With only two rounds left in the NRL premiership season, which teams will make a statement heading into the finals and which teams will suffer a significant setback? Following a perfect round in last week’s article, Rugby League writer Daniel Boss provides his thoughts and predictions of all eight games in Round 25, in this week’s predictions article.
Round 24 Review
In all but one of last week’s games, the side favoured to win ended up collecting two points. This included the Roosters on Sunday afternoon, in their thumping of the Dragons, which in turn eliminated them completely from finals contention and resulted in another successful Lock of the Week. The one upset occurred on Monday night, when Souths were able to grind a win over Cronulla. This resulted in both another successful Upset of the Week and a perfect round of tips.
In terms of the season itself, Cronulla’s loss opened the door for Canberra to claim a top 2 finish. The final place in the top 4 is wide open, following Brisbane’s win over Canterbury. The result of Thursday night’s game will have a big influence on this outcome. Penrith and the Titans solidified their finals chances following wins, while the Warriors and Tigers were both very poor in defeat last round. As a result, there composition of the top 8 will be much clearer after this round, but the majority of games carry a great deal of influence in deciding this composition.
2016 Season Results
Daniel Boss: 125/176 – Lock of the Week: 10/12 | Upset of the Week: 10/12
Roman Barbera: 122/176 – Lock of the Week: 9/11 | Upset of the Week: 6/10
Round 25 NRL Predictions
Canterbury Bulldogs vs North Queensland Cowboys
Tip: Cowboys 24 Canterbury 16
- Last 5 meetings: Cowboys 4 wins, Canterbury 1 win
- Last meeting: Round 20, 2016 – Cowboys 36 Canterbury 0 at 1300 Smiles Stadium
- Last meeting at Belmore Sports Ground: Round 5, 1997 (Super League) – Cowboys 16 Canterbury 14
- Canterbury Team Changes – In: Danny Fualalo | Out: Sam Kasiano
- Cowboys Team Changes – In: Matt Scott | Out: Ben Spina
The major talking points regarding this game is the revenge that the Bulldogs want to get on the Cowboys, following the Round 20 humiliation in Townsville. I’m fully expecting the Dogs to be highly motivated for this game and it will be much closer than the aforementioned game. They have lost Sam Kasiano through suspension, which is a big blow as he is a key player in attack. The Cowboys bounced back with a big win over the Warriors last Saturday night. A big reason for this was Michael Morgan stepping up and providing a different point of attack to Thurston. They will aim to build towards another finals appearance and they should win, despite the game being played at Belmore. It’s currently impossible to tip Canterbury against a top line team while their attack continues to struggle as it has done for the majority of 2016.
Melbourne Storm vs Brisbane Broncos
Tip: Melbourne 18 Brisbane 14
- Last 5 meetings: Melbourne 4 wins, Brisbane 1 win
- Last meeting: Round 17, 2016 – Melbourne 48 Brisbane 6 at Suncorp Stadium
- Last meeting at AAMI Park: Round 15, 2015 – Brisbane 14 Melbourne 12
- Melbourne Team Changes – nil
- Brisbane Team Changes – nil
Brisbane have quietly won three games in a row and are still a chance for a top 4 finish. A win over Melbourne would keep them in the top 4 hunt. They have been building very nicely over these three games and look to be timing their run perfectly. It certainly is a danger game for the Storm, who will clinch the minor premiership with a win. Melbourne bounced back well last week, in comfortably overcoming Manly at Brookvale. They are the premiership favourites for a reason and look to have their form back. This is the pick of the games in Round 25, as this could easily be a preview of a finals game and quite possibly the Grand Final. As for the result of Friday night’s game, Melbourne should just be too good in defence, as Brisbane’s attack isn’t quite there yet. 20 points should be more than enough to win it.
Manly Sea Eagles vs Canberra Raiders
Tip: Canberra 30 Manly 16 (Lock of the Week)
- Last 5 meetings: Manly 3 wins, Canberra 2 wins
- Last meeting: Round 13, 2016 – Canberra 30 Manly 18 at GIO Stadium
- Last meeting at Brookvale Oval: Round 8, 2014 – Manly 54 Canberra 18
- Manly Team Changes – In: Dylan Walker, Apisai Koroisau | Out: Brad Parker
- Canberra Team Changes – In: Edrick Lee, Paul Vaughan, Josh Hodgson, Shaun Fensom | Out: Junior Paulo, Adam Clydsdale
It’s a real shame that Jamie Lyon was unable to be fit for this game, in order to play one last game at Brookvale. If Lyon was fit, Manly would have been a chance for an upset in this game, as Canberra were certainly flat last week after coming off big wins against Cronulla and Melbourne. Both sides get some key players back and in key positions. With Dylan Walker named, he could possibly move into five-eight, as Matt Wright didn’t look overly comfortable there last week. While Walker’s inclusion in important, the return of Josh Hodgson at hooker for Canberra is the most important inclusion. He was certainly missed last week and I can’t see the Raiders going down with him back in the team, especially to a side that is out of finals contention and has lost three on the trot.
