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 Friday.

Brisbane Broncos v Penrith Panthers @ Suncorp Stadium
Thursday 3rd September, 7:50pm

Darius Boyd1Dylan Edwards
Corey Oates2Josh Mansour
Kotoni Staggs3Brent Naden
Herbie Farnworth4Stephen Crichton
Richie Kennar5Brian To’o
Sean O’Sullivan6Jarome Luai
Tom Dearden7Nathan Cleary
Payne Haas8James Tamou
Issac Luke9Mitchell Kenny
Rhys Kennedy10Moses Leota
David Fifita11Viliame Kikau
Ben Te’o12Liam Martin
Patrick Carrigan13James Fisher-Harris
Cory Paix14Tyrone May
Jordan Riki15Spencer Leniu
Ethan Bullemor16Kurt Capewell
Jamil Hopoate17Zane Tetevano

Played 36, Broncos 23, Panthers 12

Last Meeting: Round 22, 2019: Broncos 24 def. Panthers 12

Final Thoughts: Well, the bounce back many anticipated after the Brisbane Broncos sacked Anthony Seibold never happened. They were well-handled by the Roosters in the end last week. It doesn’t get any easier this week either. The Penrith Panthers are flying into this one on an 11-game winning streak. They’ve barely been tested. Despite spending time without Viliame Kikau and Api Koroisau in that time, the Panthers have cast aside every opposition team put in front of them. There is little to suggest this week will be any different.

Payne Haas, Issac Luke and Corey Oates all return to provide the Broncos with a boost. However, the return of Kikau and the expected inclusion of Koroisau (named as 18th man) somewhat cancel out Brisbane’s new faces.

The Broncos don’t lack talent. On paper, they should still be able to score points on any side in the competition. Their issues remain in defence with soft tries being scored through them all too regularly. As mentioned last week, underdogs have been the way to go with a 20-point handicap over the last four seasons. We’re siding with the trend again on Thursday night.

Tip: Handicap – Broncos +22.5 @ $1.90

Newcastle Knights v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks @ McDonald Jones Stadium
Friday 4th September, 6:00pm

Kalyn Ponga1William Kennedy
Starford To’a2Sione Katoa
Enari Tuala3Josh Dugan
Gehamat Shibasaki4Jesse Ramien
Hymel Hunt5Ronaldo Mulitalo
Mason Lino6Braydon Trindall
Mitchell Pearce7Chad Townsend
David Klemmer8Braden Hamlin-Uele
Kurt Mann9Blayke Brailey
Jacob Saifiti10Aaron Woods
Lachlan Fitzgibbon11Briton Nikora
Aidan Guerra12Wade Graham
Mitch Barnett13Toby Rudolf
Phoenix Crossland14Connor Tracey
Herman Ese’ese15Scott Sorensen
Josh King16Siosifa Talakai
Brodie Jones17Royce Hunt

Played 39, Knights 21, Sharks 18

Last Meeting: Round 1, 2019: Knights 14 def. Sharks 8

Final Thoughts: Embarrassed by the Warriors last week, the pressure is on the Newcastle Knights to bounce back on Friday evening. They’re a side many expected to compete with the top sides in the NRL. However, right now, they look a couple of steps behind the six teams above them on the ladder. Meanwhile, the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks are yet to beat a side above them on the ladder at all this season. This is their best chance at a Top 8 scalp, but the absence of Shaun Johnson makes that a little more difficult.

Newcastle’s 36-6 loss last week is one of the worst of any team this season. Their attack never looked like firing while a poor defence only got worse as the game wore on. Adam O’Brien says the right things, but his team isn’t responding. They’ll need to clean things up if they’re to keep a lid on the Sharks this week. Even without Johnson, Cronulla are dangerous in attack. Braydon Trindall is an excellent young prospect and already proving tough to handle.

With both sides relatively even across the park, the key playmaking positions grow in importance. Neither are at full strength. While Trindall is playing well and Chad Townsend returns this week, Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce ensure it’s advantage Knights in the spine department. Following back-to-back weeks of blowouts and no use for the Game Saver token, this looks like the game to use it in Round 17.

