NRL Predictions: Round 26

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It’s the last round of the NRL and there is still one place up for grabs in the top 2, in the top 4 and the top 8 respectively. Which sides will claim a big victory in Round 26? Rugby league writer Daniel Boss provides his thoughts and predictions (featuring a cameo appearance from Roman Barbera) for Round 26 in this week’s NRL predictions article.

Round 25 Review

Round 25 saw last year’s Grand Final combatants make statements, as the Cowboys easily accounted for the Bulldogs at Belmore and Brisbane were far too good for the Storm. These results have really opened up the competition, as the top five sides are all heading into the finals in good form. Canberra were not completely happy with their win against Manly, last week’s Lock of the Week, as their defence was not great. However, their attack more than made up for it and they are a very dangerous side. Penrith claimed a place in the top 8, with a one-point win over the Titans, which was last week’s Upset of the Week. Matt Moylan once again proved that in a pressure situation, he simply gets the job done.

As for the elimination game, the Tigers overcame the Warriors in New Zealand in controversial circumstances. The one video referee decision to disallow Kata’s try just before halftime was later admitted to being wrong, further strengthening my doubt in relation to the decisions made by the video referee, which was explored a few weeks ago. Despite this, the Warriors still led by 6 points with ten minutes to go. To concede three tries in the final ten minutes, with the season on the line, is simply not good enough. The Tigers did have some luck, but when it mattered, they wanted the win more. I don’t think that this can be argued.

2016 Season Results

Daniel Boss: 131/184 – Lock of the Week: 11/13 | Upset of the Week: 11/13

Roman Barbera: 127/184 – Lock of the Week: 9/11 | Upset of the Week: 6/10

Round 26 NRL Predictions

Before looking at each game, I should note that Roman will be providing the tip and preview for the Cowboys-Titans game on Saturday night and the Tigers-Raiders game on Sunday afternoon. The reason being that I, a big Tigers supporter, cannot objectively tip these two games. I will take the Cowboys as my Lock of the Week however, as I think that they will be too strong at home for the Titans and they will be highly motivated looking for a top 4 finish.

Brisbane Broncos vs Sydney Roosters

Tip: Brisbane 22 Roosters 14

  • Last 5 meetings: Roosters 3 wins, Brisbane 2 wins
  • Last meeting: Round 21, 2016 – Roosters 32 Brisbane 16 at Allianz Stadium
  • Last meeting at Suncorp Stadium: Week 3 Finals, 2015 – Brisbane 31 Roosters 12
  • Brisbane Team Changes – nil
  • Roosters Team Changes – In: Mitchell Frei, Nat Butcher, Joseph Manu | Out: Boyd Cordner, Sio Siua Taukeiaho

In predicting the games in Round 26, it is far easier to tip the earlier games than the later games, as the ramifications for the earlier games are easier to understand. This game is a perfect example of this, as Brisbane will be looking to keep their top 4 hopes alive and send Corey Parker out a winner in his last regular season game at Suncorp Stadium. They have won four straight games and as previously mentioned, announced their return to form in a big way in handily defeating Melbourne last Friday night. I think they continue on their roll, especially as the Roosters have essentially nothing to play for. The losses of Cordner and Taukeiaho also hurt, as it reduces the impact of the Roosters forward pack, where they have an advantage over the smaller Bronco pack.

Canterbury Bulldogs vs South Sydney Rabbitohs

Tip: Souths 20 Canterbury 16 (Upset of the Week)

  • Last 5 meetings: Souths 3 wins, Canterbury 2 wins
  • Last meeting: Round 4, 2016 – Canterbury 42 Souths 12 at ANZ Stadium
  • Canterbury Team Changes – nil
  • Souths Team Changes – nil

The Rabbitohs have ended the 2016 season on a positive note, having won their last three games. They are aiming for four wins against a Canterbury side that has struggled in attack against quality opposition. In the past, the Bulldogs have been able to spark into form and make a run in the finals, most notably in 2014. I strongly doubt that this will happen in 2016, for the sole reason that Michael Ennis is no longer at the club. There is far too much pressure on the halves to score points. As a result, I think Souths will cause an upset in this game. The side selected for this game will likely not differ greatly from the side that plays in Round 1, 2017 and they will be able to build some confidence into next year, if they do come up with the two points.

