GRAND FINAL DAY LOCKED IN | Three big fixtures next Sunday at Sydney's ANZ Stadium! Burleigh and Ill...
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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 9 NRL Teamlists HERE.
Below, Paul runs the rule over Round 9, which kicks off with two Friday night blockbusters:
The season proper kicks back into action this week with the defending premiers hosting the banged up Tigers. On paper, it's a mismatch but the visitors have shown plenty of grit this season to be sitting in 4th position on the ladder. Their forward pack deserves all of the credit. Speaking of the Tigers' forwards, it will be up to them to keep Wests in this match but they'll only be able to do it for so long until the class of the Roosters shines through.
The Chooks superstars turned up the heat in their last outing on Anzac Day and now, with more than a fortnights rest for their key playmakers, this could get ugly early. The Roosters will take advantage of a very young Tigers halves pairing while their big brothers aren't there to protect them. Blake Austin and Luke Brooks will have a tough time. Pearce and Maloney should teach these kids a lesson and the rest will be Foundation Cup history.
A Queensland derby to finish up your Friday night double header so make sure you put this one on mute, but whatever you do, don't switch off. The Cowboys have been mightily inconsistent this year but always tend to lift for this rivalry. They will again here and it seems like the punters are all predicting they will as well, with the home side starting as favourites. But beware the Broncos, my friends.
They have a 4-4 record but have been playing some very, very good football. They've not lost by more than 7 points this year and were absolutely nailed with some bad luck on three of their 4 defeats. Yes, that's the last time you'll hear me make excuses for a bunch of Queenslanders, but these blokes are worth a tip. Brisbane continue their good form, especially in defense and get away with a win here. Ben Barba might be due for one.
My tip: Broncos 20-16
Saturday arvo footy comes to you from Eden Park and what a way to start a pearler of a triple header. The Warriors will be keen not to blow their good form from round 8, where they were able to knock off the Storm in a thriller. This week, they face the visiting and struggling Canberra Raiders who choked quite badly against Manly a fortnight ago. No doubt, they would have copped a mouthful from their coach after that match. .
The Warriors won't want to give them a head start in this one. Led by Sam Rapira and a rejuvenated Simon Mannering, the home side will be in the driver's seat right from the start and Shaun Johnson will steer them to victory. Look for Konrad Hurrell to have a big game in this match, as he won't want to take a back seat to his opposite number, Jarrod Croker. A good head-to-head battle here. Warriors win the tale of the tape. Oh, and the match.
Jeez I wish they'd get rid of this 5.30 timeslot - except for Sharks games. It's too early to be a night game for prime time TV and too late to be a day trip for families. This week, it's even worse - these two clubs deserve top billing as they sit 3rd and 7th on the ladder, respectively, and have two of the most aggressive forward packs in the competition. It will be a ripper and for once, I'm not tipping against the bloody Titans.
The supreme kicking game of Adam Reynolds will keep Souths in great field position; their disciplined defense will be a good foil for the Titans grinding style of attack; their fullback is the greatest athlete Rugby League has seen, but gosh darn it, the Titans have a horseshoe sitting somewhere that just keeps producing good fortune. As they say though, you make your own luck and the home side will do so again here. Nate Myles v Sam Burgess and roaring highlight.
As we reach the tail end of this 10 year battle that re-shaped the word rivalry and made us actually like Manly for a few years - let's look back at the highlights of so many unforgettable matches between these two proud clubs. Actually, just one stands out; that beautiful moment where Manly's Brett Stewart runs 65 metres to launch a WWE style swinging arm at the head of Adam Blair, just as Blair is throwing a few poorly aimed haymakers at Glenn Stewart's face. Beautiful.
Now, as we realise that these two teams won't be turning this match into a similar bloodbath, we also notice that Melbourne have lost their last 4 matches. Perhaps it's a bloodbath they need. Similarly, the visitors could be in strife without Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans in this match. Manly have never won a match at AAMI Park and without these two assassins, they won't start now. Storm at the death.
Sunday afternoon football comes to you from Hunter Stadium in Newcastle and once again, the Knights are doing it tough. Their franchise owner, Nathan Tinkler, has long been under scrutiny from the Knights board and Knights supporters about his management of finances, and whether those finances actually exist in the first place. Now, this football clubs owner is facing charges of bribery to elected state officials. Classy guy.
Does this affect the football team's performance? Maybe. But not this week. The visiting Panthers have not won an away game since Manly tanked at Brookvale in round 26 last year. They are 0-4 on the road this season and against the Knights on a Sunday arvo in the rain, they won't be reversing that trend. Newcastle gets revenge for their round 1 shellacking at Sportingbet Stadium and it's an ever improving Jarrod Mullen who leads them around the park.
Your match of the round and despite the merged entity, a true Sydney rivalry of magnificent proportions. Growing up in a house full of Dragons fans, I never had a chance when these two teams would meet - I was the black sheep. In fact, back then, when all games were played on a Sunday afternoon, there is no way my old man was driving my siblings to Kogarah and then dropping me at Belmore to watch the ‘Dogs. Alas, I spent many Sunday's watching Saints at Kogarah.
Only when the Bulldogs came to Jubilee Oval did freedom reign. It was me against the world. 19,000 people jam packed into a stadium with about 12 seats. A spiritual experience and a lifelong memory. Now, as I teach my kids to hate Saints as much as I did, Sunday afternoon from ANZ will again be a beauty. Sam Williams becomes the 17th halfback to start for the Dragons this year and even with plenty of talent in the squad, the home side are big outsiders. The Bulldogs defence will get them home again.
The Johnny Mannah Cup. A great cause and a great tradition started by these clubs and to close out round 9, Monday Night Footy with have plenty of emotion. The Eels come into this match as justified favourites. They are undefeated at home this year, a miracle in itself, and facing the cellar dwellers of the 2014 premiership so far. Cronulla are struggling, but on the way up as more and more troops return from injury.
Luke Lewis makes his long awaited comeback to replace the (you guessed it) injured Todd Carney and whilst this will bolster the visitors defensive line, it won't help them in attack. The Sharks will be more than competitive in the forwards but won't have any try-scoring power out wide and this is where Jarryd Hayne will make the difference for the home side. Hayne continues his blistering start to the season and will get the Eels home. Bryce Gibbs v Darcy Lussick a hilarious side show. Watch them niggle.
Check out the Match Centre to the right panel of the screen for links to live updates of each match this week!