GRAND FINAL DAY LOCKED IN | Three big fixtures next Sunday at Sydney's ANZ Stadium! Burleigh and Ill...
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Paul is back for a look at the weekend ahead as we enter the final round of the 2014 NRL Premiership. Check out his tips and see if yours will match up...
TEAMLISTS: check out the Round 26 NRL Teamlists HERE.
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Below, Paul runs the rule over NRL Round 26:
Round 26 and your match of the round kicks off a weekend where dreams will come true for some and Mad Monday will begin for others. Either way, rugby league can't lose. First cab off the rank? Your match of the round and what a beauty this will be. It's the second-best rivalry going around this weekend behind ‘rickygate' in Canberra but we dare say this will see some better footy played.
And most of that footy will come from the Chooks. Seeing the best of Mitchell Pearce should be so rewarding for those that have stuck by him. Seeing this team play a brand of footy that is true to the spirit of the game and entertaining as well should set the example for all future coaches out there. By contrast, anyone watching Souths should watch Greg Inglis and avoid making eye contact with anything else that Souths dish out.
If you haven't worked out that wrestling has potentially already destroyed the greatest game of all - take a look at this match a little closer. Your Friday night crusher tackle from AAMI Park in Melbourne highlights two clubs who've done well in the squared circle over the years. The Storm have led the way over a number of years when it comes to the old sleeper hold and should be proud of what they have ruined.
Now, ironically, to make the top 8, Brisbane need to beat the home side without their former captain and best player, Sam Thaiday, after he was suspended for wrestling. Apparently the NRL can suspend people but have admitted this is not going to be a deterrent. Just wonderful stuff. Speaking of wonderful stuff, keep an eye on the two halfbacks in this match. Cooper Cronk and Ben Hunt put on a clinic.
Saturday afternoon from Leichhardt Oval and the rugby league puritans could not think of a better way to bid farewell to a couple of teams who've done it very tough this year. The Tigers kicked off the season in style, mostly, but have since come under fire because, effectively, their captain is not ‘one of the boys'. Well, Robbie certainly deserves to hit Mad Monday with style and we are sure he will.
Speaking of Mad Monday, they may as well honour what this great footy ground was built for - punters to hit the sauce very early on their weekend and continue into a happy and hazy evening on Balmain Road. If you think Farah and his crew won't make it all the way to the Sackville, you're kidding yourself. Cronulla may not be able to find their form of a week ago but if its form you're after, look elsewhere.
Last time these clubs met, a round 22 special from Darwin, the Raiders led for most of the contest until Jarryd Hayne found a hole and taxied right through it. This time, Parra must leave everything on the field if they are to be any chance of sneaking into the playoffs. A huge ask for a young team with a horrific away record in 2014 and perhaps, by kick off, nothing to play for.
Look for the Raiders to dominate here as a promising season for the visitors comes to a disappointing end. A tip of the hat to Brad Arthur and his crew though, they have avoided a 19th straight wooden spoon. Speaking of hat tipping, here's to Brett White who plays his last NRL match and speaking of farewells, keep an eye on Canberra fans shedding more tears as they watch another all-star half leave their club. Anthony Milford, we hardly knew ya.
An emotional night for the home side. Firstly, they'll be bidding a fond farewell to retiring centre, Brent Tate and secondly, this could be the last time in 2014 where a refereeing decision goes their way. So, with the starting 17 fully recovered from the flu and their motivation reaching its peak, the Cowboys are justified favourites against Manly at 1300SMILES stadium on Saturday night.
Some fantastic matchups here. First and foremost, two quality, premiership contenders who don't wrestle as part of their Plan A. Secondly, Johnathan Thurston against DCE. Finally and most importantly, keep an eye on the Cowboys back row outplaying the likes of Justin Horo and Tom Symonds and this is where the home side has an edge. They control the ruck and control the edges to win.
Newcastle Knights v St George Illawarra Dragons
Sunday 2:00pm at Hunter Stadium, Newcastle
Ahh, the godfather of the wrestle, Wayne Bennett. Fingers crossed that El Capo realises what a horrible mistake he made when he first hired a wrestling coach in Brisbane all those years ago. I doubt it. Moving on, The Bennett coached Knights have had a terrible year. Unable to grasp his defensive instructions, the Wrestle, it would seem, is not part of the DNA of this great town's footballing culture. Thank god.
So, they finish a forgettable season hosting the Dragons for old boys' day and it will be a huge ask for the visitors to march into Mad Monday with a win here. The Knights are undefeated at home over their past 4 matches, average just under 30 points per game in attack over that span. They'll turn it on again here and put away the Dragons after another brave effort from Paul McGregor's men.
Gold Coast Titans v Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
Sunday 3:00pm at Cbus Super Stadium, Robina
Sunday afternoon from Robina and what a place to organise your Mad Monday festivities. Firstly, you can bet John Cartwright will be a part of the fun; secondly, you can bet Dave Taylor will be falling out of beds all over the Gold Coast next week and finally, a tip of the hat to one of this ‘columns' favourite players over the years, Luke "Bull" Bailey.
From his humble beginnings at St George-Illawarra, Bailey always looked like a leader and played like one. This is his last match and it's only fitting that the Bulldogs' monster pack will make sure it's a tough one. The ‘Dogs are limping into the finals with a stuttering attack but their season long commitment to defence should get them the win here.
My tip: Bulldogs 18-16
By kick off, the Warriors will know everything they need to know so fingers crossed for the Puppets and Muppets in charge of your pay-tv broadcaster that this match is not a ‘dead rubber', so to speak. Either way, we hope that all the Dad's out there enjoyed their father's day by not getting off the couch for the entire Sunday arvo triple header.
You made it, you mad bastards. So strap yourselves in for the regular season finale as the Panthers give it all they got to ensure a top 4 finish at Sportingbet Stadium in front of their loyal fans. Matt Moylan the standout again but it's the tough-as-nails Penrith forwards who turn up to ensure another win.