Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 12 matches, including his Game Saver play earmarked for Saturday.

St George Illawarra Dragons v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Thursday 30th July, 7:50pm

Matthew Dufty1Latrell Mitchell
Jordan Pereira2Jaxson Paulo
Euan Aitken3Campbell Graham
Zac Lomax4Dane Gagai
Mikaele Ravalawa5Alex Johnston
Corey Norman6Cody Walker
Ben Hunt7Adam Reynolds
Blake Lawrie8Tevita Tatola
Cameron McInnes9Damien Cook
Paul Vaughan10Thomas Burgess
Tyson Frizell11Jaydn Su’a
Tariq Sims12Bayley Sironen
Jackson Ford13Cameron Murray
Tyrell Fuimaono14Mark Nicholls
Josh Kerr15Liam Knight
Jacob Host16Keaon Koloamatangi
Tristan Sailor17Patrick Mago

Played 33, Dragons 17, Rabbitohs 16

Last Meeting: Round 19, 2019: Rabbitohs 20 def. Dragons 16

Final Thoughts: Ben Hunt has been forced back into the St George-Illawarra Dragons halves with Adam Clune out this week. The new-look spine had really started to take shape with Hunt in at hooker. However, he will no doubt be out to retake his number seven jersey for the long term in this one. Meanwhile, Latrell Mitchell has served his two-game suspension and returns to fullback for the South Sydney Rabbitohs. While he’s not been a picture of consistency this NRL season, he showed glimpses of the elite attacking prowess we know he has in the matches before the suspension.

The Dragons offered some hope in their 28-24 loss to the Sharks last week. With Matt Dufty playing well and Zac Lomax coming into his own in the centres, the Red V attack is causing problems. They face a threatening Rabbitohs outfit this week, though. Despite the back-to-back losses, the Rabbitohs kept within touching distance of the Knights and Raiders. One play from a game breaker like, say, Latrell Mitchell, could have been the difference. His inclusion adds another element to the Rabbitohs attack. Their defence is quietly one of the best in the NRL conceding just 17.5 points per game. As the more well-rounded side and desperate to crack back into the Top 8, expect a top tier performance from Wayne Bennett’s men.

Tip: Handicap – Rabbitohs -4 @ $1.90

Wests Tigers v New Zealand Warriors @ Sydney Cricket Ground
Friday 31st July, 6:00pm

Adam Doueihi1Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
David Nofoaluma2Patrick Herbert
Chris Lawrence3Adam Pompey
Moses Mbye4Peta Hiku
Tommy Talau5George Jennings
Billy Walters6Kodi Nikorima
Benji Marshall7Blake Green
Josh Aloiai8Jamayne Taunoa-Brown
Harry Grant9Karl Lawton
Oliver Clark10Jack Hetherington
Luke Garner11Eliesa Katoa
Luciano Leilua12Tohu Harris
Alex Twal13Jazz Tevaga
Sam McIntyre14Wayde Egan
Thomas Mikaele15Adam Blair
Luke Brooks16Daniel Alvaro
Shawn Blore17Lachlan Burr

Played 30, Tigers 16, Warriors 14

Last Meeting: Round 2, 2019: Tigers 34 def. Warriors 6

Final Thoughts: Alex Twal is finally back for the Wests Tigers and moves straight into lock. Josh Reynolds, however, hasn’t been named in the 17 despite serving his two-game suspension. The New Zealand Warriors don’t have the same luxury of a selection headache. Daniel Alvaro and George Jennings have come straight into the 17 on loan from the Eels. They join Panthers loanee Jack Hetherington. The big issue for the Warriors is the hit they’ve taken in their back-three. Formerly one of the best in the NRL, Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu’a have both touched down back in New Zealand and will miss the remainder of the 2020 season.

While the Warriors are riding a three-game losing streak into this one, they’ll come in with confidence. Keeping the Roosters to 18 points is an inspiring effort and one they’ll look to emulate against a Tigers side that has struggled to score at times this season. Wests are deserving favourites. Their settled squad is well-coached and won’t take the Warriors lightly. However, an up-for-it Warriors side can not only cover the hefty +14.5 line, but can cause an upset if things break the right way.

