With three regular-season rounds remaining the minor premiership, top four, top eight and wooden spoon are still not clear cut although Cronulla has to lose their remaining three games to drop out of the eight. The Panthers and Melbourne is the only clubs who can claim the minor premiership while the top four stretches down to the fifth place Raiders. The Wests Tigers (9th) and Warriors (10th) are mathematically not out of the top eight race. The clash between Penrith (first) and Parramatta (3rd) is a massive game.
If Penrith lose and the second-placed Melbourne Storm beat the lowly-placed Cowboys (14th) as expected the Panther’s will have only a one-point lead on the ladder with two rounds to play. The Storm close the season against the Wests Tigers and Dragons while Penrith ends one of the club’s most successful regular seasons against the Cowboys and Bulldogs. There is a chance the Panthers could finish 2020 having lost only one of their 20 games, a truly outstanding effort. While the clash between Brisbane Broncos and the Gold Coast Titans will have no bearing on the finals, it will be played like a grand final by both clubs.
Brisbane is still a chance of collecting the club’s first-ever wooden spoon, so this game gives them some breathing space from the Bulldogs who are only one win behind them. This is known as the M1 Derby. It will be interesting how Brisbane forward David Fafita plays. Fafita has defected from the Broncos to sign a massive money deal with the Gold Coast, upsetting a majority of Broncos fans. Friday night’s clash between the Roosters and South Sydney will be another marquee game with Wayne Bennett’s Rabbits keen to bounce back in a big way from last weekend’s 22-16 loss to Melbourne.
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NRL Tipping – Thursday, September 10
West Tigers v Rabbitohs
Bankwest Stadium | 7:50pm (AEST)
Wests Tigers – Tigers fans must be wondering how their club is unlikely to play finals football after they grit and resolve they displayed last weekend to beat Manly 34-32 after looking down and out with just over 10 minutes remaining. Coach Michael Maguire has been talking about his players showing some “belief” and they certainly did that against Manly who must still be wondering how they let two premiership points slip from their fingers. South Sydney are a step up in class for the Bunnies but if they play with the same intensity, energy and resolve for 80 minutes as they did in the final 20 minutes they will push South Sydney. Luke Brooks produced one of his better games of the season and what about winger David Nofoaluma who leads the NRL in tries scored in 2020 after his last start treble. Adam Doueihi was outstanding and his two-handed aerial grab won the game for the Tigers. While Souths probably have a slightly more physical pack the Tiger’s forwards held their own last weekend. Loan-hooker Harry Grant continues to play great out of dummy-half and he is a real danger man for the Rabbits.
South Sydney Rabbitohs – Made too many errors against Melbourne who made them pay 22-16 last weekend. Prior to that loss they has won 5 straight and were piling points on their opposition. One thing Wayne Bennett coached teams do better than most is come back firing off a tough loss and last week’s loss would have hurt considerably. Still, Souths are a quality side and you can bet they will have worked hard through the week on correcting a lot of the errors. It wasn’t like they were outplayed by the Storm, they just didn’t match their discipline and consistency at crucial times of the game. They are four points out of the top four and they need to keep winning to have an outside chance of claiming a spot which makes it a lot easier to make the grand final. Experienced utility Dane Gagai is a nice return to the centres while Liam Knight reclaims his starting front-row spot. Halves Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds hold the key with their running and kicking games. They will try and turn the Tigers around and pin them in the corners as much as possible. Alex Johnston is a try-scoring threat out wide and has a try or two in him if he gets put into a hole.
