Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
3 days ago
Auckland Vulcans vs Central Coast Centurions
Mt Smart Stadium No.2, Saturday, July 17 - Kick-off: 1.00pm (11.00am AEST)
Referee: Leon Williamson
Wins in the last two months of the competition are paramount for both of these sides as they sit just out of the competitions top eight. From all reports the Centurions were the better side for most of their Round 18 match against the Windsor Wolves but a short slip up late in the second half allowed the Wolves to sneak away with victory. The Vulcans were thrashed by the Bulldogs last weekend and with injuries to key personnel in Pita Godinet and Alehana Mara they now face an uphill battle to make the finals series. Queensland Origin representative Jacob Lillyman makes his return with the Vulcans this week after several weeks on the sideline with a foot injury and he will partner the versatile Ralph Ah Van in the second-row. For the Centurions, Newcastle regulars Keith Lulia, Cooper Vuna, and Scott Dureau have all been named. If Rip Taylor can keep this side for several weeks then the Centurions are a good chance of making the finals. With only two wins separating these two sides on the table, the Centurions will be fired up to bridge the gap and make their assault on the top eight.
Balmain Ryde-Eastwood Tigers vs Western Suburbs Magpies
Leichhardt Oval, Saturday, July 17 - Kick-off: 3.00pm
Referee: Luke Phillips
Broadcast: Triple H 100.1FM (Link available via www.nswrl.com.au's Weekend Game-Cast)
Broadcast: NSWRL Match of the Round to be aired on Fox Sports 2, Wednesday, July 21, 5.00pm
The Balmain-Ryde Eastwood Tigers secured top spot with an impressive 36-24 win over Wentworthville last Monday night at Parramatta Stadium while Western Suburbs turned on the after burners in the second half to overcome the Shellharbour Dragons 34-18 at Campbelltown Stadium. The Tigers have named an ominous 17 for this clash. Even the bench is full of NRL experience with Willie Mataka, Tame Tupou and the Shirnack brothers having all spent time under Tim Sheens at the Wests Tigers. Both sides look to have locked up their places in the 2010 Final Series but now they must jostle for home ground advantage in the first week of the finals. Balmain narrowly overcame the Magpies in Round Two and if the Magpies can dominate field position off the back of Nathan Waters' boot then they are a real chance of bringing the Tigers back to the pack. With the Wests Tigers playing the Cowboys on Monday night, there is no excuse for them not to come out and watch their development squads in action.
Newtown Jets vs Wentworthville Magpies
Henson Park, Saturday, July 17 - Kick-off: 3.00pm
Referee: Gavin Reynolds
The Jets keep yapping at the heels of the Balmain Ryde-Eastwood and Canterbury-Bankstown with consistent performances. Last week the Jets came home with the two points from Olympic Park while the Magpies walked into a red hot Balmain Ryde-Eastwood Tigers on Monday night. For Wenty, Matthew Keating moves back up into the NRL and Tom Humble returns to his preferred position at five-eighth. Newtown again has named a strong forward pack for the match with Lopini Paea, Keith Peters, Aidan Guerra and Jason Baitieri all in the mix. Although the Jets are hot favourites at Henson Park you can't write off the Magpies in this one. Former Bulldog Lee Te Maari has been amongst the competitions best back-rowers as he strives to gain an NRL contract for next season and young rake Anthony Mitchell has also shown that a first grade call up is not too far around the corner. A win for the Jets could see them move into second spot should the Bulldogs falter at Windsor while a win for the Magpies lengthens the gap between them and the fight for eighth.
Cronulla Sharks vs Melbourne Storm
Toyota Stadium, Saturday, July 17 - Kick-off: 3.15pm
Referee: David Munro
Broadcast: www.nswrl.com.au's Weekend Game-Cast, proudly brought to you by Teamm8
A shock loss at the hands of the previously bottom placed Bears last week makes this match all the more important for the eighth placed Sharks. With a golden opportunity to have put some breathing space between themselves and the ninth placed Vulcans, the Sharks were unable to get the job done against a resilient North Sydney outfit last Saturday. Things don't get much easier here as the sixth placed Storm come to Toyota Stadium looking to bounce back after a heartbreaking loss to the Jets at Olympic Park last round. Tim Smith will make his NSW Cup debut for the Sharks this week while young gun, Joe Rokoqo will get his chance to shine on the wing as he replaces Luke Covell. And for Melbourne, Storm and NSW Residents representative, Justin O'Neill is expected to take his place in the line up despite not being named. The halves battle between Widdop and Kelly Vs Smith and Porter will go a long way towards determining the winner of this one and should be worth the price of admission alone.
Windsor Wolves vs Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Windsor Sports Complex, Saturday, July 17 - Kick-off: 6.00pm
Referee: Phil Haines
Broadcast: Hawkesbury Radio 89.9FM (Link available via www.nswrl.com.au's Weekend Game-Cast)
In what is arguably the match of the round, the fourth placed Wolves will look to send a strong message to those teams above them as they play host to the second placed Bulldogs. A come from behind win against the Centurions is probably not the performance the Windsor side would have been looking for heading into this blockbuster, as opposed to Canterbury's performance against the Vulcans, which was clinical and at times in the second half, destructive. The Dogs are riding the crest of the competitions longest current winning streak, which sits at six games while the Wolves have also reeled off five in a row. It is no surprise that the Dogs are hitting their straps when you take a look at the calibre of player they have been able to field of late. This week's forward pack would not look out of place in any NRL team list and players like Trent Cutler, Josh Reynolds and Joel Romelo continue to add polish around the edges. Windsor will need to do what they do best and that is stretch opposition defences with their attacking prowess. Ali Beale, David Simmons and Sandor Earl can score from any position on the park and evergreen halfback, Craig Trindall is looking as dangerous as ever. Should be a cracking game of Rugby League!
Shellharbour Dragons Vs North Sydney Bears
Ron Costello Oval, Sunday, July 18 - Kick-off: 3.00pm
Referee: Gavin West
After looking like springing a huge upset against the Magpies at Campbelltown with around 20 minutes remaining last week, a few late tries to Wests means that the Dragons will take to the park this week still desperate to register their first win since they defeated this week's opponents way back in Round Five. On the flipside, North Sydney registered a morale boosting win at home last Saturday as they managed to hold on and defeat the Cronulla Sharks 24-19. The Bears win combined with the Dragons loss saw the two sides switch places on the NSW Cup ladder, and no doubt the Dragons will be hell bent on making their stay at the foot of the ladder a brief one. Michael Lett continued his stellar form last weekend, and his double sees him vault to the top of the try scorer's table. The Bears new front row partnership of Craig Stapleton and Jaiman Lowe looks to have found its feet and good things can be expected from them in the final weeks of the competition. While both of these sides still have mathematical chances of finals football, this clash here is more realistically one to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon.