A wishbone, an Eel slipping the cops, upsets galore and a shock rep retirement, we had everything bar a partridge in a pear tree, strange to the casual observer but to the rusted on just another week in the glorious crazy kaleidoscope that is the NRL. The field is bunching as we head into Round 11 and with Origin on the horizon there are a couple of important weeks to gather some precious points before the annual state rivalry interferes and takes its toll. The Dragons benchmark status lasted one week their aura ambushed by traditional rivals the rising Rabbitohs, the injury decimated Panthers continue to show courage and class and the Roosters returned serve on the Warriors in the first signs they might be getting their game on. The cellar now has a lone dweller as the Eels are now stone motherless last and are the first side I’m calling out of contention.
Penrith Panthers v Wests Tigers
What a battle we have at the foot of the mountains to get Round 11 cracking. The Panthers are purring with James Maloney running the show and meet a Tigers team back on track after the fired-up Mahe Fonua with the Mad Max mullet inspired an emotional return to the winner’s circle at their spiritual home of Leichhardt. Fonua just found out how tough coach Ivan Cleary is, despite a man of the match performance he’s been dropped for turning up late to training!! No wonder Nathan Cleary is so well mannered and punctual. Speaking of the young champ, get excited Panthers fans, get excited NSW fans, Cleary comes back just in time to give Freddy Fittler a good look at the young general and timed to perfection to take on his dad. With Nathan still living at home, Ivan will look to gain advantage, shortsheeting Nathan’s bed, putting salt in the sugar jar and taking his iPhone off him. The issue is will Nathan Cleary upset the applecart? Maloney has thrived in taking the reins, will Cleary take a back seat and assist, slot back in without skipping a beat or take control and mess the winning mojo? The Tigers will hope it’s the latter and are a big chance for this very reason. The Tigers will play their usual all effort style and tackle themselves to a standstill. I get knackered just watching the Tigers. Luke Brooks will love matching up against the potential Blues Origin halves and is having some season. Keep ya peepers on Esan Marsters and my man, The Peach, Tyrone Peachey who are two individuals who could turn this game in a heartbeat, they are pure footballers but the halves and backs can only perform if the forwards do their job and the decisive battle is Reagan Campbell-Gillard up against Russell Packer, RCG should be a Blues cert and a points victory over the Pack will not only send the two points Penrith’s way but confirm his place in Game 1 in Melbourne.
Panthers by 7
Parramatta Eels v New Zealand Warriors
Can you hear that echo? That’s the sound of the Eels wailing from the bottom of the NRL well. The flops of 2018 the predicted top four spot is long gone and a finals place pure fantasy. They take on a Warriors side embarrassed at home by the Roosters and seeking a scalp to take back across the ditch. You could say this is a crunch clash for Parramatta but every match from here on must be at finals intensity as to make the playoffs the Eels can only lose probably three more games at most, there’s more chance of Sterlo sporting a 6-inch afro in the commentary box. We’ll find out this Friday whether they think they can perform miracles. The Eels need to blast out of the blocks faster than Kenny Edwards fleeing the fuzz, if they don’t - call a priest. Parramatta better show some pride as the Warriors will be fired up to bounce back. After a brilliant start to their year last week was a shock, the Warriors got owned by the Roosters pack, expect some Kiwi carnage in response.
Shaun Johnson remains sidelined, but Issac Luke returns which immediately gives the side punch out of dummy half and brings confidence to the players who got their pride bruised last week. It’s on the forwards to stand up and look to Adam Blair and Tohu Harris to set the tone early and halves Mason Lino and Blake Green to regain control and composure. The Warriors form has tapered and slipped back into an inconsistent mode so if they want to make the top four they need to fight for it and it begins this Friday. The Eels should be prepared to shower the Warriors with fireworks but look about as bright as a sparkler in a down pour, maybe Brad Arthur needs to blow his fuse to force a power packed performance from his men.
Warriors by 8
Brisbane Broncos v Sydney Roosters
A very important match for the Broncos, they are sitting just out of the top eight, in fact no Queensland sides are in the eight! That is not acceptable north of the border and especially at Red Hill. The Broncos were outmuscled by Manly and run into a Tricolours team who smashed the Warriors and a repeat will make life extremely difficult for Bennett’s boys. The big question is, have the Roosters turned a corner or will their up and down season continue? The forwards flattened the Kiwis with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Dylan Napa playing their own game of Whack-a-Warrior and that was without the Roosters ram raider, Victor Radley, who is back adding more punch to the Chook pen. Back it up will be the mantra as the Chooks showed what they can do when the pack produce. If Cooper Cronk and Luke Keary get time they will unleash some heavy-duty strike power in Latrell Mitchell and James Tedesco, Teddy knows he has two games to show Blues selectors he’s their man. The Broncos have injury issues with Jack Bird, Alex Glenn and Payne Haas out but never fear the super coach will have his hamster on the wheel racking up frequent flyer points as he plots a backs to the wall victory. Wayne Bennett is the best button pusher in rugby league and he’ll have his Broncos desire dial ramped right up, Matt Lodge and Tevita Pangai Junior will bring it and expect Sam Thaiday to wind the clock back and set his sights on JWH. The Broncos halves are a mixed bag but as they showed last week Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima can find four points out of thin air and if James Roberts gets good early ball that’s all the Chooks will grab at. Roberts clash with Latrell Mitchell is deadly, both are game breakers and could decide one of the Blues centre spots and this clash. The Roosters bench is far stronger and that sways this game.
