Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, looks over all 16 teams and previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 20 matches.

Sydney Roosters v Parramatta Eels @ BB Print Stadium
Thursday 29th July, 7:50pm

James Tedesco1Clint Gutherson
Daniel Tupou2Maika Sivo
Josh Morris3Tom Opacic
Adam Keighran4Waqa Blake
Joseph Manu5Blake Ferguson
Drew Hutchison6Dylan Brown
Sam Walker7Jake Arthur
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves8Reagan Campbell-Gillard
Sam Verrills9Reed Mahoney
Isaac Liu10Junior Paulo
Angus Crichton11Isaiah Papali’i
Sitili Tupouniua12Ryan Matterson
Victor Radley13Nathan Brown
Lachlan Lam14Bryce Cartwright
Nat Butcher15Shaun Lane
Egan Butcher16Oregon Kaufusi
Siosiua Taukeiaho17Will Smith

Played 36, Roosters 22, Eels 13

Last Meeting: Round 9, 2021: Eels 31 def. Roosters 18

Final Thoughts: The Sydney Roosters handled the Knights with relative ease to win 28-8 in Round 19. Although, it came at a cost. Meanwhile, the Parramatta Eels haven’t done anything to quell their reputation as flat-track bullies following a 12-10 loss to the Raiders.

Josh Morris is back and will take up a spot in the Roosters centres alongside Adam Keighran. Joey Manu continues his role as Mr Fix It and has been named on the wing this week. Tom Opacic returns for the Eels with debutant Will Penisini to make way.

The hits keep coming for the Roosters, but, as usual, they continue to respond. James Tedesco is a match-winner on his own and the playing group around him always know where to be and when. Parramatta, on the other hand, suffered an “as usual” of their own last week in going down to the Raiders. As the going got tough, the Eels couldn’t find the answers in attack. They’ll struggle to do so again this week without Mitchell Moses. Creativity is an issue without him. Their crash and bash approach through the middle only gets them so far. If there is one area this injury-ravaged Roosters side can hold firm, it’s in the middle. This should be the sort of clash you expect from 4th vs 5th on the NRL ladder.

Tip: Tri Bet (10.5) – Either Team by 10 or Less @ $2

Wests Tigers v New Zealand Warriors @ Suncorp Stadium
Friday 30th July, 6:00pm

Daine Laurie1Reece Walsh
David Nofoaluma2Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
Moses Mbye3Adam Pompey
Tommy Talau4Euan Aitken
Ken Maumalo5Marcelo Montoya
Adam Doueihi6Peta Hiku
Luke Brooks7Sean O’Sullivan
Stefano Utoikamanu8Jamayne Taunoa-Brown
Jacob Liddle9Taniela Otukolo
James Tamou10Ben Murdoch-Masila
Shawn Blore11Eli Katoa
Luciano Leilua12Bayley Sironen
Joe Ofahengaue13Josh Curran
Alex Twal14Kodi Nikorima
Tom Amone15Bunty Afoa
Tukimihia Simpkins16Kane Evans
Michael Chee Kam17Jazz Tevaga

Played 32, Tigers 16, Warriors 16

Last Meeting: Round 11, 2021: Warriors 30 def. Tigers 26

Final Thoughts: Wests Tigers couldn’t take their performance in Round 18 through to Round 19 as they copped a 44-24 hiding from the Sea Eagles. It pales in comparison to the Warriors, though. They won’t be able to forget the 60 points South Sydney hung on them any time soon.

Luke Garner and Thomas Mikaele are both out for the Tigers, replaced by Shawn Blore and Joe Ofahengaue. Moses Mbye is back in the starting side for Junior Pauga while Tom Amone, Michael Chee Kam and Alex Twal are all on the bench. The Warriors team list is a mess. Peta Hiku returns from injury to start at five-eighth while Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Chad Townsend, Matt Lodge, Addin Fonua-Blake, Leeson Ah Mau and Jack Murchie are all out.

The history of these two teams – both recent and long-term – suggest anything could happen in this game. While favourites, it’s difficult to trust the Tigers to get the job done on Friday night. They’ve displayed an unwillingness to defend while their attack is still finding its feet as Michael Maguire shuffles around his halves and outside backs. Meanwhile, the Warriors can’t catch a break. With Roger Tuivasa-Sheck now gone, they lack genuine quality in the side. This is a wooden spoon-calibre side on paper. It’s one the Tigers should win comfortably, but few will be confident of them doing so. It will only take a strong start from the Warriors to begin sowing seeds of doubt into the Tigers and Nathan Brown’s side will surely respond to the hammering last week. The opening 20 minutes will decide this one.

