The Sydney Roosters won the Battle of the Big Boys against Parramatta last round to confirm their rating as the game’s power club well on it’s way to a premiership hat-trick. While the previously unbeaten Eels were gallant they were not able to go toe-to-toe with the ruthless Roosters for 80 minutes. Round 7 kicks off with a great clash between Penrith and South Sydney with James Roberts expected to return from a self-imposed break from the game. It’s a big round for the battling Brisbane Broncos and North Queensland Cowboys who were pretty ordinary last week and need to hit back following some stinging criticism.
Brisbane plays the last-placed Gold Coast Titans so nothing less than a double-digit win would be acceptable although at this stage both coaches would happily take two premiership points. Broncos coach Anthony Seibold has resisted widespread calls to drop star playmaker Anthony Milford and former captain Darius Boyd but he has made a few changes, including blooding exciting youngster Tesi Niu who has been pushing for a debut for a while now. He has also drafted Dearden into his 18-man squad, sending a clear message to Milford he will no longer accept his sub-standard form in the No.6.
The Cowboys are still smarting from their poor loss to Wests Tigers and there’s been real soul searching and honesty this week from the players to earn their pau cheques. Parramatta and the Raiders could prove to be the game of the round at Bankwest Stadium on Saturday with both teams coming off losses. The Eels will want to get straight back into winning mode but without enforcer Nathan Brown they will have a tough time defending the Raiders in the middle. It’s a big weekend also for interim Warriors coach Todd Payten who takes over from sacked mentor Stephen Kearney. It will be interesting to see how the players respond.
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NRL Tipping – Thursday June 25
Penrith Panthers v South Sydney Rabbitohs
Venue: Jubilee Stadium | Start: 7:50 PM
Penrith Panthers – Finally put it all together last weekend beating Melbourne convincingly with a style that was both entertaining, yet controlled. Young halfback Nathan Cleary just gets better and better and there’s no doubt he makes a huge difference the Panther’s attacking flow which was on song against the Storm. This game has been shifted from Campbelltown Stadium because of concerns over the playing surface but to the players it’s just a different football field and with limited crowds will have little or no bearing on the outcome. Statistics don’t really highlight Cleary’s impact over the Storm but things happen when he involves himself and takes control. The Panther’s forwards rose to the challenge against Melbourne and again their go-to man Villame Kikau was a real handful on the edges and Penrith will have to man up on him and make sure he doesn’t find a mismatch when he hurtles to the try line. Winger Josh Mansour was back to his best carving out almost 200 metres which helped out his forwards. The return of Dylan Edwards (157m, 65 of them kick return metres) also helped Penrith get into attack mode. The other winger Brian To’o also ran for 174m and made some great tackles. It is starting to come together for the Panthers and South Sydney will be a good guide to their progress after 7 rounds.
South Sydney Rabbitohs – It is statement time for Wayne Bennett’s Rabbits who after losses to NRL heavyweights Roosters and the Storm they have beaten up lesser-lights Gold Coast and the Warriors quite easily. There was a lot to like about parts of Souths victory that dropped the axe of Warrior’s coach Stephen Kearney’s head last weekend and they will want to keep the roll going against a quality side like Penrith to confirm their top 4 rating. It was hard not to notice Latrell Mitchell’s performance in the 40-12 win over the Warriors. Scenes of him being consoled in the dressing room by coach Bennett revealed how just much emotional pressure the young fullback has been under in recent weeks as he continues his development into his new role as a fullback. Mitchell played the full 80 minutes which is a huge positive. He had two try assists and threw the pass of the season for one of them. Throw in 4 tackle breaks, two line breaks and close to 150 metres it was the kind of performance he will need every week to be up with the Tedescos, Pongas and Tuivasa-Shecks of the competition. Souths will need Damien Cook to get running out of dummy half and for Cam Murray to be probing for holes on the edges to keep Penrith off balance. Alex Johnstone is in great form and is back to his try-hungry best. James Roberts may yet play.
