Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 20 matches. The red pen is out for a few fringe Top 8 teams.

Wests Tigers v North Queensland Cowboys @ Leichhardt Oval
Thursday 1st August, 7:50pm

Corey Thompson1Scott Drinkwater
Paul Momirovski2Kyle Feldt
Moses Mbye3Coen Hess
Esan Marsters4Tom Opacic
David Nofoaluma5Murray Taulagi
Benji Marshall6Michael Morgan
Luke Brooks7Jake Clifford
Josh Aloiai8Josh McGuire
Robbie Farah9Jake Granville
Oliver Clark10Jordan McLean
Luke Garner11Gavin Cooper
Michael Chee-Kam12Shane Wright
Ryan Matterson13Jason Taumalolo
Matthew Eisenhuth14John Asiata
Thomas Mikaele15Matthew Scott
Alex Twal16Scott Bolton
Chris Lawrence17Francis Molo

Played 37, Tigers 29, Cowboys 16

Last Meeting: Round 14, 2019: Tigers 27 def. Cowboys 26

Final Thoughts: The Tigers snapped their three-game losing streak with an encouraging win over the Knights. But what is a win over the Knights right now, really? It doesn’t do much for the form guide at the moment. This week, the Tigers chase a finals spot against an up-for-it Cowboys outfit trying to stay in touching distance of the NRL’s Top 8. This is it for the Cowboys. A loss will all but rule them out of finals contention.

It’s all on the Cowboys pack in this one. The Tigers attack is one of the least efficient in good ball sets in the competition. North Queensland can reduce Wests attack even further by dominating the middle and limiting their trips inside the 20-metre line. A return to Leichhardt Oval might be the trick for the Tigers, though. It’s been a long time since playing at one of their traditional home grounds, and with an unexpected finals spot up for grabs, they’ll surely be up for this one. They’ve proven to be inconsistent without rhyme or reason, but we should be able to trust the Tigers here.

Tip: Handicap – Tigers -2.5 @ $1.90

New Zealand Warriors v Canberra Raiders @ Mt Smart Stadium
Friday 2nd August, 6:00pm

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck1Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
Gerard Beale2Bailey Simonsson
Peta Hiku3Jarrod Croker
Blake Ayshford4Michael Oldfield
Ken Maumalo5Jordan Rapana
Kodi Nikorima6Jack Wighton
Blake Green7Aidan Sezer
Agnatius Paasi8Josh Papalii
Issac Luke9Josh Hodgson
Leeson Ah Mau10Iosia Soliola
Adam Blair11John Bateman
Isaiah Papali’i12Elliott Whitehead
Jazz Tevaga13Joseph Tapine
Lachlan Burr14Siliva Havili
Sam Lisone15Emre Guler
Bunty Afoa16Corey Horsburgh
Chanel Harris-Tavita17Dunamis Lui

Played 42, Warriors 19, Raiders 21

Last Meeting: Round 25, 2018: Warriors 20 def. Raiders 16

Final Thoughts: Can anybody else feel a square-up this week? The Warriors won’t have forgotten about the rough calls they received a week earlier and will expect a kinder ride this week. They’ll need more than a few piggybacks up the field to beat this Raiders side, though. At $1.50 to finish inside the top four on the ladder and $10 to win the premiership, the Raiders are a genuine contender. They’ve proven time and time again this season that their defence is up there with the best in the competition. That, in itself, is a reason to believe they can win the big one.

It should be enough for them to win here. The Warriors attack doesn’t scare many teams at the moment. They showed glimpses last week and Ken Maumalo continues to run them in. But they’re inconsistent, have Blake Ayshford in the centres, and Issac Luke has been suspended. Mt Smart hasn’t done the job for the Warriors in 2019 either.

Tip: Handicap – Raiders -3.5 @ $1.90

Brisbane Broncos v Melbourne Storm @ Suncorp Stadium
Friday 2nd August, 7:55pm

Anthony Milford1Jahrome Hughes
Corey Oates2Suliasi Vunivalu
Kotoni Staggs3Will Chambers
Alex Glenn4Justin Olam
Jamayne Isaako5Josh Addo-Carr
Darius Boyd6Cameron Munster
Jake Turpin7Brodie Croft
Matthew Lodge8Jesse Bromwich
Andrew McCullough9Cameron Smith
Payne Haas10Nelson Asofa-Solomona
David Fifita11Felise Kaufusi
Matt Gillett12Kenneath Bromwich
Thomas Flegler13Dale Finucane
James Segeyaro14Brandon Smith
Joe Ofahengaue15Christian Welch
Rhys Kennedy16Joe Stimson
Patrick Carrigan17Ryan Papenhuyzen

Played 47, Broncos 13, Storm 32

Last Meeting: Round 1, 2019: Storm 22 def. Broncos 12

Final Thoughts: Well, history suggests the Storm will turn up to Brisbane and take the chocolates. They’ve won each of their last six games against the Broncos and 16 of their last 18. Fortress Suncorp doesn’t scare them either. Despite being one of the best-performing home ground advantages in the NRL, the Storm haven’t lost to the Broncos in Brisbane since 2009. Fired up after falling to the Sea Eagles last week, you’d be brave to bet against the Storm in this one.

