Round 22 NRL Preview

It?s weeks like last week that make me question why I punt on Rugby League, but in hindsight there was some great value out there. Form reversals dominated the round?s results with the Tigers, Chooks and Bunnies turning around their collective ineptitude to surprise most people, aside from their die-hard fans of course.

After tipping 3 from 7 a couple of blokes turned up on my front porch wearing white jackets and brandishing big looking needles. I?ve slumped to a grand total of 89/145 (61%) for the season and I need to a full card somewhere along the line to get back on track.

So this week I continue my pursuit of turning big rocks into little rocks and once again there?s some great value out there. The Roosters and the Rabbits both offer juicy odds either outright or with the start. It?s a tough round though and at a glance I?ve gone with plenty of away teams, so throw caution to the wind.

Eels v Dragons

We get underway with a cracking duel out in League Heartland with the Dragons paying a visit to the Eels at Parra Stadium in a tale of vastly different fortunes.

The Dragons can?t beat a drum lately, slumping to three straight losses after notching up seven on the trot. Given the fact that they?ve had a few injury problems over the past couple of weeks and considering two of the losses were to the Bulldogs and Strom, I don?t think there?s too much cause for concern. During that period they have only moved down from third to fourth on the ladder so if they get back to the winners circle this week things will be sweet. Gasnier is allegedly out again, but he has been for the past few weeks, and a short turnaround since last week?s game is sure to test them physically. I don?t like what Brown is doing with the team at all, Bailey at lock? I can?t work that one out and Creagh in the centres could be a problem.

Looking at the Eels, one can?t help but notice the lack of power up front now that Moimoi is suspended. Cayless, Hindmarsh and Morrison will still provide the platform, but the Tongan?s explosiveness will be sorely missed. In the halves, Morris and Smith have been quietly going about their work with good success and the backs haven?t let anyone down. Hayne keeps scoring tries and O?Dwyer has been powerful close to the line. I liked them last week against the Sea Eagles and at home they will be hard to stop.

The Dragons do have the wood on them lately though, winning four of the past six. I think overall they have a stronger line-up with Moimoi out and I?m tipping the red and whites to win. Still, the shenanigans Brown is trying to pull with the starting team have me holding my breath. I?m expecting a great game though and there could even be some fireworks. These two teams have a healthy rivalry and the last time they played at Parra was the infamous Barrett send-off which sparked a brawl. The Dragons are also $2 outsiders here, which is worth a lazy twenty.

Storm v Tigers

Super Saturday kicks off in our southern capital as the unpredictable Tigers head to Olympic Park to see if they can maul the Storm. But which Tigers outfit are we going to see this week? Will they sharpen their chompers for this clash or forget to put in their false teeth?

Wests were very impressive against the Broncos last start ? they just never looked like losing. Prince controlled the play like a champion, kicking well, passing well, running well. It?s no wonder Sheensy thought it was their best effort since the GF last year. Their forwards really stood up to the Broncos and defensively I couldn?t fault them. I liked the look of the youngsters that they blooded and even with the injuries they?ve suffered this season it?s not all doom and gloom. But they?ve got a bit of a problem with respect to the opposition. Despite being one of three teams to defeat the Storm this season (Leichhardt Oval round 4) they have never won at Olympic Park.

Onto Melbourne, well what can you say about this mob that hasn?t already been said. They are red-hot right now and on a nine-game winning streak that doesn?t look like ending anytime soon. Last week against the Dragons they won the contest in the forwards and played a very open style of play. A couple of their tries were very basic as well, Turner?s in the corner was simple execution and King?s, involving Hoffman?s chest, displays that they are on the ball on and know how to play the whistle. They did concede a few points though.

In this game there really is only one logical tip: the Storm. People have been telling me they?re due for a loss but they seem unstoppable at home or anywhere else for that matter.

Cowboys v Bulldogs

We travel to FNQ next as the Bulldogs come off the bye to take on a Cowboys outfit that are one fruit loop shy of a full bowl.

Canterbury have enjoyed a week?s rest after disposing of the Chooks a fortnight ago. They are fielding their strongest available line-up and look in top shape heading towards the finals. Sonny Bill is back on the bench providing some impact for Folkesy, and they are looking for their fifth win in a row. There?s not much else you can say about the Doggies, they are primed.

North Queensland let another game slip from their grasp last week, leading the Roosters handsomely at the interval and it appeared as though normal transmission had resumed for the Cowboys. But no, they found another way to lose. Muz has moved Bowman back to the centres which is good and Tronc has been recalled to the bench offering plenty of grunt as a replacement alongside Southern, Smith and Cooper.

Even with the home ground advantage, on form it?s hard to take the Cowboys here. The strength of Canterbury?s pack and the team?s overall discipline is a telling factor in the equation. You can?t do anything but pick them to here and winning at Dairy Farmers doesn?t seem to be an issue for them.

