Roosters Tactics Kill Off Eels

The Roosters seemingly pulled off coach Brian Smiths game plan to perfection, exposing Jarryd Hayne in defence with pin-pointing kicking – as the pumped up Sydney side won out 48-12.

In a much hyped game, the Eels faithful turned out in big numbers – as Parramatta Stadium sold old for the first time in some months.

But the well-prepared Roosters kept the crowd out of the match for most of the game, peppering the Eels from the opening with some good angle running and some dangerous kicks that had Hayne running everywhere behind the line.

The Sydney forwards were exceptional, led by the resurgent Jason Ryles – they had the Eels on the backfoot and from there, the magic of Carney had the Parramatta side guessing everytime he had the ball.

He would run, jink or kick – with things coming together for him on most occasions.

The Roosters had plenty of success attacking the Eels right side defence, providing Inu with plenty of work – and showing off the pace of Phil Graham and Kane Linett. Both outside backs combining beautifully for one try in particular – despite the strong efforts of Hayne to break down the play.

Parramatta had their chances, getting a try right on half time to narrow the gap to 12 points – but despite having a mountain of possession early in the second term – they couldn’t rack up points.

The Roosters defence was rushing all night, closing down the Eels early and wrapping up their trademark offloads – frustrating the life out of Parramatta and preventing any potential points.

The Eels needed some luck, or an error from the Roosters – they got neither.

With the game in the balance, a surging try from Joel Reddy which looked to be a benefit of the doubt chance at the very least was knocked back by the video referee – the result knocking the stuffing out of any potential Eels comeback.

With the Sydney side rarely missing their chances, they attacked at every opportunity and now find themselves in equal second position and assured of a finals birth for 2010.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround under astute coach Brian Smith, the veteran would already be quietly confident of his sides chances – the former Eels coach regularly cops a pasting in the media when things go bad – but you rarely hear anyone sing his praises when he is cruising along nicely.

Smith has survived so long in the game, because he is extremely good at what he does. He has taken this bumbling mess of a Roosters side from last to virtually first in the space of 12 months.

He’s given Carney the confidence and licence to roam that he needed, he has rebirthed the likes of Jason Ryles, who before joining the Roosters was long odds to ever play NRL again.

Ryles was always injured, rarely making decent meters and regularly whinging and moaning at referees. The former Dragon has not only rediscovered his early career form – but has cut the crap from his game and is an encouraging sight for all the Roosters forwards.

Sydney will garner plenty from this big win as the finals near, and the Eels will need to knuckle down once again to ensure they win the lions share of their remaining NRL games – to once again sneak into the NRL finals.

Penriths Great Escape, Late Win

The Panthers have escaped with a late win over the struggling Cowboys, edging ahead 24-16 in the dying stages to prevent a 4th straight loss for the 2nd placed NRL club.

Despite being at CUA Stadium, the Panthers were made to work for every point by the upbeat Cowboys – the visitors having a real chance of the win, until making some poor decisions late in the game. Discipline probably costing Neil Henry’s side at a massive upset win.

It was ‘that’ close, the scores locked at 16-all with only 5 minutes to go – if not for a Michael Gordon piece of magic late, the Panthers were headed for golden point.

The Cowboys provided a good showing through their talented outside backs, the likes of Tonga, Bowen and Graham combining nicely for points and getting the visitors ahead in the clash.

The positive to come out of this one for Penrith, was their point scoring through other means than kicks. Often maligned for their tries from aerial raids – Penrith used the hands, speed and nous to get over the notch up points in this one.

Coach Matt Elliott will probably be happy that his side were made to work for the victory, as opposed to a training run that probably wouldn’t give them any gauge as to where they are at – after 3 weeks of pain.

Cowboys maestro Jonathan Thurston again found himself in trouble with the referees, the Queensland halfback later saying he feels he is being targeted – but it’s a case of the halfback not keeping his mouth shut. He always has too much to say and it’s costing his team all too often – the sooner he cuts it out of his game, the better he and the Cowboys will be traveling.

Next week the North Queensland side host the Broncos in the local derby – while the Panthers will be aiming to make it 2 on the trot when they travel away to meet the Raiders, coach Matt Elliott sure to want to get one up on his old team.

Dogs Inflict Pain on Bunnies

The Bulldogs have pulled off a major upset tonight, rolling the Rabbitohs 32-12 in their Round 21 clash, on a night when the South Sydney outfit had everything to play – they stumbled. Many were thinking Canterbury were just making up the numbers tonight – but they showed they have some damage left in them for 2010.

