Broncos v Titans
Friday 5.20pm, Suncorp Stadium
It’s difficult to fathom a route out of Brisbane that will see the Titans leave with two competition points. Lingering in outright last position with the poorest attack in the competition and the third-worst defence, the Gold Coast are struggling big time.
Last time these teams met Brisbane snuck away with a tight victory at Skilled Park. On their home turf and on current form, the only things tight this Friday will be the Titans fans’ chests as they watch the scoreboard spiral helplessly out of control.
The Broncos were last week at their sizzling best – annihilating Parramatta 40-18 away from home.
Back-rower Corey Oates scored a brace of tries, while forwards partners Francis Molo (143 metres, 19 tackles, three tackle-breaks) and Caleb Timu (117 metres, 34 tackles, one tackle-break) helped win it for the Broncos through the middle.
Stopping Brisbane in that area of the park will seem an impossible task to the Titans. In their weekend outing they were smashed 46-20 by the Dragons, missing 36 tackles along the way.
Cricket score stuff awaits.
Tip: Broncos by 20 points.
Rabbitohs v Wests Tigers
Friday 5.20pm, ANZ Stadium
The home team earned a lot of respect and showed real guts last weekend when they bridged an 18-10 halftime deficit against the Cowboys to record an unlikely 20-all draw.
Hooker Cameron McInnes was heroic in the nail-biter, making a game-high 35 tackles and scoring the equaliser in the 71st minute. The tenacious rake also broke four Cowboys tackles.
The one point in the Bunnies’ pockets will feel like a victory.
That winning feeling was far more clear-cut for South Sydney’s Friday opponents. The Wests Tigers ran away with a 20-point thumping of Cronulla, the defending premiers continuing their charge up the Holden Cup ladder.
Surprisingly only one Tiger ran for more than 100 metres but it’s no surprise who that was: winger David Nofoaluma made an incredible 212 metres in attack, scoring two tries along the way with blistering pace. Halfback Mitchell Moses was solid as usual, setting up two tries.
South Sydney might be one of the season’s minnows but they have shown they are capable of pulling the odd Rabbit out of the hat. This one might be closer than expected.
Tip: Wests Tigers by six points.
Dragons v Eels
Saturday 3.15pm, WIN Stadium
The Saints came marching into finals contention at the weekend with a 46-20 hammering of the Gold Coast Titans.
In so doing they leapfrogged Parramatta into ninth place and a victory at home against the Eels this weekend would put a three-point buffer between the two sides.
Watching the Dragons’ backline work in unison at the weekend was almost poetic in its beauty. Star centre Charly Runciman scored a hat-trick of tries, set a further one up and broke six tackles, while winger Yaw Kiti Glymin scored a spectacular brace.
The Dragons made 12 handling errors in the game but with such riveting, expansive rugby league they were well forgiven.
Parramatta meanwhile let a golden opportunity to move into the top eight slip when they were smashed by Brisbane 40-18 at home. There were solid performances across the field for Parramatta but nothing seemed to click for them.
This is the most important game for these two teams this season so far and the result will go the way of the side that wants it more.
Tip: Dragons by four points.
Panthers v Warriors
Saturday 5.15pm, Centrebet Stadium
With the Warriors now nipping at the heels of the top four and Penrith pulling off one of the most impressive victories of 2013, this match has all the makings of a blockbuster.
The Kiwi-based side travels across the Tasman to take on a Panthers side that has lost just once in the past nine weeks.
At the weekend Penrith claimed indisputable title favouritism as they tackled like fiends to snatch a 10-6 victory from top-eight side the Melbourne Storm.
Melbourne were held scoreless for 73 minutes by Penrith, who missed just 13 tackles all game.
It’s no wonder their defence is superior by many magnitudes to the remaining 15 teams in the competition (16.7 points per game).
Lock Iaian Riccardi and back-rower Iszah Yeo both made over 30 tackles while prop Regan Campbell-Gillard powered through the match with 129 metres, 25 tackles and a tackle-break.
For the Warriors it was a case of outpointing Canterbury-Bankstown’s John Talioe Sila who scored all five Bulldogs tries in a bizarre 34-24 attack-a-thon.
Warriors pivot Tuimoala Lolohea scored two tries himself, as well as making 19 tackles. Interchange player Sam Lisone scored a try, ran for 153 metres and made 19 tackles in an impressive performance off the bench.
When brilliant attack meets stonewall defence, rugby league is at its best. Saturday evening promises to be a bottler.
Tip: Panthers by four points.
