Only three games to go. There are a couple of finals places still up for grabs, as well as the all important wooden spoon battle, which is proving to be more inspirational than wondering which big market team is going to finish where in the top four.
Gold Coast (7-14) @ Parramatta (13-8)
While the Gold Coast melts down over whether they’ll keep their coach or their “star” fullback/centre or boot both or neither, Parramatta have had to spend a week of soul searching after a devastating loss to Newcastle – probably the worst side to play this decade – brought their six game winning streak to a grinding halt.
The question is: Will Parramatta recover? I almost think it’s irrelevant what the Eels do. The real question is: do the Titans even bother to show up or will they follow their erstwhile leader’s example and half ass it? I’m expecting three-quarter ass tops, so the Eels should be able to recover and get their finals campaign on track.
New Zealand (7-14) @ South Sydney (8-13)
The Warriors have gone from “outside chances”, through “no-hopers” and out the other side to “complete waste of everyone’s time”. There is nothing in the way that they play that suggests that they will win any of their remaining games, taking their current six game losing streak out to nine. When you have multiple international players and at least a 30% crack at each game, this is a far more impressive achievement than anything else they’ve done this season. Even by chance, you’d think they’d fluke a win. If only they could apply this commitment to losing to winning, then they’d be on to something.
Souths prefer to keep playing like a finals spot is on the line. The Bunnies have been beset by a basic lack of skill, with a preference for dropping the ball, but can string it together occasionally. The only problem is that they have no control over when they string it together. Let’s not forget they flogged Penrith in July and have won their last two, so the Rabbitohs should make this three in a row.
St George Illawarra (11-10) @ Brisbane (14-7)
I’ll actually be at this game. Look for me in the crowd in the members section. No, not that one, further back. Further. Further… yep, that’s it. Back there behind the other thirty thousand people that turn up to these things.
My record this season for games I’ve attended is 2-2. I’ve seen the Broncos just edge out the Titans on Good Friday and belt the Tigers in the lowest attended match in eight years. I’ve also seen the Cowboys win a golden point thriller in round 3 and the Storm absolutely dominate a few weeks ago. It’s a good thing I’m usually drunk because that would’ve been embarrassing otherwise.
I’m expecting that the Suncorp faithful will enjoy the Broncos turning on the magic they’ve found in the last couple of weeks by moving Ben Hunt to hooker to replace the injured Andrew McCullough. The Dragons are hardly a defensive fortress and the Broncos are scoring at will, which will hopefully gloss over the defensive issues Brisbane have. We won’t have to face that reality until deep into the finals. But for now, two points to Brisbane.
Melbourne (17-4) @ Newcastle (5-16)
Let’s get serious now. Surely Newcastle can’t knock off Melbourne? Not in 2017. Maybe if it was… uh, let me consult my notes. Let’s see. In 2015, the wooden spooners Newcastle defeated the top 4 Melbourne at home, 20-6. But… that’s almost this round! And the Knights are firing. Firing, I say!
So do top teams drop games towards the end of the season? No match is decided until the final siren, although Knights’ games are usually done and dusted twenty minutes earlier, and either team always has a chance. I don’t think it’s really worth considering these facts though, as I’m really confident, like insanely so, that the Storm will win.
Wests Tigers (6-15) @ Sydney City (14-7)
So if bottom teams pose a threat to top teams in the last few rounds of the season, then surely this game is closer than it looks on paper? The Chooks have lost their last two while the Tigers are up two of their last three. We all know I don’t really rate Easts as it is.
Having said that, the Roosters haven’t lost to a bottom six team all year (their only loss in the bottom eight was against the Raiders in May). The game is at Allianz, where City are 8-2. The Tigers have the unenviable away record of 4-7, which sounds pretty bad until you look at their home record which is 2-8.
I’m going to tip the Roosters because it makes sense on paper, not because I believe they’ll actually win.
Cronulla (13-8) @ North Queensland (12-9)
Here we find two teams that were cocks-of-the-walk not too long ago but now find themselves cocks of nothing.
Whatever was driving the JT-less Cowboys seems to have deserted them, having lost their last three, albeit against some of the top teams in the competition (Storm, Roosters, Panthers). That said, if you want to win a premiership, beating the top teams in the competition is generally considered a prerequisite, essential even.
The Sharks are in a similar position but only find themselves down two wins running but those two wins were against the Broncos and the Raiders. I don’t know when this mythical return to form in time for the finals is meant to happen but they’re running out of time. Then again, it’s very Cronulla to leave everything to the last minute. Worked wonders against the Tigers.
The last Cowboys game I watched, they played like a ship without a rudder. The Sharks play the same, which makes this game so hard to call. I’m giving it on homefield advantage, so North Queensland to win.
Penrith (12-9) @ Canberra (10-11)
The jury is split on this game but my rule of thumb is: if betting markets think the Raiders are due, go against. Panthers for mine.
Blatantly obvious bonus tip: Nathan Cleary to score a bunch of points.
Manly (12-9) @ Canterbury (7-14)
I suggest that whoever loses this match has to move to Perth to replace the Western Force. It would actually give the players some motivation, particularly on the Bulldogs’ side where the club has spent more time signing up players they can’t afford and threatening lawsuits than thinking about how to win games.
Manly’s sparkling mid-season form seems to have come to an end with a last minute loss to the Tigers on the weekend. One could argue, successfully I might add, that a good team would not have let themselves get into a position like that against Wests. Just ask Cronulla.
Canterbury have forgotten what a win looks like, let alone how to find one and make it happen, so even though they’ve struggled recently, I’m tipping the Sea Eagles will do what everyone else uses Bulldogs games for: training runs.
Euclid’s dissenting vote last week was the right choice, netting seven from eight. Let’s face it, not many people had the Knights to win that game. The rest of us fared better than usual with six from eight. Overall, it’s been a below par season for everyone except Eratosthenes. It might mean that it’ll turn around next year.
After round 23: