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 Saturday.

Wests Tigers v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ Bankwest Stadium
Thursday 10th September, 7:50pm

Moses Mbye1Corey Allan
David Nofoaluma2Alex Johnston
Joseph Leilua3Campbell Graham
Adam Doueihi4Steven Marsters
Asu Kepaoa5Dane Gagai
Benji Marshall6Cody Walker
Luke Brooks7Adam Reynolds
Josh Aloiai8Liam Knight
Harry Grant9Damien Cook
Thomas Mikaele10Thomas Burgess
Luke Garner11Jaydn Su’a
Luciano Leilua12Bayley Sironen
Alex Twal13Cameron Murray
Matthew Eisenhuth14Mark Nicholls
Elijah Taylor15Jed Cartwright
Jacob Liddle16Patrick Mago
Sam McIntyre17Keaon Koloamatangi

Played 35, Tigers 16, Rabbitohs 19

Last Meeting: Round 9, 2020: Rabbitohs 18 def. Tigers 10

Final Thoughts: Strangely, Latrell Mitchell may have quietened a lot of his detractors by not playing last week. The South Sydney Rabbitohs attack just didn’t look the same without him. Try as he might, Corey Allan doesn’t have the same speed – hands and feet – as Mitchell, and it showed in how often the Bunnies attack fell a pass or two short of points in their 22-16 loss to the Storm. Meanwhile, the Wests Tigers needed to complete a ridiculous comeback to beat the Sea Eagles 34-32. It’s a game that sums up their season, really. Even a win doesn’t do much for the form guide.

Despite Tevita Tatola not being available, the Rabbitohs should be too strong here. Their underrated pack is the superior of the two sides while the Wests attack is inconsistent at best. The Tigers rely on a lot of luck to pile up points. It’s something the Rabbitohs defence won’t allow for as they build up to finals form. Unless Souths repeat their error-ridden Round 17 performance and give the Tigers too many chances to try their luck in attack, this one will go the way most expect.

Tip: Handicap – Rabbitohs -7.5 @ $1.90

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles @ ANZ Stadium
Friday 11th September, 6:00pm

BulldogsSea Eagles
Will Hopoate1Tevita Funa
Nick Meaney2Albert Hopoate
Reimis Smith3Brad Parker
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak4Morgan Harper
Jayden Okunbor5Abbas Miski
Jake Averillo6Cade Cust
Lachlan Lewis7Daly Cherry-Evans
Ofahiki Ogden8Addin Fonua-Blake
Jeremy Marshall-King9Danny Levi
Aiden Tolman10Martin Taupau
Josh Jackson11Jack Gosiewski
Raymond Faitala-Mariner12Curtis Sironen
Luke Thompson13Jake Trbojevic
Brandon Wakeham14Lachlan Croker
Renouf To’omaga15Corey Waddell
Matt Doorey16Sean Keppie
Sauaso Sue17Taniela Paseka

Played 35, Bulldogs 20, Sea Eagles 15

Last Meeting: Round 3, 2020: Sea Eagles 32 def. Bulldogs 6

Final Thoughts: The season is all but over for both the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles. For the Dogs, the best they can do is go on one of their late-season winning runs to inspire false hope for 2021. As for the Sea Eagles, a win for them will be not ruling another player out for the season inside 80 minutes.

While the Sea Eagles have hardly been an excellent attacking team of late, they did put 32 points on the Tigers last week. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have lost their best attacking weapon in Kieran Foran. They’ve only averaged eight points per game in the three he’s missed this season. It’s any wonder where the points come from without him.

Neither side is particularly trustworthy in attack. However, Manly’s significant advantage in the middle should give them the most opportunities to score. Canterbury’s middle has been proven to leak points. With the new-found passing game of their big men close to the opposition goal line, the middle could be a fruitful avenue for Sea Eagles try-scorers this week.

