Time to look ahead to Sunday's decider! Rob Crosby has a full look at both teams and what to expect ...
88 mins ago
It?s a funny game Rugby League. Last week all but one of the home teams won and the only away team victory went to the Dragons in a nail-biter. The comp is very close right now which is reflected in the differentials of each club.
I managed to jag 6 from 7 for the week in a much better effort. It puts me at 66/104 (63%) and I?m back in the game. Looking at this week?s clashes I?m leaning towards most of the home teams again, which admittedly is a bit of a safety option, but there?s a couple of coaches out there playing ducks and drakes.
As happens so often in League tipping, as soon as you think you?ve got everything worked out, the Game sneaks up on you and knocks you over just for the fun of it. Similarly, most people are ready to write-off the Panthers and those sides below from making the finals. Whilst I admit it?s looking grim, you can never be too sure.
Storm v Bulldogs
The weekend kicks-off in grand fashion with the Storm hosting Canterbury in a doozey down at the Graveyard in Melbourne.
Canterbury disposed of the Cowboys last week but you wouldn?t call it comprehensive by any means. They?re been a bit off in recent weeks with losses to Canberra and Brisbane either side of a good effort against Newcastle. On paper they possess the more fancied pack of forwards but I?m not sure that they?ll be suited to this game as Olympic Park is a narrow corridor of grass. Their backs are also looking a little skinny with Phelps and Cutler sure to have their work cut out for them. Sonny Bill and O?Meley are also in a bit of doubt.
The Storm are missing a few players in Inglis and Crocker but this team is capable of putting the Doggies away. Bellamy has stuck Slater in reserve grade because he knows the Queensland selectors will pick him for Game III if he plays against the Dogs and Inglis is still out for a little while so he will need a fullback next week. Kidwell is having a bonanza lately and Hoffman is also in splendid touch. Melbourne?s halves and backs are in better form right now and this is where I think they?ll win the game. I?m hoping King and Sonny Bill (if he plays) will drift towards one another at some point as there will be heavy contact. With the Storm?s dominance at home lately you simply can?t go past them even though I think the Dogs will give them a fair run for their money and the visitors are paying $2.35 just quietly.
Knights v Sharks
Next the Sharks pack the car and head north in the first of our satellite city Super Saturday clashes. This is a game dripping with individual contests across the park.
Cronulla have a fair record when heading up the Hunter, but the last time they visited Marathon Stadium they were given a proper hiding (44-14). Still, they?re in good form and injuries (Ross & Bailey) and stupidity (Latu) aside, Cronulla are putting their best 17 out this week. They?ve won 3 in a row and 7 of their last 8 with playmaker Adam Dykes returning to the five-eighth role for this one. They possess one of, if not the, best backrows in the comp. The three of them have been in blue-chip form of late and their backline?s not too shabby either. I am a bit worried how Dykes will fare though, as he and Kimmorley sometimes seem to work against one another.
Newcastle?s a different kettle of fish. Facing their fourth loss in a row and with their position on the ladder starting to look a little shaky, the Knights need to fire here in front of their fans or they might end up chasing the pack rather than jostling for a top 4 position. Buderus is back which is a huge boost for the club ? I?m sure they missed him last week. They also have a very strong backrow and the meeting of the two will be a highlight.
Then of course there?s Kimmorley v Johns. These two guys are natural competitors and will relish the opportunity to go head to head. Again though, I?m going to have to stick with the home ground advantage. Cronulla looked a little flat against Manly and whilst the Knights were disgraceful against the Warriors I don?t think you?ll see that sort of performance from them again this week.
Panthers v Tigers
We head west to the foot of the mountains for the next game as the Tigers book a ticket on the XPT to Penrith. Both teams will no doubt be intimately aware of the importance of this game.
Penrith are coming off the bye and haven?t won in their last three starts. They?ve also managed to lose seven of their last nine games and you could say they?ve been a bit unlucky in a few instances. Wesser will want to press his claims for an Origin gig as will Gower who?s making his return from a knee injury that?s been forcing him out of the game over the past few weeks. And their pack looks a little weak with Waterhouse and Pritchard both missing.
Wests on the other hand have a vibrant pack led by old stager Skandalis and complimented by Payten, Galea, Farah and the very in-form Laffranchi. Their backs have hit their straps too, with Prince in particular running the ball a lot more and creating opportunities for his outside men in Marshall, Collis, Hodgson and Tuiaki. I think the Tigers have too much for the Panthers in this one, despite an imposing home ground advantage held by the former chocolate soldiers.
Dragons v Cowboys
And finally Saturday winds up in the windy surrounds of Wollongong with the Cowboys taking a very long, difficult road to end up at Steeler Stadium.