Tip: Time of 1st Try – 8 Minutes or Later @ $2.19

Brisbane Broncos v North Queensland Cowboys @ Suncorp Stadium
Friday 30th July, 8:05pm

Tesi Niu1Jake Granville
Corey Oates2Kyle Feldt
Kotoni Staggs3Murray Taulagi
Herbie Farnworth4Connelly Lemuelu
Jamayne Isaako5Kane Bradley
Tyson Gamble6Scott Drinkwater
Brodie Croft7Tom Dearden
Keenan Palasia8Francis Molo
Jake Turpin9Reece Robson
Payne Haas10Jordan McLean
Alex Glenn11Shane Wright
Jordan Riki12Mitchell Dunn
Kobe Hetherington13Jason Taumalolo
Danny Levi14Tom Gilbert
Rhys Kennedy15Heilum Luki
Ethan Bullemor16Coen Hess
TC Robati17Ben Hampton

Played 51, Broncos 32, Cowboys 18

Last Meeting: Round 9, 2021: Cowboys 19 def. Broncos 18

Final Thoughts: The Brisbane Broncos let two competition points slip when losing 18-12 to the Panthers last week. Their inability to execute when it matters keeps them in the wooden spoon race. The North Queensland Cowboys, on the other hand, will take a lot of confidence out of their 20-16 loss to the Storm.

Thomas Flegler is out with Keenan Palasia to start and TC Robati joining the Broncos bench. Danny Levi is also on the bench. Meanwhile, the Cowboys will start the same 13 with Ben Hampton taking Daejarn Asi’s spot on the bench.

Plenty will tell you the Broncos put in a good performance to push the Panthers close last week. In reality, they did everything they could to lose it and there aren’t many positives to take out of the 80 minutes overall. The same issues plagued the side. Most notably, an ineffective attack. It’s an area the Cowboys can dominate with what Scott Drinkwater and Reece Robson provide with the ball. With two strong centres and a pack that can roll through the middle, the Cowboys should have an advantage in the yardage game, too. Once the Broncos are on the back foot, they tend to stay there.

These two clubs always produce a thrilling contest. While the current squads are nothing to write home about on paper, this game still might be.

Tip: Doubles – Cowboys Half-time/Full-time @ $3

St. George-Illawarra Dragons v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ Browne Park
Saturday 31st July, 3:00pm

Tyrell Sloan1Latrell Mitchell
Mathew Feagai2Josh Mansour
Corey Norman3Dane Gagai
Talatau Amone4Campbell Graham
Gerard Beale5Jaxson Paulo
Jayden Sullivan6Cody Walker
Ben Hunt7Adam Reynolds
Josh Kerr8Mark Nicholls
Andrew McCullough9Damien Cook
Poasa Faamausili10Thomas Burgess
Billy Burns11Keaon Koloamatangi
Tyrell Fuimaono12Jayden Su’A
Tariq Sims13Jai Arrow
Adam Clune14Blake Taaffe
Jaiden Hunt15Liam Knight
Jackson Ford16Patrick Mago
Kaide Ellis17Jacob Host

Played 34, Dragons 17, Rabbitohs 17

Last Meeting: Round 12, 2020: Rabbitohs 32 def. Dragons 24

Final Thoughts: The St. George-Illawarra Dragons continue to struggle in the wake of Paul Vaughan’s BBQ party that saw 12 players suspended. They never looked likely in going down 32-10 to the Titans. For the South Sydney Rabbitohs, their 60-22 win over the Warriors was never in doubt.

Tyrell Sloan is in for the Dragons with Matt Dufty dropped. Corey Norman returns but Jayden Sullivan keeps his spot at five-eighth with Norman into the centres. Jack de Belin, Jack Bird and Blake Lawrie will serve their bans with Poasa Faamausili, Billy Burns and Tyrell Fuimaono to start in their place. Cameron Murray will sit this one out for the Rabbitohs with Jai Arrow to lock. Campbell Graham also returns to replace Taane Milne.

The Dragons are struggling to hang onto their place in the Top 8 and nothing short of their best performance in 2021 will win them this one. In fact, they’ll need their best just to keep close. The Rabbitohs are on fire with the ball in hand. Left and right or through the middle, they’re finding gaps and scoring points. While the Bunnies left edge is still the best in the business, they’ve been exploring down the right edge more and more in recent weeks. Expect them to go wide early and often with Talatau Amone and Corey Norman tasked with defending in the Dragons centres this week. Souths have looked vulnerable when they’re made to work hard in the middle and require patience in attack. However, the Dragons don’t have the pack to trigger that vulnerability. This could get ugly.