While the Broncos are inside the Top 8 and seem to be playing better footy, their back-to-back wins have come against the Bulldogs and Titans – 15th and 16th on the NRL ladder. We can’t read too much into their recent form. The forwards are playing consistent footy but come up against one of the best attacks in the competition this week. Meanwhile, the Broncos will struggle to replicate the 28 and 34 points they’ve scored the last fortnight against 2019’s best defensive team.

History and form say one thing, but desperation to retain their spot in the Top 8 could produce another. Expect the Broncos to keep this one close.

Tip: Handicap – Broncos +4.5 @ $2.20

Manly Warringah Sea Eagles v Newcastle Knights @ Lottoland
Saturday 3rd August, 3:00pm

Sea EaglesKnights
Tom Trbojevic1Kalyn Ponga
Jorge Taufua2Shaun Kenny-Dowall
Brad Parker3Hymel Hunt
Moses Suli4Tautau Moga
Reuben Garrick5Kurt Mann
Dylan Walker6Mason Lino
Daly Cherry-Evans7Mitchell Pearce
Addin Fonua-Blake8David Klemmer
Manase Fainu9Connor Watson
Martin Taupau10Daniel Saifiti
Joel Thompson11Lachlan Fitzgibbon
Curtis Sironen12Mitch Barnett
Jake Trbojevic13Tim Glasby
Lachlan Croker14Jacob Saifiti
Corey Waddell15James Gavet
Morgan Boyle16Sione Mata’utia
Taniela Paseka17Aidan Guerra

Played 54, Sea Eagles 32, Knights 21

Last Meeting: Round 5, 2019: Sea Eagles 26 def. Knights 18

Final Thoughts: Mighty Manly are back, baby! The rebuild took all of one summer with the Sea Eagles rising from 15th on the ladder in 2018 to 5th heading into Round 20. They’ve gone from wooden spoon candidates to premiership smokies. Winners of five of their last six games, the Sea Eagles are still flying towards a top-four spot. The Knights, on the other hand, are over time and over budget on their rebuild. With their return to the finals set to be delayed another year should they lose for the sixth time in seven games, we’re going to see some desperation.

Nathan Brown is certainly desperate. He’s punted Jesse Ramien, Herman Ese’ese, Danny Levi and Jamie Buhrer to reserve grade, swinging the axe through the side in hope of cutting off this poor run of form. It’s unlikely to end this week, though. Manly has won eight of the last ten between the two clubs are playing great football. Unlike the Knights, the Sea Eagles middle is rolling, the halves are creating, and the backline is taking their chances.

Newcastle’s goal-line defence has fallen off a cliff recently. With Manly likely to dominate through the middle and give themselves plenty of chances to attack, it’s difficult to see them falling short at home this week.

Tip: Doubles – Sea Eagles half-time/full-time @ $1.91

Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs v Penrith Panthers @ Bankwest Stadium
Saturday 3rd August, 5:30pm

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak1Dylan Edwards
Nick Meaney2Josh Mansour
Kerrod Holland3Dean Whare
Will Hopoate4Brent Naden
Reimis Smith5Brian To’o
Jack Cogger6James Maloney
Lachlan Lewis7Nathan Cleary
Aiden Tolman8James Tamou
Michael Lichaa9Mitchell Kenny
Dylan Napa10James Fisher-Harris
Josh Jackson11Liam Martin
Corey Harawira-Naera12Frank Winterstein
Adam Elliott13Isaah Yeo
Jeremy Marshall-King14Wayde Egan
Renouf To’omaga15Jarome Luai
Danny Fualalo16Moses Leota
Chris Smith17Reagan Campbell-Gillard

Played 104, Bulldogs 58, Panthers 42

Last Meeting: Round 8, 2018: Panthers 22 def. Bulldogs

Final Thoughts: The Bulldogs won four of their last six games in 2018. An effort side throughout both seasons, it’s at this time of year opposition teams take them lightly as they saunter into September. They’re a side the Panthers should be worried about. While Penrith did just win seven games in a row, that winning streak was of a similar equivalence to the Newcastle’s streak earlier in the season; plenty will overrate it.

These two match up well with each other. Neither have an attack that regularly blows the opposition off the field. Meanwhile, they’ve managed to earn most of their combined wins through grit, grind, and defence. This game has low-scoring arm-wrestle written all over it.