North Queensland have lost their last five matches in a row and find themselves in the peculiar position of 8th on the ladder considering how well they were doing at the beginning of the season. Murray has made some changes to this week?s line-up and in some cases they?re good. Smith at five-eighth works well with Thurston but I think Cashmere is a bit untested and Faiumu will be missed. Without Southern in the forwards and Williams in the backs they don?t have the same feel about them. But they need to win and perhaps desperation will get them over the line.
The Dragons are coming off a heart-stopping win over Brisbane at home last week and are near full-strength. Hornby and Head are running the show well and I think they?re getting more out of Ryles off the bench than they do when he starts. Bailey, Young and Bickerstaff are all churning out quality performances and even Creagh is getting away with some dubious passes. They won?t win if they turn over the ball as often as they did last start, but I?m sure Brown has drummed that into them throughout the week. They should be the Cowboys at home and continue their quiet climb up the ladder.
Raiders v Roosters
Sunday begins with the Roosters packing their thermos?s full of latte and chugging off down the Hume for a cool Sunday afternoon against the Raiders.
Coach Stuart revisits his old stomping ground as he attempts to arrest the fairly worrying lack of form the Roosters have right now. Since round nine?s loss to the Bulldogs they?ve managed a two-point win over the Rabbitohs and a draw to keep them on the outer reaches of the top eight. They do have quality players there but I don?t think they?re being used in the right way. Stuart has decided to pull a few changes which I suppose was needed to shock them out of this slump but I don?t think they?re good ones nor do I believe they?ll actually transpire. The selection of winger Mellars on the bench is a dead give-away. Stuart will either start with him and push Cross back to the centres and Wing to hooker or the bench. Finch?s role is a bit uncertain but again Stuart isn?t doing new halfback Lewis any justice if Finch plays rake, similar to Soward earlier in the year.
Elliott at the Raiders must think all this is a bit amusing considering the bits and pieces team he?s put on the field over the past few weeks purely out of necessity instead of experimentation. The Raiders have a few players coming back, most importantly Jason Smith. Carney has been doing well in his absence but this week will wear the number 7 and Withers will move to hooker for the injured Woolford. Learoyd-Lars is back which will boost the Lime Green and their bench is looking as good as it has for a while. I think they?re specials here and the home ground advantage will assist them in toppling the Chooks.
Sea Eagles v Broncos
Brisbane travel to Fortress Brookvale to take on the Sea Eagles in another bell-ringer this Sunday arvo. Both last start losers, each side will be looking to come away with the two points as they try to keep pace with the Storm.
Manly succumbed to their demons last week against the Sharks down in the Shire and a return home will do them some good. They seem to grow an extra leg out at Brookvale but their recent form against Brisbane isn?t flattering. No Bell is a setback but his replacement in Hicks is no stranger to first grade. They have been a tad lacklustre since the bye in round 12 with three close games.
Brisbane have had nine days to recover from this one and I think that will assist in them being very fresh and prepared for this contest. Hodges is back in the centres with Tupou on the wing and Parker is also back in the forwards. These players are important for them in different ways but I think they can be excused for losing last week after injuries reduced them to effectively a one-man bench. Even without Hunt I think they?ll get the chocolates here at Brooky and at $2.25 I think they?re an irresistible bet.
Rabbitohs v Warriors
The final game of the weekend sees the Warriors travel across the ditch to face the Bunnies at Homebush. Obviously someone?s a bit worried about the crowd as anyone turning up at the ground with a Kiwi passport can get in for free.
Souths did it tough against Parra last week and I think they let themselves down in a big way. They had a good opportunity to notch up another victory and even scored the first try, but they simply never looked in the frame from that moment on. Still, they?re fielding a solid line-up and the bench looks stronger than ever. The absence of Mad Dog does hurt them and I wouldn?t say their halves are in form.
If you?re a Warriors fan in Sydney surely you can do better than the paltry 6,000 people who turned up in Auckland last week to see them upset the Knights. What a disappointing sight that was. Nevertheless, the New Zealanders are on a two-game winning streak and have a great opportunity to add to it. Their forwards really took the game to Newcastle last week and I was very impressed with Faumuina and Price in particular. Plus their victory over Easts a fortnight ago at the SFS will give them the confidence they need to put another two points on the competition table. They should get the Bunnies, who are the highest priced home ground team this week at $2.60 for the win.
The Eels have the bye in Round 16 and could probably do with the break. Timmy Smith is in strife again and it?s not a good look for the club. Hopefully they can stay off the sauce for a week and get ready for a tough road trip to Canberra in Round 17. The Eels have the ability to become one of those teams that thwart clubs bordering on the top 8 heading into the semis.