ROOSTERS V RABBITOHS — 7:50pm (AEST) Friday July 7 @ Allianz Stadium
The Storyline: Can the Rabbitohs capitalise on their surprising momentum and resuscitate their fleeting season? Souths showed signs of life in thumping the Panthers last week and catch the Roosters at the perfect time, missing four of their best to Origin.
The Stat: Interestingly, the last 10 meetings between these two have been split five apiece. A nice illustration of how both sides get up for the traditional clash.
It’s a big game for: Same as last week — Sam Burgess and Adam Reynolds. Last game their team needed them to stand up, and they did in superb fashion. Burgess was a constant presence through the middle and Reynolds took advantage of the momentum to steer the team to victory. The blueprint for their future largely surrounds the play of their best two players.
Last time they met: The Roosters continued their undefeated start to 2017 with a comfortable 20-6 Round 4 victory.
The Verdict: The league has outgrown Souths’ gameplan. It has become stagnant and predictable, a major reason they sit 6-9. But they know who they are, and when they come up against a team who is liable to a barrage through the middle, like Penrith last week, it becomes dependable. That’s the hope against an underhanded Roosters outfit that is missing integral parts of its identity in Pearce, Napa and Cordner. No need to reinvent the wheel, continuity should get the Rabbits home. Souths 1-12
PANTHERS V SEA EAGLES — 5:30pm (AEST) Saturday, July 8, Pepper Stadium
The Storyline: The inverted seasons — Manly continued their shock rise to prominence with a comeback win against the Warriors, taking them to five in a row. Penrith have had the complete opposite season, with high expectations fizzling out into disappointment, taking another step back last week against the Rabbits. A win for Manly would push them into second and a loss for Penrith would make the finals a tough proposition with both their byes used up.
The Stat: Despite Manly standing as one of the league’s consistent contenders, Penrith have their number, taking out six of the last seven clashes.
Bonus: Manly lead the league with the least errors and control possession well, ranking third in the competition, a stark contrast to the inconsistent play of their opposition.
It’s a big game for: Not breaking news, but all eyes are on slighted Queenslander Daly Cherry-Evans. His scintillating form has powered Manly into top-four discussions, but wasn’t enough to secure a deserving Maroons jersey. He has nothing to prove, but the snub should help fuel his fire as Manly look to continue their rise. DCE aside, with Jake Trbojevic in camp, Marty Taupau steps in as the leader of the forwards. Penrith’s mobile pack is susceptible to power runners and Taupau, on his day, can carve up the opposition’s middle.
Last time they met: Penrith clinched the sixth seed in the final round of 2016 with a convincing 36-6 rout of the Eagles.
The Verdict: Despite all the evidence to the contrary, I’m expecting this one to be close. For a team with so much talent, you have to think Penrith will bounce back for one last run. Their form had begun to turn around and whilst no one is pegging them as contenders for the title, the finals isn’t out of reach just yet; another disheartening loss might put the nail in the coffin. That said, Manly have been too good to tip against. It’s fair to worry if the recent off-field issues might have them distracted, and DCE might be overwhelmed with the pressures of proving his mettle. Still, a chance to jump into second needs to be grabbed with both hands. Opportunity for a statement game. Manly 1-12
STORM V EELS — 7:30pm (AEST) Saturday, July 8, AAMI Park
The Storyline: Does the Storm reserve unit have one last valiant effort to close out an impressively stable Origin period, or can Parramatta prove their top-eight standing with a convincing win?
The Stat: As is the case against most teams, Melbourne have dominated recent meetings, taking four from the last five and six from the last eight.
It’s a big game for: The group chasing the top eight. Whilst the Eels have held steady around the bottom of finals qualification, they’ve felt vulnerable for a minute. A loss to the skeleton of Melbourne would put blood in the water.
Last time they met: After being deducted 12 points for salary cap breaches, Melbourne ensured the Eels’ season was all but over with a trademark grinding win 18-6, back in Round 11 of 2016.
The Verdict: Parramatta’s play has been less than inspiring, but losing this game would be near catastrophic. Melbourne’s fill-ins are no scrubs, but no one is mistaking them for full strength. The Eels have caught them at the most opportune time, a chance to solidify their position within the top eight as they head into the bye. Too hard to go past, Eels 1-12
BULLDOGS V KNIGHTS — 4:00pm (AEST) Sunday, July 9th, Belmore Sports Ground
The Storyline: Desperation. A matchup of the league’s biggest strugglers — the Knights fresh off coming up empty in the spoon grand final and the Bulldogs being generally disappointing in everything they’ve done.
The Stat: The fortress has fallen. No wins from their last four games at Belmore doesn’t reflect well on the home side. And don’t forget, six losses from their last seven games — believe what you hear, this is truly a club is disarray.
Bonus: For perspective on how awful the Bulldogs’ attack has been, Alex Johnston has outscored the Dogs 28-26 in the past fortnight. Yup.
It’s a big game for: Under-fire coaches. Both Nathan Brown and Des Hasler have had their heads called for over the past week, and for fair reason — both teams have heavily underperformed in light of their respective expectations. The Bulldogs are nowhere near cracking the finals conversation and the Knights remain lining the competition floor and have failed to display any sizeable improvements. A win won’t silence the critics, but a loss will turn the volume up.
Last time they met: After falling behind early, the Knights’ inexperience and a second half surge saw an injury-ravaged Canterbury outfit recover to steal an away victory in Round 6 this year, 22-12
The Verdict: It would almost be perfectly reflective if Newcastle turned around and pulled out a convincing win against the struggling Dogs. Whilst that would come as no surprise, the Knights enter every game as heavy underdogs (no pun intended) and this is no difference. Mapping a Bulldogs route to victory is tough, as has been the case all season. Count on their desperation and their defence to get them home and delay the chaos another week. Bulldogs 13+