A number of tight games last week suggest the competition is still very competitive and the top 8 still a long way off from being settled. The Melbourne Storm were by far the most impressive round 12 winners but they paid a hefty price for their 42-12 victory over Manly with veteran skipper Cameron Smith suffering a should injury while in the act of scoring a try. The Warriors showed a ton of fight to upset the Wests Tigers prompting a stern dressing room spray from their coach Michael Maguire who let fly after the loss which dumped the Tigers from the top eight. This week tosses up some interesting and important clashes with the likely match of the round being the clash between the ladder-leading Penrith Panthers and Ricky Stuart’s Raiders who fell in last week 14-12 over the Titans.
Wayne Bennett goes up against his former six-time Premiership winners Brisbane on Friday with the Broncos having to deal with off-field dramas this week including the loss of playmaker Anthony Milford. Brisbane showed a fair bit of improvement last week against the Sharks but fell to pieces in the final 10 minutes. They will welcome back David Fafita, who has been named in the starting pack, and possibly Matt Lodge who has been included in Anthony Seobold’s reserves. The Sharks up against the Eels rounds out the eight games and this has all the makings of another great battle at Jubilee Stadium on Sunday.
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NRL Tipping – Thursday August 6
Dragons v Roosters
WIN Stadium | 7:50 PM (AEST)
St George Dragons – A hero one week, dropped the next. Corey Norman has paid the price for the Dragons back-to-back losses to the Sharks and Rabbits in recent weeks as Paul McGregor, who celebrates his 150th NRL game as a coach, searches for answers to lift his team back into the top 8. McGregor has reunited Adam Clune who is returning from injury with Ben Hunt in the halves allowing Cameron McInnes to return to lock. Trent Merrin will stiffen the Dragons pack after passing a HIA protocol test giving the Dragons a fairly handy looking engine room when you throw in Tyson Frizzel, Paul Vaughan and Tariq Sims who should relish the challenge posed by the Roosters forwards. The bookies give the Dragons little chance here but at times against Souths last week, they looked very good and against fullback Matt Dufty caused the defence a lot of headaches. The challenge for the Dragons will be to repeatedly turn back the Roosters up the middle and minimise errors in their own half because that is where the Roosters hurt teams. The Dragons have shown enough against two top 8 sides in their last two losses to suggest they can make it a tough afternoon for the Roosters whose form has dropped off a little of late.
Sydney Roosters – Not as dominant as they were a month ago and coach Trent Robinson would not have been happy with the skinny six-point with over the Titans who pushed them for the entire 80 minutes. As a result, he has dropped young halfback and the NRL’s leading point scorer, Kyle Flanagan, in surprise change-up. Robinson has handed the No.7 duties to Lachlan Lam, the son of former Rooster’s half and Queensland Origin hero Adrian Lam in a bid to generate more attack. Lam, a solidly built youngster will link with Luke Keary who has been one of the Rooster’s stand out players in 2020. Robinson feels Flanagan needs a break from the demanding week-to-week grind but he also wants to give Lam his chance to show how his development is progressing. The Roosters forwards will need to put a lot more punch into their work against the Dragons than they did against the Titans who stepped up to the plate against Jared Waerea Hargreaves and Siosiua Taukeiaho who’ll again be expected to provide the platform for Lam and Keary to skip across the field and work with the likes of Joseph Manu, Josh Morris and James Tedesco (150th NRL game). Big night for Mitch Aubison who becomes only the 40th player in history and only the third Rooster after Luke Ricketson and Anthony Miniechello to play 300 NRL games. All things equal, you would have to think the Roosters will get away with this game.
