Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, looks over all eight teams and previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 13 matches.

St. George-Illawarra Dragons v Brisbane Broncos @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Thursday 3rd June, 7:50pm

Matthew Dufty1Jamayne Isaako
Cody Ramsey2Selwyn Cobbo
Brayden Wiliame3Herbie Farnworth
Gerard Beale4Jesse Arthars
Mikaele Ravalawa5David Mead
Corey Norman6Albert Kelly
Ben Hunt7Tyson Gamble
Blake Lawrie8Matthew Lodge
Andrew McCullough9Jake Turpin
Paul Vaughan10Thomas Flegler
Josh Kerr11Alex Glenn
Jack Bird12Tevita Pangai Jr
Jackson Ford13John Asiata
Talatau Amone14Kobe Hetherington
Poasa Faamausili15Keenan Palasia
Daniel Alvaro16Ethan Bullermor
Jackson Ford17TC Robati

Played 42, Dragons 16, Broncos 25

Last Meeting: Round 15, 2020: Dragons 28 def. Broncos 24

Final Thoughts: The St. George-Illawarra Dragons disappointed last week as they fell 34-18 to the Wests Tigers. They allowed Wests to build an 18-0 lead by halftime and couldn’t reel it back. Although, they didn’t disappoint to the level the Brisbane Broncos did in Round 12. After pulling off an excellent upset of the Roosters a week earlier, the Broncos never truly tested the Storm on Thursday night.

Mikaele Ravalawa, Matt Dufty and Josh Kerr are back for the Dragons but it’s Jack de Belin’s return that will draw headlines. He is making his return to the NRL off the bench. Tariq Sims is the surprise Origin inclusion Andrew Griffin needs to juggle. Meanwhile, Kevin Walters is without Xavier Coates and Payne Haas. He does have Matthew Lodge, Tyson Gamble and Alex Glenn back with Selwyn Cobbo to make his debut off the bench.

Ben Hunt is unlucky to miss out on Origin selection, but he provides the Dragons with a massive boost for this week. The sort that should ensure they take the chocolates against an inconsistent Broncos side. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the odd half-decent Broncos game, but they’re not doing it often enough to be confident. Certainly not on the road. The two sides match up relatively even on paper. There’s an argument for the Broncos having the stronger middle given the return of Matthew Lodge and the fact the Dragons have lost the yardage battle more often than not in recent weeks. However, it’s the defensive numbers that separate the pair. The Broncos are conceding the second-most points in the NRL at 28.8 per game to the Dragons’ 21.7 points. That looks set to be the difference.

Tip: Margin – Dragons 1-12 @ $3

Wests Tigers v Penrith Panthers @ Leichhardt Oval
Friday 4th June, 7:55pm

Daine Laurie1Dylan Edwards
David Nofoaluma2Charlie Staines
Adam Doueihi3Stephen Crichton
Tommy Talau4Paul Momirovski
James Roberts5Robert Jennings
Moses Mbye6Matt Burton
Luke Brooks7Tyrone May
James Tamou8Spencer Leniu
Jacob Liddle9Mitch Kenny
Alex Twal10James Fisher-Harris
Luke Graner11Viliame Kikau
Luciano Leilua12Scott Sorensen
Alex Seyfarth13Matthew Eisenhuth
Stefano Utoikamanu14Jaeman Salmon
Shawn Blore15J’maine Hopgood
Tom Amone16Lindsay Smith
Thomas Mikaele17Izack Tago

Played 36, Tigers 13, Panthers 23

Last Meeting: Round 16, 2020: Panthers 30 def. Tigers 6

Final Thoughts: Was Round 12 the turning point for the West Tigers? Their 34-18 win over the Dragons should be the sort they can build on, but this is the Tigers…They should be a good chance at ending the Penrith Panthers winning streak at 12 this week too, but this is the Tigers…

Joe Ofahengaue is with the Maroons which allows Alex Seyfarth to start and Stefano Utoikamanu to join the Tigers bench. For the Panthers, Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai, Brian To’o, Isaah Yeo, Liam Martin, Api Koroisau and Kurt Capewell are all on Origin duty. Ivan Cleary has Dylan Edwards returning with Robert Jennings, Scott Sorensen, Matt Eisenhuth Tyrone May, Mitch Kenny, Jaeman Salmon, J’maine Hopgood, Lindsay Smith and Izack Tago either joining or shuffling around the side.

Despite Cleary’s silly comments around his side being decimated throughout the week, the Panthers remain favourites given the quality they’re replacing at most positions. James Fisher-Harris and Spencer Leniu ensure they will still get up the field while Burton and Edwards can provide the creative touches in attack for the likes of Stephen Crichton and Charlie Staines to finish. Wests looked a lot better last week. Unlike their big win over the Knights in Round 10, the Tigers’ Round 12 win showed genuine signs of improvement. They started to score points through repeatable actions as Luke Brooks and Moses Mbye linked up well in the halves. However, the Panthers are on track to be one of the best defensive teams in NRL history. They concede just seven points per game and that is unlikely to change despite the turnover in faces. While they might be a little bit slow to start in their new positions, this Panthers outfit should do it relatively easy by the end.

