Round 15 NRL Preview

Well, I had a shocker last week. After clinching my first perfect score in Round 13, I dropped the ball big time and came crashing back down to earth. It started fine with my choice in Friday night?s game getting up at the death, but it all went downhill from there. I had my head handed to me in a bucket on Super Saturday and then continued to watch my picks fall from the sky all the way to Monday. It seems I?m not alone though.

Everyone was banging on about how even the competition was last year, yet it?s been even more so this season if you ask me. We?re just past the halfway mark and 4 points separates the top seven teams on the ladder. The next five, including the fast starting Cowboys, are well within reach of 8th spot. Still, it?s cold comfort to this punter who slumped to third place in the tipping stakes with 2 for the week last week. I?m sitting on 60 from 97 (62%) and things could be better.

Incidentally, for all those who read my Origin II Preview, I think New South Wales managed to find those weapons of mass destruction I hinted at. So yeah, my tipping has been pretty ordinary of late. I take solace in the words of my former coach who used to say ?at least you got that one out of your system before the semis? as I trudged off the field after a bad game. The trick is to never put two shockers back-to-back.

Broncos v Dragons

Friday night delivers a blockbusting clash between two teams who always lift against one another. This produces a heavyweight battle more often than not, regardless of their position on the ladder. Plus, it?s a TV match so the all the boys and the ref will bring their A-game to bear.

This will be the 15th clash between the two clubs since the merger, but plenty of bad blood still exists from the ?92 & ?93 Grand Finals. The Dragons are travelling well at the moment and you might say they?re a bit of a dark horse in the comp. Last week?s victory over Penrith shocked me and I think they might have the Broncos? measure here. Head is back and he?s renown for returning well from injury. Plus I think the use of Ryles from the bench is good, but plenty rests on the shoulders of Bailey who?s backing up from Origin. I doubt Gasnier will be hampered, he hardly touched the ball.

The Broncos have some personnel issues though. Parker and Tupou, two players who have been in form, have been ruled out with Hodges and Hunt under injury clouds. This sees Berrigan to the centres and McGuire comes into the side at hooker. Then they have Lockyer, Tate, Civoniceva and Thaiday all backing up. This has to stretch Brisbane although I?m sure they?d like to erase last week?s loss to the Bunnies. But I can?t see them slaying the Dragons here.

Tigers v Roosters

Super Saturday gets underway in the twilight of Telstra as the Roosters hop on a train to tackle the Tigers at their halfway house in Homebush. The general rule of thumb when deciding if this is a big game gets left up to State Rail these days, who force passengers to change at Lidcombe when they don?t think the crowd will be big enough to warrant a straight through train.

Anyway, both of these teams are last start losers and this can often trouble the punter. I think the Tigers went out of their way to lose to Manly last week in a gritty contest at Brookvale. The fact they competed well there and were winning inside the final five minutes goes a long way to helping them against Easts. They?re pretty much fielding their best side but I?d still put Lolesi on the wing for Crockett, I think this is their only weakness.

For the Roosters, well, can someone identify a strength? Last week they ran a mob of second graders onto the field mixed in with the odd veteran and the result was toxic. With Roberts back they get some attacking flair injected, but I probably would have had him at fullback. Boy they are missing Mini even if Foley did well last week. Their forwards are still pretty solid but Morley?s on his way out and Fitzgibbon might be too. Cross has signed to play some other ridiculous sport and all this adds up to a very unmotivated team. I think the Tigers will have their measure on Saturday night with Anasta and Finch probably still a bit tender.

Sharks v Sea Eagles

Next up everyone?s favourite club to hate depart the insula peninsula for the cool surroundings of the Shire. Cronulla host Manly in a ding-dong grudge match down at Shark park.

Their first encounter of the year was close (Manly won 20-18 at Brooky) and I?d expect it to be similar this time around. I?ve got new found respect for Cronulla; they just keep and despite a blowout against the Tigers in round 6 they?ve been thereabouts all year. Thompson and Gallen are proving difficult to contain in the backrow with young prop Douglas also impressive. Their backline has plenty of points in them and they?ll be hard to stop this weekend.

Manly have been in similar form and will look to step things up this round. Kite and Menzies are backing up while it seems Bell has cracked his cheekbone in Origin II and will be out for a month. This is a big blow for the Sea Eagles as plenty of Orford?s attack goes out Steady Steve?s way. Probably the biggest issue facing them is their record at Cronulla ? they haven?t won there in 20 years?round 19, 1986 to be exact. I could scarcely believe my eyes when tracking down that one. When comparing their respective form I think the Sharks are a little bit ahead and at home they well and truly have the wood over Manly, so tip the home team.

Eels v Rabbitohs

We round out Saturday?s action with an interesting one. For once we can say the Rabbitohs are coming off a win, but can they back it up? The Eels are well below their best but surely JT can at least begin to turn things around.

