Brisbane finally broke their drought last weekend, Penrith confirmed they are legitimate premiership chances and the Sydney Roosters proved even without Victor Radley they are a scoring machine. The other key points to emerge from last week is that while the Panther’s can win without playmaker Mitchell Moses, Manly can’t cope much longer without their star fullback Tom Trbojevic. This week’s round looks a tipster’s dream with the Roosters, Storm, Dragons, Rabbits, Eels and Panthers looking close to good things. That leaves Brisbane V Wests Tigers and the Warriors-Sharks clash as the two toughest games to pick in the round. I really like Brisbane at the very generous odds of $2.55 against the Tigers and I think the Sharks can bounce back from a flogging at the hands of Penrith to beat the inconsistent and unpredictable Warriors. Nine teams are within two points of challenging for a top-eight finals spot but at the halfway mark wins now become paramount. At this stage, the Roosters, Panthers, Parramatta and Storm look the best four sides in the competition. The makeup of the top eight after that is a lottery.
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NRL Tipping – Thursday July 16
Roosters v Raiders
Venue: SCG | Start: 7:50 PM (AEST)
Sydney Roosters – Despite injuries to key players the Roosters just keep rolling through teams as they did against the Cowboys last weekend. After a modest first half by their standards, they put their foot on the gas and on the Cowboys’ throats in the second half to win 42-16. Brett Morris injured his groin just before kick-off but his replacement Mark Ikuvalu stepped up with a history-making five tries on debut. With Morris returning it was going to be impossible to drop the first player in 65 years to score five tries so Englishman Ryan Hall, who just can’t get across the try line, has lost his place. Skipper Boyd Cordner returns from his one week spell after suffering a couple of head knocks and Mitch Aubison return to a bench role where he is so effective for the Roosters. Luke Keary has been in great form and he links up with his back so well in attack. With a weapon like star fullback James Tedesco for the inside ball at pace and the try-scoring twins Brett and Josh Morris on the wings, the points just keep flowing for the Roosters.
Canberra Raiders – The Raiders have been disappointing in recent games and the loss of their leader Josh Hodgson is going to take some serious adjustments from coach Ricky Stuart. Still the Green Machine still have a formidable team and a strong forward pack under veteran Josh Papalii. Expect Elliott Whitehead to get more involved along with young gun Hudson Young. Whether Papali and Dunamis Lui can hold Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Siosiua Taukeiaho will be crucial because one the Roosters get moving up the middle their off-loading creates major problems for the defence. Fullback Charnze Nicholl Klopstad will have to provide an attacking point just like Tedesco does for the Roosters and English halfback George Williams will to turn up at the SCG with his best kicking and running game to keep the Raiders in the contest. Jack Wighton will be another player who will have to take on, even more, attacking responsibility with Hodgson gone for the season and he can be a very dangerous player when he gets the right mismatch. The Raiders need big games from a few players including Nic Cotric and Jordan Rapana who can not only scores but who can help out with the hit-ups and the likes of Joseph Tapine who can break the line.
NRL Tipping – Friday July 17
Storm v Titans
Venue: Sunshine Coast Stadium | Start: 6:00 PM (AEST)
Melbourne Storm – Cameron Munster returns from injury which is bad news for the Titans who will no doubt be plotting for a massive upset. The Storm at near full-strength look far too strong for the Titans to control for 80 minutes and you get the impression Melbourne will post a big score so many strike players across the park. The more you look at the teams on paper the harder it looks for the Titans to get close to the Storm. Ryan Papenhuyzen scored a 95-metre try last week and I reckon he could bag a few more against the Titans if their defensive line is staggered at any stage. Paul Momirovski has been good for the Storm and has tries in him as does Brenko Lee and Josh Addo-Carr will be hungry for a few as well. With Munster back in the halves, the Titans will have a busy night with both players skilled at setting up supports and getting through the line. Cameron Smith will relish having Munster back in the driver’s seat and an extra kicker to set up repeat sets with for Melbourne provide plenty of points. The Storm’s bench is close to the best in the NRL with big men with big names, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Tino Faasuamaleaui, leading the charge. If the Titans don’t ain up in defence this could be an ugly scoreline.
Gold Coast Titans – The Titans come into this game as last start winners and looking for a big scalp. They came from 12-0 to beat the Warriors 16-12 last week but the Storm is a far different opposition and if they get behind again, they will be punished severely. They could get two very handy attacking players back in Brian Kelly and Philip Sami from injury and those two players can score tries which is what the Titans will need. Sixteen points against the Storm is not going to be anywhere good enough this week. Every player will have to defend to their best from Corey Thompson at fullback through to Jai Arrow at lock. The Titans best chance against Melbourne will be to frustrate them into error with good line-speed in defence and commitment in the middle. It won’t be easy but they need to stick at it for 80 minutes to have any chance of an upset.
