Canterbury Bulldogs v Manly Sea Eagles
Both teams are highly impressive units with numerous talented individuals. It promises to be a quality game. The Bulldogs will be buoyant after scooping a number of Dally M awards. Manly is an uncompromising forward pack who has bullied their way through their wins. Manly will happily score as few points needed to win the game and are the best in the competition at defending a lead.
Bulldogs win through their short passing game. They are crafty and ambitious. With Josh Reynolds, Ben Barba and Josh Morris, they can score breakout tries from their own end. Manly will need to deny the big Bulldogs pack from rumbling their yardage sets to halfway and Kris Keating chipping the ball into the corners for field position.
Manly win through their brilliant kicking game. Whilst they will probe the edges through the Stewart brothers, Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans, it is their ability to chase and contest kicks which will give them the edge. Bulldogs will need to watch Kieran Foran in last minute before halftime. They have scored from kicks in their last three games. Bulldogs will also need to support Ben Barba with both wingers working back behind the ball on kick returns so he is not isolated, held up then pummelled by three defenders.
Melbourne Storm v South Sydney Rabbitohs
Two different teams in philosophy and personality. The Rabbitohs have numerous strike weapons in attack across the park and will threaten from all areas of the field. The Storm will apply the blowtorch in mental pressure and sweat on any mistakes from Souths. Whilst Melbourne possesses three of the best players in the game, the team needs to find another gear and this needs to be provided by the other 14 players.
Souths will win because they have multiple threats in attack. If Dave Taylor can limit his errors then Souths will be difficult to contain. Greg Inglis is the x-factor in this game and if he stays healthy and involved an upset is in the making. Storm can limit GI by manipulating possession flow and the starting position of Souths sets. Souths will make errors but where on the field will this happen?
Storm can win by being patient. There will be opportunities to score points as the Rabbitohs outside backs have made some erratic defensive decisions at times. Souths need to invest some petrol into moving up. They can be guilty of waiting to get the ball to play. Storm can struggle to make yards against a fast moving defensive line as they have a mobile pack (not a big one).
North Queensland Cowboys v Brisbane Broncos
This game is the Cowboys to lose. The Cowboys as a collective unit have been first class in the last month and with a home game expect parochial support. Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen are in brilliant form and the Cowboys pack is chockfull of current or ex-representative players. Brisbane has limped into the playoffs. Most will write them off even though they have a very good record against the Cowboys in Townsville.
Cowboys win because their form as a team and star players JT and Matt Bowen will be too hard to repel.
Broncos can only win if they play at a level not seen since autumn.
Canberra Raiders v Cronulla Sharks
Who would have believed six weeks ago that the Raiders would not only make the playoffs but host one as well. Certainly not me! Canberra have strung together strong wins and strong performances. They have some very talented players and do not appear to be reliant on one star. Cronulla Sharks have scraped in. They have won only two games in their last nine.
Canberra wins because form is important for team morale and confidence and they are healthy. Whilst Josh Dugan is a star, the reality that Reece Robinson can ably fill his role has grounded him and now he adds value when he plays. Huge forward pack complements the underrated, hardworking Shaun Fensom. Cronulla need to tackle strongly on the edge. Joel Thompson and Josh Papalii are tackle breakers, try scorers and avenues for momentum.
Cronulla are a seasoned, resilient side. They are unlikely to be fussed on their losing form and play well away from home. Todd Carney needs to have a huge game along with Jeremy Smith, Isaac De Gois and Paul Gallen. Raiders also need to be aggressive in their defensive line speed. They need to limit the time and space of the Sharks.