The junior Dragons need to upset the top-four Roosters if they are to push their way into the top eight of the Holden Cup. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
Storm v Broncos
Friday, 5.20pm, AAMI Park
The ubiquitous Origin drain, not for the first time, is being felt as far afield as the Holden Cup with the Brisbane Broncos now all but in a state of panic after six straight losses and a slide to 11th position on the ladder.
A daunting trip to AAMI Park this Friday is shaping as their last stand and could well decide their 2013 fortunes.
They take on a Melbourne side with issues of their own after slumping to a far-from-impressive 25-16 loss against the Wests Tigers.
If not for a try in the 78th minute to Storm inside centre Niua Finau Puaka, the score board might just have told the real story.
Melbourne made 11 errors, conceded nine penalties and managed only 1198 metre in attack, stats that pale in comparison to a sterling effort by the defending champions.
Lock Pride Petterson-Robati was admittedly a silver lining for the Storm with 131 metres and 33 tackles, as was fullback Kurt Mann, who made nine tackle-breaks.
The Storm will no doubt be battening down the hatches for a match against a Brisbane side with absolutely everything on the line.
The mission is simple for the Broncos – win or bid goodbye.
Their latest loss came in the form of a heartbreaking defeat in the dying minutes against the Warriors.
Playing at Mt Smart, the Broncos showed plenty of guts but ultimately couldn’t stay with New Zealand long enough, the Kiwis earning a nail biting 34-28 victory.
Back-rower Corey Oates was a stunning performer in a losing side – scoring a hat-trick and making 28 tackles.
In their storied history, the Broncos tend to shine brightest with their backs against the wall. Don’t be surprised if they pull one out of the hat.
Tip: Broncos by six points.
Sharks v Wests Tigers
Friday, 5.20pm, Sharks Stadium
Cronulla fans might be wishing for a mercy rule this Friday night as the Sharks take on a red-hot Wests Tigers outfit, on the back of their eighth consecutive loss.
The Sharks were thoroughly trounced by North Queensland in Townsville last week. Scoring only once in each half, the Shire boys’ effort was unfortunately indicative of their 16th place on the ladder, and they eventually went down 28-16.
Missing 40 tackles and committing 10 errors was hardly a way to go about breaking their losing streak and the result was telling.
In an end-to-end match, second-rower Sione Masima deserves praise for his 195 metres and 23 tackles, while hooker Michael Lichaa (28 tackles) was courageous.
That said, it would take a brave punter to tip Cronulla with a 20-point start against the Wests Tigers.
The Campbelltown setting seemed to lift the Wests Tigers into a style of football against Melbourne that could easily see them win back-to-back flags.
Centre Manaia Rudolph (one try assist, 24 tackles) was simply stunning, as was winger Leva Li who bagged himself a try on his way to 11 tackle-breaks.
If you happen to check the scores midway through this game, don’t worry – cricket season hasn’t started early.
Tip: Wests Tigers by 20 points.
Bulldogs v Knights
Saturday, 12.45pm, Belmore Sports Ground
Three games without a loss have the Bulldogs back on track to go deep into September; couple that with a return to spiritual Belmore and Canterbury-Bankstown look likely to paint the town blue and white this Saturday afternoon.
A well-earned bye in Round 16 came after an impressive 23-16 win over the third-placed Roosters.
Despite missing a staggering 50 tackles, the Bulldogs have a lot to be happy about after the display which saw them charge through 1458 metres in attack and confirm why they are the leading point scorers this season (466).
Prop Herman Ese’ese racked up a magnificent 219 metres as well as 19 tackles, while back-rower Adam Elliot (one try, 154 metres, 29 tackles and three tackle-breaks) was ever so close to perfect.
The Bulldogs are now poised in seventh spot and could theoretically climb into the top four with a very big win.
That result looks likely after their opponents slumped to a shock defeat against the Gold Coast Titans.
Newcastle fans were left to shake their heads as the Knights slumped to their second consecutive loss and were left dangerously out of touch with the top eight.
The Hunter club had most of the possession but completed just 25 from 41 sets in the 22-10 shellacking.
The final score was a flattering one to the Knights with forward Mona Seumanufagai scoring in the final seconds.
Painful as it will be to the Knights’ faithful, this one is headed for a dog day afternoon.
Tip: Bulldogs by 12 points.
Rabbitohs v Warriors
Saturday, 1pm, Redfern Oval
South Sydney head into this Redfern Oval clash after pulling off comfortably the upset of the season.
Winning just their sixth match of the year, the Rabbitohs dismantled front-runners Canberra as if they were playing a bunch of disorganised schoolboys.
Holding the Raiders to just two tries either side of the break, the 22-12 victory was a fine display of defence, guts and sheer chutzpah.
Among the stars for the Rabbitohs were back-rower Nick Hedley (37 tackles), hooker Cameron McInnes (one try assist, 20 tackles, 101 metres) and fullback Alex Johnston (one try, one try assist, 168 metres, five tackle-breaks).
The Rabbitohs opened their scoring in the 10th minute and never relinquished their grasp on the reins of the match in the sort of confidence booster they needed in preparation for a match against the Kiwis.
New Zealand have now won three from their past four matches to find themselves a point clear in fourth position.
Their latest victory came in the form of a nail-biter against the Broncos last week, prop Abraham Papalii sealing the deal 34-28 with a 79th-minute effort.
Hooker Michael Silo made 41 tackles in a gutsy effort, while prop James Taylor (one try assist, six tackle-breaks, 161 metres) was just unstoppable.
