A few unexpected results last weekend is a timely reminder that if you are not completely on your game you can get ambushed. Canberra produced one hell of a second half to wear down Melbourne Storm who had the Raiders on the ropes at 18-0 before the Green Machine clicked into gear piling on 22 unanswered points and shutting down Cameron Smith’s men with some wonderful scrambling defence. But it wasn’t just Melbourne who stumbled, with South Sydney displaying worrying signs for master coach Wayne Bennett as a new-look gritty Bulldogs battered them 14-6 in an even bigger upset.
Those two results alone had a big impact on the make-up of the final eight, throwing life-lines to a few teams. The Brisbane Broncos (7th) kept their season afloat beating Penrith and thereby knocking them out of the eight, although they are equal with eighth-placed Cronulla (22 points) in 9th spot but only one win ahead of the Newcastle Knights and Wests Tigers who still mathematically are bolter’s chances should they win their remaining three games and the Sharks lose theirs.
Melbourne (36 points) – four clear of the Roosters — are still short priced favourites to secure the minor premiership seeing they play competition easy-beats Gold Coast this weekend and wrap up the regular season with games against Manly (away) and Cowboys at home.
The Roosters, who are in ominous form heading into the finals, have a few tough games against the Dragons, Penrith and Souths, but they look the team on the “up” at the right time of the year.
Looking at Round 23, Sunday’s clash between the Sharks and Raiders is crucial for both clubs, obviously but more so the Sharks who are clinging to eighth place. Canberra are secure in the eight but must win to keep alive their hopes of grabbing second place off the Roosters which carries some extra finals benefits.
The game I am looking most forward to though is the clash between Canberra and Manly. Both clubs are jostling for a top four finish. On their day Manly can beat anyone and Canberra, well they looked serious premiership threats the way they put Melbourne to the sword last week.
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Thursday, August 22, 2019
Parramatta Eels vs Canterbury Bulldogs
Venue: Bankwest Stadium | Start: 7:50pm AEST
This is a tricky game to analyse as Parramatta are on a four-game roll having smashed the hapless Titans last weekend while the Bulldogs have found some late season fight and come into the clash on the back of a hat-trick of wins including a last start upset over South Sydney which gives them claims to another upset.
Canterbury’s grinding style is suited to playing Parramatta who need to continue their up tempo game, but they are equally at home smashing it up the middle with a big, strong forward pack led by Junior Paul, Shane Evans and Nathan Brown who will relish the challenge presented by Canterbury power forwards Dylan Napa, Aiden Tolman and Josh Jackson, all of whom revel in the physical stuff. If Canterbury can drag Parramatta into a slug fest it will help their chances of putting a dent in the Eel’s finals aspirations. Eels winger Maika Sivo is chasing more tries to add to his 16 already this season. The Bulldogs though would like nothing more than to add Parramatta’s scalp to the growing list of teams who have tried to out-muscle them in recent weeks.
Kieren Foran (Bulldogs): Was barely able to get into a jog after his comeback game last week but boy did he make a difference to the Dogs’ attack with his plays at the line. Twice he put players through holes for tries and the Bulldogs are a much better team when he is in the number 6.
Shaun Lane (Parramatta): Tall, rangy back-rower, Lane has a very dangerous off-load in traffic which has the potential to cause the Bulldog’s defence major headaches. If he can slip a few away to the likes of Clint Gutherson and Mitchell Moses the Dogs could open up.
Friday, August 23, 2019
North Queensland Cowboys vs Penrith Panthers
Venue: 1300Smiles Stadium | Start: 6:00pm AEST
North Queensland are still reeling from the shock news that veteran forward Matt Scott was hospitalized in Brisbane through the week after suffering a mild stroke. Scott Bolton will take his place in the pack against the Panthers, Paul Green has named damaging forward James Taumalolo as one of his reserves and he is an outside chance of playing for the Cowboys who have had a disappointing season by their high standards with a playing roster that should be much higher. Still the Panthers have been a major disappointment as well and posed no threat to the Broncos last season when they needed to win to stay in the top eight. Penrith should win this game but the Cowboys could rally behind injured teammate Scott and pull off a home win without surprising as the Panther’s form is hardly inspiring.
James Maloney (Panthers) With Nathan Cleary following up a man-of-the-match effort with a disappointing performance against Brisbane, Maloney is the man to right the ship if they have any hope of forcing their way back into the top eight.
