Round 8 kicks off with a blockbuster, the Roosters up against Melbourne Storm — , a marquee clash involving two teams expected to be in the race for the grand final. Unfortunately, both clubs will be without key, quality players, the Roosters losing classy forward Victor Radley and promising young hooker Sam Verrills to season-ending ACL injuries last weekend and the Storm losing gun playmaker Cameron Munster for several weeks with a leg injury. Still both sides are still strong and a victory here will make a statement to their NRL rivals.
It’s a tremendous game to kick off a round with bottom-placed clubs Brisbane and the Warriors meeting in a fixture that could determine the future of both clubs. Brisbane is on the end of a five-game losing streak while the Warriors gave up 50 points last weekend and buckling under the pressure of being unable to return home to their families. It’s only early days but the loser’s season could virtually be over, that’s how desperate things are.
Parramatta faces their moment of truth against a resurgent North Queensland with their scheming five-eighth Mitchell Moses. The Cowboys responded to some harsh criticism to upset Newcastle last weekend and Parramatta will need to be on their guard for 80 minutes if the Cowboys get moving early. Manly’s clash with Newcastle will be another top clash, both clubs having built some history over the years. The acid is on Manly to show they can win without their gun fullback Tom Trbojevic while the Knights have to bounce back from a very poor 32-20 loss to the Cowboys last weekend.
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NRL Tipping – Thursday July 2
Melbourne Storm v Sydney Roosters
Venue: Suncorp Stadium | Start: 7:50 PM
Sydney Roosters – This great clash has been robbed of a few superstars but it doesn’t mean it will lessen the intensity of this battle. The Roosters suffered a double blow last weekend losing gun forward Victor Radley and young hooker Sam Verrills but they get attacking genius James Tedesco back which is a big gain. Look, losing Radley is going to hurt, he is the total package, aggressive, a big hitter, a hole-runner and impact player who can produce something special to lift his side. His replacement Nat Butcher has ability. While he is no Radley just yet, he is a similar build (184cm and 97kgs) and style of player to Radley ((182cm and 92kgs) who can can slip into the side with minimal disruption. He is not a rookie and he knows what is expected to plat NRL. Jake Friend will have to up his playing time with the injury to Verrills and at the pace, he plays he will need some help at some stage. Few clubs of any have the depth, structure and stability of the Roosters and the way they played after both Radley and Verrills tore their ACL’s early in the game last week against the Dragons suggest they will adjust and still be a dangerous side. Melbourne poses an immediate test and you know the Roosters under Trent Robertson will respond accordingly.
Melbourne Storm – Like the Roosters, they head into this marquee clash without their ace playmaker Cameron Munster who is facing and extended period on the sidelines with a leg injury. Young Ryley Jacks finds himself playing five-eighth with a lot of responsibility after coach Craig Bellamy declined to switch champion hooker Cameron Smith into the No.7. Munster is a serious loss because he is the player who generates so much energy and creates so many opportunities for his teammates. Still, it’s not like Melbourne don’t have players who can step up, Jahrome Hughes, Ryan Papenhuyzen, Josh Ado-Carr, Paul Morirovski and Suliasi Vinivalu are speed merchants and great finishers. The battle up front between Jared-Waerea Hargreaves and Siosiua Taukeiaho up against Jessie Bromwich and Christian Welch, who had to pass a head assessment test after being ko’d last weekend will lay the platform on which each pair of halves will operate. Luke Keary is in great form and needs to be well contained. Brett and Josh Morris pose their usual “twin” threat with Brett scoring a recent hat-trick and playing like a 20-year-old. The key though to this game will be which side adjusts to their key player losses to quickest. Melbourne, of course, will rely heavily, as they always do, on skipper Cameron Smith who invariably gets up for this games while never playing poorly.
NRL Tipping – Friday July 3
Canberra Raiders v St George Dragons
Venue: GIO Stadium | Start: 6:00 PM
Canberra Raiders – Paid the price for starting slowly last weekend against Parramatta when they went down 25-24 in golf point after being behind 24-12 with less than 10 minutes to play. No doubt coach Ricky Stuart spent some time with his players on the need to start much better and not wait until the game is lost or out of reach to switch on. Stuart thinks his players are trying too hard but doing it too late. It’s been a trend at times for the Raiders to fall behind and come with a whirlwind finish as they did against Parramatta. Errors and basic skills let Canberra down at times last week but again when they click, they can attack you from any part of the ground and can score points quickly. Stuart has lot patience with centre Curtis Scott who has been struggling with his form and confidence sine the resumption, making far too many errors with the ball and in defence. He is back to the bench replaced by Michael Oldfield. Joe Tapine is back into the pack for young red-headed forward Corey Horsburgh facing several weeks on the sideline with a foot injury. The Raiders will miss Horsburgh’s aggression in the middle and also Jordan Rapana on the wing but they should still get the job done through English imports Josh Hodgson and halfback George Williams who returned to something like his best against the Eels. Canberra looks to have too many guns for the Dragons here at home.
