NRL – Round 20 preview panel
Preview of NRL Round 20 matches (all times AEST).
FRIDAY, July 20
Manly v Canterbury at Brookvale Oval 7.35pm
Head to Head: Sea Eagles 61 Bulldogs 48 drawn 5
Last clash: Round 8 2012 – Sea Eagles 12 bt Bulldogs 10 at ANZ Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Sea Eagles $1.65 Bulldogs $2.30
FootyTAB: Bulldogs +3.5
In the grudge match of the season, Canterbury coach Des Hasler returns to Brookvale Oval for the first time since his acrimonious split from Manly less than a week after winning last season’s grand final. Hasler’s departure – and the hatred directed at him from Sea Eagles supporters – has dominated the column inches this week, but he won’t be making any tackles on Friday. And on the field, his Bulldogs have been on fire, winning seven straight and imposing themselves on the competition while Manly have slipped to seventh following last week’s horror loss to Newcastle. Big prop Sam Kasiano beat a high tackle charge at the judiciary too, so everything is looking up for the blue and whites.
Key: How will Manly cope with the loss of Brett Stewart (hamstring)? The champion fullback is crucial to the Sea Eagles attack – and points will be at a premium here.
Tip: Sea Eagles
Gold Coast v Brisbane at Skilled Park 7.35pm
Head to Head: Titans 3 Broncos 9
Last clash: Round 8 2012 – Broncos 26 bt Titans 6 at Suncorp Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Titans $2.80 Broncos $1.45
FootyTAB: Titans +6.5
Brisbane will be buoyed by Anthony Griffin’s re-signing mid-week and should come out looking to impress their coach, but Gold Coast will provide a formidable opponent. The Titans have recovered from a miserable start to the season to be within two wins of the top eight, and are coming off an eight-try romp against Canberra. The Titans are again without Greg Bird (pectoral injury), but regain winger David Mead and possibly Queensland lock Ashley Harrison – the latter setting up an intriguing forwards battle with the big Broncos pack.
Key: Will Zillman produced his best game of the year for the Titans, running in two tries against Canberra, making five line breaks and showing off his top speed. His battle with Brisbane young gun Josh Hoffman will be a treat to watch.
SATURDAY, July 21
Warriors v Newcastle at Mt Smart Stadium 5.30pm
Head to Head: Warriors 13 Knights 14 drawn 1
Last clash: Round 23 2011 – Warriors 20 bt Knights 12 at Mt Smart Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Warriors $1.26 Knights $4.00
FootyTAB: Knights +12.5
It took 19 rounds but the Newcastle we all expected to take the NRL by storm under Wayne Bennett finally materialised in their 32-6 thumping of premiers Manly last round. Halfback Tyrone Roberts had his best match in the top grade and winger Aku Uate found his mojo again. Now the test will be to keep playing to that high level against last year’s other grand finalists, the Warriors. They’ll be without winger James McManus while the Warriors, who welcome back powerful centre Konrad Hurrell (foot), will fancy their chances after nearly knocking off Brisbane last Friday.
Key: With so many attacking weapons in the backline, this could come down to who strikes fastest. Uate? Hurrell? Vatuvei? Tahu? It could be explosive.
Parramatta v Melbourne at Parramatta Stadium 7.30pm
Head to Head: Eels 10 Storm 15
Last clash: Round 21 2011 – Storm 22 bt Eels 18 at Parramatta Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Eels $4.50 Storm $1.22
FootyTAB: Eels +12.5
The best-performed side over the first 19 rounds comes up against the worst. But surprisingly, both enter this clash on a three-game losing skid. The last time Melbourne lost four in a row was a decade ago, so you get the impression Craig Bellamy isn’t likely to let this one slip away – especially with Canterbury drawing level at the top of the NRL ladder last week. Both sides are expecting to be without their star fullbacks, Billy Slater (Storm) and Parramatta’s Jarryd Hayne, but there’s no shortage of firepower for the visiting side.