St George Illawarra Dragons vs Newcastle Knights

Tip: Dragons 22 Newcastle 12

  • Last 5 meetings: Dragons 4 wins, Newcastle 1 win
  • Last meeting: Round 16, 2016 – Dragons 30 Newcastle 18 at Hunter Stadium
  • Last meeting at UOW Jubilee Oval: Round 21, 2015 – Dragons 46 Newcastle 24
  • Dragons Team Changes – In: Taane Milne, Benji Marshall, Ben Creagh, Will Matthews, Siliva Havili | Out: Drew Hutchison, Tariq Sims
  • Newcastle Team Changes – In: Nathan Ross, Korbin Sims, Jaelen Feeney | Out: Cory Denniss

The best part about this game for both supporter bases is that this is the last game of poor seasons for both clubs. The Dragons will have a fair amount of player turnover in 2017, especially in key positions, and they have decided to give Benji Marshall, Mitch Rein and Ben Creagh one last game. For the heights that Marshall reached in his career, it would not be fitting to see it end in a game of such little importance. The Knights welcome back Ross and Sims, which will improve them and they do field close to their best side. Sadly for Newcastle supporters, this will likely not be enough to overcome a Dragons side that should be full of emotion, looking to send out a long-time club servant and premiership winner in Creagh.

North Queensland Cowboys vs Gold Coast Titans

Tip: North Queensland Cowboys 24 – 18 Gold Coast Titans

  • Last 5 meetings: Cowboys 3 wins, Titans 2 wins
  • Last meeting: Round 26, 2015 – Cowboys 42 Titans 12 at 1300 Smiles Stadium
  • Cowboys Team Changes – In: Ben Hannant | Out: Matt Scott
  • Titans Team Changes – In: David Mead, David Shillington, Lachlan Burr

This game could have meant very little to the Cowboys, but unfortunately for the Titans Johnathan Thurston and company will be out to win this game so long as one of the Bulldogs or Broncos manage to win their match earlier in the weekend. Assuming this happens, the Titans will have a tough time guaranteeing their finals spot up at 1300 Smiles. The Titans have been admirable this season, but they’ve allowed themselves to get roped into several close matches in recent weeks and against Thurston, that rarely works out well. The Titans’ ill-discipline will likely come into play here, with Thurston’s ability to generate repeat sets and the heat in Townsville likely to prove sapping for a side that can be forced to defend for long periods as a result of penalties and errors. We doubt 20 points will be enough to win this game, with both sides very capable of scoring four tries each. A close one is on the cards but we’ll take the hosts to guarantee a Top 4 spot.

Melbourne Storm vs Cronulla Sharks

Tip: Melbourne 20 Cronulla 18

  • Last 5 meetings: Melbourne 4 wins, Cronulla 1 win
  • Last meeting: Round 4, 2016 – Cronulla 14 Melbourne 6 at Southern Cross Group Stadium
  • Last meeting at AAMI Park: Round 3, 2015 – Melbourne 36 Cronulla 18
  • Melbourne Team Changes – In: Christian Welch, Matt White | Out: Nelson Asofa-Solomona
  • Cronulla Team Changes – nil

Of all the games with finals implications, this one is the pick of the bunch, as it pits the top two sides in a clash for the minor premiership. While there is very little difference between first and second in the current finals format, the psychological advantage that the winner will have heading into the finals will be a boost. The Storm does have the edge over Cronulla in recent games in Melbourne, as they have won the last seven games against the Sharks at home. This side is a lot better than all of those Cronulla sides that lost those games, but it does give Melbourne an edge. The key battle will be between Melbourne’s attack, which needs to improve in a hurry, and Cronulla’s defence. 20 points should be enough to win this game and Melbourne should just sneak home in a thriller, on the back of an improved attack that got a wake-up call last week.

