You would think Melbourne’s sluggish win over the bottom-placed Titans last weekend would have secured them another minor premiership given they are four points ahead of Sydney Roosters and holding a 39 point better for-and-against percentage. The interest now is the make-up of the top eight and especially the top four where Canberra, Manly and South Sydney are locked on 30 points, two ahead of Parramatta.
Making up the eight are Cronulla (24pts), Brisbane (23pts), Wests Tigers and Panthers both on 22 needing to win their last two games to have any hope. The run home for the top eight teams is very interesting, especially the round 25 showdown between the Sydney Roosters (2nd) and the 5th placed South Sydney Rabbits.
Here is a glance at how the top 10 teams finish the regular season:
- Melbourne (1st on 38 points) play Manly (a), Cowboys (h)
- Roosters (2nd on 34 points) play Panthers (h), South Sydney (a)
- Canberra Raiders (3rd on 30 points) play Cronulla Sharks (a) Warriors (h)
- Manly (4th on 30 points) play Melbourne Storm (h), Eels (a)
- South Sydney (5th on 30 points) play Warriors (a), Roosters (h)
- Parramatta Eels (6th on 28 points) play Brisbane Broncos (a) Manly (h)
- Cronulla Sharks (7th on 24 points) play Canberra Raiders (h) Wests Tigers (a)
- Brisbane Broncos (8th on 23 points) play Parramatta Eels (h), Canterbury Bulldogs (a)
- Wests Tigers (9th on 22 points) play Dragons (a), Cronulla Sharks (h)
- Penrith Panthers (10th on 22 points) play Roosters (a), Newcastle (h)
A few surprises last week which have been the norm this past month but two cracker games with South Sydney triggering some memorable dressing room scenes with coach Wayne Bennett after he denied his former club Brisbane in a tense game that had almost everything. Then it was another cracking contest with Manly holding out a gallant Canberra in the last game of round 23. It’s time for teams to switch onto finals mode this weekend.
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Thursday, August 29, 2019
North Queensland Cowboys V Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Venue: 1300MILES Stadium | Start: 7:50pm AEST
An emotional day for the Cowboys who will play their last ever game at 1300Smiles Stadium before moving to their new home next season. The Bulldogs will be out to spoil the farewell party here and after compiling four wins on the trot they head north confident of continuing their late-season run at the finals which will require two more wins and some results to fall their way. There is mail out of the north that all is not well between coach Paul Green and Cowboy’s captain Michael Morgan which can’t be good but it didn’t stop then trampling Penrith’s finals aspirations last weekend and Morgan has described it as a “beat up”.
On an emotional evening at the old Dairy Farmers Stadium ground they could just snap the Dogs’ streak. Bulldogs coach Dean Pay has his team firing on a brand of football built on effort and desire and it is proving very hard to combat. Morgan’s clash with Kiwi international Kieran Foran in the halves will be instrumental if both packs of forwards roll up their sleeves and have a good old fashioned crack here. The Bulldogs back their defence and North Queensland will need to play some expansive attack at times and not just try to belt it up the middle all night which is how Canterbury love to play. This is dead set a toss of the coin game but because of the occasion and the fact they look to have more points in them, I am leaning towards the Cowboys narrowly.
Friday, August 30, 2019
New Zealand Warriors V South Sydney Rabbitohs
Venue: Mt Smart Stadium | Start: 6:00pm AEST
Huge game for South Sydney who end the season against the Sydney Roosters so a win here is vital to the club’s top four hopes. The way the Warriors folded last weekend 42-16 to the Sharks would suggest they’ve already clocked off for 2019 but the Bunnies will need to make sure they hit them early or they just may have a tough afternoon across the ditch. Somehow I doubt it with hooker Damien Cook in such devastating form and on the back of a confidence-boosting last start win over Brisbane. Cook ran 130 metres for one line break and three tackle breaks and still managed 50 tackles. Another game like that against the sometimes paper-thin Warriors defence spells big trouble. Liam Knight was great in the middle for Souths and veteran John Sutton showed why he is so valuable with a game-high 170m.
