Bulldogs v Dragons
Saturday 12.45pm, Belmore Sports Ground
A truncated Round 12 of the Holden cup kicks off on Saturday at one of rugby league’s meccas and most among the Belmore crowd will be hoping the Bulldogs pick up exactly where they left off.
Last weekend they constructed a blue-and-whitewash of the Brisbane Broncos, piling on seven tries in a 40-20 thumping. In a brilliant backline display, the Bulldogs were close to perfect. Winger John Talioe Sila bagged two tries, churned through 164 metres, and busted eight tackles.
From the rear fullback Patrick Templeman was equally brilliant, setting up two tries, scoring one himself and earning six tackle busts.
In defence Canterbury were just as impressive, with seven players making seven tackles or more and the whole side missing just 14.
Their performance looms as an ominous warning to the Dragons, who travel to Belmore off the back of a stuttering loss – their second on the trot. The 25-18 scoreline against the ruthless Panthers flattered the Red V, who found themselves trailing 18-6 at halftime.
Making his debut at halfback in the game, Euan Aitken was very impressive in a losing side – racking up 136 metres and 23 tackles.
But in a game of two ancient rivals on some of the game’s most hallowed turf, all indications point to a home side victory. And a comfortable one at that.
Tip: Bulldogs by 14 points.
Rabbitohs v Knights
Saturday 5.15pm, ANZ Stadium
This is shaping as a cracker of a game between two sides on the way up.
Two of only three sides outside the top three entering this weekend with consecutive wins behind them, the Rabbitohs and Knights are in form and mean business.
South Sydney have now made it three weeks without a loss after they pummelled Cronulla 34-10 away from home.
The match was virtually done and dusted at halftime, the Bunnies entering the sheds up 22-0.
Hooker Cameron McInness and five-eighth Jake Watts both bagged doubles in the shellacking but it was the Rabbitohs’ gifted rake who stole the show.
In addition to his brace, McInness powered through 162 metres, 31 tackles and 10 tackle busts in a performance either Origin hooker would be proud of.
It sets up a tantalising battle with Knights No.9 Adam Clydesdale who also dominated in his side’s unexpected 24-10 victory over the Warriors.
Clydesdale scored a try, set one up, busted two tackles and made a staggering 44 himself.
The Knights’ defence is starting to look rock solid, with nine Newcastle players making 20 tackles or more.
It’s going to be a tough ask at ANZ Stadium, but the Knights are just too red-hot to go past at the moment.
Tip: Knights by six points.
Titans v Cowboys
Sunday 12.45pm, Skilled Park
How fortunes can change.
Early in the season, when the Titans looked wooden spoon certainties and the Cowboys were powering to a spot in the top eight, every man and his dog would have been queuing up to back the visitors.
Fast-forward to Round 12 and the Titans have won three from their past four games (including consecutive wins over the last two weeks) while the Cowboys have only one miserly point to show from their past eight outings.
The Gold Coast’s latest spectacular triumph came in the form of a palpitating comeback win against the Parramatta Eels.
Trailing 22-0 at the break, the Titans must have enjoyed some ripe oranges, scoring 30 points in a scintillating 20-minute period of rugby league.
The performance had its faults, but the Titans were able to hold out for the unlikeliest of two-point wins.
Credit must go to hooker Zach Friend (38 tackles), who was a brick wall in defence, and back rower Hymel Hunt (147 metres, 32 tackles and six tackle-breaks) for the win.
The visitors, meanwhile, enter the game with sad and sorry memories of a dour 28-16 loss to the Wests Tigers.
Hooker Jayden Hodges was about the only shining light, setting up a try, making 44 tackles and busting through four.
It’s unsteady sailing for the Cowboys at the moment and it’s hard to see them weathering the storm between now and Sunday.
Tip: Titans by 14 points.
Broncos v Warriors
Monday 4.45pm, Suncorp Stadium
Possibly saving the best for last, Round 12 will culminate on Monday in a match between two top-four hopefuls equally furious after upset losses.
Effectively a playoff for fourth place heading into the halfway point of the season, Monday evening shapes as important as it is mouth-watering.
The Broncos, who face competition leaders Canberra next week, will want this win like no other.
Their most recent outing, against the Bulldogs, was a woeful display that saw them miss an astonishing 42 tackles. The Broncos, despite sitting in fourth, now have the fifth-shakiest defence in the Holden Cup (28 points per game) and need to address that side of things between now and September.
Their opponents New Zealand will still be seething after an embarrassing 24-10 loss to the Knights across the Tasman.
Fullback David Fusitua (one try, 187 metres, seven tackle busts) was an attacking powerhouse, while up front lock David Bhana logged an incredible 61 tackles on his worksheet.
Two similar teams, two out-of-character performances. It’s the recipe for a captivating match that will see one team make amends and another finding themselves in a slight mid-season crisis.
Tip: Broncos by two points.