Roosters by 10
Gold Coast Titans v Newcastle Knights
The Titans are on the kind of streak you hide like a dirty secret, five losses in a row since the Gold Coast triumphed over Manly in the now infamous Gladstone trip. The Titans have now tumbled to 15th on the ladder but there were encouraging signs against the Storm. Debutant five-eighth AJ Brimson showed spark while fellow rookie Mo Fotuaika continues to impress off the bench. In great news Jai Arrow and Nathan Peats are back and man do the Titans need them. Bryce Cartwright is hogging all the headlines unfortunately for the wrong reasons. Garth Brennan tried to keep the faith, but Cartwright’s mind doesn’t seem in the game his failure to even attempt a tackle on Cameron Munster highlighting his head space. Cartwright has been dropped obviously down on confidence. When ready to return Carty needs to pocket the party tricks and only think run, if he thinks again, think run. Like Forrest Gump, Bryce just run! If life is like a box of chocolates the Titans are the Turkish Delight of the NRL, not everyone’s favourite and left down the bottom eaten last. The Knights while competitive against the Panthers never really threatened an upset but they’ll see this game as a must win if they have playoff ambitions. Sitting with a 5 and 5 record Newcastle need to win games like this. The danger man is the usual suspect Kalyn Ponga and if the Titans can’t shut Ponga down he’ll be harder to catch than Keyser Soze. Mitch Barnett is hitting form and his offloading opens space for Ponga and halves Connor Watson and Brock Lamb to shine, if they do it’s the Knights that will make the Gold Coast glitter and its goodnight Irene to the Titans season. A tough one to call as Ponga could win this on his own but it’s an upset for mine, I like the tough Titans pack and playing behind that Ash Taylor to boss the game and bring it home.
Titans by 1
North Queensland Cowboys v South Sydney Rabbitohs
Townsville we have a problem! After a demoralising defeat to the Tigers amid the Scott Bolton drama and two weeks on the road the Cowboys will welcome coming home, but they run into a rampaging Rabbitohs fresh from knocking off the ladder leading Dragons. NQ look flat, slow, out of ideas and more tired and old than my dad jokes. It’s like the Cowboys hung their hat on making the GF last year and put the boots in the locker. Paul Green and his men seem unwilling to change their ways the Cowboys are at a fork in the road, something has gotta give! The season is slip sliding away and another loss could see Jonathan Thurston’s final year turn into a four-month funeral procession rather than the coronation predicted in preseason. If Green won’t change personnel than the game plan must, throw caution to the wind, ad-lib, toss the rigid structure out the window, go the squirrel grip… just try something bloody different!!! In contrast the Rabbitohs have found their rhythm and are smoking off the back of the platform set by the battering runs of the three Burgess boys. They gave mum Julie the best Mother’s Day present starring in the slaying of the Saints. From this momentum Damien Cook is carving it up so the NQ ruck better be tighter than a cowboy’s mouth talking in a dust storm. Cook is firming for a Blues Origin spot off the bench sharing the role with Cam McInnes and if he unleashes on the Cowboys he will leave their title hopes in tatters. Jason Taumalolo’s clash against Sam Burgess is highly anticipated, both are in excellent game breaking form, but I’ll tip Big Sam to slam the boulder with shoulders sending the two points south of the border and the Cowboys spiralling their season branded a failure.
Rabbitohs by 6
Melbourne Storm v Manly Sea Eagles
This could be the match of the round, a desperate Manly have suddenly found form and take on the Storm minus skipper Cameron Smith suspended for treating Kevin Proctor’s leg like it was a delicious chicken limb of a Sunday roast. Brandon Smith will deputise and he’s a great in the making but isn’t Cam Smith, so we’re not only down one referee but the Storm lose their general and pace setter, the rhythm of their play all feeds off Smith controlling the ruck. Remember the last time Smith was suspended against Manly, 2008 GF and a record 40-0 loss. Smith has just dropped a huge bombshell retiring from Origin and rep footy effective immediately!!! Looks like Father Time is tapping him on the shoulder, Craig Bellamy won’t be too upset, the Storm’s back to back title attack odds just shortened. In Smith’s absence expect Cameron Munster and Billy Slater to step into the breach, Slater’s involvement will triple.
