A wonderful NRL initiative and the most inspiring event on the NRL calendar, Close the Gap Round not only highlights the issue around life expectancy rates amongst Indigenous Australians, but helps create cultural awareness. This weekend's purpose is best summed up by a quote from the Oxfam website;
Dally M Winner, Inaugural captain of the Indigenous All Stars, Ken Stephen medal winner and NRL Premiership Winner, Preston Campbell, on the impact of the gap in life expectancy, “For me, it’s been a huge impact and I only have to go back home to Tingha to see that. There’s huge issues with diabetes and heart problems in my community.”
We acknowledge that this match is being held on the traditional lands of The Turrbal people, and pay our respect to elders both past and present.
Close the Gap Round kicks off with the Parramatta Eels travelling up to Suncorp Stadium on Friday night to face the Broncos. Brisbane are fighting with everything they can muster to salvage this season but it seems all they had to do was change halfbacks. After losing to Cronulla by a point in round 18, the Broncos named Ben Hunt to replace Peter Wallace in the 7 jersey and have not lost another since. A long bow – but it feels right.
This week, Hunt gets a chance to further his 1st grade claims by aiming up at the NRL’s worst defence in the visiting Eels. Last week, Parra won for the first time in 3 months but this one seems out of their reach. They’ve not won an away game all year and if this is their first, I’ll streak Church Street next Saturday night. For all you lovely people of the west who plan to dine out at Church Street next Satdi, you’re safe.
My tip: Brisbane 30-12
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
We acknowledge that this match is being held on the traditional lands of The Darkinjung and Guringa peoples, and pay our respect to elders both past and present.
The fast finishing Eagles return to Gosford for the second consecutive week. This time, to face the Bunnies in your Friday night blockbuster from Bluetongue. Manly are rolling along to the tune of 6 straight victories and are scoring in bunches every week. Perhaps their opponents have not been up to scratch over this time, but the mighty Sea Eagles are peaking. South Sydney, by contrast, are moving in the opposite direction.
They’ve only lost 5 matches all year but 3 of those have come in the past month. They struggled with the origin hangover and now struggle with injury and suspension. A tough ask, even with their solid defensive record on the year, to stop the rampant Maroon and Whites. Greg Inglis and John Sutton have been named but are still going through fitness tests. Their return could spark a match of the round here, but Manly too hot to handle.
My tip: Manly 22-12
Canberra Raiders v Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
We acknowledge that this match is being held on the traditional lands of The Ngunnawal and Ngambri Peoples, and pay our respect to elders both past and present.
Saturday afternoon footy returns to the nation’s capital as the inconsistent Bulldogs travel down to face the Raiders. The ‘Dogs did not experience their proudest moment last Monday night, to say the least, when losing to the Titans at home. Now, they lose Sam Kasiano and Greg Eastwood to injury. Their replacements aint too bad but the visitors still start as outsiders. The Raiders record in Canberra this year has only one horrible blemish.
So, the Bulldogs will want to start fast and score first. Any momentum given to the Raiders will have them run in some points. This could be dangerous for the boys from Belmore as they have not looked consistent in attack this year without Ben Barba. Speaking of struggling attack, the Raiders will miss Terry Campese but could welcome back Sam Williams, their red-hot halfback from 2012. Either way, the Bulldogs bounce back here and save their season.
My tip: Canterbury 20-18
We acknowledge that this match is being held on the traditional lands of The Bindal and Wulgurukaba Peoples, and pay our respect to elders both past and present.
A week in Rugby League can change everything. North Queensland have fired their coach and followed it up by beating the league leaders, convincingly, and then trouncing a decent Panthers outfit by 30. How? They looked free, unselfish, angry and committed in the past fortnight and even more than that, Jonathan Thurston looks like the world beater that he really is. Why? They feel bad for costing their coach his job?
