red V, after winning their first three matches but Wollongong might bring a spring back to their step.
McGregor's childhood playground and the Steelers spiritual home ground, WIN Stadium may not be packed to the rafters for this bottom of the table clash, but it will surely mean a lot to ‘Mary' and the Saints. No, that's not a rock band; rather, they are my tip for Saturday night down south. The electric Nathan Gardner returns to first grade but that's where the excitement ends for Cronulla. Their back-up halves simply won't be creative enough.
The second of the NRL's annual trips to Perth's NIB Stadium. As always, the Rabbitohs take their home game across the Nullarbor but this time, it's an in-form Warriors team that will meet them. Both teams are winners of 4 from their past 5 and both teams are improving as the year progresses. Just what you want from a good side - don't peak too soon. The Warriors certainly did not have to worry about this earlier in the season but with their coaching changes now settled, they look dangerous.
Souths will need to be at their defensive best to get away with this one, and they will be. They shut out the Sharks a fortnight ago and trounced the Dragons last week - whilst these opponents are not exactly striking fear into our hearts these days, Souths' are looking good. Sam Burgess will get his team forward early and with this space comes a better kicking game from Adam Reynolds. The Bunnies grind out another one.
My tip: Rabbitohs 18-12
Sunday afternoon football comes to you from Hunter Stadium, with the all-powerful Newcastle Knights now simply a shadow of their past glories. Darius Boyd's 200th first grade match could be a reason to celebrate, but intelligent Knights fans know that this mercenary of a footballer is not quite happy in the Hunter, and not quite giving his best. So, the search for inspiration continues for the home side and the odds are against them finding any.
The Tigers, in contrast, are getting closer to their full complement with more players getting off the physio's table. James Tedesco came back from the brink of anonymity during the week and now, also returns from injury. If the visitors can find any of their early season form, they'll run over the Knights in this one. These teams have a combined 1 win from their past 9 matches so we hope to see some desperation. The class of Robbie Farah and Luke Brooks make for another tough afternoon in Newcastle.
The last two NRL Premiers meet at AAMI Park on Sunday afternoon and whilst the Storm will struggle to overcome the injuries to Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk, it's their defence that will be tested here. The reigning premiers bring an arsenal of weapons and when they fire, it could get ugly for Melbourne. The home side will do everything they can to slow this match down to a grinding halt and hope that Ben Roberts and Tohu Harris can steer them around the park, but.. you know…
Always a difficult time of year for Craig Bellamy and his team - but this is downright nasty. The Roosters, if they care enough, should get out of the blocks quickly and once they get the glut of possession, will be too good here. Keep an eye on Jared Waerea-Hargreaves with a point to prove against a couple of New Zealand forwards picked ahead of him in the Anzac test this year. Sober props have a very long memory.
Monday night football from the nation's capital and finally, I get to talk about the weather. Nothing fills up a ‘column' with boring, witless, pointless opinion better than the cold weather in Canberra. 7 degrees at kick off, that's the prediction. Your pay-tv commentators making very shitty jokes about it - that's another prediction. The Raiders starting a lot quicker than the Broncos and then fading late in the half, that's my last prediction.
Can we put a multi on this? Moving on, the Broncos sit in 6th position on the ladder and are winners of their last 3. They remain undefeated in NSW this year and since the ACT counts as one of ours, they'll keep this record intact after the Raiders lose their direction and the Hunt/Hoffman combination causes trouble for Canberra's league worst defence. Sam Thaiday returns from a very long hiatus to spark a big finish from the Broncos.