Canterbury finally aimed up in the forwards, using some guile and persistence in and around the ruck to keep punching holes in the Bunnies line – resulting in an array of points and a loss that hurts the Bunnies finals chances given their tough draw in the weeks ahead.

To make matters worse, Souths are expected to lose Sam Burgess for a period – after the star import was put on report for a grapple on Ben Barba.

Not even the returning Issac Luke could spark the Rabbitohs into action, the Kiwi rake starting from the bench and getting his chance early with starting hooker Beau Falloon injuring his arm seriously and sitting out the remainder of the match.

Despite the scoreline getting as high as 20-6 in the second term, Souths did have a chance to fight back against a tiring Bulldogs side. While Canterbury had built up an impressive lead, the tide did swing the Bunnies way – with Souths having a mountain of possession and opportunities late in the piece, but they simply couldn’t come up with points.

With their injury toll continuing to mount, things aren’t getting better for South Sydney – they now face a tough battle to keep in touch on the NRL Leader board.

For the Bulldogs however, they are still a mathematical chance – sure, it’s a huge age – but if they can win the lions share of their remaining games and hope results swing their way, they could sneak an unlikely Top 8 birth.

NRL Round 21 Preview

The NRL season continues to twist and turn with unpredictable scorelines and results, again a super-competitive season with several teams having a chance to snare the prize.

Friday night the Panthers will should get back into top-gear against the lowly-ranked Cowboys. Matt Elliott dragging his team to additional training sessions to help them get their focus back.

Rabbitohs have more to play for than the Bulldogs and will welcome back Isaac Luke, despite having an ever-growing injury ward the Bunnies should be too good here. They are boasting much better depth these days and should have their killer instinct about them. Expect to see some improvement from the Bulldogs, as they were a little unlucky early last week – starved of possession and blown away before the game got going.

On Saturday night the Eels are at home to the SYdney Roosters in a crucial match for both clubs. Hayne has the Eels back to their best, while the Todd Carney and the new-look Roosters are deserving of their 3rd spot on the NRL ladder. Eels should just get home here at Parramatta Stadium.

Back at their fortress – Leichardt Oval the Wests Tigers should bounce back into top flight against the Sharks. Possibly some good betting options here with the Tigers sure to notch up 13+

On Sunday the Warriors and the Titans do battle for crucial ladder position, the winner breathes a bit easier – while the loser will drift clear of the top teams. This is a hard one to pick, but given its another tough game on the road for the Titans, the NZ side should have a little too much for them.

A serious test for the Raiders comes, as they head to AAMI Park Melbourne to face the Storm. It’s a tough ask, but given the Storms situation – the Green Machine won’t get a better chance to come away with the 2 points. While the Storm should win out here, if the Raiders can cause an upset – it will give them no end of confidence and set them up nicely for the weeks ahead.

Wayne Bennett returns home again as the Dragons head north to the Broncos den. In yet another good match, the Dragons will be keen to stay ahead of the pack with the minor premiership in their sights. Expect Bennett to have his troops primed for this one, Saints to win.

On Monday night the Sea Eagles are expected to roll-over the Knights. Newcastle have lost touch with the Top 8 and would be hard pressed to make the cut from here. A strong win for the Manly side will have them quietly confident of a late season charge.

NRL Teams Round 20, 2010

NRL Teams and Squad Lineups for Round 20 of the National Rugby League, starting with the Friday matchups of the Bulldogs/Rabbitohs and Panthers/Cowboys:

FRIDAY

CANTERBURY BULLDOGS v SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS at ANZ Stadium, 7.35pm

BULLDOGS: Luke Patten, Steve Turner, Josh Morris, Shane Neumann, Bryson Goodwin, Ben Barba, Brett Kimmorley, Ben Hannant, Michael Ennis, Ryan Tandy, Jamal Idris, Andrew Ryan (capt), David Stagg. Interchange: Mickey Paea, Dene Halatau, Chris Armit, Michael Hodgson.

RABBITOHS: Rhys Wesser, Nathan Merritt, Colin Best, Beau Champion, Fetuli Talanoa, John Sutton, Chris Sandow, Sam Burgess, Issac Luke, Roy Asotasi (capt), Dave Tyrrell, Eddy Pettybourne, Ben Lowe. Interchange: Garret Crossman, Jaiman Lowe, Jason Clark, Jamie Simpson, Beau Falloon (one to be omitted).

