Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 12 matches, including his Game Saver play earmarked for Sunday.

St George-Illawarra Dragons v Sydney Roosters @ WIN Stadium
Thursday 6th August, 7:50pm

DragonsRoosters
Matthew Dufty1James Tedesco
Jordan Pereira2Ryan Hall
Euan Aitken3Josh Morris
Zac Lomax4Joseph Manu
Mikaele Ravalawa5Matt Ikuvalu
Ben Hunt6Luke Keary
Adam Clune7Lachlan Lam
Blake Lawrie8Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
Cameron McInnes9Jake Friend
Paul Vaughan10Siosiua Taukeiaho
Tyson Frizell11Sitili Tupouniua
Tariq Sims12Mitchell Aubusson
Jackson Ford13Isaac Liu
Tristan Sailor14Drew Hutchison
Josh Kerr15Poasa Faamausili
Trent Merrin16Nat Butcher
Tyrell Fuimaono17Lindsay Collins


History:
Played 42, Dragons 20, Roosters 21

Last Meeting: Round 7, 2020: Roosters 26 def. Dragons 12

Final Thoughts: The Sydney Roosters are in somewhat of a slump. They’ve picked up back-to-back wins, but single-digit victories over the Titans and Warriors are relatively disappointing results for this group. Meanwhile, the St George-Illawarra Dragons blew a 16-0 lead while falling 32-24 to the Rabbitohs in Round 12. Their attack is thriving as Matt Dufty and Zac Lomax find form. However, their defence remains an issue. So what does Paul McGregor do? Drop Corey Norman…

Norman’s dropping is overdue; he’s been poor for much of the season. It’s not going to help the Dragons defence, though. They’re still tasked with handling the most dangerous attack in the NRL this week and their right edge, in particular, is a fruitful avenue for opposing teams. While Dufty has impressed, there is a sense of inevitability building in their attack. When in doubt, have Dufty throw a long-ball. The Roosters will be prepared for that play. The same can’t be said for the Dragons defence.

Tip: Try Matchup – Ikuvalu to score more tries than Ravalawa @ $2.30

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v New Zealand Warriors @ Lottoland
Friday 7th August, 6:00pm

Sea EaglesWarriors
Brendan Elliot1Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
Jorge Taufua2Patrick Herbert
Tevita Funa3Adam Pompey
Moses Suli4Peta Hiku
Reuben Garrick5George Jennings
Cade Cust6Kodi Nikorima
Daly Cherry-Evans7Chanel Harris-Tavita
Addin Fonua-Blake8Jamayne Taunoa-Brown
Danny Levi9Karl Lawton
Martin Taupau10Jack Hetherington
Joel Thompson11Eliesa Katoa
Curtis Sironen12Tohu Harris
Jake Trbojevic13Jazz Tevaga
Lachlan Croker14Wayde Egan
Corey Waddell15Adam Blair
Sean Keppie16Daniel Alvaro
Taniela Paseka17Lachlan Burr


History:
Played 32, Sea Eagles 22, Warriors 10

Last Meeting: Round 21, 2019: Warriors 24 def. Sea Eagles 16

Final Thoughts: While they were playing the on-fire Panthers, the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles disappointed last week. Most teams don’t just turn up to Lottoland and put a broom through Manly, but that’s exactly what Penrith did to sweep them aside and return to the foot of the mountains with a 42-12 win. The New Zealand Warriors, on the other hand, picked up a rare win to beat the Tigers 26-20 at the SCG.

Both sides have made changes to the halves this week. Dylan Walker is out with another injury which allows Cade Cust to return to his rightful position at five-eighth. Meanwhile, Blake Green snuck off to the Knights just before the deadline passed with Chanel Harris-Tavita promoted to the seven jersey.

While Round 12 proved an inspirational performance for the Warriors, they rarely back one good game up with another. However, they’ve shown enough over the last fortnight to suggest a defensive intensity capable of keeping a lid on a lacklustre Sea Eagles attack. The Kiwi club can keep this close enough to earn at least a moral victory if not another two competition points.