Gold Coast Titans vs Penrith Panthers
Tip: Penrith 28 Titans 18 (Upset of the Week)
- Last 5 meetings: Penrith 3 wins, Titans 2 wins
- Last meeting: Round 11, 2016 – Titans 28 Penrith 24 at Pepper Stadium
- Last meeting at CBUS Super Stadium: Round 7, 2015 – Titans 32 Penrith 6
- Titans Team Changes – In: Ashley Taylor, Leivaha Pulu
- Penrith Team Changes – In: Moses Leota, Jeremy Latimore
It doesn’t get too much better than this. The winner of this game clinches a place in the finals, while the loser will need to win a very nervy last round game in order to play finals football. Both sides come into this game in good form, having made moves in recent weeks to put themselves in this position. These two sides are a contrast in styles, as the Titans strong defensive game goes up against Penrith’s strong (and somewhat flamboyant) attacking game. The Panthers have gone for stability, keeping their side relatively unchanged, while the Titans have named Jarryd Hayne at fullback. The big question is whether Hayne has the fitness to play 80 minutes at the back. Regardless, Penrith’s attack should be too good, in what should be an entertaining game.
Cronulla Sharks vs Sydney Roosters
Tip: Cronulla 20 Roosters 18
- Last 5 meetings: Cronulla 4 wins, Roosters 1 win
- Last meeting: Round 19, 2016 – Cronulla 32 Roosters 20 at Allianz Stadium
- Last meeting at Southern Cross Group Stadium: Round 13, 2015 – Cronulla 10 Roosters 4
- Cronulla Team Changes – In: Sosaia Feki, Paul Gallen | Out: Gerard Beale, Kurt Capewell
- Roosters Team Changes – nil
Of all 16 sides in the NRL, the side that will be most desperate for a win is Cronulla. In the past four weeks, they have gone from minor premiership favourites to potentially slipping out of the top two. Their attack has struggled in this time, as they have not scored over 20 points in any of these past four games. Prior to this stretch, the Sharks scored under 20 points only five times in 2016, with three of these occasions in the opening four rounds. Meanwhile, the Roosters have been playing quite well of late and are relishing the lack of pressure that comes with being out of finals contention. While the Roosters will be a tough challenge for Cronulla, the desperation and home ground advantage should just be enough to get the Sharks home in a tough, physical encounter.
New Zealand Warriors vs Wests Tigers
Tip: Warriors 28 Tigers 16
- Last 5 meetings: Warriors 3 wins, Tigers 2 wins
- Last meeting: Round 1, 2016 – Tigers 34 Warriors 26 at Campbelltown Stadium
- Last meeting at Mt Smart Stadium: Round 6, 2015 – Warriors 32 Tigers 22
- Warriors Team Changes – In: Tuimoala Lolohea, Solomone Kata, Bunty Afoa | Out: Ken Maumalo, Matt Allwood
- Tigers Team Changes – In: Michael Chee-Kam
This game is literally an elimination game, as the loser has no mathematical chance of making the top 8. Both sides were very disappointing last round and will be aiming to bounce back in a big way. The Warriors have followed wins against fellow top 8 contenders Penrith and the Titans with bad losses to Souths and the Cowboys. Their defence, which was good in the previous two months to these two straight losses, has fallen away significantly. It’s concerning when this occurs in the more important games. The Tigers defence also fell away last week, as it appears that the Round 23 loss to the Titans hit them hard. The Warriors should be too strong in this game, as they are at home and have some key attacking players back, in Lolohea and Kata.
Newcastle Knights vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
Tip: Souths 28 Newcastle 12
- Last 5 meetings: Souths 5 wins, Newcastle 0 wins
- Last meeting: Round 2, 2016 – Souths 48 Newcastle 6 at ANZ Stadium
- Last meeting at Hunter Stadium: Round 26, 2012 – Souths 18 Newcastle 6
- Newcastle Team Changes – In: Cory Denniss, Jarrod Mullen, Sione Mata’utia, Pat Mata’utia | Out: Nathan Ross, Will Pearsall, Mickey Paea, Danny Levi
- Souths Team Changes – In: Cameron McInnes, David Tyrrell, Zane Musgrove
In years gone by, the last Newcastle home game was easy tip, as the Knights would surely get up on Old Boys Day. However, this Knights side isn’t anywhere near as strong as those sides of the past. Surely they have to be better than what they have shown recently. The inclusions of Mullen and Mata’utia do help, but this might not be enough. The Rabbits have been better in the past few weeks, following the return of Greg Inglis and the move of Damien Cook to hooker. They also seem to have found more punch in the forwards, which has been somewhat lacking for the majority of the 2016 campaign. Souths are building nicely for the 2017 season and should continue to build with a comfortable win over the hapless Knights.
Parramatta Eels vs St George Illawarra Dragons
Tip: Parramatta 22 Dragons 12
- Last 5 meetings: Parramatta 3 wins, Dragons 2 wins
- Last meeting: Round 16, 2015 – Parramatta 16 Dragons 12 at Pirtek Stadium
- Parramatta Team Changes – In: Brad Takairangi, Tepai Moeroa, Beau Scott | Out: Vai Toutai, Rory O’Brien
- Dragons Team Changes – In: Tim Lafai, Drew Hutchinson, Jacob Host | Out: Taane Milne, Benji Marshall, Russell Packer
In the final game of Monday Night Football (in this decade-long stint), there is a game featuring two sides out of finals contention. Readers of this column are likely aware of this writer’s dislike of Monday Night Football and the fact that this game is the final Monday night game is quite fitting. The Eels have been putting in for parts of games in recent weeks, but just seem to lack the composure to sustain an 80-minute performance. The Dragons have been woeful recently, aside from a shock win over Cronulla. They simply weren’t in the game and were outmatched by the Roosters last week. While the Eels may not be able to put together a complete performance currently, they should be too strong for the Dragons, to farewell Pirtek Stadium on a winning note.