Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
Newcastle v South Sydney
How time flies. Round 26 kicks off with a do or die match as Souths head up the F3 to take on the Knights at Ausgrid Stadium. The Bunnies are playing a good brand of football lately but the pressure of this match will be huge. Win and you're in, lose and it's off to Russell Crowe's farm for Mad Monday. Looks like the latter.
Knights fans will be fuelled up and fired up for Friday night in their annual 'old boys' game and they will reach fever pitch as Adam MacDougall plays his last home game. Hard to see the bunnies overcoming the early onslaught and even though Bulldogs fans will be praying for a draw, it will be the home side whose prayers are answered. Kurt Gidley the stand out.
My tip: Newcastle 30-20
St George Illawarra v Penrith
The Penrith Panthers come to the end of a forgettable season which started with a 40 point drubbing in round 1 and could very well finish the same way. It's been a tough one for the Mountain Men and they head to Wollongong with not much to play for but pride. The Dragons, however, are still desperate to find a touch of last year's September form and this is a prime opportunity.
Saints will stroll through the visitors 'b grade' front row and throttle them right up the middle. The Dragons backline should have a field day after this platform has been set as WIN Stadium bids farewell to Mark Gasnier. Must make mention of Luke Lewis here, he has every reason to rest his broken body but doesn't need any reason to play. A credit to his love of the game and his bravery.
My tip: St George Illawarra 28-8
New Zealand v North Queensland
With the chance of hosting a semi final all but gone, these two clubs come together at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday night looking to find some rhythm. The Cowboys hobbled over the line against Cronulla last week and the Warriors were unlucky to lose to St George Illawarra; they'll both be keen to warm up well for next week.
The home side not only warm up, but they heat up at home to farewell the Warriors faithful in their final game in Auckland. Quality football on display from two quality teams as they give us a taste of what's to come. Great matchups all over the park as the Locke/Johnson combination shows the Bowen/Thurston combination that youth can beat experience.
My tip: New Zealand 18-14
Cronulla v Wests
Saturday night at 'Shark Park' - for one more time in 2011. Fans in the Shire have had another season to forget but they will be treated to a spirited display as the home side does their best to finish the season on a high. In fact they will play with no pressure at all and this could be dangerous for the visiting Tigers. The Sharks will not lay down.
Prepare yourself for plenty of fun between noted nigglers and future Sharks, Bryce Gibbs and Liam Fulton as they face Paul Gallen and Jeremy Smith. But once all is said and done and the forwards get out of the way, Benji Marshall grabs this game by the barrels and rips the home side apart. His combination with Robbie Farah is still the most entertaining football to watch in the NRL.
My tip: Wests 28-14
Gold Coast v Parramatta
Preston Campbell's legacy to Rugby League is obvious. He is a beacon of light and hope for the indigenous community as well as the many young footballers who don't weigh 100kgs at age 13. As a footballer, you will struggle to find anyone with faster feet and better instincts - Presto was a pleasure to watch.
Speaking of which, fingers crossed the people of the Gold Coast realise this and come to watch their captain one last time. The Parramatta Eels may not draw the biggest crowd of the season, but this match will be played with plenty of spirit nonetheless. Edge goes to the home side as they claw their way in front in the closing stages of a good match to end a horrible season.
My tip: Gold Coast 20-18
Canterbury Bankstown v Canberra
If by miracle, the Knights and the Bunnies draw their match on Friday night (stay with me here people), this match will turn into a Father's Day frenzy at Homebush with 40,000 streaming through the gates. If not, the Andrew Ryan farewell match will be a memorable one. He is one of toughest in the land.
The man they call 'Bobcat' will be remembered by the Belmore faithful as the man who saved the 2004 premiership from slipping through their fingers. As a second rower, he is up there with Kennedy, Fitzgibbon and Hindmarsh and a tip of the hat to him. Dugan v Barba a highlight as disappointing seasons come to an end for both clubs but the 'Dogs rip it up late.
My tip: Canterbury Bankstown 40-18
Brisbane v Manly
While the press in Sydney have basically camped out at Brookvale during the week, the Brisbane Broncos have been preparing an official farewell for their captain and favourite son, Darren Lockyer, in relative peace and quiet across the border. They have secured 3rd place on the ladder and are building towards something special.
The middle leg of your Sunday triple header will be a beauty but very difficult to tip the Eagles without Kieran Foran. The visitors have plenty of depth and plenty of speed in their backline to match up well with their hosts, but without Foran they will miss some direction. Manly won't be able to spoil the party as Lockyer shines again.
My tip: Brisbane 24-12
Eastern Suburbs v Melbourne
This booze ban seems to be working. Makes you wonder how hard the Roosters were hitting the soup before they decided enough was enough. They have won 3 straight now and youngsters like Aidan Guerra and Jake Friend are reaping the rewards of this healthy approach to life. One game to go and they can get stuck in with a clear conscience.
NRL CEO David Gallop will be on hand for an awkward post match presentation of the J.J. Giltinan shield as Melbourne wrap up the minor premiership. An amazing effort considering what they have been through. However, that will be nothing compared to what Kings Cross will go through when the Roosters hit the strip for Mad Monday after a month off the drink.
My tip: Melbourne 26-6