Tip: Margin – Sea Eagles 1-12 @ $2.88

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Brisbane Broncos @ ANZ Stadium
Friday 7th August, 7:55pm

RabbitohsBroncos
Latrell Mitchell1Darius Boyd
Alex Johnston2Richie Kennar
Campbell Graham3Kotoni Staggs
Dane Gagai4Herbie Farnworth
Jaxson Paulo5Xavier Coates
Cody Walker6Brodie Croft
Adam Reynolds7Tom Dearden
Tevita Tatola8Thomas Flegler
Damien Cook9Jake Turpin
Thomas Burgess10Payne Haas
Jaydn Su’a11David Fifita
Bayley Sironen12Tevita Pangai Junior
Cameron Murray13Patrick Carrigan
Mark Nicholls14Issac Luke
Liam Knight15Rhys Kennedy
Patrick Mago16Joe Ofahengaue
Keaon Koloamatangi17Ben Te’o


History:
Played 32, Rabbitohs 9, Broncos 22

Last Meeting: Round 2, 2020: Broncos 22 def. Rabbitohs 18

Final Thoughts: The South Sydney Rabbitohs proved two things in their 32-24 win over the Dragons last week: Consistency remains an issue, and they’re one of the most dangerous attacking teams in the NRL when things are clicking. The combination of Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell is coming along nicely. This week, they’ll link up on the left edge to attack what is the worst right-side defence in the competition.

To make matters worse for the Brisbane Broncos, Anthony Milford has been ruled out leaving Brodie Croft and Tom Dearden in the halves. It’s yet another halves combination for the Broncos. One that inspires little confidence in attack. While David Fifita returns and will add plenty of individual moments of brilliance, it’s unlikely to be enough for the Broncos to keep up with this improving Rabbitohs side.

Tip: Anytime Tryscorer – Dane Gagai @ $2.60

Melbourne Storm v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs @ Sunshine Coast Stadium
Saturday 8th August, 3:00pm

StormBulldogs
Nicho Hynes1Nick Meaney
Suliasi Vunivalu2Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
Tom Eisenhuth3Tim Lafai
Justin Olam4Jake Averillo
Josh Addo-Carr5Marcelo Montoya
Cameron Munster6Kieran Foran
Jahrome Hughes7Lachlan Lewis
Jesse Bromwich8Ofahiki Ogden
Brandon Smith9Sione Katoa
Christian Welch10Dylan Napa
Felise Kaufusi11Josh Jackson
Kenneath Bromwich12Raymond Faitala-Mariner
Dale Finucane13Luke Thompson
Ryley Jacks14Jeremy Marshall-King
Tino Fa’asuamaleaui15Aiden Tolman
Albert Vete16Sauaso Sue
Nelson Asofa-Solomona17Reimis Smith


History:
Played 41, Storm 20, Bulldogs 21

Last Meeting: Round 11, 2019: Storm 28 def. Bulldogs 6

Final Thoughts: The Melbourne Storm have lost Cameron Smith to injury, but replace him with a Kiwi international hooker in Brandon Smith. While Brandon is no Cameron, the Storm will do just fine in the dummy half department on Saturday. Especially against a Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs outfit that ranks 16th in scoring at 12.5 points per game.

The Bulldogs can give themselves a chance at victory through their effort in defence against most sides. Not the Storm, though. Craig Bellamy and his men don’t lose to bottom four teams and will be looking for their 21st consecutive win over teams in that portion of the NRL ladder in this one.

Ryan Papenhuyzen is another loss for the Storm, but Nicho Hynes is a first-grade quality replacement and will slot straight in. What Hynes lacks in pace compared with Papenhuyzen, he makes up for with his ball-playing ability. Melbourne is so well-drilled. They can plug and play anybody into a side without hassle. This makeshift lineup has too many points in them for the Bulldogs.