Referees: Jared Maxwell, Matt Cecchin.

PENRITH PANTHERS v NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS at CUA Stadium, 7.35pm

PANTHERS: Lachlan Coote, Michael Gordon, Michael Jennings, Adrian Purtell, Brad Tighe, Travis Burns, Luke Walsh, Sam McKendry, Kevin Kingston, Petero Civoniceva (capt), Trent Waterhouse, Frank Pritchard, Luke Lewis. Interchange: Wade Graham, Matthew Bell, Nathan Smith, Gavin Cooper, Frank Puletua, Masada Iosefa (two to be omitted).

COWBOYS: Matt Bowen, Will Tupou, Willie Tonga, Ty Williams, Ashley Graham, Arana Taumata, Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, Aaron Payne, Willie Mason, Scott Bolton, Leeson Ah Mau, Luke O’Donnell. Interchange: Anthony Watts, Dane Hogan, Carl Webb, James Tamou.

Referees: Steve Lyons, Ton De Las Heras.

SATURDAY

PARRAMATTA EELS v SYDNEY ROOSTERS at Parramatta Stadium, 5.30pm

EELS: Jarryd Hayne, Luke Burt, Joel Reddy, Timana Tahu, Krisnan Inu, Jeff Robson, Daniel Mortimer, Nathan Cayless (capt), Matthew Keating, Fuifui Moimoi, Nathan Hindmarsh (capt), Ben Smith, Feleti Mateo. Interchange: Kris Keating, Tim Mannah, Justin Horo, Justin Poore.

ROOSTERS: Anthony Minichiello, Phil Graham, Kane Linnett, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Sam Perrett, Todd Carney, Mitchell Pearce, Jason Ryles, Jake Friend, Nate Myles, Frank Paul Nuuausala, Mitchell Aubusson, Braith Anasta. Interchange: Joseph Leilua, Martin Kennedy, Daniel Conn, Nick Kouparitsas.

Referees: Shayne Hayne, Gerard Sutton.

WESTS TIGERS v CRONULLA SHARKS at Leichhardt Oval, 7.30pm

TIGERS: Wade McKinnon, Lote Tuqiri, Blake Ayshford, Chris Lawrence, Beau Ryan, Benji Marshall, Robert Lui, Todd Payten, Robbie Farah, Keith Galloway, Liam Fulton, Gareth Ellis, Chris Heighington. Interchange: Andrew Fifita, Geoff Daniela, Simon Dwyer, Bryce Gibbs.

SHARKS: Nathan Gardner, Luke Covell, Dean Collis, Ben Pomeroy, Isaac Gordon, Trent Barrett (capt), Scott Porter, Kade Snowden, John Morris, Luke Douglas, Grant Millington, Anthony Tupou, Paul Gallen. Interchange: Josh Cordoba, Broderick Wright, Paul Aiton, Taulima Tautai, Tim Smith (one to be omitted).

Referees: Jason Robinson, Brett Suttor.

SUNDAY

NZ WARRIORS v GOLD COAST TITANS at Mt Smart AAMI Park, 12pm

NZ WARRIORS: Lance Hohaia, Bill Tupou, Brent Tate, Lewis Brown, Manu Vatuvei, James Maloney, Brett Seymour, Ben Matulino, Aaron Heremaia, Russell Packer, Simon Mannering (capt), Ukuma Ta’Ai, Micheal Luck. Interchange: Ian Henderson, Jesse Royal, Jeremy Latimore, Jacob Lillyman, Joel Moon (one to be omitted).

TITANS: Preston Campbell, Kevin Gordon, Steve Michaels, Clinton Toopi, William Zillman, Mat Rogers, Scott Prince, Luke Bailey, Nathan Friend, Michael Henderson, Anthony Laffranchi, Mark Minichiello, Bodene Thompson. Interchange: Matthew White, Brad Meyers, Ben Ridge, Shannon Walker, Luke O’Dwyer (one to be omitted).

Referees: Tony Archer, Alan Shortall.

MELBOURNE STORM v CANBERRA RAIDERS at AAMI Park, 2pm

STORM: Billy Slater, Matt Duffie, Dane Nielsen, Greg Inglis, Justin O’Neill, Brett Finch, Cooper Cronk, Aiden Tolman, Cam Smith (capt), Brett White, Sika Manu, Ryan Hoffman, Adam Blair. Interchange: Ryan Hinchcliffe, Todd Lowrie, Jeff Lima, Kevin Proctor, Jesse Bromwich (one to be omitted).

