If the question is how the Parramatta Eels win the competition in 2020 and break the longest drought in their history, then surely Thursday’s win over the Tigers leaves no doubt the answer is Mitchell Moses.
We have reached Round 12 of the NRL and the next two months will be crucial as teams jockey for places in the top eight, while the battle for the wooden spoon has just heated up.
The Bulldogs’ win over the Knights in Newcastle has seen them draw to within two points of the second-last-placed Brisbane Broncos at the foot of the ladder, thus throwing wide open the race to avoid the wooden spoon.
The Dogs will face a tough task taking on the high-flying Parramatta Eels, while the Broncos can give themselves some breathing space between them and the Bulldogs with a win over the Sharks on Friday night.
Meantime, the Panthers continue to impress in season 2020, retaining their competition lead while the Storm have now moved up to second on the ladder, ahead of the Parramatta Eels.
Their clash against the Sea Eagles looms as a danger game, given the Sea Eagles knocked the Eels off top spot not long ago.
Other matches will see the Titans return to the SCG for the first time since their horror show against the Roosters last August, while the Dragons and Rabbitohs will resume hostilities at Kogarah Oval to kick off the ground.
Indigenous Round will be celebrated this weekend, with most teams to wear specifically-designed guernseys during matches this weekend.
Here is your guide to Round 12.
Dragons versus Rabbitohs
The first match of Round 12 brings together two traditional rivals in the Dragons and Rabbitohs.
Having won four of six matches between Rounds 5 and 10, the Dragons blew the chance to make it a double over the Sharks when they lost a controversial contest 28-24 at Kogarah Oval.
The NRL ruled that the try that was awarded to Shark Jack Williams in the first half should not have been awarded, but even then, the Dragons lost the match after bombing two try opportunities in the final ten minutes, one when Matt Dufty failed to cleanly ground the ball.
Still, they should be happy as to where they are at, sitting in 11th place with four wins and seven losses – a better record than what many expected at this point of the season.
They’ll now fancy their chances against the Rabbitohs, who sit just one place above them on the ladder in tenth place, at Kogarah Oval on Thursday night.
Undermanned by injuries, and also missing Latrell Mitchell due to suspension, the Bunnies threatened an upset when they led the Canberra Raiders 12-10 at halftime, only to fail to score in the second half as they lost 18-12.
The good news for Wayne Bennett is that he’ll get Mitchell back, and his impact might be what wins the match for the men from Redfern.
Last year saw the Rabbitohs win both contests against the Dragons, including the corresponding match last year when Campbell Graham scored at the death to give the Bunnies a 20-16 victory.
Despite their recent patchy form, I think the Rabbitohs should take the points, but not without an almighty challenge from the Dragons.
Prediction: Rabbitohs by two points.
Wests Tigers versus Warriors
Originally fixtured to be played at Campbelltown Stadium, the Friday twilight clash between the Wests Tigers and Warriors has been shifted to the Sydney Cricket Ground, following concerns over the recent wave of coronavirus cases in the Campbelltown LGA.
It will therefore be the first time the Tigers play a home game at the iconic venue since 2013, when it lost 13-12 to St George Illawarra.
Both the Tigers and Warriors are coming off defeats, with the Tigers falling 26-16 to the Parramatta Eels and the Warriors being far from disgraced in losing 18-10 to the Sydney Roosters on the Central Coast.
After thrashing the Broncos 48-0 at Leichhardt Oval in Round 10, the Tigers faced far more sterner opposition last week, and while they still performed well against the Eels the defeat frustratingly dropped them back down to ninth on the ladder.
They’ll be expected to bounce back on Friday night when they face the Warriors, which threatened to spring the season’s biggest upset when they led the Roosters 10-6 at halftime.
While they failed to score in the second half, the Warriors did well not to allow the Chooks to get off the leash, with the 18-10 defeat being their second-smallest losing margin in season 2020.
It was the last game for four players, including the top tryscorer from 2018, David Fusitu’a, whose wife is expecting their first child back home in New Zealand.
Due to the shortage of players, the Warriors have had to loan two players – Daniel Alvaro and George Jennings, both from Parramatta – to cover for the four players who have left the country.
Expect the Tigers to show no mercy as they look to put an end to an eight-year finals drought.