Tip: Anytime Try-Scorer – Taniela Paseka @ $5.50

Penrith Panthers v Parramatta Eels @ Panthers Stadium
Friday 11th September, 7:55pm

Dylan Edwards1Clinton Gutherson
Josh Mansour2Maika Sivo
Brent Naden3Michael Jennings
Stephen Crichton4Waqa Blake
Brian To’o5Blake Ferguson
Jarome Luai6Jai Field
Nathan Cleary7Mitchell Moses
James Tamou8Reagan Campbell-Gillard
Apisai Koroisau9Reed Mahoney
James Fisher-Harris10Junior Paulo
Viliame Kikau11Shaun Lane
Liam Martin12Ryan Matterson
Isaah Yeo13Nathan Brown
Tyrone May14Ray Stone
Spencer Leniu15Andrew Davey
Moses Leota16Kane Evans
Zane Tetevano17Oregon Kaufusi

Played 41, Panthers 20, Eels 21

Last Meeting: Round 5, 2020: Eels 16 def. Panthers 10

Final Thoughts: Despite this being a 1st v 3rd matchup, the Penrith Panthers are heavy $1.36 and -8 favourites to beat an out of sorts Parramatta Eels on Friday night. Penrith cruised to beat the Broncos last week. While the 25-12 scoreline doesn’t suggest as much, they were never in trouble. The Eels, on the other hand, made hard work of their win over the Warriors. A classic ‘a win is a win’ sort of performance, Parramatta needs to make significant improvements if they’re to compete in this one and, in turn, restart their premiership push. At the moment, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them bow out of the NRL Finals in straight sets.

Dylan Brown is still out while Reed Mahoney has been named, but is unlikely to be 100% if he plays at all. The Panthers have it a lot easier. They had their full squad of 30 train during the week. They’re at the top of the table and are the healthiest team in the competition. With 12 wins in a row already, there has been little to suggest this team will take their foot off the gas any time soon. It’s unlikely to be this week against a fellow top four team and the side that last beat them way back in Round 5.

Stronger across the park, in excellent form and at full-strength, the Panthers should make it 13 on the trot this week.

Tip: Doubles – Panthers Half-time/Full-time @ $1.80

St. George-Illawarra Dragons v Canberra Raiders @ WIN Stadium
Saturday 12th September, 3:00pm

Matthew Dufty1Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
Jordan Pereira2Semi Valemei
Euan Aitken3Jarrod Croker
Zac Lomax4Jordan Rapana
Cody Ramsey5Nick Cotric
Corey Norman6Jack Wighton
Adam Clune7George Williams
Kaide Ellis8Josh Papalii
Ben Hunt9Tom Starling
Paul Vaughan10Ryan Sutton
Tyson Frizell11John Bateman
Jacob Host12Elliott Whitehead
Cameron McInnes13Joseph Tapine
Billy Brittain14Siliva Havili
Josh Kerr15Dunamis Lui
Blake Lawrie16Hudson Young
Jackson Ford17Corey Harawira-Naera

Played 31, Dragons 11, Raiders 19

Last Meeting: Round 8, 2020: Raiders 22 def. Dragons 16

Final Thoughts: Beating the Roosters twice in the season was just a step too far for the Canberra Raiders. Although, an 18-6 loss to the defending premiers won’t slow the Green Machine down this week. They’re still a chance at cracking the top four before the end of Round 20 so won’t be short of motivation. Meanwhile, the St. George-Illawarra Dragons saw their Top 8 hopes slip away as Valentine Holmes popped a Golden Point field goal through the sticks in Round 17. It’s one that got away from the Dragons as they rue the cost of bombed tries in a game they should have won.

After putting just 22 points on one of the worst defensive teams in the NRL, the Dragons have their work cut out for them on Saturday. The Raiders are a tough nut to crack. The potential return of Sia Soliola would only add to Canberra’s defensive prowess. While the Raiders themselves haven’t been the attacking force of last season, they defend well and know how to build pressure on inferior teams. If given enough chances close to the line, Jack Wighton and George Williams have the points in them.