Tip: Time of 1st Try – 8 Minutes of Later @ $1.98

Melbourne Storm v Gold Coast Titans @ Sunshine Coast Stadium
Saturday 5th June, 7:35pm

Nicho Hynes1Jayden Campbell
George Jennings2Anthony Don
Reimis Smith3Brian Kelly
Justin Olam4Patrick Herbert
Dean Ieremia5Phillip Sami
Cooper Johns6Ashley Taylor
Jahrome Hughes7Jamal Fogarty
Jesse Bromwich8Jarrod Wallace
Brandon Smith9Mitch Rein
Nelson Asofa-Solomona10Jaimin Jolliffe
Tom Eisenhuth11Kevin Proctor
Kenneath Bromwich12Sam Stone
Dale Finucane13Sam McIntyre
Aaron Booth14Tyrone Peachey
Tui Kamikamica15Erin Clark
Chris Lewis16Jai Whitbread
Aaron Pene17Joseph Vuna

Played 22, Storm 16, Titans 6

Last Meeting: Round 10, 2020: Storm 42 def. Titans 6

Final Thoughts: The Melbourne Storm did it easy against the Broncos last week. While they were somewhat slow to start by their standards, the 40-12 win was never in doubt. The Gold Coast Titans, on the other hand, are shrouded in doubt. They can’t string two good games together let alone two good halves as they allowed the Sharks to cruise out to a 26-6 halftime lead before falling 38-10.

Kenny Bromwich is back to replace Queensland edge Felise Kaufusi while Dean Ieremia takes the place of New South Wales winger Josh Addo-Carr. Cooper Johns has been named in the Storm halves but Ryley Jacks is a possible option after being named in the reserves. Tanah Boyd loses his place to Ash Taylor while Jayden Campbell and Joseph Vuna join the Titans side. AJ Brimson, David Fifita, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Moeaki Fotuaika are all in Townsville for Origin 1.

The Storm are without some key players, but they have been for weeks. There is little to suggest this excellent run of results – led recently by Nicho Hynes, Jahrome Hughes and Brandon Smith – will end any time soon. Particularly not against a Titans side that is awful defensively no matter who is on the field, and a Titans side without Brimson, Fifita, Fa’asuamaleaui and Fotuaika. The Storm are the best club in the NRL when it comes to plugging players into positions and getting enough out of them. They’ve been doing it for weeks already and will do so again on Saturday night. Melbourne carry a significant advantage into the middle of the field to get them on the front foot. From there, Hughes and Hynes have shown enough creativity in recent weeks to be confident in points piling up. The Gold Coast conceding 27.1 points per game is also a major concern. While they have hung around in games for a moment, they fail to wrestle back control once the opposition is on top. The Storm will know that and be out to secure these two competition points early.

Tip: 1st Half Handicap – Storm -10.5 @ $1.90

Newcastle Knights v Parramatta Eels @ McDonald Jones Stadium
Sunday 6th June, 6:05pm

Tex Hoy1Clint Gutherson
Starford To’a2Maika Sivo
Enari Tuala3Tom Opacic
Bradman Best4Waqa Blake
Brayden Musgrove5Haze Dunster
Connor Watson6Dylan Brown
Phoenix Crossland7Mitchell Moses
Sauaso Sue8Reagan Campbell-Gillard
Jayden Brailey9Reed Mahoney
Jacob Saifiti10Marata Niukore
Brodie Jones11Isaiah Papali’i
Lachlan Fitzgibbon12Ryan Matterson
Mitchell Barnett13Nathan Brown
Kurt Mann14Will Smith
Josh King15Shaun Lane
Jack Johns16Oregon Kaufusi
Simi Sasagi17Bryce Cartwright

Played 39, Knights 22, Eels 17

Last Meeting: Round 9, 2020: Eels 10 def. Knights 4

Final Thoughts: The Newcastle Knights needed to stop the slide and did so with a 18-10 win over the Sea Eagles. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s a result that could possibly save Newcastle’s season. The Parramatta Eels are now on a slide of their own after losing 38-10 to the Rabbitohs in Round 12. It’s only their third loss of the season, but second in as many weeks.

Adam O’Brien has lost David Klemmer to suspension and Daniel Saifiti and Tyson Frizell to Origin. Sauaso Sue replaces Klemmer, Jacob Saifiti is in for his brother and Brodie Jones will take Frizell’s spot on the edge. Nathaniel Sasagi and Jack Johns join the bench. Blake Ferguson’s dropping is the big story but Dylan Brown, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Reed Mahoney’s availability is the key consideration. Marata Niukore replaces Blues prop Junior Paulo while Haze Dunster takes Ferguson’s spot.

While the Eels have been below-par for a month now and lose a key player in Paulo to Origin, the gains to the side for this week are most encouraging. Brown spreads their attack across the park and will help Mitchell Moses recapture his form. The pair linked up superbly to start the season and it’s no consideration that Moses hasn’t been able to maintain his form with Brown on the sideline. But it’s through the middle that the Eels can decide this one. They rank 2nd in the NRL for yardage with 1,803 running metres per game. Meanwhile, the Knights are down at 7th with 1,646 running metres per game and will be without three important forwards for this week. On a slide that looks worryingly similar to what happened last year, the Eels will be out to make a statement on Sunday. Expect a significant improvement and for the Knights to fall away towards the back end of the match – if they last that long.

Tip: Handicap – Eels – -11.5 @ $1.95