Tigers v Broncos
Venue: Leichhardt Oval | Start: 7:55 PM (AEST)
Wests Tigers – They would not have lost too many admirers in going down 18-10 to South Sydney last week in a gritty performance. Unfortunately, they will be without big man Joey Leilua who has again paid the price for his poor discipline following yet another brain explosion and Josh Reynolds, also suspended. Coach Michael McGuire has decided Luke Brooks needs a spell and has left him out of the side meaning the Tigers will have a new halves combo against the Broncos with an old and new combination. Manly fans will be happy to see Benji Marshall back on the field and he will partner young Billy Walters in the halves. Tommy Talau has overcome a hamstring and is straight back on the wing McGuire has also recalled rugged forward Russell Packer to help deal with Brisbane’s big pack. The Tigers have lost their past two games to two quality sides but been in the contest both times. Their challenge will be to go blow for blow with Brisbane’s forwards and then rely on the guile of Marshall to set up some points. Harry Grant has been great for the Tigers and his battle with Isaac Luke should be a feature of the clash.
Brisbane Broncos – Things are slowly starting to turn for Brisbane although they could have done without the latest injury to skipper Alex Glenn whose work in defence and his one-percenters will be sorely missed. Still, the confidence is up after a toiling win over the lowly-placed Bulldogs last week, a win that was desperately needed after the club and the players hit rock bottom following six straight losses since the COVID resumption. Veteran Ben Te’o replaces Glenn in the back-row and how long he can go on a limited preparation will test out coach Anthony Seibold’s use of his inter-change. Young Fullback Tesi Niu has been named despite carrying an injury while Croft and Milford remain in the halves after showing improvement last weekend. Love the look of Brisbane’s forward pack, with Payne Haas and Tevita Pangai-Junior all aggression and power. Pangai-Junior needs to control his aggression a little better as he plays on the edge a lot. Young Patrick Corrigan was great last week against the Dogs and Corey Oates is still finding his way in the forwards but is a threat. Brisbane needs to go to the air more and find the high-flying Xavier Coates who has great hands.
NRL Tipping – Saturday July 18
Dragons v Bulldogs
Venue: WIN Stadium | Start: 3:00 PM (AEST)
St George Dragons – Are starting to play some fair football and one of the reasons is finally settling Ben Hunt into the No.9 jumper where he can play his best brand of football. Halfback Adam Clune can take much of the credit as he has kept improving and providing good service to his outside players. I can tell you one thing, there is no way the scoreline will be anything like the 22-2 win in favour of the Dogs the last time these two teams clashed at Bankwest Stadium in round 4 on June 28. While the Dogs have gone backwards the Dragons have started building some confidence on the back of a few wins and they should get their revenge here. They came back hard against Canberra and then last week they produced their best performance of 2020 to thrash Manly 34-4. The Dragons have a strong roster and a good forward pack and they should continue the run for another week here.
Canterbury Bulldogs – Well, it was only a matter of time before Dean Pay was given his marching orders, not because he can’t coach, but because a change was needed. Steve Georgallis takes the reins until a new coach, presumably former Dragons favourite Trent Barrett, is appointed. His first call was to recall Lachlan Lewis to five-eighth for Brandon Wakeham. He also re-arranged the deck chairs with speedy Nick Meaney switching from wing to fullback which means Dallin Watene-Zelezniak starts on the wing. With Reimis Smith suspended Kerrod Holland comes into the centres in a reshuffled back-line. No match how you look it, it is hard to tip the Bulldogs, even though they have a hand record over the Dragons.
Rabbitohs v Knights
Venue: Bankwest Stadium | Start: 5:30 PM (AEST)
South Sydney Rabbitoh – You get the feeling Souths are playing at 75 per cent capacity and are yet to hit their straps for a number of reasons. They did enough against the Wests Tigers last week without looking great, again, doing just enough to get the two premiership points. Fullback Latrell Mitchell will miss another game because he hasn’t learned the discipline required but I am sure Wayne Bennett will be explaining things to him while he is on the sidelines. Because of his suspension and a facial injury to Campbell Graham, Bennett will play Alex Johnston at fullback, not a bad move, Dane Gagai in the centres and introduce new wingers, Corey Allan and Jaxson Paulo. Given the performances of debut wingers in past weeks lookout for them to cross for tries. This is a game that Cody Walker needs to get heavily involved in along with Hooker Damien Cook while Tom Burgess will also have to smash out some big metres. Cam Murray is doe for a big game.
Newcastle Knights – Points, or a lack of them, has been a big issue for the Knights in recent weeks and they will need to get their attack flowing better than it has been lately. On their best, the Knights can upset Souths but they will need to take care of the simple elements of the game and complete their sets and minimise their errors which they will also have to defend better than they have been doing. Ex-Bronco Andrew McCullough has scampered over for tries in his last two games for the Knights and they will need him to continue threatening out of dummy half. Kalyn Ponga needs a breakout game and he has to work with halfback Mitchell Pearce on creating opportunities on the edges to bust up Souths line. Jacob Siafiti gets a promotion to the starting pack replacing his injured twin brother Daniel while in other changes the Knights will welcome back Connor Watson, Mitch Barnett and Sione Mata’utia to the side.
