Canterbury Bulldogs v Manly Sea Eagles @ ANZ Stadium
Bulldogs a Mess, But Dangerous
The Bulldogs are a hard watch for the neutral. At times on Thursday Night they looked completely rudderless inside Manly's half. They score tries out of nothing. They appear to make things up on the run on the 5th tackle. They turn the ball over cheaply. Their forwards appear to be their playmakers , and their halves more like ball runners. Its a complete mess at times. Yet they find themselves comfortably sitting inside the Top 4 and armed with a double chance come finals time. The Bulldogs can score there tries out of nothing. They are most dangerous when they just run hard and try and offload the ball. To be honest that sort of football is what can win finals games. Finals are not about finesse and structure. They are about blood and thunder at times and the Bulldogs should not be discounted. This Thursday game against the Broncos might give us a better indicator of where this team is at.
Dogs Goal Line Defence Stands Firm
One thing the Bulldogs have been consistent with in 2016 is their scramble and their goal line defence. The fact that they have 4th best defence in the league considering the pressure they place on it is a good sign. With their cheap turn overs and poor 5th tackle options the Bulldogs have been under the pump in several games this season.In the opening 25 minutes at ANZ Stadium it was all Manly and they could have easily led this game 18-0. However The Dogs managed a couple of last sditch try savers and defended a couple back to back sets before they got their act together. Again in Golden Point Tom Trbojevic was bought down by desperate cover defence which saved a certain try and preserved the win.
Heartbreak For Manly
Once more Manly were beaten at the death as their fleeting finals hopes were officially dismissed. However it was another small step forward for Trent Barrett's men. After 4 straight wins Manly's last last 2 losses have been in the final couple of minutes against Parramatta and Golden Point against the Bulldogs. Manly have conceded just 13 points per game over that 6 week period and are finding a much steelier resolve to their football. Manly clearly had a few players out there including Tom Trbojevic playing busted and will now look to put them away for off season surgery. Whilst it will be a long off season for a side considered a hope for the Top 4 in the pre season by some, they at least they something to build on over the last couple of months. With Jamie Lyon retiring at season's end Trent Barrett will need to find a solution in the number 6 position heading into next season.
Brisbane Broncos v Parramatta Eels @ Suncorp Stadium
Milford Revives Broncos
A return to form for star five-eight Anthony Milford is exactly what the Broncos needed to reignite their stuttering campaign. Milford scored 1 try and set up 2 others in the 34-10 rout of a tired looking Parramatta side. Milford also managed 2 line breaks his first since round 13 as he got back to doing what he does best, in taking the line on. The try he set up on the stroke of halftime was spectacular. First he burned the Parramatta inside defender for speed before steeping and evading his way to through cover defenders before putting in the perfect grubber kick for a flying Corey Oates to barge over. Before that the game was in the balance at 10-10 as Brisbane struggled to assert their authority. The spectacular try seemed to energise the whole Broncos outfit who put in a dominant 20-0 second half as they kept their top 4 hopes alive.
Thursday's Match A Blockbuster
Thursday Night's blockbuster between the Broncos and the Bulldogs at Suncorp Stadium will tell us a bit about where exactly each side is at. Considered premiership heavyweights earlier in the season both sides they displayed inconsistent form which has seen themselves fall outside the Top 4 in terms of the premiership market. Whilst the Broncos slump has been measured in losses the Bulldogs have continued to win ugly as they have flopped over the line against the Dragons, Knights and Sea Eagles in recent weeks. However the Bulldogs do have a tendency to play to the level of their opponents and I have no doubt they will lift for Thursday's encounter. The Broncos meanwhile will still be stinging from the 40-16 hammering the Dogs gave them at ANZ Stadium 2 months ago during the middle of the Origin period.
Gutherson A Find
Sometimes a player's true talents and skills can be well hidden by the structured world of first grade football. Many players are stuck in swimming lanes, or in one channel and have a certain job description they are limited by. A player like Clint Gutherson comes to mind. He is a decent winger, who is good under the high ball and a accomplished finisher. However what you don't see out on the wing is that he is a good ball player, and has good football instincts. I remember when Justin Hodges played at fullback in his last season at the Broncos, it freed him up to show his natural league skills. Being stuck out at centre he was consigned to dummy half running and hoping for some early ball. When players get shifted in to fullback or five-eight in Gutherson's case they can display that they are more then the robots some teams make them look like.
