Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 19 matches. It’s a big week for fringe Top 8 teams.

Cronulla Sharks v North Queensland Cowboys @ Pointsbet Stadium
Thursday 25th July, 7:50pm

SharksCowboys
Josh Dugan1Scott Drinkwater
Sosaia Feki2Kyle Feldt
Bronson Xerri3Javid Bowen
Josh Morris4Tom Opacic
Ronaldo Mulitalo5Murray Taulagi
Shaun Johnson6John Asiata
Chad Townsend7Jake Clifford
Braden Hamlin-Uele8Josh McGuire
Jayden Brailey9Jake Granville
Aaron Woods10Jordan McLean
Briton Nikora11Gavin Cooper
Kurt Capewell12Shane Wright
Paul Gallen13Jason Taumalolo
Blayke Brailey14Coen Hess
Jack Williams15Matthew Scott
Matt Prior16Scott Bolton
Billy Magoulias17Francis Molo


History:
Played 48, Sharks 29, Cowboys 18

Last Meeting: Round 3, 2019: Sharks 42 def. Cowboys 16

Final Thoughts: We’ve got two teams all but playing for their season in this one. The Sharks have lost five in a row with their spot in the NRL finals really in jeopardy. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are hanging around the Top 8 for long enough to be a chance. The loser will need to win five of their last six games just to be in with a sniff of September footy.

While the Sharks have the better list and are playing at home, there’s not a lot to be confident about with this group. Fighting amongst each other off the field and not coming together on it, their form tells the story of a club in strife. To make matters worse, Andrew Fifita is suspended for this one. The Sharks are going to miss his influence given their struggles through the middle in recent weeks.

The Cowboys, on the other hand, are rarely dominated in the centre-third. Not with Jason Taumalolo out there, anyway. He ensures the Cows are at least a chance of scoring points, even if the constantly changing halves pairing struggles to produce. North Queensland’s middle should see them compete on Thursday night.

Tip: Handicap – Cowboys +5.5 @ $1.90

Newcastle Knights v Wests Tigers @ McDonald Jones Stadium
Friday 26th July, 6:00pm

KnightsTigers
Kalyn Ponga1Corey Thompson
Hymel Hunt2Paul Momirovski
Tautau Moga3Moses Mbye
Jesse Ramien4Esan Marsters
Shaun Kenny-Dowall5David Nofoaluma
Kurt Mann6Benji Marshall
Mitchell Pearce7Luke Brooks
David Klemmer8Josh Aloiai
Danny Levi9Robbie Farah
Daniel Saifiti10Oliver Clark
Mitch Barnett11Luke Garner
Sione Mata’utia12Michael Chee-Kam
Tim Glasby13Ryan Matterson
Connor Watson14Jacob Liddle
James Gavet15Thomas Mikaele
Herman Ese’ese16Alex Twal
Jamie Buhrer17Chris Lawrence


History:
Played 28, Knights 13, Tigers 13

Last Meeting: Round 21, 2018: Tigers 25 def. Knights 16

Final Thoughts: The Knights have been brought back down to earth in recent weeks and crash into the Tigers on Friday night. Humbled by the Roosters in Round 18, the Knights will be eager to bounce back in this one. They’re barely hanging on to their 8th spot on the NRL ladder and don’t have the easiest run home. A loss here to a very beatable Wests outfit could define Newcastle’s season.

Consistency continues to elude the Tigers. Playing decent foot through June, they’ve now lost three in a row. The Wests attack is beyond poor. Meanwhile, their defence is uninspiring and only puts more pressure on the spluttering attack to produce. Michael Maguire has made a couple of changes for Friday night. None are likely to change the course of Wests season, though.

Despite the poor form leading in, the Knights are deserved favourites. Sure, they’ve been a touch overrated to this point. But the Knights have the better players in key positions and a good enough pack to compete with the Tigers through the middle. The likes of Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga should get the job done from there.