NRL Tipping – Friday, September 11
Bulldogs v Sea Eagles
ANZ Stadium | 6:00pm (AEST)
Canterbury Bulldogs – You have to feel for the Dogs, they are playing well but they just can’t crack it for a win. The challenge for the Dogs though will be playing well without their organiser Kieran Foran who has been instrumental in their good showings of late. They meet a Manly side badly beaten up by injuries but showing a lot of fight. The Dogs have lost their last six games and are desperate to grab one or two more before the end of a frustrating season in which they parted ways with their coach Dean Pay. The big question is can they post enough points without Foran to beat Manly? I’m not sure they can but they will have a dig. The Bulldogs backline will undergo major changes with Foran, centre Kerrod Holland and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak all missing. Big Dylan Napa (knee) will also miss the game adding to the task facing the Bulldogs. This game will come down to which of these two sides wants a win more. With nothing really to play for it could be a real mental struggle. The dogs will have a crack, they have all year.
Manly Sea Eagles – It’s been a hell of a year for Manly, battling injuries to key positional players but apart from one or two games, they have not thrown in the towel. Des Hasler keeps finding replacements to cover for his stars every week but he is close to the bottom of the barrel. This week he has had to replace his blockbusting winger Jorge Taufua (Achilles) and Josh Schuster (ankle) with Abbas Miski coming on the wing and Cade Cusp back in the No.6 jumper. Another Trbojevic (Ben) finds his way onto the Sea Eagle’s bench. You can’t write Manly off with forwards like Addin Fonua-Blake, Martin Taupau, Curtis Sironen and Jake Trbojevic to lay a platform have Cherry-Evans. Manly play with plenty of heart and despite being way down on troops they seem to find a way to win because they have had plenty of practice of battling adversity.
Panthers v Eels
Panthers Stadium | 7:55pm (AEST)
Penrith Panthers – This is a huge game for both clubs. A Panthers win would virtually wrap up the minor premiership while for Parramatta they need to win to make sure they finish in the top 4. What a season the Panthers have had, dropping just one game in 17 rounds, a magnificent compliment to coach Ivan Cleary who has to be coach-of-the-year. His son Nathan Cleary has delivered on the field, his decision making up alongside Cameron Smith and his leadership of a similar class. The great bonus for Penrith is that have escaped any major injuries and have been able to field a similar side for a number of weeks in a row. That has enabled them to build some confidence and consistency because they have formed strong combinations. Their spine is playing great and their key players, Cleary, Villame Kikau, Stephen Crighton Jarome Luai, James Fisher-Harris, Liam Martin and Api Koroisau are all firing. They will not want to drop their guard against Parramatta who will be gunning for them to silence a few doubters who are questioning their premiership claims. No such problems for the Panthers who are chasing their 16th straight win.
Parramatta Eels – The Eels have a point to prove after being taken all the way last weekend by the Warriors, winning 24-18 in a less than convincing manner. Still, the Eels are sitting third, a win ahead of the Roosters, so they must have done something right this season. It will be interesting to see how they muscle up against the Panthers who are flying high on the back of the club’s most successful regular season. They have the players and the game-breakers to cause an upset but they have to make sure they stay in the fight. Finding a way to break Penrith’s brick-wall defence will be up to the likes of Mitchell Moses, Junior Paulo, Shaun Lane, Michael Jennings and Maiko Sivo, all capable of getting across the line. With some luck, the bounce of the ball and some 50-50 calls they can put pressure on Penrith. Whether they can win is another story.
NRL Tipping – Saturday, September 12
Dragons v Raiders
WIN Stadium | 3:00pm (AEST)
St George Dragons – Have played ok in recent weeks but Canberra have their eye in a top-four finish and that means a rugged day out for the Dragons who were beaten last weekend by the Cowboys, a side which had lost its previous nine starts. That does not instil a lot of confidence that they can upset the Raiders, who while down on form against the Roosters last weekend, will be switched on this time. The Dragons had some great news during the week announcing Anthony Griffin as their coach for 2021 which should guarantee a few players chasing contracts will put it. But it won’t be enough against the powerful Raiders. The Dragons would love to upset Canberra but seriously, they haven’t been going good enough to be a serious threat. They have shuffled a few players around like Ben Hunt and Matthew Dufty and Cameron McInnes but that will likely all stop under Griffin when he takes control later this year. For now, the Dragons are playing for pride and little else.