Wests Tigers v Gold Coast Titans @ Campbelltown Stadium
Tedesco's Injury Fallout A Tricky One
One thing is certain is that the match review panel have been all over the place this season. They seem to be making things up as they go along in plenty of cases. James Tedesco suffered a shocking broken jaw in 2 places at the hand of a tackle from Ryan James late in Sunday's game. The tackle was not malicious in my opinion as Tedesco was falling quickly and I don't think intent was there. However the facts are James was swinging his arm and made contact with the head, resulting in a broken jaw. Surely that can't result in James getting off scot free and being able to play this weekend? I think these days you do have to consider the impact of the tackle. Similarly early this year martin Tapau threw a vicious swinging arm resulting in knocking out Jack Bird. Yet he was only hit with a feather and a grade 2 charge. Paul Carter produced a similarly vicious and blatant stamp in South's match against the Titans in Perth, which went unpunished. Josh Hodgson' produced an ugly looking grapple tackle, seeming to use Jesse Bromwich head as a can open yet only got hit with a grade 1. Then on the other hand players having incidental contact with ref and are getting rubbed out. Everything seems a bit out of whack at present. The NRL needs to work out what it stands for because the fans are confused.
Tough Win For Titans
This was a really gutsy and critical win for the Titans. They were under the pump early in this game after conceding a try in the first set of the match, The Tigers, playing in front of a near sell out home crowds, had over 75% of the ball in the first 20 minutes yet could only manage a 8-0 lead as the Titans repelled numerous sets on their goal line. Playing into a breeze and on the back on conceding some penalties the Gold Coast had every right to be 18-0 down early in this game which would have made it a long road back. However they quickly responded with 3 tries before the interval to go in with a remarkable 12-10 lead. Similarly the Tigers surged and had all the momentum at 18-18 with 10 minutes remaining in the game. However it was left to the local boy turned vil in Jarryd Hayne to slot the winning field goal to break the Tigers hearts. It was a crucial win for the Titans as they leapfrogged the Tigers and now have a match with Newcastle to further entrench themselves in the Top 8. This side has punched above its weight all season however they now have an air of quality about them. They will not be walk overs in the finals.
Season Over For Brave Tigers
It was double heartbreak for Tigers fans with the 1 point and the injury to James Tedesco effectively ending their finals hopes. The Tigers showed great bravery to come back from 18-10 down without Tedesco as they surged late with 2 tries to David Noafaluma threatening to take things into extra time. However a couple of crucial late errors saw their charge halted. Chris Lawrence dropped a ball cold in the play the ball when the Tigers were in field goal territory. Mitchell Moses also made a really poor decision to try a field goal from outside 40 metres against the breeze with 2 minutes to play. It gave the Titans a really cheap 7 tackle set ,in which they marched up the field and sealed the victory. Moses was heavily marked by the Titans and had a hot and cold afternoon. After his excellent displays of late we took a few low percentage plays in this game which resulted in gifting the Titans field possession. Whilst the young playmaker would have been upset he did show he is not afraid to put himself right in the mix when the game is on the line, which is what you want from a halfback.
New Zealand Warriors v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ Mount Smart Stadium
Dreadful Warriors Spanked
This was a staggering performance from you have to say not totally out of character for the Warriors. With everything to play they produced their worst display for 3 months being blown away by South Sydney 41-22 at Mount Smart Stadium.. They were effectively out of the game at half time as Souths stunned them with 5 quick tries to lead 31-6 at the break. The Warriors seem to left their tackling boots in the sheds as they came out with next to no intensity and subsequently gave up some alarmingly soft tries as an inspired Souths side continued to march down the field with ease. Sadly for Warriors fans they have seen this script before. The last 3 seasons they have been right in the mix with a month to go before seemingly caving into the pressure. They don't seem to have the leaders in their team to life for the big occasions.
Souths Break Losing Streak
Souths players and coaches can breathe a sigh of relief after emphatically breaking their ugly 9 match losing losing streak against the Warriors. Souths showed signs of life with an impressive performance against first place Melbourne in Melbourne last week. Despite going down in golden point last week Souths clearly carried some confidence and some energy into this display. Their senior players really stood up here with Adam Reynolds and Greg Inglis having their best games for several months. Reynolds tormented the Warriors with his pin point short kicking game resulting in a couple of pin point tries. Souths on this sort of form will give Cronulla a decent contest at Shark Park on Monday Night.