Souths will be without centre James Roberts for the next two games after he was suspended for his grubby hit on former Brisbane teammate Corey Oates last weekend but they get big Englishman, Sam Burgess, back. The Warriors have the roster but sadly they don’t often play to their potential or for the full 80 metres which against a team like South Sydney is living dangerously. Maybe the Warriors will pull something special out of the bag for their fans but I really can’t see them troubling Souths who have so much to play for and on their day have a team with a lot of points in them. The Warriors have leaked 150 points in the past four games which is not a good sign.
Brisbane Broncos V Parramatta Eels
Venue: Suncorp Stadium | Start: 7:55pm AEST
This shapes as a cracking game with so much on the line for both clubs, especially Brisbane who are precariously placed eighth (23 points) one ahead of the Wests Tigers and Panthers. Parramatta probably has enough points (28) to make the eight even if they drop their remaining two games against Brisbane and Manly but coach Brad Arthur will want to see them move into a finals mentality against the Broncos. Brisbane may have been a shade unlucky to lose to South Sydney last weekend but they again showed they are finals material with a spirited 80-minute performance featuring their twin giants Payne Haas and fellow teenager David Fafita. Between them, they bashed out almost 340m with Haas cracking 200-plus metres yet again. With Matt Lodge up around 150m it gave Brisbane a platform and they will be looking to that trio to again to dominate up the middle third against an Eels side which has been very good in that area.
Parramatta, however, will miss the runs and intimidation of forward leader Nathan Brown, suspended for a shoulder charge last weekend. One plus for Parramatta is the return from injury of Blake Ferguson. The last time these teams clash in round 14, Parramatta embarrassed Brisbane dishing out a 38-10 lesson but the Broncos are playing with more energy and despite coming off a loss will be tough to crack at home. Mitchell Moses is in great for the Eels and try-scoring sensation Maiko Sivo is building a Sammy Radradra-like following. For Brisbane to win, fullback Anthony Milford has to involve himself more which he did well against South Sydney last weekend.
Saturday, August 31, 2019
Newcastle Knights V Gold Coast Titans
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium | Start: 3:00pm AEST
It’s hard to say which of these clubs are in more disarray at the end of forgettable seasons for both. Where to start?. Newcastle is in all sorts of trouble with their coach quitting and an apparent lack of respect shown by a few of his star players which have highlighted a real problem for the club. Genuine finals contenders a month or so ago the Knights need a minor miracle to make the September action. And after the pathetic showing last weekend at home against the Wests Tigers who took them to school, it is hard to say how they can bounce back although they are playing the Gold Coast Titans who regardless of whether they win their remaining two games will finish with the wooden spoon. The Gold Coast has also turfed their coach and face a total rebuild in 2020. This is a clash of two clubs who have let their fans down badly this season.
How you assess the form here is anyone’s guess. Newcastle was nothing short of rubbish last weekend and need to improve a lot. If they have any pride they will lift for their loyal supporters. The Titans were plucky in the first half against Melbourne last week and a few players are on notice with just two games left of the regular season. I’d tip a draw here but I am willing to give Newcastle another chance at home if they have any character and pride in their club. Can some please explain how a team that gave up almost 50 points last weekend can be $1.26 to win this weekend?
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles V Melbourne Storm
Venue: Lottoland | Start: 5:30pm AEST
This shapes as a real blockbuster at Lottoland and a clash that will be full of emotion and at times aggression and fire. One thing is for sure, Manly coach Des Hasler will have a few surprises for the Storm who went down in golden point to Manly five rounds back in a real thriller. Manly reminded everyone of their ability to scrap when they beat Canberra in Canberra last weekend and back home they will be fired up to make another September statement against the number one side in the premiership. So many match winners across the park for both sides, too many to mention but you know Tom Trbojevic, Daley Cherry Evans, Dylan Walker, Marty Taupau, Curtis Sironen and Jake Trbojevic will be crucial for Manly and that Ryan Papenhuyzen, Suliasi Vinivalu, Cameron Munter, Josh Addo-Carr,
Nelson Asofa Solonona and Cameron Smith are going to have a big say in the result for the Storm. Manly will no doubt miss the hard work of Joel Thompson whose season is over after he broke his arm last weekend. This is mouth-watering afternoon and the game will be played at finals intensity, especially by Manly who desperately want to remain in the top four sitting on 30 points along with Canberra and South Sydney. Buckle-up for a ripper battle with no holds barred.