RAIDERS: Josh Dugan, Joel Monaghan, Jarrod Croker, Adam Mogg, Daniel Vidot, Terry Campese (capt), Josh McCrone, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Travis Waddell, David Shillington, Joe Picker, Bronson Harrison, Josh Miller. Interchange: Sam Mataora, Trevor Thurling, Dane Tilse, Scott Logan, Danny Galea (one to be omitted).

Referees: Ben Cummins, Phil Haines.

BRISBANE BRONCOS v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS at Suncorp Stadium, 3pm

BRONCOS: Josh Hoffman, Antonio Winterstein, Alex Glenn, Israel Folau, Jharal Yow Yeh, Darren Lockyer (capt), Peter Wallace, Shane Tronc, Andrew McCullough, Nick Kenny, Matt Gillett, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker. Interchange: Ben Hunt, Josh McGuire, Mitchell Dodds, Scott Anderson, Lagi Setu, Ashton Sims (two to be omitted).

DRAGONS: Darius Boyd, Brett Morris, Beau Scott, Matt Cooper, Jason Nightingale, Jamie Soward, Ben Hornby (capt), Matt Prior, Luke Priddis, Jon Green, Neville Costigan, Ben Creagh, Dean Young. Interchange: Trent Merrin, Jeremy Smith, Nick Emmett, Jarrod Saffy, Mark Gasnier (one to be omitted).

Referees: Gavin Badger, Ashley Klein.

MONDAY

NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v MANLY SEA EAGLES at EnergyAustralia Stadium, 7pm.

KNIGHTS: Shannon McDonnell, Akuila Uate, Junior Sa’u, Adam MacDougall, Cooper Vuna, Jarrod Mullen, Kurt Gidley (capt), Ben Cross, Isaac De Gois, Dan Tolar, Zeb Taia, Con Mika, Matt Hilder. Interchange: Wes Naiqama, Joel Edwards, Richie Fa’aoso, Antonio Kaufusi, Mark Taufua, Cameron Ciraldo (two to be omitted).

SEA EAGLES: Ben Farrar, Michael Robertson, Jamie Lyon, Steve Matai, Tony Williams, Kieran Foran, Trent Hodkinson, Jason King, Matt Ballin, Josh Perry, Anthony Watmough, Shane Rodney, Glenn Stewart. Interchange: Joe Galuvao, Brent Kite, George Rose, Chris Bailey, Matt Cross (one to be omitted).

Referees: Jared Maxwell, Matt Cecchin.

NRL Round 20 Review

With Round 20 of the National Rugby League behind us, NRL fans were again treated to a feast of quality football – with some epic battles, classy individuals and near misses.

Let’s start with Friday Nights action:

Bulldogs 16 v Eels 32

The battle of the west between traditional rivals Canterbury and Parramatta was over in a flash, with the Eels finding their spark in the opening seconds and really turning on the afterburners to bury the Bulldogs within 12 minutes. This made it the 3rd win on the trot for the Eels and they are suddenly back on track to slip into the semi finals in a few weeks time. With Hayne and Fui leading the way, the rest of the Eels are finding their top gear.

The Bulldogs will be ruing the lost opportunity and will now face a mathematical miracle to make the finals. Again the Bulldogs forwards didn’t look to have the commitment or aggression needed to give them the edge in a big game. If Jamaal hadn’t been working in the engine room – the forwards may have been even more disappointing.

The task for the Dogs doesn’t get any easier, they face the hard-hitting South Sydney side who expect to have Issac Luke ready to roll come game-time.

The Eels lineup against the ever-improving Roosters in what should be a cracker clash this weekend.

Dragons 10 v Titans 11

With their season seemingly in neutral, the Gold Coast snatched a golden point victory to keep their flag flying. Certainly no easy task in Dragon town, the Titans showed they can still mix-it with the big boys and the shot of confidence will do them a tonne of good. They’ll need every bit of courage again this week, as they travel to NZ to face the Warriors on what has been a tough roadtrip through-out 2010.

The Dragons as we have said, have been a little off their best in recent weeks. While they’ve still been winning most of their games, they’ve been falling over the line as opposed to blowing teams away. They get the chance to continue on their merry way this Round against the Broncos in Brisbane – surely Bennett will have them primed for a raid on his old base.

The pressure continues to put Gasnier in the starting lineup, so don’t be surprised if the old 1-2 punch of Cooper and Gasnier are reunited in the Dragons run-on side.