Tip: Head-to-head – Knights to win @ $1.85

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Melbourne Storm @ ANZ Stadium
Friday 4th September, 7:55pm

Alex Johnston1Ryan Papenhuyzen
Corey Allan2Isaac Lumelume
Campbell Graham3Brenko Lee
Dane Gagai4Justin Olam
Jaxson Paulo5Josh Addo-Carr
Cody Walker6Cameron Munster
Adam Reynolds7Jahrome Hughes
Tevita Tatola8Jesse Bromwich
Damien Cook9Cameron Smith
Thomas Burgess10Christian Welch
Jaydn Su’a11Felise Kaufusi
Bayley Sironen12Chris Lewis
Cameron Murray13Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
Mark Nicholls14Nicho Hynes
Liam Knight15Ryley Jacks
Patrick Mago16Albert Vete
Keaon Koloamatangi17Darryn Schonig

Played 32, Rabbitohs 5, Storm 27

Last Meeting: Round 4, 2020: Storm 22 def. Rabbitohs 8

Final Thoughts: The South Sydney Rabbitohs won their fifth game in a row last week in thrashing the pants off the Eels. However, Round 16 ended bittersweet with Latrell Mitchell ruled out for the rest of the season. Alex Johnston replaces Mitchell this week. Souths can be a good team without Mitchell at fullback, but not a great one. His absence greatly reduces the threat of South Sydney’s edges while attacking their goal line and working through the centre-third of the field. Meanwhile, the Melbourne Storm continues to go about their business. Getting past the Sea Eagles with relative ease in Round 16, they’re dealing with the injuries that continue to arise while building themselves into finals form.

Melbourne’s injuries in the middle of the field even things up make for an exciting battle this week. South Sydney’s pack has come along nicely over the last month as Tevita Tatola and Thomas Burgess get the ball rolling to start before Mark Nicholls, Liam Knight, Patrick Mago and Keaon Koloamatangi pack some punch off the bench. Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker are thriving behind the stable middle while Damien Cook has recaptured his form behind the ruck.

With two of the great coaches going head-to-head, we can expect a tactical battle. Craig Bellamy will work to slow down the Rabbitohs middle while Wayne Bennett will have a plan for the Storm’s blistering attack. This shapes as a close one and probable Match of the Round.

Tip: Tri Bet – Either Team by 10 or Less

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Gold Coast Titans @ ANZ Stadium
Saturday 5th September, 3:00pm

Will Hopoate1AJ Brimson
Nick Meaney2Corey Thompson
Marcelo Montoya3Brian Kelly
Kerrod Holland4Young Tonumaipea
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak5Phillip Sami
Kieran Foran6Ashley Taylor
Lachlan Lewis7Jamal Fogarty
Ofahiki Ogden8Jarrod Wallace
Jeremy Marshall-King9Mitch Rein
Dylan Napa10Jaimin Jolliffe
Josh Jackson11Sam Stone
Raymond Faitala-Mariner12Beau Fermor
Aiden Tolman13Tyrone Peachey
Jake Averillo14Erin Clark
Renouf To’omaga15Moeaki Fotuaika
Matt Doorey16Keegan Hipgrave
Luke Thompson17Sam Lisone

Played 17, Bulldogs 9, Titans 8

Last Meeting: Round 10, 2019: Bulldogs 22 def. Titans 16

Final Thoughts: The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs are every NRL fans second or third team at the moment. One win will see them jump up the ladder for the Broncos to sit 16th. The Rugby League public have been ready to celebrate the switch over the last two weeks before the Bulldogs blow a lead and keep one hand on the wooden spoon. Carrying an unexpected 20-12 lead over the Raiders into halftime last week, the Bulldogs crumbled under the pressure. The Gold Coast Titans, on the other hand, thrived in the late stages of their match against the Dragons to snatch victory in the dying moments. The win caps off an encouraging period for the Titans as AJ Brimson takes a leap in his career and the plans and processes of Justin Holbrook start to take shape.

This is a game the Bulldogs will have circled as one to win and avoid the wooden spoon. They may well have been favourites had it been played two or three weeks ago. However, the Titans continue to impress despite carrying injuries to key players while Moeaki Fotuaika has been named to return and Jai Arrow a chance at getting onto the field in Round 17. Premature calls of the Titans cracking the NRL’s Top 8 next season are already circulating. They’ve got a long way to go before getting into finals footy. But the Bulldogs have more to do. Their list is awful and there is only so much Kieran Foran can do to manufacture points. It’s unlikely Foran has enough in him to get past this strong Titans pack and improving spine.

