It’s crunch time for a few clubs and the race for top 4 and top 9 spots steps up in earnest in round 15. With just six rounds remaining it would appear as if Penrith (25 points) and Melbourne (24) are certain to be in the top 4 come finals time. Parramatta is well placed on 22 points. After that is a dog fight with the Roosters and Raiders 4th and 5th on 18 points, one ahead of the Newcastle Knights. The Sharks and South Sydney round out the eight and they have a four-point buffer over the Wests Tigers and Manly Sea Eagles who need to keep winning. The wooden spoon is also up for grabs between the Bulldogs and the Brisbane Broncos who have been a train wreck in 2020. Parramatta’s clash with Melbourne will be a beauty. They could swap places on the ladder if the Eels win. A massive game for the Bulldogs against the Warriors. If Brisbane tumble to another loss and the Dogs beat the Warriors the Broncos will drop to last place on the ladder and in danger of collecting their first wooden spoon in the club’s 32-year history. While it looks like another favourites round on paper several of the games this round have an element of risk and punters need to tread carefully.
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NRL Tipping – Thursday August 20
Parramatta Eels v Melbourne Storm
Bankwest Stadium | 7:50 PM (AEST)
Parramatta Eels – This is a serious test for the Eels who have looked good all season but need to start winning against top 8 sides from here on in. Hard to know what to make of the Eels narrow lost to an improving Dragons outfit last week. Was it a sign they are starting to feel the strain of the season or was just an aberration. This is one game the Eels can’t give away and start and hope to storm home and win. Their opponents this week are ruthless and Parramatta will need to be switch on from the opening play. Coach Brad Arthur has not made a change to the 17-man squad which went under 14-12 to St George Illawarra in difficult conditions last week. But has demanded a severe attitude change from his players who at times drifted in and out of the game. This game will be won up front which means Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Junior Paulo and Nathan Brown will have to muscle up in the middle and hunt as a pack or Melbourne’s big men will open them up for their outside flyers. When you look at Clint Gutherson, Maiko Siva, Dylan Brown and Mitchell Moses there is plenty of firepower. Former NSW representative Blake Ferguson is experiencing a try-scoring drought and needs to break the shackles and put some meat pies on the board between now the finals.
Melbourne Storm – Any doubts about the Storm’s ability to win without Cameron Smith have been put to bed. IN fact, last week they beat the reigning premiers (admittedly missing half their top side) quite easily 24-6 in a show of depth with the club’s ranks. Melbourne is such a professional club and Craig Bellamy is such a wonderful coach they were able to cover the absence of Smith and gun playmaker Cameron Munster with ease. While you would always want those two stars in your side, Melbourne’s offence operated smoothly under Jahrome Hughes at halfback and with fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen taking on more responsibility playing as a second five-eighth. Unfortunately, Hughes has been a late withdrawal opening the door for Cooper Johns, another of the famous John’s clan, to make his debut. What was impressive about the Storm’s big win over the Roosters was the way they went about their business without Smith calling the plays. Papenhuyzen is one of the most improved players in the game and his impact, like Gutherson’s, cannot be understated. Melbourne seems to have Parramatta’s measure comfortably and that should be the case again this week. In their last three meetings, which Melbourne has won including two games in 2019, the Storm has put 120 points on the Eels and conceded just 14. That would suggest Parramatta have a massive task ahead of them.
NRL Tipping – Friday August 21
Penrith Panthers v Cronulla Sharks
Panthers Stadium | 6:00 PM (AEST)
Penrith Panthers – Had to dig deep to deny a spirit Warriors 18-12 last weekend but their form prior was outstanding and they are enjoying the best start to any Panther’s side in history with 10 straight wins now. The Warriors provided a blueprint on how to beat the Panthers and it was pretty simple. Defend well, reduce your errors and run hard and straight. Penrith’s defence has been almost impossible to breach in the first half and they have laid the platform for all their wins off the back of it. A terrific statistic which backs that up is Penrith has been the first to score in their past 13 matches which says they start fast, build pressure with their defence, then break their rivals open. It’s no secret Nathan Cleary is to “go-to” man. Almost everything Penrith do in attack revolves around Cleary and he rarely makes a bad decision or gets caught. Coach Ivan Cleary again has the luxury of naming the same 17 players, a huge advantage when a team is firing like the Panthers. He has winger Brian To’o on his reserve bench but if he is fit I would be finding a way to get him into the team he is a such a good talent. Brent Naden will start on the wing and he has been in good try-scoring form lately. Penrith looks great in all departments and provided they can handle the Sharks grinding tactics they should win again.