Canberra Raiders – This is a big game for the Raiders for several reasons. Coach Ricky Stuart will say public a top-four spot is not their focus and that is fine, but every player knows finishing outside the first four makes it really hard to win the premiership. But Stuart is right, just keep winning and things will take care of themselves. The Raiders were not at their best last weekend going down 18-6 to the Roosters who controlled the game. That effort wasn’t good enough and Stuart’s players know it. Too many one-out performances undermined Stuart’s game plan. Canberra has the players, Charnze Nicoll-Klopstad, Jarrod Croker, Jordan Rapana and a great halves pairing of George Williams and Jack Wighton behind a pack led by Josh Papalii and John Bateman and Joseph Tapine who has upped his game at the right time, add up to a win for mine. The Dragons won’t be able to the Green Machine for 80 minutes and at some stage, they will pile on some points.
Titans v Broncos
Cbus Super Stadium | 5:30pm (AEST)
Gold Coast Titans – The Titans hold all the aces here having won their last two games and claiming the title of Queensland’s best NRL club over the poorly performed Broncos and Cowboys. While they didn’t make the NRL finals this season they have improved on their 2019 record in a Covid-shortened season. The Titans will want to win this game for bragging rights with the Broncos have long held. New coach Justin Holbrook has got some good early results and with some big signings, including Bronco star David Fafita, next season want to close the door on 2020 with a string of wins. Young halfback Jamal Fogarty is improving with every game he has made a difference to Ash Taylor who has less pressure on his shoulders to organise the team. The Titan’s spine is also working with Mitch Rein and AJ Brimson both lifting their games in the past month. Holbrook will be well aware the Broncos will have targeted this game to break their drought and his players will be told of the importance of starting quickly and not letting Brisbane jump them in the first half. The players should be up for this stoush after winning their past two games but it won’t be easy.
Brisbane Broncos – Brisbane is playing to avoid the wooden spoon, a gong the club has avoided for its 32-year history. They are also playing for pride against their nearest neighbours who have had a slightly better season. Brisbane have been showing gradual improvement and last week’s 25-12 loss to competition leaders Penrith was a big improvement as they led at half time. It’s been a horrible, forgettable season for the once-powerful Broncos who have fallen from grace after dumping their coach Anthony Seibold three years before his long term contract expired. The club has battled with injuries and a lot of young players have had to play a lot more NRL than expected. Anthony Milford is the latest player to join the club’s injury list and will not play again this season. It means young halves Tom Dearden and Sean O’Sullivan as the halves pairing for the last three games of 2020. Dearden has impressed many and looks a future long-term No.7. He his tough and creative and a player who can develop into a top-line first-grade player. Katoni Staggs has a cult following after scoring a few tries lately with a Gene Miles like fend. This game is big for Brisbane because they desperately need something to celebrate after a shocking season.
Roosters v Knights
SCG | 7:35pm (AEST)
Sydney Roosters – Plenty for the Roosters to play for here with a top 4 finish still coach Trent Robinson’s goal. The SBW hype is over after he finally made his return last weekend in his first game in the NRL since 2014. He looked very underdone but he went hard in his 10-minute stint and there were flashes of what he is capable of doing. This is the time the Roosters need to go to the next level a few weeks out from the finals. The Roosters have been getting a few of their injured players back at this week it is Jake Friend who returns to the field. Friend is a key cog in the Roosters roster and while it may take him a game or two to get his timing back he is a player Robinson will love to have back in the team at this time of the year. The Rooster’s forwards will relish the challenge to take on Newcastle in the middle. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves will lock horns with David Klemmer in a clash that could rock the SCG’s foundations. But it is the likes of James Tedesco, Josh and Brett Morris, Luke Keary and Kyle Flanagan that pose the biggest threat to the Knights who need to win to consolidate a top 8 place. The Roosters just look too big, strong and strike-loaded for the Knights.
