Manly Sea Eagles v Canberra Raiders @ Brookvale Oval
The Canberra Raiders can make a play for outright 2nd spot if they can beat Manly at Brookvale Oval on Saturday afternoon. If the Raiders can get the job done here, they will watch on with interest when the Sharks take on the resurgent Roosters at Shark Park. The Raiders came from 18-0 down to defeat Parramatta and keep their winning streak going. Manly are playing for pride after a mediocre campaign seems them cast adrift in 12th position. Sadly for the Manly faithful it seems Jamie Lyon will not get his fairy tale as a persistent hamstring injury keeps him out of the clash.
As if the Raiders needed any help they welcome back Josh Hodgson from suspension and Paul Vaughn and Edrick Lee from long term injuries. This team is now a picture of health and momentum just 2 weeks out from the playoffs. Jarrod Croker last week replaced Clinton Schicofske as the record leading point scorer for the Raiders in a season, sitting on 248 points and counting. If Ricky Stuart has anything to worry about it might the sides slow starts, with the Raiders coughing up big leads to Newcastle and Parramatta in recent weeks. The Raiders have the best attack in the game and will fancy their chance of getting at a wounded manly side that conceeded 38 at home last week.
Manly welcome back Dylan Walker and Api Koroisau to the starting side which shifts Brayen Wiliame to the wing and Matt Parcell to the bench. Jamie Lyon will bow out perhaps in a fitting fashion given the quiet and unassuming way the Wee Waw product has gone about his career. In a stellar career spanning 16 years Lyon has often shunned the line up, turning down Origin football and walking out on Parramatta half way through a season to play bush football. The man they call "killer" was a natural football, with great instincts and a fantastic running and passing game. It really is the changing of the guard at Brookvale with huge question marks over whether Steve Matai or Brett Stewart will be in Manly colours last season.
Verdict - Raiders have far too much to play for and too many weapons for Manly. The Raiders can start slow however I think they got their wake up call last week. Manly might be fired up for their last home game of the season however I can't see it lasting with not much to play for. I expect this to be a pretty open game wit most the points coming for the green machine. Raiders by 20.
Gold Coast Titans v Penrith Panthers @ CBUS Super Stadium
The Gold Coast look to wrap up their finals hopes when they take on the high flying Panthers at home on Saturday Night. If you had said back In March this game would be a potential blockbuster with both sides inside the final 8 you would have been laughed at. However the Titans particular have been major surprise packets as they look to record a 3rd straight win after victories on the road against the Tigers and Knights. Penrith are building momentum at the right time of year winning 5 of their past 6 including putting 40 on both the Knights and Tigers in the last 2 weeks. When the sides met earlier this year it was a thriller at Pepper Stadium with the Titans snatching victory in the last minute of the game.
The Titans will be sweating on the fitness of star recruit Jarryd Hayne, who is in doubt after suffering a concussion in last weeks win. With David Mead on standby, Ash Taylor and Tyrone Roberts are reunited in the halves. The Titans with rough riders Greg Bird, Ryan James and Chris McQueen on deck might see an opportunity here to try and intimidate the young Panthers up front. The Titans can ill afford a loss here given play the Cowboys away in Round 26, and the Warriors have 2 very winnable home games to finish the season. A loss here and all the hard work could easily slip away and a frustrating 9th place finish.
The Panthers name an unchanged line up as they look to consolidate 7th place on the ladder. The Panthers have lost their last 2 matches to the Titans, however hold an 8-6 advantage in overall clashes. Penrith will want to tighten up their error rate as they come up against tougher opponents as the finals rolls around. Of late Penrith's free wheeling game has been perfect for poor opposition, however they can ill afford cheap turnovers and lapses in concentration against the Gold Coast. One player in red hot form is Trent Merrin. Having been unlucky to miss Origin selection Merrin has been on fire of late, averaging over 170 metres a game since their Round 20 victory over the Broncos.
Verdict - Really hard game to call. I think this hill be a highly entertaining game with both sides scoring 20 plus points. I see it going right down to the wire however I am going for the Titans to edge it. I just think they have more at stake, as the Panthers virtually wrapped up their finals spot last week. Titans know that they can quickly drop out of the finals with a loss here and a tough final round assignment in North Queensland. I reckon they are 10% more desperate here. Titans by 4.
Cronulla Sharks v Sydney Roosters @ Shark Park
The suddenly desperate Cronulla Sharks will be looking for their first win in over a month as they look to hold onto 2nd spot against the resurgent Roosters at Shark Park on Saturday night. While Cronulla were always likely to hit a flat spot losing to the lowly Dragons and Rabbitohs in the last 2 weeks would have been concerning for coach Shane Flanagan. The Roosters could hardly have been more impressive in demolishing the Cowboys and Dragons as they finally start to show the form the talent in their roster demands.
The Sharks get a welcome boost with the return of inspirational captain Paul Gallen as well as Sosia Feki for the clash. This shifts Chris Heightinngton to the bench while Gerard Beale misses out altogether. The Sharks defeated the Roosters a couple of months ago in Round 18 26-20 at Allianz Stadium in a match they always seemed in control of. The Sharks have been a bit of a bogey side for the Chooks even when they have down near the bottom and have won the past 4 encounters between the pair. With the rain clearing around Sydney it might give the Sharks the chance to play more expansive football and release the shackles on an attack that was forcibly conservative in the atrocious conditions last week. With the Storm slipping up against Brisbane, Cronulla have a huge incentive if they win here, meaning they would play off for the Minor Premiership in a blockbuster in Melbourne next Saturday.
The Roosters name an unchanged line up as they look to continue their momentum heading into a long off season. The Roosters season was over before it ever really began losing 8 of their first 9 matches in 2016. However the last month they have finally found their feet and it has coincided with the tremendous form of Boy Cordner and Mitchell Pearce. Blake Ferguson had arguably his best game for the tri colours last week with a hat trick against the Dragons. Ferguson needed a strong performance as he will have hot competition for the fullback role in 2016 with Latrell Mitchell and Michael Gordon natural fullbacks.
Verdict - You would not think a game between 2nd and 14th would be hard to call in Round 25 however I feel that is exactly what we have here. The Roosters will want to end their recent barren run against the Sharks and also put teams on notice for next season. The Sharks I think are a but down on confidence and far from certainties here. I just think that given Canberra should be in 2nd place by the time the Sharks hit the field, they will be desperate and win a high quality game. Sharks by 6.