Holden Cup Round 26 previews
The players to watch and predicted results for Round 26 of the National Youth Competition.
Cowboys v Broncos
Round 26 of the Holden Cup kicks off with an all Queensland derby that is just as important as the NRL clash when it comes to the race for the top eight.
Much like their first grade counterparts, Thursday's match will be crucial for both sides as they attempt to lock in respective top four and eight finishes.
Victory would be enough to secure fourth spot for the Cowboys while there's more at stake for the Broncos who must win to guarantee a place in the post-season. Currently in eighth spot and locked on 30 competition points with the Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles, Brisbane are one point ahead of the Knights who face the table-topping Sharks later in the round.
North Queensland claimed a two-point win when the sides met in Round 2 but we're tipping the Broncos to get home in a thriller.
Tip: Broncos by 4
Eels v Rabbitohs
Much like the first game, this shapes as a must-win match for both sides.
The fifth-placed Eels would move into the top four with a win and a Cowboys loss but a heavy loss could see them slide to seventh.
The equation is simple for the Bunnies; win and they're in. If their recent form is anything to go by then that shouldn't be a problem. They snuck past the Eels in Round 12 and have been one of the form teams ever since.
On paper this is arguably the game of the round with both teams naming virtually full-strength squads.
Tip: Rabbitohs by 2
Roosters v Titans
On current form, the Roosters would be the dark horse to claim back-to-back NYC titles. Alas, they've left their run too late this season with the finals out of reach despite winning their past four matches.
It's a different story for the Titans who have managed four losses and a draw since they smashed the Panthers in Round 20. AJ Brimson has been named at fullback but the reshuffle won't help them against the resurgent Roosters.
Tip: Roosters by 20
Sea Eagles v Panthers
The 2015 Holden Cup grand finalists are set to renew hostilities in another game that will shape the eight.
A top two finish seemed a mere formality for the Panthers a month ago but a couple of heavy losses at home have them in danger of dropping out of the top four entirely should they lose and the Dragons, Eels and Cowboys claim big wins.
The Sea Eagles will be riding high following a confidence-boosting win over the Warriors that has them in a three-way logjam on 30 competition points. They proved too strong for the Panthers earlier in the year and should cement their place in the finals on the back of huge performances from guys like Tevita Funa, Tom Wright and Manase Fainu.
Tip: Sea Eagles by 12
Storm v Raiders
There's not a lot to play for except pride and 12th spot on the ladder.
Melbourne got the chocolates earlier in the year and they should do the double in a high-scoring clash.
Tip: Melbourne by 14
Knights v Sharks
The Knights kept their season alive with a thrilling come-from-behind win in Canberra last week but their task is about to get a great deal tougher with Newcastle needing to beat the Sharks and hope other results go their way to make the finals.
To make matters worse, the Sharks will be stinging after they had their 15-game winning streak snapped by the Roosters last week. A return to form would see them finish the regular season with a record 45 competition points.
Tip: Sharks by 12
Dragons v Bulldogs
St George Illawarra delivered a statement of intent when they thrashed the Panthers away from home last week and another big win on Sunday could secure them a spot in the top two if Penrith were to lose again this weekend.
The Dragons could relinquish a second chance in week one of the finals if they slipped up against a Bulldogs side that moved the ball well in their shock win on the Gold Coast.
Tip: Dragons by 16
Wests Tigers v Warriors
The regular season closes with the bottom two teams in the Holden Cup doing battle at Leichhardt Oval.
The points should flow on Sunday afternoon and we're backing the home side to finish the year off with a win.
Tip: Wests Tigers by 10
Last week's results: 4/8
Season results: 128/184