Tip: Handicap – Titans -1.5 @ $1.93

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Wests Tigers @ Lottoland
Saturday 5th September, 5:30pm

Sea EaglesTigers
Tevita Funa1Moses Mbye
Jorge Taufua2David Nofoaluma
Brad Parker3Joseph Leilua
Albert Hopoate4Adam Doueihi
Abbas Miski5Asu Kepaoa
Cade Cust6Benji Marshall
Daly Cherry-Evans7Luke Brooks
Addin Fonua-Blake8Josh Aloiai
Danny Levi9Harry Grant
Martin Taupau10Thomas Mikaele
Jack Gosiewski11Luke Garner
Curtis Sironen12Luciano Leilua
Jake Trbojevic13Alex Twal
Lachlan Croker14Matthew Eisenhuth
Corey Waddell15Elijah Taylor
Sean Keppie16Jacob Liddle
Taniela Paseka17Sam McIntyre

Played 29, Sea Eagles 16, Tigers 13

Last Meeting: Round 22, 2019: Sea Eagles 32 def. Tigers 12

Final Thoughts: Tevita Vuna, Jorge Taufua, Brad Parker, Albert Hopoate and Abbas Miski. Is that the worst backline we’ve seen all season? The worst over the last two seasons? The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles have their work cut out for them if they’re to find any points over the weekend. The injuries keep coming (Joel Thompson the latest ruled out for the season) and so too do the losses. For the Wests Tigers, it’s just the losses that keep coming. Each one forces a new reshuffle by Michael Maguire with Adam Doueihi moving into the centres and Moses Mbye to fullback this week.

While the Sea Eagles have little to get excited about on the edges, they hold an advantage through the middle. The Tigers lack yardage. If Josh Aloiai isn’t one of the best players on the field in any given game, the Tigers are unlikely to be competitive. With Addin Fonua-Blake, Marty Taupau, Jake Trbojevic and Taniela Paseka making up a powerful and consistent metre-eating middle, it’s difficult to see how the Tigers earn the go-forward required for Harry Grant and Benji Marshall to create opportunities in attack. Neither side offers a lot of confidence given their recent form. Manly is the most trustworthy of the two, though.

Tip: Half-time/Full-time – Manly/Manly @ $2.10

Canberra Raiders v Sydney Roosters @ GIO Stadium
Saturday 5th September, 7:35pm

Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad1James Tedesco
Jordan Rapana2Daniel Tupou
Jarrod Croker3Josh Morris
Curtis Scott4Joseph Manu
Nick Cotric5Brett Morris
Jack Wighton6Luke Keary
George Williams7Kyle Flanagan
Josh Papalii8Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
Siliva Havili9Jake Friend
Ryan Sutton10Siosiua Taukeiaho
John Bateman11Boyd Cordner
Elliott Whitehead12Sitili Tupouniua
Joseph Tapine13Isaac Liu
Tom Starling14Freddy Lussick
Dunamis Lui15Lindsay Collins
Hudson Young16Nat Butcher
Corey Harawira-Naera17Sonny Bill Williams

Played 38, Raiders 13, Roosters 25

Last Meeting: Round 10, 2020: Raiders 24 def. Roosters 20

Final Thoughts: You may hear a little bit about this game during the week. The return of Sonny Bill Williams to the NRL is the talk of the town and will override the conversation in the buildup to Saturday and into Sunday. However, he’s unlikely to have too much of an impact on the result in his first game back off the bench. It’s the return of Luke Keary that pegs the Sydney Roosters as favourites for this one. Following on from an unopposed training session last week, the Roosters will be rested and ready to take on the side they beat in the 2019 NRL Grand Final.

While the Canberra Raiders aren’t the premiership hopefuls they were this time last year, they’re proving a tough side to beat. They’re defensively sound and the unearthing of Tom Starling at dummy half and return of John Bateman has added to their attack in recent weeks. So long as Josh Papalii is out there, the Green Machine have a strong enough middle to compete against any team in the competition.

But as you look down the team lists, its the consistent quality the Roosters have across the field that seperates them. Their backline is the best in the business while their pack is the most consistent if not the best again. The Roosters should take the two competition points, but we know better than to count the Raiders out of a big game.

