There are eight rounds remaining in the shortened 2020 NRL season and the race for finals places will continue in earnest this weekend.
For the Dragons, their clash against the Roosters in Wollongong will be just about their last roll of the finals dice, the side having lost their past two matches despite scoring 24 points in each of those defeats.
Elsewhere, the Rabbitohs will be out for revenge when they host the Broncos, who have only won once since the season resumption and will set foot into Bankwest Stadium for the first time since last year’s elimination final humiliation at the hands of the Parramatta Eels.
A reduced crowd will also be on the cards when the Storm host the Bulldogs on the Sunshine Coast, with the audience for the Storm versus Knights match being a cause for concern for Queensland government authorities with an apparent disrespect for social distancing.
The Raiders’ mid-season resurgence also faces its toughest test when they travel to Penrith to face the ladder-leading Panthers, while the Eels will also be out to ramp up the pressure on their western Sydney rivals when they face the Sharks at Kogarah Oval.
Here is your preview to Round 13.
Dragons versus Roosters
The first match of Round 13 sees the Dragons on the Thursday night stage for the second week in a row, when they host two-time reigning premiers the Sydney Roosters in Wollongong for the first time since 2011.
The Dragons’ inconsistent season continued last week, when they blew a 16-0 lead after as many minutes to crash to a 32-24 loss to the Rabbitohs, marking a disappointing result in what was Corey Norman’s 200th NRL game.
There has also been recent talk that the playing group has lost the support of coach Paul McGregor, who appeared to have been granted a stay of execution after the club won four of six matches between rounds 5-10 inclusive.
Things will not get any easier for the Red V, who face a Sydney Roosters side which has been far from convincing in recent weeks.
Again without captain Boyd Cordner, and only a week after trailing the Warriors at halftime, the Chooks never really hit top gear against the Titans, scoring only two tries but getting home 18-12 thanks to the boot of the season’s leading pointscorer, Kyle Flanagan.
The two close wins against the Warriors and Titans, teams that won’t play finals this season, follows their narrow loss to the Raiders in the grand final rematch at the SCG and is a sign that the club’s injury toll could be about to catch up to them.
They’ll surely want to avoid another slow start against the Dragons, whom they haven’t lost to in matches outside of Anzac Day since the 2010 grand final.
The teams have only met in Wollongong twice since 2001, with the Dragons claiming a landslide 44-6 win in 2005 (in which Mark Gasnier scored a hat-trick of tries) and the Roosters coming from behind to win in 2011.
On the road, the Roosters should get the job done, and just about sentence the Dragons to another season without finals football in the process.
Prediction: Roosters by 12 points.
Sea Eagles versus Warriors
The first match of the Friday double header sees the New Zealand Warriors make the trip south to Brookvale to face the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles.
Both teams are coming off contrasting Round 12 performances, with the Warriors coming from behind to shock the Wests Tigers at the SCG and the Sea Eagles copping another humiliating defeat, this time at the hands of the top-placed Penrith Panthers.
The Warriors’ victory came just a week after they threatened a major upset against the Roosters before losing 18-10, another sign that their form might be surely but slowly picking up under caretaker coach Todd Payten.
But in a major blow to the club’s long-term future, Payten has declined the offer to become permanent head coach, instead setting his sights on taking the top job at the North Queensland Cowboys, where Josh Hannay is acting as their caretaker coach.
Further, playmaker Blake Green has departed the club to join the Newcastle Knights for the remainder of the season, that coming on top of losing four players for the rest of the season for compassionate reasons.
Meantime, the Sea Eagles’ 42-12 loss to the Panthers has seen them drop to ninth on the ladder and gives coach Des Hasler more headaches than questions to be answered about his club’s poor form.
However, the Silvertails will be favoured to bounce back this Friday night, buoyed by a strong recent record against the Warriors, although the Kiwis did win their most recent meeting 24-16 at Mount Smart Stadium last year.
At home, the Sea Eagles should take the points and get their finals hopes back on track.
Prediction: Sea Eagles by 10 points.
Rabbitohs versus Broncos
If there is one team that has every right to be very angry, it’s the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Prior to the season suspension, the Rabbitohs were the last club to be beaten by the Brisbane Broncos, who have only won one match since the resumption to crash to 15th on the ladder, only above the Bulldogs.
