A crunch period in the NRL this week in Round 19, with nearly every game a money game. The Raiders romping home in style, the Tigers finding their long lost spark, Manly winning on one leg and the NZ Warriors quietly rising through the pack.
1. Canberra Raiders: Dynamic stuff from the Green Machine, everything they tried worked. Very slick in attack with a good array of options, their forwards muscled up. Roosters never really tested their line, however defence remains the only missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle for the well coached Raiders. Kudos to Neil Henry for good coaching with an injury riddled line-up.
Grubbers Comment: Chances of Neil Henry trying to reverse his decision to leave the improving Raiders and take on the abysmal Cowboys in 2009? 5/1
2. Wests Tigers: They’re back. Exploded back to life and while we know they can turn it on in attack, their defence was rock solid. Wests smothered the Bunnies from the outset, they pressured Sandow all game and ran plenty of traffic at him. Issac Luke was kept quiet all game and big Dane Laurie is growing in stature each week. The Tigers have roared back to life at the best possible time, face a big clash with Penrith this week.
Grubbers Comment: Odds that Tigers assistant coach Royce ‘Elmer Fud’ Simmons tried to commit suicide when he found out Nathan Brown beat him for the UK Super League coaching job at Huddersfield? 3/1
3. Melbourne Storm: Flexed their physical attributes this Round. Forwards really stood up and showed their grit, perfect run for the Storm pre-finals. Jeff Lima, Adam Blair and Sika Manu are eclipsing the likes of Brett White, Dallas Johnson and Ryan Hoffman. Injuries remain the only thing that can derail the Storm.
Grubbers Comment: Likelihood that Melbourne are now taking boxing lessons in addition to wrestling lessons at training each week? 2/1
4. NZ Warriors: Have really snuck under the radar. Have won 3 games on the trot and have done well away from home, have kept out of the Australian media and are positioning nicely for a late assault on the NRL finals. Are bringing back their adlib attack of years ago and seem to be enjoying their footy, form of Brent Tate has a big baring on their chances.
Grubbers Comment: Likelihood of Kiwi Sky Sports TV commentators getting even more biased towards the NZ Warriors as their team hits a hot streak? 2/1
5. Manly Sea Eagles: Gutsy effort by the Eagles. Losing Orford pre-game and then Jamie Lyon after minutes, they were looking like shot ducks. But somehow they pulled themselves together and turned in a top performance. Attack and defence firing on all cylinders, lack of playmaker options against he better sides might hurt them in the weeks ahead with Lyon on ice. Face more tests in the weeks ahead to prove they can compete on a physical level and not wither and die a la 2007.
Grubbers Comment: Chances of 25 year old rookie Jeff Robson getting any more game time in the halves? 20/1
6. Penrith Panthers: Have really come into their own in recent weeks, are looking more and more likely to be grabbing 7th or 8th spot as they hit form at the best possible time. Petero Civoniceva easily ranks as buy of the year, the other Panthers forwards have lifted after playing along side him. Lewis proving useful at no.7, however the aging Panther should have taken the deal with Souths; he could have used the freshen up and his about face will cost him in the end.
Grubbers Comment: Odds that Panthers fans were saddened to lose Luke Priddis for 2009? 75/1
7. Cronulla Sharks: The same description nearly every week. Gritty, gutsy, low scoring and down right ugly. Ricky Stuart and the boys won’t care, they bounce back from their belting by Manly and if they can keep rinsing and repeating every week until the Grand Final they might just lift the trophy. In my eyes, the only team that can frustrate and match Melbourne on their day. Get on the phone to Glen Munsie an place some long shot bets on these guys now.
Grubbers Comment: Odds that Cronulla are the only NRL side that lose crowds even when they win due to their boring style? 5/1
8. Brisbane Broncos: Probably should have run up a bigger score on the Cowboys, the North Queenslanders were woeful. Peter Wallace and Darren Lockyer don’t look to have the spark from early season rounds, understandable given the injuries to both players. Are doing enough to win against lower ranked opponents, however unless they have a bumper month now – will be fodder if they make the NRL Top 8. Justin Hodges returning could be the boost they need.