St George Dragons – Coach Paul McGregor has been able to field the same 17 that went well against the Roosters last weekend. It’s a bonus for the under-fire coach but it is a big ask to take down last year’s grand finalists. Fullback Matt Duffy has been a discovery since being returned to the No.1 jumper, his passing game leading to five tries in three games. He is quick and seems to have decided to play his natural running game. His battle with Raiders fullback Chanze Nicoll-Klokstad, who pulled out two tries in two minutes against the Eels to get his side into a Golden Point showdown last week will be worth watching. The Dragons big men could target Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson who according to statistics misses more tackles than any other play in the NRL. One thing McGregor can count on is a tireless performance from his hard-working hooker Cameron McInnes who has been one of the best this season. When you look at the Dragons pack which includes representative players, Paul Vaughan, Tyson Frizell and Trent Merrin, you have to give them respect. Canberra can ill-afford to come out of the blocks slowly against the Dragons who are starting to find some rhythm.
Parramatta Eels v Nth Qld Cowboys
Venue: Bankwest Stadium | Start: 7:55 PM
Parramatta Eels – Parramatta back-up a valiant loss to the Roosters with another gutsy 25-24 win over Canberra last week. The scoreline was close but in reality, the Eels dominated the game for most of the 80 minutes. The big issue the Eels is they lost their chief architect Mitchell Moses to a leg injury and he will be on the sidelines for some weeks. Can they play as well with Moses is the burning question? He has been one of their best all season and his kicking game alone is going to take some replacing. Still Parramatta has shown this season they are a more determined side capable of adjusting and meeting adversity head-on. Brad Arthur has turned to NRL reject Jai Field to take over the reins from Moses in a major gamble rather than reshuffle his back line and move Clint Gutherson from fullback. Field, a former Dragon before being dumped, has a train and trial contract with Parramatta. It’s a massive opportunity for the 22-year-old to build on his 11-game NRL and possibly revive it. A lot of pressure shifts to Dylan Brown whose kicking game will become even more important. Brown, who is blossoming with each game, will have to run the ball more to the line and create opportunities. Power forward Junior Paulo, prop Regan Campbell-Gillard and big Shaun Lane will make it tough in the middle. Lane is playing very well and he can be difficult to handle, especially close to the line where his off-loading talent can lead to a try. Brad Takairangai will be a key player off the bench. His has a good kicking game and can also off-load in traffic when players get fatigued.
Nth Qld Cowboys – How how do you explain their past two performances, like cheese and chalk?. They looked dreadful in going down 36-20 to the Wests Tigers after conceding a 30-0 half time lead before blowing Newcastle off the paddock 32-20 last weekend in a complete turnaround in form. The Cowboys young halves combo of Jake Clifford and Scott Drinkwater continue to work well together and that will be the key again if the Cowboys are to spring what would be an upset here. Of course big Jason Taumalolo will have to pound out some big metres, he posted 297 of them against Newcastle last week, but that’s what he loves to do. If he gets some support from Josh McGuire, Coen Hess and Jordan McLean it will make for a very torrid battle in the middle third which is the key area to win. If Valentine Holmes plays, as expected, at fullback it will be a big lift for the Cowboys. Holmes is one of the game’s elite players with the ability to produce the unexpected. The Cowboys will need their share of luck but they are not out of this game.
NRL Tipping – Saturday July 4
Gold Coast Titans v Cronulla Sharks
Venue: Cbus Super Stadium | Start: 3:00 PM
Gold Coast Titans – Finally struck a blow against the battling Brisbane Broncos last weekend to get off the bottom of the NRL ladder. They would have enjoyed kicking the Broncos when they are down winning 30-12 but the two premiership points were more important. A few things clicked for the Titan last week, but the scoreline was made look better by Brisbane’s poor effort across the park. The Titans have made a couple of changes with Tyron Peachey coming into the starting line-up for the injured Dale Copely while Bryce Cartwright has earned a recall to the bench to add some more variety to the Titan’s attack. Corey Thompson made an immediate impact in his first game since joining the club from the Tigers. The Titans have a good back three with him and wingers Anthony Don and Philip Sami is good form. The Titan’s forwards stood up to Brisbane’s strong middle taking the honours clearly which they will have to do again to have any chance against the Sharks who found form last week. Jai Arrow and Kevin Proctor continue to lead the hit-ups and provide the Titan’s go forward and it brings out the best in young Ash Taylor since he moved to five-eighth. Taylor’s kicking game is a weapon for the Titans.
