Round 25 Preview

Two rounds to go and the race for the finals is really starting to hot up with some bumper matches this weekend. Only two of the seven matches have no bearing on the finals and in those two matches, the NRL will trial two referees on the field at once in an effort to improve the overall standard of officiating, which has come under intense scrutiny this year with some mind baffling decisions that have cost teams dearly at certain stages of the season.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 29TH. BULLDOGS V RAIDERS @ SYDNEY SHOWGROUND. KICKOFF @ 7:30PM

The first match of the round is an absolute cracker. The NRL's two best forward packs go head to head in what should be a bruising encounter between two of the most physical sides in he NRL. Price, O'Meley and Mason take on Davico, O'Hara and Wiki and this promises to be nothing short of brutal. The Bulldogs will be without two of their star playmakers in Braith Anasta and Travis Norton. This leaves Brent Sherwin to shoulder the load and the Raiders can halt the Bulldogs momentum if they contain Sherwin.

The other key to the Raiders success is to bomb Matt Utai and Hazem El Masri out of the game. With the Bulldogs having such short wingers and the Raiders having such big backs, the likes of Joel Monaghan and Jamaal Lolesi cold reap the benefits of some pin point kicks and they will easily be able to out jump the Bulldogs wingers. I'm going with the heart here because the Bulldogs are coming off the bye and have an average record against the Raiders in Sydney. Raiders by 6.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 30TH. BRONCOS V EELS @ SUNCORP STADIUM. KICKOFF@ 5:30PM

The first Saturday game sees one of the games best grudge matches get into full swing. The Broncos host the Eels at Suncorp Stadium and both sides need a win here as a loss would definitely end the Eels finals hopes while the Broncos would have to beat the unpredictable Dragons next week to assure themselves of a finals berth. The Eels have come back into the picture with a massive win in controversial circumstances over the Sharks but politics aside, if the Eels beat both the Broncos and Panthers next week, it's quite easy to make a case that they should be in the finals even though they will have won only 50% of their games. I like the Eels at Suncorp so I'll stick with the upsets and go with the Eels by 12.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 30TH. RABBOTOHS V SHARKS @ AUSSIE STADIUM. KICKOFF @ 7:30PM

The first of the two referee games sees the last placed Rabbitohs take on the Sharks and with nothing on the line for either side, I'll stick my neck out and tip the Rabbitohs as it is their last game for they year as they have the bye next weekend. The Sharks welcome back Brett Kimmorley who is playing for a place on the Kangaroo tour and if he comes through the next two matches unscathed, I have no doubt Chris Anderson will take Kimmorley as the first choice half back. The Kangaroos have never lost a match with Kimmorley at half and this will certainly be a major factor when the selectors sit down and discuss who should replace Andrew Johns. Rabbitohs by 10.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 30TH. SEA EAGLES V PANTHERS @ BROOKVALE OVAL. KICKOFF @ 7:30 PM

This match last year sent the Sea Eagles tumbling out of the finals and it signalled the very beginning of the Panthers rise to prominence and I expect the result on Saturday night to be something similar to last year. Manly have been woeful in the last six weeks and are playing like their season is over and it can't come quick enough. Penrith will win well and virtually book themselves a top two finish and possibly a stab at the minor premiership depending on how the Roosters and Bulldogs travel over the next two matches. Panthers by 26.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 31ST. SYDNEY ROOSTERS V NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS @ AUSSIE STADIUM. KICKOFF @ 2:30PM

A replay of last years grand final and again, it could be a big hitting match with the Warriors bashing the Brisbane Broncos out of the contest last week while the Roosters welcome back Adrian Morley from a three week suspension and they will need him. There's no doubt Adrian Morley will go looking for Richard Villasanti in a rematch of last years slug fest and it promises to be a beauty. Brad Fittler has rated himself a 50/50 chance to play in this match but will probably save his comeback for the Raiders match the following week as the minor premiership will still be on the line. The Roosters are also without Chris Flannery who is suspended on a dangerous throw charge and his loss may be felt in the latter stages of the match. His versatility in vital to the Roosters and I think the Warriors can again bash and barge their way to victory and avenge last year's 44-0 drubbing at the same venue. Warriors by 4.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 31ST. WESTS TIGERS V NORTH QLD COWBOYS @ CAMPBELLTOWN STADIUM. KICKOFF @ 3:00PM.

Very hard match to pick here with both team playing some good football in the latter stages of the season but the Tigers at home I feel will be just a little too strong. I expect a high scoring match with both sides out of finals contention and nothing to lose, there will be plenty of end to end action and some great goal kicking from two of the best in the NRL in Luke Covell and Josh Hannay. Both sides are building nicely for next season and this match represents an opportunity to give some youngsters a taste of first grade as both teams look to make 2004 a winning season. Tigers by 8.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 31ST. ST GEOGRE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS V NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS @ OKI JUBILEE OVAL. KICKIFF @ 3:00PM

Desperation stakes for both sides as they attempt to scramble their way into the top eight and hope other results go their way. This is more the case for Newcastle than the Dragons but the Knights without Johns are anything but certainties to win any game, let alone one against their bogey side, the Dragons. Mark Gasnier has been ruled out for the Dragons as the injury curse continues to plague the club. The club needs to do a fact finding mission as to why so many players are being lost to injury. The Knights are coming off a loss to the Raiders and they looked ordinary without Johns. Even if they make the eight they will be cannon fodder for the top teams so they are just prolonging the inevitable Mad Monday celebrations. Both teams have the Jekyl and Hyde quality but I'll give this one to the Dragons purely as they are playing at their spiritual home although it has not proven to be the fortress they hoped it would with only one victory since their glorious return. Dragons by 14.

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