WARRIORS V BULLDOGS — 6pm (AEST), Friday, 23 June @ Mt Smart Stadium
The Storyline: Two of this season’s most frustrating teams, both sitting at 6-8 with form guides as perplexing as some of their on-field strategies.
The Stat: The Bulldogs’ attack is dreadful, but their defence has quietly been really good. Here’s the equation — they average the least points in the league (13.9) and a shade under three tries a game. If the Warriors, who average 19.6ppg, can score 4+ tries, the Dogs won’t have the points to compete.
It’s a big game for: After a heavy dose of criticism early in the year, the Bulldogs’ spine has escaped some of the blame as their excellent defence has held them afloat, but they’ve continued to disappoint. We’ll see if Josh Reynolds’ return can make any impact.
Last time they met: The Dogs took care of business in Round 4, scrapping out a 24-12 win in a dour Dunedin affair.
The Verdict: You’re forgiven if you have no idea what to do. Here’s my best shot — the Warriors have two modes: wall-to-wall attack, which the Bulldogs can defend and will lead to errors, or their conservative structure approach, which generates no points whatsoever. The quality the Dogs have flashed in defence should be enough to throw the Warriors momentum, and they’ll give away field position from there. Their third secret mode, where everything comes together and they blitz the other team out of the country, is always lurking in the background, it’s just getting hard to believe in. Dogs should prove a level above, but still hard to see them having a ton of points in them. Bulldogs 1-12
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) June 22, 2017
TIGERS V TITANS — 7.50pm (AEST), Friday, 23 June @ Campbelltown Stadium
The Storyline: Battle of the bottom. If the Titans want to avoid falling into the race for the spoon, they need to take care of business.
The Stat: Both of these teams are bad defensively, conceding the second- and third-most tries, respectively. The difference? The Titans score the third-most (3.9), whilst the Tigers sit dead least (2.4). Don’t expect a low score.
It’s a big game for: The Hayne Plane came crashing down in Game 2, some mindless play contributing to the poor second half that cost the Blues. Has yet to have an honest good game this season. Skating by on reputation, which is ironic, considering…
Last time they met: Campbelltown’s prodigal son returned home to slot a field goal with eight seconds on the clock and take ownership of the land. And thus, it was “his house”.
The Verdict: The Titans’ injury toll has completely decimated their season, so that they’re standing near the bottom of the ladder is somewhat defendable. That doesn’t detract from the very average play that has gone on from whoever is available. In saying that, they’ve managed to add a fair amount of their regular team back in the fold, and that should prove too much to handle for the toothless Tigers. Titans 13+
— CommentaryBoxSports (@Comm_Box_Sports) June 22, 2017
COWBOYS V PANTHERS — 3pm (AEST), Saturday, 24 June @ 1300SMILES Stadium
The Storyline: Is the Panthers’ form turnaround legit? After their heavily documented early-season struggles, the Panthers have finally strung some wins together; they’re aiming for five straight when they take on a Thurston-less Cowboys.
The Stat: Penrith need to win the battle of the middle. There is a measly one-metre difference between the two teams’ running averages, but the Panthers are far superior in generating second-phase and capitalising on momentum, and far superior in line-breaks (4.6 to 3.9), offloads 11.8-5.8) and tackle busts (34.7 – 32.8). If these numbers are up, the pendulum swings.
It’s a big game for: Matt Moylan has been terrific since moving to the halves, but he hasn’t strayed too far from his regular role to change his already immense impact on the game. If Penrith are to get the most out of their talent, Nathan Cleary needs to stand up. Not quite ‘second-year syndrome’ bad but closer to a rookie hangover. If their new halves both fire, they will be a hard team to stop.
Last time they met: I’ll never forget this one. I was on the Cowboys with the -3.5 line. Coote slotted a field goal to put the Cowboys up by with four minutes to go. The buzzer sounds, and when all hope was lost, Justin O’Neil burst through on the final play, sending Feldt over for an unlikely try and completing one of the great betting robberies I’ll ever have the pleasure of partaking in.
The Verdict: The Morgan-led Cowboys can only hold up so long. Taumalolo has shown he is willing to stand up and has lifted his game to another level in the past few weeks, and could run riot through the Panthers’ pack. Still the equation seems to be simple. No Thurston, and the chance of victory seems to half. The Panthers need to grab this chance to solidify their form with both hands. Too much firepower. Panthers 13+
— NQ Cowboys (@nthqldcowboys) June 22, 2017
RAIDERS V BRONCOS — 5.30pm (AEST) Saturday 24 June @ GIO Stadium
The Storyline: Yet another immense matchup to see whether or not the Raiders are serious. The Broncos are a bona fide top-four threat – but they’re battling injury problems, so how they and Canberra match up will be of particular interest for both sides.
The Stat: Although they possess a solid defence, Brisbane miss quite a few tackles, 32.6 representing the fourth-highest mark. Conversely, Canberra break the most tackles, a whopping 40.6 a game. Will be a key stat in deciding the outcome.
It’s a big game for: Canberra’s halves are slowly drawing criticism for their underwhelming displays. They continue to be pedestrian when they’re needed most, and the Raiders have suffered tight losses in consecutive weeks, in part due to this problem. Time to stand up.
