Friday 15 December 2017 / 03:17 PM

NRL ROUND 14 PREVIEW

A cracking line-up of Round 14 clashes will have big ramifications for a mid-table logjam that sees just four points separating fourth and 12th on the NRL ladder, but the big game comes at the end of the round in the form of a top-four barnburner.

Brisbane Broncos v Canberra Raiders – 7.50pm (AEST), Thursday, June 9 @ Suncorp Stadium

The Storyline: The Broncos are entering slump territory with four losses in five games, while the exciting but nervy Raiders are striving to prove they’re a genuine finals threat. Makes for one of the most intriguing Thursday showdowns of the year – especially with the Broncos’ poaching of Raiders pair Anthony Milford and Tevita Pangai providing a fiery sidelight.

The Stat: Canberra has not won in Brisbane since 2010.

It’s a big game for: Ben Hunt hasn’t hit his straps since his grand final shocker, and his shonky kicking and last-tackle options are holding the Broncos back. A form turnaround by the No.7 shapes as the key to getting the heavyweights back on course.

The Verdict: If the Broncos serve up anything like they did against the Warriors or Tigers, the visitors are a big chance. But the home side has their full Origin contingent back, and the club usually responds well to getting a bake from the media. Expect the Broncos to prey on the Raiders’ penchant for self-destruction in a tight one. Broncos by 4

Wests Tigers v South Sydney Rabbitohs – 7.50pm (AEST), Friday, June 10 @ ANZ Stadium

The Storyline: The under-pressure Tigers upset the Rabbitohs just five weeks ago, but they’ve failed to build any tangible momentum since. Souths have improved dramatically after that sorry night, but they had their hearts broken in extra-time last week and are desperate for a win.

The Stat: Despite their cellar-dweller status – and Souths’ billing as one of the NRL’s powerhouses – the Tigers have managed to win three of the last five games between the clubs.

It’s a big game for: Straight back in the hunt for an Origin debut after a fine display on a losing side in his return from injury, James Tedesco can keep the pressure on the Blues selectors with a blistering display on Friday.

The Verdict: The Tigers just don’t have the forward grunt or 80-minute application to trouble quality sides who turn up to play. It’s crunch time for the Bunnies, so expect them to use this game to get on a mid-season roll. Rabbitohs by 12

Newcastle Knights v New Zealand Warriors – 3.00pm (AEST), Saturday, June 11 @ Hunter Stadium

The Storyline: The Warriors soared back into form last week – but who knows which version will turn up this weekend? The Knights, meanwhile, have mixed some plucky efforts with some landslide defeats.

The Stat: Manu Vatuvei has scored 18 tries in 18 games against the Knights – including 13 in the last 10.

It’s a big game for: Shaun Johnson must back up last week’s best-on-ground effort with another confident performance.

The Verdict: Do you trust the Warriors? Neither. But if they maintain last week’s strategy of playing what’s in front of them and backing that up with the same defensive steel they showed against the Broncos, the Knights could be on the wrong end of a cricket score. Warriors by 50

Parramatta Eels v Gold Coast Titans – 5.30pm (AEST), Saturday, June 11 @ TIO Stadium, Darwin

The Storyline: The NRL returns to the Top End with two teams on very different trajectories. For the Eels, it’s been one setback after another, while the in-form Titans are shaping as the unlikeliest finalist in years.

The Stat: Gold Coast have won five of their last six against Parramatta.

It’s a big game for: It’s been a rough time for Corey Norman, with his breakout year unravelling in the form of drugs charges which continue to hang over him. Putting all that aside and taking on boom Titans No.7 Ash Taylor will be a tall order.

The Verdict: Surely something has to give for the embattled Eels, and the season-ending injury suffered by Kieran Foran might just be it. The Titans are the real deal and have some genuine momentum at present – expect them to get up at the neutral venue. Titans by 10

Sydney Roosters v Melbourne Storm – 7.30pm (AEST), Saturday, June 11 @ Allianz Stadium

The Storyline: This would have been a bona fide blockbuster in any of the previous three seasons, but the Roosters are second-last while the Storm are in the title race up to their eyeballs.

The Stat: The Storm are conceding just 11.33 point per game in 2016 – easily the best in the NRL.

It’s a big game for: Jackson Hastings is playing for his future at the Roosters – or at least a beefed up contract with a rival – while Mitchell Pearce sits injured on the sidelines. Everyone is aware of the talent he possesses, but the would-be superstar faces a tough test against Cooper Cronk and the Storm.

The Verdict: The Storm are too clinical, too disciplined and too defensively sound to be troubled by an inexperienced, ragtag Roosters outfit. Storm by 16

Manly Sea Eagles v Penrith Panthers – 4.00pm (AEST), Sunday, June 12 @ Brookvale Oval

The Storyline: Two desperate teams go head to head on Sunday arvo, with big-spending Manly in grips of an injury crisis, dreadful form and match-fixing allegations, while the highly-touted young Panthers have hit the skids with back-to-back losses. Defeat for either team would be a blow to their finals chances.

The Stat: The Panthers have won four of their last five against the Sea Eagles – including two of their last three at Brookvale.

It’s a big game for: Dylan Walker finds himself back in the No.6 hot-seat following injuries to Jamie Lyon and Daly Cherry-Evans. Meanwhile, Bryce Cartwright has been pitched into the pivot role for Penrith, a move that could see him snatch Walker’s tenuous bench spot in the NSW side.

The Verdict: Confidence is lacking at Manly, and direction will be, too, without Lyon and DCE. Expect the rejigged Panthers to arrive at Brookie ready to play, with the likes of Moylan, Cartwright, Merrin and Mansour spearheading a high-octance performance. Panthers by 8

St George Illawarra Dragons v Canterbury Bulldogs – 4.00pm (AEST), Monday, June 13 @ ANZ Stadium

The Storyline: Two clubs that appear to be treading water in 2016, unable to get a roll on results- or form-wise. Both would dearly love the two points on offer here.

The Stat: The Bulldogs have won seven of their last eight against the Dragons.

It’s a big game for: Tyson Frizell was included in the Blues’ original 19-man squad for Origin I, but he has a challenge on his hands from Wade Graham, Bryce Cartwright, Paul Vaughan and Ryan James to grab the spot vacated by injured second-rower Boyd Cordner for Game 2.

The Verdict: It’s hard to tip either of these teams against anyone with confidence, but the Dragons have the worst attacking stats in the NRL, and without Josh Dugan’s strike they will continue to struggle. Bulldogs by 13

Cronulla Sharks v North Queensland Cowboys – 7.00pm (AEST), Monday, June 13 @ Southern Cross Group Stadium

The Storyline: An out-and-out blockbuster as the Sharks put their nine-match winning streak on the line against the defending premiers.

The Stat: The Sharks have won all six of their home games in 2016; the Cowboys have won 14 of their last 17 games interstate.

It’s a big game for: Whether they know their selection fate before kick-off or not, it will be a test for Cronulla’s NSW hopefuls Jack Bird and Wade Graham to keep their minds on the job.

The Verdict: Cronulla is undoubtedly a genuine contender for the title, but North Queensland remains the team to beat. Despite the Cowboys’ fine record on the road, it’s the Sharks’ daunting home streak that tips the scales here. No one likes going down to the Shire on Monday night, and the Sharks will be fired up to add another impressive scalp to their collection. Sharks by 2

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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