Monday 11 December 2017 / 10:17 PM

NRL ROUND 15 PREVIEW

Rabbitohs v Titans  — 7.50pm (AEST), Friday, June 16  @ ANZ Stadium

The Storyline: Both teams sit at 4-9 hoping to make good on one last chance to take their season somewhere. A loss for either puts a pin in any glimmer of hope for 2017.

The Stat: 75.7 tackles per game. That’s what the Titans are looking to replace without Origin representatives Nathan Peats (41.3) and Jarrod Wallace (34.4). That may seem basic, but consider this: they are easily the Titans’ best defensive players, and are both in the front-row, exactly where the one-dimensional Rabbitohs try to initiate their attack. Someone is going to have to step up.

Its a big game for: In the absence of Kane Elgey, the Titans have landed on Chris McQueen at No.6, which means his halves partner is now the most important man on the park by a long stretch. The only regular member of the Titans spine available, Ash Taylor will need to be all over the park if this team is to have a chance – and his recent form has been below-par.

Last time they met: Adam Reynolds slotted a sideline conversion after the buzzer, before rookie Ash Taylor had the biggest moment of his young career, slotting a field goal in golden point to seal the 29-28 win in Perth

The Verdict: The Titans’ medical team has earned their salaries this season, and now with Wallace called up for his Origin debut, they’re as shorthanded as they’ve been all season. Souths pushed Brisbane for the whole 80 for the second time this year, showing they aren’t to be automatically dismissed, but once again their game-plan was as simplistic as they come. The Titans cracked the top eight last year by playing as a unit well above their talent collective, and they’ll need to summon all that hustle to have a shot at a much-needed win on Friday. I’ve been burned tipping the Titans for the upset on too many occasions to fall into that trap again, just don’t be surprised when they come out and shock the league yet again. A loss would represent a massive low-point for the Rabbits’ season. They can’t afford to let this slip. Rabbitohs 1-12

Storm v Cowboys — 5.30pm (AEST), Saturday, June 17 @ AAMI Park

The Storyline: Two teams decimated by Origin hoping to score an important win against a fellow contender.

The Stat: These teams faced one another three times last season, the average winning margin at just five points. These two are familiar and play each other close.

Its a big game for: Jesse Bromwich’s stocks have fallen significantly following his incident after the Anzac Test. With six regular starters unavailable, and their front-row rotation particularly short, the Storm will lean heavily on his leadership and go-forward to get the job done.

Bonus: Kane Linnett moves to the back-row following some poor form. On the surface it might seem as though this is a move motived by team balance, but at 28, clearly declining and proving unable to provide the necessary impact in the centres, Linnett may be playing for more than just his immediate spot.

Last time they met: Week one of the 2017 finals, the Storm were too strong for the Cowboys, outlasting them 16-10 in a cracking September game.

The Verdict: Why the NRL decided to put this game during a rep-influenced round is beyond me. It’s disappointing because this game would have been one of serious intrigue. That aside, the missing rep players make this an especially tough pick. Whilst the storm are missing three members of their spine and the Cowboys only two, the influence and dependence they have on the absentees is quite similar. The Storm get the nod here for two reasons — home advantage, and their outstanding machine-like system that seems to never stop humming. Backing Bellamy is never a bad reason, but it doesn’t make this one any easier. Should be tight, Storm 1-12

Sharks v Tigers — 7.30pm (AEST), Saturday, June 17 @ Southern Cross Group Stadium

The Storyline: Can the Tigers compete, even against a shorthanded Sharks outfit?

The Stat: Cronulla love to get into defensive battles and scrap out wins, and with their league-leading 36.9 missed tackles each week, the Tigers would be advised to avoid this type of a game.

Its a big game for: Paul Gallen was at his inspirational best in the last Origin-affected round, and with yet another important spine player missing for Origin, Cronulla need everything Gal has once again.

Last time they met: Round 9 this year, after falling behind early in the first-half, the Sharks powered home to overcome the deficit in a scare, 22-16 on the back of a late try for Chad Townsend.

The Verdict: Cronulla continue to fall into the trap of scrapping with teams to the final minutes (only three of their nine wins have come by more than six points) rather than blowing them out and finishing the job. Throw in the loss of some important structural pieces and potent strike weapons and there’s enough here to talk yourself into a Tigers upset. Issue is, the Tigers just aren’t that good – and Tedesco and Woods are missing. Cronulla will have to depend on their structures and scrap through on the back of their veterans. That should be enough to get past the lowly Tigers. Sharks 1-12

Eels v Dragons — 4pm, Sunday, June 18 @ ANZ Stadium

The Storyline: How much will the Dragons miss their Origin stars? Will the Dragons’ non-Dugan form continue? In the four games Dugan has missed this year, they’ve run 3-1 – their only loss coming against the reigning premiers – and averaged 25.25 points.

The Stat: The Dragons have struggled of late at ANZ Stadium, winning only two from their last eight, including a loss there last week to the Bulldogs.

Its a big game for: Eels linchpin Corey Norman is back from injury — last week wasn’t the best litmus test as their forwards were heavily outplayed by the Cowboys pack, but Mitchell Moses needs to start contributing to justify his place in the team. Moses has done little to prove he is better than Gutherson in attack and has been woeful in defence. The Eels have no margin for error and will be forced to consider changes if the average form continues. Not to mention Joel Thompson has a knack for racking up tries on weak edge defenders.

Last time they met: After flying high from their Round 1 drubbing of Penrith, the Dragons crashed back to earth whilst the Eels moved to 2-0 by putting the Saints to the sword 34-16, with Semi Radradra running in four tries.

The Verdict:  The Eels have been good, but uninspiring so far this season, meanwhile the Dragons have stuttered here and there, they’ve remained consistent in cementing their top-four spot. And whilst they are missing two key Origin players, the system they implement lends itself to managing without key players. To beat the Dragons, as shown in the disappointing outing against the Dogs, you need to shut down both their middle and edges with an elite, smothering defence — something Parramatta hasn’t produced often enough so far this season. If it wasn’t an Origin week, the Dragons would be strong favourites, and they haven’t struggled without their stars so far, so nothing suggests that should change. Dragons 1-12

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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