Jake Clifford (Cowboys): He is no JT but young Clifford is improving all the time and looks like being a very good player in the making. He has a few tricks close to the line which his sharp running and kicking game. Time for him to show why he is the Cowboys long-term No.7.
Brisbane Broncos vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
Venue: Suncorp Stadium | Start: 7:55pm AEST
Brisbane suffered a serious blow at the hands of the judiciary who on Tuesday night when the NRL’s judiciary increased Tevita Pangai Junior’s suspension for a tackle of James Maloney to five games, meaning he won’t play again this season unless the Broncos make the grand final. Further bad news for coach Anthony Seibold is the loss of half/hooker Jake Turpin who has paid a heavy price for his brain-snap against the Panthers last weekend and reports all is not well with try-scoring winger Corey Oates. Anthony Milford however will play after coping a fine as one of the nine players charged from games last weekend. Former Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett returns to the club he took to six premiership wins and seven grand finals with a South Sydney side which has lost its way in recent weeks. If you don’t think Bennett, who the round eight clash 38-6, will want to win this match at Suncorp Stadium, more than most others, you are kidding yourself and while he won’t say anything to his players, they will know what it means to him to win, let alone for their own finals chances. The only good news for Brisbane is the return of quality forward Matt Gillett but will that be enough?
Payne Haas (Broncos): What a future this kid has and Souths forwards will need to contain his charges up the middle and his footwork close to the line for a hug man. He was devastating against Penrith last week. Carved out over 200 metres last week against Panthers.
Sam Burgess (Rabbitohs): The Rabbits need Sam at his physical best, leading from the front both in attack and defence. Sam needs to play an intimidating style but make sure he does not push things too far.
Saturday, August 24, 2019
Cronulla Sharks vs New Zealand Warriors
Venue: Pointsbet Stadium | Start: 3:00pm AEST
It’s all or nothing for the Sharks who will be nervous about the playing the NRL’s most frustrating side. They got lucky against the Dragons last week with a try off a kick which bounced into the arms of Bronson Xerri after flicking the fingertip of teammate Wade Graham who confessed to the touch after the win. Losing Matt Moylan (hamstring) who has been hard to handle is a blow to the Sharks attack as his out-the-back plays are difficult to defend. For the Warriors David Fusitua is back on the bench and Patrick Herbert will replace the luckless Gerard Beale. Kiwi international Isaac Luke will start at hooker. You can’t have any confidence tipping in this game because neither team is playing with any authority. You would however think playing at home with the season on the line would be enough to bring the best out in the Sharks.
Wade Graham (Sharks) With no Moylan the onus on attack will swing to Graham and there is every chance at some stage the skillful and creative back-rower will come up with a magic play for the Sharks.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Warriors) You don’t have to be Einstein to know that the Warriors fullback is a genuine game-breaker. The one thing about Tuivasa-Sheck you can count on is that he will give 110 per cent even though the Warriors season is over. The Sharks will have to watch him for 80 minutes.
Wests Tigers vs Newcastle Knights
Venue: Campbelltown Stadiums | Start: 5:30pm AEST
Big game as both these sides are not completely out of the finals picture although they would need to win their last three so one of them will be packing their bags for 2019 at the end of the game. Luke Brooks is free to play after being fined for his uncharacteristic foul play last weekend which is good news for the Tigers. Josh Reynolds finally makes his way back into the Tiger’s line-up at hooker which should give the Tigers some added spark. Dani Levy comes into the dummy half role for the injured Connor Watson who was excellent in the big win against the Warriors last week. Newcastle will look to skipper Kaylyn Ponga and halfback Mitchell Pearce to get them going forward. These packs looks pretty evenly matched so all the little things like errors, discipline, completion and missed tackles are going to be very important. Last time these side clashed Newcastle for out to a handy early leader before the Tigers stormed home to win a tense battle 28-26. This may be just as close.
Kaylyn Ponga (Knights): Helped himself to two tries last weekend and one of the game’s most dangerous runners of the football. If he is the right frame of mind he could terrorize the Tigers defence in the middle and out wide.
Benji Marshall (West Tigers): The Tigers would love some Benji magic and the veteran play maker can still pull off a stunning play or two. More of the organiser these days Benji still has some showman and entertainer in him. Look out if he gets some room to move.
