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Rabbitohs v Cowboys
Friday, 5.20pm, ANZ Stadium
The heartache continues for Friday night’s combatants with both the Rabbitohs and Cowboys lingering towards the back of the pack after tight losses.
South Sydney played out of their skin to lead the Broncos 14-10 at halftime in their Round 8 clash at Suncorp but couldn’t trade blows with the home side which eventually snuck away with a 22-20 victory.
Christian Hazard, a newcomer for South Sydney in the No.7 jersey, was by far their best player – scoring two tries, setting one up, breaking 10 tackles and making 17 tackles of his own.
Hooker Cameron McInnes was also his usual diligent self, making 34 tackles and missing only two.
North Queensland’s misery was served cold at Parramatta Stadium where a late comeback was thwarted to hand the Cowboys their fifth straight loss.
Trailing 10-nil for most of the match, North Queensland drew level with 10 minutes to play before a converted try to Eel Takai Moeakiola shut them out of the game.
Both these teams desperately need a win and, on form, one thinks the Rabbitohs will clinch it at home.
Tip: Rabbitohs by four points.
Wests Tigers v Sharks
Friday, 5.20pm, Allianz Stadium
The always fiery clash between the Wests Tigers and Cronulla Sharks will be leant even more feeling with the home side proving they mean business last week after toppling giants Canterbury-Bankstown.
A miracle try to centre Manaia Rudolph in the 75th minute handed a 30-28 victory to the Wests Tigers to consolidate an outright spot in the top eight.
Halfback Mitchell Moses deserves much credit for the win, scoring a try and setting one up as well as making 16 tackles and four tackle-breaks.
Despite the high-scoring encounter, the Wests Tigers’ defensive unit is starting to gel splendidly and they now boast the second best defence in the Holden Cup (172 points).
Meanwhile the Sharks were thoroughly thumped 50-14 by the Newcastle Knights away from home and are slipping with dangerous swiftness down the ladder after two straight losses.
Only two Sharks made more than 100 metres in the 10-tries-to-three humiliation that is best soon forgotten.
With the second best defence in the competition lining up against the second worst, things could get ugly if Cronulla don’t turn it around quick smart.
Tip: Wests Tigers by 14 points.
Warriors v Bulldogs
Saturday, 5.15pm, Westpac Stadium
This top-eight battle is set to ignite after both teams were upset last week through harrowing two-point losses.
Nobody in the English-speaking world expected the Warriors to go down at home to the last-placed Titans but down they went, a try to Gold Coast halfback Kayne Elgey in the 75th minute sealing the deal.
The 32-30 score line ultimately flattered New Zealand who trailed a massive 22-6 at halftime.
Lock David Bhana is beginning to justify comparisons with NRL juggernaut Paul Gallen after yet another tireless performance saw him rack up 49 tackles.
The loss was the Warriors’ first in five weeks and came as a much needed wake-up call before they take on the most consistent team of 2012.
The Bulldogs went down to defending premiers Wests Tigers in eerily similar circumstances, conceding a try and with it a two-point lead as the clock ticked past the 75-minute mark.
It was a loss that will have hurt the Bulldogs, especially lock Jack Creighton who set up a try, made 29 tackles, three tackle-breaks and earned a line-break assist in the narrow defeat.
It sets up a tantalising clash between two front-heavy sides eager to make amends.
The Warriors will again enjoy home ground advantage, albeit at an unfamiliar location in Wellington, and it’s unlikely they’d let opportunity slip twice in a fortnight.
Tip: Warriors by six points.
Eels v Broncos
Saturday, 5.15pm, Parramatta Stadium
Two in-form teams do battle this Saturday afternoon and both sides have plenty to play for.
For Parramatta, the prospect of a berth in the top eight looms having spent many of the past weeks camped in ninth spot.
They remained within a point of the finals race with a cool, calm and collected 16-10 win over North Queensland.
Parramatta looked the goods from the outset and soon found themselves 10-nil up. A minor lapse in concentration saw the Cowboys draw level with 10 minutes to play but centre Takai Moeakiola soon threw water over any ideas of a comeback with a stylish individual try.
Moeakiola was close to the best on park, running for a game-high 170 metres, setting up a further try and breaking three Cowboys tackles.
Up the other end of the field lock Joseph Ualesi was also brilliant with 131 metres, 38 tackles and five tackle-breaks.
The Broncos also racked up a deserved victory but let their scrambling do the talking, holding South Sydney out for the final 15 minutes to escape with a two-point victory.
The Broncos, now in fourth with four consecutive wins, need to address their defence before this clash. They were blessed to walk away with two points against the Rabbitohs after missing an astronomical 54 tackles.
They can ill afford a repeat.
Tip: Broncos by two points.
Raiders v Knights
Sunday, 11.45am, Canberra Stadium
Two out-of-towners, both in red hot form, make for a thrilling entree to Sunday afternoon football this weekend.
The home side Canberra are now just a point from first place after annihilating Melbourne 46-12 at AAMI Park.
