The playoff picture became slightly clearer as the top seven sides all won last week increasing the gap making life tough for those on the outskirts of the playoff positions, the Broncos losing was good for the chasing pack left in the hunt and they are team in the cross hairs. After Origin there was excitement the referees may cease the penalty crackdown but alas it was back to whistle city. Now the sin bin, more popular with the whistle blowers than KFC, has been given extended powers allowed to be dished out for foul play. It is refereeing Nirvana! I think the NRL needs to hold some sort of summit to sort this mess out a la Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. We need two powerful men with unique hairdo’s, that obviously eliminates Todd Greenberg, with at least one of them having a brain preferably a footballing one. I’m thinking Peter Beattie (Trump) and Gus Gould (representing the Hermit Kingdom shunned by the big wigs at League Central). Let’s make the NRL great again… before it turns to union!!!
Parramatta Eels v South Sydney Rabbitohs
The Rabbitohs have a full complement of players back on deck after resting their Origin stars and Anthony Seibold will be seeking a better performance than the scrappy victory over the Titans, their sixth in a row! The Eels won but don’t get carried away beating the Cowboys was really the NRL’s version of ‘Dumb and Dumber 2’, it was a low affair featuring some officiating of the same vein. What was promising for the Eels was they showed some grit missing from previous weeks and the excellent return from injury of the Hayne Plane! Jarryd Hayne looked motivated and he’ll be the one the Eels will turn to for inspiration to cause an upset along with the energy of Reed Mahoney who had a marvellous debut. Beating Souths requires bottling up the Burgess brothers which is not an easy task. Tom is in career best form while George will look to state his case for a starting spot in the Denver Test v NZ. Expect a bounce back factor in Sam Burgess’ game as he had an unhappy night against the Titans. If the Eels can’t stop the Rabbitohs go forward, boosted by the return of rested Angus Crichton, Damien Cook will skin the Eels and set up a platform for Adam Reynolds to orchestrate and Cody Walker to waltz through.
Rabbitohs by 16
North Queensland Cowboys v New Zealand Warriors
Just when you think the Cowboys have turned the corner and were ready for a belated charge at the playoffs they turn in a stinker against the cellar dwellers and you can officially write them off in my book, don’t get out the abacus, they’re gone trust me. The Warriors celebrated the return of Shaun Johnson by mauling Manly. This is a big game for the Warriors, entrenched in the top 8 they will head to NQ as favourites and be expected to perform and put the final nail in the Cowboys coffin. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck returns to complete an in form and frightening spine, with Issac Luke bursting out of dummy half and Shaun Johnson jinking and jiving feeding the ravenous hunger for tries of David Fusitu’a this is a side that can do a number on the Cowboys. If NQ show up with the same tired looking plays and ruck defence they’re in big trouble. Paul Green’s faith in this squad was rewarded last season but it’s killed the Cowboys in 2018. Paul Green must make changes and has dumping Antonio Winterstein for Javid Bowen and Justin O’Neill for (drum roll) Kane Linnett - Greenie you’re just shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic. Unless Jason Taumalolo pulls his personal whack-a-Warrior kit out from under his size XXXXL shorts it will be the Warriors dragging the two points back across the ditch.
Warriors by 4
Sydney Roosters v Penrith Panthers
This will be a great test for both sides neither at their best last week. As if the Panthers needed more to test their resilience Peter Wallace has succumbed to injury and retired effective immediately and Viliame Kikau is out two weeks with a knee injury. Anthony Griffin won’t be fazed the production line at the foot of the mountains is well stocked. It will fall to experienced old hands Trent Merrin and James Tamou to guide the young pack through this and the Panthers will be more than a handful for the Roosters big men who haven’t set the world on fire this season. Apart from Sio Suia Taukeiaho and Victor Radley, who both blast off the bench, no other forwards have consistently performed, and this shaky platform is one justification for the Roosters scratchy form. If the Roosters pack delivers then it’s the usual suspects Luke Keary, Latrell Mitchell and James Tedesco who can settle this clash of the claws. The halves battle is intriguing and the Roosters halves Keary and Cooper Cronk will delight in challenging the Blues Origin pair of James Maloney and Nathan Cleary. In an expected close contest, Maloney’s sharp shooting may be the difference, but I smell an upset, the Chooks to finally hit their straps spurred on by a gigantic home crowd (that’s counting limbs and assuming there are free lattes) and peck the Panthers in the eye.
