Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 16 matches, including his Game Saver play earmarked for Sunday.

Parramatta Eels v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ Bankwest Stadium
Thursday 27th August, 7:50pm

Clinton Gutherson1Latrell Mitchell
Maika Sivo2Corey Allan
Michael Jennings3Campbell Graham
Waqa Blake4Dane Gagai
Blake Ferguson5Jaxson Paulo
Dylan Brown6Cody Walker
Mitchell Moses7Adam Reynolds
Reagan Campbell-Gillard8Tevita Tatola
Reed Mahoney9Damien Cook
Junior Paulo10Thomas Burgess
Shaun Lane11Jaydn Su’a
Ryan Matterson12Bayley Sironen
Nathan Brown13Cameron Murray
Ray Stone14Mark Nicholls
Andrew Davey15Liam Knight
Kane Evans16Patrick Mago
Oregon Kaufusi17Keaon Koloamatangi

Played 32, Eels 17, Rabbitohs 14

Last Meeting: Round 12, 2019: Eels 26 def. Rabbitohs 14

Final Thoughts: The Parramatta Eels managed to get past an injury-ravaged Storm in Round 14, but it was hardly convincing. Sure, keeping any team to nill is something to celebrate. To only win 12-0 doesn’t do much for Parramatta’s form guide, though. The South Sydney Rabbitohs, on the other hand, played out a first-half that Wayne Bennett describes as one of the best he’s ever been part of. They destroyed the poor Sea Eagles on their way to a massive 56-16 win.

While the Bunnies have won four in a row, all four wins have come against bottom eight teams. Parramatta is a much bigger challenge for South Sydney. As those in Redfern perhaps read into the hot form too much while the rest claim it means nothing given the opposition, the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. The Souths pack is in excellent form and has the speed to combat Parramatta’s brute strength. Meanwhile, the Eels attack hasn’t been firing all that well recently. It’s not produced consistently against Top 8 teams all season. With what we’ve seen out of the Rabbitohs – down the left edge, in particular – they have enough points in them to keep close to the Eels this week.

Tip: Handicap – Rabbitohs +6 @ $1.90

St. George-Illawarra Dragons v Gold Coast Titans @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Friday 28th August, 6:00pm

Matthew Dufty1AJ Brimson
Jordan Pereira2Corey Thompson
Euan Aitken3Brian Kelly
Zac Lomax4Young Tonumaipea
Mikaele Ravalawa5Phillip Sami
Corey Norman6Ashley Taylor
Adam Clune7Jamal Fogarty
Blake Lawrie8Jarrod Wallace
Ben Hunt9Mitch Rein
Josh Kerr10Jaimin Jolliffe
Tyson Frizell11Sam Stone
Jacob Host12Beau Fermor
Cameron McInnes13Tyrone Peachey
Kaide Ellis14Erin Clark
Trent Merrin15Sam Lisone
Jackson Ford16Keegan Hipgrave
Billy Brittain17Jai Whitbread

Played 23, Dragons 16, Titans 7

Last Meeting: Round 6, 2020: Dragons 20 def. Titans 8

Final Thoughts: The St. George-Illawarra Dragons looked great last week, before they didn’t. After flying out to an early lead, the Dragons barely held on to beat the battling Broncos 28-24. They fell asleep and gave a struggling side a chance to right their wrongs. This week may be similar. The Gold Coast Titans are much improved despite sitting at the bottom of the NRL ladder, losing four of their last five and never looking comfortable in their 36-16 loss to the Raiders last week. They’ll carry the same desperation for victory the Broncos did into this one. The Dragons can’t afford to switch off again.

Paul Vaughan is a big loss for the Dragons. However, Moeaki Fotuaika is a bigger out for the Titans. With Jai Arrow also unavailable, the pressure falls on Jarrod Wallace and Jaimin Jolliffe. Tyrone Peachey starting in the middle of the field doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence either. Ash Taylor’s return to the halves does, though. He’s beginning to find the sort of form that saw him sign his monster deal, and while the Titans defence may be one of the worst in the NRL, Taylor keeps their attack competitive. How he links up with AJ Brimson will have a significant impact on the final result.

The Dragons deserve to be favourites given their recent run of form. They’re difficult to trust, though. It’s a game that can go either way and one that should finish with a single-digit winner.

