Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 14 matches, including his Game Saver play earmarked for Sunday.

Parramatta Eels v Melbourne Storm @ Suncorp Stadium
Thursday 20th August, 7:50pm

EelsStorm
Clinton Gutherson1Ryan Papenhuyzen
Maika Sivo2Sandor Earl
Michael Jennings3Brenko Lee
Waqa Blake4Justin Olam
Blake Ferguson5Josh Addo-Carr
Dylan Brown6Ryley Jacks
Mitchell Moses7Jahrome Hughes
Reagan Campbell-Gillard8Jesse Bromwich
Reed Mahoney9Brandon Smith
Junior Paulo10Christian Welch
Shaun Lane11Felise Kaufusi
Ryan Matterson12Kenneath Bromwich
Nathan Brown13Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
Ray Stone14Nicho Hynes
Marata Niukore15Tom Eisenhuth
Kane Evans16Albert Vete
Oregon Kaufusi17Nelson Asofa-Solomona


History:
Played 36, Eels 13, Storm 23

Last Meeting: Finals Week 2, 2019: Storm 32 def. Eels 0

Final Thoughts: The Parramatta Eels and Melbourne Storm come into Round 15 from very different angles. The Eels fell 14-12 to a lacklustre Dragons side last week and looked a shadow of the team that is apparently contending for the premiership. Meanwhile, a Craig Bellamy clinic saw the Storm handle the defending premiers comfortably to win 24-6 without Cameron Smith and Cameron Munster. This week, they’re without Dale Finucane, Suliasi Vunivalu and possibly Jahrome Hughes.

While overrated for much of the season so far, the Eels are a top four side. They’ve not been able to prove it for the most part given their favourable schedule. Afforded the luxury of naming the same 17 this week as well, they’ve not had to deal with the injury issues many other NRL clubs have faced in 2020. This should be where we start to see the benefit. Melbourne will be prepared. Bellamy will have a plan to at least have his side competitive. However, the cohesion and overall ability of a handy Eels side looks a step too far for the injury-ravaged Storm.

Tip: Handicap – Eels -4.5 @ $2

Penrith Panthers v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks @ GIO Stadium
Friday 21st August, 6:00pm

PanthersSharks
Dylan Edwards1William Kennedy
Josh Mansour2Sione Katoa
Tyrone May3Josh Dugan
Stephen Crichton4Jesse Ramien
Brent Naden5Ronaldo Mulitalo
Jarome Luai6Matt Moylan
Nathan Cleary7Shaun Johnson
James Tamou8Braden Hamlin-Uele
Apisai Koroisau9Blayke Brailey
James Fisher-Harris10Aaron Woods
Viliame Kikau11Siosifa Talakai
Liam Martin12Wade Graham
Isaah Yeo13Toby Rudolf
Daine Laurie14Connor Tracey
Spencer Leniu15Scott Sorensen
Moses Leota16Jack Williams
Zane Tetevano17Royce Hunt


History:
Played 38, Panthers 15, Sharks 22

Last Meeting: Round 9, 2020: Panthers 56 def. Sharks 24

Final Thoughts: Sometimes, great teams have bad games. That’s the case for the Penrith Panthers in Round 14. While the Warriors were excellent defensively, the 18-12 performance was far from the Panthers best. Meanwhile, the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks did what they needed to do in getting past the Titans 30-18. It’s yet another game the Sharks played against a bottom eight team, though. This is a different challenge.

In the Panthers and Sharks, we’ve got two of the best attacking teams in the NRL. Penrith’s left edge is always a talking point and remains as such despite a relatively quiet last fortnight. For the Sharks, Shaun Johnson’s right side is once again the best in the competition with the Kiwi international leading the NRL in try assists for 2020. Scoring points is unlikely to be a problem for either side. It’s on the defensive end that this one will be decided. Just as it was in Round 9 when the Panthers hung 54 points on the Sharks, the expectation is for the home side to show their superiority without the ball in their hands.