Roosters by 4
Canterbury Bulldogs v Gold Coast Titans
Book the TV, tape your radio to your ear, lock the door and shut out the world, we’re going back to Belmore for what shapes as… the match no one other than diehards and tragics give a fig about. No that’s disrespectful, look both teams are goers but lacking in that one element that makes league truly the greatest game in the known universe – breathtaking attack!!! The Bulldogs are averaging out around two tries a game and that’s normally scored by sheer grit or pure luck, usually both. Kieran Foran’s rib injury leaves the Bulldogs with the leash caught around their legs on last tackle, they are lacking direction. The Titans meanwhile gave the Rabbitohs a good run for their money and it’s their hard men led by Ryan James doing the damage. James would love to get one over David Klemmer to show Blues selectors they chose the wrong bloke, the Klemminator’s demolition job on the Maroons would say otherwise. Unfortunately for the Titans, Jarrod Wallace is suspended placing his Maroon jersey in great jeopardy and make the Glitter Strip’s chances fade. The Titans still boast a strong pack including new Queensland Origin rep Jai Arrow, and if they fire Ash Taylor has the game nous lacking in the Bulldogs for the Titans to triumph but being at Belmore sways the game the Doggies way. Watch Moses Mbye go, every game could be his last in Bulldogs colours and his excellent form will continue and spark the Doggies back to winning ways.
Bulldogs by 2
St George Illawarra Dragons v Manly Sea Eagles
WIN Stadium in Wollongong hosts the back at the top Dragons (by 1 point on for and against) against the low flying Sea Eagles who are travelling so poorly they got confused with a Kiwi in Christchurch last weekend. To make matters worse, hooker Api Koroisau is out 8-10 weeks yet somehow Trent Barrett has refused to buckle on his Jackson Hastings banishment debuting 19-year-old Manase Fainu. Barrett would rather Manly run on the field with 12 and tell Cliffy Lyons in row Z to put his beer down, stamp out his E-ciggie and slap on a jersey rather than give Hastings a crack. The King would probably set up five tries just quietly. The Sea Eagles look forlorn as they went down with a whimper and a date with the Dragons is not ideal but they’re a chance. Manly has a talented team that, on their day, can beat anybody and the Dragons have slipped a notch the past couple of weeks, but that slide will end in the Gong. Mary McGregor will seek a dominant display from his pack giving Ben Hunt and Gareth Widdop time and space to unleash Matt Dufty and the excellent Nene Macdonald who is in sensational form this year. The Sea Eagles season is for all intents and purposes cooked, the Dragons with just this game before Origin II selection want the win to keep their perch at the top secure.
Dragons by 10
Cronulla Sharks v Brisbane Broncos
A very important match in the season’s context for not only these two sides but the sides clinging on to the top 8 by a thread. A Sharks win gains them some clear air, but a loss throws them back into the mix, while a Broncos win keeps them in the top 8 and the race for the yellow jersey and could put a four-point gap between them and the peloton, if the Raiders defeat the Tigers. The Sharks led by the evergreen Paul Gallen tamed the Tigers with a commanding win and it’s on the Shire’s big boppers to grind down the Broncos and buckle their hopes. Valentine Holmes is in brilliant form and if he is given a sniff he’ll go the length of the field hopefully chased by James Roberts, wouldn’t you love to see that race! Wayne Bennett’s boys were beaten but not broken by the Storm, they just wilted that final quarter. Josh McGuire, Matt Lodge and Tevita Pangai Jr will thrive on the challenge the Sharks hard nuts will pose, the game will be won in the furnace. Darius Boyd’s retirement from all rep footy frees him up from distracting Origin conjecture and with his focus solely on the Broncos he is a danger man, the Sharks outside backs better make good defensive decisions or they’ll get burned by Boyd’s brilliant pass selection but down in the Bermuda Triangle on a dank winter Saturday night it’s the Sharks by a fin margin.
