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With the NRL experiencing unprecedented levels of support, round 17 brings some fantastic clashes starting with the Dragons at home to the Broncos.
The Broncos in seasons past usually suffered an Origin hangover but not this year. The Broncos have won both their post Origin matches and against quality opposition in the Raiders and Roosters. The Broncos should have too much for a determined Dragons side who are very hard to beat at WIN Stadium and had a two point win over the Broncos last year.
The first Saturday match sees traditional rivals Souths take on neighbours, the Sydney Roosters. On paper, this looks to be a mismatch but Souths, although last on the ladder, are competetive every week and with the Roosters missing several key players through injury, it will be a lot closer than many people think. The Roosters will get home, but it will be in single figures.
Preston Campbell and John Lang make their return to Shark Park but as the enemy this week and after their fantastic victory over the Bulldogs last weekend, the Panthers confidence will be at an all time high. The Sharks will be relying heavily on the Dalai Lama to get them home in the absence of the Sharks other spiritual being, Brett Kimmorley. The Panthers are playing too well to lose this one although it is never easy to topple the Sharks at home on a Saturday night. Lang and Campbell will leave Shark park victors and keep their well-deserved place in the top four.
The next match is arguably one of the toughest of the weekend. The Cowboys, a team that is on the verge of rising out of mediocrity have been so close in recent weeks only to fall at the final hurdle, much to the dismay of their fans. The Warriors on the other hand survived a heart stopper against Souths with Stacey Jones kicking a 37 metre extra time field goal to get the Warriors home 31-30. This game could go either way and I?m not even sure myself which way it will go and it would not surprise me to see another golden point thriller. Cowboys by 1.
Melbourne inflicted the Raiders first and heaviest defeat of the season and revenge will be on the Raiders mind as they attempt to halt a two game losing streak to the Broncos and Warriors. Canberra are at full strength while Stephen Kearney, Scott Hill and Robbie Ross are among a host of players missing for the Storm. Don?t for a moment think the Storm cannot win this match. They are an unpredictable side but the Raiders at home should be too strong for the Storm.
Parramatta are looking to throw the dice week to week in hope of securing a semi final berth. As forlorn as things might seem, the Eels have two byes up their sleeve and their run home is not that hard. A win over Manly before the bye would see the Eels keep touch with the top eight and put their destiny back in their own hands. Manly are almost in the same boat and desperately need a win here but with all the turmoil at the club this week, their minds might not be on the job. Eels by 8.
Another club in turmoil, the Bulldogs face the Knights in the match of the round at Telstra Stadium. In the past week the Bulldogs have been ravaged by free agency and lost the jewel in the crown, Nigel Vagana to the Sharks. Several first division players also decided to leave for greener pastures and this will no doubt have a profound effect on the club. However, the Bulldogs are one team who can galvanise themselves in the face of turmoil, as they did in 95? after Smith, Dymock, Pay and McCracken defected to the Eels at the height of the Super League war. The Knights need no introduction and are choc full of stars, led by Andrew Johns, who is playing the best football of his career and if he is on song, the Bulldogs will do it tough. I?m going to stick with the home side with the memory of Hazem El Masri sinking the Knights in Newcastle last year the determining factor for my choice.
Best of luck, especially if you listen to what I say!