Past the halfway mark now - Paul brings us his unique previews for Round 14.
Look back through the NRL teamlists for Round 14 here, and check back here on the weekend for LIVE updates of each game.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (#NRLmancby)
Brookvale Oval, Friday 7:35pm
Half way through season 2013 – the more things change, the more they stay the same. The ‘Dogs and the Eagles have found themselves in familiar territory; in the top 8 and in elite company. The Eagles might be under a bit of pressure when it comes to the latter after winning just 1 from their past 4, but they still sit 4th on the ladder and still own the 2nd best defensive record in the NRL. The Bulldogs are winners of 6 from their last 7, sitting 7th.
So, a semi-final replay from last year and if you remember that night, you’ll remember James Graham, Mick Ennis, Steve Matai and Jason King all having plenty to say to each other. A glorious occasion and one that reminds us there is no love lost between these clubs. This time, Brookvale will welcome Tony Williams and the ‘Dogs with disdain but the visitors have more to worry about than a hostile atmosphere. Manly will be ready to rip in here.
My tip: Sea Eagles 18-12
St. George Illawarra Dragons v North Queensland Cowboys (#NRLsginql)
WIN Stadium, Wollongong, Friday 7:35pm
The Soap Opera that has become the North Queensland Cowboys; a 5 match losing streak, talk of player revolt and the firing of coaches, the Bowen/Thurston injuries. Now, in the midst of a disastrous season, just when the Cowboys were hoping to see some light at the end of tunnel, all they saw were the flashing of police lights and a drunken front rower. Tough times made even tougher by a trip to Wollongong on Friday night.
If the Cowboys are be playing out a soap opera, the Dragons must be an infomercial. Still trying to entertain but mostly just boring the hell out of viewers. There is the occasional highlight in the form of Josh Dugan but otherwise, their young forwards are struggling to get it done. Fear not, Dragon army. WIN Stadium on a cold and wet evening is just what the doctor ordered to guarantee a good performance and guarantee 2 wins in a row.
My tip: Dragons 18-12
Canberra Raiders v Penrith Panthers (#NRLcanpen)
Canberra Stadium, Saturday 5:30pm
The Green Machine have not only won every game at home this year, but have made it look easy in recent weeks. Their performance against the Broncos last Monday night, if not for a lazy few minutes in the second half, was dominating. The visiting Panthers will know what they are in for here with Ivan Cleary again mapping out a game plan to suit his players and suit the conditions. He and the Panthers will slow this one down.
Terry Campese and the Raiders will want to speed things up in your Saturday 5.30 match from our nation’s capital but they won’t find it easy. They are huge favourites here but the visitors will brave the single figure temperatures and keep things close. In the end though, the Raiders have too much firepower over the 80 minutes. A Robinson family reunion with plenty of speed on show here but the home town forwards will decide the result.
My tip: Raiders 20-12
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Parramatta Eels (#NRLcropar)
Sharks Stadium, Woolooware, Saturday 7:30pm
Saturday night from the Shire has the Sharks hosting the Parramatta Eels; looks like it will take a monumental effort from the blue and gold’s to pull off the upset here. Whilst Cronulla were bludgeoned to death at AAMI Park last week, they were previously winners of 4 straight including a huge victory against the league leading Rabbitohs. The Eels, by contrast, are missing their two best attacking weapons in Jacob Loko and Jarryd Hayne. Heaven help them.
Cronulla shouldn’t waste any time here. The visitors have a horrendous away record and the Sharks will be armed to the teeth and should use their weapons with no fear of reprisal. Skipper Paul Gallen returns from his media tour, Luke Lewis and Andrew Fafita will be refreshed and its lights out Parra. Todd Carney has been in rare form of late and should have his way with the Eels defensive line, but only if his outside backs can finish as they should.
My tip: Sharks 30-12
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Gold Coast Titans (#NRLsougld)
Barlow Park, Cairns, Sunday 2:00pm
The Titans road show keeps on truckin’ this week as they head to Barlow Park in Cairns to take on the mighty South Sydney Rabbitohs. Your Sunday afternoon triple header kicks off in style amidst the balmy conditions from Tropical North Queensland and it’s the Bunnies who go in as favourites. Rightly so, but it won’t be easy. Both teams come off a fortnights rest and the Gold Coast are winners of 3 from their past 4 but I won’t be talking them up any more.
South Sydney are elite. Adam Reynolds has the control and patience of a Greg Alexander or Ricky Stuart circa 1991. He kicks beautifully, defends bravely and gets his forwards and backs the ball at the right times. Not a line breaker as were the aforementioned legends of Rugby League but the game has surely changed since then. Now that the Adam Reynolds fan club meeting is over, Souths defense is the difference here and they run away late.
My tip: Rabbitohs 24-6
Melbourne Storm v Newcastle Knights (#NRLmelnew)
AAMI Park, Melbourne, Sunday 3:00pm
The Knights. Oh dear. They’ve lost 5 of their past 6 matches and watching them last week, it seemed like the mercenaries bought in by Wayne Bennett may have lost their mojo. Beau Scott, Neville Costigan and Jeremy Smith may have won a competition with Bennett’s Dragons in 2010, but their toughness in defense seems to have slipped a little. Playing at home against the struggling red V last week, they didn't look good. Or confident.
This back row trio has not given Mullen and Roberts many options in attack, either. They seem to be missing a leader and this week will surely test them again. So, from the same laptop that bought you an ‘upset of the week’ last round with the Sharks tipped to beat Melbourne, here comes another gift of Nostradamus style predictions. Credibility, thy name is Mitry. Melbourne – please let me back on the bandwagon? Knights not slick enough to bust through the Storm defence.
My tip: Storm 19-6
Sydney Roosters v New Zealand Warriors (#NRLsydwar)
Allianz Stadium, Sydney, Sunday 6:30pm
If you’ve got something left in the tank after a Sunday trip to Cairns and then down to Melbourne, don’t miss this nightcap from Moore Park as the Roosters host the New Zealand Warriors. A beauty. The Warriors, somehow, have won 3 straight since losing by 60 to the Panthers and it looks like someone put a rocket up the one and only Feleti Mateo. He has been relentless in his search for a weak defender or a hole in the opposition. This will be a bigger test for the visitors.
The Roosters still hold the NRL’s best defensive record and still boast an all-star squad of rep footballers, rugby union converts, young whippersnappers and old hardheads. James Maloney leads the way again here against his former teammates and if he is on his game, he’ll be keen to unleash Michael Jennings on a bewildered Konrad Hurrell as often as possible. Could be a long night for Hurrell and the Warriors.
My tip: Roosters 30-14
Brisbane Broncos v Wests Tigers (#NRLbriwst)
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, Monday 7:00pm
Father time is a horrible, horrible beast and this bastard does not relent in ageing some of our finest footballers. If that last sentence made any sense, please email me back and explain it to me. 8 years ago, Benji Marshall and Scott Prince were at the peak of their powers and together, brought the rugby league world to a standstill when they destroyed the dreams of a star-studded Dragons club and went on to win the 2005 NRL premiership.
Dateline 2013: Benji’s been knocked around some; Scott Prince is mired in a Broncos slump of 5 losses from their past 6 where their defence has allowed an average of 27 points per game. Both teams are in need of some inspiration from their oldest and wisest if they are to turn their respective seasons around. This Monday night at Suncorp, it will be Benji and the Tigers, through sheer willpower, who continue their fight back to win 3 in a row.
My tip: Tigers 24-18