Cronulla Sharks – We saw the real Sharks last week when they mauled a wounded Manly 40-22. The Sharks crossed for seven tries suggesting they have found their attacking mojo. A lot of that had to do with an improved running game of playmaker Shaun Johnson and the injection of fullback Matt Moylan who is always a danger when he plays around the football. When Johnson runs the ball to the line, things happen. Moylan is a constant threat running across the field and changing the point of attack. Andrew Fafita finds himself back int the starting pack for Braden Hamlin-Uele in the only change to the Shark starting 13. The benches will play a big part in this game so Uele and Siosifa Talakai will be key inclusions into the game. If the Sharks play the way they did last week against Manly they should bank another two premiership points here.
NZ Warriors v Brisbane Broncos
Venue: Central Coast Stadium | Start: 5:30 PM
Brisbane Broncos – It’s the biggest question being asked in the NRL .. what’s gone wrong with the Brisbane Broncos? Clairvoyants, Tarrot card readers, fortune tellers, all the psychics have been asked for the answer. The players and coach Anthony Seibiold have copped a hammering in the media and on social media, some of it in poor taste. The only answer is to win this game and you can bet if there is any pride left in the club the players will give this everything. Sometimes though you have to go through a world of pain before you get results and that seems to be what is happening to Broncos. Seibold has to change some things or the results will not change. I have to ask how dropping a winger though is the answer when you star playmaker is going a lot worse. Still, several players in the team can consider themselves lucky that Seibold cannot abandon experience and still need some leadership in his team. There was nothing to like about Brisbane’s loss to the Titans and that kind of display could open the door to the Warriors to run riot if they are on song which is hard to predict because they are not travelling much better than the Broncos. Any fair-minded person would want to see the Broncos produce something for their fans this weekend. It’s all up to the players and their attitude on the night.
NZ Warriors – Things aren’t exactly rosy for the Warriors who had 50 points put on them by the Storm last week amid rumblings that some of the players wanted to go back home to New Zealand to be with their families which is understandable but not helpful to the cause. Unfortunately, in a late blow skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s bid to play was spoiled by the judiciary through the week in yet another major blow. David Fusitu’a returns on the wing with Patrick Herbert shifting into the centres. New coach Todd Payten was open about the Warriors needing to deal better with adversity and has made a number of changes this week. Wade Egan is back in the hooker role while Jamayne Taunoa-Brown and Agnatius Paasi find themselves back in Payten’s starting pack. Kodi Nikorima will relish going up against his former NRL and battling their new half Brodie Croft. The Warriors will fancy their chances against the fragile Broncos and if they can jump them early it will be a real mental battle for the Broncos.
West Tigers v Penrith Panthers
Venue: Central Coast Stadium | Start: 7:35 PM
West Tigers – Easily disposed of the Bulldogs but the in-form Panthers offer a far more demanding challenge and intensity this week. This is a good opportunity for the Tigers to find out just where they are in the finals pictures as the Panthers look a definite top 4 side. One thing that has emerged from the Tiger’s early season form is the potential of young running hooker Harry Grant who is playing out of his skin. Coach Madge McGuire will find it hard to change much about his side and they are high on confidence. Russell Packer is available for selection but McGuire may overlook him given the way the forward pack dealt with the Bulldogs in the middle last week. The Tigers halves, Josh Reynolds and Luke Brooks have been going well while Benji Marshall waits for a recall. The Tigers will have to muscle up against and aggressive Penrith pack and that is the big challenge for the likes of Josh Aloiai, Oliver Clark, Luciano Leilua and Matthew Eisenhuth. They have their own weapon in winger David Nofoaluma who doesn’t get enough credit for his contribution. He leads the league in tackle breaks (46), has scored 8 tries (2nd best in the NRL) and is the game’s fourth-best in run metres. If the Tigers can hold their own, or even get an edge in the middle it will help the Tigers build some pressure and bring Nofoaluma into the game. The Tigers though will need to score 16 or more points to hold off the Panthers who will back their backs to finish off the job.