Raiders 20 v Sharks 13

All the talk was about Flannagan’s debut, but the reinvention of the Sharks wasn’t to be. The Radiers rolled their sleeves up and delivered a solid performance in which coach David Furner said ‘was needed’ after they steamrolled the Knights last week in a training run.

With the Sharks remaining rudderless, teams playing them in the final weeks will be glad to not only grab the 2 points on offer – but use the chance to rack up some for-and-against, against what has generally been a below-par NRL side all year.

The Raiders keep their finals hopes well and truly alive. They are playing well at home, but they do have a tough draw this week – off to Melbourne to face the Storm. However, a win would prove the last fortnight hasn’t been a fluke in their own backyard.

Campo is starting to find top gear at the right time, as speedster Daniel Vidot continues his try-scoring form – adding to the punch provided by star Josh Dugan.

Storm 18 v Panthers 10

Are the wheels falling off at the Panthers? Doomsayers are circling and the coach hauled the players out for an unscheduled session to ensure they remain focused on the job. Everyone has been pointing to the Panthers scoring tries only from kicks – but this isn’t the sole problem.

It seems the Panthers haven’t slipped in form, it’s probably a case of the opposition being more desperate at this time of the year. Penrith have been sitting well on the ladder and this could potentially have them signing off in recent weeks. Expect to see them come out firing this week.

The Storm keep prodding along despite consistent bad press and the fact they are playing for nothing. A decent showing from them given all the circumstances. Will continue to provide nuisance value in the weeks ahead as everyone jostles for finals spots.

Cowboys 28 v Knights 24

The Cowboys and Knights fighting out a golden point thriller, North Queensland winning and recovering some pride – but gee the Knights really missed an opportunity here. Had Newcastle won, they remained in the hunt for the Top 8 – they had everything to play for, but couldn’t seal the deal.

The media continues to be kind to coach Rick Stone, had Brian Smith still been at the helm – the pitch-forks would have been coming out from everywhere. Amazing how certain personalities are targeted or favoured in the media.

The Cowboys are set for a mini-cleanout in the offseason, however remaining players and coach are probably best advised to keep the performances up – or face the axe, after a another shocking year.

Rabbitohs 38 v Warriors 28

The luckless Bunnies finally got the win they have been deserving for weeks. South Sydney continue to play a dominant, aggressive style that sets them in good stead for the weeks ahead. They do have the toughest run home of all teams, but in saying that – if they come out the other side OK, they’ll be the best prepared side for the finals games.

Injuries a slight concern for the Bunnies, but they do have more depth than in recent years.

Ivan Cleary was the first to admit his side didn’t deserve to win this one, while playing well in patches – it just wasn’t to be for the Warriors on this occasion.

The Kiwi’s will fancy their chances back in NZ this week against the Titans. A win could see them jump as high as 2nd spot on the NRL ladder.

Sea Eagles 38 v Wests Tigers 20

A serious wake up call for the Tigers in this one, with Manly continuing their good form shown the week before against Cronulla.

Manly have been well and truly off the radar this year due to their patchy form, but it could be a blessing in disguise as Des Haslers men secretly creep up on the finals. Watmough again seems to the be the key for Manly, playing extremely well and providing plenty of encouragement for teammates as they feed off the performance.

Wests however were given a strong indication of exactly where they are at. They’ve been in the winners circle in recent weeks, but their all-or-nothing performances aren’t going to cut it at the business end of the season. Need to roll their sleeves up when needed, or risk being bundled out quicker than expected.

Broncos 30 v Roosters 34

What a massive performance from the Roosters here. The roadtrip to Brisbane is always tough, but with the Broncos in good form – it’s near impossible.

The Roosters almost had to beat their opponents twice. Notching up a big early lead, switching off – then running down the Broncos again in the final minutes.

With Pearce and Nate Myles MIA – the trio of Carney, Minichiello and SKD where dynamic as they tore the heart out of the previously solid Brisbane side.

Another good test for Brian Smith’s Roosters comes this week, facing the resurgent Eels at Parramatta Stadium. The Carney v Hayne clash sure to be a beauty.

The Broncos need to be careful now, in a congested ladder situation – they now face the table topping Dragons and a loss could push them down to 10th position. They do however, have a good points difference which will come in handy in the weeks ahead.

Titans Upset Dragons in Sydney

They faced an enormous task, the Titans heading to Sydney without several star players to take on the miserly Dragons – where a result would have a massive bearing on their finals hopes.