Tip: Handicap – Rabbitohs -24.5 @ $1.95

Newcastle Knights v Canberra Raiders @ Suncorp Stadium
Saturday 31st July, 5:30pm

Kalyn Ponga1Jordan Rapana
Enari Tuala2Harley Smith-Shields
Kurt Mann3Jarrod Croker
Bradman Best4Sebastian Kris
Hymel Hunt5Semi Valemei
Phoenix Crossland6Jack Wighton
Jake Clifford7Sam Williams
Jacob Saifiti8Josh Papalii
Jayden Brailey9Josh Hodgson
Daniel Saifiti10Emre Guler
Tyson Frizell11Corey Harawira-Naera
Mitchell Barnett12Elliott Whitehead
Connor Watson13Hudson Young
Sauaso Sue14Tom Starling
David Klemmer15Matthew Timoko
Josh King16Iosia Soliola
Brodie Jones17Joseph Tapine

Played 40, Knights 19, Raiders 19

Last Meeting: Round 9, 2021: Knights 24 def. Raiders 16

Final Thoughts: The Newcastle Knights failed to capitalise on an injury-ravaged Roosters defensive line in what Adam O’Brien called “low-IQ” footy throughout their 28-8 loss. Meanwhile, the Canberra Raiders picked up an impressive 12-10 win over the Eels to give their finals hopes a significant boost.

Bradman Best returns for the Knights with David Klemmer also back in the side. Mitchell Pearce is a chance at returning after being named in the reserves. Jack Wighton and Elliott Whitehead are big ins for the Raiders while Hudson Young takes Ryan Sutton’s spot at lock.

The Raiders have finally turned up for the 2021 NRL season. Their win last week made it three in a row and adding Wighton and Whitehead to the mix will only add to their attack. With Josh Hodgson spending a lot of time at lock when Tom Starling is installed into the game, the prospect of Jack Wighton taking possession wider of the ruck and with room in front of him appeals against what is a leaky Knights right edge defence. It shouldn’t take too many points to get past the Knights on Saturday. Adam O’Brien referred to the “low-IQ” of his side after they failed to make the most of Sydney’s injury issues last week. Presented with a right edge defence of Sam Walker and Lachlan Lam defending beside each other, Newcastle barely tested them before the Chooks took over the game. A late call-up for Mitchell Pearce will bring these two sides closer together. However, without him, the Raiders are deserving favourites.

Tip: Win Try Combo – Jack Wighton/Raiders @ $3.25

Melbourne Storm v Penrith Panthers @ Suncorp Stadium
Saturday 31st July, 7:35pm

Nicho Hynes1Dylan Edwards
Dean Ieremia2Charlie Staines
Reimis Smith3Stephen Crichton
Justin Olam4Brent Naden
Josh Adoo-Carr5Robert Jennings
Cameron Munster6Matt Burton
Jahrome Hughes7Jarome Luai
Jesse Bromwich8Moses Leota
Brandon Smith9Mitch Kenny
Christian Welch10Liam Martin
Felise Kaufusi11Viliame Kikau
Kenny Bromwich12Kurt Capewell
Dale Finucane13Matthew Eisenhuth
Aaron Pene14Izack Tago
Tui Kamikamica15Scott Sorensen
Chris Lewis16Spencer Leniu
Ryan Papenhuyzen17J’maine Hopgood

Played 37, Storm 27, Panthers 10

Last Meeting: Round 3, 2021: Panthers 12 def. Storm 10

Final Thoughts: The Melbourne Storm were made to work hard for the first time in months but snuck past the Cowboys 20-16. It was a similar case for the Penrith Panthers who struggled in their 18-12 win over the Broncos.

Cameron Munster, Felise Kaufusi and Dale Finucane are all back this week. Harry Grant is onto the Storm bench, too. Ryan Papenhuyzen will again come off the bench. Brian To’o, Tyrone May, Isaah Yeo and James Fisher-Harris all miss this one for the Panthers.

This should have been a candidate for Game of the NRL Season but the Panthers are without too many of their best players. While the Storm struggled to beat the Cowboys last week, it’s a blip on their period of dominance – not the end. Their attack is still ruthless and it showed in the way they scored points in Round 19. Penrith’s attack is still one of the best in the NRL but it does suffer without Nathan Cleary. Conceding 10.3 points per game overall in 2021, the Panthers have allowed 19.3 points through them per game in the five Cleary has missed. His ability to build pressure and pin the opposition in their own end has been sorely missed. It will be missed on Saturday against a Storm side that, even when working out of their own end, explore down the edges and work up the field with ease. It’s the absences in Penrith’s pack that is the biggest concern. Melbourne will have too many opportunities inside the 20-metre line to be kept to less than 20 points.

