Tuesday 20 March 2018 / 01:45 AM


The battle for the last few places in the top eight has definitely warmed up with the once-safe Broncos now within reach for all sides in positions seven down to 10, while Manly and St George Illawarra’s hopes are still alive, just.


St George-Illawarra Dragons v Brisbane Broncos – 7.50pm (AEST), Thursday, August 4 @ WIN Stadium

The Storyline: Two out-of-form units, one in attack and the other in defence will square off in the opening game of the round. The Dragons are second-last in attack, scoring just 11 points more than last-placed Newcastle, who have had seven less wins, while the Broncos have fallen from ladder leaders after eight weeks of dominance to sixth after winning three of their last 11 matches, conceding 161 points in their last five games.

The Stat: The Dragons’ woeful attack is averaging 13.26 points per game. The Broncos have conceded an average of 37.4 points in their last five losses (which have been over their last seven games).

It’s a big game for: Everyone. Both sides have just been dire to watch of late. Everyone on both sides really needs to make massive improvements if they are serious about having an impact in the finals this year.

The Verdict: Brisbane can still score points despite their rubbish defensive efforts of late. This could be a chore to watch, or Brisbane may just pull their finger out. The former looks likely. Broncos by 7.


Parramatta Eels v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles – 7.50pm (AEST), Friday, August 5 @ Pirtek Stadium

The Storyline: Just when the Eels were looking like having a week without misery and drama, the Hayne saga came along and heaped more woe on the side. Last week’s dismal effort against the Tigers looked as though the toll of the year has finally impacted their on-field performances. Manly, though, have won their last four straight, keeping their slim finals hopes alive.

The Stat: 22 points. A Manly win by that margin, coupled with losses to the Warriors, Tigers and Penrith, could see Manly jump into eighth on the ladder, on 22 competition points.

It’s a big game for: Daly Cherry-Evans. If ever there was a time that DCE needed to step up and blow a side off the park, it is in this game. Parramatta are ripe for the picking. Manly need a big win to rectify their points differential.

The Verdict: Manly look like certainties here and one would expect them to be motivated to show continued improvement in their form. Parramatta look distracted, understandably so. Manly by 16.


Newcastle Knights v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs – 3pm (AEST), Saturday, August 6 @ Hunter Stadium 

The Storyline: Newcastle have a win and a draw after 19 games. They play with good speed and enthusiasm, but they are consistently making the same fundamental mistakes around discipline, ball control and concentration. The Bulldogs should have put the Dragons away comfortably last week, but instead battled to a three-point win.

The Stat: 19. The Knights have only managed to score more than 19 points twice this year, both times against Canberra and both times resulting in the game drawn after 80 minutes. The Bulldogs have passed this score 11 times in 19 games.

It’s a big game for: Josh Reynolds. The Bulldogs five-eighth is playing well, however his side has been well below their best over their last two games. He needs to help them recapture that form.

The Verdict: Bulldogs should be far too good, plus the knowledge that a win here will secure their place in the finals should be enough motivation. Bulldogs by 14.


Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Canberra Raiders – 5.30pm (AEST), Saturday, August 6 @ Southern Cross Group Stadium

The Storyline: The two best attacking outfits in the competition in great overall form will square off in what is set to be a mouth-watering spectacle. Cronulla’s 15-match winning streak ended last week, however they are still on a 16-game undefeated run. They are also the only side undefeated at home. The Raiders have been less than impressive away from home, but their recent form has seen them score at will.

The Stat: 9. The number of tries Ben Barba has scored in the seven games he has played against the Raiders. He has only scored more against Manly (10) and Newcastle (12), however he has played against both those sides 14 times. He averages more than a try per game against the Raiders only. And every time he has scored a try for the Sharks, they have won.

It’s a big game for: Canberra’s front-row. The Raiders’ big men and hooker will need their top form to continue, with a little bit extra on top, if they are to get over the top of this impressive Sharks pack.

The Verdict: It’s hard to go past the Sharks at home. They played close to their worst game last week and still collected a draw against a strong opponent in the Titans, while the Raiders spanked the Bunnies by 50. This won’t be a blowout, but it will be physical. Sharks by 4.


