NRL ROUND 20
Broncos v Bulldogs
The Bulldogs made very tough work of the bottom placed Knights two weeks ago, miraculously overcoming a 10 point deficit with five minutes remaining and they will need to significantly lift their performance here to compete with the 4th placed Broncos who also made tough work of the Knights last week.
The Bulldogs struggles this season have come from their lack of impact on attack with a very predictable game plan that has not troubled too many sides but they have managed to often bring sides down to their level and have defended well, often resulting in some quite dour games. Those issues on attack will be highlighted here in the face of a Broncos defensive wall that will be determined to make amends after conceding 22 points to the cellar dwelling Knights.
The Broncos have the stronger of the two sides and are short favourites here but it won’t be all one-way traffic with the flame of finals footy still flickering (just) for the Bulldogs, unfortunately for the Dogs though they’ll fall short. Pick – 2 units on Broncos to win by 12 points and under
Roosters v Knights
This is a miss-match on paper with the second placed Roosters taking on the last placed Knights who have an 0-9 record on the road this year which they’re highly unlikely to improve on here. The talking points leading into this match are centred around just how much the Roosters will win by and also how SKD will go on debut against the club that dumped him.
The Roosters have lost Friend and Gordon for this match but that gives the exciting Connor Watson a chance to start at Fullback while Mitch Cornish slots in at Hooker so no major set-backs there and I can see the floodgates opening big-time against the worst defence in the competition, with the Knights conceding 470 points thus far.
The line is large but the Roosters are through the disruptive origin period and will be eyeing this match as a chance to show off what they’re capable of on attack. Pick – 3 units on Roosters -14.5 point start
Panthers v Titans
The Panthers were gutsy last week against the Warriors in winning their second match on the trot, doing so in Auckland where visiting sides tend to play poorly, confirming for me that they are the side to watch in the remaining rounds as they move up the ladder.
With Wallace and Moylan both returning for this clash the Panthers are much stronger, particularly with Wallace’s cool head back to control the rucks, and despite the Titans coming off a decent win over the Sharks in shocking conditions last week I can’t see them competing here.
Panthers fans have been waiting for the pre-season favourites to awaken from their slumber and now is not the time to be playing them at home – we’ll take them to fire up and cover the narrow start. Pick – 4 units on Panthers -5.5 or better point start (BEST BET)
Raiders v Storm
I smell an upset here after the Raiders broke their losing streak in beating the Dragons last week, sure they’re taking on a Storm side that’s lost just twice this season but they have a side on paper capable of troubling the Storm and with their season on the ropes this is the time to pull out that previously elusive barn-stormer.
Both sides are missing one regular starter each, Papalii for the Raiders and Blair for the Storm but are otherwise full-strength so no excuses on either front.
The weather will be a favouring factor for the Raiders as it promises to be bitterly cold in Canberra, conditions they’re used to and if they’re to cause the upset their ball control will have to be sound, something Stuart will have drilled into them.
It’s never easy tipping against the Storm but the Raiders are a sleeping giant that’s fired very few shots this season and just like the Panthers I think they’ll be one of the teams to watch in the remaining rounds. Pick – 2 units on Raiders to win
Cowboys v Warriors
It would be remiss of me not to thank the Warriors for yet another upset loss last week after we cashed in on the good value for the Panthers win; they’re a side that is so devoid of character that they don’t even really have a ‘bounce-back factor’ in them because they’d have to firstly care and have pride in the club in order for that to happen.
The absence of Johnson is the big talking point for the Warriors but his game-management is near non-existent and his defence terrible so no huge loss, they’re average at best with him and will be even worse without him. One thing Johnson has done well though is set up a large percentage of the Warriors tries this season so they’re likely to be even more incompetent on attack without him, which is not good news when you’re facing a Cowboys side in Townsville that’s in some great form.
The bookies must throw their arms up in dismay when it comes to setting odds / lines for any game the Warriors are involved in; I can’t help but feel they’ve overestimated the Warriors abilities here though with the line they’ve set here at around just 8.5. There are probably only one or two players in the Warriors side I’d pick in the Cowboys such is the far superior side the Cowboys have on paper and I expect complete dominance as they win well. Pick – 3 units on Cowboys -9.5 point start
Dragons v Sea Eagles
The Dragons needed to find something special last week to beat the Raiders and came up agonisingly close, losing in golden point, but showed they’re still capable of troubling defences with Widdup in particular leading the way and looking every bit the form player of the competition he was in the earlier rounds.
With the side the Dragons have named I’d have thought the odds for this match would be relatively even, particularly as they’re playing at WIN Stadium against a Sea Eagles side that was run close by the Tigers last week.
The loss of Koroisau at hooker for the Sea Eagles is big as he’s been dangerous around the rucks and has a good work rate and whilst Cullen has raps on him it’s not going to be easy to come in and control things in a similar fashion.
The Dragons will have heard all the chatter about them being the side most likely to drop out of the top eight but will only use that as motivation, particularly in matches like this one where they’re at home playing a side they’ll feel they have the measure of. The Dragons forwards will be fired up here and I expect them to have the measure of the Manly pack which will give Widdup the perfect opportunity to launch from. The odds on the Dragons to win are too juicy to go past. Pick – 2 units on Dragons to win