Almanac Rugby League – Round 18 Preview: Footy, finals and maths

With just three minor Rounds remaining, it would take something almost unprecedented (to employ the most overused word of the year) to see any changes between the top and bottom halves of the ladder before the finals begin next month. Mathematically it may be possible; there are permutations which could see it happen; specific combinations of results might yet conspire to produce the unlikely. But, believe me, bet the house on ‘no change’!

 

For any change to occur, the eighth-placed Tigers have to beat the Rabbitohs, Storm and Eels (what are the chances?) and count on the Sharks losing all of their games (Warriors, Roosters, Raiders – remotely possible but unlikely). The ninth-placed Warriors have to beat the Sharks, Raiders and Sea Eagles by considerable margins and rely on the Sharks to go down by plenty every week. Not very likely either. Trust me, I write a rugby league column!

 

Inspite of all that, several games shape us as worthwhile clashes as we go into Round 18. The Tigers came from nowhere to pluck the Sea Eagles last time out and will have some confidence going into their meeting with the Rabbitohs. What did I tell you last week about Adam Doueihi? Back in the centres and at the centre of the action. The Bunnies should have downed Melbourne but lost their way when the Storm exerted their suffocating defence. Gus reckoned that Souths should be buoyed by just losing in spite of playing so poorly in the second half.  I don’t agree. I fear that Souths may be quite deflated at the loss, the more so because they’ll think that they couldn’t beat Melbourne even when the latter were well below full strength. Nevertheless, I’ll stick with the Bunnies because the Tigers are too on and off to inspire confidence.

 

Come Friday night and the Bulldogs have yet another chance to avoid ‘the Spoon’ when they meet Manly. The Sea Eagles will be rotten on themselves and I expect them to look for retribution against the Dogs. The boys from Belmore just can’t seem to get it together either on or off the field and so I’ll condemn them to another loss. Who’d be Trent Barrett?

 

Friday night’s Penrith v Eels stoush is the match of the weekend. The Panthers are coasting ahead of the finals and rarely got out of third gear against the Broncos. This game offers them a chance for a tune-up against a fellow top four team and I expect them to look for overdrive before easing back against the Cowboys and Bulldogs in the following weeks. The Eels got the rub of the green against the plucky (and unlucky) Warriors last week and only just held on. But they did win and that might reignite their form to push the Mountain Men. The loss of Dylan Brown is their problem  – he sparks so much of their attack. Penrith for me.

 

On Saturday afternoon, the Dragons meet the Raiders at WIN Stadium, usually a happy hunting ground for the red and whites. Not this time! The Raiders still have thoughts of a top four finish (unlikely) and so will go hard to keep the dream alive. The Dragons just don’t inspire confidence and their golden point loss to the Cowboys will still be hurting whatever self-belief they might have. The Vikings for me.

 

The Titans v Broncos fixture is, in spite of their lowly ladder positions, important to both clubs. The Titans see themselves as ‘on the up’ and are at home, coming off a win last weekend. The Broncos were somewhat better against the Panthers but, as mentioned earlier, the Panthers were in third gear. The lads from Red Hill will want to show that their effort was an indication of better things ahead. But while off-field dramas continue, it must be hard for players, already demoralised by a horror season, to get themselves motivated. A tough one to call but I’ll go with the Titans.

 

The Roosters v Knights match-up is mouth-watering on paper but talk out of Newcastle that Ponga will be rested takes a lot of interest out of it. The Knights don’t really have anything to gain as their place in the top eight is secure. Why not plan ahead rather than go like the clappers this week and potentially undermine their finals chances? The Roosters will thank them as they want to secure fourth spot once and for all. Besides, I think the Roosters are just too good for the Knights at this point in time anyway. Give the kid a rest!

 

On Sunday, the metronomic Storm will squeeze the life out of yet another victim, this time the Cowboys. Love ’em or loathe ’em, Melbourne are simply very good at winning. They should have been 12+ points behind at half-time last week but kept it to just four before asserting themselves and suffocating the Bunnies. Their second tier players are better than the equivalent players at other clubs. Certain Grand Finalists!

 

Finally, the Sharks may well be severely under-resourced against the willing Warriors on Sunday evening – and it’s all their own doing after their ill-discipline last weekend. Shaun Johnson will be called on to be Superman and a couple other superheroes as well to keep them in this one. Go the Warriors! They copped the rough end of the pineapple last week and are due some good fortune. I’d love to see them end the season on a high note.

 

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

 

Thursday September 10

Tigers v Rabbitohs, Bankwest Stadium, 7.50pm

Friday September11

Bulldogs v Sea Eagles, ANZ Stadium, 6pm

Panthers v Eels, Panthers Stadium, 7.55pm

Saturday September 12

Dragons v Raiders, WIN Stadium, 3pm

Titans v Broncos, Cbus Super Stadium, 5.30pm

Roosters v Knights, Sydney Cricket Stadium, 7.30pm

Sunday September 13

Storm v Cowboys, Sunshine Coast Stadium, 4.05pm

Sharks v Warriors, Nestrata Jubilee Stadium, 6.30pm

 

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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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