FIRE DOUSED | After returning to finals action in 2015, the St George-Illawarra Dragons struggled un...
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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 8 NRL Teamlists HERE.
Below, Paul runs the rule over Round 8, which kicks off with three tantalising ANZAC Day match-ups:
An exceptional tradition started 12 years ago that has now turned into a highlight of the entire season. The Dragons against the Roosters on Anzac Day and what a short and stunning history it has been. Saints lead the 12 match series 8 wins to 4 but were crushed last year by the eventual premiers. This time around, Saints are vastly improved, having won 4 games already compared to 2013's horrifying total of 7.
The defending premiers are not excused, even after last week's win at Remondis Stadium. Their kicking game needs a re-boot (hold your applause) and their go-forward is stuck in reverse (wait a second). Worse than any of these issues is their attack; The Roosters are averaging 11 points per game over the past month and this simply won't fly (thank you, and don't forget to try the veal). Saints are your upset of the week with Trent Merrin playing his 100th first grade match.
A battle between the two worst defensive teams in the competition, statistically speaking. The Storm's much publicised woes continue on the back of their 3rd loss in 4 matches but you won't find any sympathisers north of the Murray River and Craig Bellamy won't be looking for any. He won't need anyone's help to realise his defence is on the brink of collapse and it's not because of missing personnel. Something has changed with the most successful club of the last decade.
Can the Warriors exploit this turmoil in their opponent's defensive line on Friday night at AAMI Park? No. The visitors may still have a spark in them but won't be able to sustain it over 80 minutes. Melbourne have been competitive in every game Cameron Smith has played this year. Smith will keep the Storm involved for 60 minutes and the Warriors will implode from there. Manu Vatuvei v Sisa Waqa a highlight out wide in front of a near sell-out crowd.
Suncorp Stadium on a Friday night and just as you feel more national pride than you've ever felt before, this game will pop up on your TV and ruin your day just a tiny little bit when ‘Bolts' Hadley gets the call. Brisbane v Souths to round out your Anzac Day triple header and from here on, we'll focus on the positives. Souths have won 2 from their last 3 and defended very well in all three matches. They were the better team for 65 minutes last week and will take that form to Brisbane.
The Broncos bounced back from a tough loss to the Titans a fortnight ago by clinically destroying the Knights at Hunter Stadium. Not easy to do. If they are any chance at beating Souths, they'll need to replace Sam Thaiday's missing cover defence; an area where he has been magnificent. This will be a grind with both teams defending well but if anyone can break the shackles, it will be the likes of Greg Inglis and Ben Barba. A beauty from Brisbane with Souths scraping home.
Saturday afternoon footy comes to you from Remondis Stadium with the bottom-of-the-table Sharks hosting the Panthers. Cronulla did all they could last week but still came up empty against the Roosters. Another frustrating year for the boys from the Shire but with their team looking more and more like a first grade squad, things might be looking up. Jeff Robson, Paul Gallen and Todd Carney all now with some match fitness to try and stop the slide.
The Sharks have 1 win from 7 starts but this stat will mean nothing when the Panthers arrive. Ivan Cleary's squad has been the picture of inconsistency this year, as is often the case when fielding a brand new spine, and will struggle to knock off the home side in this one. Cronulla get their second win of the season through improved performances from their forwards and big games from ex-Panthers Wade Graham and Michael Gordon.
The Cowboys have two options from here, don't they? Either spend their week wondering why they find themselves bent over a barrel every year, with the referees carrying a very big stick... or simply control what they can and get on with the season. Coach Paul Green seems to be pointing his team towards the latter, by dropping his halfback for this match against the Eels. This might mean he doesn't think the referees are to blame, just his 7.
And by gum, if anyone knows, Green would. Ray Thompson comes in for Robert Lui to shore up the home side's defence and fingers crossed for Cowboys fans, this works. They'll need something positive to happen and they just might get it. Whilst Parramatta continue to surprise this year, travelling to Townsville after a brutal Monday afternoon match might be too much to ask. The Cowboys bounce back and avoid a third straight loss.
My tip: Cowboys 24-18
Saturday night from Sydney Olympic Park has the NRL's form team, the Bulldogs, hosting the Knights. You can bet coach Des Hasler has watched plenty of video in preparation for this match, with Wayne Bennett's team beating the ‘Dogs three times last year, including an elimination semi-final where the visitors crushed Canterbury into the ANZ Stadium turf. This year brings a different mentality for the Bulldogs.
They sit atop the table with the league's best defence, the league's best for-and-against and an NRL best 4 game winning streak. Get ready for 80 minutes of niggling as three of the best in the business square off against each other. None better than Mick Ennis who will be in the ear of fellow pest, Beau Scott for as long as he can while ably supported by a flourishing protégé in Josh Reynolds. The natives could get restless and by jobe we hope they do. Dogs by a nose in a physical encounter.
My tip: Bulldogs 18-16
The mighty Eagles have won 4 from their past 5 with the only loss coming from that ambush at Leichhardt Oval. This group keeps finding ways to win when they have certainly not been the better team and now, they host the Canberra Raiders on Sunday afternoon at Brookvale Oval. Your match of the round and if you don't believe me, don't worry - simply tune in to see the Eagles backline, even without last week's MoM, Kieran Foran. Ridiculous.
If that's not enough to keep you entertained; stand by for a classic battle of hard hitting forwards up front in this match with the veteran combination of Brett White and Dave Shillington tackling the much less experienced Josh Starling and Brenton Lawrence. It will be a beauty and if the heavens open as predicted, this match will be more violent and a lot closer than the odds suggest. If Manly hold on to the pill, they have too many weapons out wide.
Round 8 comes to a close from Sydney's inner west on Sunday afternoon and there is no better advertisement for the romance of a suburban rugby league ground than Leichhardt Oval. The Tigers have won 7 from their past 10 at this ground including some very big upsets and this week, they get the Titans. John Cartwright's men lost their first match in 5 weeks last Monday at Penrith and will be struggling with their second away game in 6 days.
This puts Wests as very slight favourites with the bookies but it will be a close one. More than this, it will be another test for the Tigers new and improved forward pack. They've been the talk of the town so far this season but this reputation will face its biggest challenge on Sunday. The likes of Greg Bird, Nate Myles and Luke Douglas are as tough as they come so get ready for some fireworks. This forwards battle will decide the winner and the home side has the edge.