Many doubted it could be done, but the NRL will complete its 20-game regular season after this weekend and head into the finals with Penrith the minor premiers. The Panthers dropped just one game (so far) in 2020, a remarkable performance. Melbourne Storm will finish second but they could drop their last game after coach Craig Bellamy’s decision to rest many of his stars ahead of the finals. Canberra coach Ricky Stuart has strangely conceded a possible top 4 finish by resting almost his entire first-grade side for their final round clash with Cronulla. One of the best clashes of round 20 involves two teams –Brisbane and North Queensland –who are out of finals contention but battling to avoid the wooden spoon along with Canterbury Bulldogs. Brisbane is on a club-record losing streak but get a few handy players back for their annual grudge clash with the Cowboys who denied them a 7th premiership in the epic 2015 grand final. This will be Brisbane fullback Darius Boyd’s final game since he debuted in 2006. The NRL will use this game and the clash between Manly and the Warriors to test-run some new rules which could be introduced in 2020. The new rules changes will include: They include:
- Use of the “six-again” rule for 10-metre infringements
- Handover for kicks into touch rather than a scrum
- Nominated forwards only to pack in scrums
- Change in the Bunker referral process to reduce stoppages.
NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said the rules would be trialled this weekend to gauge their acceptance.
“It is clear the current process around scrums and the Bunker could potentially be better,” Abdo said. “We are also looking at ways in which we can reduce stoppages without compromising the accuracy of the Bunker.”
Opinion of the value of scrums is divided. Past players believe they serve a purpose allowing sides to run set plays while critics say they serve no purpose and should be replaced by a hand-over or play-the-ball.
Place a 3+ Leg same game multi bet on this weeks games of the NRL and if 1 leg fails, you will get up to $50 back in bonus bets. Terms and conditions apply.
NRL Tipping – Thursday, September 24
Brisbane Broncos v Nth QLD Cowboys
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane | 7:50 pm (AEST)
Brisbane Broncos – The Broncos need to win this clash to have any chance of avoiding the wooden spoon for the first time in the club’s proud history. There are a few scenarios but the bottom line is the Broncos need to win to close an abdominal season that will go down as the worst in the club’s history. Never have they sacked a coach during the season, never have they lost 10 games in a row in a single season and never have they collected the spoon. This will be Darius Boyd’s 337th NRL game and his 206th for the club where he launched his wonderful career with a premiership in 2006. His form has dipped in the past few seasons but there is no denying he has been a tremendous player for a long time and as a rugby league fan I would like to thank him for many good memories and his friendship over many years. Hopefully, his teammates can raise one last big effort to send him out a winner. Regardless, he leaves the game with a magnificent record of not having lost one of his 23 Tests for Australia (the best record of any player in history) and being part of two premiership wins (Brisbane and Dragons) a key member of Queensland historic State of Origin run. Brisbane will be without David Fafita (headed for ankle surgery) and leaving the club next season (Titans) but will get to see the exciting return of Jordan Riki from suspension. Riki, who will make his starting debut, looks a real talent while Tom Dearden has been a find for Brisbane this season. Tyson Gamble who was knocked out in the opening minutes last week may sit this game but big Payne Haas will both be back. Strong man Katoni Staggs will play at No.6 which could pose some problems. These two teams have a magnificent history of producing thrillers and this could be another chapter.
North Queensland Cowboys – The Cowboys have also had a tough year, parting ways with their coach and struggling for form but this game should bring the best out of them as they love nothing more than beating their Big Brother Broncos. Both Josh Maguire and John Asiata return from serving suspensions so the Cowboys will be well equipped to take Brisbane on upfront. While they have a solid pack with McGuire back in the front-row against his former club, it could be in the backs where the Cowboys shine. Scott Drinkwater and Jake Clifford are building a nice combination in the halves while fullback Valentine Holmes is threatening a break-out game if the Broncos defensive line is not working together. Jason Taumalolo is back at lock and will no doubt be looking to put in a big game to close a forgettable season for the Cowboys. Brisbane will do well to minimise his bull-like charges and off-loads if they hope to win this one. While it will be Boyd’s last game, another great servant, Gavin Cooper, will hang on the boots after his 322nd NRL game, 245 of them for the Cowboys. Cooper has scored 79 tries and his consistency and toughness earned him 6 Origin games for Queensland late in his career. While there is little to play for with both teams near the bottom of the premiership ladder, pride will be on the line as it always is when these two clubs take the field.
