The NSW Blues have been named for the first game of the 2017 #Origin series.
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Origin is now behind us and we now focus our attention upon the remaining rounds and the lead up to the semi finals and what better way to start than two of the most powerful sides in the NRL. Penrith travel to Newcastle as they attempt to maintain their hold on first place in the NRL but this will be no easy task considering the depth of talent the Knights have on tap. In Penrith's favour, several Knights players will be backing up from Origin III and fatigue may take its toll. I'm tipping the Panthers because I think they deserve to be where they are and the Knights without Kennedy lack the punch to drive home the advantage Marathon brings. Panthers by 16.
The Raiders pulled one out of the fire last weekend to escape with a nail biting one point victory over the Dragons at OKI Jubilee. Nobody, not even me expected the Raiders to win but to their credit, they hung tough down the stretch and prevailed against the odds. This week they have an easier assignment against the vastly improved Tigers who put a woeful Sharks side to the sword and while the tigers will provide a contest, the Raiders should be too strong at home and if results go their way, the Raiders could be back in first place by the end of the weekend. Raiders by 20.
The awful Sharks play the struggling Warriors at Shark Park and Cronulla are simply the ugliest side in the NRL. Two demoralising losses in the past two weeks and the lethargic efforts of David Peachey have ensured morale at Woolooware is at an all time low. I think the Sharks are capable of winning but their efforts and basic errors will be the main factor in another loss at home, more so than the Warriors form which has been patchy at best. The highlight will be the match up of the two test coaches with the same surname. Chris Anderson and Daniel Anderson square off one week before they go head to head in the Trans Tasman Test. Warriors by 4.
Jason Ryles has been rules out for the season with a shoulder injury and that hurts the Dragons as they attempt to write some wrongs in Townsville. The Cowboys have dismantled Saints in Townsville and are a better side this year. If the Cowboys win they will be within four points of the top eight and a realistic chance of securing their maiden finals berth. The Dragons are still reeling from their one point loss to the Raiders and another loss here will see them travelling in the wrong direction at the wrong time of year. Cowboys by 12.
This is my smokey of the round. Brisbane have an ordinary record against Melbourne in Melbourne and with so many players backing up from Origin III, the Broncos may be a little sore when they face a very physical Melbourne Storm side who have been competitive in every match they have played this year. Brisbane's club form has been flat and I think Craig Bellamy coming up against former mentor Wayne Bennett will be a huge test of credibility for Bellamy. Storm by 2. The match is also Melbourne's 150th top-flight appearance.
Manly find themselves listing in perilous seas with no beacon in sight. Internal strife continues to rock the club and a horrendous draw will ensure Manly are one of the first clubs to embark on Mad Monday. The Sea Eagles take on the Premiers who are fresh off the bye and looking to maintain their spot in the top four. Manly will give the Roosters a run but I don't think they have the big guns to topple the premiers. Roosters by 10.
Parramatta are continuing their late season surge towards the finals and a win over last placed South Sydney will see Parramatta three wins outside the top eight with a bye in hand. They are by no means done and dusted yet and with Nathan Hindmarsh back on deck, the Eels will wreak some havoc in the final weeks of the regular season. Souths have a chance to knock the Eels out of the premiership race and while Souths have had a disappointing year, they have been in the contest week in, week out. I think they are capable of causing an upset here but Parramatta will just be too desperate in the end. Eels by 6.
Round 19 should provide a few interesting results and probably won't make the finals picture much clearer but the action on the field will continue to surpass anything we have seen in seasons gone by.