Tip: Tri Bet – Either Team by 10 or Less @ $2.10

Sydney Roosters v Brisbane Broncos @ Sydney Cricket Ground
Friday 28th August, 7:55pm

James Tedesco1Darius Boyd
Daniel Tupou2Richie Kennar
Josh Morris3Kotoni Staggs
Joseph Manu4Jordan Kahu
Brett Morris5Herbie Farnworth
Drew Hutchison6Sean O’Sullivan
Kyle Flanagan7Tom Dearden
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves8Joe Ofahengaue
Jake Friend9Cory Paix
Siosiua Taukeiaho10Rhys Kennedy
Boyd Cordner11David Fifita
Sitili Tupouniua12Ben Te’o
Isaac Liu13Patrick Carrigan
Freddy Lussick14Brodie Croft
Poasa Faamausili15Jordan Riki
Nat Butcher16Ethan Bullemor
Lindsay Collins17Jamil Hopoate

Played 41, Roosters 19, Broncos 22

Last Meeting: Round 4, 2020: Roosters 59 def. Broncos 0

Final Thoughts: The Brisbane Broncos offered some hope in coming back to fall just short in losing to the Dragons last week. It appears as though they may have hit rock bottom and can start to build back up. However, if there is one team you don’t want to play when stepping on the first rung of the ladder to relevance, it’s the Sydney Roosters. They’re relentless when at their best. The Broncos know that better than anybody after losing 59-0 to the tricolours in Round 4.

It’s not the best Roosters team right now, but they’ll receive a boost with Boyd Cordner and Daniel Tupou both named to return. The Broncos, meanwhile, have lost Anthony Milford to injury with Sean O’Sullivan named to start ahead of Brodie Croft who will come off the bench.

We’ve only seen seven favourites kick off with more than a 20-point headstart in the last four seasons. The favourites covered on three occasions. Just once has their been a line as high as Sydney’s -25.5 which the Raiders failed to cover against the Knights in 2016 (Brisbane’s closes rival to the worst team in NRL history tag right now). With the slight improvements over the last week and Anthony Seibold’s inevitable sacking now off their shoulders, the Broncos deserve a look at the line here.

Tip: Handicap – Broncos +25.5 @ $1.90

New Zealand Warriors v Newcastle Knights @ Scully Park
Saturday 29th August, 3:00pm

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck1Kalyn Ponga
Adam Pompey2Starford To’a
Hayze Perham3Enari Tuala
Peta Hiku4Gehamat Shibasaki
George Jennings5Hymel Hunt
Kodi Nikorima6Mason Lino
Chanel Harris-Tavita7Mitchell Pearce
Jamayne Taunoa-Brown8David Klemmer
Karl Lawton9Kurt Mann
Lachlan Burr10Jacob Saifiti
Eliesa Katoa11Lachlan Fitzgibbon
Tohu Harris12Aidan Guerra
Jazz Tevaga13Mitch Barnett
Wayde Egan14Phoenix Crossland
Adam Blair15Herman Ese’ese
Daniel Alvaro16Josh King
Jack Murchie17Pasami Saulo

Played 40, Warriors 21, Knights 18

Last Meeting: Round 1, 2020: Knights 20 def. Warriors 0

Final Thoughts: The New Zealand Warriors continue to fight through the 2020 NRL season with the much-anticipated crumble not yet eventuating. Despite everything the club is dealing with, they won their sixth game of the season in Round 15 and even have a sniff of the finals with five rounds to play. The Newcastle Knights are dealing with their own issues. The latest: Blake Green is out for the season with an ACL injury. Mason Lino replaces the erstwhile Warrior to play his first game in 2020.

Just as the Knights attack looked to fire, another change to the spine slows them down. The Warriors have shown enough defensively over the last five weeks to suggest they can keep a lid on this disjointed attack too. They’ve conceded just 18.4 points per game since Round 11 including keeping the Panthers and Roosters to 18 points each.

We’ve put our trust in the Warriors for two weeks in a row. Now, we’re making it a third. What they lack in talent at the moment, they’re making up for it with their effort in defence. After seeing the Knights struggle to break down the Cowboys despite a mountain of possession, the Kiwi club will make them work hard for points.