Cronulla Sharks – It’s been a very tough week for Shark’s star Shaun Johnson under treatment for a groin strain and also dealing with the Kevin Proctor biting case, but he is very professional and will be ready for the challenge against Cleary and the Panthers. Cronulla has also named the same 17 which had a good win over the Titans last weekend. Toby Rudolf has been named at lock but every week he has dropped to the bench and that should remain the status quo. This game represents a real challenge for the Sharks who are in 7th place but only two points behind the fourth-placed Roosters. They will be desperate to spring an upset over Penrith and push for a top-four sport approaching the business end of the season. Their forward pack, led by Braden Hamlin Uele and Aaron Woods is big enough to hold their own in the middle and their halves Johnson and Matt Moylan have a touch of class. Jess Ramien can be a strike weapon along with Josh Dugan and Sione Katoa who has crossed for 13 tries, the most by any Shark since great Andrew Ettingshausen in 1988. The Sharks need to be mentally tough as well as physically tough.
Brisbane Broncos v St George Dragons
Suncorp Stadium | 7:55 PM (AEST)
Brisbane Broncos – A complete train wreck. You don’t want to look, but you can’t stop. There is no starting point to describe what has gone wrong at Red Hill and the be honest, better experts than I can’t come up with the answers. The Board, recruitment, coaching, player education, leadership, player management, welfare and in some cases desire and passion for the club, are all problem areas. 2020 is gone for Brisbane, the task now is to cut the deadwood adrift, make the tough calls, financially and emotionally, and bring in someone who can begin the sort why such a powerful, professional and successful clubs has self-imploded. Anyway, back to the game. Look how can you tip Brisbane to win, even if you think they can. They have played well in the first half of their recent games but then buckle. They have 13 players out injured and so much off-field drama it’s amazing they know what day it is. Still, one would hope they want to give their fans some good news and something to cheer about against the Dragons. Anthony Milford is back at five-eighth with Brodie Croft paying the price for some inconsistent form and defensive lapses. They will, however, be without prop Payne Haas (suspended) who had great numbers last week against the Raiders and young forward Tom Flegler (shoulder). I am not saying Brisbane will win, but I do expect them to play with some heart, hopefully.
St George Dragons – Provided outgoing coach Paul McGregor with a farewell upset victory over Parramatta last weekend and dug very deep to get the win. The question is, will they have a letdown this weekend? You would think not, especially against a side every club is enjoying kicking when they are down and all but out. You would say their chances of playing in the finals as remote being six points out of the top eight but all they can do is keep winning. A few ex-Brisbane players could prove match-winners with Ben Hunt back to dummy half and five-eighth Corey Norman who has had a mixed month. Former Dragon’s favourite Dean Young will make his NRL coaching debut after replacing McGregor this week and is unlucky to make any changes although he will have to replace Tyrell Fuimaono who has been suspended. Prop Paul Vaughan returns after serving a two-weel COVID19 suspension which is bad news for Brisbane who is down on big troops.
NRL Tipping – Saturday August 22
Gold Coast Titans v Canberra Raiders
Cbus Super Stadium | 3:00 PM (AEST)
Gold Coast Titans – The Titans have enjoyed a little bit of success lately and were not disgraced in their 30-18 loss to the Sharks last weekend after being in the fight for a fair way. The club is recruiting well for 2021 having signed two outstanding young forwards in David Fafita and Tino Faasuamaleaui and they will want to finish 2020 on a positive note. The club will have to move on from the biting scandal involving skipper Kevin Proctor who will miss the next four games. It’s a big blow give Jai Arrow is out with a shoulder injury. Big Jarrod Wallace has been recalled and will be keen to rip into the Raider’s big pack. It’s a tall order for the Titans forwards against a Canberra engine room with some many big-name headed by big Josh Papalii and Englishman Elliott Whitehead and John Bateman. Brian Kelly has been playing very well for the Titans and along with fullback AJ Brimson and those pair will need to be sharp again. The Titans have a big mountain to climb.