NRL Tipping – Friday June 26
Melbourne Storm v NZ Warriors
Venue: Jubilee Stadium | Start: 6:00 PM
Melbourne Storm – The Storm were found out last week against Penrith but the return of wing flyer Josh Addo-Carr and speedy half-utility Jahrome Hughes will make a difference. No doubt Melbourne has some vulnerabilities which coach Craig Bellamy would have addressed this week and skipper Cameron Smith will make sure the Warriors don’t exploit them in the middle. Bellamy hasn’t panicked sticking mostly to last week’s 17 in a show of confidence to his players. Bellamy will want his players to build some pressure on the Warriors who don’t handle adversity well or haven’t this season. Repeat sets will be a priority for Hughes, Smith and Cameron Munster who has been running the ball a lot better in recent weeks. Both sides are blessed with speed men and Melbourne’s flank men need to see a lot more of the ball. That responsibility lays with the halves who need their muscle men to subdue the Warriors pack so they can get out to the edges. Fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen is a constant threat and has a hunger for the ball which makes him very dangerous.
NZ Warriors – No doubt the players will be hurting following the club’s decision to punt coach Stephen Kearny after the 40-12 loss to South Sydney last week. From all reports, the players gave Kearney a “Haka” send-off with several of them very emotional. If that emotion transforms to effort on the field they could seriously push Melbourne. How often do we see sides lift for a week or two after the coach is dumped and make no mistake, Kearney was highly respected by his players. Todd Payten needs to harness his player’s disappointment in his debut as an NRL head coach but he won’t need to try and make too many changes in game one at the helm. It’s a tough situation for him to come into replacing Kearney so early in the season but he has a job to doy and needs to get his players on-side quickly to make sure they don’t drop their bundle for the rest of 2020. The Warriors have the talent from Roger Tuivasa-Sheck at the back to props Jamayne Tuanoa-Brown and Lachlan Burr. The Warriors need to start strongly and defend their errors better than they have. The challenge for them is to go for 80 minutes and stay in the fight.
Sydney Roosters v St George Dragons
Venue: Bankwest Stadium | Start: 7:55 PM
Sydney Roosters – What more can you say about the Roosters than they are a mile ahead of their opposition. While they did not blow the unbeaten Parramatta off the park last round they did dispose of them in a manner which suggested they in a league of their own. Where is their weakness? Do they even have one?. They are playing at a speed other teams can’t keep up with. They have the power up front, the run through the middle, halves which are in complete control and so much class and speed in the backs points are not a problem. They had to fight hard against Parramatta for 60 minutes but in the end they won like the quality side they are. James Tedesco will play despite being steamrolled by Sivo last week. The Dragons have won a couple but if they can’t go up another notch or two the Roosters are going to put out their fire and turn the heat on them. Tedesco, who has to pass a head assessment test, but along with the Morris brothers, Luke Keary, Kyle Flannagan, the attack will just keep coming into the Red and White until they are unable to defend any longer.
St George Dragons – The Dragons have responded and last week they looked a lot better in beating the Gold Coast Titans 20-8 to get some confidence back. The Titans though are a far cry from the powerhouse machine the Roosters have developed in winning the last two premierships and you can only hope they are prepared to give their all or it could get ugly. The return of Matt Duffy provided the Dragons with some spark and having Ben Hunt roving a little more also make the Dragons a bit more dangerous. The Dragons have a better pack than many think with three starters have played representative football. It’s hard to tip an upset here given the Roosters devastating form of late. Coach Paul McGregor is likely to be under even more pressure unless his players can dig deep and pull out a special performance.
NRL Tipping – Saturday June 27
Nth Qld Cowboys v Newcastle Knights
Venue: QLD Country Bank Stadium | Start: 3:00 PM
Nth Qld Cowboys – They were very poor last weekend in losing badly to the Wests Tigers. The game was over well before half time when they went to the long break 34-0 down and facing a serious hiding. To their credit, they rallied in the second 40 minutes take the second half honours 20-2. It was a performance which raised some serious question with speculation surrounding Paul Green’s position as head coach. Enforcer Josh McGuire didn’t pull any questions through to week when spoke openly about the lack of effort from the players and the need for them all, including himself, to turn up and do the jobs they are paid to do. Green savaged his players, and rightly so, after the “soft” performance which was embarrassing at times. How they respond this week is hard to say. You would think they will be dirty with themselves and will want to make amends for their fans against the Knights who are riding high and coming off a big win over the disappointing Brisbane Broncos. I am not prepared to sack the Cowboys just yet but they will need to reply to the widespread criticism with McGuire, Jason Taumalolo, Cohen Hess and Francis Molo leading the way. Green has played the loyalty card for most of the players involved in last week’s debacle in the hope they will be hurting enough to strike back hard.