NRL Tipping – Friday, September 25
Gold Coast Titans v Newcastle Knights
Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast | 6:00 pm (AEST)
Gold Coast Titans – They may be out of the finals race but the Titans have plenty to play for here. The club has been very active in the player market place and has secured some good cattle next year, including young giants David Fafita (Brisbane) and Melbourne’s Tino Fa”asuamaleaui. The club will be keen to end 2020 with some momentum heading into next season. The club is chasing a record fifth straight win under new coach Justin Holbrook and there are good vibes around the joint that they can make a serious run at the finals in 2021. Bryan Kelly returns in the centres and with his speed and side-step will pose a threat out wide. The Titans are getting some good go-forward from Jarrod Wallace and the much-improved from Moeaki Fotuaika who will lock horns with big David Klemmer in a key battle in midfield. The Titans have a good spine in Jamal Fogarty, Ash Taylor, AJ Brimson and Mitch Rein and they have been working together as a unit behind an honest forward pack. Fogarty has come from out of the blue and responded to being handed the captaincy by Holbrook who has found the key to getting the best out of his players. With four wins on the trot, the Titans are on a roll and they won’t mind upset the Knights.
Newcastle Knights – The Knights currently sit in sixth place but if they drop this game, would slip to 7th and lose a home final. Their form has been a little up and down this season but with the help of their captain Kalyn Ponga they surged back into form last week smashing the Dragons 42-18. Ponga was in superb form scoring the first of Newcastle’s 7 tries. This is a big game for the Knights to maintain their position in the top eight but more to confirm they are ready to play finals football. A lot of responsibility falls on halfback Mitchell Pearce but he is very experienced in big games. Their back-line looks better with the returns of strike players Edrick Lee and dangerous centre Bradman Best back in the starting line-up after eight weeks on the sidelines. They should also be sharper around the ruck with Kurt Mann taking over at dummy-half following a short suspension. This looks a tough clash to call mainly because the Titans have found some strong form at the end of the season.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Sydney Roosters
ANZ Stadium, Sydney | 7:55 pm (AEST)
South Sydney Rabbitohs – Turned up with a poor attitude and paid a heavy price when shock losers to Canterbury last weekend in a stark reminder than anything less than 100 per cent may not be good enough, especially against a side boasting the firepower and capabilities of the Roosters. You know coach Wayne Bennett will have spent the week talking to his players and stressing the importance of everyone doing their jobs which is the key to a good team performance. The Rabbits went away from the things that work for them against the Dogs pushing plays, lacking patience and failing to build any sustained pressure. They flicked the switch just before half time with a few quick tries but came out in the second half without a lot of purpose. Against the Roosters, they will have to be united and defend as a unit, stop the inside man, and do the one percenters that matter most. This will be Dane Gagai’s 200th NRL match and I wouldn’t mind betting he will get across the try-line to celebrate his big milestone.
Sydney Roosters – Had the luxury of resting big-name stars James Tedesco, Boyd Cordner, Jake Friend and Siosiua Taukeiaho who are all returning after having last weekend off when the Roosters were still able to beat Cronulla 34-18. It highlighted the just how much depth coach Trent Robinson has at his disposal through the finals series. It’s doubtful aby club has that king of depth to be able to sit out four key players and still win. The Roosters prize if they beat Souths is a fist round finals showdown with Melbourne Storm. As the reigning premiers and chasing a third straight premiership win the Roosters will want to make a statement against South Sydney who will be determined to show they are genuine final contenders. It’s hard to find a weakness or area Souths can exploit the Roosters. The late addition of Sonny Bill Williams has added an extra dimension to the Rooster’s attack and he has come back after six years like he never left. He still puts fear into defences the way he carries the ball and he could an x-factor in the finals. It is hard to go past the Roosters.
