Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 21 matches. It’s a round made for the favourites and try-scoring centres.

North Queensland Cowboys v Brisbane Broncos @ 1300SMILES Stadium
Thursday 8th August, 7:50pm

Scott Drinkwater1Anthony Milford
Kyle Feldt2Jamayne Isaako
Coen Hess3Alex Glenn
Tom Opacic4Kotoni Staggs
Gideon Mosby-Gela5Corey Oates
Michael Morgan6Darius Boyd
Jake Clifford7Jake Turpin
Josh McGuire8Matthew Lodge
Jake Granville9Andrew McCullough
Jordan McLean10Payne Haas
Gavin Cooper11David Fifita
Shane Wright12Tevita Pangai Junior
Jason Taumalolo13Joe Ofahengaue
John Asiata14James Segeyaro
Matthew Scott15Thomas Flegler
Scott Bolton16Rhys Kennedy
Francis Molo17Patrick Carrigan

Played 52, Cowboys 16, Broncos 33

Last Meeting: Round 2, 2019: Broncos 29 def. Cowboys 10

Final Thoughts: It feels like we could say this every week for a few teams, but this really is ‘it’ for the Broncos. They’ve got a great opportunity to visit a Cowboys side all but playing for pride ahead of three games on the bounce at Suncorp Stadium. If the Broncos take the chocolates here, their current $2.20 price to make the Top 8 will look the goods. This is a game that will be determined in the middle of the field. Both sides rely heavily on their packs to lay a platform for a pair of decidedly average attacks. With Tevita Pangai Jr back, the Broncos hold the advantage. He’s already had it over Jason Taumalolo once this season, and coming into this one after a week on the sideline, Pangai Jr will be up for it.

The Broncos have everything to play for on Thursday night. In a match between two relatively even teams, that could well be the difference late in the piece.

Tip: Handicap – Broncos -1.5 @ $1.90

New Zealand Warriors v Manly Sea Eagles @ Mt Smark Stadium
Friday 9th August, 6:00pm

WarriorsSea Eagles
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck1Tom Trbojevic
Gerard Beale2Jorge Taufua
Peta Hiku3Brad Parker
Blake Ayshford4Moses Suli
Ken Maumalo5Reuben Garrick
Chanel Harris-Tavita6Dylan Walker
Blake Green7Daly Cherry-Evans
Agnatius Paasi8Addin Fonua-Blake
Jazz Tevaga9Apisai Koroisau
Leeson Ah Mau10Martin Taupau
Adam Blair11Joel Thompson
Isaiah Papali’i12Curtis Sironen
Lachlan Burr13Jake Trbojevic
Adam Keighran14Manase Fainu
Sam Lisone15Corey Waddell
Bunty Afoa16Morgan Boyle
Ligi Sao17Taniela Paseka

Played 34, Warriors 9, Sea Eagles 24

Last Meeting: Round 3, 2019: Sea Eagles 46 def. Warriors 12

Final Thoughts: Well, a year after recording their best record at home in a season, the Warriors are staring down the barrel of a seventh-straight defeat at Mt Smart Stadium. They were embarrassing last week against the Raiders and things don’t get any easier on Friday. The Sea Eagles are on fire. They’ve announced themselves as genuine contenders for the NRL premiership and have their sights set on the top four from here.

With Kodi Nikorima out and Jazz Tevaga at hooker, the Warriors are going to struggle in attack. Their good ball sets have been diabolical with the ‘give it to Roger’ plan of attack not fooling anybody. Considering the lack of effort they showed in defence last week, this could be a blowout. The Sea Eagles have just beaten the top of the table Storm and put the Knights to the sword. Their middle is laying a strong platform for Manase Fainu and Tom Trbojevic, in particular, to dominate. Manly have flown across the ditch to thump the Warriors once already in 2019. There’s a good chance Friday night is a repeat.

