DUAL WINNERS | For the second time in three seasons there's been a tie for the #DallyM Medal!
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Paul is back for another look at the weekend ahead. Check out his tips and see if yours will match up...
TEAMLISTS: check out the Round 24 NRL Teamlists HERE.
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Below, Paul runs the rule over NRL Round 24:
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs v Wests Tigers
Thursday 7:45pm at ANZ Stadium
Round 24 is here and with the jostling for positions, comes the inevitable Mad Monday discussions and they are always more exciting. The Tigers? Well, they could end up anywhere but with experienced campaigners like Robbie Farah and Keith Galloway leading the charge, it won't be difficult to organise a pub crawl from Leichhardt to Campbelltown and back. Before this wake begins, Wests still have to face the Bulldogs for Thursday night footy.
The poor Tigers are at very long odds. With Canterbury getting their first win in eons last week, the money is coming in thick and fast for them to destroy a once mighty football team, now whimpering into the off-season. Too many injuries and too little confidence for the visitors to be any chance here. Wet weather might keep it close but the Bulldogs should control the middle early and then unleash the likes of Josh Morris and Tim Lafai.
Friday night footy from Pirtek Stadium where the Eels have been tremendous in 2014. Now, they get a bloody good chance to prove it with none other than league leaders and long-time rivals, the Eagles come to town. This will be a beauty. Wet and wild conditions will meet the visitors and the Eels will look to get off to a flying start. Their young and talented forward pack has usually been the catalyst for this and Friday will be no different.
So, with the Eels desperate to stay in the hunt for the playoffs and with Jarryd Hayne set to sizzle once more, this is your upset of the week. All those who are vying for tipping comp victories right now - ignore me. The rest of you - have a crack at the underdogs here. Manly were tossed around a couple of weeks back by the Bunnies and they could still be shaken up. Will Hopoate facing his old crew could be the trigger he needs to get out of his current funk.
The Broncos are playing for their season here. They currently sit in 10th position but have a decent ‘for and against' that might be the difference. So, as we begin the inevitable discussion about mathematical possibilities to make the 8, let's end them straight away. Even if the Broncos sneak into the finals, they will be cannon fodder for a week and then it's on to the Wayne Bennett era, mark 2. So, fingers crossed they can have some fun along the way.
And what better way to have fun that at the expense of the Newcastle Knights. The Knights are destroying my tipping season and someone needs to sort them out. Speaking of sorting, Bennett gets a good chance to look at his players for next year and continue sorting the wheat from the chaff. I don't really know what they phrase means but it made my point, I think. Ben Hunt continues his fantastic season and the Broncos get the chocolates.
The most entertaining team to watch over the past month has certainly been the Cowboys. Winners of 4 of their past 5, averaging over 30 points in attack over that span. Granted, this statistic is slightly tainted by that Tigers match, but the Cowboys have been fantastic nonetheless. Last Monday night's match against Penrith was an absolute cracker and North Queensland should be commended for playing footy the right way and entertaining the fans.
Which leads us to the Bunnies - winners of 5 straight and they are the form team of the comp. They won't get the kudos for playing entertaining footy though. Rather, heading into another finals run, they find themselves answering questions about their sportsmanship. Well, these blokes have been wrestling for years and they ain't gonna change now. So, be prepared for some mud wrestling at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night… not that kind, you animals.
Sunday afternoon from Mt Smart Stadium and the Warriors are hurting. They've won 2 from their past 5 with those victories coming against the Raiders and Sharks. They've had some tough times lately with losing games to the top teams and missing Shaun Johnson for parts of this stretch. Rookie coach Andrew McFadden will have his hands full trying to right the ship this week and his chances are looking slimmer by the minute.
The Chooks are coming to town and they are bringing with them an all-star cast, a three match winning streak and an inspirational leader that has announced his retirement. The Roosters have looked more dangerous than usual since Anthony MInichiello told the Rugby League world that 2014 would be his swansong. The Warriors better be at their best but smart money says it won't matter. A mini home-coming for the Roosters Kiwi contingent and they'll be too good.
Cronulla Sutherland Sharks v Canberra Raiders
Sunday 2:00pm at Remondis Stadium
With ASADA and WADA finally giving us more than NADA, it's tough for the Sharks to go farther than playing the role of martyr. Their seasons keeps getting harder and harder and whilst I'm not a tough marker, their future is getting darker. Cronulla are braver, but cracks have appeared in their armour and fingers crossed they look sharper this Sunday and play a lot smarter against a larger forward pack and a former coach who is ever the charmer.
Moving on, your match of the round comes from Remondis Stadium in the depths of the heartbroken home of the poor old Cronulla Sharks. Speaking of heartbreak, the Raiders are coming to town for a bottom of the table clash; it's literally 15 v 16 on the ladder. Not sure how the home side can be focussing on footy here but they've been dealing with this shit for two years so they'll probably be fine. Strap yourselves in.
Kogarah's Jubilee Oval comes to life on Sunday afternoon in a do or die game for the red V. The mathematical equation that has been the Dragons season is, again, holding on by a thread and even though they are pronounced favourites here, it's gonna be a tough gig. The Titans have had their own dramas with coaching changes and are now a full fortnight into life with Neil Henry. They almost knocked off the league leaders last week and will be in this up to their teeth.
Put simply, Gareth Widdop needs more ball for the Saints and if they are to sneak into the playoffs, it will be Widdop leading the charge with Benji Marshall as his lieutenant. The Titans have their own hero in Aidan Sezer who is a couple of games back from injury and will be better for it. So get set for a great battle of the halves here after two very willing packs of forwards even each other out. The Titans could mess things up a bit.
Round 24 comes to a close from the foot of the mountains as Penrith host the Storm for Monday night footy. A cracker from Sportingbet Stadium. Somehow, the Panthers have overcome a horrific injury toll and looked like world beaters last week against the Cowboys. They will benefit again from a week at home but tough to see Jamie Soward playing two spectacular games in a row. He'll be great, as he has been this year but the Storm should have something in store for him.
Look for Ryan Hoffman to find Soward in the defensive line, no matter how far wide he lines up. Yes, play some Benny Hill music in the background and watch Hoffman charge to all corners of the field to find the Panthers pivot. In the end, it won't be fun for anyone as the Storm grind this one down to a screeching halt and defend their way to victory. You'll see some desperation from Melbourne here as they are still hurting from what happened in Newcastle a fortnight ago.