Time to look ahead to Sunday's decider! Rob Crosby has a full look at both teams and what to expect ...
10 hours ago
Paul is back for another look at the weekend ahead. Check out his tips and see if yours will match up...
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Below, Paul runs the rule over NRL Round 20:
Round 20. You gotta be kidding me. We are only 6 weeks away from the finals, my very good friends, so why not start this round with my favourite saying in rugby league, ever. ‘Some teams are still a mathematical possibility of making the 8'. You may as well get warmed up for Mad Monday when people start mapping out your season via an equation. So to you, the Newcastle Knights, I hope this horrific season ends with no more pain.
Your coach has walked out on you, your star fullback is in rehab and your club is in the hands of administrators. Perhaps you'd like to play the defending premiers this weekend? Just for kicks? The Roosters head north to Hunter Stadium for your opening game of round 20 and Friday night footy could be a disaster for Knights fans. The Chooks have destroyed this team the last 4 times they've played and it could be more of the same here.
Friday night from Suncorp Stadium. Second game on your free-to-air broadcast (in NSW anyway). Whatever. The Broncos bounced back from the rep season slump last week to not only beat the visiting Warriors, but played some mighty impressive footy. Halfback Ben Hunt continues to receive praise from all and sundry and when a halfback gets kudos, you know his forward pack is playing very well. They are. But this week, Corey Parker and his fellow rep forwards will have their hands full.
The Broncos have not beaten Melbourne in their last 6 attempts and now, they try to break that streak against a Storm team boasting some pretty handy forwards of their own. This will be a beauty. Kevin Proctor and Ryan Hoffman will lead the charge against Brisbane and they will be ably supported by a resurgent Cooper Cronk. Melbourne too good in a very tight one with Cronk outplaying his upstart challenger for the maroon 7 jersey.
Carrington Park in the mighty city of Bathurst will be hosting your Saturday afternoon rugby league bonanza and we can't wait. The Panthers have nailed it here. All three grades travelling west for a mid-morning kick off for the under 20s, a lunchtime NSW cup show and then your main game at 3pm. What's more exciting is that the forecast is for a cold, wet and miserable day in the jewel of New South Wales' central tablelands. Perfect footy weather.
So, while the atmosphere in the country may be beautiful, the Sharks are still ugly. Their defence over the past 5 matches has been near paper thin and now, with the rumoured return from injury of halfback Peter Wallace, the Panthers should tear it up here. Wallace was reported to be out for 5 weeks but now, this tough bastard is back after 2. The visitors look to be completely outgunned here, Panthers by a bit.
The Titans keep fighting. Somehow, someway they put away the Knights at Hunter Stadium last week and caused one of the biggest upsets of the year. This week, with a chance to salvage a season that started so well and turned to shite so quickly, they face a team with the worst away record of anyone but the Cowboys. Parramatta are outsiders here but with both teams on 20 competition points, 2 points out of the 8, there will be desperation.
So tune in for the 5.30pm match from Cbus Super Stadium in the Gold Coast and if the Eels are a chance to cause the upset, they'll need help from their five eighth. Corey Norman must take advantage of the attention afforded to his 7 and his captain. He won't. The Titans welcome back Greg Bird and will play with plenty of confidence. James Roberts is a standout again for the home side and will be a handful for veteran Willie Tonga.
Saturday night from ANZ Stadium as the Bulldogs host the Cowboys. The ‘Dogs will be keen to bounce back after last week's shock loss to the Tigers. More so, they'll be keen to re-set their defence after letting in a season high 46 points. Have a guess what they've been working on at Belmore mid-week. The Cowboys won't have to guess. They overcame their season's biggest hurdle last week by winning on the road, but this will be a tougher task.
So, the story here, as always, will be about Jonathan Thurston. He'll be aiming to kick early and often to get the visitors out of trouble and the Bulldogs monster pack of forwards turned around whenever he can. With a slight edge in mobility, the Cowboys pack will be hoping to stay close for most of this match and then run over the top of a tired home side. They won't. The ‘Dogs defence will be back to its best and aim up well against JT.
My tip: Bulldogs 22-12
The Warriors certainly have come a long way in season 2014 and now, after hearing from the talking heads that they are the ‘team to watch', they'll test this reputation against the competition leaders. Manly head over the ditch for Sunday afternoon footy from Mt Smart Stadium and this is your match of the round. The Eagles come in as slight favourites, thanks in part to their magnificent record in NZ, but the Warriors are undefeated at Mt Smart this year.
So, strap in for a beauty and keep an eye out for the battle between Konrad Hurrell and Steve Matai. Violent, brutal and not for the faint hearted. While you're watching, keep your eyes glued as Josh Starling and Brenton Lawrence set the tone for the visitors and their all-star backline does the rest. Manly win two in a row on the road as DCE leads the way and Kieran Foran has a blinder in his home town.
A pity that Benji Marshall's first game against his beloved Tigers is at ANZ Stadium. No atmosphere. Imagine the noise at Leichhardt if their favourite son returned in this fashion. My kingdom for 7 games on a Sunday afternoon at Sydney's golden suburban grounds. Speaking of golden, the Tigers won a medal for best performance of the year last week when they destroyed a Bulldogs outfit that previously held the best defensive record in the league.
Now, they face a desperate Saints outfit keen to return to form after being out smarted by the Eagles last week. The Dragons will need to be enthusiastic right from kick off because the youngsters in black and gold will be brimming with confidence. Luke Brooks, Mitchell Moses and Curtis Sironen should provide the spark here and will make things difficult for the visitors. Brooks v Marshall the highlight as Tigers fans watch one era end and another begin.
My tip: Wests Tigers 30-22
Monday night footy from the nation's capital and Canberra Stadium should be crumbling under the weight of a capacity crowd here. Single digit temperatures forecast and it may take a while for the collective engine of South Sydney to warm up, as well as the city of Canberra itself. Jokes aside, the visitors will be very keen to atone for a round 4 shock loss to the Green Machine and this could be all they need to heat things up.
Greg Inglis is also playing, so there's that. And really, the rest of this "preview" really doesn't matter. If GI gets enough pill, he will tear the home side to pieces. A very good way for Adam Reynolds to get in his coach's good books - give the ball to GI and then don't leave his side. The Raiders have their own superstar fullback in Anthony Milford but it won't be enough. Souths win after another big game from Sam Burgess and the class of GI.