How is it already Round 8? The early season has flown by and the ladder is starting to take shape. This is a big weekend for the under siege Penrith Panthers who will be desperate for a win to avoid a 2-6 start.
Canberra Raiders versus Manly Sea Eagles
Friday, 21 April
Kick-off: 6pm AEST at GIO Stadium
After a tough start to the season, the Canberra Raiders have started to get on a roll and will be looking for their fourth consecutive victory when they host Manly on Friday night.
Manly suffered a 30-26 loss to the Storm last week, their second in a row, and outside of two bad losses to the Rabbitohs and Dragons haven’t been altogether awful this season.
Canberra is blessed to go into this match unchanged and the team’s health and fitness has been a huge key to their success in the last month of football.
Manly welcome back Martin Taupau with Lloyd Perrett out. Nate Myles is on an extended bench and I expect him to be an inclusion at the expense of Jackson Hastings.
Canberra possess a clear advantage in the forwards, although the inclusion of Martin Taupau bolsters Manly’s front line.
The Raiders weren’t polished last weekend against the Warriors but still got the job done. I would expect a similar performance from them this weekend.
They will win, but it won’t be as flashy as we have come to expect. Manly possess an excellent record in the nation’s capital and won’t roll over.
Prediction: Canberra by 8.
South Sydney Rabbitohs versus Brisbane Broncos
Friday, 21 April
Kick-off: 7:50pm at ANZ Stadium
South Sydney were given a huge reprieve at the judiciary this week with Sam Burgess escaping a ban for a clear shoulder charge on Greg Eastwood on Good Friday.
South Sydney remain unchanged after this loss to the Dogs. What I find alarming is that despite scoring in single figures in three of their past four games, Michael Maguire has made no changes to his side.
Surely Souths are crying out for a backline shake-up given their lack of production from their current backline, namely Robert Jennings and Braidon Burns.
The Broncos were lucky to escape with a victory against the Titans last start. A charge-down and James Roberts hat-trick was enough to secure the win for the error-riddled Brisbane side.
They have lost Jordan Kahu and Tevita Pangai Junior, the latter for a number of weeks with a finger injury. David Mead comes in to replace Kahu and Joe Ofahengaue gets his first run in the first team this season.
The Broncos should have too much for the Rabbitohs in terms of points scoring. Many have applauded the Broncos defensive displays, but they were quite leaky against the Titans.
The Titans did score one miracle try, but the Broncos would be concerned at how often the Titans scored tries considering their limited access to the ball outside of the first 20 minutes.
Souths on the other hand could have 60 per cent possession and struggle to score if the last month is anything to go by.
Prediction: Brisbane by 12.
Parramatta Eels versus Penrith Panthers
Saturday, 22 April 17
Kick-off: 3:00pm at ANZ Stadium
The Penrith Panthers are in disarray and will be desperate for a win against their Western Sydney rivals, the Parramatta Eels.
The Panthers produced impatient and sloppy football on Sunday when the Sharks completely dismantled them.
The game was an arm wrestle for the first 30 minutes but thereafter the Sharks professionally completely ground down the young Panthers.
There are lessons to be learned there for Penrith, but whether or not that learning will happen quickly enough is to be seen. No changes for the Panthers, but Bryce Cartwright was named on an extended bench.
The Eels haven’t been playing sparkling football either defeating the Wests Tigers by four points on Monday.
The Eels trailed for part of that game and needed a second-half revival to secure the two points. Peni Teripo is out with Kenny Edwards coming onto the bench.
I have been disappointed by both of these sides this season. I didn’t think much of Parramatta at the start of the season, predicting them to finish 13th. I expected the Panthers to be in the lower reaches of the top eight. They will need to win this game to keep that hope alive. A 2-6 start would be catastrophic to their finals hopes.
I expect Nathan Cleary to bounce back in a big way this game after a poor showing last start. Someone at the Panthers has to stand up. I’m looking at James Tamou, Matt Moylan or Trent Merrin. These are representative calibre players who have been well below their best. This should be the turning point in the Panthers season.
Prediction: Penrith by 10.
North Queensland Cowboys versus Newcastle Knights
Saturday, 22 April
Kick-off: 5:30pm at 1300 SMILES Stadium
There isn’t a better time historically to catch the North Queensland Cowboys than when Johnathan Thurston is out of the side.
The Dragons were the beneficiaries last weekend and the last placed Knights will look to do the same when they travel to Townsville on Saturday afternoon.
The Cowboys were gallant, particularly in conjuring their second half comeback in Wollongong but ultimately fell short.
The Knights had ample opportunity early in the second half to tie their game with the Roosters but blew golden opportunities.
This Newcastle side is lacking a finisher and a player with that little bit of class to cap off some of their impressive pieces of play.
For the home side, Antonio Winterstein replaces Gideon Gela-Mosby. John Asiata will play at 6 and Michael Morgan at 7. Newcastle lose Joe Wardle who is replaced in the run on side by Sam Stone.
This should be a fairly even contest, however the Cowboys don’t often lose two in a row at home and I can’t see them losing to the Knights, despite all of the men they have on the sideline.
The Cowboys won’t struggle to create scoring opportunities against the Knights as Newcastle often go through in-game lulls in their defensive intensity.
As I’ve alluded to, the Knights also struggle to finish off and score when most other sides should. Combining both of these factors, I’m forecasting a rare win for the Cowboys without their captain.
Prediction: Cowboys by 10.