Grubbers Comment: Amount of weight added to Sam Thaidays frame by his mop of hair? 15kilos.
9. Newcastle Knights: Toiled hard but ultimately died under the wet blanket that is Cronulla. Have a very good run home and can still jag 7th or 8th spot if they keep it together. Their defence is good enough for them to deserve a spot, have seemed unlucky and just need the bounce of the ball and decisions to go their way. Have a good group of keen players who can get the job done. Not done with yet.
Grubbers Comment: Odds that veteran Adam McDougall will go down as the only player to take 13 years to reach 150 NRL games? 2/1
10. Gold Coast Titans: Were brave again, had their chance to cause another big upset – but ultimately injuries have wrecked their season. Have unearthed some great talent for the future and are at least building good depth as they blood the youngsters. Well coached and doing everything they can, just can’t do it this year.
Grubbers Comment: Chances of Titans fielding under 9’s players in first grade if current injuries continue? 25/1
11. St George Illawarra Dragons: Another brave showing, the unlucky Jason Ryles in the wrong spot at the wrong time again. Jamie Soward even more unlucky to have been sin binned. Apart from some poor penalties from Justin Poore and Beau Scott, the Dragons didn’t do too much wrong. Their plan to attack the middle wasn’t the right one and they didn’t change from this which was a mistake, but they still have enough creativity and fair defence to keep themselves in the finals race.
Grubbers Comment: Likelihood of Mark Gasnier getting a happy send off from the NRL in 2008? Slim to slight.
12. South Sydney Rabbitohs: Were out enthused and faced a red hot Wests side. Have probably missed their boat, couldn’t afford their loss. Face a tough game against the Newcastle Knights this week. Roy Asotasi remains in top form, making big metres and possessing a top quality offload in traffic. Sandow will be better for the run, will learn to deal with pressure after Wests gave him a lesson.
Grubbers Comment: Chances of Chris Sandow wearing those ‘duck’ boots that highlight his every move in an NRL game again anytime soon? 100/1
13. Sydney Roosters: Even Brad Fittler might be raising his eye brows after another poor showing. Was a tough road trip to Canberra sure, but they were pretty average. Their one on one tackling was shocking and the ease at which they capitulated must be worrying for the Roosters clan. Not the ideal time to lose form, may have peaked too early in 2008 – big concerns here.
Grubbers Comment: Odds that Nick Politis has given Brad Fittler ‘The Talk’ yet? 10/1
14. Bulldogs: Proved how much they miss Sonny Bill Williams. WereÂ given a lesson by the NZ Warriors and have kept themselves in contention for the wooden spoon. Need to work hard to win games and give themselves some confidence for next year, further heavy losses could damage the mindset of upcoming rookies.
Grubbers Comment: Odds that the Bulldogs recruitment team now live on the islands of Samoa, Tonga and Fiji? 3/1
15. Parramatta Eels: Are officially gone. Had the ideal chance to upset the injured Sea Eagles and folded badly. Remain devoid of ideas in attack, when they push the play it falls over regardless. Michael Hagan faces tough questions, the dropping of Luke Burt remains puzzling as the Eels problems seem to be with their one dimensional forward pack. Should blood new players rather than wait any longer.
Grubbers Comment: Chances of Parramatta Fans demanding “Bring back Brian Smith!” as Hagan hits a wall? 30/1
16. North Queensland Cowboys: Can they get any worse? I don’t remember ever seeing so much dropped ball in an NRL game. In saying that, on 1 or 2 occasions they showed some touches of brilliance. Any ounce of respect the Cowboys may have still had went out the window when Anthony Watts lashed out like a pork chop and pushed the neck of a Brisbane player after a try was scored. Frustrated, dumb and totally lost.
Grubbers Comment: Anthony Watts moves into the hall of shame, ranking No.3 in the dirtiest players in the NRL – fast approaching Paul Gallen and Jeremy Smith in the bad guy stakes.