STORM V KNIGHTS — Friday 2 June, 6pm @ AAMI Park
The Storyline: David vs Goliath. Two teams at opposite ends of the ladder meet as the 1st placed Melbourne Storm, the premier team in the competition, come against 16th placed Newcastle, mid-way through a tear-down rebuild in what many assume will be a blowout affair.
The Stat:The Knights have a promising ability to play up against the top competition, with Melbourne’s last two wins coming by only four points. That alone should give a feisty Knights team, who are a much improved version of last years outfit, belief that they can hang with the best.
It’s a big game for:If you thought Billy Slater’s Origin career may have written it’s last chapter, game 1’s drubbing had pundits calling for his reinstatement immediately. Should get plenty of clean ball against a vulnerable Newcastle defence. Vintage performance on the cards.
Last time they met:Newcastle at home, mid there massive loosing streak, frustrated the Storm into uncharacteristic errors and pushed them to their limits, Melbourne scrapping out a 20-16 victory in uncomfortable fashion.
The Verdict:There’s always the threat of the Origin players being rested, which may even the balance slightly, but even then, it’s hard to see Bellamy’s men not capitalising on easy points to push their lead at the top further. The return of Bromwich is a welcome one, and the big man has plenty to prove following his indiscretions. The Knight’s have proven they shouldn’t be dismissed as easy beats, but Melbourne are too clinical, and Newcastle too raw. Storm 13+
EELS V WARRIORS — Friday 2 June, 7.50pm @ ANZ Stadium
The Storyline: Can either of these teams string consecutive wins together? The Eels have been two steps forward, two steps back all season, struggling to recapture their defensive identity whilst injuries have limited their attack. The Warrior’s inconsistent ways need no introduction…
The Stat:The Warriors are 0-5 on away games this season, tallying an average 14 points a game.
It’s a big game for:Shaun Johnson had his busiest game of the season (a line-break, line-break assist and 15 runs for 131m), finally afforded the platform to operate as his forwards dominated the depleted Broncos. He may not be afforded the same space this week, but he needs to start putting together strong performances when his team isn’t on the front foot. With the game shaping to be close, his brilliance might be called upon.
Last time they met:Round 6 this year, where the Warriors took care of business to secure their first (and only) consecutive wins of the year.
The Verdict:This feels all too familiar, the Warriors fresh off a convincing win looking to turn their season around with a run during the Origin period. The Eels attack lacks punch or finesse without Corey Norman, and whilst Moses has helped somewhat, he isn’t a halfback, and the beginners luck is sure to wear off soon. The Eels forwards showed last week how well they can handle a big pack, and it’s just so damn hard to tip the Warriors away from home. Neither team makes a convincing case, and the Warriors could show up and blow this game wide open, when you think thats on the cards… Eels 1-12
DRAGONS V TIGERS — Saturday 3 June, 3pm @ ANZ Stadium
The Storyline: Can the Dragons keep touch with the contending group or can the Tigers avoid joining the wooden-spoon conversation?
The Stat:The Tigers weak defence is highlighted by the 37 missed tackles per game, the highest mark in the league. The Dragons are the stingiest in the competition, averaging 13 less. Nicely illustrates the difference between the two.
It’s a big game for:James Tedesco was incredible in his first competitive Origin, but his performances at club level have been impassive. Needs to fire for Wests to have a shot.
Last time they met:Round 5, with the Dragons at the height of their early season form thumping a poor Tigers outfit 28-6.
The Verdict:The Dragons recent form “slump” has been hugely overstated — losing to the two reigning grand finalists without your two best players is nothing to worry about, and they proved they were able to handle the poor teams, dismantling the Warriors with ease. Great chance to get back on track. Dragons 13+
ROOSTERS V BRONCOS — Saturday 3 June, 5.30pm @ Allianz Stadium
The Storyline: Top four spot on the line as two contending teams attempt to keep in touch with Melbourne who currently sit four points clear.
The Stat:These teams are so evenly matched, both breaking around 32 tackles a game. With clinical finishing on both sides, whoever wins that battle will be in the drivers seat.
It’s a big game for:Andrew McCullough and Jake Friend are two of the most integral, yet perennially underrated contributors on contending teams. Being such similar players in such similar roles, whoever has the bigger game will give their team a real edge.