Despite dropping their past 3 games and missing Greg Bird and Ashley Harrison, the Gold Coast rallied tonight – grinding out a tough win in golden point extra time, pipping the Dragons 11-10.

On a cold, wet and slippery night – the Titans produced the kind of performance they had been delivering in the opening weeks of the NRL competition. A performance where they weren’t absolutely dominant, but they hung-in and were close enough to kick clear at the clutch.

Coach John Cartwright obviously relieved at the win, quickly pointed out that his side has been without luck in recent weeks. His belief was their form wasn’t overly bad, they simply couldn’t get the bounce of the ball or the 50/50 call. The coach doing a good job to keep his team focused for what was a critical clash.

The win keeps the Titans nestled in the Top 8 and gives them a genuine chance at a Top 4 finish if they can rediscover their consistency. It won’t be an easy task, given their assignment next week is to fly to Auckland and take on the resurgent Warriors on their own turf.

While the narrow loss tonight doesn’t sting the Dragons too badly, it does keep the race for the Minor Premiership open – with Bennetts side only 4 points clear of the Panthers and Tigers.

On a wet track, the Dragons were presented with limited opportunities to unleash their talent on the edges. A solid return for Matt Cooper was one positive for the joint-venture club, however coach Wayne Bennett was quick to shrug off the loss – suggesting the Titans were far too desperate in this clash, making it tough for his troops.

St George Illawarra face a similar situation to last year, they are comfortably out in front on the NRL ladder – they need to be cautious of simply ‘rolling’ along, against opposing sides who are upping the ante and playing desperation footy every single week.

It will be a good test of the Dragons next week, as they head to Brisbane to face the Broncos – who have proven a genuine force in recent weeks.

Fui, Hayne Lead Eels Revival

The Parramatta revival has reached 3 consecutive wins after the Eels unloaded on the Bulldogs early, with key men Hayne and Moi Moi helping their side deliver a 32-16 victory tonight.

It’s impossible to predict when the Eels will turn up to play, but when they do – they certainly look the goods.

It was evident from the first set of 6 tackles that Parramatta were ‘up’ for this contest. A fearless Fui charge early, a massive roll downfield – finished with a Hayne try on the back of good footwork and strong upper body strength.

Hayne was everywhere in attack and defence. His dominance ensured the Bulldogs threw plenty of defenders at him, which essentially opened up opportunities for Hayne’s teammates. Tahu the first to take advantage of the space created by Hayne, the returning centre storming down the left edge, fending his way through to position Burt and eventually Hayne for an early touchdown.

The first 20 minutes of attacking football was captivating – for seemingly everyone except Doggies fans.

While Hayne was crucially important, with his 2 tries and ball-playing assists – it does seem that Parramatta rely heavily on the performance of Moi Moi. When the big forward starts motoring directly at the opponents line of defence, skittling tacklers everywhere – the Eels feed off the quick play the ball and physical dominance at the ruck.

With Parramatta racing the clock, they had notched up enough points before half-time to put this game to bed.

The Bulldogs to their credit had a dig in the second term, but the early blitzkrieg had wiped any real hope of a win and essentially consigns them to crossing fingers and toes, in the hope of sneaking into the NRL finals.

It seems Canterbury continues to lack the aggressive, domination in the forwards – something they had used well in their stellar 2009 season.

Few faces have changed, but the performance and perhaps the desire is costing them dearly in games.

The ever-rising stakes of Ben Barba continue to be one positive for the Dogs, with the talented half again doing his bit and helping his side mount a late charge of sorts. Perhaps Barba should have been thrown his chance in the starting line up much earlier in the year – giving the Bulldogs much needed X-Factor in attack.

The win and form for Parramatta raises questions about the best time to ‘peak’ during the NRL year.

For example, St George Illawarra have been the benchmark all year, losing very few games and proving consistent for the most part. However, the Dragons have been only average in recent weeks – escaping with some lucky victories and eventually going down in golden point tonight to the Titans at Kogarah.

As with last year, the sides chasing (including Parramatta) all had much better runs at the back-end of the season and as such the Dragons were bundled out early in the finals despite finishing first.

Maybe it’s a case of Parramatta playing better when they are absolutely desperate to keep their season alive, whatever it is – coach Daniel Anderson will want to bottle it up and hope it can be reproduced over the next 2 months.

The Eels are at home to the Roosters next week and the Bulldogs host the Bunnies.