Cowboys v Roosters
Saturday 5.15pm, 1300SMILES Stadium
The Cowboys were left to lick their wounds from a tied encounter with the South Sydney Rabbitohs – a match they could and should have won.
The Cowboys led 18-10 at halftime and were still in front inside the final 10 minutes. The draw will have felt like a bitter loss.
North Queensland’s fullback Zac Santo was their best on park – running for 178 metres, setting up a try and earning seven tackle-breaks and two line-breaks.
Their opponents this weekend were even less convincing, letting the match slip against Manly with just three minutes on the clock. It came down to the Sea Eagles’ superior goal-kicking in the five-tries-all seesaw, but Sydney’s Samisoni Langi can be far from blamed.
The five-eighth might have only slotted two from five conversion attempts, but he scored a try, set one up, made 17 tackles and two tackle-breaks.
Both sides have been sapped of confidence in recent weeks and both will be desperate to finish on top in a match that will likely feature plenty of tries.
Tip: Cowboys by 10 points.
Sharks v Raiders
Sunday 11.45am, Sharks Stadium
While the visitors are starting to get on a juggernaut-like roll, Cronulla must be wondering where their next two points are coming from after an abysmal performance against the Wests Tigers made it three losses in as many weeks.
The Sharks missed 30 tackles in the 38-18 whitewash that hadn’t even a glimmer of a silver lining.
Hooker Michael Lichaa was again Cronulla’s closest thing to a consolation, making 36 tackles, 136 metres in attack and breaking six Wests Tigers tackles.
Meanwhile the Canberra Raiders have now made it eight games on the trot without a loss, racking up 40 points for the second time in a fortnight in an impressive dismantling of the Newcastle Knights.
Fullback Jack Ahearn and winger Jonathon Reuben both scored doubles in the 40-26 win but it was back-rower Patrick Mago who deserves most credit from the victory.
In addition to scoring a four-pointer, Mago made 22 tackles, 10 tackles-breaks, two line-breaks, set up a further try and ran for 182 metres. Simply stunning.
With talent in bucket-loads at the front and rear of their arsenal, Canberra are looking the goods to go very deep into the competition once again.
Tip: Raiders by 16 points.
Knights v Bulldogs
Sunday 12.45pm, Hunter Stadium
Two sides low on confidence meet this Sunday afternoon at Hunter Stadium, desperate to turn things around.
The Knights just weren’t good enough to match the second-place Raiders at the weekend, going down 40-26 in a one-sided affair.
Centre James Elias was the best of a beaten bunch, scoring two tries, making 17 tackles, six tackle-breaks, two line-breaks and 130 metres in attack.
The Knights need to remedy a worrying shortcoming in defence that saw them miss 39 tackles. They can ill-afford to do that again.
For the Bulldogs it was a case of a one-man army up against the might of 17 Warriors. In a strange match, winger John Sila was the only try-scorer for the Bulldogs, running for 110 metres on his way to five four-pointers.
Halves Moses Mbye and Jaline Graham were both off-colour in the 34-24 defeat, while fullback Patrick Templeman was gallant in setting up three of his flanker’s five tries.
The Bulldogs have produced some of the best footy in the Holden Cup this year, they just need to find a way to summon it, lest they risk plummeting further down the top eight. Or out of it.
Tip: Bulldogs by 10 points.
Storm v Sea Eagles
Monday 4.45pm, AAMI Park
Melbourne were on the wrong end of the best defensive effort in two years of this competition, throwing everything they had at competition leaders Penrith and only managing to cross the line once, when it was too late, in the 73rd minute.
Five Melbourne players racked up triple figures in attack including lock Francis Tualau, who made 151 metres (and 19 tackles) but the Panthers’ goal-line defence was all-but impregnable.
It was winger Dane Change who finally found a way over the line, but Melbourne were by then a spent force.
The Storm have now slipped to eighth place after three straight losses and risk tumbling out of the top eight if the Dragons’ impressive resurgence continues.
The Victorians will be hoping for a large and loud home audience this Monday when they host the Manly Sea Eagles.
Manly enter the clash off the back of a rare win – their first in five weeks – and will want to keep the ball rolling. The Sea Eagles lifted themselves from the bottom of the table with a miracle win against the Roosters.
Trailing for most of the match, Manly’s halfback Riley Travers completed a Cinderella performance when he dived over in the 77th minute to clinch a 28-24 win from the grasp of the Sydney Roosters.
Prop Jake Trbojevic again staked his claim as an NRL forward of the future with 194 metres in attack and 28 tackles.
Melbourne simply can’t afford to let their concentration slip for a fourth week in a row. Expect them to turn it around at home comfortably.
Tip: Storm by 14 points.