Melbourne Storm v South Sydney Rabbitohs – 7.30pm (AEST), Saturday, August 6 @ AAMI Park

The Storyline: Melbourne Storm are doing all they can to wrest the minor premiership from the determined hands of the Cronulla Sharks, while Souths look to have just given up completely.

The Stat: 0. The number of games Souths have won against teams currently in the top eight. They’ve played seven games against top eight sides, scoring just 80 and conceding 249 points, or an average score of 35.6 to 11.4.

It’s a big game for: Adam Reynolds. If the Bunnies gun half doesn’t create some scoring opportunities to keep his side in the game, the Storm are the sort of side that will compound their misery.

The Verdict: The Storm at home against a Souths outfit that just doesn’t seem to care anymore. Bring the calculators. Storm by 30.


Gold Coast Titans v Warriors – 2pm (AEST), Sunday, August 7 @ Cbus Super Stadium

The Storyline: The Titans ended the remarkable 15-match winning streak of the Sharks on Monday night at Cbus with a drawn result. They have also been buoyed by the sensational signing of Jarryd Hayne during the week. The Warriors returned to the top eight after toppling the Panthers last week in a tight golden-point battle. A win here would see them leapfrog the Titans into seventh – and keep the chasing pack at bay..

The Stat: 419. The total points scored this year by both the Titans and the Warriors. The attack of these sides is very much that close. The Titans are only 34 points better in defence which lines this match up to be a tough and tight battle, where a loss could see either side drop down to tenth and a win could see either side move up another place.

It’s a big game for: Jarryd Hayne. It’s been near two years since his last NRL game and he is expected to start from the bench in this match for the Titans. All eyes will be on him, especially the Titans personnel who desperately need a genuine fullback.

The Verdict: The Titans were impressive against the Sharks last week and will be extremely confident after that match and signing Hayne. Titans by 8.


Wests Tigers v North Queensland Cowboys -4pm (AEST), Sunday, August7 @ Leichhardt Oval 

The Storyline: The Tigers have remarkably won seven of their last 11 games to put them right in contention for a place in the finals. They come up against a Thurston-less Cowboys at the iconic Leichhardt Oval, but Luke Brooks is out for the home side.

The Stat: 5820. The number of days since the Cowboys last won at Leichhardt Oval. These two sides have played each other at the historic venue six times, with the Cowboys winning the first encounter back in 2000. Since then the Tigers have won the remaining five straight.

It’s a big game for: Michael Morgan. The Cowboys five-eighth really needs to find that early-season form. He will also need to attack the other side of the field where the Tigers defence is vastly weaker. The Test and Origin utility will be receiving plenty of attention from the likes of Chris Lawrence, whose speed will be used to shut him down quickly.

The Verdict: Cowboys without Thurston at a hoodoo ground against a Tigers side without their regular halfback. This will be close. Tigers by 2.


Penrith Panthers v Sydney Roosters – 7pm (AEST), Monday, August 8 @ Pepper Stadium

The Storyline: Penrith dropped out of the top eight last week after their narrow loss to the Warriors, while the Roosters blitzed the Broncos in just their fourth win of the season.

The Stat: 2. The number of positions both sides could climb if they win here and results go their way Penrith could find themselves as high as seventh while the Roosters could rise to 13th, jumping foundation rivals Souths.

It’s a big game for: Mitchell Pearce. After a miserable season to date, the Roosters half needs to start stringing together some good performances to round the year out and give him and his side some optimism moving into 2017.

The Verdict: The Roosters pack was brilliant against the Broncos’ weakened forward contingent last week. If they continue that form, they could well spoil the Panthers’ finals aspirations. Roosters by 6.

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About the author

Andrew Ferguson

A rugby league historian and stats buff – most notably as the brains behind the phenomenal Rugby League Project resource – Melbourne-based Andrew has written extensively for Rugby League Review and the Men of League magazine, and is a valued addition to CBS’s rugby league stable.

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