NRL Tipping – Friday August 7
Sea Eagles v Warriors
Lottoland | 6:00 PM (AEST)
Manly Sea Eagles – It’s tough being a Manly fan at the moment because of injuries to key players but this is a game they can win against the Warriors who are hard to follow. You probably couldn’t back Manly with any confidence on the strength of their poor showing against Penrith last weekend but the Panthers are the form team of the competition and they never really gave Manly a sniff in their 42-12 win last weekend. Manly though are better than that and you can bet Des Hasler, who will become only the nine coach in NRL history to reach 400 games, has marshalled his troops and convinced them they can edge them back into the top 8 if they get the two premiership points at Lottoland. It won’t be easy with Dylan Walker (foot) and Brad Parker (head knock) joining a long list of stars, including Tom Trbojevic on the sidelines. The one thing Manly are good at is dealing with adversity and sometimes they are most dangerous when their backs are to the wall and tipsters write them off. Tevita Funa will come into the centres and Cade Cust returns at five-eighth for Walker. While Walker’s ability to score close to the line will be Cust is a strong running player in his own right and keeps on improving with every game. As usual most of the organisation responsibility will fall on Daly Cherry-Evans, a class act who has the ability with the ball in hand to swing any match. Addin Fonua-Blake is the rock Manly will build on and he has been spitting out the metres and the off-loads this season. Defence is the key for Manly who have been giving up too many points.
NZ Warriors – Seriously, how do you follow this team. They can be ordinary at times but as they showed last week they can play some enterprising football and surprise you with their tenacity. I never know what to expect but if they can repeat their 26-20 win last weekend over the Wests Tigers they can certainly take Manly all the way. Given all the injuries Manly have you would expect the Warriors to be right in this game but bookies see it differently and don’t rate the Kiwis much chance. Rookie Warriors forward Jamayne Taunoa-Brown gets a chance to test himself against Manly’s forward leader Fonua-Blake and if he acquits himself well will go a long way to helping the Warriors inflict another upset. The Warriors have to build pressure on Manly whose defence up until last weekend when the flood gates opened against Penrith was solid. Blake Green has played his last game for the Warriors after being granted an immediate release to join Newcastle. As a result, Chanel Harris-Tevita will start at halfback and Kodi Nikorima will wear the No.6.
Rabbitohs v Broncos
ANZ Stadium | 7:55 PM (AEST)
South Sydney Rabbitohs – Outgunned the Dragons in a high scoring affair last weekend but they are still searching for that 80-minute performance. Former Brisbane premiership-winning coach Wayne Bennett would love them to produce it against his former club who are in the wars on and off the field. Souths managed to overcome the early loss of halfback Adam Reynolds against the Dragons last week and stage a comeback win over the Dragons on the back of some great plays by Alex Johnston and Cody Walker while fullback Latrell Mitchell also contributed to the victory. Bennett has named Reynolds in his run-on side after he was diagnosed with a “bad burner” against the Dragons so they go into the side with a very settled and unchanged line-up. Walker’s effort after Reynolds left the field to get his side back from 16-0 was superb and Bennett will be keen for him to involve himself as much as possible against the Broncos.
Brisbane Broncos – The big news for the Broncos is the eagerly awaited return of outstanding young forward prospect David Fafita from injury. While Fafita is headed to the Titans next season on a record contract deal, Brisbane needs him to play out of his skin after dropping 9 of their past 10 games, most of them without him. On the negative side is the loss of playmaker Anthony Milford (hamstring) who is facing a few weeks on the sidelines. Milford’s injury will give coach Anthony Seibold and opportunity to look at Brodie Croft and Tom Drearden as a likely halves partnership. Darius Boyd, who played his best game of the season when shifted to fullback against the Sharks with four try assists retains the No.1 jumper against the Rabbits up against young gun Latrell Mitchell. Brisbane played some good football last week to lead the Sharks with 10 minutes to go but again failed to close out the game. Getting a few players back each week will help them, especially a player of the calibre of Fafita who can bust defences open with his speed, strength and raw power. Brisbane’s season looks gone in 15th position and six points out of the top 8 but coach Seibold’s job is on the line. Brisbane have one of their best head-to-head records against Souths winning 23 of their 32 clashes and eight of their past 10.
NRL Tipping – Saturday August 8
Storm v Bulldogs
Sunshine Coast Stadium | 3:00 PM (AEST)
Melbourne Storm – Perhaps a glimpse into the future here with long-serving skipper Cameron Smith sidelined for a few weeks with a shoulder injury. Ironically Smith has been named at hooker in the No.9 jumper, not Cameron but Brandon. You could not get two more different players, Cameron, calm, laid-back and brilliant reader and tactician of the game while Brandon is a tearaway, rip-in, 100-mile-an-hour player. No doubt Brandon Smith will need to make adjustments to his playing style in only his second start in the key position. The Storm will also be without livewire fullback Ryan Papenuyzen whose No.1 jumper will be worn by Nicho Hines, a talented prospect. Still, the Storm exudes quality and class and with Cameron Munster and Jaohrome Hughes working behind a big, strong pack they should still get the job done. Coach Craig Bellamy has Ryley Jacks on his interchange bench to bring into the dummy-half role whenever he wants. Admittedly with a few outs, including Smith and Papenhuyzen the Storm are a little light on, but they still have enough strike to outscore the Bulldogs.