A pity for Neil Henry. He deserved more. Or perhaps he deserved exactly what he’s getting for walking out in the Raiders 5 years ago. But karma doesn't exist in the NRL, does it? Moving on, the Cowboys continue their hot streak from 1300SMILES stadium on Saturday night and even with the Titans on the cusp of a miraculous semi final appearance this year, they won’t have the fire power to keep up with an unconscious home side.
My tip: North Queensland 26-10
St George Dragons v Cronulla Sutherland Sharks
We acknowledge that this match is being held on the traditional lands of The Dharawal People, and pay our respect to elders both past and present.
A local derby of the highest order. The Dragons (both forms) and the Sharks have met 90 odd times and plenty have been memorable. Round 4 this year comes to mind; when the Saints were heavy underdogs as they travelled across Tom Ugly’s bridge, only to return victorious as they shocked the home side. This time, Cronulla bus it down to Wollongong, again as favourites, to face a Saints team that have lost their last 3.
They might be struggling, but saints may have nurtured a new number 6, very slowly, to replace Jamie Soward. Adam Quinlan announced himself as a long time 1st grader last week and now makes a triumphant return to his South Coast roots. The Sharks need to uncover a similar prospect to awaken their sleepy three-quarter line. The visitor’s forwards will play well, the Carney & Robson halves combo will work, but their speedsters lack any finishing nous. Saints will stay close but Cronulla do enough.
My tip: Cronulla 18-16
We acknowledge that this match is being held on the traditional lands of The Awabakal and Worimi Peoples, and pay our respect to elders both past and present
A belter from Hunter Stadium on Sunday afternoon... and by “belter”, I mean you may want to neck yourself after about 15 minutes as the Wayne Bennett/Craig Bellamy school of wrestling is in session here. It seems to be successful though, as these two teams sit 7th and 4th on the ladder, respectively, but we always hope for more. Melbourne are heavy favourites here and rightly so. They’ve turned up the heat in their defence over the past fortnight.
The Storm will look to do the same again and slow down any progress by the Knights forward pack. This particular ruck battle will be led by two footballers not unfamiliar with each other. Danny Buderus faces the man he ‘allowed’ into the Australian hooker position and Cameron Smith now captains his country. A great matchup with over 500 combined 1st grade games between them. A boisterous crowd expected to honour Buderus but Melbourne too good.
My tip: Melbourne 22-12
The New Zealand Warriors have climbed all the way back from the depths of Rugby League despair, only to lose their last two matches and perhaps fall agonisingly short of an unbelievable semi final appearance. They currently sit in 10th place, still with a red hot chance of sneaking into the 8 and that’s exactly what makes this match against the Panthers a bloody big one from Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The other reason this one is big for the Warriors is that they face the Panthers, the very team that jolted them from an early season coma. Penrith beat the kiwis by 60 when they last met. That’s right, 60. If the home side has any sense of competition, any sense of revenge, they’ll aim up here and teach the struggling Penrith juniors and Ivan Cleary a lesson. $1.16 favourites means the bookies think they will.
My tip: Warriors 32-12
We acknowledge that this match is being held on the traditional lands of The Gadigal People of the Eora nation, and pay our respect to elders both past and present.
Close the Gap round comes to an end with the Tigers facing the Roosters from Allianz Stadium on Monday night. This one could get ugly. The ‘home’ side have taken this game to Moore Park – just to make their task a bit harder. It makes sense to challenge one’s self and the Wests Tigers obviously haven’t done enough of this in season 2013. A broken board, a broken superstar, a broken fan base and Robbie Farah’s broken finger. Abject horror.
The Roosters completely outmatch them in every facet of the game. SBW returns to give the chooks’ forward pack an even bigger advantage than they already had. We wish more for the likes of Benji Marshall, Braith Anasta and Lote Tuqiri as they may not have more chances to recover from this dark time, but the Roosters won’t care. Mitchell Pearce plays his 150th first grade match, the second youngest ever to do so, and the Roosters win well.
My tip: Roosters 42-14