Tip: Handicap – Sea Eagles -5.5 @ $1.90

Penrith Panthers v Cronulla Sharks @ Panthers Stadium
Friday 9th August, 7:55pm

Dylan Edwards1Josh Dugan
Josh Mansour2Sosaia Feki
Dean Whare3Bronson Xerri
Brent Naden4Josh Morris
Brian To’o5Ronaldo Mulitalo
James Maloney6Shaun Johnson
Nathan Cleary7Chad Townsend
James Tamou8Aaron Woods
Mitchell Kenny9Jayden Brailey
James Fisher-Harris10Matt Prior
Viliame Kikau11Briton Nikora
Liam Martin12Wade Graham
Isaah Yeo13Paul Gallen
Sione Katoa14Kurt Capewell
Spencer Leniu15Jack Williams
Moses Leota16Andrew Fifita
Reagan Campbell-Gillard17Braden Hamlin-Uele

Played 103, Panthers 43, Sharks 56

Last Meeting: Round 6, 2019: Sharks 24 def. Panthers 20

Final Thoughts: The Panthers will still be having nightmares about their 16-8 loss to the Bulldogs last week. Playing the 15th team on the NRL ladder and looking to solidify their place in the Top 8, the Panthers laid an egg. Uninspiring in attack and not up to it in defence, they were back to looking like the team that spent the first half of the season languishing at the bottom of the ladder alongside the Dogs.

The Sharks, on the other hand, may have turned a corner in Round 20. Looking like an entirely different team with Wade Graham on the field, the Sharks handled the Rabbitohs relatively comfortably. The 24 points Cronulla conceded isn’t ideal. However, they’ll be confident heading into this one after scoring 39 points themselves. Penrith rank 13th in attack scoring just 16 points per game. With their tails up and a far superior attack, the Sharks should handle this Panthers outfit playing without James Maloney with ease.

Tip: Anytime Tryscorer – Bronson Xerri @ $2.30

St George Illawarra Dragons v Gold Coast Titans @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Saturday 10th August, 3:00pm

Corey Norman1Alexander Brimson
Jason Saab2Jesse Arthars
Euan Aitken3Kallum Watkins
Timoteo Lafai4Brian Kelly
Mikaele Ravalawa5Phillip Sami
Gareth Widdop6Ashley Taylor
Ben Hunt7Ryley Jacks
James Graham8Jarrod Wallace
Cameron McInnes9Nathan Peats
Paul Vaughan10Jai Whitbread
Patrick Kaufusi11Kevin Proctor
Tariq Sims12Sam Stone
Tyson Frizell13Jai Arrow
Jeremy Latimore14Tyrone Peachey
Korbin Sims15Moeaki Fotuaika
Jackson Ford16Brenko Lee
Luciano Leilua17Bryce Cartwright

Played 22, Dragons 13, Titans 7

Last Meeting: Round 3, 2018: Dragons 54 def. Titans 8

Final Thoughts: This might be if for Paul McGregor. If his Dragons can’t beat the wooden spoon-holding Titans at home three weeks after sacking their coach, Mary might be the next to get the top on the shoulder. At the very least, we will find out if the playing group is prepared to play for their coaches job.

More was expected from the Dragons last week. They failed to fire in their 12-4 loss to the Eels. The Gareth Widdop and Ben Hunt halves pairing failed to get going behind a lacklustre pack in a disappointing performance. They’ve got an ideal opportunity to lay the platform for a strong finish to the season here, though. If you’re thinking of a lacklustre pack, it’s difficult to go past the Titans. Even with Jai Arrow returning this week, there’s too much deadwood for the Titans to play to their potential on paper. With that, it’s advantage, Red V. Rugby League is a yardage game, and right now, neither of these sides offer anything out wide than can be relied on.

