EELS V BULLDOGS — 7:50pm (AEST) Thursday 29 June, @ ANZ Stadium
The Storyline: What are the Parramatta Eels? Are they good? Not really. Are they bad? Again, not really. Do they have an identity? Is Clint Gutherson their best player now? Are they really a finals team? Easily the most undefined team that still matters after 17 weeks, the Parramatta enigma still has plenty of questions to answer before we pencil them in the eight.
The Stat: Expect a downbeat game, both teams execute typically stagnant offences — ranking bottom-five in tackle busts, line-breaks and try assists. Defence becomes even more important, and the Bulldogs hold the slight advantage with five less misses a game.
It’s a big game for: Cameron King looks set to step up as Kaysa Pritchard’s replacement now he’s out for the year. How quickly he can acclimatise will be vital to the Eels staying above water.
Last time they met: In an unsurprisingly gritty affair, an injury-ravaged Eels scrapped through with a 20-12 win in Round 9 last year
The Verdict: Consistency? Anyone? Parramatta might be struggling for identity, but at least they haven’t stuck to one that clearly isn’t working (ask the Bulldogs how that’s going). That’s what has separated their seasons so far, even if on paper the Dogs might seem the superior outfit. Regardless, the variability in their performances isn’t helped by the fact that these two usually play above their level when they come together. The Dogs feel likely, but this could go anywhere. Bulldogs 1-12
— Parramatta Eels (@TheParraEels) June 28, 2017
TITANS V DRAGONS — 6:00pm (AEST) Friday 30 June @ CBUS Super Stadium
The Storyline: Are the Dragons struggles real, or just a mis-step? They’ve won three from their last seven, but all victories have come against weak competition — the Knights, Tigers and Warriors. Following that notion, the Titans should help them bounce back.
The Stat: In recent times, the last 10 meetings have been split 5-5.
It’s a big game for: Sorely missed against the Knights, Jack de Belin will have plenty of work to do in the absence of the Dragons’ other enforcer Paul Vaughn. Needs to lead from the front. Honourable mention for Kurt Mann at halfback. His play will be closely monitored
Last time they met: The Titans finally cracked the top eight, leap-frogging the Dragons in Round 19 last year with an important 32-12 win.
The Verdict: The Dragons’ season was perfectly condensed into last week’s 80 minutes — impressive start, getting far too comfortable that turns to carelessness, turning the game back in their favour and pulling out the other side slightly ahead. The Dragons continue the concerning trend of failing to rack up big scores against weak opponents. That deters belief they’ll dominate the Titans, but surely they can’t pass up yet another great chance to get back on track. Dragons 1-12
"I think I just make it easier for him to play his own game."
— Gold Coast Titans (@GCTitans) June 28, 2017
BRONCOS V STORM — 7:50pm (AEST) Friday 30 June @ Suncorp Stadium
The Storyline: September preview I – one of two important top-four match-ups this week with the best team in the competition coming up against the most underrated.
The Stat: The Broncos haven’t lost a game when they’ve scored more than 20 points, whilst two of Melbourne’s three losses have occurred when the opposing team scored 20-plus. Easier said than done, as the Storm concede the second least tries in the competition at a shade over 2.5 a game.
Bonus: Despite both being contenders for some time, Melbourne have had Brisbane’s number, winning 11 of their last 13 clashes.
It’s a big game for: The Broncos’ defence — they’ve been fantastic against the top tier of competition, but have leaked points to some of the weaker teams in the competition. How they fare against the best-scoring attack in the league will be a good barometer for where they stand moving forward.
Last time they met: Celebrating the return of Billy Slater, a late-game try from ‘The Fox’ Josh Addo-Car stole victory for Melbourne in Round 3 this year, 14-12.
The Verdict: Brisbane are short-handed (Boyd and Milford will really be missed this week) and Melbourne rarely lose two weeks in a row, but the Broncos are a formidable opponent nonetheless. Still, hard to go past the Storm here. Storm 1-12
— Brisbane Broncos (@brisbanebroncos) June 28, 2017
ROOSTERS V SHARKS — 3:00pm (AEST) Saturday 1 July @ Central Coast Stadium
The Storyline: September preview II – the dark horse sleeper team up against the reigning premiers, whose championship glow is starting to wear off. Whilst they still may be the fourth-best ‘ranked’ team in the league, Cronulla have slipped out of top four on the ladder, losing their place to Manly after a flogging at the Sea Eagles’ hands last Sunday. Here is their chance to prove they can still hang with the best.
The Stat: The Roosters failed to capitalise on opportunities last week — they produced 15 offloads (to Melbourne’s eight) that only lead to four line-breaks (Storm managed nine). Against a similarly stingy defence, they need to convert these chances to completely unleash their attack.
It’s a big game for: Under-pressure Blues No.7 Mitchell Pearce wrote his own redemption story in nailing an admittedly impressive field goal, and it seemed to distract everyone from the very average outing, his last 10 minutes aside. Even the position of the field goal was a direct result of his poor directional skills that have been under the microscope recently. The Roosters barely scraped past a depleted Melbourne outfit, and they won’t be able to get out of jail like that again. Needs to be a presence for the whole 80.
Last time they met: Round 25 and soaring towards the premiership, the Sharks disposed of the hapless Roosters with ease, 37-12.
