The Knights are still a live chance for the finals after last week’s 34-24 win over the Raiders and now face a Broncos side also coming off a victory over Queensland rivals the Cowboys. Brisbane, meanwhile, will fancy themselves a chance at picking up two straight wins following their blowout victory over the Cowboys last week. The Broncos did extremely well to inflict most of the damage in the first half, but they now find themselves at a serious disadvantage with Katoni Staggs ruled out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury. His form on return was impressive and the Broncos turnaround can be heavily attributed to his play. The Knights face the Sharks, Bulldogs and Titans before another clash against the Broncos in Round 25 – a welcome sign for Newcastle fans after enduring so much heartache this season. With their stars fit and the top eight in reach, a Knights victory looks likely, but with the Broncos riding some momentum, I’m going to back them at the line.
As far as the finals are concerned, this is a pivotal game on Friday night between ninth and tenth. The Raiders appeared well on their way towards another finals berth a week ago before they ran into a resurgent Knights last Sunday. Missed tackles and penalties cost Canberra big time in the 10-point loss, but they do have a prime opportunity to atone against a Dragons outfit that has spiraled out of the eight. St George suffered its third consecutive loss last week in a 50-14 defeat at the hands of South Sydney, while things only look to get worse with their only shining light of late, Ben Hunt suffering a fractured arm, ruling him out for the remainder of the season. The Dragons have failed to score more than 20 points in their last four contests, and with some tough games coming up against the Storm, Manly and the Roosters, Ricky Stuart’s side should sense the importance of a win here and take full advantage of the wounded Saints.
Whilst the two sides were previously battling it out for third place, Parramatta defeat at the hands of the Roosters last week now has the Rabbitohs sitting six points clear in third. This also continues to pose the question as to whether the Eels are true premiership contenders or will they once again fall short in another serviceable year. The Eels will be keen to bounce-back but this does look a difficult assignment for them. The Rabbitohs, meanwhile, remain one of the healthiest sides in the competition and look to be peaking as we head into the finals series, even if they are flying under the radar despite multiple 50 points performances over the past 2 rounds. Souths had no trouble scoring points against the Eels in their 18-point victory back in May and with a red hot Cody Walker leading the side around I’m backing them to cover the line in one of the best bets this weekend.
I found this one of the toughest games to assess after the withdrawal of Shaun Johnson to a season ending injury, which levels the teams up. Cronulla has managed only two wins from its last five games as they look to forget all about last week’s ugly loss to Manly at Suncorp.
The Warriors are still a mathematical chance at playing finals thanks to a narrow win over the Tigers, while they’ll also be out for some revenge after losing by eight points to Cronulla when they met earlier in the year. Winning back-to-back games has proven a problem for New Zealand, but this is a very winnable game with some reinforcements returning, including Chanel Harris-Tevita, Matt Lodge and Addin Fonua Blake. I think the line for the Warriors looks to good to ignore.
Fans are treated to another top 8 clash with the Roosters and Panthers going head to head.
The tri-colours edged their way into the top four last week with a gutsy shutout victory over the Eels, while the Panthers suffered a humbling loss at the hands of the Storm that has left last year’s runner-ups with plenty to think about heading towards the finals. The Roosters have spent most of the season overcoming injury and they’ll need to do that again with Josh Morris likely to miss the next month. Penrith was no match for the Storm defensively last week missing 39 tackles in the loss in what would have been most concerning for Ivan Cleary considering their defensive consistency throughout the year. The Panthers are still struggling in attack, and even though their class might get them home, I’m confident in taking the Roosters at the line.
The match of the round sees the Storm looking to add to their 16-game winning streak on Saturday against the red hot Manly. If they weren’t already, Melbourne earned their spot as the rightful premiership favourite last week with a blowout win over Penrith, and while Manly have three consecutive wins over the Dragons, Tigers, and Sharks, they face the litmus test here. Melbourne have won the last three contests between the two and Such is the current form of Tom Trbojevic in attack, he will be able to keep Manly in the game and while the current double-digit line is a little nerve-racking when you consider how well the Sea Eagles have been playing, but given the Storm have been so dominant this year, I can’t go past them here.
Canterbury has now lost six straight games following last week’s 34-6 defeat against the Titans, with the 2021 season being a right off at Belmore. The Tigers, meanwhile, will be eager to make up for last week’s loss to the Warriors that saw them squander a 10-point lead to go down and place more pressure on Michael Maguire. As far as the wooden spoon race is concerned, the Bulldogs should also sense the importance of this game after the Broncos drew six points clear with a win over the Cowboys last week. On the injury front, Moses Mbye is shifting to fullback in place of the injured Daine Laurie, while Bailey Biondi-Odo will make his debut for the Bulldogs after Kyle Flanagan was dropped. The Tigers have won the last 2 games between the sides and I was surprised by the short line and am confident with backing the Tigers at the line.
The Titans find themselves back in the eight following a 28-point win over the Bulldogs last week, however must win to cement their position amongst the mid table jostling. Gold Coast faces a tough run home with games against the Rabbitohs, Storm and Knights ahead, making a win over the Cowboys vitally important this week for Justin Holbrook’s side with time running out. The Cowboys were comprehensively beaten 44-8 when these two sides met back in March, with fullback AJ Brimson scoring a double. Even with Valentine Holmes returning for the Cowboys, the Titans should win this game if they can keep their defensive errors to a minimum and also stick the majority of their tackles – two things they did well last week against the Dogs. David Fifita has come into imperious form in recent weeks and now leads the competition in tackle breaks with 130, and his battle with Jason Taumololo is always box office. While the form is with the Titans, the Cowboys will lift for this Queensland derby, especially considering what happened against the Broncos last round, and I’m tipping a high energy match to close out Round 21.
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