Almanac Rugby League – NRL Round 17 Preview: Heavy hitters’ heaven

What looked like a bland fixture last weekend turned out to be more than half interesting with at least three upsets and a couple of significant injuries to complicate matters. Mathematical chances of making the finals remain in place, top four positions are up for grabs, and the NZ Warriors, who earned more kudos with their impressive win over the Knights, continue on their roll of good results.

 

So where does all that leave us going into Round 17 which features several match-ups between top eight teams? It’s ‘heavy hitters weekend’. Here’s my take on it.

 

A win to the Panthers over the Broncos tonight should just about hand them the minor premiership with three rounds to go. And deservedly so as they have been the most consistent team since the competition resumed in Round 3. Kikau is back this week and Penrith have Korosiau still to come into the team later on. They’ll be ‘too big, too strong, too fast’ for the basket-case Broncos.

 

The Knights and the Sharks will play for 7th and 8th positions, both looking to stem recent indifferent form. The Knights were awful last week while the Sharks eventually put the Cowboys away. But both are a long way short of causing teams above them any sleepless nights (no pun intended). I can’t see Newcastle playing so poorly again so I’ll go against form to tip them to get up at home.

 

The Rabbitohs look like the team with the most to win or lose going into this weekend. A continuation of their recent good form will keep them in the mix for a potential top four place at the end of the minor round. A loss will see them have to settle for 5th or 6th. So they have plenty of incentive. But they are without Mitchell for the rest of the season, a big hole to plug. And they come up against the Melbourne Storm who slowly suffocated and then destroyed the Sea Eagles last weekend. To see the Storm at their best, watch last weekend’s game with particular attention to the play between the 50th and 56th minutes. Manly were on the charge and had about five or six sets deep in attack; the Storm held them out and finally forced a mistake. About two sets later, the Storm were down the other end, scored from their first opportunity in ages and totally knock the wind out of Manly’s sails. From there it was a procession, their flowing play down their left side through Papenhuyzen, Olam and Addo-Carr the stuff you happily pay to go to see. If Smith had been on target with his boot, the scoreline would have been a massacre. Can Souths do better? We’ll see, but I doubt it. Melbourne for me and Souths to finish in the lower section of the top half.

 

On Saturday, the Bulldogs will have another opportunity to escape the wooden spoon when they meet the Titans. But the Gold Coast lads are no pushover these days and are coming off a good win over the Dragons. But can they produce on the road? I’ll go with the Doggies at home, just.

 

The Sea Eagles v Tigers game will be about trying to restore some pride after several very indifferent weeks. Manly is always better at home and I don’t think all is well within the Tiger camp. Thankfully Doueihi is back in his correct place in the centres but the news that Benji is on his way out of the lair could be deflating. I’ll go with the home side whose season was cruelled several weeks ago as a result of major injuries to key personnel, not the least of whom was ‘Turbo’ Tom Trbojevic (although Fonua-Blake’s suspension didn’t help!).

 

Like Souths, the Raiders have a lot to gain or lose this weekend when they meet the Roosters. All the headlines are about the return of SBW to the Bondi line-up which allows ‘Sticky’ Stuart and his lads to fly under the radar somewhat. The Roosters deserve strong favouritism for this game coming off their huge win over the Broncos. But it has been the manner and style of the Roosters in recent weeks that has other teams concerned. The return of Cordner is the key to the Roosters. For me, Cordner is the most important leader of his team in the comp, the best second-rower, and one of the very best athletes – and all that even though he plays for a team I can’t stand! The Raiders want a top four spot but they will have to earn it the hard way. Their three remaining games are all very winnable against lower-ranked sides and they’ll have to rely on Parramatta continuing to slide, but a win this weekend would be worth heaps in terms of self-belief as well as two competition points. That said, I’ll go with the Roosters who are building ominously as the finals loom.

 

On Sunday, the much-to-be-praised Warriors take on the faltering Eels in Gosford. Clint Gutherson aside, the Eels look ordinary at the moment. Another loss will undermine their confidence even more. They have a reasonable run into the finals apart from a meeting with Penrith and, with some rediscovery of their flair, should hold on to a top four spot. The loss of Dylan Brown will hurt. And beware the Warriors who obliterated the Knights last weekend. Can they keep it up? I hope so in the sense that they have won over a lot of league fans via their determination and commitment to the comp. With absolutely no confidence, I’ll stick with the Eels this week but they have no chance of winning the premiership at the moment.

 

Finally, the Cowboys will host the Dragons in Townsville on Sunday night. The bookies favour the Dragons; the Cowboys are at home, not that that has counted for much this season! Neither team or club is particularly settled with regard to coaches or playing rosters for 2021. The Dragons were on the up, even eying a late finals push, before their deflating loss to the Titans; the Cowboys can’t remember how to win. What chance a draw? I liked Gavin Cooper from the time he was a novice at the Redcliffe Dolphins all those years ago. What the hell, I’ll go for the Cowboys! How’s that for scientific?

 

So my winners this week are the Panthers, Knights, Storm, Bulldogs, Sea Eagles, Roosters, Eels and Cowboys. Just call me Sir Humphrey!

 

Thursday September 3

Broncos v Panthers, Suncorp Stadium, 7.50pm

Friday September 4

Knights v Sharks, McDonald Jones Stadium, 6pm

Rabbitohs v Storm, ANZ Stadium, 7.55pm

Saturday September 5

Bulldogs v Titans, ANZ Stadium, 3pm

Sea Eagles v Tigers, Lottoland, 5.30pm

Raiders v Roosters, GIO Stadium, 7.30pm

Sunday September 6

Warriors v Eels, Central Coast Stadium, 2pm

Cowboys v Dragons, Queensland Country Bank Stadium, 4.05pm

 

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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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