Newcastle Knights – The Knights have had a dream start to 2020 and last week they brushed aside the Brisbane Broncos to move into outright second on the ladder. It would be foolish to dismiss the Knights as just being lucky because they have played some attractive football and times and looked quite dangerous. David Klemmer has been in representative form and prop Daniel Saifiti has also been very damaging in providing the go forward against the Broncos. Saifiti scored a try and smashed out more than 200 metres, 100 of them post contact metres and made 23 tackles, quite a contribution. It’s been the scheming of Mitchell Pearce and the unsung Kurt Mann who have been leading the Knights around the paddock off an understated forward pack which is playing for each other. Mann gives Pearce a little extra time and space and he is relishing the running game. His kicking game is superb and allows Newcastle not only to get out of tight spots but get plenty of repeat sets to attack with as well.
Brisbane Broncos v Gold Coast Titans
Venue: Suncorp Stadium | Start: 5:30 PM
Brisbane Broncos – It’s crunch time for Anthony Seibold and his battling Broncos who were almost inept at times against Newcastle last week, turning in a performance which was arguably the club’s weakest of 2020. Brisbane have suffered worse scorelines than the 27-6 loss to the Knights but rarely has their effort be so lacking. What is going wrong with the Broncos? They were good prior to Covid19 with two wins but have not won a game since the resumption. Their defence against the Knights was rubbish and they had no idea with the ball in hand repeatedly getting caught out on the fifth tackle by poor options. If they can’t get a result this weekend, maybe Seibold should use the remainder of the 2020 season to see what talent he has at Red Hill. Again many have asked how have Anthony Milford and Darius Boyd, who are playing well below NRL level, survived the chop but that is Seibold’s decision as he needs senior players in such a young side. The word is young Tom Dearden will be brought on the bench in case Milford under-performs yet again. Siebold will debut Fanitesi Niu in the number one jumper, a bold gamble, but one forced upon given Jamayne Isaako’s disappointing form at fullback. Some commentator suggests Payne Haas performed poorly last week, well, with 50 tackles and in 60 minutes, his run metres were always going to be down. This is Brisbane’s acid test and they have to put in a performance to restore their reputation on the back of a couple of mediocre performances. Milford surely has to earn some of the big dollars he is on and Croft has to get into the line more. The forwards need to play for each other.
Gold Coast Titans – The Titan lost one of the club’s favourite administrators and contributors this week with the passing of Tommy Searle, a very popular man who did so much behind the scenes for rugby league on the Gold Coast and was widely respected and regarded as a good bloke with a big heart. The players will wear black arms in his honour and you can bet they will put on a strong performance in his memory against their old rivals from up the M-1 highway. Having said that, they are anchored at the bottom of the NRL table for a reason. Mitch Rein’s return to the dummy-half duties at the expense of Erin Clark which should give the Titans some zip and grind in the middle while former Bronco and Origin forward Jarrod Wallace is back on the interchange bench> The Titans have elected to go without the impact role of Bryce Cartwright while Tyrone Peachey remains the bench super-sub.
Parramatta Eels v Canberra Raiders
Venue: Bankwest Stadium | Start: 7:35 PM
Parramatta Eels – Lost few if any admirers when they fell to their first loss of the season at the hands of the ruthless Roosters. They showed however they are indeed a quality football side going blow for blow with the Roosters until midway through the second half when the class of the two-time defending premiers shone through. Anybody who doubted the Eels were premiership threats would have reassessed things on the way they stood tall against the Roosters in the 24-10 defeat. They were in the game until deep in the second half until winger Daniel Tupou crossed in the 74th minute to put the game out of reach. Sadly for Eels fans, Nathan Brown is back before the judiciary after just returning from a suspension. He was their best forward against the Roosters and will be missed against a tough Raiders pack. Prior to the loss Parramatta was going gangbusters and provided the effort against the Roosters hasn’t taken too much out of them you would expect they will be desperate to get back into the winner’s circle. Brown has been named at lock but you would expect he will get time unless he escapes at the Judiciary.