In that match, Kotoni Staggs scored a hat-trick of tries as the Broncos won 22-18 in a match in which spectators were banned from attending, as the coronavirus pandemic hit its first peak in Australia.
Four-and-a-half months on, the Bunnies will start favourites against a side that has performed very poorly in Sydney in the past twelve months, the Broncos having not won a match in the Harbour City since July 7 last year.
In fact, this will also be the first time the Broncos step foot into Bankwest Stadium since last year’s humiliating 58-0 elimination final loss to the Parramatta Eels, which until Round 4 this year marked their worst ever defeat in the NRL.
Last Friday night, the northerners blew their biggest chance at a victory when they squandered a 26-18 lead against the Sharks with ten minutes remaining to crash to a 36-26 defeat.
While it may have been an improvement in recent weeks, it was still a disappointing defeat and leaves the Broncos staring down the barrel of potentially recording its worst ever season in over three decades of club history.
On the other hand, the Rabbitohs celebrated Indigenous Round with a 32-24 win over the Dragons at Kogarah Oval, and appropriately enough it was their Indigenous stars who scored all 32 of their points.
The victory lifted the Bunnies back into the top eight, and back into finals calculations following some indifferent form in recent weeks.
At home, Wayne Bennett’s side should start favourites as they continue pushing towards a third consecutive finals series.
Prediction: Rabbitohs by 18 points.
Storm versus Bulldogs
The first match on Saturday afternoon sees the Storm host the last-placed Bulldogs on the Sunshine Coast, with a partially reduced crowd to be permitted to attend this match.
Following the controversy over the crowd attendance at the Storm versus Knights match last week, it has been announced that the capacity for this match, and all remaining matches at Sunshine Coast Stadium, would be reduced to 5,250.
The crowd aside, the Storm registered a 26-16 victory over the Knights last Sunday, but it came with a cost with Cameron Smith suffering a serious shoulder injury that will see him sidelined for up to three weeks.
It was just the second time in his NRL career that his match has ended before halftime, due to injury, and means the Storm will need to find a replacement skipper for their match against the Bulldogs.
The Dogs’ form has lifted in recent weeks following the departure of Dean Pay, with the club taking the fight right up to the Parramatta Eels last Sunday; after trailing 0-18 in the first half, they scored the next 16 points before falling just short of a third win for the season.
Their fans would also have every right to be angry as it was revealed that a try to Marcelo Montoya which was denied by the referee due to obstruction in the first half should have been awarded, which would’ve seen the Dogs move up to 14th on the ladder on for-and-against.
That followed on from their 18-12 win over the Knights in Newcastle, which came on the back of a heartbreaking 28-22 loss to the Dragons in which they led 22-10, before capitulating in the final 15 minutes.
As much as the Bulldogs would love to cause a boilover against a Storm side missing their captain, it won’t happen.
Prediction: Storm by eight points.
Knights versus Wests Tigers
After a disastrous few weeks, which included losing to the last-placed Bulldogs and losing both first-choice hookers in Andrew McCullough and Connor Watson for the season, the last thing the Knights would want is to face a fired-up Wests Tigers side this Saturday night.
The week after losing both aforementioned players, the Knights battled bravely against the Storm on the Sunshine Coast before crashing to a 26-16 defeat, which has threatened to undo all the hard work Adam O’Brien has done in the first half of the year.
However, the Knights have been given a much-needed boost with Blake Green to join the club after he was granted a release from the New Zealand Warriors this week, meaning he could come straight into the side for the clash against the Tigers.
Michael Maguire’s men crashed to their fourth loss in their past five games when they lost 26-20 to the Warriors, the result seeing the Tigers lose touch with the top eight as they stare down the barrel of a ninth straight season without finals football.
Despite leading 14-8 at halftime, Maguire was less than impressed with his side’s first half display, with footage showing him unleash on a plastic chair in the sheds.
The 2014 premiership-winning mentor has promised to shake up his side for the trip to Newcastle, with much maligned halfback Luke Brooks set to regain his place in the starting 13 as Maguire looks to attempt to stick to a side that can collectively get the job done.
Despite their inconsistent recent form, the Tigers should take the points.
Prediction: Wests Tigers by 16 points.