Tip: Handicap – Warriors +14.5 @ $1.87

Brisbane Broncos v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks @ Suncorp Stadium
Friday 31st July, 7:55pm

Darius Boyd1William Kennedy
Richie Kennar2Sione Katoa
Kotoni Staggs3Josh Dugan
Herbie Farnworth4Jesse Ramien
Xavier Coates5Ronaldo Mulitalo
Anthony Milford6Shaun Johnson
Tom Dearden7Connor Tracey
Thomas Flegler8Braden Hamlin-Uele
Jake Turpin9Blayke Brailey
Payne Haas10Aaron Woods
Joe Ofahengaue11Briton Nikora
Tevita Pangai Junior12Wade Graham
Patrick Carrigan13Toby Rudolf
Issac Luke14Siosifa Talakai
Rhys Kennedy15Jack Williams
Ethan Bullemor16Teig Wilton
Ben Te’o17Royce Hunt

Played 40, Broncos 25, Sharks 15

Last Meeting: Round 16, 2019: Broncos 24 def Sharks 22

Final Thoughts: The Anthony Milford at fullback experiment didn’t last long as he replaces the injured Brodie Croft in the Brisbane Broncos halves. That forces Darius Boyd to fullback with Herbie Farnworth into the centres and Richie Kennar on the wing. In more positive news, Jake Turpin has recovered from his injury to start at hooker. Meanwhile, the Cronula-Sutherland Sharks have injury issues of their own with Chad Townsend ruled out. Connor Tracey takes his spot beside Shaun Johnson in the halves.

This is the worst Broncos side of all time. There is no beating around the bush. The 30.6 points they’re conceding per game is nothing short of embarrassing and doesn’t look like improving anytime soon. Once push comes to shove and the Broncos are presented with a little bit of chaos, they crumble. While the Sharks have had defensive issues of their own this season, their attack – led by Johnson – is second in the NRL at 25.8 points per game. We’re waiting for the Broncos to turn things around and begin to look like the team many thought could fight for the top four this season.

Will it be this week? It’s more likely that their attack catches fire than we see any significant defensive improvements.

Tip: Total Score – Over 44.5 points @ $1.95

Sydney Roosters v Gold Coast Titans @ Central Coast Stadium
Saturday 1st August, 3:00pm

James Tedesco1Corey Thompson
Ryan Hall2Anthony Don
Josh Morris3Brian Kelly
Joseph Manu4Dale Copley
Matt Ikuvalu5Phillip Sami
Luke Keary6Ashley Taylor
Kyle Flanagan7Jamal Fogarty
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves8Moeaki Fotuaika
Jake Friend9Nathan Peats
Siosiua Taukeiaho10Jaimin Jolliffe
Sitili Tupouniua11Kevin Proctor
Mitchell Aubusson12Keegan Hipgrave
Isaac Liu13Jai Arrow
Lachlan Lam14Tanah Boyd
Poasa Faamausili15Tyrone Peachey
Nat Butcher16Jarrod Wallace
Lindsay Collins17Sam Lisone

Played 19, Roosters 11, Titans 8

Last Meeting: Round 20, 2019: Roosters 58 def. Titans 6

Final Thoughts: The Sydney Roosters have been able to name much of the same side that handled the Warriors in Round 11. Ryan Hall replaces Brett Morris on the wing as the only change. The Gold Coast Titans have managed similarly with Keegan Hipgrave and Sam Lisone the only new faces to the side that fell to the Panthers 22-14.

A disappointing performance by the Roosters last week is a big worry for the Titans. We don’t see them repeat those sort of efforts in back-to-back weeks very often. While the Titans will be lifted by the signing of David Fifita, it doesn’t help them on the field this week. They still lack quality on the outside and few teams in the NRL can keep up with the Roosters middle.

Superior across the park and smarting following a lacklustre performance against the Warriors, expect the Roosters to run riot on Saturday afternoon. This Titans edge defence will struggle to keep a lid on Luke Keary and James Tedesco as they target short sides.