Tip: Handicap – Titans +8.5 @ $1.90

Parramatta Eels v Newcastle Knights @ Bankwest Stadium
Saturday 10th August, 5:30pm

Clinton Gutherson1Kalyn Ponga
Maika Sivo2Kurt Mann
Michael Jennings3Hymel Hunt
Waqa Blake4Tautau Moga
Brad Takairangi5Shaun Kenny-Dowall
Dylan Brown6Mason Lino
Mitchell Moses7Mitchell Pearce
Kane Evans8David Klemmer
Reed Mahoney9Connor Watson
Junior Paulo10Daniel Saifiti
Shaun Lane11Lachlan Fitzgibbon
Manu Ma’u12Mitch Barnett
Nathan Brown13Tim Glasby
Marata Niukore14Jacob Saifiti
Daniel Alvaro15James Gavet
David Gower16Sione Mata’utia
Tepai Moeroa17Aidan Guerra

Played 53, Eels 21, Knights 30

Last Meeting: Round 7, 2019: Knights 28 def. Eels 14

Final Thoughts: The Eels did it! They won away from Bankwest Stadium and went a long way to booking their place in the NRL finals. The Knights, on the other hand, didn’t do it in Round 20. They lost their fifth game in a row to continue their tumble outside the Top 8. Unless they can take the chocolates on Saturday evening, the Knights are next to no chance at getting back into finals contention.

The Knights have been exposed recently. As regularly mentioned here for weeks, their six-game winning streak wasn’t the sort of Top 8 certainties. They struggle immensely for yardage – an area the Eels have options. While Blake Ferguson is still sat on the sidelines, makeshift winger, Brad Takairangi, can do a fine job of starting Parramatta’s sets alongside Maika Sivo. From there, Nathan Brown is finding form, Junior Paulo will find 100 running metres, and any one of Kane Evans, Shaun Lane Manu Ma’u or Marata Niukore can pick up 100+ metres to get the Eels up the field. In good form, this game is made for Mitchell Moses. He loves getting downhill behind a dominant pack. Expect him to have a big say in a positive Parramatta result.

Tip: Handicap – Eels -2.5 @ $1.87

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Wests Tigers @ ANZ Stadium
Saturday 10th August, 7:35pm

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak1Corey Thompson
Nick Meaney2Paul Momirovski
Kerrod Holland3Moses Mbye
Will Hopoate4Esan Marsters
Reimis Smith5David Nofoaluma
Jack Cogger6Benji Marshall
Lachlan Lewis7Luke Brooks
Aiden Tolman8Josh Aloiai
Michael Lichaa9Robbie Farah
Dylan Napa10Oliver Clark
Josh Jackson11Luke Garner
Corey Harawira-Naera12Michael Chee-Kam
Chris Smith13Ryan Matterson
Jeremy Marshall-King14Matthew Eisenhuth
Renouf To’omaga15Thomas Mikaele
Danny Fualalo16Alex Twal
Raymond Faitala-Mariner17Chris Lawrence

Played 36, Bulldogs 22, Tigers 13

Last Meeting: Round 3, 2019: Bulldogs 22 def. Tigers 8

Final Thoughts: As expected last week, it’s the time of year that the Bulldogs are going to cause opposing sides some trouble. If you don’t turn up ready to get into the grind, the Dogs will make the most of a rare chance to pick up a W. They might be the worst side the Tigers could face this week. Wests have a history of inconsistency and underachieving.  They’ve managed just one three-game winning streak in their last 71 games dating back to Round 22 in 2016.

It’s a game the Tigers ‘should’ win, but that’s the problem for the cynics. They’re the better team and looking to solidify their place in the Top 8. How could a team not turn up motivated to win a game they’re expected to? Not every team is the Tigers, though. This is the sort of game they’ve lost all too often in recent years.

With trust issues on both sides of the ledger, there is only area that can be relied upon: Canterbury’s horror left-side defence.