Canberra Raiders – Overcame an average start against Brisbane last weekend to run away with the second half. That is not the style coach Ricky Stuart wants with the finals approaching and Canberra will need to be much more switched on in the opening half against the Titans. On paper, the Raiders look to have this game in the bag. They look stronger upfront and have it all over the Titans in attack through Jarrod Croker Jordan Rapana, big Nic Cotric, Charnze Nicoll-Slokstad and their halves George Williams and Jack Wighton. Wighton has been in outstanding form and Williams and sharp around the ruck and his kicking game is excellent. You can see Canberra controlling the middle third and attack through their speedy backs. While the Raiders have not been setting the world on fire, I look how they match up on the Gold Coast and they should be getting the two premiership points to remain in the fight for a top-four finals spot.
West Tigers v Sydney Roosters
Leichhardt Oval | 5:30 PM (AEST)
West Tigers – There top 8 chances hang by a thread but if they keep winning they could make it. Scraped home on a field goal against the tenacious Bulldogs last weekend after an embarrassing 44-4 loss to Newcastle the previous week. That kind of form is not going to get you far and even allowing for the heavy injury toll the Roosters are battling it won’t get you two premiership points. The Tigers are unchanged from last week but could make one or two late adjustments. Veteran Benji Marshall is playing injured but has little choice. Coach Michael Maguire needs all hands on deck against the Roosters who need to keep the wins ticking over in their chase of a third straight title. Big games are required from fullback Adam Doueihi, Joseph Leilua, Moses Mbye, look Brooks and Marshall while upfront it is imperative Russell Packer, Josh Aloia and Luciano Leilua muscle-up for 80 minutes.
Sydney Roosters – South Sydney got away with the two points against the struggling Cowboys last weekend but it was less than convincing and for some reason, the Rabbits just can’t see to put it all together. They have lapses where they either lose the ball and make a poor decision. They will be favourites here but not on form but because Manly has a lot of injuries and has been forced to play without their star fullback Tom Trbojevic for several weeks. Liam Knight has been replaced in the pack by Bayley Sironen but otherwise it the same Rabbits side which has strung together three wins on the trot. Young Jack Johns has been added to the bench for his third NRL appearance and has shown potential so far. With so much strike in their backline, it’s hard not to think they can put on enough puts to win but Manly’s defence has been great in recent weeks. Alex Johnston, who comes off contract at seasons end keeps knocking up tries and you know fullback Latrell Mitchell is going to pull a big game out of the bag at some stage. Souths halves Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds will have a tough battle up against Daly Cherry Evans and Cade Cusp who have been leading from the front. South Sydney are securely in the eight, four points ahead of the Wests Tigers and can still crack the top four if they keep winning.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Manly Sea Eagles
ANZ Stadium | 7:35 PM (AEST)
South Sydney Rabbitohs – South Sydney got away with the two points against the struggling Cowboys last weekend but it was less than convincing and for some reason, the Rabbits just can’t seen to put it all together. They have lapses where they either lose the ball and make a poor decision. They will be favourites here but not on form but because Manly has a lot of injuries and has been forced to play without their star fullback Tom Trbojevic for several weeks. Liam Knight has been replaced in the pack by Bayley Sironen but otherwise it the same Rabbits side which has strung together three wins on the trot. Young Jack Johns has been added to the bench for his third NRL appearance and has shown potential so far. With so much strike in their backline, it’s hard not to think they can put on enough puts to win but Manly’s defence has been great in recent weeks. Alex Johnston, who comes off contract at seasons end keeps knocking up tries and you know fullback Latrell Mitchell is going to pull a big game out of the bag at some stage. Souths halves Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds will have a tough battle up against Daly Cherry Evans and Cade Cusp who have been leading from the front. South Sydney are securely in the eight, four points ahead of the Wests Tigers and can still crack the top four if they keep winning.