Warriors Season On The Line
The Warriors face slipping 3 points out of the finals with 2 rounds to play if they go down to the Cowboys in Townsville this week. After recruiting some big names in the off season it would mean another soul searching off season for the Warriors should they miss the finals. Coach Andrew McFadden would surely find himself under pressure to retain his job. The Warriors do have 2 home games to finish the season against the Tigers and Eels so if they can spring an upset in Townsville they remain in good shape to make the finals.
St George Illawarra Dragons v Cronulla Sharks @ Jubilee Stadium
Sharks Shocked In Local Derby
If last weeks cause was considered as the one the Sharks had to have, this one might have been close to the opposite. The Sharks were swept aside in the local derby in a performance that was equally unexpected as concerning. The Sharks might have thought their bitter rivals were going to be easy pickings when Valantine Holmes strolled over inside 3 minutes under the posts. Despite leading 12-6 heading into the break the Sharks were starting to fray at the edges. in the second half the Sharks were totally over matched in terms of energy, commitment and physicality by the Dragons. Most concerning for Sharks fans would have been their brittle goal line defence in which Tariq Syms and Gareth Widdop strolled over for simple tries. Jack Bird and Chad Townsend did not seem to be on the same page on the edges and it something Cronulla will need to fix quick smart. Whilst it is not time for panic to set in in the shire they will want a far better performance and result against a resurgent Souths on Monday night at Shark Park.
Townsend Off The Boil
Chad Townsend was a signing that went under the radar at the start of the season by many. With the Sharks trumpeting the big name signing of former Roosters five-eight and current NSW Origin five-eight James Maloney, they quietly went about finding him the perfect foil. A local junior who promised much but delivered little during his first stint in Cronulla, Townsend returned a far more accomplished and mature player. He was instrumental in the Sharks winning streak as his under stated kicking and running game proved invaluable in taking pressure off Maloney. However the last month or so has seen Townsend hit a bit of a wall in terms of his own performance. Alarmingly the same same thing happened in Auckland in 2016, Townsend was superb playing next to Shaun Johnson for teh first 4 months before experiencing a really poor final two months as the Warriors folded. He made a few tired efforts in defence the past couple of weeks and most halves struggle when their defence is not quite in order..
Dragons Need To Bottle This Game
Well, where the hell has that been from St George Illawarra in 2016 their fans must be screaming? Seemingly free from the dire structure and pressure of trying to qualify for the finals the Dragons lifted the handbrake and looked like they just went out and enjoyed their football. They played with much more intensity and body language, and their pedestrian attack suddenly looked full of thrust and energy. Gareth Widdop has had a poor campaign, however he was excellent in this game and showed what type of player is capable of being when at his potent best. Tariq Syms produced by far his best game since his mid season trade from Newcastle. Syms played with real aggression and intent on the edges and clearly lifted St George. His 2 tries were a great reward for a punishing display. There is no doubt the Dragons carry more swagger about them with Josh Dugan in the 17 and whilst he wasn't brilliant the side are a lot better balanced with him in it. The Dragons actually have 3 really winnable games on the run home against the Roosters, Eels and Knights who are all below them on the ladder. If they produce that display they will finish on 28 points and are a very marginal chance of making the finals.
Newcastle Knights v Penrith Panthers @ Hunter Stadium
Dismal Afternoon for Newcastle
Nathan Brown's troops experienced another chastising afternoon as they were flogged 42-6 by the Panthers at home. Brown was savage on his young side in the post match press conference, effectively accusing them of throwing in the towel on the second half. Newcastle were level at 6-6 at halftime and were right in the contest having had chances to lead the match. However the second half their effort wilted and Penrith walked in several tries as the game turned into a rout. Brown will no doubt be looking for a much more competitive 80 minute performance against the Titans at home this week.
Tyrone Peachey Finds His Spark
Being dropped mid season might have been just the tonic for Tyrone Peachey to turn his form around at Penrith. He sparked his side from their slumber in this game as they fumbled their way through the first 40 minutes. Peachey is a supreme talent, and is a pure footballer. He is not an big as the prototype back-rower. He is not as quick as most outside backs. However what he lacks in physique he makes up for with his football instincts and ability. Peached freely admits himself he is not sure what his best position is. However he is a free spirit and a player that is very hard to tackle. He has found a home out in the centres for now and was arguably Penrith's best player in their win.