Penrith Panthers – Looked very good in beating South Sydney 20-12 last weekend when they on the middle-third battle against a strong pack. The Panthers look to be a side building and getting better and better, a real premiership side especially with young Nathan Cleary at the helm, controlling games with his run and exceptional kicking prowess. Clearly showed his class against last weekend coming off a drip in hospital the day before the game to lead his team to victory. The Tigers will remember he kicked the match-winning field goal against them last season. Dylan Edwards made an immediate impact in his return to fullback for the Panthers and I am liking the look of winger Brian To’o who could have a try or two in him to come. He is a very strong winger with solid defence. Veteran Josh Mansour is back on the wing adding more stability to Penrith’s back-three. You get the feeling the Panthers can continue to improve and with an even share of possession might be too tough for the Tigers here.
NRL Tipping – Sunday July 5
Manly Sea Ealges v Newcastle Knights
Venue: Lottoland | Start: 4:05 PM
Manly Sea Ealges – Failed their first test of like without “Turbo” Tommy Trbojevic last week against the Cronulla Shark but they will have learned a lot from that loss and return home to Brookie against a rival who they have a lot of history against should bring the best out of them. It won’t be easy without Trbojevic and another game-breaking Cody Walker but Manly are a side who in the past have shown they play well in the face of adversity. Des Hasler has returned big Martin Taupau into the starting pack in anticipation of a torrid 80-minute battle that must be won. Manly prop Addin Fonua-Blake has been outstanding in recent weeks and grabbed a try-scoring double last week against the Sharks as a reward for his strong play. Manly still have a very strong forward pack and with Daly Cherry-Evans calling the shots they have enough strikeout wide in big Jorge Taufua and Tevita Funa to make life uncomfortable for the Knights. Manly may be missing a few gun players but write them off at your own peril.
Newcastle Knights – After some impressive performances, the Knights fell in a hole against North Queensland last weekend. They had no answer to the Cowboys in the first 40 minutes, conceding four tries and losing the game before half time. They are much better than that and will be determined to return to winning form against a weakened Manly side. It will start in the middle as it always does with representative prop David Klemmer in the firing line. Klemmer punched out 172 tough metres against the Cowboys and will need to be up around 200m against Manly to give them some kind of attacking platform. There’s no doubt skipper Kalyn Ponga needs to involved himself heavily. He needs a swag of line and tackle breaks to get the Knights into attack. Halves Mitchell Pearce and Kurt Mann have been going well and Bradman Best is back in the centres adding an extra attacking threat to the Knights. Andrew McCullough came up with almost 60 tackles which is the norm for him but needs to run more from dummy half. Daniel Saifiti continues to impress with 34 tackles and 125 run metres last week. He will need to repeat those numbers as he and Klemmer stand tall in the middle.
Canterbury Bulldogs v Sth Sydney Rabbitohs
Venue: Bankwest Stadium | Start: 6:30 PM
Canterbury Bulldogs – It must be tough for the last-placed Bulldogs because every week they go out and play well and compete for their fans without any joy. There were warning shots however last week is the manner in which they lost 34-6 to Wests Tigers that the hard slogs may be starting to take a toll. Unfortunately, they will take on South Sydney this weekend without dependable fullback Will Hopoate (ankle) who looks like being on the sidelines for an extended period of time. You can accuse the Bulldog’s players of not having a dig, they have, it’s just they lack a little class. Josh Jackson and Dylan Napa can’t carry the team and despite their big-hearted efforts it just a little too hard. The Bulldogs have a lot of good players in Dallin Wantene-Zelezeniak, Reimis Smith, Adam Elliott and co and they will all have a dig again for sure.
Sth Sydney Rabbitohs – Found Penrith a little too strong last week but the effort was there to suggest they will win more than they lose. Souths need to patch up some problems and they are a much better team than last week. Latrell Mitchell was full of mistakes last week after being impressive the previous week. It can’t be easy for him but he is a class act and when he finds that consistency will be a star of the game again. Sides are running a lot of traffic at hooker Damien Cook who was forced to make 60 tackles against the Panthers, a tactic which dulled his dummy-half spark. One thing is certain if Mitchell and James Roberts find their best, the Bulldogs are in big trouble. Coach Wayne Bennett said he thought Roberts have the old “Jet” back and if that is the case look out Dogs.