Round 8 Preview - The planets are
back in line

After being amongst the 32-odd thousand fans at Aussie Stadium on Monday and watching the Dragons record their second victory for the season, I proudly marched into work on Tuesday, buoyed by my tipping results, for I had selected a mighty 6 from 7 and the harsh office environment which had ostracised me for my apparent lack of footballing brains were ready to welcome me back to the fold.

Yes folks, the only thing better than tipping one short is picking the full card and that has been as scarce as hen?s teeth this year. I?m now on a socially acceptable 28 from 49 this season, and I no longer need to stand in the corner by myself at the pub when the conversation turns to the greatest game of all.

Broncos v Sea Eagles

I?m looking forward to this for a few reasons. Firstly, we?re going to find out if Manly are the real deal. They?ve been passing themselves off as premiership material at Brookvale Oval and have only slipped up once coming off the bye to a red-hot Dragons side that would have beaten anyone in round 5.

Next, the Broncos showed some true grit last week, disposing of the Sharks in a game of footy that was sublime for the most part. Tate is out, as is Carroll and Barry Berrigan, but so what? For years I?ve been watching the Broncos churn out player after player when their stars get injured and before you know it the youngsters like Tate are the senior players and you wonder what happened.

On Friday night we may get the pleasure of watching them unearth yet another miracle child in Berrick Barnes. If he lives up to the hype that some are suggesting we may have another superstar on our hands. Coach Bennett is a calculating man, so it comes as no surprise to see Darren Smith in there to provide a bit of experience.

It should be a great start to the weekend and I?m tipping Manly. I want them to win so I can keep hating them and they also want to win so I can keep hating them. Everyone wins but the Broncos. How good are Dessie?s gee-ups by the way?

Storm v Sharks

Difficult pick here. The Sharks lost at home in a tight one and the Storm did a number on the Raiders in Canberra. I rate both teams and think they are well credentialed. This one could go down to the wire and let?s hope it does.

Kimmorley is visiting old turf and will bring a wealth of knowledge to the team for their preparations. His team is doing all the right things and they are big, strong and mobile across the park. The Storm also have a fair few arrows in their quiver, with Slater and Orford calling the shots. I liked the way Scott Hill played last week too and I?m sure he?ll delight in trying to get one over his old mate Noddy.

If Cronulla can get on top early they should come away with the two points. They have a professionalism and purpose this year that has caught the eye of many - just have a look at the team they?ve got combined with great depth. No disrespect to Melbourne though, but they haven?t been playing too well at home.

Bulldogs v Eels

This traditional clash would have been match of the round once upon a time, but the Bulldogs find themselves in somewhat of a conundrum. They still have the crux of a good side but a desperately lacking their hit-men in the forward pack. Andrew Ryan was sent a firm message by the Test selectors and he seemed to respond to an extent. But they?ll need more of the same if they are to overcome the Eels.

Now, after taking a while to gel, I?m prepared to suggest that Parra are on their way to becoming a force in the comp. They were dealt some enormous punishment earlier in the year by Souths and Brisbane, but in the last two weeks they?ve towelled up Melbourne and Wests and are looking for their third straight win. Looking across their team they have a lot of depth and some good players in there than may be considered fringe reps.

Homebush offers little or no advantage to Canterbury and they are doing it tough up front. Parra in a tough one.

Cowboys v Roosters

A big grudge match here. I bet the Cowboys want to belt Easts off the park because of last year?s qualifying final. In many eyes the Cowboys were hard done by, but they did have their opportunities and couldn?t post the win namely with Fein?s field-goal attempt.

That might be the biggest motivating factor for them. The exorcising of demons is always a very cleansing experience and a big win here would capitalise on the momentum which North Queensland have been building.

The Roosters will do it tough too. Finch is out and they lost a tight one to the Dragons on Anzac Day which dealt their morale a blow. I?m guessing Wing will play halfback, but it could also be a good way to get Brett Firman back into form, or perhaps blood a youngster like Soward who?s another champion in the making.

I?m going to have to stick with the Cowboys here. They?re just playing great footy right now and I loved watching Rockin? Rod Jensen leave the goal post in his wake last week.

Warriors v Panthers

Another hard one to pick but for the wrong reasons?it could be real ugly. Both teams pack a lot of punch when they?re on their game, but neither are performing to the capacity that they can and should be.

New Zealand are coming off a bye after snatching victory from the jaws of Andrew Johns a fortnight ago. They looked average until he left the field, but this week pretty much have their full complement on the park.

The Panthers have been pretty disappointing all round this season. Shallow victories and some meek surrenders don?t auger too well with the big and bad image that everyone had of them prior to the lacing of a boot. Maybe they read a bit of their own press? One way or another their forwards need to start making yards so playmaker Craig Gower can find his feet after a flat start.

I?ll stick with the home team in a bit of a donkey vote. The halves look good and the forwards are experienced so it should be a good contest up front.

Knights v Raiders

Here it is, brace yourselves! The Knights first victory will be on Sunday against the Raiders in the newly configured EnergyAustralia Stadium. They narrowly missed out on christening the home ground with a victory last week, but they played well enough to suggest that victory is nigh.

In contrast, the Raiders were woeful. They have Smith, Woolford and Mogg out suspended, plus their custodian Schifcofske has now picked up a nasty 4-6 week injury, nullifying another attacking option. They have some rookie halves and an injury list that is starting to make the Dragons look like whingers.

But let?s talk about the Knights. Buderus seemed to tighten up the ruck and get the forwards moving well last week against a tough opposition pack. Could I dare say he means more to Newcastle right now than Andrew Johns? I?m backing the home team here in what may or may not degrade into a shirt grabbing exercise.

Tigers v Dragons

Supposing a Dragon exists, could it beat a Tiger?

The last game of the round sees two joint venture outfits up against one another and the history of these two clubs can be summed up in the aforementioned question. Often the Wests Tigers have defeated St George in tight contests that often leave you thinking that the Dragons actually lost it for themselves through the virtue of not turning up to play.

But then you have the occasions where the Dragons quite obviously turn up to play and make short work of the Tigers, generally racking up a tidy score line in the process.

So what will it be this weekend? It?s hard to go past Saints, who got home in a thriller last week. Their team is pretty much full strength and with a few more games under their belt could really begin to inflict some damage on the comp. This is just the sort of game they need to hit their straps.

I bet Tim Sheens has other plans though. After two straight losses they are looking desperate for another win to renew their confidence and defeat here could spell the end of the early season honeymoon period. The Tigers pack looks small in comparison but they tend to punch above their weight.

But you can?t tip against the Dragons here, providing they do actually exist.

The Rabbitohs have the bye and they look like they need it right about now. It appears they?ve run out of petrol and gun lock-forward Ashley Harrison may want out. The Bunnies were dismal last week and they really need to spend up after June 30.