In what should be a fascinating match, giant killers South Sydney will be hoping for a sea of red and green at Redfern as they aim to pull off what would be the greatest one-two punch in seasons.
Tip: Warriors by 10 points.
Dragons v Roosters
Saturday, 3.15pm, WIN Jubilee Oval
Having racked up their first consecutive victories since Rounds 8 and 9, the Dragons might just have found enough self-belief to resurrect a season that looked all but over.
Their win last weekend against the Panthers was easily their best of the season, a 79th-minute piece of magic against a side that had lost just three times all season.
The Dragons, perennially lazy in defence throughout 2013, missed just 15 tackles in the 18-14 triumph that was decided in the final moments with a try to fullback Jackson Hastings.
In attack the Dragons were equally impressive, with six players charging through triple figures and the Red V boasting 31 tackle-breaks to Penrith’s 15.
The pick of the bunch was hooker Craig Garvey, who set up a try, made 27 tackles and ran for 127 metres. St George Illawarra will need 17 similar efforts when they take on top-four side the Sydney Roosters this weekend.
The Roosters’ Round 16 effort was nothing short of spectacular and saw the tricolours charge through 1751 metres on their way to a 34-6 trouncing of Manly.
An incredible eight Roosters made 100 metres or more in the match, winger Jack Goodsell churning out 181 to go with his two tries.
Centre Willis Meehan (one try assist, 11 tackle-breaks, 156 metres) was a juggernaut, while back-rower Jack Noble lived up to his name with 30 tackles, 142 metres, four tackle-breaks and a try assist.
The Dragons, now just a point outside the top eight, will be feeling capable of an upset and much stranger things have happened on the grass of WIN Jubilee Oval.
Tip: Dragons by two points.
Raiders v Cowboys
Sunday, 11.45am, Canberra Stadium
Still reeling from their astonishing 22-12 capitulation to South Sydney, the Raiders will be out to make amends against North Queensland on their chilly, unwelcoming home turf.
Just their third loss of the season (and the second half of their only back-to-back defeats), the loss was a dour and almost embarrassing one that saw the Green Machine commit an uncharacteristic 19 errors and 34 missed tackles.
Five-eighth Jordan Worboys was the only Raider to cross the line, with a try either side of the break. Back rower Jeremy Hawkins was sterling with 182 metres and 33 tackles.
It is almost impossible to imagine lightning striking three times in as many weeks and the Cowboys should be wary.
They are, however, full of confidence after finally earning their third win of the season in the form of a 28-12 pounding of Cronulla.
North Queensland made only eight errors in a tidy effort that saw both wingers Hayden Crowley and Zac Santo rack up 200 metres in attack. Santo also scored a try and broke seven tackles in a thrilling display.
Elsewhere Jayden Hodges shone with 31 tackles and 116 metres.
It was the Cowboys’ first win since Round 3 and, staring down the barrel of a trip to the Capital, might just be their last for a little while yet.
Tip: Raiders by 14 points.
Titans v Panthers
Sunday, 1.30pm, Ned Byrne Field
As Round 16 clearly showed, anything is possible. The Rabbitohs pulled off the upset of the season with a win against the Raiders and the Dragons caused jaws to drop with their effort over the Panthers.
Given those results and the unfamiliar territory of Ned Byrne Field, Penrith will be miles from confident as they set out to put last week behind them.
Their trepidation will be multiplied tenfold after the Gold Coast pulled off their own shock win against the Newcastle Knights.
The Titans seized every opportunity that came their way and were leading 22-4 in the final seconds before the Knights grabbed a consolatory converted try.
Five-eighth Matt Beddow was a picture of class as he worked his way through 20 tackles and a brace of tries. No less than 10 Titans made 20 tackles or more, back rower Zach Friend capping off a memorable victory with 36.
The Panthers, meanwhile, blew a rare chance to regain top spot after going down 18-14 to the Dragons in dramatic circumstances.
In front with a minute left on the clock, a self-converted try to Dragons fullback Jackson Hastings wrested the match away from the Panthers to hand them their first consecutive losses of 2013.
Back-rower Pat Hollis, who scored twice, made 29 tackles and busted five tackles, will feel especially sour.
All the statistics say Penrith should win this and that’s where the smart money will be. But not without a slight bit of hesitation.
Tip: Panthers by eight points.
Sea Eagles v Eels
Monday, 4.45pm, Brookvale Oval
A bye last weekend consolidated consecutive wins in Rounds 14 and 15 for the Eels, and with them a spot in the top eight.
Now on 17 points and one clear of the ninth-placed Knights, the Eels would love nothing more than to upset the Brookvale crowd with a big win against their sworn enemies.
The Eels’ last outing was a deceptively comfortable 18-12 win over South Sydney, the scores levelled slightly in the 79th minute when winger Jordan Heyer crossed for the Bunnies.
Parramatta missed just 23 tackles and ran for 1438 metres in the stylish and important victory.
Fullback Corey Makelim was tremendous in attack with a try, a try assist, six tackle-breaks and 192 metres, while second-rower Fred Junior Mauala’s 34 tackles were as impressive as they sound.
He was one of eight Eels to make 20 tackles or more and one of the reasons behind Parramatta’s third best defence in the competition (316 points).
The blue-and-golds this week tackle a Manly outfit severely down on confidence and languishing in 15th position.
Their latest horrendous defeat was a 34-6 trouncing at the hands of the Sydney Roosters, who showed no relenting in an 80-minute blitz.
Manly missed 50 tackles, committed 14 errors and completed just 64 per cent of their sets in a performance sadly reflective of their season as a whole.
Tip: Eels by 16 points.