Last season Souths displayed that once they got into a rhythm they could put a few games together, but I don?t think this counts just yet. Mad Dog is again suspended allowing Mellor to return to first grade which does add some size. The rest of the team is pretty good and they did a number on a very under strength Brisbane last week. I tend to think that was more a case of Brisbane?s failure to field a competitive side though.

The Eels are back at home for the second week in a row and their side is capable of winning. They have won the past 11 out of 12 matches against the Bunnies and last season they flogged them 52-16 at home. I?ll admit there were a vastly different side and did go on to win the minor premiership, however. Souths haven?t beaten Parramatta at home since 1995 and I don?t think they will this week. The hungry Moimoi, Cayless and Hindmarsh should have too much for the Rabbitohs. Wade McKinnon?s return is also a positive as he gives his all each week.

Warriors v Knights

In Sunday?s first game, the Knights paddle across the ditch to take on a Warriors team with the smell of victory still fresh in the air. Before placing any best on this one you?d better put in a call to either Matt Johns or Eddie Hayson to find out if Joey will take the field.

Newcastle are coming of the bye and I said in my Round 13 preview that if they lost to Canterbury then watch out if you were the Warriors. I think Joey will want to place his best foot forward here and just blow them off the park. He?s been struggling recently but it would seem he?s in a better frame of mind with his recent engagement and now he?s toying with the idea of returning to the fray in Origin III. Clearly he wants to get on the park and belt someone. The Knights are fielding a very strong line-up and I don?t think it will be a problem for Simpson and Buderus to back up.

New Zealand would view themselves as a good rough chance though. They?re paying $2.10, which along with the Broncos, makes them the only two home teams that are ranked as outsiders in this round. I think they have a good shot particularly since they are putting it together much better on the field in recent weeks and a in away from home against the Roosters will do them the world of good. They have the forwards to take the game to the Knights and Rovelli has been playing well, but their inconsistent nature is forcing my hand to tip the visitors in this game. Price and Wiki against Smith and Perry will be worth the admission price alone.

Storm v Raiders

We roll straight into our next live game of the round with the Raiders chuffing off down the Hume for some warmer weather in Melbourne. The temperature certainly won?t be a factor in this game with both teams adept at competing in arctic conditions.

Melbourne have been unstoppable all season no matter what team they out on the park. They also own the Raiders, winning 9 of the past 11 encounters between the clubs including the last 7 in a row. That?s a hard statistic to argue with and given that they haven?t lost at Olympic park since round 15 last year (10 games straight) they are developing a fortress-like mentality in the southern capital. When you consider they started the season with 5 away games and are leading the comp, it?s a scary thought.

When you have a think about all that you can then see why the Raiders are $3 outsiders in this one. But without trying to sound stupid (I do a good job without trying) this is exactly how the Raiders would prefer to be rated. They don?t want to be seen as favourites at any stage and with their backs to the wall in this game, it could well prove to be the motivating factor that they need to win. Woolford is playing despite popping his shoulder last week and this is a big plus for the Raiders. But I fear that it is too big a hill to climb for the Green Machine this week. The Olympic park factor and Melbourne?s scintillating form don?t allow any other choice, but the Raiders are worth slapping down a $20 emotional hedge, those odds are just too good.

Bulldogs v Cowboys

The final game of the round is set to be played out between another pair of last start losers but you wouldn?t have picked it a few weeks ago. This time they face off at Carrara on the Gold Coast which is probably the geographical mid-point of the two clubs.

North Queensland have come right back to the field after leading the comp in sensational fashion by going undefeated for the first six rounds. The have since lost 6 from 7 and it?s pretty unclear as to what?s going wrong with them. The bad news is that Thurston could be a late withdrawal after copping a knock to his knee. He could join an expensive casualty ward if he can?t get on the field and you?d imagine Brett Firman would be elevated from the bench. Webb and Lillyman will be backing up but should be fine. One thing that?s not helping their cause are injuries, in particular to O?Donnell and Southern.

I bet Folkesy gave it to his troops during the week following their capitulation to the Raiders. It was always going to be hard with four State of Origin forwards missing but they still had the ammo there to win. This week the pack is looking much stronger and they basically carry an extra forward with Sonny Bill playing in the centres. Up until recently the Bulldogs dominated the Cowboys but they have lost three on the trot to them including one semi final. And last year?s corresponding visit to Surfers ended up being a 48-12 smash-up, which I?m sure Canterbury are keen to make amends for.

This is a hard pick but I?m going to stick with the Bulldogs who have the superior pack as well as no injury concerns. If Thurston doesn?t play for the Cows, I think they?ll be doing it tough.

The Panthers have the bye in this week. After three straight losses and only 2 wins from their last 9 matches, it?s fair to say they?re in a bit of a rut. The club is needs to recharge and have another dash as they look vulnerable on the ladder after a promising start to the year.