Tip: Raiders Total Points – 21 to 30 points @ $2.75

Gold Coast Titans v Brisbane Broncos @ Cbus Super Stadium
Saturday 12th August, 5:30pm

AJ Brimson1Darius Boyd
Anthony Don2Corey Oates
Beau Fermor3Kotoni Staggs
Young Tonumaipea4Herbie Farnworth
Corey Thompson5Richie Kennar
Ashley Taylor6Sean O’Sullivan
Jamal Fogarty7Tom Dearden
Jarrod Wallace8Rhys Kennedy
Mitch Rein9Issac Luke
Moeaki Fotuaika10Payne Haas
Sam Stone11David Fifita
Keegan Hipgrave12Alex Glenn
Tyrone Peachey13Patrick Carrigan
Erin Clark14Cory Paix
Jai Whitbread15Ben Te’o
Jai Arrow16Xavier Coates
Sam Lisone17Joe Ofahengaue

Played 28, Titans 8, Broncos 20

Last Meeting: Round 7, 2020: Titans 30 def. Broncos 12

Final Thoughts: Well, we thought one of these two teams might be running 15th on the NRL ladder by Round 18. Nobody thought it would be the Brisbane Broncos, though. Their dire season continues. Although, they can take some confidence out of their 25-12 loss to the Panthers last week. One win might be all the Broncos need to avoid the wooden spoon. This week is one of their best chances. While the Gold Coast Titans are on the improve and did beat the Bulldogs 18-14 last week, they’re very much beatable. Their middle still has a few question marks around it and Jaimin Jolliffe’s season-ending injury hasn’t helped. The Titans don’t have the attack to pile up points if their middle is being dominated.

For the Broncos, their pack is what can win them this game. Through Payne Haas, David Fifita, Alex Glenn and Patrick Carrigan, Brisbane can get up the field and put the likes of Kotonia Staggs and Corey Oates into try-scoring positions. Beau Fermor is in the centres for the Titans this week and has been caught out defensively throughout his short first-grade career.

The Broncos are slowly improving but can’t yet be trusted. They’re the ideal candidate for the Game Saver token in a game they should really win.

Tip: Head-to-head – Broncos to win @ $2.17

Sydney Roosters v Newcastle Knights @ Sydney Cricket Ground
Saturday 12th September, 7:35pm

James Tedesco1Tex Hoy
Daniel Tupou2Edrick Lee
Josh Morris3Enari Tuala
Joseph Manu4Gehamat Shibasaki
Brett Morris5Starford To’a
Luke Keary6Mason Lino
Kyle Flanagan7Mitchell Pearce
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves8David Klemmer
Jake Friend9Kurt Mann
Siosiua Taukeiaho10Jacob Saifiti
Boyd Cordner11Lachlan Fitzgibbon
Sitili Tupouniua12Aidan Guerra
Isaac Liu13Herman Ese’ese
Nat Butcher14Phoenix Crossland
Lindsay Collins15Daniel Saifiti
Angus Crichton16Josh King
Sonny Bill Williams17Brodie Jones

Played 41, Roosters 28, Knights 13

Last Meeting: Round 18, 2019: Roosters 48 def. Knights 10

Final Thoughts: The Newcastle Knights are playing with fire by resting Kalyn Ponga, Mitch Barnett and Hymel Hunt for this one. They’re still a chance a cracking the top four with a win over the Sydney Roosters this week but won’t send their best available team out to do the job. They’re a side that has relied on confidence all season. A thrashing at the hands of the Roosters – with or without Ponga – won’t do them any good in the build-up to their first finals appearance since 2013.

The Roosters, on the other hand, know how to time their run better than anybody. Unsurprisingly, their team is starting to come together at the right time of the year. Close to full-strength and coming off a hard-fought win over the Raiders in an NRL Grand Final rematch, the Roosters will click up another gear. Their pack is monstrous. A little more Sonny Bill Williams with the ball in hand will help get it wider to a scintillating attack, too. It’s that time of year for the Roosters. Expect to see them at their best against a Knights side that signalled their intentions on Tuesday.