Sea Eagles v Eels
Venue: Lottoland | Start: 7:35 PM (AEST)
Manly Sea Eagles – The wheels finally fell off last weekend against the Dragons when they conceded 34 points. They have been able to hold things together since the loss of strike players Tom Turbo Trbojevic and Dylan Walker but the pressure finally got to them last week. Daly Cherry-Evans had a poor game by his standards and things just kept getting worse as the game went on. It is a massive task to expect to beat an in-form Parramatta coming off three straight losses. Coach Des Hasler has not been able to make too many changes and Manly will have to dig very deep to hold out the Eels. Playing at home will help but it may not be enough.
Parramatta Eels – The Eels are playing a brand of football that is not only entertaining but is also getting results. They have allied fears that playing for an enforced period without playmaker Mitchell Moses will undermine their season with three good wins in a row since he suffered a leg injury. Coach Brad Arthur has his players enjoying their football and playing an expansive attacking style that rival sides find hard to defend. Last week’s scoreline 10-4 was their lowest this season but they still showed a lot of flair and off-loading. Jai Field is a livewire and while he is not your conventional halfback his speed can cause problems. Dylan Brown looks very comfortable stepping up for Moses although he could improve his decision making at times although that will come with more experience and he just keeps on improving. Then there is that man Maika Sivo. He was a little quiet last week against the Knights but when the game was on the line.. BOOM, he scores.
NRL Tipping – Sunday, July 19
Warriors v Sharks
Venue: Central Coast Stadium | Start: 2:00 PM (AEST)
NZ Warriors – The Warriors do my head in. I know what they have done to keep the NRL competition going and the hardships they are going through, but on the field, they are just impossible to follow. I am just repeating myself every time I talk about the Warriors, I truly never know what to expect. They can be good, very good, or they can be bad, very bad. They were harshly dealt with last week losing 16-12 to the Gold Coast. They set up a 12-0 lead and were 12-6 up at half time. The match statistics were pretty even but I have to ask when was the last time you saw a team play 80 minutes without conceding a penalty. The Gold Coast played 80 perfect minutes according to the match officials while the Warriors were penalised five times, even that figure is low. I’ll bet you a beer no team goes 80 minutes again this season without giving away a penalty. Still, the Warriors had their chances and again they didn’t go for 80 minutes. That’s is the goal for them against Cronulla. Play hard for 80 minutes.
Cronulla Sharks – Coming off a hammering at the hands of the Penrith Panthers conceding 54 points while scoring 24 which suggests it was more like a game of touch football. You would expect them to have the week working on their defensive deficiencies because the Warriors can point points on if your defence is not sound. Still, this is a big chance for the Sharks to break into the top 8 with a win and you can expect them to be much more switched on than they were when allowed the Panthers to 26-0 lead last weekend. Before last week’s heavy the loss the Sharks had won three straight against lower sides on the ladder. All things being equal, the Sharks will be hard to beat if they keep hitting the Warriors and punishing any errors they make. Former Warriors star Shaun Johnson needs to remind his former club why they once rode on his every play but it will be the work the Sharks power players Braden Hamlen-Uele, Aaron Woods and Wade Graham who decide the outcome.
Panthers v Cowboys
Venue: Panthers Stadium | Start: 4:05 PM (AEST)
Penrith Panthers – The Panthers are on fire and they piled 54 points on Cronulla last week to continue their impressive surge of recent weeks. You get the impressions the Panthers are building towards the finals and if they continue to play their current style of power and speed they will be a real force at the end of the year. They have beaten some of the top sides including South Sydney and the Storm and their only loss has been the Parramatta. Last week an unknown named Charlie Staines was drafted into the side and walked off after his debut with four tries, that’s the type of confidence Penrith are playing with. Nathan Cleary is doing a fabulous job as a halfback and his key players are all supporting him around the park. It’s not often a playing scoring 4 tries is dropped but Staines has been replaced on the wing by Brent Naden. Penrith’s forwards have been great all year and continue to lay a platform for Cleary to operate from. Given North Queensland’s poor recent form it is hard not to tip a Panther’s win here.
North Queensland Cowboys – I know they were playing the best team on the competition last week but the Cowboys were very disappointing in so many areas and now they a Penrith side bursting with confidence and points. Unfortunately, they have lost match-winner Valentine Holmes, possibly for the season with a bad ankle injury that requires surgery and a long-time recovery period. The loss of young Scott Drinkwater is a big blow as he has been playing quite well. Mitch Dunn replaces him at five-eighth just when he and young Jake Clifford were forming a good halves combination. The Cowboys defence has been pretty bad this season, among the worst in the league and unless they can fix that part of their game against the Panthers slick attack this is going to be another tough slog.