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.
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.