Tip: Handicap – Roosters -18.5 @ $1.83

Melbourne Storm v North Queensland Cowboys @ Sunshine Coast Stadium
Sunday 13th September, 4:05pm

Nicho Hynes1Valentine Holmes
Suliasi Vunivalu2Kyle Feldt
Brenko Lee3Justin O’Neill
Justin Olam4Esan Marsters
Josh Addo-Carr5Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
Tino Fa’asuamaleaui6Scott Drinkwater
Jahrome Hughes7Jake Clifford
Jesse Bromwich8Francis Molo
Cameron Smith9Reuben Cotter
Nelson Asofa-Solomona10Jordan McLean
Felise Kaufusi11Gavin Cooper
Kenneath Bromwich12Mitchell Dunn
Tino Fa’asuamaleaui13Josh McGuire
Ryley Jacks14Daejarn Asi
Darryn Schonig15John Asiata
Albert Vete16Tom Gilbert
Isaac Lumelume17Corey Jensen

Played 40, Storm 30, Cowboys 10

Last Meeting: Round 25, 2019: Storm 24 def. Cowboys 16

Final Thoughts: The North Queensland Cowboys ended their nine-game losing streak in Round 18, but they hardly set the world on fire doing it. Some poor execution by the Dragons allowed the Cowboys to keep it close before Valentine Holmes kicked the match-winner. They still have a lot of work to do if they’re to compete with the Melbourne Storm on Sunday. Going about their business to beat the Rabbitohs 22-16 last week, Melbourne is building nicely as the finals approach. The most important thing for the Storm at the moment is getting healthy. Suliasi Vunivalu and Nelson Asofa-Solomona return for this one and slot straight into the starting 13. While Ryan Papenhuyzen is out with an achillies injury, Nicho Hynes is an excellent replacement at the back.

The Cowboys played a little more to their strengths and targeted the middle last week. Josh McGuire, Jordan McLean, Francis Molo and Tom Gilbert all produced encouraging performances. They can keep the Cowboys close with a repeat on Sunday. If there is one area the Storm have shown some vulnerability as they deal with a handful of injuries, it’s in the centre-third. Their bench doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence either. Melbourne are the much stronger side, but North Queensland have the cattle to compete.

Tip: Handicap – Cowboys +18.5 @ $1.90

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v New Zealand Warriors @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Sunday 13th September, 6:30pm

William Kennedy1Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
Sione Katoa2Adam Pompey
Josh Dugan3Hayze Perham
Jesse Ramien4Peta Hiku
Ronaldo Mulitalo5George Jennings
Connor Tracey6Kodi Nikorima
Shaun Johnson7Chanel Harris-Tavita
Braden Hamlin-Uele8Jamayne Taunoa-Brown
Blayke Brailey9Karl Lawton
Aaron Woods10Isaiah Papali’i
Briton Nikora11Jack Murchie
Siosifa Talakai12Tohu Harris
Toby Rudolf13Jazz Tevaga
Teig Wilton14Wayde Egan
Jack Williams15Adam Blair
Andrew Fifita16Daniel Alvaro
Royce Hunt17Lachlan Burr

Played 37, Sharks 22, Warriors 15

Last Meeting: Round 10, 2020: Sharks 46 def. Warriors 10

Final Thoughts: While unlikely, this is the last chance the New Zealand Warriors have to make a run at the Top 8. With the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks four points ahead on the NRL ladder to sit 8th, the Warriors can pull to within one win of an incredible finals run. Their issue is the return of Shaun Johnson. He’s missed the last three weeks and his quality really showed as execution down the right edge eluded the Sharks last week. They may not have beaten the Knights in Round 17 with Johnson, but they would have scored more than the ten points they did manage.

Despite the loss to the Eels, the Warriors will remain confident. They were unlucky not to take the two points with Jazz Tevaga’s sin-bin costing them dearly. This squad just keeps turning up in both attack and defence. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has found some sparkling form of late while Chanel Harris-Tavita played the best game of his career last week.

The Sharks come into this one as $1.52 and -4.5 favourites. However, the Warriors are arguably in the better form. With what we’ve seen Todd Payten get out of this group so far this season, it would be foolish to treat them like any other Warriors outfit and expect the usual late-season collapse.

Tip: Handicap – Warriors +4.5 @ $1.87