Just seven rounds remain in the regular season - so let’s take a look at this week’s Rivalry Round.
Cowboys v Broncos - 1300SMILES Stadium 7:45pm Friday
The Queensland rivals both need a win if they want to have any hope of staying in the playoff race. Brisbane won 12-10 at Suncorp in Round 6 earlier this season but that is a long time ago. The Cowboys are 2-3 in their last 5 games, losing back to back games against Manly and Canberra before having the bye in Round 19. Brisbane are losers of 3 in a row and 4 of their last 5, keeping them on 16 competition points (along with the Cowboys) - 6 points out of the Top 8 with 7 games to play. Both teams have key positional changes - suggesting both coaches realise this could be their last throw of the dice in 2013.
If you think... Thurston and Bowen have perhaps one final run in them - take the Cowboys at home.
If you think... Ben Hunt is the answer in the #7 jersey - pick the Broncos.
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Bulldogs v Eels - ANZ Stadium 7:45pm Friday
The Bandaged Bear Cup is on the line again in this clash of traditional rivals. Back in Round 2 the Bulldogs won 20-16 and that made it 5 straight victories for the blue and whites. Only one of these teams are in contention for the finals and it isn’t Parramatta. Sitting in 6th, Canterbury find themselves in caught up in logjam on the ladder between Newcastle in 5th and the Warriors in 11th (where just 2 points separate them) and this is a game they simply have to win to keep ahead of the chasing pack. Parramatta on the other hand have 7 games left to try and bridge the 6 point gap between them in 16th and the Wests Tigers in 15th.
If you think... the home team are poised to boost their differential and playoff chances considerably - pick the Bulldogs.
If you think... Parramatta might get the late injection of a guy called Jarryd Hayne - pick the Eels.
Dragons v Raiders - WIN Stadium 5:30pm Saturday
The stats give St.George-Illawarra next to no chance of winning this game. Canberra are winners of 14 of the last 15 matches between the teams and 8 in a row since the start of 2008. But Josh Dugan is on deck for the Red V this time around
and has a few former Raiders alongside him like Bronson Harrison, Daniel Vidot and even Michael Weyman who know what it is like to be in the lime green jumper for these clashes. Wollongong hosted the last Dragons victory in 2007, a 58-16 thrashing that seemingly had put pay to Canberra’s dominance... but 8 games later and the Raiders are still winning. In their last starts - St.George-Illawarra knocked off the league leading Rabbitohs, while Canberra struggled to put away the current wooden spooners Parramatta at home... but this tip may boil down to how much credit you give a hoodoo?
If you think... the law of averages dictate the Dragons have to win eventually - pick the Saints.
If you think... following hoodoos are the be all and end all of rugby league tipping - take the Raiders.
Titans v Rabbitohs - Skilled Park 7:30pm Saturday
These two teams produced a quality game of footy in Cairns back in Round 14 - with South Sydney eventually getting over the top of the Titans 30-24. But Greg Inglis was arguably the difference that day and with the star fullback expected to miss this game with a knee injury suffered in the Origin decider, the Titans will fancy their chances despite some indifferent form recently (have lost 4 of their last 5). South Sydney are coming off a loss in their first game without Inglis (while injured) in golden point to the Dragons on Monday night, while the Gold Coast kept Manly honest at Brookvale on Sunday.
If you think... the golden point loss to the Dragons was nothing more than a blip on the radar - pick Souths.
If you think... the Titans getting Myles and Bird back gives them very handy upset value - pick the Gold Coast.
Warriors v Storm - Mt Smart Stadium 2:00pm Sunday
The Aucklanders are flying at the moment - winners of 6 of their last 7 games to put themselves back into playoff contention on 20 points. They ran down the Wests Tigers on Friday 24-14 and have the taken the scalps of the Roosters, Manly and Brisbane (twice) recently. However Melbourne are the defending premiers and just had a week off to rest their Origin stars... plus the Storm need a strong run to September if they want a home final in the first week of the semis. That makes this match on Sunday a tantalising prospect - one team fighting to stay in the running for a Top 8 spot, and the other needing a win to keep pressure on the Top 2. Bring it on.
If you think... the Warriors are the real deal, pick them at home to knock off the Storm.
If you think... Melbourne will put the upstarts in their place - pick the defending premiers.
Sharks v Panthers - Remondis Stadium 2:00pm Sunday
Cronulla and Penrith suffered disappointing defeats in Round 19 - the Sharks were shut out by the Roosters and Penrith were overrun by the Knights at home. The loss was more costly for the Panthers - who dropped out of the Top 8 and into 9th spot, 2 points behind the Raiders. Whereas Cronulla slipped from 5th to 7th and are now 3 points behind Manly in 4th spot. Playing at home in this contest has not been an advantage recently - with just one game won by the home team in the last 5 clashes since 2010.
If you think... Cronulla getting Graham, Robson and Pomeroy back overcomes the home ground ‘disadvantage’ - go with the Sharkies.
If you think... Penrith are more like the team that beat the Eels, Titans and Dragons in succession than the one that fell to the Knights - go the Panthers.
Knights v Roosters - Hunter Stadium 3:00pm Sunday
Two in-form teams going head to head on a Sunday afternoon in Newcastle? Yes please.
Newcastle have jumped into 5th after 3 straight wins over the Panthers, Bulldogs and Titans - all direct competitors for a Top 8 spot, while the Roosters continue to roll on - winning 4 in a row and by a combined margin of 76 points the last two weeks over Cronulla and the Dragons. For the Roosters a win keeps them on the hunt for a Minor Premiership - sitting just 2 points behind the Rabbitohs. For Newcastle - their superior points differential of +95 puts them in the box seat for 5th spot should they continue to win.
If you think... Darius Boyd’s great form can get the Knights home... at home, pick Newcastle.
If you think... the tri-colours are 2nd for a pretty good reason - pick the Roosters.
Tigers v Sea Eagles - Campbelltown Stadium 7:00pm Monday
Last chance saloon for the Wests Tigers if Benji Marshall wants to feature in the finals one last time before departing. Unless the Tigers can upset Manly in Monday Night Football - we will have seen the last of Marshall playing meaningful games of rugby league. The Sea Eagles have won 3 of the last 4 between the sides, and have found their last 3 NRL games relative cakewalks - racking up wins by 18, 20 and 40 points over the Titans, Cowboys and Eels. The Tigers looked to have turned a corner recently when they beat the Storm and Raiders back to back but 2 straight losses to the Warriors and Sharks have been terrible for their own playoff health.
If you think... the Farah-Marshall duo has a few tricks left to play together - pick the Wests Tigers.
If you think... Manly are going to continue ripping potential also-rans apart, pick the Sea Eagles.