Round 22
Preview ? Crunch time

Mark my words, there are a few surprises left in this comp. Last week saw some incredible footy played with the Dragons and the Tigers, with either side trading barbs as to who can lay claim to the entertainers tag. They both have some quality flesh running around and one wonders if Gasnier and Marshall should perhaps enter ?Dancing with the Stars? just to realise the full potential of their fancy footwork.

Some amazing last minute footy in the Sea Eagles v Cowboys and a controversial game up at Suncorp Stadium once again left you pondering the true form of teams right now. And the race at the bottom of the table is intensifying by the week, with Joey stamping his mark on every game he plays and the Rabbitohs continuing to surprise all comers.

With an uneventful four correct picks last week my tally progresses to 83 from 139 and I can at least pipe up in conversation whilst still appearing to know what I?m talking about. At this point in the year plenty of tipsters start going for upsets and I think you?ll find there is ample opportunity to pick quite a few of the away teams this week given recent form and the chance to get a bonus point or two.

Cowboys v Dragons

They just don?t get any bigger than this! The Cowboys put back to back wins together last week when they overcame Manly at Brooky, but their form of late has been a bit worrying. With Rauhihi and Webb back they are pretty much full strength and will be a real handful.

The Dragons have been in great tough though, beating up teams while still preserving a rigid line defensive line. Last week?s demolition of the Roosters was surgical in it?s precision and they appear more focussed and determined than ever.

Unfortunately for Saints, their record at Dairy Farmers is very poor with only one win from five attempts. This will be a huge factor for them to overcome but given the form of their forward pack and their backs I think this could be their time. There?s a whisper that Barrett may not play and this will bear a huge affect on things particularly up the middle of the ruck where Bowen will try to invade. But I?ll stick with the Dragons who are in undeniable form.

Warriors v Eels

Splendid Saturday begins in New Zealand this week where the Warriors will try to arrest their issues with consistency against the Eels. I?m not sure if Tony Kemp has had them on Metamucil, but he really needs to explain to them what?s at stake in this game. I sure hope he got them on the tackle bags after last week as well, with the try to Priddis from a tap downright embarrassing.

The Eels have been strange, losing two before heading into the bye and they have always struggled across the ditch. I think they?ll be hungry for the win and could blow the Warriors away in the early stages if the home team displays similar tackling to last week.

I have suspicions that it could be close though, with the weather possibly playing a large part in proceedings and upsetting the visitors. I?ll stick with the Eels, but New Zealand?s team selections tend to suggest they will really take it to the Parramatta forward pack from the outset.

Bulldogs v Knights

Taking this game at face value it appears to be another difficult selection for the punters out there. But after having a think about it, I reckon the Knights are a good thing here.

Joey and Bedsy have been playing great footy, as have Simpson, Newton and Smith. With the constant fight to avoid the wooden spoon and Joey?s newfound English junket, I think the Knights are primed for yet another upset and they are fast becoming favourites.

Looking at Canterbury, they have rally lost their way. They lack direction and leadership around the park and a loss to the Bunnies last week isn?t what the ego needs. When you take their victory against the Broncos out of the equation, they have been in ordinary form and Telstra Stadium provides no real advantage to them. The Knights will get them here.

Sharks v Storm

I?ve been saying it all year ? Shark Park in the Dark?but I?m not so sure it will have the desired effect this time around.

There seems to be plenty going wrong with the Sharks right now and their coach might need a good holiday in the off-season. Generally they lift at home under lights but all this talk about senior players having secret meetings can?t be a good thing. Morale is at an all-time low and they?ve just decided to drop Newtown as their feeder club for next year.

All this is great news for Melbourne who were given a real lesson by Joey and co last week up in Newcastle. Strangely it might have been the best thing for the Storm, who have been very quiet all week and appear to be gearing up for something big on Saturday night. This might be the game that helps them get their Premiership assault back on track and I?ll stick with the visitors here. The contest between Kimmorley and Orford will make for an exciting sub-plot.

Raiders v Tigers

The Tigers travel to Canberra next to take on a Raiders outfit who were dealt a tough hand last week. They seemed to have the Bronco?s measure for most of the game and will face an exuberant Tigers side that are playing some outstanding footy right now.

The Tigers tore apart a lousy Sharks side at Cronulla and Benji simply toyed with them. But it was a game they were always in control of and never looked like losing, which makes this game a whole lot more interesting.

Canberra won?t be like that at all, and given that it?s at home and Jason Smith can adjust the speed of the game to suit his team, it might just put the Tigers off. They?ve won five in a row and are one of the few teams to snatch victory off the bye recently. They?ve accepted every challenge that has come their way lately and passed with flying colour, but Bruce Stadium is an unforgiving ground and Sheens will be looking to do well on his old turf. I can?t fault the Tigers right now but the Raiders are the desperate of the two sides and I think they can take the cash.

Roosters v Panthers

Both these teams are dead-set show bags right now ? full of stuff you wouldn?t pay $3 for. Now that they?re out of contention for the eight, I?d be very surprised if this game manages to draw more than 8,000 people. This is probably a good thing and I encourage all parents who?d like their kids to see a decent game of footy to wander down to their local oval and let them watch the park footballers do their thing.

Each side has been incredibly disappointing this season and will eventually fall short of all expectations placed upon them at the beginning of the year. Having said that, I think Ricky and the Roosters are aiming up for one more tilt at a semis berth, particularly with Gus writing them off in the press just to take the pressure off. They can conceivably win their next three games in a row and with things going the way they have this year you never know what the table will look like at the end of round 24.

I think they?ll get the Panthers this week, who have been dreadful recently and couldn?t beat a drum. The game will be pretty open and I?d expect defense to be a rare commodity.

Sea Eagles v Broncos

The Broncos haven?t won at Brooky since 1992 and this game could be a real watershed for both clubs. If the Sea Eagles stand up to the Broncos pack get on top of them they can probably turn their season around and get back on the road to the finals.

But that?s easier said than done and Webcke, Civoniceva, Thorn and Parker will do doubt have a few things to say. Brisbane have been a bit out of sorts recently, only just beating Canberra and getting done by Canterbury the week before so I dare say Benny will expect a lot from his men.

I think the Broncos might do a real number on them and this game could spell trouble for any other teams out there with designs on a Grand Final spot.

The Rabbitohs have the bye this weekend and they?ll be pretty happy with themselves I?d think. They knocked off the reigning premiers last week who actually look like they?re coming back into some form. This means that they haven?t lost to Canterbury all year, an unlikely stat which you wouldn?t predict under any circumstances at the beginning of the year. They take on Canberra at home next week and they really seem to be playing with renewed confidence and dare I say it ? pride. Go get ?em boys!