NRL round 18 preview
Finally, the State of Origin period has concluded and everyone can again focus on club football. With this culmination to another dramatic series, this round is the last to be affected by byes, with St George Illawarra, North Queensland, Brisbane and Penrith the final teams to be given their second week off.
Only nine rounds are left in the season and all the games in round 18 could have a major bearing on both the top eight and top four.
Friday 7:45pm, Allianz Stadium: Wests Tigers versus Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
On face value, this seems like a very entertaining fixture. The Tigers, coming off two ugly defeats, will be looking to re-ignite their season against a Bulldogs side who are the form team in the competition, winning their past five matches. Wests recent dip in form has seemingly coincided with the passing of Robbie Farah’s mother. Farah’s absence from this game, due to a concussion sustained during Wednesday night’s thriller, is sure to harm the Tigers attack and recently brittle defence.
The Tigers have given up 80 points in their past two games, a statistic that would have the Bulldogs ball-playing forwards licking their lips. Canterbury-Bankstown will see Greg Eastwood return from injury, and winger Sam Perrett will make his debut after a mid-season transfer from the Sydney Roosters.
Saturday 5:30pm, AAMI Park: Melbourne Storm versus Canberra Raiders
This is a match which looks quite one-sided when going off ladder position, with the Storm in first place on 28 points and the Raiders clinging on to a faint hope of playing finals football. Injuries have demolished Canberra throughout 2012, with marquee players Terry Campese and Josh Dugan both currently on the sidelines. This unfortunate turn of events can not account for their at times abysmal defending though, as they have conceded the fourth most points in the NRL in 2012. A victory over the Dragons on Monday night highlighted the form they do posses, but all of it will have to be on show if they are to defeat a confident Melbourne Storm. Captain David Shillington is expected to return from Origin duty after taking an early guilty plea over a high shot on Josh Morris.
Melbourne have proved almost impossible to penetrate at home, winning six of seven games played at their home ground in 2012. They also boast the most points scored of any team, an alarming stat for the Raiders. Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Dane Nielsen are currently expected to play despite representing Queensland on Wednesday. Billy Slater is still battling his way back to fitness with his knee injury and is unlikely to be back this week.
Saturday 7:30pm, Skilled Park: Gold Coast Titans versus New Zealand Warriors
An extremely important match as both sides look to force their way into the bottom half of the top eight. The Titans sit two points behind the Warriors but would think themselves a good chance to join them on 18 competition points with a victory on Saturday Night. Gold Coast have proved themselves to be much improved since the start of this season as off-field problems have started to clear up. The combination of rookie five-eighth Aiden Sezer and veteran halfback Scott Prince has worked wonders for the club’s attack. This, with the form of their representative back rowers has seen them surge into contention this season.
The Warriors have been their own worst enemies in 2012, losing games from winning positions regularly. The skill of this team is undoubted, but it seems an element of control is missing. Despite this, the 2011 grand-finalists find themselves just a win outside the top eight as a late run towards the finals looms.
For the Titans, Luke Bailey, William Zillman and Beau Champion will all return. However, Ashley Harrison is still a week or two away from fitness. Michael Luck is the only omission for the Warriors, with Steve Rapira his replacement on the bench.
Sunday 2:00pm, ANZ Stadium: South Sydney Rabbitohs versus Newcastle Knights
Both Souths and Newcastle find themselves in hot form coming into this important encounter on Sunday. The six-placed Rabbitohs can draw level with teams in the top four if victorious, while Newcastle’s season could well be over with a loss. Newcastle were brought back to life two weeks ago after an amazing comeback against the Wests Tigers. They then consolidated this result with a gritty win over Parramatta. An away match against South Sydney is a much tougher affair though and will give a measure as to how much they have progressed.
South Sydney have established themselves as definite contenders with some dominant performances. Last week they put the cleaners through Penrith 38-12, with Adam Reynolds and Dave Taylor playing a key role. Their barnstorming attack will have the Knights worried.
Souths hope to welcome back Greg Inglis from Origin duty, while Newcastle hope to do the same for fullback Darius Boyd.
Sunday 3:00pm, Brookvale Oval: Manly Sea Eagles versus Parramatta Eels
Many are predicting a big scoreline as the Eels meet Manly on Sunday afternoon. The Sea Eagles glimpses of destructive form were on show again last week after putting the cleaners through the Roosters 52-14. A win is necessary here for them if they are to break into the top four.
Anthony Watmough, Brett Stewart and Tony Williams are all hopeful of a return from origin duties.
Parramatta’s dismal season continued last week after another home loss. While they are still a mathematical chance of featuring the September, the Eels will be preparing for 2013 in the coming months. Jarryd Hayne, who sustained an ankle injury on Wednesday, will not take part in this game, leaving a massive question mark over their attacking potential. The injury puts more pressure on an under-performing Chris Sandow.
Monday 7:00pm, Toyota Stadium: Cronulla Sharks versus Sydney Roosters
Rounding out the shortened weekend is an intriguing clash in the Shire. The Sharks will be out to maintain their lofty position in the top four and build on recent form which has seen them win their last three games. Their most recent victory came away to Brisbane in round 17, and was achieved without both Paul Gallen and Todd Carney. Young lock Wade Graham stood up in their absence to inspire the Sharks to a memorable victory. Gallen and Carney however, are both expected to return from Origin.
Meanwhile, at Bondi, the season is going south after a huge loss to Manly. Much uncertainty surrounds the future of coach Brian Smith as reports suggest he has “lost the players”. A win for the Roosters is vital if they are to remain alive in season 2012 and not slip down into the wooden spoon battle. Halfback Mitchell Pearce is predicted to make a comeback after his duties in SOO III.