Tip: Half-time/Full-time – Knights/Knights @ $2

South Sydney Rabbitohs v St George-Illawarra Dragons @ ANZ Stadium
Friday 26th July, 7:55pm

RabbitohsDragons
Adam Doueihi1Corey Norman
Dane Gagai2Jason Saab
James Roberts3Euan Aitken
Braidon Burns4Timoteo Lafai
Campbell Graham5Zac Lomax
Cody Walker6Gareth Widdop
Adam Reynolds7Ben Hunt
Tevita Tatola8Blake Lawrie
Damien Cook9Cameron McInnes
Dean Britt10Paul Vaughan
John Sutton11Tyson Frizell
Ethan Lowe12Tariq Sims
Cameron Murray13James Graham
Tom Amone14Josh Kerr
Mark Nicholls15Korbin Sims
Jaydn Su’a16Matthew Dufty
Kyle Turner17Luciano Leilua


History:
Played 48, Rabbitohs 22, Dragons 22

Last Meeting: Round 2, 2019: Rabbitohs 34 def. Dragons 18

Final Thoughts: Resting Ben Hunt certainly didn’t help the Dragons in Round 18. Will it pay dividends here? Probably not.

The Dragons are in awful form and lucky not to have one hand on the wooden spoon. They would have if not for a couple of field goals. Unless this Dragons pack decides that this is the week they finally play up to their potential, then Friday night will more than likely go as most expect.

While the Rabbitohs haven’t played their best footy since starting the season with a 10-1 record, things are starting to come together. They’re relatively healthy outside of Sam and Tom Burgess’ injuries. Still strong through the middle and with combinations developing nicely out wide, there’s a feeling that Souths are timing their run. They’ll have one eye on the NRL  ladder, too. Currently in 2nd and two points above the Roosters, the Rabbitohs are clear of playing the Storm in Week 1 of the finals at the moment. They’ll want to keep it that way.

Wayne Bennett knows the back-end of an NRL season better than anybody. There’s little chance that Souths take their foot off the pedal on Friday night.

Tip: Handicap – Rabbitohs -7.5 @ $1.87

Parramatta Eels v New Zealand Warriors @ Bankwest Stadium
Saturday 27th July, 3:00pm

EelsWarriors
Clinton Gutherson1Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
Maika Sivo2Gerard Beale
Brad Takairangi3Peta Hiku
Waqa Blake4Blake Ayshford
Josh Hoffman5Ken Maumalo
Dylan Brown6Kodi Nikorima
Mitchell Moses7Blake Green
Kane Evans8Agnatius Paasi
Reed Mahoney9Issac Luke
Junior Paulo10Leeson Ah Mau
Marata Niukore11Adam Blair
Manu Ma’u12Isaiah Papali’i
Nathan Brown13Jazz Tevaga
Oregon Kaufusi14Lachlan Burr
Daniel Alvaro15Sam Lisone
David Gower16Bunty Afoa
Tepai Moeroa17Chanel Harris-Tavita


History:
Played 40, Eels 21, Warriors 18

Last Meeting: Round 11, 2018: Warriors 24 def. Eels 14

Final Thoughts: Waqa Blake makes his Eels debut on Saturday afternoon. He joins a backline that, while not full of big names, has produced plenty of points when switched on. At Bankwest Stadium, in particular. Parramatta is averaging 31.1 points per game at their new home for a 4-1 record. They’re favourites to find their fifth win in this one against an inconsistent Warriors outfit.

While the Warriors have only lost one of their last five games, it’s not been a convincing few weeks for the Kiwi club. They remain the most frustrating side in the NRL. Almost any other side would have put 40 points on the Sharks last week such was the Warriors dominance. However, their inefficiency close to the opposition goal line was painfully evident for the full 80 minutes. With the number of points in them at Bankwest and the Warriors’ struggles to produce points, the Eels should solidify their place in the Top 8 this week.

