Wests Tigers v Cowboys
Friday 5.20pm, Leichhardt Oval
That losing feeling was inflicted in two very different ways on Friday’s combatants at the weekend, but both will be just as eager to shake its influence.
The home side are recovering from a desperately close loss at the hands of the Rabbitohs, which went the way of the Bunnies despite a miraculous fourth quarter for the Wests Tigers.
Trailing 26-6 with 16 minutes left on the clock, the Tigers fired three rapid tries to move within two points inside the final 10 minutes. However tiredness eventually got the better of the forwards (nine of whom made 20 tackles or more) and they simply couldn’t find another point.
Utility player Shane Lalogafau was breathtaking off the bench, making 24 tackles, 10 tackle busts, 116 metres and scoring the second Wests Tigers try.
Their opponents this week were far less graceful in defeat. The Cowboys were never in the match and scored late to achieve a 24-14 scoreline against the Roosters.
Fullback Zac Santo was, as usual, brilliant – scoring two tries, running for 192 metres, busting 10 tackles and earning three line-breaks.
Despite a loss, last week showed the Wests Tigers had guts and plenty of resilience. They are everything the 2013 Cowboys aren’t. And there’s Leichhardt.
Tip: Wests Tigers by 14 points.
Bulldogs v Broncos
Friday 5.20pm, ANZ Stadium
Two enormous upsets will likely see both the Bulldogs and Broncos entering this match still suffering from the symptoms of shock.
The Bulldogs were blown off the paddock by a Newcastle Knights side that had won just three matches previously.
When all was said and done, the Bulldogs’ bark had been silenced in a 50-24 whitewash.
Canterbury made an unforgiveable 16 errors in the clash, while their 57 missed tackles are still a little hard to comprehend.
It was the Bulldogs’ worst performance of the season and has worryingly seen them slip to eighth spot, with three losses on the trot.
Speaking of trots, the Broncos barely made it into a canter against little siblings the Gold Coast Titans.
A 79th minute try to back-rower Corey Oates (20 tackles, six tackle-breaks, one line-break) made an abysmal scoreboard look mildly respectable, the siren sounding out an impressive 34-18 win by the Titans.
One can’t imagine either side playing as poorly again all season. The home side might well triumph in a sizzler on Friday.
Tip: Bulldogs by four points.
Dragons v Panthers
Saturday 3.15pm, WIN Jubilee Oval
Mission impossible was once a term used to describe the notion of conquering Penrith, but after two losses in three games the Panthers shape as a realistic scalp prospect for the Dragons.
Last week was not ideal preparation for the Red V, going down to rivals Parramatta 34-20 in a match they never looked likely to win.
A ridiculous 10 Dragons were forced to make 20 tackles or more in the loss, which highlighted a chronic inability to find the try line.
Exciting backs Charly Runciman (142 metres, one try assist, three tackle-breaks) and Jackson Hastings (122 metres, one try, seven tackle-breaks) provided a bit of spice to St George Illawarra’s attack but it nevertheless needs urgent attention.
The Dragons still offer the feeblest defence in the competition, at 33.4 points leaked per game. That statistic by itself suggests Penrith should do it easily, but cracks are beginning to show in their own armoury.
The Panthers went down 38-32 in a high-scoring loss to the Warriors, conceding 28 points in the first half alone.
Winger Jarred Wilson (two tries, 123 metres, 19 tackles, six tackle-breaks, three line-breaks) was easily the best of a beaten bunch.
Players like Wilson lead Penrith to reluctant favouritism.
Tip: Panthers by six points.
Sea Eagles v Raiders
Saturday 3.15pm, Brookvale Oval
The Canberra Raiders have regained top spot on the Holden Cup ladder, leapfrogging Penrith and shaping as a monumental ask of the Sea Eagles this Saturday.
Manly were veritably embarrassed by the Melbourne Storm, going down 30-10 and offering little reason for commiseration.
If nothing else, dynamo prop Jake Trbojevic all but cemented a future first-grade spot with a performance that really had to be seen to be believed. The Clydesdale-like forward scored a try, made 30 tackles, ran for 190 metres and broke three Melbourne tackles. Manly will need 13 of him if they’re to come close to the Raiders this weekend.
Canberra, trailing by five tries to two with about 20 minutes to play, pulled off a miracle against the Sharks – nabbing a 26-24 victory with a try to winger Jonathon Reuben in the 79th minute.
The Green Machine’s victory will serve as a warning letter to the remaining teams vying for the flag that when they’ve got momentum behind them, Canberra can very rarely be stopped.
