With only three rounds remaining in the 2016 NRL premiership season, the composition of the top 8 is starting to settle. Which teams will make a move to secure a spot in the top 4 or top 8? Rugby league writer Daniel Boss provides his thoughts in this week’s NRL predictions article.
Round 23 Review
It’s just typical in one of the weeks where I tip all the favourites, that plenty of upsets take place. Teams that have been heavyweights throughout the majority of the season, namely Cronulla, Melbourne and North Queensland, all fell to opponents that simply wanted to win more. If these three sides are to contend for the title, they have to regain the hunger that saw them at the top of the ladder throughout the majority of 2016. There were also big wins for Canberra and Brisbane, who now seem to be gaining momentum and form at the right time of year. Canterbury found a way to win against Manly, securing last week’s Lock of the Week, while the Roosters showed what 2016 could have been in their convincing win over the Cowboys, which was last week’s Upset of the Week.
The main issue this week has been the judiciary, following the somewhat light charges of Ryan James and Josh Hodgson. While the Tigers supporter in me was filthy at seeing James Tedesco out for the season with a broken jaw, it was purely an accident. It was careless nonetheless and should be charged. How it was only a grade two suspension is beyond me, given that the end result was a broken jaw. However, if Martin Taupau only got a grade two charge for a much worse tackle, then the judiciary could not give James’ charge a higher grading. As for the Josh Hodgson suspension, it continues the lack of repercussion for applying dangerous grappling holds in defence. This has been going on for over a decade and the NRL needs to increase the penalties for both high tackles and illegal wrestling or grappling, in order to reduce its influence in the game. It’s as simple as that and I don’t understand why the league has not clamped down harder on these type of incidents.
2016 Season Results
Daniel Boss: 117/168 – Lock of the Week: 9/11 | Upset of the Week: 9/11
Roman Barbera: 115/168 – Lock of the Week: 9/11 | Upset of the Week: 6/10
Round 24 NRL Predictions
Brisbane Broncos vs Canterbury Bulldogs
Tip: Brisbane 22 Canterbury 16
- Last 5 meetings: Brisbane 3 wins, Canterbury 2 wins
- Last meeting: Round 16, 2016 – Canterbury 40 Brisbane 14 at ANZ Stadium
- Last meeting at Suncorp Stadium: Round 22, 2015 – Canterbury 18 Brisbane 16
- Brisbane Team Changes – In: Jordan Kahu | Out: Jonas Pearson
- Canterbury Team Changes – In: Greg Eastwood, Kerrod Holland
This game will be crucial in determining the sides that make the top 4. With a win, Canterbury can pretty much secure a top 4 spot, while a Brisbane win keeps a spot open for both themselves and the Cowboys. The Broncos had a timely return to form last week, led by a strong performance from Anthony Milford, who found his early season form. He did miss training earlier this week, but if he is anywhere near full fitness, the Dogs will have to be on their game to limit Milford’s impact. Canterbury haven’t played in a manner that is pleasing to the eye for most of the 2016 season, yet still find themselves in fourth. As mentioned last week, they beat the sides that they should beat, but struggle against the elite. With the game in Brisbane, on a dryer ground, this suits the Broncos and I expect them to send a message to the other premiership contenders on Thursday night.
Penrith Panthers vs Wests Tigers
Tip: Penrith 28 Tigers 14
- Last 5 meetings: Tigers 3 wins, Penrith 2 wins
- Last meeting: Round 17, 2016 – Tigers 34 Penrith 26 at ANZ Stadium
- Last meeting at Pepper Stadium: Round 13, 2013 – Tigers 20 Penrith 18
- Penrith Team Changes – In: Moses Leota
- Tigers Team Changes – In: Josh Addo-Carr, Luke Brooks, Michael Chee Kam | Out: James Tedesco, Jack Littlejohn
The last time these two sides clashed, the difference between them was James Tedesco. With Tedesco out for the season, the Tigers’ finals chances are slim at best. A loss to Penrith on Friday will all but eliminate Wests from finals calculations. Penrith have been good in recent weeks, notching impressive wins against Brisbane and the Roosters and they should have too many points for the Tedesco-less Tigers. The Tigers do get a boost with Luke Brooks back, but Penrith’s big forward pack should be too strong. The one thing going the Tigers’ way is their recent strong record against the Panthers, having won 8 of the last 10 games played between these sides. However, last week’s devastating loss will be tough to overcome, even if Penrith do tend to fade in and out of games.
Newcastle Knights vs Gold Coast Titans
Tip: Titans 36 Newcastle 12
- Last 5 meetings: Newcastle 3 wins, Titans 2 wins
- Last meeting: Round 1, 2016 – Titans 30 Newcastle 12 at CBUS Super Stadium
- Last meeting at Hunter Stadium: Round 19, 2015 – Newcastle 30 Titans 2
- Newcastle Team Changes – In: Nathan Ross, Jeremy Smith, Josh King | Out: Chris Adams
- Titans Team Changes – In: Leivala Pulu
There’s only three more weeks to go Knights fans! To say that it has been a trying season for Newcastle would be understating it. 2016 has been a shocking year for the Knights, as they “clinched” consecutive wooden spoons following the Roosters win over the Cowboys last Sunday. Their supporters, who continue to show up and support their team (much credit to them), deserve much better than this. As for the Titans, their finals chances were significantly strengthened after beating the Tigers last round. In relation to their finals chances, I’m still not sold on their attack. They will get plenty of practice against a Knights side that has been incredibly poor defensively all season. There’s only one way this game will go; the only thing is question is the margin.