Tip: Handicap – Eels -4.5 @ $1.95

Gold Coast Titans v Brisbane Broncos @ Cbus Super Stadium
Saturday 27th July, 5:30pm

TitansBroncos
Michael Gordon1Anthony Milford
Dale Copley2Corey Oates
Kallum Watkins3Kotoni Staggs
Brian Kelly4Alex Glenn
Phillip Sami5Jamayne Isaako
Tyrone Roberts6Darius Boyd
Alexander Brimson7Jake Turpin
Jarrod Wallace8Matthew Lodge
Nathan Peats9Andrew McCullough
Jack Stockwell10Payne Haas
Kevin Proctor11David Fifita
Bryce Cartwright12Matt Gillett
Jai Whitbread13Tevita Pangai Junior
Tyrone Peachey14James Segeyaro
Moeaki Fotuaika15Joe Ofahengaue
Leilani Latu16Rhys Kennedy
Sam Stone17Patrick Carrigan


History:
Played 27, Titans 7, Broncos 19

Last Meeting: Round 13, 2019: Titans 26 def. Broncos 18

Final Thoughts: Well, the change in the coaching staff didn’t help the Titans last week. They were thrashed by a Storm side resting most of its Origin stars. An encouraging opening eight minutes did nothing to disguise the fact that many of the Gold Coast’s deficiencies still remain despite the apparent attitude change. No matter what is going on behind the scenes at the club, though, the players will be up for this one against their rivals.

The Titans took the chocolates when these two last met in Round 13. Something they’ve only managed seven times in 27 attempts. But this appears to be a different Broncos team. Their pack has played well through the middle for a few weeks now. It’s always going to be the middle that determines how successful this team is each week. On the back of it, the Darius Boyd and Anthony Milford switch has begun to pay off with both looking comfortable in their new positions.

With the Titans pack not offering a lot to get excited about outside of Moeaki Fotuaika, there’s little chance they stop the Broncos from rolling up the field. The points will come from there.

Tip: Anytime Tryscorer – David Fifita @ $3.80

Melbourne Storm v Manly Warringah Sea Eagles @ AAMI Park
Saturday 27th July, 7:35pm

StormSea Eagles
Jahrome Hughes1Tom Trbojevic
Sandor Earl2Jorge Taufua
Will Chambers3Moses Suli
Justin Olam4Brad Parker
Josh Addo-Carr5Reuben Garrick
Cameron Munster6Dylan Walker
Brodie Croft7Daly Cherry-Evans
Jesse Bromwich8Addin Fonua-Blake
Cameron Smith9Manase Fainu
Nelson Asofa-Solomona10Martin Taupau
Felise Kaufusi11Joel Thompson
Kenneath Bromwich12Curtis Sironen
Dale Finucane13Jake Trbojevic
Brandon Smith14Lachlan Croker
Christian Welch15Corey Waddell
Joe Stimson16Morgan Boyle
Ryan Papenhuyzen17Taniela Paseka


History:
Played 36, Storm 19, Sea Eagles 14

Last Meeting: Round 18, 2018: Storm 14 def. Sea Eagles 13

Final Thoughts: Who would have thought way back in March that this game would be a Saturday night blockbuster?

The Storm are the benchmark of the competition at the top of the NRL ladder. Meanwhile, the Sea Eagles are the surprise packet of the season and only look to be getting better. With Tom Trbojevic healthy and in the squad week-to-week, the Sea Eagles are 6-0 when their superstar fullback takes the field in 2019. It’s not quite that simple this week, though.

With Cameron Munster, Will Chambers, Josh Addo-Carr, Felise Kaufusi and Christian Welch all coming into this one after a week off, the Storm will be ready to explode. Hearing that leading voices in the game don’t believe they have another level will act as motivation, too. Craig Bellamy is a genius. If he doesn’t take away an opposing teams best weapon, he disarms it enough to be able to contain it. That’s Tom Trbojevic this week.

If Manly’s strike weapon isn’t 100% effective, they’ll struggle to wear Melbourne down. However, the expectation is that this game remains close. The Sea Eagles can hold their own in the middle. Well enough to engage in the arm-wrestle and keep it low-scoring.

