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.

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs @ ANZ Stadium
Thursday 17th September, 7:50pm

Corey Allan1Will Hopoate
Alex Johnston2Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
Campbell Graham3Reimis Smith
Steven Marsters4Tim Lafai
Jaxson Paulo5Jayden Okunbor
Cody Walker6Jake Averillo
Adam Reynolds7Lachlan Lewis
Liam Knight8Aiden Tolman
Damien Cook9Jeremy Marshall-King
Thomas Burgess10Luke Thompson
Jaydn Su’a11Josh Jackson
Bayley Sironen12Raymond Faitala-Mariner
Cameron Murray13Chris Smith
Mark Nicholls14Brandon Wakeham
Jed Cartwright15Renouf To’omaga
Hame Sele16Sione Katoa
Keaon Koloamatangi17Sauaso Sue

Played 39, Rabbitohs 16, Bulldogs 22

Last Meeting: Round 8, 2020: Rabbitohs 26 def. Bulldogs 10

Final Thoughts: The South Sydney Rabbitohs flew out of the blocks in Round 18 to lead the Tigers 20-0 inside 30 minutes. However, they took their foot off the gas to let Wests back in it before holding onto the 26-24 win. While their lethal attack got the job done early, the way Souths switched off is a concern. It may not be so much of a problem this week, though.

The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs sit 16th on the NRL ladder and it’s largely due to their second half performances. Starting well against the Sea Eagles last week, three quick tries after halftime put an end to any chance of taking the two competition points.

While the Bulldogs lack talent, they’re always up for the fight. They’ve shown over the last month that they can get into the arm-wrestle to start. It’s later that their lack of attack bites them as the opposition begin to pile up points. Souths are still trying to climb the ladder; they aren’t at risk of taking it easy over the last two weeks of the season and should win comfortably here. Expect them to do most of their damage in the second half.

Tip: 2nd Half Handicap – Rabbitohs -8.5 @ $1.97

North Queensland Cowboys v Penrith Panthers @ Queensland Country Bank Stadium
Friday 18th September, 6:00pm

Valentine Holmes1Dylan Edwards
Kyle Feldt2Josh Mansour
Murray Taulagi3Brent Naden
Esan Marsters4Stephen Crichton
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow5Brian To’o
Scott Drinkwater6Jarome Luai
Jake Clifford7Nathan Cleary
Corey Jensen8Moses Leota
Reuben Cotter9Mitchell Kenny
Jordan McLean10James Fisher-Harris
Gavin Cooper11Viliame Kikau
Mitchell Dunn12Liam Martin
Francis Molo13Isaah Yeo
Daejarn Asi14Tyrone May
Emry Pere15Spencer Leniu
Tom Gilbert16Kurt Capewell
Ben Condon17Jack Hetherington

Played 36, Cowboys 18, Panthers 18

Last Meeting: Round 10, 2020: Panthers 22 def. Cowboys 10

Final Thoughts: The North Queensland Cowboys are limping through to the end of the 2020 NRL season. They’ve lost ten of their last 11 matches to be one of the worst teams in the competition, and only seem to be getting worse as the season goes on. Their attack can score points. Putting 20 points on the Storm last week is no easy task. However, they’ve only kept their opposition to fewer than 20 points once in the last six weeks. The Panthers, on the other hand, have only conceded 20+ points twice all season. Their attack didn’t fire last week, although, it’s not a huge concern. Despite earning 57 tackles inside the opposition 20-metre line, the Panthers only turned them into 20 points. But again, their defence did the job to keep the Eels to just two points.

While Api Koroisau and James Tamou are rested this week, the Panthers are unlikely to slow down as a team. They still have the Minor Premiership to lock in with a win on Friday. The Cowboys will have one eye on the end of the season next week already, though. Despite the home ground advantage, the Cowboys defence will struggle to keep a lid on this Panthers outfit.