St George Illawarra Dragons vs Sydney Roosters
Venue: Jubilee Stadium | Start: 7:35pm AEST
It’s hard to see how the Dragons can beat the in-form Roosters other than locking them in their dressing room for the first half. It’s been a tough season for Paul McGregor with injuries to many of his top players and some inconsistent performances that have cost his side heavily through a forgettable season for followers of the Red and White. Seriously, the Roosters have timed their run at the finals perfectly and this could be an ugly afternoon at Jubilee for Dragons fans if their side fails to show some heart and fire. The Roosters scored 42 unanswered points against the Warriors last week and could conceivably repeat the dose if the Dragons don’t turn up with their heads on. The Dragons fought hard before losing to Cronulla last weekend on a bunker call that was later proved wrong. How they bounce back from that will tell a lot about their character playing in front of their home crowd. Really, stopping Tedesco, Mitchell, Manu, Morris and Crichton and Radley is a massive task and at some stage the flood gates are likely to open. With the Roosters determined to hang onto second spot, and even push for the minor premiership, they will not be any complacency. When they met in the ANZAC Day clash the Roosters prevailed 20-10. The Dragons will be lucky to get those close this time around with the Roosters in great heart.
Latrell Mitchell: (Roosters): Latrell is playing outstanding football despite personal issues and leads the league in points (239) and tries (17). His confidence is high and that is a big worry for opposition sides.
Tyson Frizell (Dragons): If Tyson can find his damaging best and take the Dragons forward it will make life so much easier. Still he will need help from Paul Vaughan and James Graham to quell a Roosters’ pack riding high.
Sunday, August 25, 2019
Melbourne Storm vs Gold Coast Titans
Venue: AAMI Park | Start: 2:00pm AEST
The last-placed Titans probably could not ask for a tougher assignment than playing first placed Melbourne Storm on their home track when they are coming off a bad loss last weekend. It all adds up to a torrid afternoon at AAMI Park given they are struggling in every department of the game. Gun play maker Cameron Munster has taken an early guilty play this weekend, further bad news for the Titans who will be hoping the Storm go easy in them with the finals looking large. Storm coach Craig Bellamy will start the game with the same 13 that set up and 18-0 lead against Canberra last week before the Raiders produced a spectacular comeback. Bellamy will be looking for a much better controlled 80 minute performance and that spells big trouble for the Titans who have conceded 134 points in their past three games. Look out for a try-scoring avalanche from the electrifying Josh Addo-Carr and fellow winger Suliasi Vinavalu if the Storm take control of the middle third. Melbourne can wrap up the minor premiership here and you can bet your last dollar Bellamy will want to see them play with a finals ruthlessness despite the nature of their opposition.
Cameron Munster (Melbourne): Munster could have a day out here in his current form. He is class act and with the finals looming will want to get his running game in order which is not good news for the hapless Titans.
Jai Arrow: It is a lot to ask of Arrow to lead the Titans up the middle but he is a strong runner with a lot of go forward and one player who can create a few opportunities.
Canberra Raiders vs Manly Sea Eagles
Venue: GIO Stadium | Start: 4:05pm AEST
What an enticing clash this is and a chance for either side to make a finals statement. The winner can breath a little easier about finishing top four but this is more about being up to go up another gear which will be needed in September. Canberra were superb in coming back from 18-0 to beat Melbourne in Melbourne last weekend, a victory that has Raiders fans talking up a grand final appearance by the Green Machine. At home Canberra will be very tough but Manly have a win against them already this season coming from 12-0 down to win 24-12 and Des Hasler is a master of the ambush. Hasler has stuck with the side which rolled the Tigers last weekend and the emphasis against the Raiders will be controlling the ruck and keeping Raider’s hooker Josh Hodgson in check so he doesn’t get Canberra’s running game going. So many big game players on show here with Turbo Tommy, DCE, big Marty Taupau and Jake Gosiewski, who emerged as a talented edge player, up against Nikoll Klokstad, one of the finds of the season, Croker, Rapana, Wighton, Hodgson, Papali, Bateman and Whitehead. A super clash is on the cards.
Tom Trbojevic: Such a wonderful ball runner and Canberra will be wise to keep him away from the ball but he plays the second five-eighth role so well and bobs up in support whenever a team-mate makes break. Class act.
John Bateman: What a great acquisition this guys has proven to be. The Englishman has a high work rate with the ability to break the line and save tries and he plays tough right until the 80th minute. Look for a ball steal or something special from him when the game is tight.