Round 26 Preview ? the final

Last week?s results shook the tree a little, with the Sea Eagles unselfishly allowing the comp to stay alive into the 26th round, in the meantime permitting the Warriors to bow out with a modicum of honour. The Tigers stumbled as the Storm stood up to them, the Cowboys consolidated and the Eels pushed ahead. The Dragons got a bit of Mad Monday practise whilst the Broncos would probably rather be on Mad Monday.

And there?s more to come this week. A battle of epic proportions is on for the minor premiership believe it or not. The Dragons want J.J. mounted down at the Taj whether they?re saying it or not. Given their position on the ladder, Parra are probably being a little cautious about the whole affair, but after 2001 wouldn?t you be?

One thing is for sure, there is plenty of great footy to be played this weekend and if you?re not at the game absorbing the atmosphere then you ought to be at your favourite watering hole. Any self-respecting Dad would surely push their children out the door on Sunday to watch the footy, albeit partly motivated by the often disgraceful gifts offered up on Father?s Day.

Eels v Broncos

What do the Broncos have in common with the Rabbitohs right now? Not much other than both of them have lost twice to the Warriors this season. That stat doesn?t auger too well for them as they travel to Parramatta Stadium in search of an unlikely victory.

With the exception of St George Illawarra, the Eels have blown a few sides off the park in recent weeks and they will relish the chance to show Brisbane their wares. It doesn?t matter where the Broncos are on the ladder, you always want to beat them. And beat them they will. With a full squad back the Eels look as good as they ever have this season.

This will be a good test for Brisbane as well. They have a top 4 spot wrapped up but they need to know what they?re capable of. With a few players out and a few coming back shortly, they should be able to gauge themselves well. I?ve got a big question mark over Webcke though, a medial knee ligament injury is no small affair. The mail about Lockyer returning has been floating about as well. It won?t matter though as Parra will get them.

Sharks v Rabbitohs

The Sharkies kick-off proceedings in the twilight of Super Saturday with a final round home game in front of what should be a bumper crowd even though they got dusted last week.

The Rabbitohs may have lost last start as well but they can take solace in the fact that the Cowboys did it tough and they competed for most of the game. If it were not for Matt Sing, things could have been a lot closer. They?ve been showing improvement each week and will want to end the season on a good note. This may swing the game in their favour.

Cronulla had one of the biggest turnarounds in premiership history, losing 44-14 to the all-conquering Knights the week after belting Manly 68-6. If the Sharks want to be anything more than a speed bump in this finals series, then they?ll need to take care of the Rabbitohs in fine fashion at home. Shark Park in the (nearly) Dark should play a part and I?ll take them even though the Bunnies are in with a good shot.

Cowboys v Storm

If anything, this game is one that both clubs will want to get out of the way. The Storm can make the Top 4 if they beat the Cowboys and Wests lose, ensuring a rematch of last week?s contest with the Tigers.

North Queensland were underwhelming in their disposal of Souths last round, but perhaps that?s not giving enough credit to a Bunnies outfit who are playing well right now. The Cowboys look a bit flat at the moment and I think everyone is struggling to understand what?s going wrong. Coach Murray has been fiddling around with the line-up for a few weeks, giving players a boot up the backside in some cases. I think the team they have here is settled and a good side running into the finals.

The Storm travelling up to FNQ worries me. They seem to get a bad case of car-sickness every time they get on the bus. I don?t think they can win this week and it casts doubts over their semi final aspirations. This could be the game to give the Cowboys some much needed momentum.

Raiders v Sea Eagles

This is a huge game! I?m sure Canberra fans remember 1987 when Fatty was carried around the S.C.G. after steamrolling the Raiders in the big one. Yes, people hated Manly back then and they are beginning to regain some of that aura.

That?s why the Raiders will torment the visitors on Saturday night. Manly need to win to stay in the finals and will offer a top 8 spot to the Roosters or Panthers if they fail. I think they will considering their horrible form and the Raiders home ground advantage.

It?s all on the line here for the Sea Eagles, but I just don?t think they can do it. Their performances over the past few months have been anything but inspiring and they have become the team we all thought they would at various stages of the comp. Raiders by a few.

Roosters v Bulldogs

A crucial game for Easts and no doubt Ricky would be sitting up watching how the results pan out down in the Nation?s Capital. I bet he?s already put in a few calls to the Green Machine faithful asking them to do a former son one last favour in toppling the Sea Eagles so his team can sneak into the finals.

The Bulldogs might have a bit to say about things though. Their pack looks angry and can inflict damage to any side, but the hunger in the club appears non-existent. Braith is looking to next year and most of them are just going through the motions.

Going on the skerrick of form shown by the Roosters last week, I think they?ll have too much for Canterbury. They will then sit anxiously by the radio hoping the Tigers can contain the Panthers.

Dragons v Knights

A blockbuster in the wings here down at the sacred ground in Kogarah. For Saints, you just never know how they will react to a week off and all the hoo-ha surrounding Trent?s workout technique. I?ve got a bit of a feeling that it might make them play better.

The Knights are on fire, in form and loving it right now. The last time these two teams met at Jubilee the Knights slayed the Dragons 42-8 so there may be some extra feeling in this one.

This game will be a terrific display of all facets of rugby league. I think the Dragons forwards will need to stand up here and assert their dominance, although the backrow for Newcastle are playing with plenty of vigour. Sometimes we overuse this word, but the only way to describe the tussle between Johns and Barrett is ?awesome?. Two great players at the peak of their games right now - you can?t ask for much more. I think the Dragons will get them in a tight one.

Tigers v Panthers

The last game of the round holds plenty of significance. The Tigers have hovered over a top 4 position for the past few weeks and can finally seal a berth. I think their fate may already be decided for them with the Cowboys taking care of Melbourne though.

But Penrith may pull a few surprises here. They like Telstra Stadium don?t forget and they?ve been winning recently, suggesting they can get the hosts if they apply themselves. I think the halves are the key here and if Preston starts running wild anything could happen.

One thing that worries me about the Tigers has been their inability to bounce back after a loss but it seems they worked it out of their system mid-year to a large extent. I don?t think other results will affect Wests mindset as much as the Panthers because they seem to turn up ready to go regardless of the situation which makes me believe they can win this one.

The Warriors have the bye this round and begin Mad Monday a week ahead of all other clubs. You can?t say a great deal about this season for the New Zealanders other than it was disappointing that they didn?t make the semis. As they look ahead to 2006 perhaps they will look back on 2005 as a rebuilding phase. Farewell Stacey.