Tip: Anytime Tryscorer – Esan Masters @ $2.75

Canberra Raiders v Sydney Roosters @ GIO Stadium
Sunday 11th May, 2:00pm

Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad1James Tedesco
Bailey Simonsson2Daniel Tupou
Jarrod Croker3Latrell Mitchell
Nick Cotric4Joseph Manu
Jordan Rapana5Brett Morris
Jack Wighton6Luke Keary
Aidan Sezer7Cooper Cronk
Josh Papalii8Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
Josh Hodgson9Sam Verrills
Iosia Soliola10Isaac Liu
John Bateman11Angus Crichton
Elliott Whitehead12Mitchell Aubusson
Joseph Tapine13Victor Radley
Siliva Havili14Nat Butcher
Dunamis Lui15Zane Tetevano
Corey Horsburgh16Poasa Faamausili
Ryan Sutton17Sitili Tupouniua

Played 63, Raiders 28, Roosters 34

Last Meeting: Round 9, 2019: Roosters 30 def. Raiders 24

Final Thoughts: The 2nd and 3rd teams on the NRL ladder kickoff a massive Sunday afternoon of footy. The Raiders come into this one after thrashing the Warriors in New Zealand while the Roosters ran up a score on the Titans at the SCG. Neither win is particularly powerful on the form guide. Nevertheless, the two teams come into this one hot.

We’re going to learn a lot about the Raiders in this one. While their defence is ranked 2nd in the NRL and offers a lot to be encouraged about, the Raiders have only won four of the nine games they’ve played against Top 8 teams. Meanwhile, the defending premiers have picked up seven wins in their nine games against finals-bound teams. The Raiders are good, but we will find out how good on Sunday.

It’s coming a little later than most expected, but the Chooks are turning the screws. Injuries and suspensions have slowed them down. However, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is a big in for them this week. He tips the quality of the pack in Sydney’s favour, therefore, the visitors are deserved favourites.

Tip: Handicap – Roosters -1.5 @ $1.90

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Melbourne Storm @ Central Coast Stadium
Sunday 11th August, 4:05pm

Adam Doueihi1Jahrome Hughes
Dane Gagai2Suliasi Vunivalu
James Roberts3Will Chambers
Braidon Burns4Justin Olam
Campbell Graham5Josh Addo-Carr
Cody Walker6Cameron Munster
Adam Reynolds7Brodie Croft
Tevita Tatola8Jesse Bromwich
Damien Cook9Cameron Smith
Thomas Burgess10Nelson Asofa-Solomona
John Sutton11Felise Kaufusi
Sam Burgess12Kenneath Bromwich
Cameron Murray13Dale Finucane
Liam Knight14Brandon Smith
Mark Nicholls15Tui Kamikamica
Ethan Lowe16Joe Stimson
Kyle Turner17Ryan Papenhuyzen

Played 31, Rabbitohs 5, Storm 25

Last Meeting: Qualifying Final, 2018: Storm 29 def. Rabbitohs 28

Final Thoughts: This game got a lot more interesting on Tuesday night with Sam Burgess having his high-shot on Matt Moylan downgraded to be free to play in this one. Following his disappointing return to the field following shoulder surgery, the Bunnies need Burgess at his best if they’re to cause the upset. Melbourne’s loss to Manly in Round 19 is a blip on the radar. The Storm are still dialled into the premiership and look the best team in the NRL right now.

Ranked number one in attack and defence, the Storm have had almost every team covered this season. Their three losses have come by a combined four points. Meanwhile, the Rabbitohs are still trying to work their way out of a mid-season slump. Allowing 39 points to be run through them last week won’t help either. It’s those lapses in defence that will prove costly on Sunday. It’s difficult to see Dane Gagai and James Roberts containing Melbourne’s left-side attack. The Sharks caused the Rabbitohs outside backs all sort of problems last week. Craig Bellamy will have noticed and will be sending a lot of traffic that way.

Tip: Anytime Tryscorer – Justin Olam @ $3.25