Penrith Close To Finals Berth
Penrith can just about lock up a Top 8 spot with a win over western Sydney rivals the Wests Tigers at Pepper Stadium this Friday Night. The Panthers are expecting their largest home crowd of the season for the clash which will give the side a significant boost. Earlier this season back in Round 17 the Tigers stunned the Panthers 34-26 at ANZ Stadium. The Panthers raced out to a 14-0 lead before some really poor passes and a lack of respect for th football saw them cough up their lead. With the Tigers missing star player James Tedesco Penrith will enter the clash as heavy favourites. Having won 4 of their past 5 games the Panthers are finally starting to find a bit of consistency at the right time of year.
Sydney Roosters v North Queensland Cowboys @ Sydney Football Stadium
Roosters Ladder Position A Head Scratcher
As has been identified by the Sydney media this week, this might just be about the best 15th place team you will ever see. The Roosters bashed the Cowboys here, and put down an early marker for the standards they expect in 2017. If someone who dropped on to the planet from mars you would swear on your life the Roosters were the team comfortably inside the Top 8 and the Cowboys were cast adrift at the bottom of the table. Too few times this season the Roosters have been able to put close to their best side on the park, and the return of Hargraves and Pearce was telling here. Mitchell Pearce showed he remains an extremly influencial and dominant halfback in the NRL with a real classy display. Pearce teased the Coboys with his recipe of short and long passes and controlled kicking game. The Roosters attacked in defence which has been one of their hallmarks over the past few seasons.
Cowboys Fighting History On Two Fronts
The Cowboys have now lost 3 straight makes and quite possibly will have to beat a path to the grand final from outside the Top 4. No side has won the premiership from outside the Top 4 in the 17 years that the top 7 system has been in play. While 6 teams have made it to the big dance none have managed to claim the ultimate prize. The Cowboys are already fighting history trying to become the first time in 24 years to become back to back premiers in the grueling competition which is the NRL.
Cowboys Forwards Look Tired
A lot has been made of the patchy form of Jonathan Thurston since he returned from injury 2 weeks ago. Both the Tigers and the Roosters have managed to get right up in his face and cut down his play making time. Thurston's timing seems to have been a little off in some cases. However there is no doubt that the Cowboys forwards in Matt Scott and James Tamou have not been as dominant of late. They have not been winning the collisions the past and that has led to opposition being able to attack with their defence. Scott looks tired post origin and seems to be carrying some sort of back niggle. The Cowboys at their brutal best last season and early in 2016 played a simple power game in their own half which laid a great platform for the likes of Thurston to dominate. Whilst they probably can't afford to rest some of their forwards the Cowboys need to find a way to freshen them up and get them firing again before finals time.
Canberra Raiders v Melbourne Storm @ GIO Stadium
The Raiders have stamped themselves as the form team of the NRL with back to back convincing wins against the Sharks and Storm. The Raiders energy and intensity was far too much for Melbourne on Monday Night in a dominating 22-8 win. Ricky Stuart has tried valiantly to downplay his sides premiership chances however there cover has been well and truly blown now. This side are big and powerful and have momentum on their side. I suppose the only question is have the Raiders peaked too soon? With premiership favourites Melbourne, Cronulla, Brisbane and North Queensland experiencing patchy form it will be a tough ask for the Raiders to keep this form going for a couple more months. Whatever happens this side is right in the mix, and are setting themselves to be one of the powerhouse teams of the next few years
Storm Dominated Up Front
When the Storm have come up short in recent years, it is usually because they can't match the power game of the other big sides. Melbourne have usually relied on a more mobile and under sized pack and tried to grind teams down rather then blow them away with big boppers. However they have addressed those concerns this season with Young Tonumaipea and Jordan Mclean adding real size and punch to the Storm pack. They will need to get those 2 back and firing before the finals if they want to be able to get on top of teams down the middle of the field.
Minor Premiership Up For Grabs.
The Storm had the chance to skip 3 points clear of Cronulla with 3 rounds to play however missed their chance on Monday night. The Storm now face a tricky trip to Brookvale to take one of their old rivals the Manly Sea Eagles. The two sides have played many brutal battle in the past and while Manly are not the force they once were they should be up for this game.