The Raiders have now gone seven weeks without a loss and their latest win was easily their most impressive of the season.
Canberra piled on eight tries with Jonathon Reuben and Brenko Lee each bagging doubles.
Seven players from the Green Machine racked up triple figures in attack, while six made 20 tackles or more.
Prop Mitchell Shaw was just about the pick of the bunch with 148 metres, 25 tackles, two tackle-breaks, one line-break and a try assist for good measure.
Meanwhile up north Newcastle were putting on a masterclass in rugby league, scoring 10 tries on their way to a 50-14 shellacking of Cronulla.
Wingers Jake Mamo and Lachlan Shipard scored hat tricks and braces respectively, with the Novocastrians making just five errors all game.
Five-eighth David Oakes found form with a try and two try assists while hooker Adam Clydesdale lived up to his name with a workhorse performance. Clydesdale scored a try, set two up, made 35 tackles, three tackle-breaks and a line-break.
What a mouth-watering match awaits this Sunday. If both sides find similar form to last weekend, it could well be the match of the season to date, let alone the match of the Round.
Tip: Raiders by eight points.
Titans v Dragons
Sunday, 12.45pm, Skilled Park
With both sides nabbing unexpected wins at the weekend, confidence will be sky-high despite the bottom-of-the-table standings.
Now stuck in a four-way tie for last, the Titans finally earned their second win of the season with a miracle 32-30 win over powerhouse side New Zealand.
The Titans somehow squandered a 20-point lead and looked gone for all money before halfback Kane Elgey dived over in the 75th minute to steal a strange and unlikely victory.
Fullback Jahrome Hughes set up three of the Titans’ six tries, while prop Hymel Hunt impressed with a try of his own, 29 tackles, 122 metres and two tackle busts.
It was far from convincing but a much needed two points for the Gold Coast.
This week they will have to contend with a Dragons forward pack that seems finally to have found its groove. A powerful display from the Dragons’ big men handed them a timely 28-6 victory over Manly.
Hulking prop Kem Seru opened the scoring for the Dragons in the 15th minute, while back-rower Vincent Stowers deserved man-of-the-match honours with 115 metres, 25 tackles and two tackle-breaks.
The forwards laid a perfect groundwork for players like Jackson Hastings (one try, one try assist and five tackle-breaks) and Yaw Kiti Glymin (one try, five tackle-breaks) to pounce.
The Dragons showed fans what they had been waiting to see all season and if they can post a similar performance they should do away with the Titans easily.
Tip: Dragons by 10 points.
Panthers v Storm
Sunday, 4.15pm, Centrebet Stadium
Well, it had to happen eventually. The monumental winning streak of the Penrith Panthers was finally halted in Round 8 by the Roosters, as predicted by this column.
Penrith were up two tries to nil inside the first 10 minutes and looked likely to make it eight in a row.
But a determined Sydney Roosters outfit, buoyed by a patriotic home crowd, soon clicked into gear and eventually ran away with the match 32-16.
Usual suspect fullback Dallin Watene Zelezniak was again a nightmare for his opposition, scoring two tries, running for 206 metres, racking up three line-breaks and busting through an unbelievable 18 Roosters tackles.
Nine Penrith players made 20 tackles or more in their inaugural loss, which was spirited to say the least.
Despite losing by 16, they held nerve enough to send a clear reminder to the Melbourne Storm why they are competition front-runners.
If Melbourne are to even threaten the Panthers they need to perform an about-face. The Storm are still reeling after a 46-12 demolition at the hands of the Canberra Raiders.
The Victorians made 12 unforgiveable handling errors, and missed a worrying 29 tackles.
With two consecutive losses over the past fortnight, Melbourne have plenty of improving to do if they’re to figure in September.
Tip: Panthers by 12 points.
Sea Eagles v Roosters
Monday, 4.45pm, Brookvale Oval
It’s hard to find positives for Silvertail fans heading into this match, with a Manly side down on confidence set to run into third-placed giant killers Sydney Roosters.
A try in the 78th minute was the only time the Sea Eagles troubled the scorers in their 28-6 defeat to the Dragons, one which saw nine of the 13 players in the run-on side commit errors.
The Sea Eagles missed 26 tackles in the defeat which relegated them to equal last place and the leanest attacking returns in the competition (154 points).
Their opponents this week couldn’t have enjoyed a more different preparation. The Roosters became the first team in the Holden Cup to defeat the mighty Penrith Panthers, running away 32-16 victors in a stylish display.
Winger Jake Goodsell bagged a double in the win, the flanker one of 11 Roosters to make more than 100 metres in attack.
Halfback Tyler Cornish was best on park with a try of his own, two try assists, 26 tackles and four tackle-breaks.
Up front it was back-rower Rhyse Martin who most impressed with 105 metres, 26 tackles, six tackle-breaks and the Roosters’ first try.
Sydney now have three consecutive wins behind them, Manly have lost four on the trot. It would take a brave punter to suggest a way those form lines might reverse this Monday.
Tip: Roosters by 14 points.