Round 24 NRL

It's past crunch time for the Dragons as they cling to a very slim chance of making the finals after two very disappointing losses in their last two starts. The job ahead of them tonight is a big one but by no means beyond them when they take on the Melbourne Storm at WIN Stadium. The Storm are in the finals for the first time in three years and look to be getting stronger by the week but I don't think they will ger the points tonight. A loss will rule them out of the top four which means they have to win on the road to claim their second premiership and I don't think they are that good. Dragons by 10.

The battle of the cats at Penrith sees the high flying Panthers take on the giant killing Wests Tigers who are really building towards a successful season in 2004 after their first ever victory over the Brisbane Broncos last weekend. Teenage sensation Benji Marshall takes his place in the side at halfback and this game is a danger game for the Panthers who can't afford to drop a game with places in the top four and minor premiership still up for grabs. Penrith are coming off the bye and are injury free so there will be no excuses for the Panthers if they lose. The Tigers will be very hard to contain and I'm tipping a golden point match with the Panthers desperation the only thing to get them home. Panthers by 1.

With nothing on the line for either side, the Cowboys should be too strong for the Rabbitohs at home in their final appearance in Townsville for the year and they will want to send their fans off on a winning note, which is rare for the Cowboys. Cowboys by 6.

Another match with only pride on the line with the Eels hosting the Sharks. Last year this would have been a blockbuster but oh how the mighty have fallen. The Eels season came to end when they surrendered to the Storm last weekend while the Sharks have improved after being eliminated from finals contention. I think Parramatta will win in another close match with the boot of Michael Witt proving to be the difference. Eels by 2.

Toss a coin for the Warriors/Broncos match. It's still too close to call for me but the return of Darren Lockyer for the Broncos should see them lift considerably after losing their last five games and denying themselves a chance to finish in the top four. If results go against the Broncos, they could find themselves in eighth spot by the end of the weekend. Same with the Warriors who played a terrible game against the Knights last weekend and need to show something more this weekend to suggest they will be something more than cannon fodder for the top sides. The Warriors have built up an impressive record against the Broncos in recent seasons and I expect them to life for this game and send the Broncos title hopes plummeting with a hard fought win. Warriors by 8.

The Raiders need this one bad if they are to be any type of threat in this years premiership race and an unexpected loss to the Cowboys virtually ruled them out of minor premiership contention considering they have the Bulldogs and Roosters to play after the Knights match. Newcastle have only ever won one game in Canberra and that was a last minute goal to Andrew Johns courtesy of his understudy, Brett Finch. Canberra welcome back Clinton Schifcofske, Brad Drew, Terry Martin and Tyran Smith from injury and their presence, especially Schifcofske at fullback will give the Raiders some stability when the pressure is applied. I think the Raiders will be too strong for a side minus Andrew Johns but it will be no walk in the park with goalkicking again likely to play a big part in the outcome. Raiders by 4.

The last game is my upset of the round. The Roosters without Fittler are like a chicken without a head. There is lots of running but not much progress with the eventual demise not far off. The Roosters struggled to put away South Sydney last weekend and have an ordinary record against Manly whoa re smarting from a month's worth of floggings and will look to stop the rot here. I think they can and like the Raiders and Broncos found out last week, when there is a lot on the line, playing a team who has nothing to lose is almost mission impossible. Ricky Stuart will know this and so will the players but the question is, can they stop it? I don't think so. Manly by 12.