Sydney Roosters V Penrith Panthers
Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground | Start: 7:35pm AEST
The Roosters should lock up second spot here against a Panther’s side which has shown very little fight and heart in recent months after charging into finals contention mid-season, only to falter with some pretty insipid displays, including last weekend’s 24-10 drubbing at the hands of North Queensland Cowboys. On the other hand, the Roosters are looming large at the right time of the season disposing of the Dragons 34-12 last weekend in another muscle-flexing display.
The thing about the Roosters is they are not yet back to full strength and are not playing their best but their big guns are all firing which is what you want when the big dance comes around. Prolific point-scorer Latrell Mitchell returns from a sight calf strain which is not good news for the Panthers and Roosters captain Boyd Cordner is pushing for a return from a leg injury. Tedesco, Manu, Tupou, Morris, Keary and Cronk feasting of a pack led by Jared Waerea Hargreaves and Isaac Lui should be much too strong for a Penrith side playing without, confidence and most of all much energy at the moment. This should be a good win for the Roosters before they close the season against South Sydney next weekend.
Sunday, September 1, 2019
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks V Canberra Raiders
Venue: Pointsbet Stadium | Start: 2:00pm AEST
Another super clash between two clubs fighting for top 8 spots, Canberra trying to grab a top-four position and Cronulla (7th) to stay in the eight. Canberra This will be Paul Gallen’s last home game for his beloved Sharks and Cronulla fans and his teammates are certain to make sure he feels the love. Nick Cotric slips from wing to centre to cover for the suspended Joey Leilua with Bailey Simonsson the new flanker. Cronulla is capable of causing an upset here if they can keep in the contest and prevent Raider’s hooker Josh Hodgson from getting his power forwards like Josh Papalii and Iosia Soliola and Englishman John Bateman rolling through the middle.
Cronulla enjoys the grind and if they can control possession and complete their sets and dominate field possession the task of causing a minor upset will become a lot easier. Canberra is still licking their wounds from losing a tense clash with Manly last weekend and it will be burning when they take the field against the Sharks. Jarrod Croker has been in outstanding form for the Green Machine and as has Jack Wighton whose running game at five-eighth just gets better and better. You get the feeling Canberra may have a little more upside than Cronulla and that may just be enough to get them across the line in this interesting clash.
St. George Illawarra Dragons V Wests Tigers
Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground | Start: 4:05pm AEST
The best the Wests Tigers can do is finish on 26 points so they are not totally out of contention but they would need a lot of results to fall their way to be playing finals football. The Dragons, on the other hand, can’t make the top 8 and are coping it from their fans, some calling for coach Paul McGregor’s head which is a bit tough given all the injuries and other setbacks the club has experienced throughout the season. Still, it’s the fans who pay their money and they are disappointed as you would expect when St George Illawarra promised so much.
Wests Tigers belted Newcastle last weekend almost racking up 50 points against a lacklustre and at times dis-interested Knights side. The Dragons are not a club to throw in the towel and you would hope they can give their fans something to cheer about in the next few weeks either against the Tigers or next week against the Sharks. How about Benji Marshall’s game against the Knights, it wasn’t vintage Marshall, but it was a masterclass by him as he ran the show and set up tries for players all around him. When Benji is in that frame of mind it is like he has spiders all over himself. This game could go either way but because the Tigers still have a sniff at the finals I think they will be more desperate than the Dragons when the going gets tough.