Tip: Handicap – Panthers -14.5 @ $1.90

Parramatta Eels v Brisbane Broncos @ Bankwest Stadium
Friday 18th September, 7:55pm

Clinton Gutherson1Darius Boyd
Maika Sivo2Corey Oates
Michael Jennings3Kotoni Staggs
Waqa Blake4Herbie Farnworth
Blake Ferguson5Richie Kennar
Jai Field6Tyson Gamble
Mitchell Moses7Tom Dearden
Reagan Campbell-Gillard8Joe Ofahengaue
Reed Mahoney9Issac Luke
Junior Paulo10Ben Te’o
Ryan Matterson11David Fifita
Shaun Lane12Alex Glenn
Nathan Brown13Patrick Carrigan
Will Smith14Cory Paix
Andrew Davey15Jamil Hopoate
Kane Evans16Xavier Coates
Oregon Kaufusi17Ethan Bullemor

Played 43, Eels 22, Broncos 21

Last Meeting: Round 3, 2020: Eels 34 def. Broncos 6

Final Thoughts: The Parramatta Eels were never in their game against the Panthers last week. While losing 20-2 is another poor result for the club as they struggle their way towards the finals, they can take a lot out of their defensive effort. Keeping a Panthers attack with 57 tackles inside their 20-metre line to 20 points is a fair effort. Now, the Eels have a prime opportunity to get their attack back on track against the NRL’s worst defensive team.

The Brisbane Broncos concede 31.4 points per game. They lack resilience, cohesion and overall toughness. Some tries this group have allowed through them this season are nothing short of embarrassing. The team has improved ever so slightly since Anthony Seibold left, but injuries, suspensions and family matters have forced the naming of perhaps the worst Broncos side in history. Outside of freak individual talents in Kotoni Staggs and David Fifita, there is little to write home about on this selected 17.

Needing to kick into gear before facing a top-four side in Week 1 of the finals, the Eels need to put some points on this hapless Broncos defence. Expect them to start strong and play themselves into try-scoring form.

Tip: Total Points – Eels Over 30.5 @ $1.95

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Gold Coast Titans @ Lottoland
Saturday 19th September, 3:00pm

Sea EaglesTitans
Tevita Funa1AJ Brimson
Albert Hopoate2Anthony Don
Brad Parker3Treymain Spry
Morgan Harper4Young Tonumaipea
Abbas Miski5Corey Thompson
Lachlan Croker6Ashley Taylor
Daly Cherry-Evans7Jamal Fogarty
Addin Fonua-Blake8Jarrod Wallace
Danny Levi9Mitch Rein
Martin Taupau10Moeaki Fotuaika
Jack Gosiewski11Kevin Proctor
Curtis Sironen12Sam Stone
Jake Trbojevic13Tyrone Peachey
Morgan Boyle14Tanah Boyd
Corey Waddell15Jai Arrow
Sean Keppie16Sam Lisone
Taniela Paseka17Jai Whitbread

Played 20, Sea Eagles 11, Titans 9

Last Meeting: Round 15, 2019: Sea Eagles 30 def. Titans 12

Final Thoughts: The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles did exactly as expected last week to carve the Bulldogs up through the middle on their way to a 32-20 win over the Bulldogs. They will look to do the same against a Gold Coast Titans side that hasn’t always offered the most resistance through the centre-third.

The Titans are on the up, though. Their win over the Broncos last week makes it two for the season – the first time the Titans have achieved the feat. AJ Brimson’s introduction to the side has turned the attack on its head while Jamal Fogarty and Ash Taylor have carved out a decent halves pairing. The Titans still have plenty of holes in their side – on the edges, in particular – but so too do the Sea Eagles.

This one might come down to Tom Trbojevic. If he plays, Manly will remain as significant favourites. They’re a different side without him and his presence will not only improve their attack, but add plenty to the mindset of a side no longer competing for a Top 8 spot. It’s dependent on Trbojevic’s inclusion, but the Sea Eagles should be the better side from start to finish.