Panthers versus Raiders
Saturday night sees a genuine blockbuster with the ladder-leading Penrith Panthers welcoming the Canberra Raiders to the foot of the mountains in what shapes as a potential finals preview.
Ivan Cleary’s side flexed their premiership muscle against the Sea Eagles last week, winning 42-12 to record their seventh straight victory and maintain their place at the top of the ladder, with Nathan Cleary again their best-on-ground.
The Panthers will get the chance to make it a record-equalling eight straight victories, which they have achieved only once – in 2003, their premiership-winning year – but they do come up against a familiar foe who twice this century have denied them an eighth straight victory.
The first came on April Fools Day in 2006 when Clinton Schifcofske landed a field goal in extra time to give the Raiders a 21-20 victory in Canberra, while just recently, in Round 19 last year, the Green Machine scored a 30-18 win to end the Panthers’ winning streak at seven.
Thus, the Panthers will be hoping it’s third time lucky against the Raiders as they shoot for eight consecutive victories, which would be their longest winning streak in 17 years.
The Raiders are coming off another unconvincing victory, this time 14-12 over the Cowboys in Townsville that does little to suggest that they may challenge for the premiership in 2020.
Still, coach Ricky Stuart will be happy about how his side is tracking in 2020, and another win over the Panthers this weekend could see their premiership credentials receive a huge boost.
That said, on the road, the Raiders should leave the foot of the mountains with the points.
Prediction: Raiders by two points.
Titans versus Cowboys
The first of two matches this Sunday sees a Queensland derby take place between the Titans and Cowboys on the Gold Coast.
Like their bigger brothers the Brisbane Broncos, both clubs are also struggling at the wrong end of the ladder, but what’s guaranteed is that, barring a draw, either one of the Titans or Cowboys will register their fourth victory for the season.
In recent weeks, the Titans have been competitive, pushing competition heavyweights the Panthers and Roosters to the limit in the past fortnight.
Last week against the Chooks, they scored the first try and threatened the season’s biggest upset before settling for an 18-12 defeat which showed that the club had come a long way, having been thrashed 58-6 in their previous clash against the Roosters, also at the SCG.
This Sunday, Justin Holbrook’s side will fancy themselves when they face the Cowboys, who sit just above them in 13th place on the ladder and are coming off a gut-wrenching loss at the hands of the Canberra Raiders at home.
It was the second defeat from as many matches for caretaker coach Josh Hannay, whose chances of securing the gig full-time appears increasingly unlikely with current Warriors caretaker coach Todd Payten expected to score the permanent position for next year.
But as dispirited as the Cowboys appear to be this season, they can take heart that some of their youngsters are starting to prove their worth in the top grade, an indication that a return to better times may not be too far away.
In another major boost for the side, captain Michael Morgan will return after missing the last few weeks due to a shoulder injury.
Recent history also favours the men from Townsville, who have won their last ten matches against the Titans, including a 36-6 thumping in Townsville in Round 3 earlier this season.
On the basis of that, I think the Cowboys will take the points.
Prediction: Cowboys by six points.
Sharks versus Eels
The final match of the round takes us to Kogarah Oval for a clash between finals contenders the Cronulla Sharks and Parramatta Eels.
After a poor start to the season which had coach John ‘Bomber’ Morris under pressure, the Sharks have lifted their form in recent weeks, winning six of their past seven matches to move up to sixth on the competition ladder.
Last week they had to come from behind to beat the Broncos in Brisbane, trailing 26-18 with ten minutes remaining before a three-try burst saw them snatch a 36-26 victory.
They will face a far more tougher test of their finals credentials when they face the Parramatta Eels, who had led the competition earlier in the season only to drop to third place, behind the Panthers and Storm, on percentage.
The Eels very nearly avoided major embarrassment when they escaped with an 18-16 victory over the last-placed Bulldogs, this coming after they had led 18-0 earlier in the match.
Brad Arthur’s side were, in the end, very lucky to escape with the victory in the first place as the Dogs were denied a try due to obstruction in the first half, and there is no doubt he was not very happy with his side’s attitude.
That being said, the Eels will want to come out firing on all four cylinders when they face the Sharks at Kogarah Oval, and with both sides in very good form, don’t be surprised to see both sides test each other out.
In the end, I think the westerners’ superior form will see them take the points.
Prediction: Eels by six points.