Tip: Total Points – Over 43.5 @ $1.90

Brisbane Broncos v St. George-Illawarra Dragons @ Suncorp Stadium
Friday 21st August, 7:55pm

BroncosDragons
Darius Boyd1Matthew Dufty
Richie Kennar2Jordan Pereira
Kotoni Staggs3Euan Aitken
Jordan Kahu4Zac Lomax
Herbie Farnworth5Mikaele Ravalawa
Anthony Milford6Corey Norman
Tom Dearden7Adam Clune
Joe Ofahengaue8Blake Lawrie
Issac Luke9Ben Hunt
Rhys Kennedy10Josh Kerr
David Fifita11Tyson Frizell
Ben Te’o12Tyrell Fuimaono
Patrick Carrigan13Cameron McInnes
Cory Paix14Jacob Host
Jordan Riki15Kaide Ellis
Ethan Bullemor16Korbin Sims
Jamil Hopoate17Paul Vaughan


History:
Played 40, Broncos 23, Dragons 17

Last Meeting: Round 3, 2019: Dragons 25 def. Broncos 24

Final Thoughts: What a difference a year can make. The Brisbane Broncos had the best young pack in the NRL when these two teams last met. Now, most of that young pack is either injured, sacked, leaving next season, or a combination of the lot. Corey Norman kicked a field goal to beat the Broncos 25-24 in Round 3 last season. It triggered a purple patch that saw him selected for State of Origin while the St. George-Illawarra Dragons threatened to be a finals side. A 15th-placed finish and a sacked coach later, they’re once again on the outside looking in at the Top 8.

Both teams are a shambles, but the Dragons look best positioned to get out of it. They showed plenty of fight in beating the Eels last week – something the Broncos haven’t displayed for weeks. Ben Hunt looks excellent at hooker with the spine – plus Cameron McInnes at lock – finally settling on a productive rotation. The Broncos, on the other hand, can’t send anything close to their best 17 onto the field at the moment. Their list of injured and suspended players would start as favourites against the group named for Friday night.

While the +9.5 is appealing, the Broncos haven’t shown us anything to justify taking it this week. As touched on in the ‘Bunker Review‘ on Monday: “They’re due” and “they’ll surely turn it around soon” aren’t reasons to invest in this rabble. Given the Dragons aren’t entirely trustworthy either, we look to the try scorers. Kotoni Staggs is an option himself, but it’s his defensive struggles that we’re taking advantage of this week.

Tip: Anytime try scorer – Euan Aitken

Gold Coast Titans v Canberra Raiders @ Cbus Super Stadium
Saturday 22nd August, 3:00pm

TitansRaiders
AJ Brimson1Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
Anthony Don2Jordan Rapana
Brian Kelly3Jarrod Croker
Young Tonumaipea4Curtis Scott
Phillip Sami5Nick Cotric
Ashley Taylor6Jack Wighton
Jamal Fogarty7George Williams
Jarrod Wallace8Josh Papalii
Nathan Peats9Siliva Havili
Jaimin Jolliffe10Dunamis Lui
Kevin Proctor11John Bateman
Keegan Hipgrave12Elliott Whitehead
Moeaki Fotuaika13Hudson Young
Tyrone Peachey14Tom Starling
Sam Lisone15Joseph Tapine
Beau Fermor16Ryan Sutton
Sam Stone17Corey Harawira-Naera


History:
Played 24, Titans 12, Raiders 12

Last Meeting: Round 1, 2020: Raiders 24 def. Titans 6

Final Thoughts: Silly errors and an overall lack of defensive cohesion continues to hurt the Gold Coast Titans as they fall away in games they threaten to keep close. Round 14 offered another example with the Titans conceding 30 points while making 14 errors in their loss to the Sharks. Kevin Proctor being sent off didn’t help either; he has since been suspended. The Canberra Raiders had no such problems against the Broncos last week. Doing it easy to win 36-8, the 80 minutes acted as a training session for the Green Machine more than anything else. They will face more resistance against the Titans on Saturday.

While the Titans backline looks better on paper, they’ve not played a lot of football beside each other. Proctor’s suspension will cause another reshuffle to the backrow which will further impact the Titans edge defence. It’s an area the Raiders will look to expose with John Bateman causing havoc down the right and Jack Wighton commanding the left edge. They are attacking weapons the Titans don’t only not have themselves, but will struggle to contain for the full 80 minutes. Anticipate an early arm-wrestle from the Titans but for the Raiders to pull away in the end.