Tip: Halftime/Fulltime – Sea Eagles/Sea Eagles @ $2

Melbourne Storm v Wests Tigers @ Sunshine Coast Stadium
Saturday 19th September, 5:30pm

Nicho Hynes1Adam Doueihi
Suliasi Vunivalu2David Nofoaluma
Brenko Lee3Joseph Leilua
Justin Olam4Chris Lawrence
Josh Addo-Carr5Asu Kepaoa
Cameron Munster6Josh Reynolds
Jahrome Hughes7Benji Marshall
Jesse Bromwich8Josh Aloiai
Cameron Smith9Harry Grant
Christian Welch10Thomas Mikaele
Felise Kaufusi11Sam McIntyre
Kenneath Bromwich12Luciano Leilua
Nelson Asofa-Solomona13Alex Twal
Ryley Jacks14Zane Musgrove
Tino Fa’asuamaleaui15Matthew Eisenhuth
Tom Eisenhuth16Russell Packer
Tui Kamikamica17Luke Garner

Played 32, Storm 20, Tigers 12

Last Meeting: Round 19, 2019: Storm 24 def. Tigers 22

Final Thoughts: The Melbourne Storm somehow keep getting better. Cameron Smith put on a show last week to put their win over the Cowboys beyond doubt by halftime last week and will look to do the same against a Wests Tigers side that knows how to leak points.

Despite the form guides of the two teams coming from different directions and the Storm are on the hunt for another premiership while the Tigers miss the finals for a 9th consecutive year, their recent history points us towards a close one. Just five points have separated the two in their last three games with Wests winning two of them. Melbourne doesn’t have many, but they’re up against a bogey side this week.

Having won back-to-back games before blowing a late lead the last time these two teams met, applying the Game Saver to the Tigers is the best use of the token this week.

Tip: Head-to-head – Tigers to win @ $1.86

Sydney Roosters v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks @ Sydney Cricket Ground
Saturday 19th August, 7:35pm

Joseph Manu1William Kennedy
Daniel Tupou2Sione Katoa
Josh Morris3Josh Dugan
Mitchell Aubusson4Jesse Ramien
Brett Morris5Ronaldo Mulitalo
Luke Keary6Connor Tracey
Kyle Flanagan7Shaun Johnson
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves8Braden Hamlin-Uele
Jake Friend9Blayke Brailey
Lindsay Collins10Aaron Woods
Boyd Cordner11Briton Nikora
Sitili Tupouniua12Siosifa Talakai
Isaac Liu13Toby Rudolf
Freddy Lussick14Teig Wilton
Angus Crichton15Jack Williams
Nat Butcher16Andrew Fifita
Sonny Bill Williams17Royce Hunt

Played 41, Roosters 24, Sharks 16

Last Meeting: Round 5, 2019: Roosters 30 def. Sharks 16

Final Thoughts: The Sydney Roosters know they’re peaking at the right time. No team has done it better over the last two seasons. After dealing to the Knights with relative ease in Round 18, James Tedesco and Siosiua Taukeiaho have been given a week off to rest. While the duo are a big loss to the side, the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks haven’t done enough against Top 8 teams this year to be confident in them taking advantage of the opportunity. In fact, they’ve yet to beat a single Top 8 team all season.

Shaun Johnson leads the NRL in try assists and can pick apart even the best defences. However, it’s up to his forwards to get him up the field into good ball areas. The Roosters are 3rd in running metres per game (1,816m) and concede the third-fewest at just 1,557 metres per game. Meanwhile, the Sharks are way down at 10th in yardage at 1,649 metres per game but concede the fifth-fewest metres at 1,618 per game.

The gap between the two teams closes with Taukeiaho and Tedesco out. If the Sharks can take advantage and win the arm-wrestle in the middle, Johnson can find enough points to keep them close.