NRL Tipping – Saturday, September 26
Canterbury Bulldogs v Penrith Panthers
ANZ Stadium, Sydney | 3:00 pm (AEST)
Canterbury Bulldogs – Finally rewarded for their tenacity last weekend with a massive upset over a disappointing South Sydney, a win which may seem them sidestep the wooden spoon depending on outcomes in the final round. Race out to a 20-0 lead last week as they did the previous week but this time they refused to hand over the two competition points beating the Rabbits 26-16 in a stunning upset. Can they do it again against the minor premiers who have lost only one game all season? The short answer is: “no”. But they will have a dig, that you can be certain of and they will not throw in the towel. Still, it is hard to seem them stopping the Panthers who are setting all kinds of records this year. The coach has stuck with the same 17-man squad if Tim Lafai escapes a high tackle charge at the judiciary. Lachlan Lewis has been named at halfback but will have to pass ahead assessment test.
Penrith Panthers – With the minor premiership wrapped up coach Ivan Cleary will rest three stars, fullback Dylan Edwards, centre Stephen Crighton and rampaging forward Villame Kikau sitting out the game. It means Daine Laurie will get his first start at fullback with Tyrone Maye in the centres and utility Kurt Capewell promoted to the starting pack. The risk with resting so many key players is possibly heading into the finals on the back of a loss but that is unlikely to happen given Penrith’s record-breaking streak of wins and the confident manner in which the players are performing every week. The Panthers have a developed a winning-culture and it will be interesting to see how they perform against sides like the Roosters and Melbourne. This year they have been magnificent from an easier draw but you can’t possibly question their finals claim on the form they have shown for the past 20 weeks which includes 17 wins, one draw and just one loss. Again Nathan Cleary will call the shots with James Tamou now back in the pack which even without Kikau still has plenty of power and aggression through James Fisher-Harris, Liam Martin and Isaah Yeo carting the ball up. This game gives Cleary a chance to test run a few players like Daine Laurie in case one or two players go down during the finals series.
Cronulla Sharks v Canberra Raiders
Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney | 5:30 pm (AEST)
Cronulla Sharks – Cronulla without Shaun Johnson, it’s not a good image, to be honest, but Wade Graham is not a bad back-up although you lose his dangerous edge play. It will be the first time Graham has donned the No.6 jumper in about four years but he certainly has the ball-playing skills and head-on defence to do a great job on Raider’s five-eighth Jack Wighton. With no Matt Moylan, the Sharks are very light on ball-plyers. Cronulla though was pretty disappointing last weekend against an under-strength Roosters and will need to fix a few short-comings against the Raiders can score points freely. Cronulla needs to make a statement here as they will face a Raiders side almost unrecognisable with all the changes their coach Ricky Stuart is contemplating.
Canberra Raiders – Where to start? Coach Ricky Stuart will hand four players their NRL debuts and rest almost his entire starting side in a move sure to draw criticism in some quarters, especially with a chance at making the top 4 on the line. The Raiders are only two points behind Parramatta heading into the last round although Parramatta has a points difference advantage should both clubs finish on 28 points which could happen if the Eels lose to the Wests Tigers. We don’t have enough space to go over all Stuart’s changes other than to say only four players remain from last week’s squad of 17. Winger Nic Cotric is the only recognisable face in this week’s team. Adam Cook (fullback_ Matthew Timoko (centre), Darby Medlyn (bench) and Jarret Subloo (bench) will all make their NRL debuts on the weekend. The Raiders side that takes the field will have very little experience or leadership but Stuart obviously feels it is best to give his players a rest before the finals, even if it means missing out on a top 4 finish.
West Tigers v Parramatta Eels
Bankwest Stadium, Sydney | 7:35 pm (AEST)
West Tigers – The Tigers need to dig deep here to find the motivation to end the season on a positive note after blowing their chance to be part of the finals series. It will be Benji Marshall’s farewell game also the last game for local junior Chris Lawrence will play for the club and fans will want to see the team put in a big effort for both those players although coach Michael Maguire will not be pushing the “do it for Benji and Chris bandwagon” even though they have played over 500 NRL between for the Tigers and are considered club legends. The Tigers have the ability, but they often throw in average performances just when you think they are going to get on a roll. They came up a few wins short of the finals and last week Melbourne put 50 points on them which is a sign maybe they have already switched off for 2020. You would like to think they will pull out something special for their two departing greats.