Manly Sea Eagles vs Melbourne Storm
Tip: Melbourne 18 Manly 14
- Last 5 meetings: Manly 3 wins, Melbourne 2 wins
- Last meeting: Round 8, 2015 – Manly 12 Melbourne 10 at AAMI Park
- Last meeting at Brookvale Oval: Round 2, 2015 – Manly 24 Melbourne 22
- Manly Team Changes – In: Matt Parcell, Nate Myles, Blake Leary | Out: Dylan Walker
- Melbourne Team Changes – nil
Of the three sides mentioned in the Round 23 Review section that seem to be losing motivation, Melbourne were the strongest performers. They were beaten by a strong Canberra side that will surely finish in the top 4, yet they weren’t blown off the park either. The Storm should be stronger this round, especially if Craig Bellamy’s words are anything to go by. Manly’s finals hopes were dealt a final blow last week in extra time at the hands of Canterbury. One would expect the Sea Eagles to lose a little motivation, but they always seem to play better against Melbourne, regardless of their current form. I think this game will be very close, but Melbourne should just sneak home, on the back of their strong forward pack and defence.
North Queensland Cowboys vs New Zealand Warriors
Tip: Cowboys 22 Warriors 18
- Last 5 meetings: Cowboys 3 wins, Warriors 2 wins
- Last meeting: Round 24, 2015 – Cowboys 50 Warriors 16 at Mt Smart Stadium
- Last meeting at 1300 Smiles Stadium: Round 7, 2015 – Cowboys 28 Warriors 24
- Cowboys Team Changes – In: Antonio Winterstein, Coen Hess | Out: Javid Bowen, John Asiata
- Warriors Team Changes – In: James Gavet, Bunty Afoa | Out: Tuimoala Lolohea
This is the most unpredictable game in Round 24, as any result would not be a surprise. Both sides are coming on the back of disappointing losses, which severely damaged their top 4 and top 8 hopes respectively. The Cowboys attack has struggled in dealing with rushing defences out wide, giving Thurston very little time to weave some magic. The key for this game is whether the Warriors can apply similar amounts of pressure. The Warriors were highly vulnerable against the short kicking game, which explains the axing of Lolohea. If the Warriors defend in a similar manner on Saturday night, the Cowboys could put 50 points on the board. Over the past ten years, the Warriors have only won 1 from 7 against the Cowboys in Townsville. This trend should continue, but only just.
Canberra Raiders vs Parramatta Eels
Tip: Canberra 32 Parramatta 18
- Last 5 meetings: Canberra 3 wins, Parramatta 2 wins
- Last meeting: Round 6, 2016 – Parramatta 36 Canberra 6 at Pirtek Stadium
- Last meeting at GIO Stadium: Round 26, 2014 – Canberra 33 Parramatta 20
- Canberra Team Changes – In: Adam Clydsdale, Jarrad Kennedy | Out: Josh Hodgson
- Parramatta Team Changes – In: Semi Radradra, Beau Scott | Out: Vai Toutai, Rory O’Brien
Despite the predicted score for this game, this is a danger game for the Raiders. Over the past two weeks, they have played at a very high level and there is a chance that there could be a drop off in this game, against a side that is not in finals contention. If Canberra is anywhere near its best on Sunday, then they will win comfortably. I think there will be a slight drop off compared to the previous two weeks, but it should be enough to get the win. Another reason that this is a danger game is Parramatta’s attitude. Aside from the odd game or two, they have put in strong efforts in every game in 2016. With Scott and Radradra back in the team, they will fancy their chances. Their main issue will be scoring points, especially against a Raiders side that kept Melbourne to 8 points last round.
Sydney Roosters vs St George Illawarra Dragons
Tip: Roosters 26 Dragons 18 (Lock of the Week)
- Last 5 meetings: Roosters 3 wins, Dragons 2 wins
- Last meeting: Round 8, 2016 – Dragons 20 Roosters 18 at Allianz Stadium
- Roosters Team Changes – In: Aidan Guerra
- Dragons Team Changes – In: Leeson Ah Mau, Jacob Host | Out: Tariq Sims
In the last ten games played between these two sides, the Dragons have only won 3 and all were on ANZAC Day. As this game is not on ANZAC Day, the atmosphere will be much worse, which means that motivation is a big factor, especially for two sides that are all but out of finals contention. The Roosters have been building nicely over the past month and a half, having won 2 of their last 3 games. They are in their best form all season and look to be building for 2016. The Dragons put in almost their best performance of 2015 in defeating rivals Cronulla. The big factor in this game is the reaction from big wins last week and given that the Roosters have played well (for the most part) over the past month and a half, I really like them to win this game.
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Cronulla Sharks
Tip: Souths 22 Cronulla 18 (Upset of the Week)
- Last 5 meetings: Cronulla 3 wins, Souths 2 wins
- Last meeting: Week 1 Finals, 2015 – Cronulla 28 Souths 12 at Allianz Stadium
- Last meeting at ANZ Stadium: Round 2, 2013 – Souths 14 Cronulla 12
- Souths Team Changes – In: Nathan Brown, Cameron McInnes | Out: Zane Musgrove
- Cronulla Team Changes – In: Paul Gallen | Out: Sosaia Feki
The big question down in the Sutherland Shire is where, oh where has the Cronulla form gone? In the last month of their 15-game winning streak, they just scraped home in a few of those games. However, their form has continued to slide in the games following this streak. This is particularly in the case in defence, as they have been dominated by more mobile and aggressive packs in consecutive weeks. With Souths starting the game with three Burgess brothers, they are looking to achieve a similar result (provided that they can all hold onto the ball). The Rabbits have been better in attack with Damien Cook at hooker, which means that the naming of McInnes as 18th man is confusing. Surely it would be a wasted bench spot if Adam Reynolds does not play, which is under some speculation. Still, Souths are the upset of the week, based on their recent good form.