Sharks by 1
Football World Cup: France v Australia
What a one-sided affair this looks on paper but as we all know anything can happen in a two-horse race. I’m not too familiar with the French side but apparently their attack is decent featuring some bloke called Pogba and a fella by the name of Antoine Griezmann who is a bit of a hot shot. Je suis desole for not quaking in our boots! We see your Griezmann and raise it with a Slater, an Inglis and a Latrell Mitchell!! And if that doesn’t work we’ll just send in the Klemminator to squish those frogs! For some bizarre reason this Test match is being played in Russia of all places, so I’m assuming there’ll be some interference leading to some creative officiating. Taking all that into account the skill of the Aussies will shine through. I predict Nathan Cleary to bring it home with a golden point field goal.
Australia by 1… what? Oh, it’s that football, so soccer… the Socceroos?!?! Merde!!!
Newcastle Knights v Melbourne Storm
With an injury list bigger than Craig Bellamy’s swear jar, the Newcastle Knights will be massive underdogs meeting the reigning premiers who looked like they turned a corner in the second half shellacking of the Broncos. The Storm were at their best dismantling the Broncos with Cameron Munster starring at five-eighth. He truly is a gun player and with two speeding bullets on either wing in Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasi Vunivalu to unload, the Storm have the weapons to wage one helluva war. The unlucky Jesse Bromwich is out for another month, but the Storm will cover that, it is their ball control that is their major issue. Fix the completions and Cameron Smith, fresh without Origin duties, will control matters. The Knights always compete, have great team spirit but the reliance on Kalyn Ponga is worrying when trying to upset the top end of town. They nearly got the Roosters which will give them lots of confidence and make no mistake they can get the Storm but need to do all the one percenters for the full 80. One slip and they’re gone but one slip is all the Melbourne Storm usually need, they sweat on opposition errors then hit full velocity and the game is over. Billy Slater is back joining Will Chambers and Curtis Scott returning from suspension, it’s an ominous looking side who will get tested but in the end school the Novocastrians.
Storm by 20
Wests Tigers v Canberra Raiders
This is for mine the match of the round over the Roosters and the Panthers due to pure desperation. The Tigers sit two points out of the top 8, the Raiders four points. A loss for either is not terminal but it makes life hard particularly for the Green Machine. Canberra suffered yet another heartbreaking loss against Penrith but until the Raiders learn how to close out games things will not change. The Raiders task just got a whole lot harder with news Jordan Rapana is out for 8 weeks after tearing his hamstring. Another capitulation here and the Raiders may tear a heartstring but in the nick of time returns Josh Hodgson!!! The influential Englishman is back and may as well run out with a cape such are the miracles the Raiders fans hope he can perform. The Tigers have injury worries themselves with Benji Marshall gone for 6 weeks with a calf injury otherwise known as old man’s complaint. The Grub, Josh Reynolds takes his place about 14 rounds later than expected and while he lacks the creativity of Marshall, he adds barrels of energy and enthusiasm. The Tigers have struggled to score points which isn’t normally a factor for the Raiders. Hodgson won’t be expected to run the show but his kicking game out of hooker adds another weapon to a jam packed attacking armoury and will give the Raiders the lift they need to get over the top of the Tigers.
Raiders by 6
NRL Round 14 Results
Panthers 23 Raiders 22; Rabbitohs 18 Titans 16; Warriors 34 Sea Eagles 14; Roosters 18 Knights 16; Eels 20 Cowboys 14; Sharks 24 Tigers 16; Storm 32 Broncos 16; Dragons 18 Bulldogs 16
1. Dragons 22
2. Panthers 22
3. Rabbitohs 20
4. Warriors 20
5. Storm 18
6. Roosters 18
7. Sharks 18
8. Broncos 16