Preview of round 26 of the NRL
Preview of this weekend’s National Rugby League round 26 games (all times AEST).
SYDNEY ROOSTERS v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS at Sydney Football Stadium, 7.35pm
Head to head: Roosters 7, Dragons 10, Drawn 1
Last match: Dragons 26 bt Roosters 6 at ANZ Stadium (Rnd 7, 2008)
TAB Sportsbet: Roosters $2.00, Dragons $1.80
Footy TAB: Roosters +1.5 points
This match will define the NRL top four. A Roosters win will secure fourth place while a Dragons victory opens the door for Brisbane or even the red and whites to snatch a home final. But the Roosters’ recent form has been scratchy and they can’t afford to fall asleep in the second half again this week. The Roosters welcome back fullback Anthony Minichiello after the former Test star has missed 11 weeks with a recurring back injury. Lucky charm Wendell Sailor has yet to taste defeat in six NRL games for the Dragons while Ben Rogers has yet to put a foot wrong in getting their attack to breathe fire again.
Key: Stopping Mark Gasnier and Matt Cooper. The Dragons duo are in sublime touch and the Roosters’ Kiwi Test stars Sia Soliola and Setaimata Sa will have a tough time shutting them down.
BRISBANE BRONCOS v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS at Suncorp Stadium, 7.35pm
Head to head: Broncos 31, Knights 15
Last match: Broncos 34 bt Knights 22 at EnergyAustralia Stadium (Rnd 5, 2008)
TAB Sportsbet: Broncos $1.30, Knights $3.30
Footy TAB: Knights +9.5 points
Long-serving Broncos coach Wayne Bennett will farewell Brisbane in a game filled with emotion. Brisbane can still claim fourth spot and a home final next week if the Dragons also win tomorrow, but they face an in-form Newcastle side grappling with their own fate. The Knights, who stunned title favourites Melbourne last week, must win to secure a spot in the finals. If they lose, they can still make the eight but must rely on the Warriors falling to Parramatta on Saturday. Custodian Kurt Gidley has been a standout all season for Newcastle while the Broncos are still waiting for champion Darren Lockyer to fire for the full 80 minutes and not just when the game is on the line.
Key: Emotion. Brisbane have too much pride to send Bennett and retiring lock Tonie Carroll out with a final round home loss.
PENRITH PANTHERS v MANLY SEA EAGLES at CUA Stadium, 5.30pm
Head to head: Panthers 24, Sea Eagles 44, Drawn 1
Last match: Sea Eagles 30 bt Panthers 10 at Brookvale Oval (Rnd 21, 2008)
TAB Sportsbet: Panthers $4.50, Sea Eagles $1.18
Footy TAB: Panthers +12.5 points
Penrith’s season may be dead and buried but the ramifications for this game could be huge. Ladder leaders Manly are vying for the minor premiership with Melbourne and Cronulla. A win guarantees a top-two finish and the safety net of a second chance in the finals. It also puts them in a prime position for the minor premiership with just an eight-point for-and-against buffer over the Storm. A loss could see Manly drop to third. Star five-eighth Jamie Lyon (knee) is likely to return but will probably play in the centres to replace suspended hitman Steve Matai. Panthers premiership stars Luke Priddis, Luke Rooney, Rhys Wesser and Tony Puletua play their final games for Penrith.
Key: Manly’s mindset. They can’t think about the minor premiership and how many points they need to score because the Panthers could still produce a final-round surprise.
Tip: Sea Eagles
PARRAMATTA EELS v NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS at Parramatta Stadium, 7.30pm
Head to head: Eels 15, Warriors 8
Last match: Warriors 30 bt Eels 16 at Mt Smart Stadium (Rnd 2, 2008)
TAB Sportsbet: Eels $2.20, Warriors $1.65
Footy TAB: N/A
The Warriors need luck and an exorcist if they’re to make the NRL finals. They haven’t won at Parramatta Stadium in 13 years and must overcome that hoodoo, and hope either Newcastle or Canberra lose, to make the finals. Their quest was made tougher at the NRL Judiciary when fullback Wade McKinnon was banned for three weeks for spitting at a touch judge. The former Eel has been vital in the Warriors’ late-season surge and may yet play this week as club officials appeal his ban. Parramatta are still a mathematical chance at making the eight but need to win by a country mile and hope Brisbane belt Newcastle by plenty also.
