Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
Manly v Melbourne
The penultimate round of the season proper begins at Brookvale Oval on Friday night and what better way to give footy fans an early taste of semi final action. The Eagles host the Melbourne Storm in a match between arguably the two most successful teams of the last half decade. In that time, Des Hasler has led the Eagles to two Grand Finals for one win - Bellamy's record remains in a shroud of cap controversy but his talents can never be questioned.
And neither can the spirit of these two football teams. They will play with an intensity above and beyond the rest of the competition and fingers crossed for some early, heated exchanges. Home ground advantage and the absence of Storm play maker Cooper Cronk gives the edge to Manly but seeing the Storm at $2.20 mid week is mighty tempting. A colossal contest and the Eagles with just a touch too much.
My tip: Manly 18-12
Parramatta v Eastern Suburbs
Parramatta fans could not help but feel disappointed at their results this year, and with a wooden spoon in sight for the first time in eons, they would be feeling a little nervous as well. But here is a chance for the Eels faithful to reward a huge effort from an under-manned and out-gunned bunch of brave footballers - their last home game of the season.
The Roosters seem to have cast aside the dead weight that may have been too heavy for them to carry this year - and their results have improved as such. They bring good enough form to Parra Stadium on Friday night to continue the misery for first year coach Stephen Kearney. This coaching caper is a tough gig and Kearney and Brian Smith must be desperate for a break, and a win. Smith gets his wish.
My tip: Roosters 20-18
Canterbury Bankstown v Newcastle
The Bulldogs seem to be building momentum, they seem to be showing signs of improvement, their superstars seem to be finally playing to potential - but for what? Bulldogs fans seem to think their team can win by 50 in these last two weeks of the season and snag a finals berth. They never stop believing but ultimately, the Knights don't need to stretch as far.
Newcastle currently sit in 8th position and have everything to play for. Jarrod Mullen, again, will be the key to any success and this time, he will deliver. Amongst a season of disappointment for the Belmore club, youngsters Josh Reynolds and Joel Romelo have been revelations. Romelo's battle with Ryan Stig should be a beauty, as should the Morris v Mad Dog battle out wide. Knights tough it out.
My tip: Newcastle 24-20
Canberra v Penrith
The Raiders have broken a number of records this season. Not to kick them while they are down, but let's just say those records will not make the honour roll at Canberra Leagues Club. However, they still have a chance to get something positive out of a horror season and give one of their favourite sons the farewell he deserves.
Alan Tongue plays his last home game on Saturday night in our nation's capital and nobody has earned the right to finish with a win more than this man. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he has injured every joint in his body playing Rugby League for the Green Machine. Tongue starts at hooker as the Panthers come to spoil the party. They won't.
My tip: Canberra 30-20
North Queensland v Cronulla
The Cowboys would be happy to head home after last weekend's controversy against South Sydney and their fans will turn out in numbers for the Townsville club's last home game of the regular season. A win here keeps them in the running for a home semi final and keeps them on the front foot heading into September.
The Cronulla Sharks, meanwhile, must be counting down the minutes to end season 2011. Albert Kelly has been named to make his return from injury in this match and a rude shock will await him. Jonathan Thurston runs rings around the Sharks backline and come late in the game, will be thinking about for and against. This one could be bad for the visitors.
My tip: North Queensland 40-16
St George Illawarra v New Zealand
Tipsters would be keen to stick with the Dragons, even after such a horror run of form but they might want to be wary here. More so than the Dragons looking completely exhausted - more so than Jamie Soward feeling the effects of a highly emotional representative season, more so than a number of Dragons not used to being in a slump... the in-form Warriors come to town and this is dangerous for the home side.
Dragons coach Wayne Bennett seems a little tired as well, but coaching two teams at once would be difficult for anybody. The Dragons stingy defence will hold the Warriors in check for only so long until the Locke/Johnson combination finds a hole or two - then its curtains. James Maloney has another blinder to match his halves partner and the visitors pull off an upset.
My tip: New Zealand 16-12
Brisbane v South Sydney
In the round 16 fixture between these clubs, South Sydney were too good under heavy rain and almost swamp like conditions. On Sunday afternoon at 3pm in Brisbane, a possible shower or two might swoop over Suncorp Stadium but it won't be enough to slow down the home side this time. Darren Lockyer and his band of young Broncos have definitely put the foot down at the right end of the season.
The Bunnies have also hit the accelerator and are knocking on the door of the semi finals but this one might be too much to ask - even considering the form they are in. The Broncos pack shifts into gear early and Lockyer does the rest. Keep an eye on Isaac Luke in this match; he could fall in and out of consciousness before your very eyes, without any warning. An outstanding talent.
My tip: Brisbane 32-16
Wests v Gold Coast
The good folk of Sydney's west have not seen the Tigers play at Campbelltown since a round 16 loss to the Bulldogs. Football returns to the flannelette capital on Monday night as the Gold Coast Titans travel a long way in the hopes of causing a huge upset to avoid the wooden spoon. Unfortunately for Titans fans, the hosts have everything going for them and this could be a cricket score.
Lote Tuqiri is named to return from injury, Benji Marshall is a free man, the Tigers play their last home game of the season proper and just to add to the flavour, they are still in the hunt for a top 4 finish and a home semi final. The Titans come out with pride as they always do but do not have much else in their bag. Robbie Farah the standout in a big win.
My tip: Wests 34-12