NRL Round 20 Preview Tips

While NRL referee Jarred Maxwell might be getting a rest this week, the same cannot be said for tipsters who once again face some tough choices in NRL Round 20.

Things get underway with the Bulldogs/Eels and Dragons/Titans on Friday Night:

Bulldogs v Eels (ANZ Stadium, Sydney)

These two sides have plenty of history and always put on a good show, especially at this time of the year. Both sides have improved their form in recent weeks, however the Eels’ strong victory over the Panthers last Round has them as favourites in this one.

The return of Timana Tahu is also a big factor here, a handy attacking weapon for the Parramatta side – he’ll add plenty on the fringes.

The Bulldogs will be looking for improvement in their forwards, with coach Kevin Moore indicating that Jamaal Idris could remain in the engine room as opposed to lining up out wide against Timana. The battle between Fui Fui and Benny Hannant will also help light the fuse in this one.

Tip: Eels should win after regaining confidence.

Dragons v Titans (WIN Jubilee Stadium)

Things don’t get any easier for the Gold Coast Titans. It’s hard to see them toppling the Dragons at Kogarah, especially with Greg Bird out of action for the Gold Coast.

The return of Matt Cooper is also timely for the St George Illawarra side, as the star centre hasn’t had any game time in 4 weeks. Wayne Bennett will be keen to reunite the old centre pairing of Coops and Gaz – and get them firing before the semi-finals arrive.

Bookies have the Titans at $4.50+ and even at that value bet, it’s hard to throw the cash their way.

Tip: Dragons should be cosy here.

Raiders v Sharks (Bruce Stadium, Canberra)

After a thumping win over the Knights, the Raiders need to be careful not to get too carried away against the struggling Cronulla side. The Sharks have been whipping boys all year again, but the fact that Ricky Stuart has resigned and the club has a new coach could influence the result.

If you look back over the years at the statistics when teams have changed coaches mid-year, the early results are generally always positive.

The mood at Cronulla has apparently been good despite the departure of Ricky, hence tipping a winner in this game is extremely tough.

Tip: Raiders should win, but consider Sharks as value bet.

Storm v Panthers (AAMI Stadium, Melbourne)

This would have been a seriously anticipated clash had the Storm not been rubbed out for 2010. The Panthers flying high on the NRL Ladder, but having a dusty 2 week period.

The Storm more than likely preoccupied with next year, who’s playing where and whether there will be anyone left playing at the club.

The predicament means that despite being an away game, Penrith should win this one. Matt Elliott’s side will be frustrated after 2 poor games and will be keen to atone ASAP.

As mentioned, Melbourne will simply be too distracted to win this one.

Tip: Panthers, good value with the bookies too!

Cowboys v Knights (Dairy Farmers Stadium, Townsville)

Can the North Queensland side finally get a win? In days past, a game at Dairy Farmers meant a certain win. Not these days, as they face an embarrassed Newcastle Knights side – that will be desperate for redemption.

The Cowboys have been going OK in attack in the past fortnight, they’ve had decent leads against the Eels and Tigers, only to get nervous in the backend of the game.

Newcastle too, have been good up until last week.

Coach Rick Stone has been under pressure making several side changes, and he should consider himself lucky that he’s a lesser known coach – had Brian Smith or another high-profile coach been in his position, the media would have been roasting them all week.

Tip: Knights here to bounce back after horror loss.

Rabbitohs v Warriors (ANZ Stadium, Sydney)

This is the clash many are waiting for, the big Bunnies forwards locking horns with the Warriors giants. Both sides sitting close on the ladder and having good periods in the past month.

The Rabbitohs have been incredibly unlucky in the past 2 weeks, they’ve done little wrong – but find themselves glued to 20 competition points after getting pipped by the Roosters and Dragons in the final minutes.

The Warriors have been near faultless in their recent run, beating some big name sides – despite having a range of injuries.

Very tough one to pick here, the fact that the game is in Sydney tips things slightly in the Bunnies favour. They’ll be revved up after some luckless weeks.

Tip: Bunnies

Manly v Wests Tigers (Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford)

The Sea Eagles would be disappointed they moved this home game from Brookvale to Gosford, given the importance of the 2 competition points at this period.

Manly finally found their fire albeit against the hapless Sharks last week. Regardless, the training run would have done their confidence wonders – especially with key forward Choc Watmough getting back to his best.

