Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
3 days ago
Legs eleven rolls around amid some uncertainty as rep players are stood down over the weekend for the opening State of Origin match. This often proves to be a fatal cocktail for tipping aspirants as key players are removed from clubs and all of a sudden myriad possibilities come into calculations.
I?ll be honest though, I?m not tipping real well at the moment and I was paid a visit last week by some guys in white coats after selecting the Bunnies for the second time this season. The Cowboys are a frustrating team as are the Raiders with consistency a thing of the past.
Another Saturday meatloaf saw me carry 3 from 4 into Sunday where I carded a bogey and ended up three under par for the round. I?m sitting on 43/70 (61%) and it?s not as pretty as it could be.
Panthers v Eels
Friday night starts with an awkward clash out at the foot of the mountains between the Eels and the Panthers. This game is a tough one to pick with both sides missing regular first graders for a variety of reasons.
The Panthers? linchpin Craig Gower is on rep duty for the Blues with Luke Lewis taking the field after Mark Gasnier was passed fit. He?ll form an unlikely halves combination with regular dynamo Preston Campbell but the backline isn?t what it used to be. The forwards shape up pretty well though with Clinton, Priddis, Pritchard and Puletua and it is a home game for the Mountain Men.
Beware the sacked coach hoodoo however. With Brian Smith gone and caretaker coach Jason Taylor assuming the reigns at the club, the players generally turn around their underlying poor form for at least one week. But there are extenuating circumstances. Taylor isn?t a permanent solution and with Tim Smith and Mark Riddell in reggies, plus Hindmarsh, Tahu and Grothe out for the Blues, it?s not as cut and dry as you?d think.
I?m going to stick with the theory and tip the Eels, but they will struggle to have any serious penetration in the comp going forward.
Warriors v Tigers
Super Saturday kicks off in Auckland as the Tigers visit the Warriors with a view to collecting two points after they were arguably robbed last week at home.
The Tigers have lost Brett Hodgson to the NSW camp but that?s all at this stage with McDonnell deputising for the enigmatic custodian as he has done several times before. I thought the Tigers were pretty good last week and showed that they will still be a force come semi-finals time.
The Warriors are pretty disappointing of late but each week they don?t lose by big margins. Against the Dragons they took an early lead only to get pegged back in a fairly ugly struggle and they will do it tough without captain and chief yard-maker Steve Price.
I have to stick with form here and I?m tipping a Tigers victory.
Sea Eagles v Storm
Next we head back across the Tasman to where two under-strength side go head to head at Fortress Brookvale.
Manly are without the reliable Steve Bell plus prop Brent Kite and gun lock Ben Kennedy is still missing in action. Normally that would be enough reason to pick against the Sea Eagles but they are playing at home and they face a club who are fielding a side with a few holes.
Melbourne have Mick Crocker and Billy Slater suspended. They?ve also lost their best player in Greg Inglis to QLD along with hooker Cameron Smith and let?s not forget big centre Matt King. All these players have been in form for the Storm and will prove vital in the teams chances this week.
I?m backing Manly after a disappointing performance against Brisbane with Orford to send a message to the NSW selectors. Stewart is back as well and he goes pretty well.
Knights v Raiders
Our final Saturday stoush is up in Newcastle where the Knights play host to Canberra at what?s sure to be a packed EnergyAustralia Stadium. There?s only so many games Joey will play before he retires and if I was a Knights fan I?d be pretty keen to see them.
The Raiders jump in the Firefly bus and head up the highway for a difficult game. With Buderus out and Simpson also on rep duty, two of the form Newcastle players are taken out of the equation. Still, Johns is there and they win most of their game with him whilst Carney, Smith, Perry and Davico will all go hard throughout. They won?t be easy-beats.
The Raiders slumped to a shattering loss last week and once again reinforced themselves as one of my un-tippable sides. With a full squad and a decent bench you?d think they could get close and with last week?s trouncing at the hands of Cronulla still ringing in their ears, I?d expect them to at least show up. They have the type of game to aggravate Newcastle but it depends how well they do that.
As a punter, the Knights are the only tip here, but it wouldn?t shock me if the Raiders jagged a win.
Bulldogs v Sharks
Sunday footy kicks off with the first of our each-way bets when the Sharks get their passports out and head up to Homebush for what?s sure to be cracking contest.
Straight up you have to go for Canterbury; they?re at home, they?re a traditionally strong club and they disposed of the Eels last week despite only putting 2 penalty goals on the board in the second half. In short, they have the ability to score points and stay in a game regardless of their current circumstances. They do, however, have Willie Mason, Mark O?Meley, Nate Myles and captain Andrew Ryan missing from the team thanks to the Blues. This could be a real issue.
The Sharks have been in form lately though and it?s hard to ignore. They travelled to Canberra last week and gave it to the Raiders just for something to do. Kimmorley is on the bench and I haven?t spoken to anyone who thinks that?s actually a bonus given their form of late. And with Villa the Gorilla lining up, their team looks strong.
Whilst Cronulla has a mixed record at Telstra Stadium, with Lance Thompson and Paul Gallen playing exceptionally well lately, I have my doubts over whether they can keep it up and I expect the Bulldogs to take the chocolates here. Both benches are lacking in any real impact and I expect Sonny Bill and Hazem to enjoy the return of Brent Sherwin.
Roosters v Rabbitohs
The final game of the round pits arch rivals Easts and Souths in a good old-fashioned tussle at the Sydney Football Stadium. I?ve picked Souths twice this year for zero return and after last week I?ve vowed to never take them again. But it?s not stopping me from thinking they can win.
The Bunnies have a great back line and some tradesman-like forwards who will cart it up all day long. And they always lift against the Roosters as a sign of their eternal hatred for the Bondi Junction club. I even hope they win, but I?m just not willing to bet they will anymore.
Easts are without Zoolander, who was plucked from some diabolical form to represent the Blues at pivot, and the versatile Craig Wing who they?ll probably miss more. Strange that Jamie Soward isn?t getting a run this week as well.
Again, it wouldn?t surprise me to see the Bunnies jag a win and I hope they do for themselves more than anything, but I can?t give this one away again and I?m sticking with the Roosters as they still have some good personnel in the team.
The Cowboys, Broncos and Dragons have the bye this week. Whilst Brisbane and North Queensland have contributed in a large way, the Dragons find themselves in a bit of a lucky situation this week. Only one player is on duty for the Blues and they should be pretty fresh to take on Knights next week. They have been decimated around this time of the season in year?s gone bye though, so it?s probably a bit of payback.