Tip: Handicap – Warriors +5.5 @ $1.95

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v North Queensland Cowboys @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Saturday 29th August, 5:30pm

William Kennedy1Scott Drinkwater
Sione Katoa2Kyle Feldt
Josh Dugan3Justin O’Neill
Jesse Ramien4Murray Taulagi
Ronaldo Mulitalo5Valentine Holmes
Connor Tracey6Daejarn Asi
Shaun Johnson7Michael Morgan
Braden Hamlin-Uele8Francis Molo
Blayke Brailey9Reuben Cotter
Aaron Woods10Jordan McLean
Briton Nikora11Mitchell Dunn
Wade Graham12Coen Hess
Toby Rudolf13Josh McGuire
Siosifa Talakai14Jake Granville
Scott Sorensen15John Asiata
Jack Williams16Tom Gilbert
Royce Hunt17Corey Jensen

Played 45, Sharks 28, Cowboys 17

Last Meeting: Round 4, 2020: Sharks 26 def. Cowboys 16

Final Thoughts: The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks haven’t been asked to play many Top 8 teams this season. It’s just as well given they’re yet to beat one in 2020. However, they win the games they’re expected to and put the bottom eight teams away more often than not. Perhaps the most out of form team of the lot, the North Queensland Cowboys are out to end an eight-game losing streak on Saturday.

The 12-0 final scoreline against the Knights in Round 15 flatters the Cowboys. In a nutshell: The Knights were awful in attack and the Cowboys were even worse. Despite their struggles against top sides, scoring points has never been an issue for the Sharks who average 24.9 points per game in 2020 (3rd in the NRL). Shaun Johnson is back after a week off and will be better for the rest too.

We’ve not seen enough out of the Cowboys to be confident in a turnaround any time soon. Valentine Holmes is a handy addition, but he doesn’t help their defence and can only have a limited impact out on the wing of a poor attack. It’s up to Michael Morgan to inspire an improvement. He will have his work cut out for him while working beside a rookie five-eighth. Sharks by plenty.

Tip: Margin – Sharks 13+ @ $2.10

Penrith Panthers v Wests Tigers @ Panthers Stadium
Saturday 29th August, 7:35pm

Dylan Edwards1Adam Doueihi
Josh Mansour2David Nofoaluma
Brent Naden3Joseph Leilua
Stephen Crichton4Moses Mbye
Brian To’o5Tommy Talau
Jarome Luai6Luke Brooks
Nathan Cleary7Benji Marshall
James Tamou8Josh Aloiai
Mitchell Kenny9Harry Grant
Moses Leota10Thomas Mikaele
Isaah Yeo11Luke Garner
Liam Martin12Luciano Leilua
James Fisher-Harris13Alex Twal
Tyrone May14Matthew Eisenhuth
Spencer Leniu15Elijah Taylor
Billy Burns16Jacob Liddle
Zane Tetevano17Shawn Blore

Played 35, Panthers 22, Tigers 13

Last Meeting: Round 8, 2020: Panthers 19 def. Tigers 12

Final Thoughts: The Penrith Panthers made it 10 wins in a row last week. Meanwhile, the Wests Tigers offered little resistance in their 38-16 loss to the Roosters. For the Panthers, they’re the form team of the competition and have planted themselves well and truly inside the premiership conversation. The Tigers, on the other hand, are all but set to extend the longest finals drought in the NRL another 12 months.

Wests do have a chance this week, though. With Viliame Kikau and Api Koroisau out, the Panthers are without two of their best weapons in attack. It’s forced a reshuffle which may further limit Penrith’s attack. While James Fisher-Harris (lock) and Isaah Yeo (back row) will play well in their positions in isolation, the switch will force an adjustment in how the Panthers move the ball. One of their biggest strength’s this season is how quickly they can shift the ball thanks to the ball-players they have in the middle.

The return of Harry Grant and Alex Twal give Wests a boost too. There is little doubt that Grant has a significant influence on the Tigers attack – too much, it turns out. He gives them a different look while Twal improves their middle defence just by being there. In a round filled with heavy favourites, the Game Saver token is best used on an underdog. The Tigers present as an appealing roughie that can at least push the Panthers close through to the 60th minute.