With the Wests Tigers, you never know what you’re going to get. They continue to throw the ball around and they could murder you, or possibly murder themselves.

Even the Tigers will admit they were lucky to escape against the Cowboys at Leichhardt – especially with Benji’s poor goalkicking performance. The Tigers have been riding their luck a little too much, and might be due to drop one here.

Tip: Sea Eagles should win this one

Broncos v Roosters (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)

A good test for both sides who are pressing for genuine title claims. The Broncos have been on a stellar run for over a month now, and the Roosters too have found consistency after some stop/start performances early on in the year.

The Broncos while winning at Skilled Park last week, did have some favourable bounces of the ball. In saying that, they were good enough to take their chances – and their young outside backs are some of the most damaging in the League when they have quality ball.

The Roosters since shuffling their positions look much, much better. Carney has slotted into pivot beautifully – allowing him to play his roaming role much more. Mini has always been a class act at fullback, adding more firepower from his customary position.

The more settled Sydney side should have too much for the Broncos here.

Tip: Sydney Roosters.

Ricardo: NRL Team of Round 19

After a weeks rest, Ricky Ricardo our NRL guru returns to give us his team of the Week. As an excited Eels fan, we had to stop him from selecting the entire Parramatta side after their magical come from behind win over the table topping Penrith Panthers:

Ricky’s NRL Team of the Week – Round 19, 2010

Fullback: Jarryd Hayne – Is this the form that can see him regain the Dally M as he did last year late in the season? Injecting himself into the game, getting into first receiver more, delivering killer passes, sprinting to the line to gain as much yardage as possible. If he keeps going, anything is possible.

Winger: Josh Dugan – Impossible to leave him out of this side despite Hayne snaring the fullback spot. Dugan too was explosive for his side with the ball in his hands. The Raiders are on to a winner with this pocket rocket, another natural in the mould of Brett Mullins.

Centre: Chris Lawrence – His growth as a player has been a pleasure to watch. The strong ball running centre can easily switch to a playmaking role when needed. Came into first / second receiver on occasion and helped the Tigers when the pressure was on. Certainly comfortable as a pivot if needed.

Centre: Jarod Croker – Who would have thought that a kid who only started practising kicking a few months ago could score so many goals? Quite amazing. Forming a deadly partnership with the dynamic Josh Dugan.

Winger: Lote Tuqiri – Has not only slotted back into the rhythm of NRL but has perfectly complimented the Wests Tigers team. The veteran seems to re-capturing the strong form he showed in early games. Fantastic player when on song, and is proving to be a handful.

Five-Eighth: Todd Carney – This man is on fire! Moving back to five-eighth after some positional changes, he has shown his worth to the Roosters side with a two try performance, and stellar all-round game to guide his side to a narrow win. Will only get better, and is a chance for Origin 2011.

Halfback: Benji Marshall – Not too sure how many get out of jail free cards this man has, but he seems to be pushing it to the limit every time. Once again was the catalyst in the Tigers win, and will undoubtedly do the same at some stage in the season. Tends to go missing when it matters most though. Can he reverse that?

Prop: Petero Civoniceva – Age is clearly not a factor for this man. Despite being one of the oldest players in the NRL, he continues to outshine so many younger props on a regular basis. Goes to show his courage and fortitude to be able to do so. Will go down as one of the greats of the game.

Hooker: Michael Ennis – Back to his best in a losing side. Being the ‘weasel’ that he is, at least according to so many rugby league commentators, he put it to good use getting in the Roosters faces and putting the pressure on, but it wasn’t enough.

Prop: Fui Fui Moi Moi – Fuuuuuuuuuiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!! Go to any Eels game and you’ll hear a chant like that every time the Tongan touches the ball. Truly remarkable to be honest. Made 138 metres off just 9 hit-ups and got himself on the scoresheet. Starting to also regain his 2009 form.

Second Row: Anthony Watmough – Not too many forwards can claim that they’ve scored three tries in a game, but this man can. Scored three times in one game, which is almost unheard of for forwards. Is he too regaining his form of 2009 which saw him voted the best second-rower in the game?

Second Row: Liam Fulton – Since returning from England, Fulton has flown significantly under the radar, but always does the job he is required to do and he does it well. Got on the scoresheet to top it off, and will only get better.

Lock: Braith Anasta – Who would have thought that in just one week, a player could go from playing average footy, to incredible footy. Man of the match performance for the workhorse, who was in everything, did everything and worked his butt off.

Player of the Week: Todd Carney/Jarryd Hayne