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.