The top eight is very congested at present and this weekend the top four teams all square off to see if we can establish some type of rugby league hierarchy. Some teams just outside the eight get their opportunity to push their way in but the question is, can they stay there?
The Panthers have had the hardest run out of any team in the NRL and while they have lost their last two, there is no need to panic. The Panthers will have the Tigers measure on Friday night and should win by at least twelve points. The Tigers find themselves under the free to air spotlight for the first time since last year but looking at the two sides on paper, the simply don’t stack up to the Panthers and that means unless the Panthers are well and truly off their game, Tim Sheens and his men are in for a long night at Penrith. Panthers by 16.
The Rabbitohs showed signs of life a few weeks back but now they look as stiff as a corpse and rigor mortis has set in. Against the Bulldogs they made so many fundamental errors it was embarrassing to watch. The basic skills to compete are lacking and to think we are talking about an NRL side is an endictment on the players and the club. Nothing will change this week as the Bunnies travel to Newcastle and are on a hiding to nothing. You would like to think there is something to positive to look forward for Souths fans and there is, the off season. Newcastle will win in a canter and push Souths further down the ladder and closer to that dreaded wooden spoon, of which they are humble custodians for an eternity it would seem. Knights by 26.
One of the best local derby’s is upon us again and both sides are in form so the action should be enough to draw a crowd in excess of 15,000 to Toyota Park when Saints and Cronulla square off once again. Saints have a mediocre record against the Sharks, although on form the Dragons are playing the better footy, narrowly going down to the Roosters in a controversial match at Aussie Stadium last Sunday. The Sharks beat the Eels in golden point with a long range try to Nigel Vagana in the 81st minute. I think the Sharks will make it three on the trot and I base this purely on the Sharks home record against the Dragons. This game could very well be another golden point affair. Sharks by 4.
The unlucky Eels play host to the woeful Cowboys this week and if Parramatta lose this game, they will not make the top eight. The Cowboys are a team who simply do no know how to win while Parramatta aren’t much better after they let the game against the Sharks slip through their fingers when a potential place in the top four beckoned. Parramatta will have a fresh Nathan Hindmarsh and Nathan Cayless this week and they should be able to give the Eels the thrust in the forwards to keep the engine room ticking over and crossing the advantage line at will. The Cowboys will be competitive but at the end of the day I don’t think they have what it takes mentally to beat the Eels. Parramatta by 10.
The Warriors should be fresh coming off the bye but that will be of little comfort when they play the Melbourne storm, who are close to the form team of the NRL and should have enough firepower to dispose of the Warriors and continue Daniel Anderson’s woes as the Warriors look to put the dramas of the past two week behind them and register their second win for the year. Melbourne are clinical and getting better by the week. There is so much to like about the Storm that I find them irresisitable favourites. Having said that, they will probably turn their toes up and get done by 40. Storm by 18.
The first top of the table clash takes place between the Raiders and the Roosters. Last year, these team went hammer and tong at each other for eighty minutes with the Roosters getting the points both times they met. The Roosters won both games by four and seven points respectively but the Raiders this year aren’t showing the same dominance and forward might they showed last year and that would be of great concern to Raiders coach Matthew Elliott. Ricky Stuart’s men aren’t as dominant either but they still command respect and will go into the game as overwhelming favourites to continue their stranglehold over the Raiders. Being a Canberra fan I think the Raiders will be primed for their biggest test of the year and they can win it if they cut out the errors that have been dogging them since the start of the year. If they continue their current form against the Roosters, the score could be anything. If the Raiders are going to be a threat this year, this is a game they simply have to win and I think they will. Raiders by 6.
The final game of the round pits team one against team two and the Bulldogs will be relieved their much publicised dramas have finally gone away and it couldn’t have come at a better time as they face the rampaging Broncos, who look sensational at present. The Bulldogs were scratchy against Souths last weekend and apart from one good half of football against Parramatta in round one, they have looked ordinary against poor opposition. The Dogs have only played one contender and they were belted 35-0 by the Roosters. Whilst I don’t think the scoreline on Sunday will be similar, I expect the Broncos backs to give the Bulldogs a working over out wide. Tonga and Lolesi will be no match for Tate and Berrigan, who are the form pairing in the NRL and they are fast, something the Bulldogs lack out wide. There should be a crowd in excess of 30,000 people at Telstra Stadium in attendance for this match and the Broncos fans would be licking their lips at the prospect of showing the NRL who is currently the best team, especially after their demolition of Penrith last weekend. Contrasting form in anyone's language. I would also say that any neutral fan would be barracking for Brisbane for obvious reasons. This shoudl be a great game but on form the Dogs aren't in the same class as the Broncos at the moment. Brisbane by 12.