Tip: Handicap – Sharks +16.5 @ $1.90

Canberra Raiders v New Zealand Warriors @ GIO Stadium
Sunday 20th September, 2:00pm

Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad1Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
Semi Valemei2Adam Pompey
Jarrod Croker3Adam Keighran
Jordan Rapana4Peta Hiku
Nick Cotric5Hayze Perham
Jack Wighton6Kodi Nikorima
George Williams7Chanel Harris-Tavita
Josh Papalii8Lachlan Burr
Siliva Havili9Karl Lawton
Dunamis Lui10Isaiah Papali’i
John Bateman11Jack Murchie
Elliott Whitehead12Tohu Harris
Joseph Tapine13Jazz Tevaga
Tom Starling14Wayde Egan
Ryan Sutton15Adam Blair
Hudson Young16Eliesa Katoa
Corey Harawira-Naera17Tom Ale

Played 39, Raiders 20, Warriors 19

Last Meeting: Round 2, 2020: Raiders 20 def. Warriors 6

Final Thoughts: Is this where it all falls apart for the New Zealand Warriors? They’re officially out of contention for a finals spot and their return home is now less than two weeks away. Nobody would blame the Warriors for looking ahead to the end of next week and a return home to friends and family. The Canberra Raiders, on the other hand, have a spot inside the top four to play for this week. They’re just two competition points behind an Eels side that is slowly sliding and at risk of falling outside the top four entirely.

Besides the mental hurdles the Warriors will need to leap throughout the week, they’re without their loan players on Sunday and will send Adam Keighran into the centres while handing Tom Ale his first-grade debut off the bench. Lachlan Burr and Isaiah Papali’i starting in the front row highlights just how tough the Warriors are doing it in middle positions. It’s a different story for the Raiders who have just extended Josh Papalii’s contract with the club and boast a pack that has shown it can dominate even the best middle’s in the NRL. With the Warriors sending out unfamiliar backrow, centre and wing pairings, the Raiders will have plenty of opportunities to cross the line on the edges on the back of their strong pack.

Tip: Anytime Tryscorer – John Bateman @ $2.80

Newcastle Knights v St. George-Illawarra Dragons @ McDonald Jones Stadium
Sunday 20th September, 4:05pm

Kalyn Ponga1Matthew Dufty
Edrick Lee2Jordan Pereira
Enari Tuala3Euan Aitken
Hymel Hunt4Zac Lomax
Starford To’a5Cody Ramsey
Tex Hoy6Corey Norman
Mitchell Pearce7Adam Clune
David Klemmer8Kaide Ellis
Chris Randall9Ben Hunt
Daniel Saifiti10Paul Vaughan
Lachlan Fitzgibbon11Tyson Frizell
Aidan Guerra12Jackson Ford
Mitch Barnett13Cameron McInnes
Phoenix Crossland14Tariq Sims
Jacob Saifiti15Josh Kerr
Herman Ese’ese16Blake Lawrie
Sione Mata’utia17Max Feagai

Played 39, Knights 12, Dragons 27

Last Meeting: Round 10, 2019: Knights 45 def. Dragons 12

Final Thoughts: The Newcastle Knights paid the price for resting key players to find themselves on the end of a 42-12 thrashing at the hands of the Roosters last week. It’s a result that can either snap them back into action in Round 19 or act as a confidence killer ahead of an important fortnight building into finals footy. While the St. George-Illawarra Dragons don’t have anything to play for on Sunday, they will know that Anthony Griffin is watching and taking notes for 2021. It’s the best time to offer a good first impression.

The Knights are sending out a new-look halves pairing with Tex Hoy joining Mitchell Pearce. It appears to be the combination Adam O’Brien wants to carry into the finals, but it may take a week or two to gel. It presents the Dragons with an excellent opportunity to apply pressure to the young half and put the breaks on the Knights attack. With what the Dragons offer in yardage and the attacking threats they have in good ball areas, there is every chance they can cause an upset here. The Knights attack has struggled over the last month and trialling another halves combination won’t make things easy. A fast start can put the Dragons in the box seat.

Tip: 1st Half Total Points – Dragons Over 6.5 @ $2.10