Canberra Raiders – The Raiders will be hurting after they fizzled out against a brave Manly last week, a game they all know they let get away after the Sea Eagles went into the game without two key forwards and then lost Tom Trbojevic early to a hamstring injury. Coach Ricky Stuart would not have been happy with a lot of aspects of play and at times Canberra just tried to smash Manly instead of using the football an attacking the edges more. The Raiders have a big mobile pack and they like to play aggressively through the middle which will suit Parramatta who like to back their defence. Hooker Josh Hodgson is not playing as well as he can for whatever reason but the responsibility is on him to get the Raiders rolling forward. With Josh Papalii, Iosia Soliola, Joseph Tapine, big young Corey Horburg and Elliott Whitehead Canberra have as much muscle as any team in the competition. English halfback George Williams is close to producing a big game and you know Jack Whiton will give 100 per cent. After the game, Stuart threw out a challenge to his players publicly stating they were not at the same level as the Roosters and Parramatta. We will see if he is right.
NRL Tipping – Sunday June 28
Manly Sea Eagles v Cronulla Sharks
Venue: Central Coast Stadium | Start: 4:05 PM
Manly Sea Eagles – Turned in one of the club’s bravest performances to hold out Canberra last weekend with several front-line players. When star fullback Tom Trbojevic left the field with a hamstring injury soon after they lost centre Brad Parker many though Canberra would take control of the game but the Sea Eagles showed some remarkable resolve rallying around skipper Daly Cherry-Evans to get two vital premiership points. This week will require a similar valiant effort no Trbojevic and missing the creativity and strike of five-eighth Dylan Walker. The one thing about Manly and Des Hasler coached sides is the grit and refusal to quit and you know they will go for 80 minutes against the Sharks. Brendan Elliott takes over the No.1 jumper and he is no stranger to the position while Lachlan Croker slots into the No.6. Big Marty Taupau is back in the middle and what about Curtis Sironen’s defensive commitment last week. It’s those type of special plays that can drive a team.
Cronulla Sharks – The Sharks go their season back on track last week against the Bulldogs – but only just with a nervous 20-18 win. It’s hard to get a line on Cronulla but they have the roster to win plenty of games. Only one minor change this week for the Sharks with Andrew Fafita promoted from the bench to starting prop ahead of Bradin-Hamlin Uele. The Sharks need to get grunt and go forward, especially against a side like Manly who play with a lot of line speed and who build constant pressure with a good kicking game. Sharks halves Chad Townsend and Shaun Johnson can go up a notch or more but they need their forwards to roll up their sleeves and get stuck into the hard work. Fafita and Aaron Woods will have their work cut out against the charging Addin Fonua-Blake and Taupa who will hit it up all day. Manly may be down, missing some key personnel but they are far from out judging on their gutsy second have resistance against Canberra last week. This will be a real arm wrestle.
Canterbury Bulldogs v West Tigers
Venue: Bankwest Stadium | Start: 6:30 PM
Canterbury Bulldogs – The Bulldogs share the bottom spot with the Gold Coast but they showed plenty of heart against losing a close one 20-18 to the Sharks last weekend when they made a late charge. Coach Dean Pay’s job is on the line and the players understand a bad performance could spell the end just as it did last week for Warrior’s mentor Stephen Kearney. The Dogs have a solid forward pack and no player tries harder than Josh Jackson who continues to lift his teammates by leading the way every week. Adam Elliott continues to do sme good things and provides some variety around the middle of the ark while fullback Adam Doueihi is due for a try or two. As usual, a lot will rest of the directorship of Kieran Foran and how much his body can endure taking the ball to the defensive line. Foran takes the big hits and puts his body on the line time after time for his team. The Dogs have to troops to cause an upset here if they can get over the top of the Tiger’s pack.
West Tigers – Unleashed perfect opening 40 minutes to stun North Queensland 34-0 but gave up 20 points in a second-half that took all the gloss off the win and left coach Michael McGuire in a dirty mood. It was a procession to the try line in the first half as the Tigers ran riot over a disappointing Cowboys side which found some pride in the second half. That kind of start will be hard for the Bulldogs to control especially if they get a few early tries they will go on with it this time following McGuire’s post-game spray. Have to like the work young Harry Grant is doing out of dummy half. He has a sharp pass, brings players onto the ball and usually picks the right time to run. Luke Brooks was also more involved last week along with Josh Reynolds who provides a lot of energy around the ball. This could turn into a battle of the forwards which will suit the Bulldogs style of play.