Tip: Handicap – Raiders +5.5 @ $2

New Zealand Warriors v Parramatta Eels @ Central Coast Stadium
Sunday 6th September, 4:05pm

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck1Clinton Gutherson
Adam Pompey2Maika Sivo
Hayze Perham3Michael Jennings
Peta Hiku4Waqa Blake
Gerard Beale5Blake Ferguson
Kodi Nikorima6Jai Field
Chanel Harris-Tavita7Mitchell Moses
Jamayne Taunoa-Brown8Reagan Campbell-Gillard
Karl Lawton9Reed Mahoney
Lachlan Burr10Junior Paulo
Jack Murchie11Shaun Lane
Tohu Harris12Ryan Matterson
Jazz Tevaga13Nathan Brown
Wayde Egan14Ray Stone
Adam Blair15Marata Niukore
Joshua Curran16Kane Evans
Isaiah Papali’i17Oregon Kaufusi

Played 38, Warriors 16, Eels 22

Last Meeting: Round 19, 2019: Eels 24 def. Warriors 22

Final Thoughts: Neither the New Zealand Warriors or Parramatta Eels are playing to their expectations at the moment. For the Warriors, that’s a good thing. Widely tipped to win the wooden spoon, the Kiwi club has won four of their last five games to keep within touching distance of the Top 8 with just four rounds to play. The Eels, on the other hand, don’t look anything like the premiership contenders the talking heads were claiming no less than a month ago. Unconvincing against the Storm and playing out an awful loss to the Rabbitohs last week, the Eels attack has fallen off a cliff. They’ll struggle to climb all the way back up with Dylan Brown now out for an extended period.

Their team list doesn’t inspire all that much, but the Warriors will come into this with plenty of confidence. Young players in Jack Murchie, Hayze Perham, Adam Pompey and Chanel Harris-Tavita are revelling in the opportunities they’ve been given. Josh Curran will no doubt attempt to do the same off the bench this week too. Meanwhile, an Eels side full of big names look disjointed. The attack hasn’t fired and they’re sending the ball sideways in an attempt to reignite it far too often. This needs to be a week Parramatta looks to get up the field through the middle. There is no questioning Parramatta’s superior pack in this one.

Should the Eels look to get themselves back into form the hard way by grinding out a win through the centre-third, it’s still a game the Warriors can keep close.

Tip: Handicap – Warriors +6.5 @ $1.93

North Queensland Cowboys v St. George-Illawarra Dragons @ Queensland Country Bank Stadium
Sunday 6th September, 6:30pm

Valentine Holmes1Matthew Dufty
Kyle Feldt2Jordan Pereira
Justin O’Neill3Euan Aitken
Esan Marsters4Zac Lomax
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow5Mikaele Ravalawa
Scott Drinkwater6Corey Norman
Jake Clifford7Adam Clune
Francis Molo8Blake Lawrie
Reuben Cotter9Ben Hunt
Jordan McLean10Josh Kerr
Gavin Cooper11Tyson Frizell
Mitchell Dunn12Jacob Host
Josh McGuire13Cameron McInnes
Daejarn Asi14Billy Brittain
John Asiata15Jackson Ford
Tom Gilbert16Tyrell Fuimaono
Corey Jensen17Kaide Ellis

Played 32, Cowboys 16, Dragons 16

Last Meeting: Round 15, 2019: Dragons 22 def. Cowboys 14

Final Thoughts: An injury to Michael Morgan may yet benefit the North Queensland Cowboys in the short term. With Scott Drinkwater and Jake Clifford back in the halves and Valentine Holmes at fullback, this is the best looking Cowboys spine we’ve seen for weeks. The issue is the absence of Jason Taumalolo. The St. George-Illawarra Dragons, however, are without Paul Vaughan. They really missed him last week against a Titans middle that was there to be dominated given their respective outs.

The Cowboys haven’t won a game since Round 7. Although, they went close to beating the Rabbitohs in Round 14, kept the Knights to 12 points in Round 15 and rallied well to avoid embarrassment in their 28-12 loss to the Sharks in Round 16. They’re slowly improving and the reintroduction of their best halves pairing this season could be the change that inspires further improvements on Sunday. The Dragons, on the other hand, can look one-dimensional at times. While the Cowboys edge defence is awful, they’re going to know what’s coming with the Dragons often resorting to throwing the ball to Matt Dufty and hoping for the best.

With the Storm and Panthers to come over the next fortnight, the Cowboys need a win if they’re to avoid a possible playoff for the wooden spoon against the Broncos in Round 20. Expect a better performance from the home side in this one.

Tip: Margin – Cowboys 1-12