Broncos v Cowboys
Friday 5.20pm, Suncorp Stadium
The Broncos’ second Queensland derby in as many weeks is shaping as the most crucial match of their season to date.
A worrying trend has seen Brisbane alternate between wins and losses over the first five rounds of the competition, but still within the top eight.
With upwards of five teams nipping at their heels, a loss against the Cowboys would be disastrous.
The Broncos were desperately lucky to get away from the Titans with two competition points at the weekend, a try to halfback Ashley Taylor in the 79th minute stealing the win. It capped off a brilliant game from the No.7 who scored a hat-trick of tries, set another one up and broke the Gold Coast line twice.
Prop Stephen Coombe was also faultless, racking up 45 tackles and 100 metres.
The Cowboys, on the other hand, will need to improve out of sight if they’re to conquer Brisbane at Suncorp. North Queensland were never in with even a sniff against competition leaders Penrith, who nabbed a breezy 12-point victory.
Hooker Jayden Hodges was a rare silver lining in the defeat, making 30 tackles, five tackle-breaks and a line-break.
A loss for the Cowboys could technically see them slump to last place. They will be merely hoping to minimise the damage this Friday.
Tip: Broncos by 10 points.
Roosters v Bulldogs
Friday 5.20pm, Allianz Stadium
One of the most exciting matches of the round sees the Bulldogs travel to Allianz Stadium, fresh from a 43-point blitz against Manly that still has the Silvertails reeling.
The Bulldogs showed why they have mustered the second-best attacking returns in the competition (167 points) with seven scintillating tries on the ANZ Stadium turf.
The 80 minutes from winger Ryan Wilson won’t be forgotten soon. The flanker made 226 metres, five tackle-breaks, one line-break and set up a fabulous try in a career-best performance.
This week they tackle a Roosters outfit that will be desperate to clinch a home win after a luckless trip to the nation’s capital.
Despite seven Roosters making 20 tackles or more, the tri-colours just couldn’t match Canberra when it came to ball play, eventually succumbing to a 35-26 defeat.
Hulking prop Shaquille Blair shone with 157 metres, 20 tackles and three tackle-breaks. But his side was never in the game.
This is the first time the teams have met after they were bundled out of the finals race in the same week last year. Many had penned them in as grand final hopefuls. There’ll be emotion in bucket-loads this Friday night.
Tip: Roosters by six points.
Knights v Panthers
Saturday 3.15pm, Hunter Stadium
The Newcastle Knights’ coaching staff will be singing ‘I Believe in Miracles’ to the players in preparation for this Saturday, because a miracle is precisely what they need.
They will also be urging the 17 players to avoid watching ‘Mission: Impossible’, because that is precisely what they face.
The home team has now lost three ugly encounters in a row to find themselves in a three-way logjam at the bottom of the table.
The Knights were belted by the Dragons and did nothing short of play the Red V into form, allowing eight tries in the 40-28 bruiser.
Newcastle have a serious problem when it comes to attack and with 15 minutes to play trailed by seven tries to two.
It makes for sickening reading when you look at the credentials of their opponents this weekend.
Penrith are flying high without a loss and are cutting through their competition with a razor-sharp backline.
At the weekend George Jennings showed glimpses of his older relatives in banking a try, 146 metres, five tackle-breaks and two line-breaks.
Custodian Dallin Watene Zelezniak made it two sensational games in as many weeks with a ridiculously easy 14 tackle-breaks and 195 metres.
That coupled with a forward pack that made just three errors between them, goes some of the way to describing Newcastle’s impending doom.
Tip: Panthers by 20 points.
Rabbitohs v Storm
Saturday 5.15pm, ANZ Stadium
Preceding one of the most anticipated Round 6 NRL matches in history, the young Storm and Rabbitohs paint a drastically different story.
Unlike their older brothers, these two sides couldn’t be more different.
The Rabbitohs are languishing at the bottom of the table with just one win. The weekend saw them rack up a hat-trick of abysmal losses, hitting rock bottom in a 46-14 dismantling at the hands of the Warriors.
The Rabbitohs coughed up the ball at almost double the rate of their New Zealand opponents and tallied a disastrous 25 ineffective tackles. Not one of the Rabbitohs forwards came close to making 100 metres. Five-eighth Christian Hazard (28 tackles, one try assist) deserves a round of applause for an impressive performance.
Meanwhile the Melbourne Storm shape as a polar opposite to both the Rabbitohs and the team they were last year. They’ve shored up their defence to the extent that only the Panthers have conceded fewer points than Melbourne’s 92.
It was a master class in defence against the Wests Tigers at the weekend, punctuated by a brilliant display from rake Alex Langbridge. The hooker made 41 tackles, two tackle-breaks, and set up a try in a near faultless 80 minutes.
Prop Matt Lodge also staked a valid claim for man of the match, racking up 185 metres, 25 tackles and eight tackle-breaks.
Melbourne are back, baby. And brilliant.
Tip: Melbourne by 12 points.