Tip: Total Points – Under 36.5 @ $1.90

Cronulla Sharks v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ PointsBet Stadium
Saturday 3rd August, 7:35pm

Matt Moylan1Adam Doueihi
Sosaia Feki2Dane Gagai
Bronson Xerri3James Roberts
Josh Dugan4Braidon Burns
Josh Morris5Campbell Graham
Shaun Johnson6Cody Walker
Chad Townsend7Adam Reynolds
Aaron Woods8Tevita Tatola
Jayden Brailey9Damien Cook
Matt Prior10Thomas Burgess
Briton Nikora11John Sutton
Wade Graham12Sam Burgess
Paul Gallen13Cameron Murray
Kurt Capewell14Liam Knight
Jack Williams15Mark Nicholls
Andrew Fifita16Ethan Lowe
Braden Hamlin-Uele17Kyle Turner

Played 96, Sharks 49, Rabbitohs 43

Last Meeting: Round 13, 2018: Rabbitohs 22 def. Sharks 14

Final Thoughts: The Sharks did this to themselves. In a position to build into a top-four team in the NRL two months ago, they’re now on the outside of the Top 8 and at risk of missing the finals. They’ve put themselves under massive pressure to beat a Rabbitohs side coming into form just to be a chance at sitting inside the eight at the end of the round.

With Sam Burgess back, we anticipate the Rabbitohs will start making their run towards September. They’ve not been the same team that won ten of their first 11 games of the season. However, much of that has had to do with Origin outs and injury. Souths are close to healthy for this one. With Cody Walker coming back into form and Burgess sure to provide the Rabbitohs pack with the starch they’ve lacked recently, they look too strong for the Sharks this week. Cronulla wasn’t convincing in beating North Queensland last week and face a much tougher test on Saturday night.

Tip: Anytime Tryscorer – Campbell Graham @ $2.20

Sydney Roosters v Gold Coast Titans @ Sydney Cricket Ground
Sunday 4th August, 2:00pm

James Tedesco1Michael Gordon
Brett Morris2Anthony Don
Joseph Manu3Kallum Watkins
Latrell Mitchell4Brian Kelly
Daniel Tupou5Phillip Sami
Luke Keary6Tyrone Roberts
Cooper Cronk7Ryley Jacks
Isaac Liu8Jarrod Wallace
Sam Verrills9Nathan Peats
Zane Tetevano10Jack Stockwell
Angus Crichton11Kevin Proctor
Mitchell Aubusson12Sam Stone
Victor Radley13Jai Whitbread
Nat Butcher14Tyrone Peachey
Poasa Faamausili15Moeaki Fotuaika
Lindsay Collins16Brenko Lee
Sitili Tupouniua17Bryce Cartwright

Played 19, Roosters 10, Titans 8

Last Meeting: Round 18, 2018: Roosters 20 def. Titans 12

Final Thoughts: It doesn’t get any easier for the Titans this week. Backing up their thrashing at the hands of the Storm with another against the Broncos over the last fortnight, they could receive their biggest on Sunday afternoon at the SCG. The Roosters, while banged up, still possess one of the most dangerous backlines in the NRL. Despite the injuries through the middle, the Chooks should still get the job done against a disinterested Titans side.

Everybody on the Gold Coast has booked their flights to Bali already. They’ve checked out for 2019 and are waiting for their new coach to arrive and turn things around. He’s got a massive job ahead of him when the time comes. You only need to look at the state of the Titans bench know now this list isn’t one that is going to compete anytime soon. Moeaki Fotuaika is the only name most clubs would be willing to take on.

The Latrell Mitchell v Kallum Watkins battle poses as a fun one. That might be it, though. With the Roosters line set at -16.5, we’ve got a clear indication already of how this one should go.

Tip: Score 2 or more tries – Daniel Tupou @ $3.75

St George-Illawarra Dragons v Parramatta Eels @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Sunday 4th August, 4:05pm

Corey Norman1Clinton Gutherson
Jason Saab2Maika Sivo
Euan Aitken3Michael Jennings
Timoteo Lafai4Waqa Blake
Zac Lomax5Brad Takairangi
Gareth Widdop6Dylan Brown
Ben Hunt7Mitchell Moses
Blake Lawrie8Kane Evans
Cameron McInnes9Reed Mahoney
Paul Vaughan10Junior Paulo
Tyson Frizell11Shaun Lane
Tariq Sims12Manu Ma’u
James Graham13Nathan Brown
Jeremy Latimore14Marata Niukore
Korbin Sims15Daniel Alvaro
Patrick Kaufusi16David Gower
Luciano Leilua17Tepai Moeroa

Played 37, Dragons 15, Eels 19

Last Meeting: Round 8, 2019: Eels 32 def. Dragons 18

Final Thoughts: If you ask Dragons fans, they’d have had Paul McGregor out the door yesterday. Ask the board, and his job is safe. It’s probably somewhere in the middle. Regardless, winning cures almost everything in the NRL. A win here over an Eels side with an up and down form guide will put things at ease with the Red V for a week.

Getting a grasp of the Eels is difficult at the moment. Their form away from Bankwest Stadium is terrible but surely can’t last forever. While they won last week, did they play particularly well? Were the lucky? Brad Takairangi is named on the wing this week – what?

All we do know is that the Dragons are in disarray, have lost four in a row, and are coming off a heartbreaker in Round 19. The Eels are 6th on the NRL and climbing, have won eight of the last nine between these two, and hung on to win against a Warriors side that wouldn’t go away. This game is a lottery for tipsters.

Tip: Head-to-head – Dragons @ $1.85