Prediction: Wests Tigers by 20 points.
Broncos versus Sharks
With the Bulldogs upsetting the Knights last Sunday, the Brisbane Broncos potentially find themselves one loss away from dropping to the bottom of the ladder on for-and-against.
While you could say that their 46-8 loss was an improvement on the 48-0 thrashing they copped from the Wests Tigers the previous week, the Broncos still conceded 40+ points for the second week running, leaving more questions to be asked than answered at Red Hill.
They led 8-6 in the first half, but then conceded the final 40 points unabated as they crashed to their eighth loss from eleven matches this season to all but crash out of finals contention for season 2020.
Their chance for a fourth win, but only their second since the season resumption, will come when they welcome the Sharks to Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
The Sharks reversed their Round 5 loss to the Dragons with a controversial 28-24 win at Kogarah Oval last Saturday night, getting away with a try to Jack Williams which NRL officials said should never have been awarded.
They also came very close to losing the match anyway, when the Dragons bombed two opportunities in the final ten minutes, the last coming at the death when replays showed that the ball landed on the dead-ball line.
Still, coach John Morris would be happy to see how his side have responded in recent weeks, following their 56-24 thumping by the Panthers in Round 9.
They’ll now fly to Queensland with the chance to make it three wins in the sunshine state this season, having already accounted for the Cowboys and Titans in Townsville and on the Gold Coast in rounds four and eight, respectively.
Prediction: Sharks by 14 points.
Roosters versus Titans
Another lopsided match looms on Saturday afternoon when the Sydney Roosters welcome the Gold Coast Titans to the SCG.
It was in the corresponding match last year that the Roosters registered a 58-6 victory over the Titans, in which they recorded their largest ever win against any Gold Coast franchise in Australian rugby league history.
It laid bare the task incoming coach Justin Holbrook had if he were to turn around the Titans’ short and long-term problems, and now he gets the chance to prove just how far the Titans have come since.
The men from the holiday strip have done well to win three matches going into Round 12, and pushed competition leaders the Penrith Panthers all the way at home before going down 22-14.
Holbrook would’ve no doubt been impressed by how his side performed, but now he will have to gear his side up as they return to the scene of last year’s SCG humiliation – nearly twelve months to the day since it happened.
Meantime, the Roosters were also pushed by a lowly team in their clash against the Warriors, trailing 10-6 at halftime before scoring two tries in the second half to escape with an 18-10 victory on the Central Coast.
Luke Keary was best-on-ground as the Chooks registered their seventh win of the year, which came with captain Boyd Cordner sidelined due to a head knock he suffered the previous week.
Trent Robinson’s men will be favoured to make it eight wins from twelve matches, when they face the Titans – a side they haven’t lost to since 2016.
Prediction: Roosters by 24 points.
Cowboys versus Raiders
Life will get no easier for Josh Hannay and his Cowboys, who will welcome last year’s beaten grand finalists the Canberra Raiders to QCB Stadium in the twilight slot.
In their first match of the post-Paul Green era, the northerners, who have largely struggled since reaching the 2017 grand final, crashed to their eighth defeat of the season, losing 24-12 to the Sea Eagles.
It followed from from their 22-10 loss to the Panthers, which was Green’s last match at the helm before he walked away, during which the Cowboys showed some promising signs that may bode well for whoever becomes the club’s next full-time coach.
Next are the injury-ravaged Raiders, who recorded another unconvincing win on Saturday night, coming from behind at halftime to beat the South Sydney Rabbitohs 18-12 at home.
It was their third win in their past four games, having also beaten the Dragons at home and the Roosters at the SCG on either side of a narrow loss to the Melbourne Storm at home.
But the win over the Bunnies came at a cost, with fullback Charnze Nikoll-Klokstad suffering a finger injury that could see him sidelined for one to two weeks.
It adds to a worrying casualty list in the nation’s capital, which already includes the likes of John Bateman and Josh Hodgson.
Despite the injury toll, the Raiders should make it three straight wins as they continue their push up the ladder.
Prediction: Raiders by 10 points.
Sea Eagles versus Panthers
A fortnight after upsetting previous ladder leaders the Parramatta Eels at home, the Sea Eagles will be out to repeat the dose when they welcome the new pacesetters, the Penrith Panthers, to Brookvale Oval this Saturday night.
