The new year has rolled over and we are soon to enter into a whole new NRL season full of triumph, disappointment, scandal, shocks, success and failure.
With only three rounds remaining, the race for the top four, top eight and wooden spoon are well and truly alive. Round 24 promises to be season defining for the Dragons, Raiders, Panthers and Eels.
Parramatta Eels versus Gold Coast Titans
Thursday, 17 August
Kick-off: 7:50pm at ANZ Stadium
Parramatta will be absolutely kicking themselves after turning in a very disappointing performance against Newcastle last Friday night. With a top-four spot up for grabs, the Eels froze. They were slow out of the blocks, spotting Newcastle a 12-0 start, and they never recovered. Credit to Newcastle for being the more disciplined side over the 80 minutes and being able to record their most dominant victory of the season.
The 2017 season is going from bad to worse for the Gold Coast Titans. The Jarryd Hayne-Neil Henry saga drags on for yet another week, with the million-dollar fullback out of this clash with an ankle injury. Tyrone Roberts is expected to shift to fullback with Kane Elgey coming into the halves off the bench.
The Titans have conceded a whopping 96 points in the past two games. That won’t cut it at any level of rugby league. The bright lights of prime time Thursday night football should be able to inspire the Titans somewhat.
Bevan French returns for the Eels at fullback in their only change for this fixture. This is a must-win game for Parramatta if they have aspirations of a top-four finish. Last week’s loss was inexcusable, but Newcastle had won two matches in a row and look a much tougher proposition compared to the Titans.
Gold Coast has rolled over far too easily in the last fortnight. Parramatta will atone for their slip-up last week and record a big victory.
Prediction: Parramatta by 20.
South Sydney Rabbitohs versus New Zealand Warriors
Friday, 18 August
Kick-off: 6:00pm at ANZ Stadium
The New Zealand Warriors have been the most underwhelming team in 2017 by a country mile. The loss of Shaun Johnson to injury seriously derailed the Warriors’ finals hopes, although they weren’t looking too flash before he was injured either. The Warriors have no defensive structures and have developed a habit of digging themselves multiple try deficits to come back from, which they have failed to do.
South Sydney finished the end of last season well and appear to be repeating that trend in 2017. Wins over the Dragons and Bulldogs have merely band-aided what has been another disappointing campaign for the boys from Redfern. A win against the Warriors on Friday night would be the first time this season they have won three consecutive matches.
The Warriors welcome back five-eighth Kieran Foran, who will partner the impressive Ata Hingano in the halves. After starting one game on the bench Angus Crichton has returned to the starting line up.
The Warriors have given no indication that they are ready to turn a corner and put in a wholehearted 80-minute performance for some time now. South Sydney have points in them and will be too strong for a Warriors side looking towards the end of the season.
Prediction: South Sydney by 16.
Brisbane Broncos versus St George Illawarra Dragons
Friday, 18 August
Kick-off: 7:50pm at Suncorp Stadium
The Broncos stamped their premiership credentials last Friday night with a dominant win over reigning champions Cronulla Sharks. The loss of Andrew McCullough has done little to curtail the Broncos in the past fortnight, as they have dispatched their opponents with consummate ease.
A win on Friday night would be an absolute steal for the Dragons, but they have the players in their side and the motivation to do so. Kurt Mann playing in the number seven jersey makes St George much more threatening across the park, with Mann’s agility and ball playing superior to that of former halfback Josh McCrone.
The Dragons attack has been much improved this season, but this is a match in which they will be hoping for an improved defensive performance if they are to stand a chance of winning.
The Dragons will keep this match close thanks in part to their exceptional forward pack. I would expect the game to turn when the St George interchange players replace the likes of Tyson Frizell and Paul Vaughan. The Dragons depth is inferior to that of the Broncos and this is where this match will be won and lost. This game will be closer than most are predicting.
Prediction: Brisbane by six.
Newcastle Knights versus Melbourne Storm
Saturday, 19 August
Kick-off: 3:00pm at McDonald Jones Stadium
The Melbourne Storm will seek to avoid bottom-placed Newcastle winning four games in a row when the two sides clash on Saturday afternoon. Unlike most top-versus-bottom team match-ups, both sides are in exceptional form and the Knights are currently belying their ladder position at present.
Knights coach Nathan Brown has the luxury of naming an unchanged side for Saturday’s match. The Storm loses Tim Glasby to injury but regains the services of five-eighth Cameron Munster. Jahrome Hughes moves back to the bench.
The Storm escaped with a narrow 16-13 victory against the Roosters last Saturday night. Their never-say-die attitude makes them the most formidable team in the NRL.
For the Knights, a high completion rate and finishing sets with an efficient option are what coach Brown will be preaching this weekend. The Storm is clinical in punishing seven tackle sets or opposition errors.
When these two sides met last season in Newcastle, Melbourne escaped with a narrow 20-16 win. The Knights are playing with fire and passion late in the season and will be hoping to turn in a big performance for their loyal home support. With one eye on the finals, Melbourne would be forgiven for approaching this game in a relaxed manner. With that in mind, I think the Storm will win, but it will be a close contest right up until full time.
Prediction: Melbourne by six.