January is not usually a time for rugby league teams to join, rejoin or quit competitions – or for State of Origin sides to go into camp.
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Round 11 of the NRL season kicks off this week, and though there are several teams clinging to hope, others are looking to cement themselves in the eight.
Here are this week bold predictions.
Penrith Panthers vs Wests Tigers
After being named to return from injury Nathan Cleary will take on the Tigers coached by his father, Ivan. Given the Tigers new-look defence and the Panthers’ ability to keep opponents out in the second half, this game should stay fairly close. I’m predicting the scores to be level heading into the last ten minutes. Nathan will slot the field goal, giving the Panthers a one-point victory.
Parramatta Eels vs New Zealand Warriors
Where there’s life there’s hope
The Eels season is all but done. They will need to replicate what only they have done (in 2006) to make the finals. With no Shaun Johnson, I’m expecting the Eels to come away with the two points. Clint Guterson will have his best game of the season and score a double.
Brisbane Broncos vs Sydney Roosters
The Roosters will make light work of the Broncos in this one. I’m expecting a blowout as the Roosters slowly get their spine working the way we had all anticipated.
Gold Coast Titans vs Newcastle Knights
Sparks fly as swords clash
This could be a surprisingly good game. I predict there will be plenty of points scored in a free-flowing end-to-end match. Kalyn Ponga is their hero in this one. Expect the young fullback to score a hat-trick and kick at 80 per cent.
North Queensland Cowboys vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
Sammy wins battle of the 13s
Expect the Souths to continue on the up this week. They’re the best attacking side in the competition and will score plenty against the underperforming Cowboys. Sam Burgess will crash over for the first try and take out man of the match honours.
Melbourne Storm vs Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
A dynasty ends
Manly will be too good for a Melbourne side missing Cameron Smith. It will be a close game, but the experience of Daly Cherry-Evans will get the job done. The debate about who should be Melbourne’s number seven going forward will continue.
St George Illawarra Dragons vs Canberra Raiders
The Dragons are for real
After a poor performance last week the Dragons will bounce back into the winners circle. Ben Hunt will shine as he continues to put his hand up for State of Origin selection. On the other side of the field Josh Papaii will continue to perform at lock with a 250-metre and 30-tackle performance.
Cronulla Sutherland Sharks vs Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Dogs out back in the kennel
The Sharks will be too good for the dogs here. Expect it to be a reasonably tight game, but the Sharks will remain on top throughout. Valentine Holmes will continue to make his mark on the Fullback position. Holmes for a double.