The Sea Eagles backed up their win over the Eels in Round 10 by travelling to Townsville and defeating the Cowboys 24-12, moving back into the top eight in the process.
It also doused any doubts as to whether they could win without fullback Tom Trbojevic in the side, though he did suffer a fresh injury concern that could sideline him for much longer than first thought.
Captain Daly Cherry-Evans has also rebounded well after his well-documented shocker against the Dragons in Round 9, in which the Sea Eagles produced their worst performance for the season.
On the other hand, the Panthers were made to work hard for victory against the Titans on the Gold Coast, never being allowed to hit top gear but still emerging with a 22-14 win.
Their record of nine wins, one draw and one loss is their best after eleven rounds in any season, and just about confirms their place in the finals in Ivan Cleary’s second year back at the helm of the club.
While the mountain men should start favourites to make it ten wins from twelve matches this season, they’ll be wary of a side that knocked off the Eels not long ago, and also edged out the Roosters in a low-scoring match at Leichhardt Oval prior to the season suspension.
Prediction: Panthers by eight points.
Bulldogs versus Eels
Fresh off the back of their second win for the season, the Bulldogs will fancy themselves when they face the high-flying Parramatta Eels at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.
The Dogs put behind the previous week’s heartbreaking loss to St George Illawarra with a committed 80-minute performance against the Knights in Newcastle, which would’ve satisfied not just caretaker coach Steve Georgallis, but also incoming coach Trent Barrett.
They led 6-0 at halftime and then led as much as 18-0 in the second half before two late tries to the Knights had Dogs fans fearing a repeat of the previous week’s capitulation against the Dragons, in which they led 22-10 in the second half before losing 28-22.
Now they get the chance to test themselves against the Eels, who defeated the Wests Tigers in an entertaining clash at Bankwest Stadium last Thursday night.
Perhaps the highlight of the match didn’t occur on the scoreboard, when Blake Ferguson scored probably the greatest no-try you will ever see in rugby league history.
— Parramatta Eels (@TheParraEels) July 23, 2020
This will be the first match played at ANZ Stadium since Round 2; the Olympic stadium was due to undergo a significant redevelopment project starting this month, but was abandoned altogether due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
It means the stadium will remain as it is design-wise, and it still remains in the frame to host this year’s NRL grand final, should the league backflip on its plan to play the decider at the iconic Sydney Cricket Ground.
And with a capacity of over 80,000, the 25per cent rule means up to 20,000 fans will be allowed to attend, but it’s more likely that the attendance will be considerably less than that, owing to the threat of a second COVID-19 wave in the Harbour City.
While the Eels will only have to make the short trip east to Olympic Park, I think they will return to Parramatta with the points.
Prediction: Eels by 12 points.
Storm versus Knights
After losing both first-choice hookers to season-ending injuries in their loss to the Bulldogs last Sunday, the last thing the Newcastle Knights would want is to have to face a Melbourne Storm side that is picking up gear.
In a horror afternoon for the Novocastrians, both Andrew McCullough and Connor Watson suffered hamstring and Achilles injuries, respectively, within the space of just six minutes.
The injuries aside, coach Adam O’Brien lashed his side for taking the last-placed Bulldogs lightly, having gone into the match widely expected to win.
They trailed 6-0 at halftime and then 18-0 in the second half before pegging back two late tries, but it was otherwise a disappointing performance from the Knights, and one that could come back to bite them should they miss finals for a seventh straight year.
It was the second time in a month that the Knights had lost a winnable game against lowly opposition, having also gone down to the Cowboys in Townsville in Round 7.
Next on the horizon are the Melbourne Storm, which came from 8-6 down against the Brisbane Broncos to pile on 40 unanswered points as they coasted to a 46-8 victory at Suncorp Stadium.
Even at age 37, and with his inevitable retirement looming, Cameron Smith continues to perform at the top level, being best-on-ground as the Storm continued their dominance against the Broncos, with only four losses against them since the 2006 grand final.
It will therefore take a huge effort from the Knights, who will be down to their fourth-choice hooker in Chad Randall, to stop him, Ryan Papenhuyzen and co. from producing another top-notch performance this Sunday.
Prediction: Storm by 18 points.