Tip: Handicap – Storm 13.5 @ $1.85

Newcastle Knights v Wests Tigers @ McDonald Jones Stadium
Saturday 8th August, 5:30pm

KnightsTigers
Kalyn Ponga1Adam Doueihi
Starford To’a2David Nofoaluma
Enari Tuala3Joseph Leilua
Gehamat Shibasaki4Tommy Talau
Hymel Hunt5Asu Kepaoa
Blake Green6Luke Brooks
Mitchell Pearce7Benji Marshall
David Klemmer8Josh Aloiai
Kurt Mann9Moses Mbye
Jacob Saifiti10Russell Packer
Lachlan Fitzgibbon11Luciano Leilua
Aidan Guerra12Sam McIntyre
Mitch Barnett13Matthew Eisenhuth
Phoenix Crossland14Thomas Mikaele
Josh King15Shawn Blore
Herman Ese’ese16Chris Lawrence
Brodie Jones17Billy Walters


History:
Played 29, Knights 14, Tigers 15

Last Meeting: Round 2, 2019: Knights 42 def. Tigers 24

Final Thoughts: Riddled with injuries, the Newcastle Knights have poached Blake Green from the Warriors. He moves straight into the halves with Kurt Mann shifting to hooker. With a handful of changes in the outside backs, cohesion looks a genuine issue for the Knights this week.

The same goes for the Wests Tigers who have lost both Harry Grant and Alex Twal for Saturday. While the return of Joey Leilua and Luke Brooks will help, they aren’t enough of a gain to make up for the absence of Grant and Twal.

As mentioned a couple of times already over the weeks, Wests attack isn’t as good as their 5th ranked 23.4 points per game says it is. They’ve beaten up some bad defensive teams to get their average up that high. Against good teams, on the other hand, their lack of creativity is exposed. While the Knights defence might not be at its best given the turnover in players, their principles remain. Expect a gritty home performance from the Knights after what Adam O’Brien called an “embarrassing” effort in their last at McDonald Jones Stadium.

Tip: Handicap – Knights -4.5 @ $1.95

Penrith Panthers v Canberra Raiders @ Panthers Stadium
Saturday 8th August, 7:35pm

PanthersRaiders
Caleb Aekins1Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
Josh Mansour2Jordan Rapana
Brent Naden3Jarrod Croker
Stephen Crichton4Curtis Scott
Malakai Watene-Zelezniak5Nick Cotric
Jarome Luai6Jack Wighton
Nathan Cleary7George Williams
James Tamou8Josh Papalii
Apisai Koroisau9Siliva Havili
James Fisher-Harris10Dunamis Lui
Viliame Kikau11John Bateman
Liam Martin12Elliott Whitehead
Isaah Yeo13Hudson Young
Tyrone May14Tom Starling
Spencer Leniu15Joseph Tapine
Moses Leota16Ryan Sutton
Zane Tetevano17Corey Harawira-Naera


History:
Played 44, Panthers 22, Raiders 22

Last Meeting: Round 19, 2019: Raiders 30 def. Panthers 18

Final Thoughts: What a ripper for the primetime slot on Saturday night. The top of the table Penrith Panthers host the 2019 beaten NRL grand finalist Raiders in a match that could well act as a finals preview.

The Panthers look every bit like the form team in the NRL right now. Their pack is elite, their outside backs know how to cash in on opportunities, and their key-playmakers are all in career-best form. Penrith is creeping up on the favourites in the Premiership Winner market to be on the fourth line of betting at $5. While the Raiders haven’t been near the top of the market since losing Josh Hodgson for the season (currently $13), they’re still a threat to the top teams on any given day. It was only three rounds ago that they beat the Roosters without Hodgson or the now-returned John Bateman.

Ricky Stuart knows how to get the best out of his side. He will manufacture a reason for the playing group to think everybody is against them ahead of this blockbuster clash. While their attack may struggle at times, the Raiders offer consistency in defence. Anticipating a lengthy arm-wrestle to start and fairly low-scoring affair overall, this shapes as a close one.