Last time they met: Round 4, it took a Jordan Kahu field goal – an insanely impressive switch-hit off his left boot – to split them, Brisbane escaping with the narrow 13-12 victory.
The Verdict: This should be a cracker, particularly if Brisbane play at their regular pace and challenge the Raiders to lift. These teams usually bring the best out of each other, and as inconsistent as they’ve been, the Raiders’ best feels like it’s on the horizon. No Milford or Boyd and additional Origin fatigue make Canberra a real chance. Chance for a statement game in an upset. Raiders 1-12
Darius Boyd has broken his thumb pic.twitter.com/KBDA1mOaGv
— Broncos Weekly (@broncosweekly) June 22, 2017
ROOSTERS V STORM — 7.30pm (AEST), Saturday, 24 June @ Adelaide Oval
The Storyline: Can the Storm machine keep moving along? Another tough game against a fellow contender during the Origin period — but the Storm remain basically unchallenged as the league’s benchmark. The resting of their Queensland stars changes the complexion of this one, though.
The Stat: Elite across the park, both top-four in defence and attack. Most notably, it’s the best defence (15.1 ppg) against the most potent attack in the league, but surprisingly Melbourne have edged ahead in average points, ranked first with 22.8 to the Roosters 22.1. Yep, the best defence and averaging the most points — that pretty much sums it up their dominance.
It’s a big game for: Felise Kaufusi is gaining steam. More people are starting to take notice following some standout performances in recent times. Consistency is what separates a string of good games from the elite tier. Chance to put his name on the map.
Last time they met: Melbourne regained pole position with an emphatic 26-10 win in round 20.
The Verdict: Another tough pick. If anyone was to trouble this Storm’s D, the Roosters top the list. But the Storm have the defensive capabilities to shut down the Roosters, both in the danger zone and denying them field position in the middle. Their work without the ball gives them the slight advantage. Should be tight, Melbourne 1-12
— Melbourne Storm (@storm) June 22, 2017
DRAGONS V KNIGHTS — 2pm (AEST), Sunday, 25 June @ UOW Jubilee Oval
The Storyline: Can the Dragons bounce back? Their cracking form to start the season has slowly tailed off in the last month, capped with two lifeless displays in the last fortnight. Need a big win to rejuvenate the energy, so who better to be playing than the Knights!
The Stat: The Dragons have had the Knights’ number in recent times, winning eight of the last nine and currently riding a four-game win streak
It’s a big game for: Josh McCrone was never going to blow anyone away as a halfback placeholder, yet his early-season form did inspire some hope. He has regressed drastically and his last two weeks have been his worst — culminating in ‘Mary’ hooking him down the stretch last game. Important he turns his form around if the Dragons are to do the same.
Last time they met: Round 26, a controversial Widdop penalty goal stole a heartbreaking victory to end the Knights’ historically bad season in the most painfully apt fashion possible, 28-26.
The Verdict: If the Knights were to ever care about form, this is it. Their wooden spoon grand final against the Tigers is next week, and a win against the stumbling Dragons would help prop them up to level points with the chance to get off the bottom of the ladder. Unfortunately, that remains a dream rather than a goal. The Dragons have lucked out by drawing the Knights in the middle of their slump, with a chance to reignite their middling attack and find their rhythm once again. The Dragons have struggled to put even average teams away once they build a lead, a staple of contending teams, so they’ll need to prove they can do that this week. The Knights will be there to cash in if they don’t. Dragons 13+
— Newcastle Knights (@NRLKnights) June 22, 2017
SHARKS V SEA EAGLES — 4pm (AEST), Sunday, 25 June @ Southern Cross Group Stadium
The Storyline: Great litmus test for both teams. Manly have hovered between the contending group and the chase for the eight without firmly staking their claim for either, whilst the Sharks continue to prefer grinding every game out for 80 minutes.
The Stat: Let’s characterise the Sharks’ current form — victors in five of their last six, but all have come within the six-point margin, hardly comfortable. If they pull that stunt against Manly they’re running a big risk — Manly are 4-1 in games decided by six points or less, including their last two wins.
It’s a big game for: Origin influence — Jake Trbojevic was fantastic for the Blues on a losing side, and his battle with Gallen will one of the most important factors in deciding the outcome. Expect him to carry his rep experience and form back to club-land. On the flipside, Wade Graham needs to reverse his poor showing from Wednesday night and will be out for vengeance.
Last time they met: What many consider a turning point in their premiership run, the Sharks first claimed top position on the ladder behind the brilliance of Maloney and Fifita, outlasting Manly 20-12 in Round 11 last year.
The Verdict: The Sharks are the superior team here, but they haven’t blown us away like their 10-4 record might suggest. If they continue to allow teams to get early leads or hang around at the end, the fatigue will start to cost them. The Sharks’ pack should be too strong and outmuscle Manly, and look for Jack Bird to have a field day exposing Manly’s weak right side defence to bounce back from his average Origin this week. It will either be the overcoming of the Sharks’ problem or the wake-up call they need. Betting on the former, but won’t be surprised by the latter. Sharks 1-12
— Cronulla Sharks FC (@Cronulla_Sharks) June 22, 2017