Tip: Head-to-head – Tigers to win @ $5.30

Melbourne Storm v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles @ Sunshine Coast Stadium
Sunday 30th August, 4:05pm

StormSea Eagles
Ryan Papenhuyzen1Tevita Funa
Marion Seve2Jorge Taufua
Brenko Lee3Brad Parker
Justin Olam4Jack Gosiewski
Josh Addo-Carr5Reuben Garrick
Cameron Munster6Cade Cust
Jahrome Hughes7Daly Cherry-Evans
Jesse Bromwich8Addin Fonua-Blake
Cameron Smith9Danny Levi
Christian Welch10Martin Taupau
Felise Kaufusi11Joel Thompson
Tom Eisenhuth12Curtis Sironen
Nelson Asofa-Solomona13Jake Trbojevic
Nicho Hynes14Lachlan Croker
Tino Fa’asuamaleaui15Corey Waddell
Sandor Earl16Sean Keppie
Darryn Schonig17Taniela Paseka

Played 37, Storm 21, Sea Eagles 15

Last Meeting: Round 1, 2020: Storm 18 def. Sea Eagles 4

Final Thoughts: Put a line through the Melbourne Storm’s loss to the Eels last week. That wasn’t the side that is sitting 2nd on the NRL ladder and pushing for the premiership. The 17 named this week is close, though. While Brandon Smith and Kenny Bromwich are out, Cameron Smith, Cameron Munster, Jahrome Hughes and Jesse Bromwich have all been named to return on Sunday. It’s a worrying sign for a Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles team that sends somebody to the physio’s room every game at the moment. They just can’t stay healthy and it’s stopped what should have been a Top 8 side this season from getting anywhere close. Their 56-16 loss to the Rabbitohs last week and the injuries they’re dealing with all but ends Manly’s hopes of playing finals football.

Melbourne, on the other hand, will begin their climb towards October this week. With the team starting to get healthy and Craig Bellamy a master at timing their run, expect this week to be when the Storm start to put their foot down. They’ll be desperate to push their 14-0 loss to the Eels in Round 15 from their minds too. Smith, Munster and Hughes produced some scintillating form before being split up due to injury. The Sea Eagles defence will struggle to contain the Storm trio on Sunday.

Tip: Handicap – Storm -12.5 @ $1.93

Canberra Raiders v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs @ GIO Stadium
Sunday 30th August, 6:30pm

Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad1Will Hopoate
Jordan Rapana2Nick Meaney
Jarrod Croker3Marcelo Montoya
Curtis Scott4Kerrod Holland
Nick Cotric5Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
Jack Wighton6Kieran Foran
George Williams7Lachlan Lewis
Josh Papalii8Ofahiki Ogden
Siliva Havili9Jeremy Marshall-King
Dunamis Lui10Dylan Napa
John Bateman11Josh Jackson
Elliott Whitehead12Raymond Faitala-Mariner
Hudson Young13Aiden Tolman
Tom Starling14Sione Katoa
Joseph Tapine15Renouf To’omaga
Ryan Sutton16Dean Britt
Matthew Timoko17Matt Doorey

Played 36, Raiders 18, Bulldogs 18

Last Meeting: Round 12, 2019: Raiders 12 def. Bulldogs 10

Final Thoughts: The Canberra Raiders feel about where the should be at the moment. They’re 5th on the NRL ladder and have just convincingly beaten the Titans. While Canberra might not be up there with the four premiership contenders, they’re certainly the best of the rest through 15 rounds. The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs may be 16th, but they aren’t the worst side in the competition (that’s the Broncos). However, their 17 named this week is one of the least-inspiring sides in recent memory.

Harsh? Maybe so. But with Tim Lafai, Reimis Smith and Jake Averillo all out of the side, the Bulldogs are without three of their better-attacking players. Lachlan Lewis moving into the halves won’t help that given his limited ability with the ball in hand. Shifting Luke Thompson to the reserves is unlikely to fix anything either. It looks as though Steve Georgallis is getting a bit cute with this line-up. The Tigers have proven that relentlessly dropping players doesn’t always translate into a sudden turnaround. Rather than building cohesion and getting the most out of his best 17, he’s blown it up as they prepare to play one of the most consistent teams in the NRL. Like we’ve seen with the Tigers once or twice this season, it’s more than likely it all blows up in Georgallis’ face.

Tip: Winning Margin – Raiders 21-25 @ $10