The Verdict: Both top-tier teams vying for a top-four finish, these two sides’ styles should make for an interesting clash. The attack versus defence subplot is an interesting watch, as both have a case to prove that they are elite on either side of the ball. The Roosters get a slight nod for their better recent form, but this should be close. Great match-up. Roosters 1-12
— Sydney Roosters (@sydneyroosters) June 27, 2017
SEA EAGLES V WARRIORS — 5:30pm (AEST) Saturday 1 July @ nib Stadium
The Storyline: Can Manly convert their hot form into a streak that consolidates their position in the top eight? Four in a row and six from their last seven has Manly inside the top four, and if results fall their way, they could finish as high as second by the week’s end. At the least, Manly could consolidate their great play to confirm an unlikely finals birth.
The Stat: The Warriors don’t miss tackles or cough up the ball (14th in both), yet rank fifth in points conceded. They tend to give up chances through holes and are beaten by good passing, which happens to be Manly’s strength — second in both line-break and try assists, and first in tries and line-breaks per game.
Bonus: Its always worth addressing the Warriors’ travelling issues, 1-6 away from Mt Smart in 2017, but it’s especially relevant ahead of this Perth clash as it makes them the anti-Eagles — Manly are undefeated going 6-0. Maybe ask for some pointers. Worryingly, the Warriors are 0-7 in Western Australia.
It’s a big game for: DCE is one more game from cementing himself back into an Origin jersey. Fantastic all year, can cap it off with another dominant showing.
Last time they met: Ironically, it was DCE who starred back in Round 19 last, sinking a golden point field goal for the victory in the Perth wet.
The Verdict: I won’t be tempted by the Warriors again. Don’t overthink it. Manly 13+
Young hooker replaces injured Luke for Perth trip ✈️
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) June 27, 2017
RAIDERS V COWBOYS — 7:30pm (AEST) Saturday 1 July @ GIO Stadium
The Storyline: Desperation game of the week. These two are in serious need of a mission-affirming win after stuttering form in recent times. The Cowboys are up against the wall to prove they belong in the title race without JT, while Canberra are still asleep and are now risking missing the finals.
The Stat: For a team that appears offensively inclined, the Cowboys really don’t stack up in the numbers department, where the Thurston-sized hole is most apparent. Bottom-five in try assists, line break/assists, and dead last in offloads. Their only positive attacking stat is running metres, and that will be hard to translate against the Raiders’ sizeable pack.
It’s a big game for: Te Maire Martin is being thrown in the deep end here, but what he brings to the table might be the deciding factor as to whether the Cowboys have anything left to give in 2017. No pressure.
Last time they met: A cracking game to start the season back in Round 1, it took a Gavin Cooper try to break the deadlock in extra-time.
The Verdict: Pick your poison. The feeling that the Cowboys could implode at any moment has lingered since JT went down, and Canberra have failed at every chance to turn the corner for good. I may have given up on the Warriors, but I’m not there with Canberra yet (I’m real close though). Canberra 1-12
ICYMI: 10 of the best. Raiders v Cowboys.
— Canberra Raiders (@RaidersCanberra) June 28, 2017
KNIGHTS V TIGERS — 2:00pm (AEST) Sunday 2 July @ McDonald Jones Stadium
The Storyline: The ‘spoon’ grand final. This mega-match pits the 15th-placed Knights (15th!!) against the 16th-placed Tigers in the battle to remain off the bottom.
The Stat: Defence! These are the two weakest defences, also giving away the most points. The Tigers might be slightly better in attack, but they are also worse without the ball, missing the most tackles in the league, five more then the seventh-ranked Knights.
It’s a big game for: Underperforming Origin stars. Dane Gagai has had his praises sung in recent times, and whilst his attack has been impressive, his defence has been poor — the Dragons ran three tries down his edge in as many attempts. Tedesco returns after some time away, with his club performances coming in way below his capabilities. Both integral to their teams’ chances.
Last time they met: Newcastle blew what would turn out to be their best chance to win a game for the rest of 2016, slipping to a 20-12 loss.
The Verdict: The Knights should have beat the Dragons, and have continued to improve despite racking up the losses. The Tigers have been woeful all-round and looked completely mismatched against the freakin’ Titans. The people of Newcastle deserve this one. Newcastle 1-12
Mitch Barnett says there's plenty of motivation for the players this weekend.
— Newcastle Knights (@NRLKnights) June 28, 2017
RABBITOHS V PANTHERS — 4:00pm (AEST) Sunday 2 July @ ANZ Stadium
The Storyline: Good teams comfortably beat bad teams. Penrith need to prove they belong strictly in group one (rather than drifting between both) by disposing of a team in group two.
The Stat: The Penrith back-three has run for 500-plus metres in each of the games they’ve played together. That’s a massive boost from the back to every set, and has been instrumental in their turnaround.
It’s a big game for: Adam Reynolds and Sam Burgess. Souths’ undoubted best two players also happen to nullify two of the biggest weapons Penrith possess. Reynolds’ kicking game has to be at its very best to avoid being burnt by the hottest back-three in the game and Burgess needs to take advantage of the Panthers’ mobile pack and exert his dominance on both sides of the ball. Games like this is when the top talent stands up; can they?
Last time they met: After a late try from Michael Oldfield pulled Penrith equal, Adam Reynolds stole the win with a 79th-minute field goal in Round 6.
The Verdict: The Panthers have no excuses that would justify losing this game. Have to turn the corner for good here — and I’m backing them to do just that. Panthers 13+
— South Sydney (@SSFCRABBITOHS) June 28, 2017