Newcastle Knights – No Kalyn Ponga, no win for Newcastle. That may seem too simple but seriously, Ponga carried the Knights last weekend with a stunning game and take him out of the equation the Knights get struggle to beat Cronulla. I know they won by 28 points but most of them were off the back of Ponga’s brilliant play. Newcastle needs to rise to this challenge if they are to survive the early rounds of the finals. Young local Tex Hoy and Edrick Lee are new faces with Hoy taking over Ponga’s fullback role. Daniel Siafiti’s return from injury will help Newcastle’s forward rotation and they will need him against the Roosters pack. IT is hard to believe Ponga is being rested but he did take a fierce pounding last week which included a spectacular shoulder charge which earned Shark five-eigh Chad Townsend a three-week suspension.
NRL Tipping – Sunday, September 13
Storm v Cowboys
Sunshine Coast Stadium | 4:05pm (AEST)
Melbourne Storm – Still chasing the minor premiership and should be too good for North Queensland who are 1-9 from their last 10 games, hardly good enough to beat the second-placed Storm. This looks a mismatch on paper and it should play out that way on the field. The question for the Cowboys will be how hard will Melbourne go. If the answer is super hard with the finals looming them the scoreboard could get ugly. Craig Bellamy has rested gun fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen from the clash with the highly-rated Nicho Hynes getting a start in the No.1. Papenhuyzen is in no danger of losing his spot but it will be good to Hynes get a full game to showcase his talents. We all know how good the Storm is, no need to run through their gun players. But everything will revolve around Cameron Smith who continues to keep the rugby league world waiting about his playing future. Big Nelson Asofa-Solomona returns and his power and size will create dramas for the Cowboys, especially close to the line. If Melbourne drops this game I will be shocked.
North Queensland Cowboys – Snapped a 9-game losing streak with a golden point 23-22 win over the Dragons last week. I doubt they will get that close to the super-efficient Storm who will be revving up for the finals which in itself is bad news for the Cowboys. It’s been a poor year for the Cowboys with coach Paul Green pulling the pin in frustration. Josh Hannay will at least say he has an NRL win as head coach after the narrow victory last weekend but I doubt he will be celebrating back-to-back wins against a power club like Melbourne who are too professional to be ambushed. This will be a good chance for Scott Drinkwater to test himself up against one of the game’s best in Cameron Munster, Drinkwater is very talented and will see this as an opportunity to put his game up against and Origin and Test No.6. I just can’t see how the Cows can beat Melbourne on exposed form.
Sharks v NZ Warriors
Jubilee Stadium | 6:30pm (AEST)
Cronulla Sharks – Absolutely lost the plot last week against Newcastle and in the process lost star five-eighth, Chad Townsend, for three weeks for a brutal should charge of Kalyn Ponga. If that wasn’t bad enough Wade Graham will also miss the clash through suspension for a nasty spear tackle. It’s left coach John Morris with a few selection headaches as the Sharks fight to stay in the top 8. Given there fragile position three losses could see them miss the finals. On a positive note, they will welcome back playmaker Shaun Johnson back from injury, very timely given Townsend’s suspension for foul play. Siosifa Talakai will take over Graham’s back-row role while Sione Katoa is back on the wing. Big Andrew Fafita has been recalled to the Shark’s bench bolstering their pack. One factor to consider is Cronulla play well against the Warriors have won six of their last 7 clashes.
NZ Warriors – You have to admire the way the Warriors are playing and fighting out games which have not always been the case. They were a little unlucky last weekend losing by a converted try to Parramatta. If they show the same resolve they have in games in the past they will go close to winning their 8th game of the season, a good effort given the sacrifices the club has made to keep the competition afloat this season. Eels loan pair George Jennings and Daniel Alvaro both return with winger Gerard Beale. Isaiah Papali’i is set to start at prop with Lachlan Burr reverting to the interchange. The Warriors are determined to end the season strongly and this will be a chance for them to give their fans some warm fuzzy feelings.