Parramatta Eels – Playing to keep a top 4 spot and they look a lot stronger with the inclusion of Junior Paulo and Shaun Lane in their starting pack. Paulo gives them drive in the middle while Lane’s off-loads are extremely dangerous. The Eels just aren’t playing as well in the back half of the season as they were at the start of the season and several players are performing below their best. Reagan Campbell-Gillard needs to get back to bending the defensive line and Nathan Brown has to add that fire and aggression to his game which was so telling for the Eels who are showing the signs of a team having played 18 games straight without a break. Coach Brad Arthur may decide to rest a few players this week but he clearly has his eye on a top-four finish and the Eels may just have to soldier on.
NRL Tipping – Sunday, September 27
NZ Warriors v Manly Sea Eagles
Central Coast Stadium, Central Coast | 2:00 pm (AEST)
New Zealand Warriors – The sacrifices made by the New Zealand Warriors players in this Covid19-season cannot be understated with some players kept away from their families for months. Despite this, they have managed to play some very good football under new coach Todd Payten who has bonded the team well. While they have little to play for you get the impression the Warriors are enjoying winning games again and they seem to play out the 80 minutes better. Unfortunately, they won’t have the services of inspiring fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck so Peta Hiku will slip into the custodian role for this game. Patrick Herbert will play on the wing and Hayze Perham starts in the centres. This is a very winnable game and the Warriors play their best football against Manly winning three of their past four clashes. This looks an evenly matched contest and if the Warriors can start quickly they will an excellent chance of closing the 2020 season, which could not have gone ahead without their personal sacrifices, with a win.
Manly Sea Eagles – Let’s face it, the Sea Eagles will be glad to see the back of 2020, a season riddled by injuries to key players. They’ve been brave but the toll has been too heavy and their finals hopes were shot weeks and weeks ago. Still, they won’t want to limp out with a big loss in the final round and even though their troops are still well down they will have a crack. Lachlan Croker is the latest player to don the No.6 outside Daly Cherry Evans in a backline that is nothing like full-strength and lacking trump Tom Trbojevic who has had a horror season. Manly still have a solid pack with Jake Trbojevic and Marty Taupau capable of taking control of the middle which will be a key to winning. Cherry-Evans can be the match-winner here with an even share of possession with his creativity and ability to find gaps for his runners.
St George Dragons v Melbourne Storm
Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney | 4:05 pm (AEST)
St George Dragons – If you had said a few weeks ago the Dragons would be favourites to beat Melbourne in the final round on form you would have been laughed at. But the Dragons ARE favourites but only because Storm coach Craig Bellamy has rested many of his star players. The Dragons would be long odds to win this game, especially without Ben Hunt (injured) and Corey Norman who has again been dropped. Euan Aiken has recovered from his hamstring issues and his return to the centres will be welcomed. The Dragons still have a quality pack with Paul Vaughan Cameron McInnes, Tyson Frizell and Tariq Sims off the bench against a very weakened Storm pack missing most of its leading players. How you pick this game beats me, maybe toss a coin.
Melbourne Storm – What should have been a walk in the park for Melbourne is a lottery given the host of changes made by coach Craig Bellamy in a move to give his gun players a week off before the finals. Rested are Cameron Smith, Jesse Bromwich, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Felise Kaufusi, Kenny Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona are rested from the pack. Brandon Smith will start at hooker with the returning Origin forward Christian Welch and Tui Kamikamica at prop, Tom Eisenhuth and Chris Lewis forming a new back row and Max King at lock. Darryn Schonig, Albert Vete and Aaron Pene join the bench. Melbourne’s backline will have to introduce themselves before the game. No Josh Addo-Carr, no Suliasi Vunivalu and first-choice halves Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes will sit out the game giving Ryley Jacks and Cooper Johns a chance to show their form. That’s a ton of experience sitting on the sidelines. This for me is a no-bet game and the NRL have to look at teams like Melbourne and Canberra putting out virtual reserve grade sides although it has been done before and there is nothing in the rules preventing it from happening.