Key: Tryline defence. It’s been a problem for both sides this year and with so much at stake it will be the soft tries that hurt the most.
CRONULLA SHARKS v NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS at Toyota Stadium, 7.30pm
Head to head: Sharks 17, Cowboys 5
Last match: Sharks 24 bt Cowboys 18 at Dairy Farmers Stadium (Rnd 9, 2008)
TAB Sportsbet: Sharks $1.20, Cowboys $4.25
Footy TAB: Cowboys +12.5
Cronulla have impressed against top-class opposition in recent weeks but coach Ricky Stuart will be after a strong finals tune-up against the lowly Cowboys. The Sharks are guaranteed a top-three finish and are even some hope of claiming the minor premiership if both Melbourne and Manly lose. But perhaps more importantly, they have gained serious momentum which they will want to keep rolling. Last week’s convincing win over the Tigers showed they were unfazed by the Greg Bird drama but they will face a much-improved Cowboys side led by Test halfback Johnathan Thurston. The Queenslanders have finished the season well and look to have successfully palmed off the wooden spoon to the Bulldogs.
Key: Cronulla’s defence has come up with the goods all year and will have to be at its best against a side willing to throw everything at it.
CANBERRA RAIDERS v BULLDOGS at Canberra Stadium, 2pm
Head to head: Raiders 22, Bulldogs 29
Last match: Raiders 58 bt Bulldogs 18 at ANZ Stadium (Rnd 15, 2008)
TAB Sportsbet: Raiders $1.10, Bulldogs $6.25
Footy TAB: Bulldogs +20.5
Canberra’s injury crisis threatened to worsen even further when Terry Campese suffered a hamstring strain against North Queensland last week but the star five-eighth is almost certain to face the Bulldogs. After losing to the Cowboys, this looms as a crucial game for the Raiders. Their finals spot is virtually assured but back-to-back defeats against the bottom two sides would certainly take the wind out of their sails heading into the finals. Despite their woes, Neil Henry’s men should be too strong at home for the Dogs, who are likely to be counting down the clock to end such a traumatic season.
Key: Even with a depleted side, the Raiders have shown the sort of effort and enthusiasm the Bulldogs have sorely missed this year.
GOLD COAST TITANS v WESTS TIGERS at Skilled Park, 3pm
Head to head: Titans 2, Tigers 1
Last match: Tigers 20 bt Titans 18 at Leichhardt Oval (Rnd 11, 2008)
TAB Sportsbet: Titans $1.20, Tigers $4.25
Footy TAB: Tigers +12.5
A tale of two sides so close yet so far again in 2008. The Tigers’ heavy loss to Cronulla last week ensured they narrowly missed the finals for a third straight year, while the Titans will again finish outside the top eight in only their second year in existence. Both sides showed glimpses of potential this year but were ultimately let down by inconsistency and injury troubles. The Tigers, in particular, seemed to have dropped the ball, conceding 120 points in their past three matches and that could spell trouble against a Titans side including fit-again halfback Scott Prince.
Key: Motivation. Neither side really has anything to play for except the chance to finish 2008 on a high note.
MELBOURNE STORM v SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS at Olympic Park, 7pm
Head to head: Storm 11, Rabbitohs 2
Last match: Storm 15 bt Rabbitohs 10 at Bluetongue Stadium (Rnd 11, 2008)
TAB Sportsbet: Storm $1.02, Rabbitohs $11
Footy TAB: Rabbitohs +26.5
The minor premiership hinges on this game and the Storm will know exactly what they’ll need to do to clinch it after Manly and Cronulla’s matches on Saturday. Storm coach Craig Bellamy will be desperate for the title but will be just as concerned with his side bouncing back from last week’s shock loss to Newcastle. It is, however, a tricky last-round assignment for Melbourne, with the Rabbitohs a shadow of the side that lost 10 of its first 11 matches. A much-improved Souths side will be out to finish the year with a bang in order to take plenty of confidence into next season but there is no bigger test in the competition than against the reigning premiers at Olympic Park.
Key: The Storm are proven at peaking at the right time and will be out to make a statement just before the finals.
Tip: Storm© AAP 2013