Tip: Handicap – Roosters -22.5 @ $1.90

North Queensland Cowboys v Canberra Raiders @ Queensland Country Bank Stadium
Saturday 1st August, 5:30pm

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow1Jordan Rapana
Kyle Feldt2Semi Valemei
Justin O’Neill3Jarrod Croker
Connelly Lemuelu4Curtis Scott
Murray Taulagi5Nick Cotric
Daejarn Asi6Jack Wighton
Jake Clifford7George Williams
Josh McGuire8Josh Papalii
Reece Robson9Siliva Havili
Jordan McLean10Dunamis Lui
Shane Wright11John Bateman
Coen Hess12Elliott Whitehead
Jason Taumalolo13Hudson Young
Mitchell Dunn14Tom Starling
Tom Gilbert15Joseph Tapine
Gavin Cooper16Ryan Sutton
Francis Molo17Corey Harawira-Naera

Played 39, Cowboys 19, Raiders 20

Last Meeting: Round 11, 2019: Cowboys 22 def. Raiders 16

Final Thoughts: Jordan McLean is a big in for the North Queensland Cowboys as they try to end their current four-game losing streak. While their attack continues to struggle, a strong and stable middle will help earn more opportunities to play in good ball areas. However, the Canberra Raiders trump that selection. John Bateman is back! We’re finally going to see what this right-side attack looks like with Curtis Scott also recalled. Corey Harawira-Naera comes straight into the 17, too.

North Queensland’s issues start in attack. They have a handful of excellent individual attacking players, but they’ve not been able to consistently combine for the best part of three seasons. Josh Hannay taking over from Paul Green didn’t seem to help last week either. While the Cowboys average more points per game at 19.7 to the Raiders’ 18.7, the two don’t compare. North Queensland have bullied poor defences to pile up points. Canberra, on the other hand, have faced a much tougher draw to date. However, with both sides forced into reshuffles and this Queensland Country Bank field looking worse by the week, points might be at a premium in this one.

Tip: Total Score – Under 41.5 points @ $1.90

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Penrith Panthers @ Lottoland
Saturday 1st August, 7:35pm

Sea EaglesPanthers
Brendan Elliot1Caleb Aekins
Jorge Taufua2Josh Mansour
Brad Parker3Brent Naden
Moses Suli4Stephen Crichton
Reuben Garrick5Malakai Watene-Zelezniak
Cade Cust6Jarome Luai
Daly Cherry-Evans7Nathan Cleary
Addin Fonua-Blake8James Tamou
Danny Levi9Mitchell Kenny
Martin Taupau10James Fisher-Harris
Joel Thompson11Viliame Kikau
Curtis Sironen12Liam Martin
Jake Trbojevic13Isaah Yeo
Lachlan Croker14Tyrone May
Corey Waddell15Spencer Leniu
Sean Keppie16Moses Leota
Taniela Paseka17Billy Burns

Played 33, Sea Eagles 15, Panthers 18

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

Final Thoughts: The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles have bounced back from their three-game losing streak to win back-to-back games over the Eels and Cowboys. An impressive pack continues to lead the way while Daly Cherry-Evans, and more recently, Cade Cust, manufacture points out the back. But as good as the Sea Eagles have been of late, the Penrith Panthers look every bit like NRL premiership contenders at the moment. While last weeks 22-14 win over the Titans wasn’t the most convincing, Viliame Kikau is back in the starting side for Saturday night. His inclusion makes the Panthers a threat on both sides of the field while Api Koroisau is also a chance at returning after being named in the reserves.

The battle in the middle of the field is a beauty. Manly’s middle is one of the few that can outmuscle Penrith which can take some of the sting out of their excellent attack on the edges. The Panthers dominate in good ball areas; a strong performance from the Sea Eagles pack limits those opportunities. Playing at home, on the improve and following two close losses to the Panthers over the last two seasons, I’ve circled the Sea Eagles as the Game Saver option this week.

