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
|Josh Dugan||1||Scott Drinkwater|
|Sosaia Feki||2||Kyle Feldt|
|Bronson Xerri||3||Javid Bowen|
|Josh Morris||4||Tom Opacic|
|Ronaldo Mulitalo||5||Murray Taulagi|
|Shaun Johnson||6||John Asiata|
|Chad Townsend||7||Jake Clifford|
|Braden Hamlin-Uele||8||Josh McGuire|
|Jayden Brailey||9||Jake Granville|
|Aaron Woods||10||Jordan McLean|
|Briton Nikora||11||Gavin Cooper|
|Kurt Capewell||12||Shane Wright|
|Paul Gallen||13||Jason Taumalolo|
|Blayke Brailey||14||Coen Hess|
|Jack Williams||15||Matthew Scott|
|Matt Prior||16||Scott Bolton|
|Billy Magoulias||17||Francis 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.
Newcastle Knights v Wests Tigers @ McDonald Jones Stadium
|Kalyn Ponga||1||Corey Thompson|
|Hymel Hunt||2||Paul Momirovski|
|Tautau Moga||3||Moses Mbye|
|Jesse Ramien||4||Esan Marsters|
|Shaun Kenny-Dowall||5||David Nofoaluma|
|Kurt Mann||6||Benji Marshall|
|Mitchell Pearce||7||Luke Brooks|
|David Klemmer||8||Josh Aloiai|
|Danny Levi||9||Robbie Farah|
|Daniel Saifiti||10||Oliver Clark|
|Mitch Barnett||11||Luke Garner|
|Sione Mata’utia||12||Michael Chee-Kam|
|Tim Glasby||13||Ryan Matterson|
|Connor Watson||14||Jacob Liddle|
|James Gavet||15||Thomas Mikaele|
|Herman Ese’ese||16||Alex Twal|
|Jamie Buhrer||17||Chris 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.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v St George-Illawarra Dragons @ ANZ Stadium
|Adam Doueihi||1||Corey Norman|
|Dane Gagai||2||Jason Saab|
|James Roberts||3||Euan Aitken|
|Braidon Burns||4||Timoteo Lafai|
|Campbell Graham||5||Zac Lomax|
|Cody Walker||6||Gareth Widdop|
|Adam Reynolds||7||Ben Hunt|
|Tevita Tatola||8||Blake Lawrie|
|Damien Cook||9||Cameron McInnes|
|Dean Britt||10||Paul Vaughan|
|John Sutton||11||Tyson Frizell|
|Ethan Lowe||12||Tariq Sims|
|Cameron Murray||13||James Graham|
|Tom Amone||14||Josh Kerr|
|Mark Nicholls||15||Korbin Sims|
|Jaydn Su’a||16||Matthew Dufty|
|Kyle Turner||17||Luciano 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.
Parramatta Eels v New Zealand Warriors @ Bankwest Stadium
|Clinton Gutherson||1||Roger Tuivasa-Sheck|
|Maika Sivo||2||Gerard Beale|
|Brad Takairangi||3||Peta Hiku|
|Waqa Blake||4||Blake Ayshford|
|Josh Hoffman||5||Ken Maumalo|
|Dylan Brown||6||Kodi Nikorima|
|Mitchell Moses||7||Blake Green|
|Kane Evans||8||Agnatius Paasi|
|Reed Mahoney||9||Issac Luke|
|Junior Paulo||10||Leeson Ah Mau|
|Marata Niukore||11||Adam Blair|
|Manu Ma’u||12||Isaiah Papali’i|
|Nathan Brown||13||Jazz Tevaga|
|Oregon Kaufusi||14||Lachlan Burr|
|Daniel Alvaro||15||Sam Lisone|
|David Gower||16||Bunty Afoa|
|Tepai Moeroa||17||Chanel 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.
