All team lineups here
Round 17 brings us a fairly severely Origin affected round. Whilst there are some reasonable matches some potentially important contests are skewed by the players missing. This presents golden opportunities for certain sides, especially the New Zealand Warriors, to boost their finals chances.
Brisbane Broncos vs. Cronulla Sharks
Friday, 7:30 pm, Suncorp Stadium
Brisbane $1.57, Sharks $2.45
Live Ch. 9 (NSW, Qld), Gem (other states)
A potentially really good match up that has been devalued somewhat due to the lack of origin players. Cronulla could’ve really put up a strong fight at full strength, but with no Gallen or, more importantly, Todd Carney they really are up against it. Travelling to Suncorp is not an easy task at the best of times (as most clubs have discovered this year), let alone when missing your two most important players. They’ve brought Chad Townsend up from NSW Cup and left Wade Graham in his back row for this match, in an effort to boost the creativity levels in the absence of Carney. Their forward pack is still strong and will take it to a Brisbane side missing Thaiday, Petero, Hannant, Parker, Te’o and Gillett, so the key for Cronulla is to turn the game into a grind. Grind down a young (yet still good) Brisbane pack and don’t let them near the attacking areas of the field.
Brisbane, despite missing a forward pack, are still pretty strong in attack. Their spine is intact and whilst Hodges is a loss, Beale is a handy replacement in the centres. If they get good field position they will be very dangerous.
Cronulla aren’t without a chance here but I think this is a tough trip for them at this time of year. Brisbane by 10.
Parramatta Eels vs. Newcastle Knights
Saturday, 7:30 pm, Parramatta Stadium
Eels $2.10, Newcastle $1.75
Live Fox Sports
Two sides that might, might have turned the corner somewhat in recent matches. Parramatta have won two from their last three, including a last gasp victory over spoon rivals Penrith, whilst Newcastle finally broke the shackles somewhat with a come from behind victory over the Tigers last round. Makes for an interesting match up. Both full backs are obviously absent on Origin duty but where Newcastle have the inexperienced Peter Mata’utia at the back the Eels have veteran Luke Burt in a role he is very comfortable in. Newcastle’s forward pack is really being lead around by Mason and Snowden at present, and both of these players will need to fire to create space for Mullen to be effective. Parramatta’s mid season recruit Luke Kelly is showing signs of quality very early into his first grade career.
Based on performances this season it is pretty hard to split these two sides, but I’m leaning towards a win to the improving Eels. Not with a huge amount of confidence but I think they are starting to play a bit stronger through the middle and against a soft Newcastle side backing up from Monday night football can grab a victory. Eels by 8
New Zealand Warriors vs. North Queensland Cowboys
Sunday, 2 pm (4 pm local time), Mt Smart
Warriors $1.18, Cowboys $5
Live Fox Sports
If the Warriors can’t win this match that is them done for the season. At home, near full strength and facing a side missing Thurston, Scott and Tate, amongst others, they have no excuses. They’ve been an incredibly frustrating side thus far this season, with elements of brainless football creeping into their game at regular intervals. This is an opportunity for them to put together eighty minutes of football, on the back of a very good forward pack and an extremely skillfull halfback in Johnson. With Locke and Friend both back in the side after long absences this season they are looking every bit a side that can give the competition a shake, if they keep their heads on the job.
The Cowboys cannot be discounted here. Thurston may be missing but Bowen has been released from Origin duty to play, whilst Ray Thompson is a reasonable player. Mid-season recruit Anthony Mitchell could well be on the bench and working with Aaron Payne in the dummy half role.
Warriors, playing an under strength Cowboys side travelling to conditions that are basically the opposite of what they are used to, should not lose this. Warriors by 20
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs. Penrith Panthers
Sunday, 3 pm, ANZ Stadium
Souths $1.20, Penrith $4.75
Ch. 9 4pm (NSW, Qld), GEM (other states)
Another match that should, realistically, be a one-sided affair. South Sydney were strong, particularly in defence, against Brisbane last week and will be keen to regain some winning momentum. They’ve been good this season, despite some injuries to key personnel. Their forwards as a group are playing strongly, defence has improved big time on previous seasons and intensity has improved noticeably. Dave Taylor has also been released from the Origin camp to play which boosts their forward pack for this match. Merritt is a fullback by nature and will readily slot into Inglis’s role. This also sees Everingham move back to the wing, where he is a stronger player, although it does see the inclusion of the perennially poor Shaun Corrigan at centre.
For Penrith, with little depth as it is, losing Lewis, Grant and Jennings to Origin is probably fatal to their chances. When you add in the Sam McKendry is absent injured, as is Travis Burns and Luke Walsh, things look very bleak indeed. Siejka and Austin are a couple of boom rookies in the halves and this match could at least for Penrith be an insight into their long term future. The lack of quality right across the park though points towards a comfortable Rabbitohs victory. South Sydney by 20
Canberra Raiders vs. St George Illawarra Dragons
Monday, 7 pm, Canberra Stadium
Canberra $2.45, Dragons $1.57
Live Fox Sports
Two sides having forgettable seasons thus far. The Dragons at least grabbed a win last week, albeit an 8-6 victory over the Gold Coast in which they scored just one try. Canberra was woeful in getting thrashed by North Queensland, losing Josh Dugan to injury along the way. Dugans injury sees McCrone back at 5/8 and Sam Williams in the halfback role. Williams has been highly rated for some time but, despite some nice touches, hasn’t delivered at the highest level at this point. It would be a great time to put in a good performance. Canberra’s back five is quite dangerous in an attacking sense, with Fergusson, Lee, Croker and others all knowing how to find the try line. They can be exposed defensively however and the Dragons will be sure to attack them here.
The Dragons have received a boost, with Merrin coming into the side having been released from Origin duty. The Dragons defence has remained relatively strong but their attack is, at present, quite bad. They will need Soward to really control the game as he is capable of if they are to win this one.
Whilst the Dragons start warm favourites due to a stronger squad and, well, not quite as bad form as the Raiders, their against Canberra is horrible, having lost their past 6 clashes and won just 6/20 overall. They’ve won just 2/11 at Canberra stadium, the last of these victories being in 2000. It’s really the match where the form guide gets thrown away and you back a Canberra victory. Raiders by 8