Canterbury Bulldogs – They may be in last place on the NRL ladder but the Bulldogs still have some bite as they showed against the top-four placed Eels last week going down by just two points 18-16. Not much seems to go your way when you are in last spot but the Bulldogs never throw in the towel, so don’t give them a sniff or they just might make you pay. Guys like Josh Jackson, Dylan Napa, Luke Thompson and Kieran Foran never give up and go for 80 minutes which is a credit to them given the Dogs are so low down on the ladder. Ofahiki Ogden gets a start up front ahead of Aidan Tolman who drops to the bench. Foran was great against the Eels last week and you know he will put his body on the line again against the Storm. Lachlan Lewis found some form against the Eels making the most of his recall and he will be an important cog with not just his running game but also his kicking game. You know the Bulldogs will go hard early but can they hold the Storm defensively for 80 minutes? I don’t think so.
Knights v West Tigers
Sunshine Coast Stadium | 5:30 PM (AEST)
Newcastle Knights – Bradman Best (ankle) is a big loss for Newcastle and reports suggest he could be out for up to six weeks, a serious blow to the Knights given his outstanding form. The big talking point is Blake Green’s debut for the Knights after abruptly parting company through the week with the Warriors. Kurt Mann who has been in excellent form in the No.6 for several weeks, shifts into the N0.9 to accommodate Green’s place in the halves alongside Mitchell Pearce. Green’s arrival is timely given injuries to several key players including Andrew McCullough whose season is over. The Knight’s will not only have a new-look halves pair but also a new centres combination with Inari Tuala and Gehamat Shibasaki teaming up for the first time. The Knights were ok against the Storm without ever threatening them on the scoreboard. They have a lot of new faces and combinations against the Tigers and a lot depends on how Green settles into the halves with his latest NRL club. This will be Green’s 7th NRL and he will have to adjust to Pearce’s style and work in with him quickly.
West Tigers – Their 26-20 loss to the Warriors was not well received by coach Michael Maguire who laid the law down to his players in no uncertain terms in a chair-kicking dressing room spray. What effect that will have will be clearer on Saturday when they try and climb back into the top four against the Knights. Maguire has made a host of changes including recalling Luke Brooks to five-eighth after dropping him against the Warriors. Hooker Harry Grant (knee) who has been in superb form has been replaced by Moses Mbye and Billy Walters in back on the bench. AJ Kepaoa debuts on the bench as another change to the Tiger’s lineup. Hardman Russell Packer returns from suspension with a reshuffled pack which includes back-rower Sam Intyre and lock Matthew Eisenhuth. Congratulations to Chris LawLawrence who despite a few serious injuries plays his 250th NRL game for the Tigers. This is a pretty even contest, almost a toss of the coin game for mine.
Panther v Raiders
Panthers Stadium | 7.35 PM (AEST)
Penrith Panthers – The Panthers have emerged as the NRL’s top side in recent weeks largely due to the outstanding form and leadership of halfback Nathan Cleary who is playing his best football. He was fantastic again last week as Penrith smashed Manly 42-12. Cleary delivered a master class against his likely Origin opponent Daly Cherry-Evans as the Panthers piled on seven tries to two. He had plenty of support in the win with winger Charlie Staines, who will miss this week’s clash through injury. it will be NRL game 100 for James Fisher-Harris who has been tearing defences apart this season so expect another big game from the Kiwi star. Penrith will need to be at their very best for this game because Canberra will be looking to take them down to validate their claims to a top four position. Again young Cleary will be “the man”. He is running the ball more, threatening the line and putting defences in two minds which is what you want you chief playmaker to do. Centre Stephen Crichton is looking a real danger out wide and put him in your try scoring multis. This game will have a few twists and turns for sure before the winner is known.