Manly Sea Eagles – Manly continue to aim up every week despite a host of injuries to front-line players. They are four points out of the top 8 and you can bet they will have a real crack at Souths here. Coach Des Hasler has never had to make so many changes in a season and he has had to move goal-kicking winger Rueben Garrick to fullback this weekend because of yet another injury at the back to Brendan Elliott (ACL). Manly was tenacious in their 26-22 loss to the Warriors and almost snatch a win in the second half. They continue to play for each other and on heart each week. Joel Thompson played on last week with a nasty tongue injury which required stitching and he will be checked before the game. It’s that kind of toughness Manly possess that always make them hard to beat. With big Marty Taupau back in the back, Manly will stand their ground in the middle. Like most teams, a number of Manly players are carrying niggling injuries like Cusp, Thompson and utility Jack Gosiwski but they will man-up again and do the job.
NRL Tipping – Sunday August 23
Canterbury Bulldogs v NZ Warriors
ANZ Stadium | 2:00 PM (AEST)
Canterbury Bulldogs – I doubt there have been too many last-placed teams that play as well as the Dogs and cause teams problems. Last weekend was the perfect example when they looked down and out and came back to almost pull off a stunning victory over the Wests Tigers. It took a 77th-minute field goal from Tiger Luke Brooks to snuff out their spirited second-half comeback. It’s hard to believe the Dogs have won just two games this season because they put so much into the 80 minutes. They will see this clash with the Warriors as a real opportunity to hand over the wooden spoon to the Brisbane Broncos who have never finished last in their 32 years in the premiership. IT seems Will Hopate may return at fullback allow speedster Nick Meaney to return to the wing. Skipper Josh Jackson will continue his record of having played every minute of every game, underlining both his toughness and competitive nature.
NZ Warriors – These players deserve a lot of credit for how they have hung in under very tough circumstances and they continue to play well despite a lot of adversity. Last weekend they refused to give in to the red hot Panthers going down only by a converted try. Halfback Chanel Harris-Tevita is under an injury could after an accidental head clash at training through the week. He will be hoping for late clearance from an independent doctor and while the club has not named a like replacement Paul Turner has been added to the bench. The Warriors will fancy themselves in this game because of their open style and will back themselves to be able to score more points than the Bulldogs who set a season-high total last weekend. Look for a big game from livewire No.6 Kodi Nikorima who likes to isolate bigger players when they get fatigued. The Warriors pack has been performing well as has the Bulldogs six so their battle upfront will be a big key. I am leaning slightly towards the Bulldogs here.
Newcastle Knights v Nth QLD Cowboys
McDonald Jones Stadium | 4:05 PM (AEST)
Newcastle Knights – The Knights are well settled in the top eight but have not lost sight of a prized top-four finish being just one point behind the fourth (Roosters) and 5th (Raiders) placed teams so there is an awful lot to play for against the inconsistent Cowboys. After smashing the Wests Tigers 44-4 the Knights escaped with a 26-24 win over Manly in a tense battle. The Knights may not be so lucky if they allow the Cowboys the same latitude they gave Manly last weekend. The Knights are one team who are playing well at home this season (5-7) and you would think they would see this game as a chance to lock away a finals berth. Hayze Perham makes a return to first grade starting at the centre while Daniel Saifiti has been replaced up front by his twin brother Jacob. Newcastle’s new-look halves Mitchel Pearce and ex-Warrior Blake Green have been combining well and using their deadly kicking games to get out of trouble and create line drop-outs. All going to plan Newcastle should get away with this game.
Nth QLD Cowboys – It’s been a pretty disappointing season for the Cowboys who parted company with their long-time premiership-winning coach Paul Green mid-season. It’s fair to say they aren’t playing to their potential at the moment and need to improve in a lot of areas. Having said that, there was plenty of improvement last week before they went down in a thriller 31-30 to South Sydney on the boot of Adam Reynolds who slotted a 77th-minute field goal to break the deadlock. Prior to that though they had lost 30-10 to the Titans 14-12 to Canberra, 24-12 to Manly, 22-10 to Penrith, 42-16 to the Roosters and 42-4 to Parramatta. In fact, they haven’t won a game since round 7 against the Newcastle Knights. On that occasion, Newcastle they easily accounted for Newcastle 32-20 playing at home. If they can get their act together they can be competitive but hard tip them on the back of so many losses.