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The Origin hype is starting to build but it has robbed us one of the NRL?s great grudge matches. Tonight the Bulldogs take on the Roosters at Aussie Stadium and with the Roosters missing seven players, the match is heavily stacked in favour of the out of sorts Bulldogs, who only have Steven Price on Origin duty.
Well, Price is the one player who has held the Bulldogs together this season and they will miss his go forward and endurance against a Roosters side that still boasts Brad Fittler, Jason Cayless, Adrian Morley, Brett Finch, Todd Byrne and Ryan Cross in their lineup. There is still enough firepower for the Roosters to win and the Bulldogs are playing well below their best so for mine it?s still an each way bet with the Bulldogs recent record against the Roosters the only thing swaying me towards the Dogs.
Toss a coin for the next match as well. The Sharks have bounced back to form and have won three of their past four while the Warriors form has been awful, losing three of their past four. The match is at Ericcson Stadium and while goalkicking is the achilles heel of both sides, it may come down to who can convert four into six to determine the outcome of this match. Lance Hohaia has been dropped and Richard Villisanti returns for the Warriors while the Sharks are only missing Phil Bailey, who has been selected on the bench for the first Origin match after showing his versatility on both the back row and the centres. Both sides will be desperate but I feel the Warriors at home may just away with a much-needed victory.
The ultimate reversal of fortune sees former heavyweights Parramatta pitted against new heavyweights the Canberra Raiders at Canberra Stadium. Canberra currently occupy sole ownership of first spot on the competition ladder and have no plans to relinquish it with a loss to the Eels, who sit in 14th place despite their big win over South's last weekend. Canberra are at full strength while the Eels are still without some of their stars including Nathan Cayless and Nathan Hindmarsh. Putting it simply, Parramatta do not have the firepower to overawe the Raiders, especially at home.
Saturday night in Townsville should see a bumper crowd (hopefully a sell-out) on hand to support the much-maligned Cowboys who have hit a purple patch. If the Cowboys had Bowman and Sing, I would have no hesitation in backing them to beat the Panthers, who are looking for their eighth win in succession. And like the Raiders, the Panthers are at full strength despite being the form side of the competition, with no players in the Origin series. I think the Panthers will win by two in what should be a fantastic game of football.
Sunday has the Storm facing off against the Rabbitohs and with South's holding a vice like grip on the wooden spoon, Melbourne should be far too good for South's. Matt Orford and Scott Hill should have a field day against South's inept defence and while miracles do happen in Rugby League, the myrtle and cardinal faithful will have to pray a lot harder to get away with this one. Melbourne by 30.
Last match of a shortened round sees old rivals Manly and Wests Tigers go head to head at Leichhardt Oval in the match of the day. The Tigers are riding high after their surprise upset of the Bulldogs last weekend while Manly are coming off the bye. Terry Hill is the key to the Tigers success and his game at lock against the Bulldogs last week was first class. A win against Manly would see the Tigers only four points out of the top eight and while it is still a steep mountain to climb, it?s not impossible for the Tigers to make the top eight. If Manly were to lose, they would be level with the Tigers but they have not shown enough to me to suggest they could make the top eight and have already lost to the Tigers at home.
We have hit the halfway point of the season and who would have thought the Bulldogs to be outside the top eight while the Raiders and Panthers occupy two of the top four spots. Some people said after the first round it would be a four horse race between the Broncos, Bulldogs, Roosters and Knights. I?m happy to say that is not the case and for the first time in years, we are seeing some true competition.
Brisbane, Newcastle and St George Illawarra have the bye.
P.s I?m in second spot in the tipping comp so the gospel according to Mick is still very much on track.