Bulldogs v Roosters
Friday 5.30pm, ANZ Stadium
The stellar boot of fullback Patrick Templeman helped kick the Bulldogs back into the top eight at the weekend in a tense five-tries-all win over Manly.
Templeman slotted all his conversion attempts as well as a penalty goal to get Canterbury over the line 32-26 for their first victory since Round 11.
The custodian was assisted admirably up front by prop Herman Ese’ese, who charged through 136 metres and five tackle busts, as well as back-rower Adam Elliot (34 tackles, 110 metres).
The result couldn’t have come at a better time for the Bulldogs, who need all the confidence they can muster as they prepare for a showdown with the Roosters – sitting pretty in third place after four consecutive wins.
The latest team to feel their wrath, the Warriors from New Zealand, found themselves close to tears after the Roosters snatched two late tries and a field-goal to sneak away 31-26 winners.
Prop Shaquille Blair scored two tries and made 22 tackles in the Allianz Stadium thriller – a match sure to put the Bulldogs on notice.
Canterbury have scored more points than any other team in the Holden Cup (443), but will have their work cut out for them in slicing through the Roosters’ defence – the fourth best in the competition.
Tip: Roosters by eight points.
Wests Tigers v Raiders
Saturday 5.15pm, Campbelltown Stadium
A grand final rematch, the clear match of the round, kicks off this Saturday evening and there is a sense the defending premiers might once again emerge the winners in what would be an ironic upset.
The Wests Tigers will take to their home field fresh from a 38-16 trouncing of the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium. Halfback Luke Brooks was the star of the show, scoring three of his side’s seven tries.
Across the park, the Wests Tigers shone in attack – powering through 1416 metres to the Broncos’ 1153. An astounding seven Wests Tigers players made 100 metres or more.
Lock Brenden Santi lodged yet another claim for Player of the Year with a try assist, seven tackle-breaks, 33 tackles and 133 metres.
The win sets up a salivating encounter with the Canberra Raiders, whose only loss – in Round 1 – took place under a different pope.
On that occasion the now second-placed Panthers thrashed the Raiders 40-16. But on Saturday evening revenge was served cold in the capital.
The Raiders ran away 32-18 winners against Penrith after heading to the sheds locked 12-all.
In a physically dominant display, eight Raiders charged through triple figures in attack, while halfback Mitch Cornish dazzled with two try assists and three tackle busts.
They come but once, twice, maybe three times a year. But this grand final rematch is shaping as something extra special.
Tip: Wests Tigers by two points.
Eels v Rabbitohs
Sunday 12.45pm, ANZ Stadium
In a crucial match between teams 10 and 11 – both locked on 13 points – this Round 15 showdown is shaping as an audition for the pointy end of the season.
Played on the relatively neutral turf of ANZ Stadium between two sides with near identical attack and defence statistics, and both coming off wins last week, it’s difficult to pick a favourite, let alone predict the winner.
Parramatta’s Round 14 was made sunny with a 30-16 thumping of the Cronulla Sharks.
Second-rower Sean Jackson starred in the win with two try assists, six tackle busts and 31 tackles, while winger Sam Manuleleua bagged a brace of tries as well as 135 metres.
By way of credentials for the Rabbitohs, a stylish 40-26 annihilation of the Gold Coast Titans will do just fine. A total of seven different Rabbitohs scored in the victory that also saw them rack up 1564 metres.
Centre Jaiden Hawkes was the pick of the bunch with an astounding 207 metres to go with his two line-breaks and two try assists.
For the unfortunate team that loses this match, season 2013 is all but over.
The Rabbitohs are scheduled to meet Canberra next week while the Eels have the bye. Given that they need this win slightly more, the Rabbitohs get a tiny, and hesitant, nod.
Tip: Rabbitohs by two points.
Titans v Storm
Monday 4.45pm, Skilled Park
A devastating loss to South Sydney at the weekend has taken the wind out of the Gold Coast sails – bringing to an end their three-match winning streak and also any likelihood of a finals berth.
Despite scoring the first two tries of the afternoon, the Titans were totally outshone by a rampant Rabbitohs outfit that dominated every facet of play.
While relatively disciplined with ball in hand, the Gold Coast missed 35 tackles and were jogging on the spot for much of the 80 minutes.
A consolatory 80th-minute try to Matthew Russell rounded off a bittersweet afternoon for the centre who set up an earlier four-pointer, ran for 150 metres and busted five tackles to no avail.
It’s difficult to see how the home side can possibly beat this weekend’s opponents Melbourne, who are in fourth place and enter the clash on the back of a trouncing of the Newcastle Knights.
The Storm were brilliant in both attack and defence in roaring to a 36-8 victory, halfback Matt McGahan starring with a display reminiscent of his pre-injury 2012.
The No.7 set up a try, scored two himself, busted five tackles and broke the Knights’ line twice.
Elsewhere, prop Pride Petterson-Robati was nothing short of brilliant in running for 149 metres and clocking up 34 tackles.
With the Titans’ sapped of hope and the Storm now eyeing a top-four finish, this one could well be headed for a cricket score.
Tip: Storm by 18 points.