Almanac Rugby League – NRL Round 15 Preview: It’s all about incentive

I’ve been going on for weeks about trying to sort out the middle of the ladder. Each Round seems to offer the possibility that we’ll finally get some clarity. No luck so far! But my gut instincts tells me that Round 15 just might be the make-or-break weekend that sees the finalists all but confirmed and the rest thinking ahead to ‘Mad Monday’ and 2021.


We start with the Eels hosting the Storm on Thursday night in what should be the match of the round. The Parra boys have gone off the boil of late while the Storm seem to rise to every new challenge they confront. They were very impressive against the Roosters while the Eels were shocked by the Dragons. The loss of the tireless Finucane, the creative Hughes and the effervescent Vulivalu will hurt Melbourne a good deal. If they can overcome this new hurdle, pencil them in for the Grand Final! Meanwhile, the Eels will simply want to recapture their sparkle and maintain it for the full 80 minutes. I’ll be courageous and go with the Eels to regain their rhythm. A step too far for Melbourne this week.


The Panthers took the Warriors a bit too easy the other day and almost paid for it but I expect the Mountain Men to return to their best and take out the Sharks. At their best, the Cronulla lads are slick and capable of an upset. Shaun Johnson keeps turning up with his astute kicking game and Wade Graham is a cagey foil out wide. I just can’t see the Sharks being able to play it out to the final whistle against a relentless Panthers outfit.


After getting a taste of winning last weekend, I think the Dragons will account for the (insert the adjective/expletive of your choice) Broncos. There’s something to like about the St George backline – creative, fast – while their forwards seem to be finding some form. The Broncos have shown patches of their potential but can’t sustain the effort. The wooden spoon beckons!


True to my prediction last week, the Raiders played themselves back into form against the Broncos and should prove too classy for the embryonic Titans. A win could even see the Canberra men in the top four by the end of the weekend. I think you call it incentive. The Titans fell apart after the Proctor incident and it will take something big for them to regather themselves and test the Raiders. There will be good times ahead for the Titans – just not yet.


If any team has incentive this weekend it’s the Tigers. A loss to the Roosters could see them three games and points differential outside the top eight and the season definitely gone. The Roosters are vulnerable with their huge list of injured players. Now is the moment for Benji to lead his men to glory. But as flashy as the Tigers can be at times, I expect the Roosters to bounce back because they have the incentive to retain fourth spot on the ladder and stay one game clear of the Raiders. Perhaps we might see this one as the potential upset of the weekend.


The Sea Eagles, like the Roosters, are way down on personnel and it’s hard to see them beating the Rabbitohs. Adam Reynolds is the key and he showed his mettle by leading his team to a win over the Cowboys with both his field play and his goal-kicking. Manly have to win to stay in touch with the eight but I can’t see that they’ve got the cattle to get it done, even with ‘Under-The-Radar’ Des Hasler driving them.


The Bulldogs v Warriors clash has all the potential to be highly entertaining. I expect it to be high scoring (unless it’s wet) – first to 40 wins! My tip is the Bulldogs and, by winning, they’ll move off the bottom of the ladder. I fear there are cracks showing in the NZ team and, although they’ll show heart, it won’t be enough.


Finally, the Knights will hand the Cowboys yet another loss. Home ground advantage will help the Knights as well as the reality that the Cowboys are very ordinary away from home. I like Newcastle’s endeavour, they’ve got grit, and in Mann, Pearce and Ponga, the creativity to make chances to score regularly.


So my winners this week are the Eels, Panthers, Dragons, Raiders, Roosters, Rabbitohs, Bulldogs and Knights. Dark horses are the Storm and Tigers.


Thursday August 20

Eels v Storm, Bankwest Stadium, 7.50pm

Friday August 21

Panthers v Sharks, Panthers Stadium, 6pm

Broncos v Dragons, Suncorp Stadium, 7.55pm

Saturday August 22

Titans v Raiders, Cbus Super Stadium, 3pm

Tigers v Roosters, Leichhardt Oval, 5.30pm

Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles, ANZ Stadium, 7.30pm

Sunday August 23

Bulldogs v Warriors, ANZ Stadium, 2pm

Knights v Cowboys, McDonald Jones Stadium, 4.05pm


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A loyal Queenslander, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. Enjoys travel, coffee and cake, reading, and has been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. One of Footy Almanac's online editors who enjoys the occasional editing opportunity to assist aspiring writers.

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