The NSW Blues have been named for the first game of the 2017 #Origin series.
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Unlucky for some?If you?re like me you?ll be hoping that the number 13 doesn?t translate to bad luck in tipping circles this week. In fact, I?m still searching for my first perfect round this year, but once again we are faced with a fairly difficult task.
Round 12 saw some interesting shifts in the NRL landscape, with the Cowboys and Knights falling over, whilst Brisbane and Melbourne surged ahead. And if you ask me, I don?t think we?ve seen the best of the Bulldogs, Sea Eagles or the Dragons which is a scary thought given their current standings.
I came away with an untidy 4 from 7 last week to take me to 51 out of a possible 83 (61%) but this still isn?t up to my usual standards. Everyone?s been saying this year is so hard to pick, so tell me punters, is it? Or is it that we are becoming less in-tune with the nuances of our game?
Dragons v Eels
Friday night commences in cracking fashion, with two clubs that have slowly developed a hatred for one another over the past few decades, taking the field in what?s sure to be a heated contest. Last year they played a couple of the best games of the season, with the first at Parra Stadium resulting in a brawl and the last at Kogarah, the scene of tomorrow night?s showdown, where both teams threw everything they had at one another.
With Barrett out, and given the form he was in, the Dragons do lose some strike power. His kicking game and organisational abilities will be missed but let?s not forget the Dragons have won without him on many an occasion. Gasnier gets a premature shift to five-eighth as a result and the jury is still out as to whether he will make it in this position. I actually think he is the key tomorrow night, with Bailey to set a foundation in the forwards.
The Eels are coming off a pressure-relieving win against the Roosters and this is one of those situations where form counts for nothing as both teams will lift when they play one another. Parra?s second half last week was dismal, but they did show a few promising signs early in the game. I don?t so much mind the look of their forwards right now and you can always count on Hindmarsh to play his heart out. But I?m going to stick with the Dragons because of the home ground advantage ? the Eels haven?t won at Kogarah since 1997.
Storm v Roosters
Super Saturday kicks-off in the twilight of Olympic Park in our southern capital where the Roosters travel to take on the Storm. This is an interesting game for Origin selections and we?ve already been told that our mate Gene Miles will be down there to have a gander at the boys eligible for Queensland.
Let?s start with the Roosters ? I shook my head in disbelief when they took the field last week. They had so many changes that it took them the first half to work out what everyone was doing before they could apply themselves in the second half. By that stage it was 22-0 and looking pretty dire. I thought they did well to post 20 points but they could have easily won if they had another five minutes. I see Soward is at fullback again? I?m really unhappy at this. No disrespect to the guy, but he?s got zero penetration from the back and will get run over in defence. Use him in the halves Ricky!
As for the Storm, well they have an embarrassment of riches at fullback. The current QLD winger is holding down that position with a former Maroon custodian on the bench. They have attacking ability oozing from the pores of their skin and they will look to capitalise on this. Their forwards might do it a bit tough up against a streetwise Roosters pack but I think they have the goods to win here. Remember, Olympic Park is a small ground and the Storm will take advantage of their larger backs in King, Inglis and Hill close to the line against the Roosters. Melbourne to win.
Bulldogs v Knights
Both of these teams are last start losers, making this the only game where we encounter such a coincidence in round 13. It makes it hard to judge form particularly considering both sides got a fair touch up, the Knights more so than the Bulldogs.
Newcastle won?t enjoy travelling down to Homebush and all we keep hearing is how Joey is feeling tired and can?t wait for the bye. I?m pretty sure this is a bad thing for team morale and very few captains out there would make such statements as it leaves you open to an onslaught. But hey, maybe Joey is luring the Bulldogs into a false sense of confidence. Methinks Folkesy will have their minds on the job however.
I still don?t like the look of the Knights with Kurt Gidley at fullback and Todd Lowrie at five-eighth. It doesn?t give Johns too many options but their forwards haven?t lost anything and their bench is superior. The Doggies are a proud club and they won?t enjoy being beaten again, but they are fielding a very good line-up, particularly in the forwards. This is where the game will be won and I bet Mason, O?Meley and Asotasi have a few things to straighten out after being dominated last week. We still haven?t seen Sonny Bill hit top flight either.
There would be lots of people out there tossing a coin over this one but I?m going to stick with the home side and tip the Bulldogs. It will be a tough game and Newcastle have the bye next week dangling out in front of them like a carrot, so the week off could prove to be extra motivation. Here?s a future prediction though ? if the Knights lose I wouldn?t want to be the Warriors in round 15!
