Newcastle Knights v Gold Coast Titans @ Hunter Stadium
The Gold Coast travel to Newcastle on Saturday afternoon needing a win to remain the Top 8. The Titans scored a crucial 19-18 win over the Wests Tigers at Campbelltown last week after star recruit Jarryd Hayne nailed the match winning field goal. Newcastle were embarrassed 42-6 at home against Penrith earning a savage account from Nathan Brown that his side "gave up" in the second half rout. With Newcastle stuck on just the solitary win for the season the Titans can ill afford to drop this game as the race for the finals reaches it's climax in the next couple of weeks.
The Titans have the luxury of going into the match unchanged after Ryan James successfully got his charge for a careless tackle downgraded at the NRL judiciary. Rarely has a side been able to strengthen their roster so impressively as the Gold Coast have this season. With Nathan Peats joining from Parramatta, Konrad Hurrell moving across from the Warriors and Jarryd Hayne coming back from the NFL the Titans now have a formidable roster. Indeed with rookie of the year candidate Ash Taylor having a great season at halfback, the Gold Coast may well have dodged a bullet in missing out on Daly Cherry Evans. The Titans showed last week they have plenty of character in coming from 8-0 down against the Tigers to win. Whilst much of the headlines went to Jarryd Hayne, he had a fairly quiet game in the halves and will be looking for an improved display against Newcastle.
Newcastle welcome back exciting winger Nathan Ross to the starting side while Jeremy Smith wins a spot on an extended bench. Newcastle will be clinging onto any glimmer of hope and their overall record against the Titans is not bad with 4 wins from their past 6 and 9 from 15 overall. However back in Round 1 the Titans were convincing winners on the Gold Coast prevailing 30-12. Last week was as poor a home performance as Newcastle have had for a while and Nathan Brown will be expecting his side to be much better this afternoon.
Verdict - Gold Coast should win this game quite comfortably. While I expect Newcastle to show a bit more fight then they did last week they don't have the quality to sustain it over 80 minutes. Jarryd Hayne might get the chance to really open his shoulders here on a dry track against a side that is very poor defensively. I think this game will be quite open and there will be plenty of points, with most of them coming from the Titans. Titans by 20.
Manly Sea Eagles v Melbourne Storm @ Brookvale Oval
The Storm square off with old rivals the Sea Eagles on Saturday night as they look to maintain their position at the top of the NRL ladder. Melbourne will be licking their wounds after being ambushed last week by a hungry Raiders outfit, losing 22-8 in Canberra. The Sea Eagles will be looking to rebound from back to back heartbreaking losses against Parramatta and in golden point against the Bulldogs. These teams built have built a fierce rivalry over the last 10 years clashing in 2 grand finals and numerous big games. The infamous "Battle of Brookvale" in 2011 saw a wild brawl erupt on the touchline as tensions reached fever pitch.
The Storm go into the clash with an unchanged lineup however will have to deal with back to back road game on a short 5-day turnaround. Melbourne have won all 3 games this year coming off a loss and will want to put one over their old rivals here. Craig Bellamy has been unhappy with his sides recent form, particularly defensively as they have lost the battle of the collisions in the last 2 weeks against Souths and Canberra. With blockbuster home games against Brisbane and Cronulla to finish the regular season Melbourne need a victory here to steady the ship.
The Sea Eagles welcome back Nate Myles, Matt Parcell and Blake Leary to an extended bench, however they lose centre Dylan Walker to injury. The Sea Eagles have been brave in recent weeks giving up just 27 points combined in their 2 losses. The Sea Eagles are conceding less then 15 points a game in their last 6 matches and will need another stern defensive effort if they are any hope of causing an upset against the Storm. Remarkably the last 4 clashes between these 2 sides have been determined by a total margin of 8 points such as been the tightness of the matches. Overall the Storm hold a slender advantage in the head to head stakes with 15 wins from 29 games with a draw included.
Verdict - I think Manly played their grand finals the past 2 weeks. They were really physical encounters and with their finals hopes dashed that might take a bit of edge off their performance. However they are always competitive against Storm and love playing at Brookvale Oval, so you have to factor that in. Melbourne have not been anywhere near their best lately, however they have not lost back to back games all season. I think they find a way here, not I don't think it will be pretty or easy. Relatively grinding and low scoring game. Storm by 6.
North Queensland Cowboys v New Zealand Warriors @ 1300 Smiles Stadium
The Cowboys will be desperate to halt an alarming 3 games losing slide when they take on the Warriors at home on Saturday night. The Cowboys have been convincing beaten by heavy underdogs the Tigers and the Roosters in consecutive weeks on the road. The Warriors have bigger problems of their own after they were smashed 41-22 by South Sydney at home, putting a huge dent in their finals chances.
North Queensland welcome back Antonio Winterstein and Coen Hess for a game that has become a must win. Sitting outside the Top 4 with 3 games remaining the Cowboys will likely have to win their remaining 3 games if they want to figure in this seasons finals race. North Queensland has been overpowered up front in the last 2 losses and they will be looking to their big guns in James Tamou, Matt Scott and Jason Taumololo to lay the platform against a big Warriors pack. The Cowboys have a mediocre overall record against the Warriors having won 17 of 35 overall encounters.
The Warriors have made a couple of changes bringing in James Gavet and Bunty Afoa, while Tui Lolohea drops backs to the Intrust Super Cup. Warriors fans will be hoping it is not another late season capitulation after their dismal home showing last week. The last 3 seasons under Andrew McFadden New Zealand have been a chance to make the finals only to finish the season with a whimper. Before last week's debacle the Warriors had tightened up their defence conceding around 16 points game through 6 weeks of football. While there attack can sparkle there defence will have to be on song if they are any chance of upsetting the Cowboys here.
Verdict - These 2 teams often produce wild and whacky games and I expect this one to be no different. I think this will be a very open game on a quick surface up in Townsville. I just have way more faith in the senior players of the Cowboys turning it around then i do the Warriors. I think there will be plenty of points in this game. I can see the Warriors nudging 20 but still copping a hiding. Cowboys by 20.