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An interesting weekend lies ahead and while some games are crucial in making the top eight picture a little clearer but the talk could be for all the wrong reasons. There are rumours that just won?t go away that a high profile Sydney club will be exposed as salary cap cheats in the coming days. At this stage Newcastle have been cleared but many fans will be waiting with baited breath to see if anything eventuates or whether it is just someone?s vivid imagination getting the better of them.
Anyway, enough of the current affairs and onto round 22. If results go against the Broncos they could find themselves sitting in seventh spot on the ladder and in a precarious position just a month out from the finals. With Tallis, Lockyer and McGuire already out with injury and Ben Ikin today also ruled out, there are a few people up north starting to pray long and hard that the Broncos are not cursed with any more carnage in the run home to the finals. Problem is they are playing a Panthers side whose pride has been wounded after two consecutive losses that has seen them fall to third on the ladder. At this stage I still don?t think Brisbane are good enough to overcome the Panthers even at home where they are anything but invincible. Panthers by 12.
The first Saturday afternoon fixture sees the table topping Roosters taking on the resurgent Sharks at Aussie Stadium. In the corresponding game last year the Sharks belted the Roosters 34-20 and it was the last game the Roosters lost in 2002 on their way to premiership glory. The Roosters will start overwhelming favourites against the Sharks who are out of finals contention and also have Brett Kimmorley out of action nursing the crown jewels after suffering a nasty knock in last week?s win over the Brisbane Broncos. I think the Sharks will play a physical game against the Chooks but the Roosters will get home in the end on the back of Brad Fittler. Roosters by 10.
The Cowboys have stood tall in 2003 and although they won?t be there come September, they have earned their stripes with some great wins and outstanding play and are definitely capable of taking another high profile scalp in the Newcastle Knights. The Knights are struggling at present and a loss here will see them remain outside the eight and that spells danger with the Eels looming not far behind courtesy of the bye. Johns needs a big game here to reinvigorate the Knights and give them some momentum leading into the finals. I just can?t see it as Johns is playing wounded and no one is giving him the support he needs to get the job done. The Cowboys will relish the role of playing serial pest and with nothing to lose, will put another dent in the Knights finals campaign. Cowboys by 6.
I stand by my argument that the less said about Souths the better and with the Tigers finally showing their teeth, it will again be one way traffic and sadly for the Rabbitohs, it won?t be in their direction. Sheens has the Tigers purring in anticipation for next season with a host of new signings that will see the club seriously challenge for a top eight berth. Tigers by 20.
Crunch game for both the Warriors and Dragons and both are without key players. Currently the Warriors are sixth while the Dragons are eighth and only two points separates them on the ladder. The Warriors are a lottery ticket prospect from week to week while the Dragons are two steps forward, one step back team with some good wins but then a loss halts any momentum they built up. Without Stacey Jones the Warriors are legless and while the Dragons will be missing Shaun Timmins through suspension, they will still have enough in the tank to roll the Warriors who will find themselves walking the finals tightrope for the remainder of the season. Dragons by 14. A danger game for the Raiders against a Manly side who have nothing to lose and went down narrowly to the Knights last weekend after coming back from an eighteen point deficit. The Raiders lost a heartbreaker to the Roosters and it remains to be seen how they recover from such a loss. A win here will keep the Raiders firmly entrenched in the top four with four rounds to play and Matt Elliott has his team starting to play some semi finals intensity football with some bruising defence against the Roosters with the hit of the year coming from Ruben Wiki on Chad Robinson. Apparently Robinson thinks he is still at Parramatta and they won the 2001 grand final. Canberra have too much at stake to drop this one but they have to be fully on their game to defend against a side with nothing lose. Raiders by 7.
Last match sees the Bulldogs, fresh from their hiding of Souths take on the tipsters nightmare in the Melbourne Storm. Melbourne have a good record against the Bulldogs and with Braith Anasta out with a foot injury, rumour around Belmore is his girlfriend, iron woman Candice Falzon was ready to step in to the five eighth role after Steve Price and Mark O?Meley only just won a points decision to keep her out of the front row, such is her toughness. Craig Bellamy has Melbourne overachieving and they are always in the contest. I expect this game to be no different and they are more than capable of toppling the Dogs who have a few players sidelined through injury (Is Falzon responsible for all their injuries perhaps?). The game will be a good test for the Bulldogs who have not been challenged for over a month and may find the starch coming from the Storm overpowering. A toss of the coin job and if Matt Orford is on his game, I think the storm may just get away with this one. Storm by 2.
Well, there you have it. I just cracked 1000 words and said absolutely nothing. Who else could achieve such a feat?