Tip: Raiders by 16 points.
Roosters v Storm
Saturday 5.15pm, Allianz Stadium
Tyler Cornish, Roosters halfback, is the only thing likely standing between Melbourne and consecutive wins.
The No.7 again proved himself as brilliant with a display that single-handedly won the Roosters a 24-14 victory over the Cowboys.
Cornish scored two tries, made 21 tackles, four tackle-breaks and a line-break in the win and provided magical ball to his outside backs. Four of the Roosters’ back five were able to run for more than 100 metres, winger Brendan Elliot the pick of the bunch with a try and 163 metres.
Cornish alone would likely provide greater resistance that Melbourne’s most recent opponents.
It was barely net practice for Melbourne, who ran in six tries to Manly’s two in a 30-10 thumping.
Winger Dane Chang scored a brilliant hat-trick, while also running for 188 metres. Chang’s three line-breaks were also the most on the park.
The Roosters, at home, must be favourites for this one – but it’s looking to go down to the wire in the match of the Round.
Tip: Roosters by four points.
Eels v Titans
Sunday 12.45pm, Mudgee Stadium
Confidence can do funny things to rugby league teams, making this Mudgee maul impossible to predict.
Both combatants enter the clash off impressive wins and the Parramatta Eels are virtually playing for a spot in the top eight.
The blue-and-golds won an athletic 34-20 victory against the Dragons that saw them leap away to a 24-10 halftime lead through dynamic and expansive football.
Props Pauli Pauli (167 metres, six tackle-breaks, 23 tackles) and Daniel Alvaro (170 metres, 32 tackles) were easily the best duo on the park for the Eels, making only two errors between them.
The Titans meanwhile pulled off a result that literally nobody could have predicted.
And the 34-18 thumping of big brothers (and once top-four side) Brisbane was truly stunning.
Five-eighth Matt Beddow was comfortably the best Titan, scoring two tries, setting a further one up, running for 120 metres and making six tackles-breaks.
His performance, alongside the fact that seven Titans clocked triple figures in attack, suggests they are again in with a shot. Spoon specials three weeks ago, two wins in three games have delivered the Gold Coast Titans an infectious pizazz.
Tip: Titans by 10 points.
Warriors v Knights
Sunday 1.45pm, Mt Smart Stadium
New Zealand became just the second team to triumph over the Penrith Panthers all year – and they did it in style.
Leading for most of the match, the Warriors eventually needed two late tries to steal the two competition points back from Penrith. It was an impressive 80 minutes for the Warriors that provided moments of dominance, moments of scramble and even a sense of comeback to the fans.
Winger Alimoti Finau scored two tries in the win, but centre David Fusitua deserved man-of-the-match honours with 170 metres, one try assist and four tackle-breaks.
The Warriors eventually claimed a 38-32 win, their third from four games.
The Knights, meanwhile, never looked like doing anything other than annihilate the Bulldogs, in a 50-24 victory that is surely their best of the season.
It featured nine tries to the Knights – Joe Boyce, Lachlan Shipard and Joseph Tapine all scoring doubles.
Hooker Adam Clydesdale was far and away the best player on the paddock, and maybe of Round 10. The rake scored a try, set two up, made 121 metres in attack, plus seven tackle-breaks, two line-breaks and 29 tackles.
If he is again on form, the highlights producers will be clocking up overtime. Prepare for a stunner.
Tip: Warriors by four points.
Sharks v Rabbitohs
Monday 4.45pm, Sharks Stadium
Cronulla find themselves in last place after a heartbreaking, last-minute loss to the team leading the competition.
It’s now four losses in a row to the Sharks who needed to defend only one more set of six and victory against the Raiders would have been theirs.
Instead, the sky-blues went down 26-24 in front of their home crowd.
Five-eighth Fa'amanu Brown was admirable with two try assists and 15 tackles, while back-rower Michael Morris put in a brilliant performance in a losing side (one try, 171 metres, 24 tackles).
Against all the odds, Cronulla will aim to turn heartbreak into redemption this week when they tackle South Sydney.
The Rabbitohs themselves enter the match off the back of an incredibly narrow win that almost saw the Wests Tigers pull off a miracle.
The Bunnies will be hoping their first-half form is more indicative of their prospects this week.
Hooker Cameron McInness was again dazzling, setting up a try, breaking 11 tackles, making 29 of his own and running for 126 metres.
With a draw in Round 9, it’s now been three weeks since the Rabbitohs suffered a loss and they are starting to show glimpses of finals compatibility.
Tip: Rabbitohs by 10 points.