Almanac Rugby League – NRL Round 22: It’s all about the Eels

 

Whether they like it or not, much of the attention in the remaining rounds of the NRL season will be focussed on the Paramatta Eels. Early season frontrunners (nothing surprising there), just holding their own in mid-season (par for the course), and then the seemingly inevitable end of season fadeout (all too familiar in recent times). The good news for their fans is that the Eels still have their fate in their own hands – win the majority of your remaining four matches and you’re safe in the top four and not reliant on other results going your way. The bad news is that anything less will see them drop to as low as sixth and at long odds to go far in September. The challenging news is that those remaining four games include clashes with the Sea Eagles, Melbourne Storm and the Panthers! Good luck, Parra!

 

Hot on their heels are the Roosters (equal on competition points but a bit behind on percentage) and the Sea Eagles (one game in arrears but almost even on percentage). The Roosters have an easier run home with three of their remaining games against also rans; the Sea Eagles have a good run in, too. So, can ‘King’ Gutho drag his wobbling side to comparative safety in the coming month? Look at their side on paper and you’d think they’re a chance; follow the form and you reach a different conclusion.

 

All of which makes the Eels v Sea Eagles game on Saturday night the match of the round. Manly were far from disgraced against the Storm last week and were right in it until the final 10 minutes – as good an effort as anyone else against the Storm for a long time. They’re playing with confidence and their share of flair. By contrast, the Eels were awful, blown away by the Rabbitohs and flattered by two tries long after the game was all over. So it’s the Sea Eagles for me this week but I fear they’re that one game too far adrift of the top four to make that cut-off.

 

Tonight the Storm are back on the Sunshine Coast against the Raiders. You’d have to be a mad Canberra fan, a complete optimist and/or a fool to tip the Raiders. Look at the teams on paper, man for man, team for team, and the Storm are better in almost every position and better performed as a unit. Just look at the Storm – big Nelson, Harry and Paps – and that’s the bench, for crying out loud!!! Look at the ladder – first v eighth. But, he said, as he tried to look for any hint of uncertainty – Melbourne are not unbeatable and, after 17 wins on the trot, must be getting close to a loss. And who better to exploit that than the team that comes closest to being their ‘bogey’ side in recent seasons – the Canberra Raiders? A loss would do Melbourne a greater service than another win but I can’t see it happening this week.

 

Tomorrow the Panthers, revitalised after their strong win over the Roosters, will slaughter the Dragons to consolidate second spot on the ladder. But Penrith will want to get Cleary, Yeo et al back on the field soon to get their combinations well oiled before finals action begins next month. The Dragons will continue to drop down the ladder after a wasteful middle and later parts of the season. In the evening, the Roosters will be out to avenge their surprise loss to the Broncos back in Round 11 and move to fourth on the ladder (assuming a loss by the Eels). The Broncos are playing for 2022 if their selections are anything to go by – and why not? Even without JWH and Crichton, the Roosters will be too strong.

 

Expect the Rabbitohs to run up another big score against the Titans on Saturday afternoon – the Bunnies score almost at will! The bigger question will be about their defence and their ability to hold the Titans to a modest total. The Gold Coast lads have points in them and will be a better opposition for Souths than the one-dimensional Eels were last week. You can’t win the big ones without a rock solid defence and the Rabbitohs don’t quite measure up at this point. But they’ll get away with it this week. In the round’s ‘ho hum’ game in the early evening, the Cowboys and Tigers will meet in Townsville. The Cowboys are a broken machine and are without Taumalolo who is injured yet again! But which Tigers team will roll up? Toss a coin, but I’ll go with the Tigers because they have Doueihi.

 

On Sunday afternoon, NRL aspirant Redcliffe gets to host two matches at their Moreton Daily Stadium where I spent many a Sunday afternoon lounging on the western mound with my son in the 1990s and 2000s watching the Dolphins in the Queensland Cup. We even won the double on the first scorers one day for a princely reward of $50! On Sunday, it will be the admirable Warriors taking on the lamentable Bulldogs, 12th v 16th, with not a lot to play for but pride – although the Warriors are still a mathematical chance of making the finals. That just might spur them on a bit more but I think they’ll have enough in the tank to win anyway.

 

Finally, the Knights meet the Sharks with both still in the hunt for September action. Newcastle look so much better with Ponga, Pearce and Best on the paddock while the Sharks can’t find any rhythm at all. The shenanigans of Will Chambers haven’t helped them either. Lose this week and the Sharks will be two games out of the eight; win and they’re a chance with a favourable draw in the coming weeks. But it’s the Knights for me and, with a favourable draw ahead for them too, they’re at least 50/50 to play next month.

 

So my winners this week are the Storm, Panthers, Roosters, Rabbitohs, Tigers, Sea Eagles, Warriors and Knights.

 

Thursday August 12

Storm v Raiders, Sunshine Coast Stadium, 7.50pm

Friday August 13

Dragons v Panthers, Suncorp Stadium, 6.00pm

Broncos v Roosters, Suncorp Stadium, 8.05pm

Saturday August 14

Rabbitohs v Titans, Cbus Super Stadium, 3.00pm

Cowboys v Tigers, Queensland Country Bank, 5.30pm

Sea Eagles v Eels, Sunshine Coast Stadium, 7.35pm

Sunday August 15

Warriors v Bulldogs, Moreton Daily Stadium, 1.50pm

Sharks v Knights, Moreton Daily 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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