Canberra Raiders – Coach Ricky Stuart gets a couple of key players back including Kiwi Test star Charnce Nichol-Klokstad who had surgery of a compound finger fracture recently and will most likely wear a protective guard of some kind. The Raiders are one of those teams that make you nervous for a very good reason, they can turn it on at times. With their English imports Elliott White and recently returned John Bateman back on deck the Raiders have right and left side edges that can be a handful for Penrith. Bateman’s clash with big Panther Villame Kikau, will be very interesting. Things looked all doom and gloom a few weeks ago when hooker Josh Hodgson ruptured his ACL but since then the Raiders seem to be playing a lot more direct and with some good results. This will be a great test for the Raiders and the critics who have written them off for 2020. If any team can upset the Panthers it could be the Raiders but they would need to play at their best.
NRL Tipping – Sunday August 9
Titans v Cowboys
Cbus Super Stadium | 2:00 PM (AEST)
Gold Coast Titans – The Titans have been steadily improving and getting closer to a win. Followed up their 22-14 loss to Penrith by taking the Roosters to the wire last weekend before going down 18-12. The Titans forwards have found some starch and Kevin Proctor, Keegan Hipgrove and Moeaki Fotuaiki stood their ground against the Roosters last weekend. Halfback Ashley Taylor has found his running and kicking games and looks to be far more confident than he was earlier in the season when the Titans forwards were being dominated. The return of AJ Brimson at the back makes the Titans attack a little more lethal and with a run under his belt, he will even more dangerous, especially in broken play where he can use his speed and side-step. Jai Arrow’s clash with Cowboy man-mountain Jason Taumalolo will be a feature as will be the battle of the big wingers Anthony Don and Cowboy finisher, Kyle Feldt. Both can climb high to grab bombs and have an uncanny knack of scoring aerial tries. Phillip Sami has a habit of scoring tries in these type of games and put him into your betting options.
Nth Qld Cowboys – Have lost their way lately although they showed improvement last weekend against Canberra in tight 14-12 loss when they went blow for blow with last year’s beaten grand finalists. Good news for interim coach Josh Hannay who will have the services of Michael Morgan who has been named to start at halfback at the expense of Jake Clifford who will be on the bench. Ben Hampton has won the battle for five-eighth while Tom Opacic is back in the centres. Enforcer Josh McGuire is back in the front-row while Jake Granville will hopefully inject some spark when Hannay injects him into the fray. If the Cowboys can find some form with Morgan back at the helm they just might get away with this one but very hard to have any confidence.
Sharks v Eels
Jubilee Stadium | 4:05 PM (AEST)
Cronulla Sharks – The Sharks have been going along nicely and they remain in the race for a top 4 spot if they can upset the Eels. It won’t be easy but they finished all over the top of Brisbane last weekend to keep their confidence high with their sixth win in seven weeks. Wade Graham was tremendous in turning the momentum against the Broncos and no doubt he will welcome the likely returns of stars including Josh Dugan, Matt Moylan and Jessie Ramien. That kind of firepower has to give the Sharks a big boost against Eels who have won 10 of their 12 games. The Sharks will no doubt try and get in the faces of their opponents to put them off their game and force them into repeated error. It’s a style the Sharks enjoy and if they can stay in the fight they will be a good chance of winning. Shaun Johnson needs to make sure he is heavily involved in the battle against his Kiwi understudy Dylan Brown who has been a key cog along with Mitchell Moses in the Eels high placing (3rd) on the NRL ladder. You know the Sharks will want to play direct and that will suit the Eels who also like to go down the middle. It makes for a great physical battle.
Cronulla Sharks – Parramatta is just one point out of the premiership lead after winning 10 of their 12 games. They were given and timely wake-up call after falling over the line 18-16 at the hands of the last-placed Bulldogs sounding warning bells for coach Brad Arthur who will demand far more from his players this weekend or there will be consequences. Parramatta showed their faith and support for Arthur this week by re-signing him until 2022, a clear message to his players they believe he is doing a good job, which he is. Cronulla has a bad record when it comes to missed tackles and that spells trouble against the likes of Moses and Johnston and also Clint Gutherson and Maika Siva. But it is upfront where they expect to turn up the head-on the Sharks through Reagan Campbell-Gillard, a rampaging Junior Paulo and Nathan Brown who never let up. This will be an entertaining clash but the points should go to the Eels.