Tip: Handicap – Sea Eagles +8.5 @ $1.87

Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs v Sydney Roosters @ ANZ Stadium
Sunday 28th July, 2:00pm

BulldogsRoosters
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak1James Tedesco
Nick Meaney2Daniel Tupou
Kerrod Holland3Latrell Mitchell
Will Hopoate4Joseph Manu
Reimis Smith5Ryan Hall
Jack Cogger6Luke Keary
Lachlan Lewis7Cooper Cronk
Aiden Tolman8Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
Michael Lichaa9Victor Radley
Dylan Napa10Siosiua Taukeiaho
Josh Jackson11Boyd Cordner
Corey Harawira-Naera12Mitchell Aubusson
Adam Elliott13Isaac Liu
Jeremy Marshall-King14Sam Verrills
Renouf To’omaga15Zane Tetevano
Danny Fualalo16Angus Crichton
Chris Smith17Brett Morris


History:
Played 183, Bulldogs 85, Roosters 92

Last Meeting: Round 14, 2019: Roosters 38 def. Bulldogs 12

Final Thoughts: Oh dear. This could be a bloodbath.

The Roosters announced their 2019 premiership campaign by putting the sword through the Knights for 48 points last week. Finished mucking around and seemingly ready to begin their run towards the finals, we’re about to see the Roosters at their best.

The Bulldogs would be unlikely to keep this close even playing the Roosters at their worst. Dean Pay has the Dogs playing effort footy and they offer some encouraging signs. They ultimately have the worst list in the NRL, though. This group can only go so high and that isn’t close to the Chooks.

Losers of the last five and nine of the last 11 between the two clubs, the Bulldogs aren’t much of a chance at arresting their slide against the Roosters. The visitors arrive with the superior pack and arguably the best backline in the competition. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs score the fewest points in the competition at just 12.7 per game.

With plenty of points on offer for the Roosters, this might be the week Ryan Hall finally opens his NRL try-scoring account.

Tip: Anytime Tryscorer – Ryan Hall @ $1.91

Penrith Panthers v Canberra Raiders @ Panthers Stadium
Sunday 28th July, 4:10pm

PanthersRaiders
Dylan Edwards1Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
Josh Mansour2Bailey Simonsson
Dean Whare3Jarrod Croker
Brent Naden4Michael Oldfield
Brian To’o5Jordan Rapana
James Maloney6Jack Wighton
Nathan Cleary7Aidan Sezer
James Tamou8Josh Papalii
Mitchell Kenny9Josh Hodgson
James Fisher-Harris10Iosia Soliola
Viliame Kikau11John Bateman
Frank Winterstein12Elliott Whitehead
Isaah Yeo13Joseph Tapine
Wayde Egan14Siliva Havili
Jarome Luai15Emre Guler
Moses Leota16Corey Horsburgh
Reagan Campbell-Gillard17Dunamis Lui


History:
Played 77, Panthers 38, Raiders 37

Last Meeting: Round 8, 2019: Raiders 30 def. Panthers 12

Final Thoughts: The Panthers have won seven in a row, but Sunday is their biggest test of the last two months. They’ll play close to a full-strength genuine contender for the premiership in the Raiders. And they’ll do it without Viliame Kikau who was suspended on Tuesday night.

While the Raiders won relatively easily when these two last met in Round 8, the two games can’t be compared. That version of the Panthers is gone. Now, they’re defending well and slowly starting to find points in attack. Penrith is far from an attacking powerhouse, but they’re improving as the spine gels and outside backs get fit and healthy. The Panthers will need to continue that improvement through to this week against the second-best defence in the NRL.

The Raiders have addressed their most significant issue in 2018 to become one of the competitions premiers defensive teams in 2019. As a result, they sit 4th on the ladder and look good to stay there through to the end of Round 25. The defence has been the change, and it’s what will get them over the line on Sunday. Even through the middle and perhaps slightly better than the Panthers on the edges, the Raiders have the goal line defence to keep the opposition out. We all know the Green Machine can score points themselves.

Tip: Head-to-head – Raiders @ $1.90