Warriors v Sharks

This game is actually four-hours delayed as it will begin at 5.30pm AEST but FOX has probably made the right decision by putting it last on Super Saturday, although it?s still a crucial game in terms of the top 8.

The Sharkies head across the ditch to take on the Warriors in a must-win contest. Kingston is back but they?re still missing Simmonds and now Bird is injured, but otherwise they are unchanged from the team that played Newcastle. I thought they were ok last week and probably should have got the cash, but they seem to have forgotten how to win. After five losses things are looking a bit grim here for Cronulla and I think desperation will start to play a factor in their game. I don?t mind Kearney at the back but they need to get their halves sorted.

The Warriors are a bit of a mystery. They do show up each week and have a go but they seem to fall away when it comes to the crunch and you can hardly blame them for that, they have nothing to play for. Wiki?s suspension is costly as is the injury to Faumuina. Both players have been good all year and their bench is looking a little thin now.

I?m going to tip the Sharkies here, although New Zealand are a different team at home. But Cronulla need to win and I think they will. Plus Villa off the bench might have a few angry pills in his belly.

Raiders v Broncos

We head to the nation?s capital for the first game on Sunday as the tired Broncos look to reverse their form slump (but you?re not allowed to call it a slump) against the Raiders.

After three losses in a row with a bye in between, Brisbane are again threatening to contract the yips towards the back end of the year. It?s been well documented over the past few seasons and perhaps it?s become a self-fulfilling prophesy. They are definitely missing Hunt and the services of a regular halfback. They welcome Perry back to the no.7 jersey but Berrigan at hooker has got my nose a bit out of joint. I?d drop Minto and push Tate to the win in order to accommodate Berrigan in the centres.

For the Green Machine, well they just went into meltdown against the Bunnies last week. After their five-star effort against the Dragons it?s hard to imagine they produced such rubbish against the wooden-spooners. I think it shows that they can?t play as favourites and they?re considered outsiders in this one. The team is more or less unchanged and they?ll probably fancy themselves a good chance.

But I?m going to pick the Broncos. They have the wood on the Raiders lately, winning seven of their last eight matches with a pretty good track record down in the Bruce.

Roosters v Knights

We move north to Gosford for the next match with the Roosters shifting a home game to the Central Coast to play the Knights.

This is a big call as Newcastle fans will no doubt outnumber Chookies supporters at the ground. I think this probably suits the Roosters though as they?ll be happy to be the underdogs. Newcastle got a win up against Cronulla last week and Souths the week before but they?ve been unimpressive in both of those games. They?ll need to fire up here as Easts are throwing whatever they have in their kit bag at whoever takes the field.

The Roosters surprised most people with their victory last week and I was impressed with Finch at five-eighth. Perhaps he does have a career in that position which I?m sure makes Parra happy. Roberts is playing which is a boost and they didn?t seem to miss Morley last week either. But I think they will this week against a bigger Newcastle pack. In particular the Knights bench looks far better and they should contain the Roosters. The bookies have got the Roosters at $2.75 in this one, which is hard to refuse.

I?m tipping the Knights though, but once again there?s some history to look into. The Roosters have won the past 8 games in a row against the Knights, and 14 from the last 17. That?s a massive stat. The Roosters are also undefeated at Gosford in their previous three matches whilst Newcastle have a poor record, winning one from four at the ground.

Rabbitohs v Panthers

The final match of the round sees Penrith head east to Telstra to take on the Pride of the League fresh from a victory over the Raiders.

The Panthers were electric last week, blowing the Warriors off the park after first winning the contest through the forwards. I liked what I saw from them particularly with Wiki in devastating fashion. They?re pretty much unchanged this week but welcome Waterhouse back on an extended bench. Wesser and Campbell led the way for them last week with support from Gordon ? I like the look of him. They carved up the Warriors in the middle of the park and they?ll try to do the same against Souths this week.

The Rabbitohs must be buoyed by victory over the Raiders in their last start. They don?t have a great deal to play for but I think everyone at the club realises that they can begin to cement their positions for next year ahead of the recruitment drive they undertook once the player market was open. Williams is going well at halfback and Sutton looks like he may have found a home at lock. Peachey is doing well and up front Geddes and Cusack have been solid. I think they could give this one a bit of a shake.

But I?m sticking with Penrith. They have more to play for and could creep into the top 8 if things go their way. Plus I like the look of the Panthers forwards but at $2.60 the Bunnies are a great emotional hedge. Even taking the start they?re still great value.

The Sea Eagles have the bye in Round 22 and I dare say they?ve been pretty desperate for it. They get to lick their wounds with Kennedy sure to be better for the rest. Kite is probably thankful for the rest as well, it might give him time to locate his noggin. If he gets on the field next week against the Knights he?ll be joined by Menzies and Watmough, allowing Manly to field a full strength side heading into the finals.