WARRIORS V PANTHERS — 6:00pm (AEST) Friday 14th July, AEST, Mt Smart Stadium
The Storyline:Tied at 9th, sitting four points outside of the finals picture, this matchup will go a long way to deciding who will be chasing the finals down the stretch. Both teams should be desperate for a win considering the massive, season-defining stakes.
The Stat: Penrith have held their opponents to 20 or less points five out of the last six weeks. Important, as the Warriors have only recorded one victory this season when they’ve scored less than 20 (14 in a win against the Roosters).
It’s a big game for: The Warriors halves burst out of the gate when Foran joined the team, and have been relatively quiet since. They need to step up their involvement if they hope to spark the run into the finals. Too much talent to not be impacting games at this stage of the season.
Last time they met:Round 10, when the Panthers pulled off the comeback of the season, down 28-6 at halftime, piling on 30 unanswered points to stun the Warriors and win 36-28.
The Verdict:This should be the closest game of the round, with the two teams quiet evenly matched. Neither are fooling anyone into describing them as ‘consistent’, making picking a favourite all the more difficult. The Warriors get the nod with the home field advantage, but this could be anything. Expect this one to go down to the wire. Warriors 1-12
RAIDERS V DRAGONS — 7:40pm (AEST)Friday 14th July, GIO Stadium
The Storyline: The equation is simple: The Raiders sit 6 points outside the eight. The team ahead just happens to be the Dragons. If Canberra can knock off St. George, their season remains on life support. If the Dragons can take the W, they go close to switching off the machine, and take a big step towards solidifying their own spot.
The Stat:Despite their ladder position, the Dragons are currently suffering through a very tough stretch. They haven’t beat a top 8 team since round 7 (!), and have only taken three wins from their last nine outings. Those wins came against the Knights, Tigers and Warriors, the who’s who of NRL mediocrity.
It’s a big game for: Josh Mccrone was axed after a string of subpar performances, replaced in the halves by Kurt Mann. He gets his shot at redemption, albeit possibly due to a backline shuffle that requires Mann’s services elsewhere. As a partner for Widdop, Mccrone is the only no. 7 that makes sense from a fit perspective. The Dragons know this, and have to find a way to get him going. Too late in the season to be fretting about your halfback.
Last time they met:A Euen Aitken intercept in golden point handed the Dragons a 16-12 win in round 10 of 2016
The Verdict:The Raiders inspire no confidence when it comes to tipping, but they get the nod here, primarily as a function of their desperation, but more because of their opposition. The Dragons have struggled after their hot start, and their most recent win against the Knights came on the back of super performances from their origin stars Frizell and Dugan. Frizzell will be rested on Friday, and with Duges injury history (named on extended bench), I’d be shocked if they risk him. Without them, they lack any genuine punch, and Canberra won’t be hit by origin whatsoever. They should be hungry, at home with their season on the line. If they fail, I’m giving up on them. A nervous… Raiders 1-12
KNIGHTS V BRONCOS — 5:30pm(AEST) Saturday 15th July, McDonald Jones Stadium
The Storyline:The quiet achievers of the 2017 competition, the Broncos will look to kick-start their charge to the finish line with a statement game over the lowly Knights.
The Stat:The Broncos have dominated recent meetings between the two, winning nine of the past eleven games.
It’s a big game for: Ben Hunt will be hot off his origin debut, and without having to slog through the full 80, will be relatively fresh. He has heard plenty of critics ramble about why he isn’t deserving of his origin berth, this is his chance for a response. Newcastle are as susceptible as anyone to a dominate game from a half on the rampage — Hunt should be gunning to add his name to the list on Saturday. On the opposite side, our thoughts are with Brock Lamb, hoping he can bounce back from the now infamous “Lamb-shank” game against Canterbury.
Last time they met:Round 7 of last season, a tight affair saw the Broncos squeeze home… 53-0.