Key: Joseph Paulo is the latest Eel to step into the No.6 jersey, despite never featuring there in first grade. But the regular back-rower had his best game of the season last week. Could he be the difference? He’ll have to be very good.
South Sydney v St George-Illawarra at ANZ Stadium 7.30pm
Head to Head: Souths 5 Dragons 14
Last clash: Round 11 2012 – Souths 19 bt Dragons 18 at Oki Jubilee Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Souths $1.60 Dragons $2.40
FootyTAB: Dragons +4.5
St George Illawarra stopped their mid-season slump with a victory over rivals Cronulla, while South Sydney were even more impressive – ripping the heart out of the Roosters with two tries in the final 100 seconds. Souths have emerged as a genuine threat for this year’s title over the past two months, while the Dragons are grimly clinging to their title as one of the game’s top defensive units. A clash of styles could emerge, with the Dragons’ dour gameplay coming up against the Rabbitohs’ youthful attack led by young halfback Adam Reynolds.
Key: This could be a close one and, with the game on the line, the Rabbitohs have stepped up big time this year. On top of their dramatic Monday night victory, they also toppled the Dragons in golden point in round 11.
SUNDAY, July 22
Cronulla v Canberra at Toyota Stadium 2.00pm
Head to Head: Sharks 31 Raiders 26
Last clash: Round 8 2012 – Sharks 44 bt Raiders 22 at Canberra Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Sharks $1.45 Raiders $2.80
FootyTAB: Raiders +6.5
The Shire might have bombed in its TV debut this week, but Cronulla are still doing the area proud despite last week’s narrow loss to rivals St George Illawarra. The Sharks are defiantly holding onto fifth on the ladder and will view Canberra as a must-win two points. And they’ll have to do it without key back-row duo Paul Gallen (abdomen) and Jeremy Smith (knee) against a Raiders team smarting from a mauling by Gold Coast. Which Raiders team will show up? The world beaters who took down ladder-leaders Melbourne, or the rabble that leak tries across the field and get booed off by home fans at halftime?
Key: Who is more hungry? A loss here would end Canberra’s finals hopes, but Cronulla’s top-four chances are fading fast. Both will be desperate.
Penrith v Sydney Roosters at Centrebet Stadium 3.00pm
Head to Head: Panthers 29 Roosters 48 drawn 1
Last clash: Round 2 2012 – Panthers 18 bt Roosters 0 at Allianz Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Panthers $1.75 Roosters $2.10
FootyTAB: Roosters +2.5
Can anyone seriously believe the Roosters lost on Monday night? Plenty of time has passed but the ridiculous nature of their last-second loss to fierce rivals South Sydney is still fresh in the mind. Here’s hoping the players themselves have put it behind them, otherwise Penrith could be in for an easy afternoon. The Panthers have dealt with their fair share of turmoil this season, but played with plenty of spirit in a tough loss to the Tigers last round.
Key: Neither team can realistically reach the finals now so, for Penrith, it’s about trying to send Luke Lewis out of the club on a winning note. But what do the Roosters have to play for?
MONDAY, July 23
North Queensland v Wests Tigers at Dairy Farmers Stadium 7.00pm
Head to Head: Cowboys 11 Tigers 14
Last clash: Round 12 2012 – Tigers 26 bt Cowboys 18 at Campbelltown Sports Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Cowboys $1.65 Tigers $2.30
FootyTAB: Tigers +3.5
Two modern day rivals, thanks to their memorable 2005 grand final, will face off in a clash which looms as pivotal for their finals hopes – both teams sitting on the edge of the top eight, with a number of contenders ready to pounce. The Tigers were able to get the better of this matchup early in the year, with Benji Marshall and Cowboys prop James Tamou clashing several times. North Queensland looked professional in their clinical victory over Melbourne last week and deserve favouritism over a Tigers side that struggled to put away Penrith.
Key: The battle between the ultra-competitive duo of Marshall and Johnathan Thurston is always entertaining. The player who comes out on top in this match-up will most likely lead their side to victory.
Tip: Cowboys© AAP 2013