There are eight rounds remaining in the shortened 2020 NRL season and the race for finals places will continue in earnest this weekend.
Last week’s tips – 6/8, running tip total – 19/32
Fortunately, in Round 4 the focus was shifted away from the officiating and back onto the football. After four rounds both the Roosters and Storm remain undefeated and despite a 1-3 start, the Raiders could be set for a huge two months of football.
Dogs v Broncos
If the Dogs were poor over the opening three rounds, then they were nothing short of abysmal in Round 4 against Manly. The Dogs failed to score a single point and conceded 36 in the process.
Pressure is beginning to mount against Des Hassler and if anything, Moses Mbye’s absence may actually rejuvenate the squad who are in desperate need of organising playmaker. That means there is a wonderful opportunity for debutant halfback Matt Frawley.
The Broncos continued their 2017 trend of close matches by picking up their second victory of the season against the Raiders courtesy of a Jordan Kahu field goal.
Brisbane have named a big bench and an unchanged squad from last week.
The rain will suit the Dogs but a victory against one of the big guns is still some way off.
Tip: Broncos 1-12
Roosters v Manly
The battle of the birds and the battle of the beaches in one.
The Roosters continued their undefeated start to the season with an impressive showing against Souths. Importantly, both Blake Fergusson and inspirational hooker Jake Friend have been named in the squad and if Fergusson takes the field it will be the strongest side the Roosters have named this season.
Manly have arguably been the most impressive side over the past two rounds and now sit 2-2 to start the season.
The return of Martin Taupau and Adin Fonua-Blake has given the side renewed vigour up front and although they will struggle to get the win in this match there is hope for the Sea Eagles yet.
Tip: Roosters 1-12
Cowboys v Souths
The Cowboys returned to the winner’s circle in less than convincing fashion last week against the Titans.
Souths went down to archrivals the Roosters but showed good fight. Cody Walker is developing into a special player and if the Burgess brothers can learn how to hold a ball, the Rabbitohs could be there come finals time.
Although North Queensland have struggled the last two weeks, the return of Lachlan Coote and, more importantly, Jason Taumalolo will give them the edge in this encounter.
Tip: Cowboys 13+
Sharks v Knights
The Sharkies returned to the winner’s circle in an impressive performance against Parramatta.
Coach Shane Flanagan will gamble on a slight backline reshuffle in this match by giving Valentine Holmes the custodian role. Holmes is brilliant on the wing and Jack Bird has done an excellent job at fullback so far, so I’m not convinced this is a good ploy.
But, of course, if there is a team to test a new combination against, sadly, that has to be the Knights. They have started the season reasonably well but were met with a 40-0 dose of reality by the Panthers in Round 4.
An improved defensive display this week will be the goal for Newcastle and their fans.
Tip: Sharks 13+
Raiders v Eels
The Raiders are a far better side than their 1-3 record would suggest.
Part of that is the difficult draw they have endured. They have suffered golden point losses to both of the 2015 grand finalists, lost to the reigning premiers and belted a terrible Tigers outfit.
Similarly, the Eels have slowed up after a rampaging start. The key thing we have since discovered is how reliant they are on star playmaker Corey Norman. If he can’t get involved in the game, then the Eels will lose every match.
Returning to Canberra and with a favourable draw including the Titans (A), Warriors (H), Manly (H), Dogs (A), Knights (A) come Round 10, it is easy to think the Raiders will be sitting 7-3.
Tip: Raiders 1-12
Storm v Panthers
The match of the round pits the undefeated Storm against the rapidly improving Panthers.
The Storm produced arguably their worst performance in a decade against the Tigers – but importantly, still produced a victory.
Completing sets will be the key focus for Craig Bellamy in this match.
The Panthers have already unearthed their blueprint in 2017. Their fortunes will rely heavily on dominating opposition forward packs enjoying an enormous prop rotation and creative second rowers.
The Storm are near impossible to beat in Melbourne and will be looking to atone for a poor performance in Round 4.
Tip: Storm 1-12
Warriors v Titans
This is it for the Warriors. Even though it is only Round 5, if they lose this match you can draw a line through them for 2017.
They now have the entire New Zealand international spine at their disposal, a monstrous forward pack and a talented backline and they are playing in New Zealand.
The Titans, on the other hand, have more injuries then fingers at the moment.
Tip: Warriors 13+
Tigers v Dragons
The only way is up for the Tigers who were arguably even worse last week than in Round 3 despite the losing margin being 32 points fewer than what it was against the Raiders.
The scary part for the Tigers is they could only muster an eight-point lead at halftime despite having 70 per cent possession in the first half against a Storm team who couldn’t catch a cold and repeatedly offered opportunities inside their own 20-metre zone.
The Dragons, on the other hand, incredibly have no problems scoring in 2017, becoming the first team to reach 100 points this season – a far cry from 2016 in which they were the last team (yes, even slower than the Knights) to reach the century.
They have achieved their 3-1 start to the season on the back of power game led by Paul Vaughan who is emerging as an essential selection for the NSW State of Origin side.
Expect the Tigers to start well but be gradually overpowered by the Dragons.
Tip: Dragons 1-12