The Verdict:It’s round 19, and at this stage we’re past the point of congratulating the Knights on effort. The last two weeks have been bitterly disappointing. They were played off the park against the Tigers, the worst non-Knights team in the competition, and invented a new way to lose last week against the Bulldogs. It suggests they haven’t developed as much as you’d hope three-quarters through the second year of a rebuild. Nothing points towards them beating Brisbane. Broncos 13+
TITANS V SHARKS 7:30pmSaturday (AEST) 15th July, Cbus Super Stadium
The Storyline:Sights on September. The injury bug has brought the Titans season down to the cellar, another loss truly shuts the door on a late-season revival. Unfortunately for them, they run into a Sharks outfit also looking towards September, but with a bigger goal in mind. Their need to kick into gear should motivate them for a big performance.
The Stat:The Sharks still sit tied as the worst completing team in the competition. This will prove interesting down the stretch, as it will come to hurt them when it gets to the post-season. It’s also the quickest way they’ll come undone in a game like this.
It’s a big game for: Cronulla’s rep stars. The leagues familiarity with this team due to their success over the past year has seem to overshadow just how star-studded this team is. Their porous form through the origin period was somewhat overturned with their flogging of the Roosters. Another similar performance will put the league on notice and remind them of the talent they possess.
Last time they met: Two tries in the least 13 minutes helped the Titans romp home to stun the sharks 16-12 in round 8
The Verdict: The Titans season is on it’s last legs, whilst Cronulla have to start gearing up towards the finals. With their eyes on the prize, and considering their demolition job of the Roosters last time out, the Sharks should flex their premiership credentials against inferior opposition. Sharks 13+
SEA EAGLES V TIGERS — 2:00pm (AEST)Sunday16th July, Lottoland
The Storyline: Manly stumbled last week — failing to capitalise on an opportunity to jump into second by inviting Penrith back into the game, time and time again. Their sloppiness cost them, and now they’ll need to get the show back on track. In that case, who better to take on then the Tigers?
The Stat:The Eagles are top 3 in line-breaks, line-break assists, try-assists and offloads whilst the Tigers are the league leader in missed tackles. Usually a recipe for disaster.
It’s a big game for: If Manly are legit, their spine needs to be more consistent than we’ve seen recently. They went missing and failed to control a strange game last week, which ultimately led to their downfall. The Tigers will come out swinging, but the class in the spine is the separating factor between the two. To ensure they get the victory, they need to control the tempo and be a presence for the full 80 — not just in patches.
Last time they met: The Tigers sprung to life behind a hat-trick from Tedesco to beat Manly 36-22 way back in round 2 of 2016
The Verdict:Manly are gunning for the top 4. Wests are now clear of Newcastle on the bottom of the ladder, but what they have left to play for is unclear. On top of that, they’re thoroughly outmatched for talent across the park. If Manly are really as good as we think they are, this shouldn’t be a problem. Manly 13+
RABBITOHS V COWBOYS — 4:00pm (AEST)Sunday 16th July, Barlow Park, Cairns
The Storyline:The Cowboys are in a mad scramble to get as high on the ladder as possible. For them to have any shot at playing deep into September, they’ll need to finish in the top 4, at a minimum. With the other potential suitors failing to push ahead, that chance lives on. Their run home needs a boost, this is a game they need to win.
The Stat: The Rabbits only method of attack is through the middle, but the Cowboys comfortably outgain them by 116m per game on average. If NQ beat them through the middle, it’s game over.
It’s a big game for: The debut of the Martin-Morgan halves pairing went swimmingly, but I’m still skeptical. If they really do plan on challenging deep into September, performances last that against Canberra need to be a weekly occurrence. Their season depends on it.
Last time they met: North Queensland outclassed Souths in a 20-6 routing back in round 5
The Verdict: Souths are falling behind, in desperate need of an identity overhaul. The Cowboys have a method that works, their just tasked with the unfortunate job of finding a way to replace the historic contributions of Johnathan Thurston, no easy feat. Still, Souths don’t present enough strike to worry North Queenslands defence and the Cowboys are simply a class above. Cowboys 1-12