Tip: Tri-bet – Either team by 8 or less @ $2.10

Gold Coast Titans v North Queensland Cowboys @ Cbus Super Stadium
Sunday 9th August, 2:00pm

TitansCowboys
AJ Brimson1Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
Anthony Don2Kyle Feldt
Brian Kelly3Tom Opacic
Dale Copley4Connelly Lemuelu
Phillip Sami5Justin O’Neill
Ashley Taylor6Ben Hampton
Jamal Fogarty7Michael Morgan
Moeaki Fotuaika8Josh McGuire
Nathan Peats9Reece Robson
Jaimin Jolliffe10Jordan McLean
Kevin Proctor11Mitchell Dunn
Keegan Hipgrave12Coen Hess
Jai Arrow13Jason Taumalolo
Tanah Boyd14Jake Granville
Jarrod Wallace15Tom Gilbert
Tyrone Peachey16Emry Pere
Sam Lisone17Francis Molo


History:
Played 24, Titans 8, Cowboys 16

Last Meeting: Round 3, 2020: Cowboys 36 def. Titans 6

Final Thoughts: Gold Coast Titans v North Queensland Cowboys is the NRL’s version of a lottery this week. Neither side can be trusted while both have failed to name a consistent 17 for most of the season.

While the Titans have just one change (Sam Lisone in; Sam Stone out), it’s come after weeks of shuffling culminating in AJ Brimson’s return to fullback last week. The Cowboys, meanwhile, welcome back Michael Morgan but have have punted Jake Clifford out of the halves for Ben Hampton, Tom Opacic is back for Murray Tualagi, Josh McGuire returns from suspension and Jake Granville and Emry Pere crack the bench.

On paper, the Cowboys look the stronger side. Their middle is superior and the gaps they have in the 17 aren’t quite so big. They offer a lot more in attack, too. While the Titans have kept a handful of games closer than many expected recently, their attack remains one of the worst in the NRL. They’ve only scored 16 points twice since Round 4 and those were against the lowly Broncos and Warriors. Without a lot to work with in terms of form and consistency, North Queensland’s higher ceiling in attack is the biggest factor in this one.

Tip: Handicap – Cowboys -2.5 @ $1.93

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Parramatta Eels @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Sunday 9th August, 4:05pm

SharksEels
William Kennedy1Clinton Gutherson
Sione Katoa2Maika Sivo
Josh Dugan3Michael Jennings
Jesse Ramien4Waqa Blake
Ronaldo Mulitalo5Blake Ferguson
Matt Moylan6Dylan Brown
Shaun Johnson7Mitchell Moses
Braden Hamlin-Uele8Reagan Campbell-Gillard
Blayke Brailey9Reed Mahoney
Aaron Woods10Junior Paulo
Siosifa Talakai11Shaun Lane
Wade Graham12Marata Niukore
Toby Rudolf13Nathan Brown
Connor Tracey14Andrew Davey
Jack Williams15Ray Stone
Teig Wilton16Kane Evans
Royce Hunt17Oregon Kaufusi


History:
Played 34, Sharks 18, Eels 16

Last Meeting: Round 13, 2019: Sharks 42 def. Eels 22

Final Thoughts: The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks have quietly won six of their last seven games while averaging 33.4 points per game in that span. After so many wrote them off after a slow start to the NRL season, they’ve flown up the ladder to be 6th after 12 rounds. This week is a tougher challenge, though. The Parramatta Eels, despite not playing their best of late, still employ the best defence in the NRL conceding just 12.5 points per game. It’s allowed them to win five of their last six games while only scoring more than 20 points twice.

The form guides of the two sides align in a way that suggests a back and forth game on Sunday. Both can score points in a hurry with the lead likely to change numerous times over the 80 minutes. The Sharks offered yet another example of why the Game Saver token is so valuable when coming back to beat the Broncos last week. With their ability to score points but a tendency to allow plenty through themselves, I’m applying the Game Saver token to the Sharks this week.

Tip: Head-to-head – Sharks to win 1-12 @ $3.03