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NRL Round 14 predictions (part two): Top-end clash could see star halfbacks return

The Eels face the Bunnies in Round 26. (AAP Image/Craig Golding)
Roar Guru
9th June, 2017
4

Rugby league will return to Bathurst once again when the resurgent Panthers host a Canberra Raiders team that have failed to live up to their pre-season hype.

The traditional Queens Birthday clash between Canterbury and St George will write another chapter Monday afternoon with the bottom four Dogs looking to upset the top four Dragons.

Penrith Panthers versus Canberra Raiders
Saturday, 10 June
Kick-off: 5:30pm at Carrington Park, Bathurst

The Penrith Panthers finally clicked into gear last weekend as they routed the Bulldogs 38-0. It was Penrith’s most complete and impressive performance of the season. Matt Moylan seems far more comfortable in the halves than at fullback and his play demonstrated this. He was able to add his creative flair to plays more often which benefitted his team immensely.

The play of Mitch Rein and Dylan Edwards last weekend was also admirable and is testament to the Panther’s extensive reserve grade depth. The Raiders fought gallantly to take their match with Manly to golden point last weekend, but it would have been unjust for the Sea Eagles to lose that one. The Raiders were forced to defend too often and their lack of possession was the deciding factor in that match.

The Panthers make no change for their trip to Bathurst, with Bryce Cartwright and Peter Wallace still out. For the Raiders, Dunamis Lui last weekend suffered an ACL injury which has ruled him out for the season. Shannon Boyd is also missing with a knee injury with Royce Hunt and Scott Sorensen welcomed to the bench.

I think the Panthers have finally flicked the switch in season 2017. The Raiders, on the other hand, seem to be going in the opposite direction. This would be a signature game for the Raiders to win given their lack of forward depth on the bench, something which they have prided themselves on in recent years.

I expect Penrith to win this match and am looking forward to seeing Tyrone Peachey come off the bench and provide his game-changing spark once again.

Prediction: Penrith by 10.

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(Image: AAP Image/Craig Golding)

Parramatta Eels versus North Queensland Cowboys
Saturday, 10 June
Kick-off: 7:30pm at TIO Stadium, Darwin

The Eels take a home game away from Homebush to Darwin, where they face the Cowboys on Saturday night. The Eels have been impressive without their halfback Corey Norman but welcome the star No. 7 back into their starting team in jersey 21 to face the Cowboys.

North Queensland may have the services of captain Johnathan Thurston, who has been named 19th man, with coach Paul Green telling the media earlier this week that he wouldn’t bother having JT make the trip if he wasn’t going to play. Time will tell.

In addition to Corey Norman, captain Tim Mannah returns for the Eels. Josh Hoffman suffered a knee injury last start and joins Kirisome Auva’a on the sidelines. Clinton Gutherson has shifted to centre with Nathan Davis coming in on the right wing.

Kyle Laybutt has been named to debut in the halves at the expense of the injured Ray Thompson; however, he will be omitted should Johnathan Thurston be available.

These two sides met in Round 9 and it was the Eels who were triumphant on that night on the back of a Norman and Gutherson masterclass. The result of this game for mine hinges on the availability of JT. If he plays, I think the Cowboys will win. If he doesn’t, then it’s the Eels for mine. Either way, it will be a close game and neither side will win by more than a converted try.

Prediction: Either side by six points or less, depending on the availability of Johnathan Thurston.

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(Image: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

Wests Tigers versus Sydney Roosters
Sunday, 11 June
Kick-off: 4:00pm at Campbelltown Stadium

The Wests Tigers were admirable in defeat last weekend against St George despite being starved of field position and possession for most of that contest. They will be looking to build on that performance when they host the Sydney Roosters on Sunday night.

The Roosters managed to just scrape over the line last weekend against the Broncos but showed good ball security and performed to a high standard given a number of their players were backing up from State of Origin duty just four nights prior.

A hamstring injury sidelines Chris Lawrence for the Tigers with Sauaso Sue returning to the starting side. The Roosters welcome back halfback Mitchell Pearce with Connor Watson moving to the bench and Zane Tetevano is omitted.

Playing at Campbelltown gives the Tigers somewhat of an advantage compared to if they were playing the Roosters at Allianz Stadium, for example. Regardless of the venue for this match, I can’t see the Roosters losing to the lowly Tigers. Wests were fortunate to only lose by six points last weekend and I can’t trust them to put in two serviceable defensive performances in a row.

The firepower the Roosters will throw at the Tigers defence through the likes of Joseph Manu, Blake Ferguson, Luke Keary and Mitchell Pearce will be a little too much for the Tigers to handle.

Prediction: Roosters by 14.

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(Image: AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

Canterbury Bulldogs versus St George Illawarra Dragons
Monday, 12 June
Kick-off: 4:00pm at ANZ Stadium

An out of sorts Bulldogs side will be looking to turn their form around when they host the surprise packets of the 2017 season thus far, the St George Illawarra Dragons.

The Dogs were crushed 38-0 last start by the Panthers and will be turning to their experience in winning big games to steer the ship for a side that is desperate for two competition points.

Boosting the Dogs chances this week are the returns of Josh Reynolds at five-eighth and captain James Graham from injury. Brett Morris also returns on the wing with Kerrod Holland, Craig Garvey and Francis Tualau all out of the starting 17.

The Dragons have the luxury of making no changes after their 18-12 win over the Tigers last weekend.

The Dogs well and truly have their backs against the wall going into this fixture. Their ineptitude in attack is not only costing them football games but it is making their fans restless and Dogs game agonising to watch. One has to wonder what style of coaching Des Hasler is employing at Canterbury, as surely this is not the desired result.

The Dogs will need to put up more points than their doughnut last weekend against a Dragons side that has found their way over the try-line with much greater frequency in season 2017. The 2017 Dogs resemble the 2016 Dragons in many ways – a team that failed to dazzle offensively, possessing the second worst attacking record last season.

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In a bottom four versus top four clash, I’m siding with the better and more consistent team in this one. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Dogs came out and won given it’s not expected of them, but I think the Dragons will be too strong for them in this one.

Prediction: Dragons by 8.