Tip: Halftime Handicap – Titans +5.5 @ $2

Wests Tigers v Sydney Roosters @ Leichhardt Oval
Saturday 22nd August, 5:30pm

TigersRoosters
Adam Doueihi1James Tedesco
David Nofoaluma2Matt Ikuvalu
Joseph Leilua3Josh Morris
Moses Mbye4Joseph Manu
Tommy Talau5Brett Morris
Luke Brooks6Drew Hutchison
Benji Marshall7Kyle Flanagan
Josh Aloiai8Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
Jacob Liddle9Jake Friend
Russell Packer10Siosiua Taukeiaho
Luke Garner11Sitili Tupouniua
Luciano Leilua12Nat Butcher
Matthew Eisenhuth13Isaac Liu
Sam McIntyre14Freddy Lussick
Elijah Taylor15Poasa Faamausili
Josh Reynolds16Daniel Suluka-Fifita
Alex Seyfarth17Lindsay Collins


History:
Played 34, Tigers 9, Roosters 25

Last Meeting: Round 16, 2019: Roosters 24 def. Tigers 16

Final Thoughts: The Wests Tigers must continue their winning ways if they’re to be a chance at cracking the Top 8. They’ll need a big improvement on their Round 14 effort, though. Sneaking past the 16th-placed Bulldogs doesn’t set you up very well for a game against the defending premiers. In fact, the Tigers were lucky to sneak past at all with the Bulldogs blowing their own chances to take the victory. While the Roosters come into this one off a rare loss, we can point to injuries – both before and during the match – as a reason for their lacklustre performance. Luke Keary misses this one, but Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is a big in along with Brett Morris.

An inconsistent side that can go through exceptionally poor periods in attack against any above-average NRL defences, the Tigers look set to struggle in this one. The Roosters, on the other hand, will find points in Round 15. Wests won’t offer the resistance or surprise them with the ambush that Melbourne did in Round 14. While dealing with injuries and a downturn in form, the Roosters should start to build into the finals from here despite Keary being unavailable.

Tip: Handicap – Roosters -7.5 @ $1.93

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles @ ANZ Stadium
Saturday 22nd August, 7:35pm

RabbitohsSea Eagles
Latrell Mitchell1Reuben Garrick
Alex Johnston2Jorge Taufua
Campbell Graham3Brad Parker
Dane Gagai4Moses Suli
Jaxson Paulo5Tevita Funa
Cody Walker6Cade Cust
Adam Reynolds7Daly Cherry-Evans
Tevita Tatola8Taniela Paseka
Damien Cook9Danny Levi
Thomas Burgess10Martin Taupau
Jaydn Su’a11Joel Thompson
Bayley Sironen12Curtis Sironen
Cameron Murray13Jake Trbojevic
Mark Nicholls14Lachlan Croker
Keaon Koloamatangi15Corey Waddell
Patrick Mago16Sean Keppie
Jack Johns17Haumole Olakau’atu


History:
Played 38, Rabbitohs 17, Sea Eagles 21

Last Meeting: Finals Week 2, 2019: Rabbitohs 34 def. Sea Eagles 26

Final Thoughts: The South Sydney Rabbitohs are quietly putting things together. They’ve won three games in a row scoring 32, 28 and 31 points. However, the quality of opposition hasn’t been high. While we can’t get too excited about their form guide, South Sydney have a prime opportunity to make it four in a row against a struggling Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles outfit.

Manly’s 26-24 loss to the Knights in Round 14 wasn’t through a lack of effort or intent. The game was there to be won. Injuries once again played a big role in their eventual defeat and they’ll translate through to Round 15 as well. Marty Taupau has been named to return, but Brendan Elliot is the latest player to lose the rest of his season to injury.

South Sydney haven’t been great in 2020, but they’re trending the right way. The same can’t be said for Manly. Injuries continue to stop any progress this group threatens to make. That is likely to continue this week. With the Rabbitohs attack starting to fire and possibly presented with the chance to move six spots ahead of those chasing the Top 8, this shapes as a game that will go the way most expect.