Tip: Panthers Total Points – Under 13.5 @ $1.93

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Gold Coast Titans @ Cbus Super Stadium
Sunday 1st August, 2:00pm

Corey Allan1AJ Brimson
Nick Meaney2Greg Marzhew
Will Hopoate3Brian Kelly
Aaron Schoupp4Esan Marsters
Jayden Okunbor5Corey Thompson
Jake Averillo6Ashley Taylor
Kyle Flanagan7Toby Sexton
Jack Hetherington8Jarrod Wallace
Jeremy Marshall-King9Mitch Rein
Luke Thompson10Moeaki Fotuaika
Corey Waddell11Kevin Proctor
Adam Elloitt12David Fifita
Josh Jackson13Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
Bailey Biondi-Odo14Tyrone Peachey
Dylan Napa15Sam Lisone
Ava Seumanufagai16Beau Fermor
Matt Doorey17Jaimin Jolliffe

Played 19, Bulldogs 9, Titans 10

Last Meeting: Round 11, 2021: Titans 30 def. Bulldogs 20

Final Thoughts: The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs struggled to start in their 44-24 loss to the Sharks. While they fought back well, the damage had been done. David Fifita’s damaging runs headlined the Gold Coast Titans 32-10 over the Dragons. The game changed when he came onto the field.

Kyle Flanagan is back for the Bulldogs – he replaces Lachlan Lewis. Adam Elliott also returns with Luke Thompson into prop and Josh Jackson to lock. Fifita has been named to start for the Titans on Sunday with Beau Fermor back to the bench.

Two promising performances went to waste as the Bulldogs failed to turn up early last week. They allowed the Sharks to build a lead and never looked like reeling it in. While the Titans are well accustomed to blowing leads themselves, they’ve started to strike some form as they begin a charge towards the Top 8. Fifita is the obvious catalyst. His individual efforts have papered over a poor Titans attack, for the most part, this season. However, they displayed some variation in how they used him last week which offers some hope of improvement. With some variation in their use of Fifita, the Titans will open up opportunities for AJ Brimson on the edges, too. If the Titans are truly a Top 8 side they will prove it early on Sunday.

Tip: Win Try Combo – Brimson/Titans @ $2

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles @ Moreton Daily Stadium
Sunday 1st August, 4:05pm

SharksSea Eagles
Will Kennedy1Tom Trbojevic
Sione Katoa2Jason Saab
Will Chambers3Brad Parker
Jesse Ramien4Morgan Harper
Ronaldo Mulitalo5Reuben Garrick
Connor Tracey6Kieran Foran
Braydon Trindall7Daly Cherry-Evans
Aiden Tolman8Taniela Paseka
Blayke Brailey9Lachlan Croker
Aaron Woods10Marty Taupau
Briton Nikora11Haumole Olakau’atu
Siosifa Talakai12Josh Schuster
Toby Rudolf13Jake Trbojevic
Braden Hamlin-Uele14Dylan Walker
Royce Hunt15Karl Lawton
Jack Williams16Curtis Sironen
Andrew Fifita17Toafofoa Sipley

Played 32, Sharks 10, Sea Eagles 22

Last Meeting: Round 7, 2020: Sharks 40 def. Sea Eagles 22

Final Thoughts: The good version of the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks turned up for long enough to beat the Bulldogs 44-24 last week. Meanwhile, the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles produced the same end result in their clash with the Tigers.

Shaun Johnson is out for the Sharks with Braydon Trindall and Connor Tracey linking up in the halves. Will Chambers is back into the centres. Curtis Sironen makes his long-awaited return for the Sea Eagles with Karl Lawton also back. Josh Aloiai and Sean Keppie are out of the side.

The Sharks may have piled up 44 points in Round 19, but a lot of it came through Shaun Johnson who won’t be out there on Sunday. He’s the catalyst for a lot of what they do in attack. While their pack can match it with Manly in the middle, Cronulla will struggle for points. The Sea Eagles have rarely struggled for points when Tom Trbojevic is on the field. He will be licking his lips at the prospect of going up against what is a flimsy Sharks middle defence. While strong in yardage, the Sharks struggle for speed and mobility in the middle of the field and Trbojevic can have a field day. Likewise, Lachlan Croker who is growing in confidence at dummy half and Dylan Walker who has found success in a middle role off the bench. The gap between 6th on the NRL ladder and the rest is the biggest it has ever been. This match is likely to prove it.

Tip: Handicap – Sea Eagles -16.5 @ $1.93