Tip: Head-to-head – Sea Eagles @ $2.50

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Parramatta Eels @ ANZ Stadium
Sunday 2nd August, 2:00pm

Nick Meaney1Clinton Gutherson
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak2Maika Sivo
Tim Lafai3Michael Jennings
Jake Averillo4Waqa Blake
Marcelo Montoya5Blake Ferguson
Kieran Foran6Dylan Brown
Lachlan Lewis7Mitchell Moses
Aiden Tolman8Reagan Campbell-Gillard
Jeremy Marshall-King9Reed Mahoney
Dylan Napa10Junior Paulo
Josh Jackson11Shaun Lane
Raymond Faitala-Mariner12Ryan Matterson
Luke Thompson13Nathan Brown
Jack Cogger14Andrew Davey
Sione Katoa15Marata Niukore
Sauaso Sue16Kane Evans
Ofahiki Ogden17Oregon Kaufusi

Played 44, Bulldogs 22, Eels 21

Last Meeting: Round 1, 2020: Eels 8 def. Bulldogs 2

Final Thoughts: Well, we’re hoping this match is better than the NRL season-opener these two dished up in Round 1. The form guides suggest it will be. The Parramatta Eels handled the Tigers relatively comfortably in Round 11 and will expect to do the same against the 16th-placed Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs on Sunday. However, the Bulldogs come into this one following a classic performance. In atrocious conditions and on the road, the Dogs dug deep, completed their sets and defended with everything to upset the Knights 18-12.

While nobody will assume one win leads to another for the Bulldogs, they have a history of clicking into gear late in the season. Their effort has never been questioned. Tim Lafai makes for an interesting addition in the centres this week too. In looking at the lineups throughout the season, the Bulldogs might only be one Will Hopoate away from their best 17 in 2020. Still, their best 17 isn’t close to that of the Eels. Parramatta holds the advantage across the field with Mitchell Moses better for the 80 minutes last week, and Ryan Matterson hoping to shake off the concussion that kept him to just 15 minutes of game time.

It’s unlikely that we see another upset this week; the Eels will be prepared. However, another valiant defensive effort and high completions in attack can see the Bulldogs keep it close.

Tip: Handicap – Bulldogs +17.5 @ $1.93

Melbourne Storm v Newcastle Knights @ Sunshine Coast Stadium
Sunday 2nd August, 4:05pm

Ryan Papenhuyzen1Kalyn Ponga
Suliasi Vunivalu2Enari Tuala
Marion Seve3Tautau Moga
Justin Olam4Bradman Best
Josh Addo-Carr5Hymel Hunt
Cameron Munster6Kurt Mann
Jahrome Hughes7Mitchell Pearce
Nelson Asofa-Solomona8David Klemmer
Cameron Smith9Chris Randall
Christian Welch10Jacob Saifiti
Felise Kaufusi11Lachlan Fitzgibbon
Kenneath Bromwich12Aidan Guerra
Dale Finucane13Mitch Barnett
Brandon Smith14Phoenix Crossland
Tino Fa’asuamaleaui15Josh King
Albert Vete16Pasami Saulo
Tom Eisenhuth17Herman Ese’ese

Played 42, Storm 27, Knights 15

Last Meeting: Round 5, 2020: Storm 26 def. Knights 12

Final Thoughts: Round 12 ends with what should be a ripper as the ever-consistent Melbourne Storm host a Newcastle Knights side that will have been stewing on their poor Round 11 performance all week.

The Knights will be hoping to continue what has been a frustrating trend since the NRL season restarted. Following their draw in Round 3 the Knights have gone W/L/W/L/W/L/W/L. However, they will be battling injuries to keep the trend alive. Connor Watson and Andrew McCullough have both been ruled out for the season with Chris Randall named to take over at hooker. McCullough, in particular, had offered a lot out of dummy half and helped the Knights pack play the direct style they’ve had so much success with this season.

As for the Storm, they’ve been typically brilliant to quietly rise up to 2nd on the NRL ladder. They’re looking for their sixth win on the bounce after averaging 37 points per game across their last five games. Cameron Smith is putting on a clinic every game, Cameron Munster added his own flare last week, and the pack is once again one of the best in the business. They’ve made the Sunshine Coast a home away from home and should get the job done there again this week.

Tip: Handicap – Storm -13.5 @ $1.90