Raiders v Warriors
Saturday 5.15pm, Canberra Stadium
The New Zealand Warriors are the latest team to find themselves at the foot of a proverbial Mount Everest. No team has come close to toppling the Raiders at home this year, but their foes from across the Tasman pose a real threat.
The Warriors enter the clash off the back of the most impressive performance of Round 5 – a 46-14 annihilation of the Rabbitohs.
Brothers Vili and Tuimoala Lolohea both bagged braces in the eight-tries-to-three bloodbath, as did centre Solomone Kata.
Fullback Ngataua Hukatai (231 metres) crowned a mouth-watering display in attack for the home crowd, who saw no less than nine of their players charge through triple figures in attack.
The Warriors were just as effective without the ball and missed only 19 tackles.
A brilliant first half from the Warriors blew Sydney out of the water at Canberra Stadium at the weekend. The Raiders led 28-8 at the split and never lost control of the game.
Halfback Mitch Cornish was easily the pick of the Green Machine who put in the game of his season to date. The No.7 scored 15 points and made 19 tackles, 110 metres, 10 tackle-breaks and set up a try.
His battle with dynamo Warriors halfback Mason Lino this week is tantalising to say the least. Expect the Raiders to keep their home record intact, but by the skin of their teeth.
Tip: Raiders by two points.
Sea Eagles v Sharks
Sunday 11.45am, Brookvale Oval
Things to look forward to in this game don’t exactly jump off the page.
The Sea Eagles enter the clash off the back of a horrendous performance against the Bulldogs, while Cronulla’s hearts were broken yet again – relinquishing a win in the final seconds against Parramatta to find themselves a point separated from last place.
Manly were hapless in their match against Canterbury, forgoing a 20-12 halftime lead to lose 43-30. And the final score could have been even more humiliating if it weren’t for late tries to Michael Stig and Charlie Taylor. The Sea Eagles need to change fast if they’re to climb from ninth place.
Meanwhile Cronulla will be left thinking ‘what went wrong?’ After showing admirable guts and determination to pull themselves in front of the Eels by six points with three minutes to play, the Sharks inexplicably let in a try out wide to winger Takai Moeakiola. The conversion from Mitchell Brasington split the points in a ballgame Cronulla will feel like they lost.
But things weren’t all bad. Michael Lichaa was again stellar in the No.9 jersey with 188 metres, 17 tackles, four tackle-breaks and a line-break. Back-rower Michael Morris was also admirable in defence.
Heartbreak hardly ever helps in rugby league; look for a big win to the Sea Eagles here.
Tip: Sea Eagles by 16 points.
Wests Tigers v Dragons
Sunday, 12.45pm, SCG
In what is effectively a playoff for a spot in the top eight, the Wests Tigers meet the Dragons at potentially the worst possible time, on an unfamiliar home ground.
The gold-and-blacks have suffered successive losses for the first time since deep into 2012, their most recent coming at the hands of a frightening Melbourne side.
Wests Tigers were never given a look in by the Storm, the defending premiers held to their lowest total in well over 10 games.
Special mention in a losing side must go to lock Brenden Santi who was Jacques Kallis-like in an all-round performance that saw him make 50 tackles and 100 metres.
Meanwhile the Dragons are a team full of new confidence after belting the Knights and giving the scoreboard attendant a much-needed workout.
The Dragons’ attack finally gelled, putting together eight tries in their best performance of 2013.
Hooker Craig Garvey was nothing short of spectacular with his display that saw him cross for two tries, make 20 tackles, six tackle-breaks, three line-breaks and set up two further tries.
If he and the Dragons approach anywhere near that form this weekend, they’ll be having Tiger for dinner.
Tip: Dragons by 10 points.
Titans v Eels
Sunday 4.15pm, Skilled Park
A miracle draw and a heartbreaking loss. It’s not good news for the Titans who just can’t seem to take a trick at the moment.
They were admirable in their display against the Broncos and had it not been for a brilliant solo display by Brisbane halfback Ashley Taylor, who scored 20 of their 28 points, the Titans might just have nabbed their second win of season 2013.
It was obvious from the outset just how much the Titans wanted the win, with seven of their players making 19 tackles or more. Add that to brilliant attacking displays out wide from fullback Jahrome Hughes (200 metres, nine tackle-breaks) and winger Matthew Russell (165 metres, 11 tackle-breaks, one try) and it’s fair to say the loss was the Titans’ best performance of their season – notwithstanding a 29-16 win over Cronulla in Round 1.
The Eels, meanwhile, must have been saying their bedtime prayers last week. They looked gone for all money until, with seconds to play, winger Takai Moeakiola dived over out wide to set up a dramatic conversion for fullback Mitchell Brasington. Sure enough he guided it between the posts to hand Parramatta their third point of the season.
An incredible nine players made over 20 tackles in the war of attrition, hooker Kaysa Pritchard contributing an unbelievable 60.
It’s that sort of spirit that hands Parramatta favouritism this Sunday afternoon.
Tip: Parramatta by four points.