Tip: Highest Scoring Half – Second Half @ $1.83

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v New Zealand Warriors @ ANZ Stadium
Sunday 23rd August, 2:00pm

BulldogsWarriors
Will Hopoate1Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
Nick Meaney2Adam Pompey
Tim Lafai3Hayze Perham
Kerrod Holland4Peta Hiku
Reimis Smith5George Jennings
Kieran Foran6Kodi Nikorima
Jack Cogger7Chanel Harris-Tavita
Ofahiki Ogden8Jamayne Taunoa-Brown
Jeremy Marshall-King9Karl Lawton
Aiden Tolman10Lachlan Burr
Matt Doorey11Isaiah Papali’i
Raymond Faitala-Mariner12Tohu Harris
Josh Jackson13Jazz Tevaga
Sione Katoa14Wayde Egan
Luke Thompson15Adam Blair
Sauaso Sue16Daniel Alvaro
Jake Averillo17Jack Murchie


History:
Played 34, Bulldogs 18, Warriors 14

Last Meeting: Round 1, 2019: Warriors 40 def. Bulldogs 6

Final Thoughts: Both the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and New Zealand Warriors will have this game circled as must-win. The Bulldogs need to pick up a win or two if they’re to avoid the wooden spoon and this presents as one of their best opportunities. Meanwhile, the Warriors are looking to avoid the unwanted culinary tool with a win here all but securing their spot above 16th on the NRL ladder at the end of Round 20.

The two sides come into Sunday following Round 14 losses, but both will be encouraged by their performances. Canterbury should have picked up their third win of the season last week. A lack of execution late in the piece allowed Luke Brooks to slot the match-winner after Jack Cogger missed two chances of his own. Perhaps more impressive, the Warriors pushed the Panthers to the brink despite every number going against them. Their defensive effort gives hope to another promising display in this one.

The Warriors are deserving favourites. If nothing else, their attack at least boasts names that are capable of breaking a game open even if they haven’t displayed as much recently. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, are very limited with the ball in hand. If it isn’t going through Kieran Foran, the Dogs struggle to threaten. The Warriors are becoming more trustworthy and should get the job done here, but they’re a perfect candidate for the Game Saver token given their history.

Tip: Head-to-head – Warriors @ $1.90

Newcastle Knights v North Queensland Cowboys @ McDonald Jones Stadium
Sunday 23rd August, 4:05pm

KnightsCowboys
Kalyn Ponga1Scott Drinkwater
Starford To’a2Kyle Feldt
Enari Tuala3Tom Opacic
Gehamat Shibasaki4Connelly Lemuelu
Hymel Hunt5Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
Blake Green6Ben Hampton
Mitchell Pearce7Michael Morgan
David Klemmer8Josh McGuire
Kurt Mann9Reece Robson
Jacob Saifiti10Jordan McLean
Lachlan Fitzgibbon11Mitchell Dunn
Aidan Guerra12Coen Hess
Mitch Barnett13Jason Taumalolo
Phoenix Crossland14Reuben Cotter
Herman Ese’ese15John Asiata
Josh King16Emry Pere
Pasami Saulo17Francis Molo


History:
Played 37, Knights 19, Cowboys 18

Last Meeting: Round 7, 2020: Cowboys 32 def. Knights 20

Final Thoughts: Had Kyle Feldt knocked over the goals he should have in Round 14, the North Queensland Cowboys would be turning up to McDonald Jones Stadium on the back of a win. Instead, they’re looking to snap a seven-game losing streak. The Cowboys last win came against the Newcastle Knights in Round 7, but they’ve barely thrown a punch since. Meanwhile, the Knights have done enough to tread water and keep their place in the Top 8 despite not playing their best football. Round 14’s win over the Sea Eagles sums them up as the Knights worked their way out of poor periods to bounce back and claim the 26-24 win.

Blake Green is looking more comfortable in the halves. Newcastle’s attack isn’t the problem. It’s the soft efforts they produced in defence that allowed the Sea Eagles into the game early, and it’s those soft efforts that Adam O’Brien will be desperate to stamp out on Sunday. The Cowboys are the second-worst defensive team in the NRL conceding 26.7 points per game. If the Knights hold up in defence and remain patient in attack, they should win comfortably.

Tip: Handicap – Knights -8.5 @ $1.90