Almanac Rugby League – NRL Round 17: Is the Top Four already decided?

 

It’s more than a little worrying when it looks like the top four is done and dusted by the beginning of July with nine rounds to go. The gap between 4th and 5th is now two games plus a sizeable points differential. The only real interest at that end of the ladder is whether or not the outrageously in-form Manly can somehow bridge the gap. I think we’ll find out the answer in a month’s time when, in Round 21, the Eels play the Rabbitohs and the Sea Eagles take on the Storm. Wins then to the Eels and Storm will close the gate on the double chance.

 

It was feast or famine last weekend with several blowout scores and a couple of one point margins. I’m not sure that we learned a whole lot other than that the Raiders are well and truly gone (if they weren’t already), that Penrith has more steel that last season but face a period without Cleary and Luai, and that Melbourne Storm must be at least equal favourites with Penrith for the title.

 

The Origin season sees a limited fixture this weekend for Round 17. Tonight the Sea Eagles host the Raiders with both teams somewhat reduced by Origin absentees. Manly lose the likes of Tom Turbo and DCE while Canberra will be without Jack Wighton and Josh Papalii. Given their irresistible form in recent times plus home ground advantage, it’s hard to see Manly losing this one. They’re sky-high on confidence while the Raiders are at rock bottom even before losing two of their best players for this game. Manly for me.

 

Tomorrow night it’s the Rabbitohs up against the Cowboys at Stadium Australia. The Bunnies played a great first half last weekend and then did enough to win comfortably. They’ll be down on personnel this week with Mitchell, Murray, Cook and Gagai on Origin duty but with Reynolds and Walker calling the shots, I think they’ll continue on their merry way. Technically speaking, the Cowboys are equal 8th – again, I’m flabbergasted by this as they sit on 6 wins and 9 losses, and they’re playing poorly. They lose Holmes and Tabuai-Fidow to Origin – two of their more likely scorers. I can’t go past the Rabbitohs.

 

On Saturday night it’s the Bulldogs versus the Roosters. The Roosters got belted 46-0 by the Storm and lose Tedesco and Crichton to Origin. The Bulldogs got hammered 66-0 by Manly. But it’s 6th v 16th with the latter playing a level of footy that is embarrassing at this level and with a few players flouting ‘bubble’ protocols. The Roosters easily.

 

Finally, on Sunday afternoon we have what is likely to be the only competitive match of the round – Sharks v Warriors. The Warriors blew a match-winning lead last time out and will want to rectify that horror. The Sharks went down to a rejuvenated Broncos in Brisbane in a game that, on paper, they should have won. So both sides have a point to prove. Neither loses anyone to Origin so it should be a good contest. It’s a bit of a toss of the coin but I’ll go with the Sharks because Shaun Johnson will want to put in a big one to find a possible home with his old team next season. And when he’s on song, no matter which team he’s playing for, he is a match-winner.

 

So my winners this week are the Sea Eagles, Rabbitohs, Roosters and Sharks.

 

As for the antics of the Dragons players? There’s dumb, there’s dumber, and then there’s…

 

Watch out for a State of Origin preview early next week.

 

Thursday July 8

Sea Eagles v Raiders, 4 Pines Stadium, 7.50pm

Friday July 9

Rabbitohs v Cowboys, McDonald Jones Australia, 7.55pm

Saturday July 10

Bulldogs v Roosters, Bankwest Stadium, 7.35pm

Sunday July 11

Sharks v Warriors, Nestrata Jubilee Stadium, 4.05pm

 

Venues and times are current at the time of publication but please check for late changes.

 

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About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A Queenslander through and through, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. I enjoy travel, good coffee and cake, reading, and have been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. As well as being one of Footy Almanac's online editors, I moonlight as an editor for hire - check me out at www.writerightediting.com.au

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