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With a six-pack of games remaining to play out in the 2005 premiership, fans of rugby league are in for a supreme treat as 12 clubs clamour for the right to contest 20 kilos of bronze in the first weekend of October.
You can say it all you want and it?s just about all that people are saying right now ? we?ve got the most open and alive competition that we?ve ever had. Last week?s prediction rang true as the upsets and the unlikely took place throughout but still the results only managed to further muddy the waters of the top 8 with some teams now reaching for the calculator. It?s amazing how league administrators begin to formulate such complex equations at this time of the year!
Right now it?s mathematically possible that I might win my tipping comp, but I?m not holding my breath. I can already see the leader spending his winnings on a brand new four-burner down at Barbeques Galore, but five out of seven last week takes it to 79 from 132 for the season and I?m keeping the fat lady in the warm-up room for now.
Dragons v Roosters
This game is huge and just what we need in order to kick-off a great weekend of footy. For the Dragons this game will be a measure of their resolve and could firm them as premiership contenders, but a loss might indicate that they need to spend a little more time in the house of mirrors. After two frustrating wins over opponents that they should have murdered, the Dragons find themselves in 5th spot and are suddenly knocking on the door of the top 4.
The Roosters are in a totally different position, desperate to claim the two points to keep their flagging finals hopes on life support for one more week. Their form has been in a constant downtrend and the doctor has just applied the gel to the paddles and exclaimed ?CLEAR!?
I think the Dragons should get this one at home in Wollongong which is always a tough bus ride.
Knights v Storm
If you think this isn?t about Joey, then think again. In the past few weeks he has taken on a rising star in Tim Smith, a seasoned campaigner in Brett Kimmorley and his Origin counterpart in Johnathan Thurston. In each contest he has claimed a points victory and shown why he?s the best no.7 running around.
So this week he lines up against Matt Orford, who has recently been the focus of some very big money out at Manly, and is a halfback who always shows up to play. You?d have to expect the two little men to come toe-to-toe at some point just to sort out who?s boss.
It?s an intriguing clash that will no doubt have an exciting complexion and you?d have to think that given their recent form Newcastle are a real chance here. Their team can?t really get much better and I?ve been impressed with Simpson and Newton lately, so perhaps the Novocastrians can do it particularly when you consider it?s at home. But Melbourne rarely drop games that they should win, and with their best team on the field including Scott Hill back in the halves, I think they?ll take the money.
Broncos v Raiders
Super Saturday continues up at Suncorp Stadium where traditional satellite-city rivals Brisbane and Canberra lock horns.
Last week the Broncos really threw the game away with Berrigan?s failure to ground a Lockyer grubber, whilst pushing his captain out of the way, cost them victory. On the other side of the Tasman, Canberra we being re-introduced to the hard-nosed style of the Warriors.
Each team has something to play for here, Brisbane need to restart their winning sequence and the Raiders are battling to make the top 8. But I can?t see this being anything other than a real smash-up by the Broncos. They?ll be very angry at last week?s failure and will seek revenge here against the lime-green as a path towards redemption.
Panthers v Warriors
These two teams round out Saturday and most people will read about it in the Sunday papers. Penrith have been diabolical all year, playing without any direction or purpose and will lose their best forward at the end of the year. Coach Johnny Lang has come full circle at this club and they may yet claim the wooden spoon in 2005.
The Warriors have a chance here to push ahead of the Raiders into 10th spot and within striking range of the top 8. They have a bye in the last round and their recent form suggests that they could figure in the finals if they actually made it. If they don?t I dare say they?ll make a mess of a few teams along the way, including Parra and the Storm.
The Warriors have so much to play for here and I think they?ll get home. Stacey really wants to go out on a high note and they haven?t been losing by much over the past few weeks and should account easily for Penrith.
Sea Eagles v Cowboys
Earlier in the season this game would have been match of the round but both teams have since fallen from grace. The Sea Eagles are in real danger of undoing all their good work and dropping out of finals contention, and this week won?t help.
The Cowboys have a far superior pack and all of a sudden Brookvale has lost it?s ?killing field? aura. North Queensland somewhat resembled the team we all know they can be against Penrith last week and Firman made a solid debut which is encouraging for them.
Manly have been disappointing and coming off the bye after four straight losses won?t help them at all. Neither will that drink. The Cowboys will open them up and expose the soft underbelly of the Sea Eagle, casting extreme doubt over their finals future.
Rabbitohs v Bulldogs
Three fullbacks gone in as many weeks and the Bulldogs are in the middle of yet another injury crisis. What is going on? It?s as if anyone who wears the fullback jersey is jinxed and Jamaal Lolesi will want to be sure he doesn?t talk himself into an injury this round.
The last time they met it resulted in a highly contentious draw, with the Doggies being denied a try to centre Cameron Phelps under testing circumstances. It also marked the return and re-injuring of star player Sonny Bill Williams who could be back next week.
I think the Rabbitohs will fancy themselves here and certainly take the game to Canterbury, and why shouldn?t they? Avoiding the wooden spoon and possibly pushing ahead of Penrith in weeks to come is a big positive for the club. But whilst I think the Bunnies will compete, Canterbury will have their measure. Hazem?s absence won?t be felt until round 23 against the Eels at Parra Stadium.
Sharks v Tigers
What a great game to wrap up the weekend. The Sharkies are fighting to reclaim their position in the top four, whilst the Tigers are stoked just to be in 6th. The fact that this game is played on Sunday arvo and not Saturday night is a huge leveller as well.
The Tigers have now won four in a row for the first time in the club?s brief history and making it five will be no easy feat. They seem to be getting more consistent with each game and their young players are gaining valuable experience.
Cronulla welcome the return of Jason Stevens and he will bring plenty of stability to the pack. The interchange forwards seem to gain so much when he sorts out the opposition in the early stages of the match. Keith Galloway will have some mixed emotions as he takes on the club he signed for next season and I bet he wouldn?t mind being there now.
Cronulla did all they could last week and were never really in control against the Dragons. It could cost me, but I?m a tragic at heart and I say the fairytale will continue for Wests.
The Eels have the bye this weekend and as Sterlo points out it could be a very bad time. Their confidence is fractured at the moment and they need to remember that they?re a good side and can play good footy. And they take on the Warriors next week in what could be a real danger game just out from the semi?s.