The Sea Eagles turned the corner against the Roosters and finally took flight in belting the Broncos. Marty Taupau is setting a brilliant platform but the key man though is Jake Trbojevic who is leading from the front racking up ridiculous numbers running, ball playing and scoring tries. If he isn’t a lock for the Blues starting line-up then in Geoff Toovey’s famous words “there’s gotta be an investigation into this!” The Storm must stop Manly’s second phase play and here is the where the battle will be won, Dale Finucane had a ripper of a game taming the Titans and his endless work in the ruck is crucial. Dylan Walker is thriving being closer to the ball and he along with Daly Cherry-Evans are feeding the Sea Eagles attack which has plenty of points in them. New signing Trent Hodkinson joins the bench helping the halves adding composure and experience. There have been some great battles between these two sides over the past decade and this will be no different, big hits up front, brilliant pace on both flanks and some awesome matchups, Slater v Tom Trbojevic the star attraction for mine. The Storm without Cam Smith will struggle just enough for the Sea Eagles to swoop, Manly to make it two on the trot.
Sea Eagles by 2
St George Illawarra Dragons v Canberra Raiders
Bush footy takes centre stage again as these two last start losers clash in the beautiful postcard scenery in wine country, Mudgee. Shoulda woulda coulda, 2018 for the Green Machine is starting to resemble 2017, second verse same as the first. A season pock marked by close losses and last week against the Sharks the Raiders failed again to ice the game down the stretch snatching a loss from the jaws of victory. The Dragons looked off last week the Storm game taking its toll and the Raiders better prepare for the backlash. The much-vaunted Red V pack was belted by the Bunnies, and with their pride dented they will be out to bash the Green Machine, have the panel beaters on speed dial. The Raiders ruck was exposed in the final 20 minutes against Cronulla and Cam McInnes and Matt Dufty will look to repeat the dose that doused the Raiders. Both sets of halves will want to bounce back after games to forget, the Dragons Ben Hunt was hampered by a cork and he’ll look to reignite his champion combo with Gareth Widdop and produce a vintage display. Aidan Sezer had a shocker losing control when it mattered and he’ll hopefully rise to the challenge of lining up against the NRL’s form pairing. Blake Austin has made a remarkable recovery and will play, his rampaging running game will need to be at its best if the Raiders are to salute. The Raiders back row is formidable, but Elliott Whitehead, Joe Tapine and Josh Papalii meet their St George opponents fired up after being busted by the Burgess brothers and are seeking to make a statement with Origin selection imminent. Canberra are dangerous but error-prone, can they match the quality and desire of the Dragons? Glen Willow Oval where the local Mudgee Dragons ply their trade will be packed to the rafters watching some enterprising and uncompromising footy and in the end cheering their home their NRL brethren.
Dragons by 12
Cronulla Sharks v Canterbury Bulldogs
Both sides are coming off good wins, the Sharks continued their impressive run in Canberra while the Bulldogs kept their faint finals hopes flickering with a gutsy win, though let’s be honest it wasn’t a grand final preview they prevailed in the NRL version of Dumb and Dumber, Clint Gutherson playing Lloyd Christmas gifting the Dogs the win. Cronulla are hitting their straps despite missing a host of top line troops but get Paul Gallen back this week, just in time to battle David Klemmer! I think the Sharks wrecking ball Andrew Fifita might want in on that royal rumble, tap in! Matt Moylan after a shaky start is beginning to find his feet in the Shire and looked better and better as the Raiders game wore on, he might be ready to explode. The men to watch though, apart from the rampaging Fifita who has been tremendous taking the lead role with so many stars out, are James Segeyaro off the bench splitting through the large frame fatigued Dogs forwards and Valentine Holmes who is in scintillating form and has made the number one jersey his. Val looks at home and has stated his case to remain when Josh Dugan returns, sorry Duges its off to the back blocks of the three-quarters dude. Holmes opposite Moses Mbye continues to shine for the Bulldogs but the key as always is their powerful pack. The Dogs might be down the table but their effort is second to none and defence is top notch, if they can just find a way to unleash some better attack they could nab this one. Kieran Foran’s deft touches and kicking could steal it if he finds his golden boot. Both sides play tough, this will be a grind. For mine the Sharks look like a side ready to sail up the ladder and led by Fifita’s monster metres, Chad Townshend at the helm and Val Holmes pace, its full speed ahead and finals ahoy!
Sharks by 8
NRL Round 10 Results
Tigers 20 Cowboys 12; Panthers 29 Knights 18; Bulldogs 20 Eels 12; Roosters 32 Warriors 0; Storm 28 Titans 14; Sea Eagles 38 Broncos 24; Rabbitohs 24 Dragons 10; Sharks 24 Raiders 16
1. Dragons 16
2. Panthers 14
3. Warriors 14
4. Storm 12
5. Rabbitohs 12
6. Roosters 12
7. Tigers 12
8. Sharks 12