Gold Coast Titans v Brisbane Broncos @ Cbus Super Stadium
|Michael Gordon||1||Anthony Milford|
|Dale Copley||2||Corey Oates|
|Kallum Watkins||3||Kotoni Staggs|
|Brian Kelly||4||Alex Glenn|
|Phillip Sami||5||Jamayne Isaako|
|Tyrone Roberts||6||Darius Boyd|
|Alexander Brimson||7||Jake Turpin|
|Jarrod Wallace||8||Matthew Lodge|
|Nathan Peats||9||Andrew McCullough|
|Jack Stockwell||10||Payne Haas|
|Kevin Proctor||11||David Fifita|
|Bryce Cartwright||12||Matt Gillett|
|Jai Whitbread||13||Tevita Pangai Junior|
|Tyrone Peachey||14||James Segeyaro|
|Moeaki Fotuaika||15||Joe Ofahengaue|
|Leilani Latu||16||Rhys Kennedy|
|Sam Stone||17||Patrick 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.
Melbourne Storm v Manly Warringah Sea Eagles @ AAMI Park
|Jahrome Hughes||1||Tom Trbojevic|
|Sandor Earl||2||Jorge Taufua|
|Will Chambers||3||Moses Suli|
|Justin Olam||4||Brad Parker|
|Josh Addo-Carr||5||Reuben Garrick|
|Cameron Munster||6||Dylan Walker|
|Brodie Croft||7||Daly Cherry-Evans|
|Jesse Bromwich||8||Addin Fonua-Blake|
|Cameron Smith||9||Manase Fainu|
|Nelson Asofa-Solomona||10||Martin Taupau|
|Felise Kaufusi||11||Joel Thompson|
|Kenneath Bromwich||12||Curtis Sironen|
|Dale Finucane||13||Jake Trbojevic|
|Brandon Smith||14||Lachlan Croker|
|Christian Welch||15||Corey Waddell|
|Joe Stimson||16||Morgan Boyle|
|Ryan Papenhuyzen||17||Taniela 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.
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs v Sydney Roosters @ ANZ Stadium
|Dallin Watene-Zelezniak||1||James Tedesco|
|Nick Meaney||2||Daniel Tupou|
|Kerrod Holland||3||Latrell Mitchell|
|Will Hopoate||4||Joseph Manu|
|Reimis Smith||5||Ryan Hall|
|Jack Cogger||6||Luke Keary|
|Lachlan Lewis||7||Cooper Cronk|
|Aiden Tolman||8||Jared Waerea-Hargreaves|
|Michael Lichaa||9||Victor Radley|
|Dylan Napa||10||Siosiua Taukeiaho|
|Josh Jackson||11||Boyd Cordner|
|Corey Harawira-Naera||12||Mitchell Aubusson|
|Adam Elliott||13||Isaac Liu|
|Jeremy Marshall-King||14||Sam Verrills|
|Renouf To’omaga||15||Zane Tetevano|
|Danny Fualalo||16||Angus Crichton|
|Chris Smith||17||Brett 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.
Penrith Panthers v Canberra Raiders @ Panthers Stadium
|Dylan Edwards||1||Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad|
|Josh Mansour||2||Bailey Simonsson|
|Dean Whare||3||Jarrod Croker|
|Brent Naden||4||Michael Oldfield|
|Brian To’o||5||Jordan Rapana|
|James Maloney||6||Jack Wighton|
|Nathan Cleary||7||Aidan Sezer|
|James Tamou||8||Josh Papalii|
|Mitchell Kenny||9||Josh Hodgson|
|James Fisher-Harris||10||Iosia Soliola|
|Viliame Kikau||11||John Bateman|
|Frank Winterstein||12||Elliott Whitehead|
|Isaah Yeo||13||Joseph Tapine|
|Wayde Egan||14||Siliva Havili|
|Jarome Luai||15||Emre Guler|
|Moses Leota||16||Corey Horsburgh|
|Reagan Campbell-Gillard||17||Dunamis 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.