Last time they met:After a tight first half, the Broncos shook loose and ran rampant, blowing out the Roosters 32-8 in round 6.
The Verdict:Should be one of the tightest games of the round, with the teams close on the ladder and in talent. The amount of returning Origin players throws a curveball toward prediction, and both are expected to be without their Origin half (Pearce, Milford). Coin toss, but with Brisbane depending on too many players to return and travelling away from home, the edge is with the chooks. Roosters 1-12
COWBOYS V TITANS — Saturday 3 June, 7.30pm @ 1300 SMILES Stadium
The Storyline: The effects of injury. The Cowboys are clinging to life without Thurston as they struggle for consistency while the Titans are clearly on the upswing as they finally get back to full health.
The Stat:The Cowboys are in the bottom tier of line-breaks per game with 3.6. Noteworthy, as the Titans give away the most line-breaks of anyone in the league. If the Cowboys are to get the job done, they need to beat their average mark by a few.
It’s a big game for:This is beating a dead horse, but the Cowboys really need Michael Morgan to stand up again if they hope to generate enough points to win. Was ineffective in his Origin minutes, so should be fired up.
Last time they met:The Cowboys got the best of the Titans in a 32-26 try-fest, Coen Hess starring in his breakout game with two hulking tries.
The Verdict:All of the Titans flaws are areas in which the Cowboys struggle. Maybe it’s just a feeling, but these seem to be two teams intersecting at a point which separates good and bad. The Cowboys have been uninspiring all year, and doubled down on that once JT went down, whilst the Titans have slowly gained momentum as they’ve added players. North Queensland might struggle to match the Titans for points, so we’ll go for the upset in a high-scoring affair. Titans 1-12
SEA EAGLES V RAIDERS — Sunday 4 June, 2pm @ Lottoland
The Storyline: Two teams with strong attacking capabilities who have struggled for consistency.
The Stat:Manly have generated plenty of quality ball through their second phase play, averaging 12 offloads a game. If Canberra can keep that number to a minimum, they’ll restrict their biggest source of momentum.
It’s a big game for:The Canberra centre pairing has to be on song, Manly’s three-quarter’s performances are always a barometer of their dominance. Jarrod Croker has an opportunity to flash his improved defensive chops against an in-form Dylan Walker.
Last time they met:The clash in Round 8 provided an early candidate for game of the year, a back-and-forth thriller putting both offences on display, with plenty of feeling between the teams. Dylan Walker was the villain that night, and had the last laugh with a golden point penalty goal to steal the game away from home, 20-18.
The Verdict:Manly have quietly put together a near elite-attack, but Canberra are the real deal. After taking care of business last week, the Raiders have to put the foot down and start climbing the ladder. Manly are in the way, and that should be enough motivation to start firing. When the Eagles fall behind, they have tendency to fall out of the contest fast — only one of their losses has been within a try, and that was after being down 24. The Raiders can get red hot, the time is now. Canberra 13+
BULLDOGS V PANTHERS — Sunday 4 June, 4pm @ ANZ Stadium
The Storyline: The weight of expectation. Penrith pre-season hype has transferred to slight disappointment, but mostly has left everyone waiting for their turnaround. On the flip side, Canterbury have been solid but mostly unimpressive amassing their 5-7 record.
The Stat:Dylan Edwards averaged 175 meters in his two games earlier this season. With him given a chance to stake his claim for the fullback jersey long-term, he needs to have a statement game. The Panthers need his running from the back to get their sets moving forward. If he can beat that number, the Panthers will be in a position to win this game.
It’s a big game for:It’s unfair to expect him to be the most important player on the field (that undoubtedly is Matt Moylan), but it’s great to see the sauce return. Penrith need an injection of energy to rejuvenate their team, last year it was Moylan’s return that caused their turnaround, and they’ll be hoping this can play a similar role. Mansour had a breakout year last season, and we’re rooting for him to get back to his best, fast.
Last time they met:The elimination final saw the Panthers carve the Dogs apart, ending their season with an emphatic 28-12 routing.
This could really be anything. The Panthers ad-lib attack will have to overcome a stout Bulldogs defence to get going. The long-awaited move of Moylan to no.6 will be a massive factor, as the Panthers have very little time to waste to turn this season around. The urgency is clear, and the Bulldogs haven’t showed anything to suggest they’ve got the points to keep up. Panthers 1-12