Raiders v Rabbitohs
Our last Saturday game comes to us from the Nation?s Capital where the Bunnies car-pool-it down to the cool surrounding of Canberra. One has to wonder if they?ll be bagging each other out on the way there and whether they?ll split to petrol costs.
Last week I said, much to my detriment, that Canberra couldn?t win without Jason Smith and I was firmly placed in the naughty corner for a good few hours. But hey, they were facing off against the Cowboys at Dairy Farmers, so I had my reasons. Judging by the form they displayed up there the Raiders ought to romp it in against Souths in what potentially shapes as another drubbing for the Bunnies. To make matters worse, it will be really cold down there when they get out of the showers.
I can?t see any reason to pick the Rabbitohs here and unless the entire 25-man Canberra squad is ruled out just prior to kick-off I won?t be. Even then I bet the Raiders could probably recruit 13 drunks at short notice from the bar who would hold their own. Peachey?s inclusion has to give them a spring in their step and overall they still have a reasonable squad at their disposal, so I?d expect a better performance this week. But can they win? No, I don?t think so. Raiders by a few, and the likely poor standard of the game may force Foxtel to issue a content warning before the game.
Warriors v Broncos
We arrive in Auckland next as Sunday kicks-off in grand fashion between the Warriors and the Broncos. This game is the start of a ?Super Sunday? where all three games can be seen back-to-back on Fox and 9. This game promises to be a fairly open and attack-based affair.
I actually think the Broncos are in a spot of bother here. Strangely, if there is one pack of forwards who can mix it with the Broncos on their day it is the Warriors. The only problem is it has to be their day. But this week they?re due for a good show and they could come out firing. With Wiki and Price leading the way the home side have a chance to get on top early, and if they do, the Warriors tend to stay in the game and remain focussed.
For Brisbane, Civoniceva is going well but Webcke is a little dusty and may take some time to get going. Plus they?re missing Hodges in the centre?s which effectively halves their attacking potential. The bench is the key here with the Broncos possessing a stronger all-round squad and whilst I think New Zealand will give them a run for their money, the Broncos will grind out a victory. They?re not on top for nothing?
Panthers v Sea Eagles
Manly head out west for their Sunday showdown with the Panthers in a game that will include a sub-plot or two for those Perry Mason fans out there.
Firstly, like St George last week, I think the bye will have a positive effect on the Sea Eagles. The other big positive is the return of Ben Kennedy who is sure to add plenty of starch to the engine room. Manly field a strong line up with few, if any, weak links in their side. They have pace and strength out wide and will trouble the Panthers if given the opportunity.
Penrith are doing things a bit tough at the moment. Gower had surgery 10 days ago and that?s never a good thing. Wait until the teams have been announced an hour prior to kick-off before you bet on this one. Even then, I?d take the Sea Eagles at anything over $2 as I think they are good value there. Penrith played well last week against the Storm but they look vulnerable and there has to be doubts over Gowie?s fitness.
Orford?s challenge to his opposite will present the NSW selectors with food for thought as he is probably third in line for the gig. If Finch gets injured and Gower doesn?t look right, Matty could be their best option. I?m tipping the Sea Eagles to break a 12-year hoodoo, having not won at Penrith since round 8 in 1994.
Tigers v Cowboys
The final chapter in Round 13 is a tantalising prospect with reigning premiers the Wests Tigers taking on their Grand Final opponents the North Queensland Cowboys. There?s bad blood between these two sides stemming from last year and there?s every chance a bit of niggle will be present with the boys from up north taking the chocolates earlier in the season at home.
The Cowboys are $2.40 outsiders which is a bit of a surprise but they did lose to the Raiders last week and have been below their best recently. But I certainly don?t think they?re travelling that bad and I?m going to slap a lazy $20 on them as my emotional hedge of the week. Hannay?s return will give them a more secure look in the backline and the forward pack plus bench in looking strong, although I would like to see Rockin? Rod Jensen in the number 17.
Despite this, I?m sticking with the bookies favourite for the win. Wests are on the rise and they started to put it together last week against Souths, who may well have played them into form. They should be full of confidence and have the wood on the Cowboys at Telstra, winning two out of two against them there. With most of the team starting to take shape I think the Tigers will have plenty to play for at home in front of what should be a good crowd. I?m still not a fan of Lolesi at lock though.
The Sharks have the bye in Round 13 after dispatching the Warriors at home. This was a good victory for them after a poor start to the year, and they now have two weeks to prepare for their trip to FNQ against a Cowboys outfit that will be missing their Origin players. Things are looking up for Cronulla.