Wests Tigers vs Canberra Raiders

Tip: Wests Tigers 28 – 32 Canberra Raiders or Wests Tigers 30 – 12 Canberra Raiders (see preview for explanation)

  • Last 5 meetings: Canberra 3 wins, Tigers 2 wins
  • Last meeting: Round 8, 2016 – Canberra 60 Tigers 6 at GIO Stadium
  • Last meeting at Leichhardt Oval: Round 7, 2015 – Canberra 30 Tigers 22
  • Tigers Team Changes – In: Chris Lawrence, Kyle Lovett | Out: Curtis Sironen
  • Canberra Team Changes – nil

This game is practically impossible to predict. At full strength and at any other venue, the Raiders would clean the floor with this Tigers side, but as we’ve seen on numerous occasions this season (most recently against the Titans) the Tigers step up at their spiritual home. If we assume the Storm beat Cronulla and the Cowboys defeat Wests, the Raiders won’t rest players here, with a top 2 spot on the line. In that event, we’re taking the Green machine in a shootout. The Raiders’ back line is too potent and Josh Hodgson is good enough to cover the potential loss of Sezer if need be. The Tigers will have joy against Leilua and Rapana in defence, but James Tedesco would be the player really capable of exploiting that weakness. Should the Raiders be forced into late changes though, expect wholesale alterations from Ricky Stuart – Hodgson may rest, Sezer will surely be out, Whitehead, Leilua and even Croker could also miss. In that case, the Tigers should run away with a match the Raiders – a mentally frail team at the best of times – don’t care about.

New Zealand Warriors vs Parramatta Eels

Tip: Warriors 26 Parramatta 18

  • Last 5 meetings: Warriors 3 wins, Parramatta 2 wins
  • Last meeting: Round 10, 2015 – Warriors 17 Parramatta 13 at Pirtek Stadium
  • Last meeting at Mt Smart Stadium: Round 3, 2015 – Warriors 29 Parramatta 16
  • Warriors Team Changes – In: Jonathan Wright, Ken Maumalo, Bunty Afoa, Nathaniel Roache | Out: Solomone Kata, Manu Vatuvei, James Gavet
  • Parramatta Team Changes – In: David Gower

To put it bluntly, the Warriors simply did ‘a Warriors’ by melting under pressure and not holding on to a lead with ten minutes to go with the season on the line. With Ivan Cleary on the coaching market, the Warriors surely must be tempted to bring him back, as he is the only coach that gave this club success over an extended period. I do think they will win this game however, as Parramatta have put in big efforts all season and will be emotionally spent after successfully farewelling Pirtek Stadium with a win last week. The Warriors also have more points in them and with both sides out of finals contention, I don’t expect either side to be as strong in defence. An Eels win wouldn’t surprise however, as they have continued to show plenty of spirit in the second half of the 2016 season.

Penrith Panthers vs Manly Sea Eagles

Tip: Penrith 32 Manly 16

  • Last 5 meetings: Penrith 4 wins, Manly 1 win
  • Last meeting: Round 14, 2016 – Penrith 31 Manly 24 at Brookvale Oval
  • Last meeting at Pepper Stadium: Round 6, 2015 – Penrith 22 Manly 12
  • Penrith Team Changes – In: Jeremy Latimore, Moses Leota | Out: Reagan Campbell-Gillard
  • Manly Team Changes – In: Dylan Walker, Blake Leary | Out: Brad Parker, Frank Winterstein

In the final game of the 2016 NRL regular season, Penrith will look to head into the finals on the back of a fourth consecutive win. Against them is a Manly outfit that has struggled with injuries and combinations for the entire season. The Sea Eagles will be happy when the 2016 season comes to an end. As for the result of this game, it is unknown whether Penrith will rest any players, as they can only claim 6th if they win and Canterbury lose, which would mean that the game is played in Sydney regardless. I have based my tip on Penrith playing nearly all their team, as they are a young side that are still building combinations and would want to notch a big win heading into the finals at home. Manly poured a lot of effort into last week’s final 2016 game at Brookvale and I don’t see them being able to match it with Penrith this week.

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