This weekend we head into the final rounds of the completion with just over a month of the regular season remaining. This weekend will mark the end of the line for teams hoping for a finals berth.
Round 22 kicks off from AAMI Park in Melbourne with a juicy semi final replay. On that occasion, the Storm delivered an outstanding performance to signal their intentions for the post-season. This time, there is a little less at stake – just pride and form as opposed to a season on the line. The Raiders made sure that Melbourne have now found plenty of form whilst Souths delivered arguably their worst performance of the season last week.
Two coaches who love the grind and have built their respective halfbacks from scratch to become two of the most patient in the game. Adam Reynolds and Cooper Cronk epitomise what a tenacious halfback looks like but Cooper is a robot when it comes to big games like this. He simply switches on and Cam Smith obliges with plenty of ball. In a defensive struggle with some very big forwards aiming up, Melbourne enjoy playing at home for the first time in a month.
My tip: Melbourne 14-8
The Eels have not won a football game since May 11 this year. That’s 3 months. In many other codes and many other clubs, this would have meant the end of a coaching staff and a revolt by fans. Parra supporters on the League Unlimited forums have revolted by blaming season 2012 and Stephen Kearney for a player drain. They simply don’t have enough first graders to suit up and keep up with the competition.
The Tigers have lost their last 5 and have lost their only hope, to injury. Robbie Farah’s injured finger means the visitors have less inspiration and less direction than they usually have. A tough year for both teams. Statistically the two worst in both attack and defence so only the almighty knows what might happen here. We pray for any fans in attendance at Parramatta Stadium on Friday night and in reality, the Eels administration should open up the gates as an apology to their members.
My tip: Eels 15-14
A big test of character here for the Raiders and a bigger test for your humble previewer to take a stab at ‘predicting’ any outcomes, ever again. Full disclosure – I tipped the Raiders against Melbourne last week and I only hope my shame is exceeded by the Raiders pride and they respond with fury. They have a little bit more at stake than my tipping comp so we wish them the best as they travel to face the league leaders on Saturday night.
The Roosters are a joy in 2013. Even with their spiritual leader Anthony Minichiello out injured, they’ll have a truckload of firepower to throw at the Raiders here. Canberra will be willing but won’t be able. They’ll match up well with the chooks for much of this game but when the likes of Michael Jennings and James Maloney getting enough football, it could get ugly. Some magnificent talent on show with RTS and Anthony Milford lighting it up.
My tip: Roosters 30-12
Cronulla Sutherland Sharks v Newcastle Knights
6 v 8 on the ladder and with just over a month remaining of the season proper, this match has some added meaning. The Knights travel south to Remondis Stadium for Saturday night footy from the shire. This’ll be a ripper. With the Sharks fresh off a huge victory over the heavily favoured Warriors in Auckland last week, their confidence will be sky high and their fans will be loud. And probably not sober.
With a loss and a draw in their past two matches, the Knights will be desperate to get rolling towards the semis with a win here. They’ll come out ripping in from the first tackle and led by former Sharks Jeremy Smith and Kade Snowden, may get the home side a little frustrated. But when push comes to shove the visitors will miss the likes of Willie mason and Beau Scott. Cronulla enjoy the refreshed Paul Gallen and get another win.
My tip: Sharks 20-16
Manly Sea Eagles v New Zealand Warriors
Sunday afternoon from Brookvale Oval brings you your match of the round and an absolute beauty. The Warriors are $3 outsiders but they’ll be in this up to their eyeballs. It will be a close one, as it was in round 13 when these two clubs met at Mt Smart. The Warriors held on in that match, with goal kicking being the only difference and now, with the visitors having salvaged their season with a form turnaround, their aint much between these two.
Manly are on a 5 match winning streak and sit in 3rd spot whilst New Zealand have only themselves to blame for not continuing their winning form last week when a remarkable comeback against the Sharks fell agonisingly short. So, with the stage set, Daly Cherry-Evans and Shaun Johnson will battle for supremacy after both forward packs aim up nicely. Manly’s red hot form very hard to ignore here, so I won’t.
My tip: Manly 24-20
Brisbane Broncos v St George Illawarra Dragons
12 v 14 on the ladder and with Mad Monday on their minds, the Broncos and Dragons get the free-to-air TV game on Sunday afternoon. Fantastic. The Broncos have won 2 from their past 9 and rumours are swirling around the club about players coming and going. The Dragons have given season 2013 their best shot but simply could not produce points when required. So beware all patrons at the Caxton after this match, you could see some 1st graders.
Jokes aside, Brisbane would be excited with the recent form of halfback Ben Hunt. Since the benching of Peter Wallace, Hunt has looked the part and will look good again here. Meanwhile, the Dragon’s will direct all their attack via Josh Dugan and hope their defence holds. It won’t. The Broncos come out swinging in front of their home fans and the likes of Hoffman, Hunt and Hannant could have some fun.
My tip: Brisbane 26-8
Seems like the Cowboys may have turned things around last week, with a monumental victory over the NRL’s best, South Sydney. Of course, they could only reach these lofty heights after finding out their coach had been fired and was playing out the season to a death march. Go figure. This week, they travel to the foot of the Blue Mountains for Sunday Night Footy at Centrebet Stadium and the Panthers will be desperate.
Penrith have fallen to pieces in defence. They’ve lost 3 in a row and allowed an average of just over 37 points per game over that span. If they don’t get their act together this week, the care free football now being played by the Cowboys could cut them to ribbons. Having said that, only the greatest of tipsters could predict what the Cowboys will deliver here, so you’ve obviously come to the wrong place.
My tip: North Queensland 32-20
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs v Gold Coast Titans
Round 22 comes to a close from ANZ stadium on Monday night as the Titans make the trip down to Sydney Olympic Park to face the ‘Dogs. Canterbury have won their past three but this streak could be fool’s gold for the boys from Belmore. They walloped an undermanned Storm outfit and then beat up on the Eels and the Dragons. This match won’t be their biggest test either with the Titans having lost 4 from their past 5.
So, if the Bulldogs deliver the professional performance they are capable of, this will be over by halftime. Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds continue to grow as a pair and former Bulldog Aidan Sezer will be hoping to out play them, but won’t get the support he needs. A good battle of talented halves but the ‘Dogs all-star forward pack gets them home here. Josh Morris the standout in his 150th first grade appearance.
My tip: Bulldogs 30-14