NRL

JT’s ‘Previews’: The NRL, Round 14

The SCG Grand Final is making a comeback (Source: OZ Card Trader)

Major news dating back to November 2017 that resurfaced last night- The SCG is set to host the 2020 and 2021 Grand Finals, due to the Olympic Stadium getting set for redevelopment after the Sydney Origin game next season.

Just for old time’s sake, could Todd Greenberg wheel out Tina and Jimmy, and give the winner the Winfield Cup?

THURSDAY

Canberra vs Cronulla @ GIO Stadium, 7:50pm AEST

It’s funny how certain teams have a knack for getting a result at a certain ground- For example, the Storm have only lost once at Suncorp/Lang Park this past decade… and that was against the Titans in 2017.

The Sharks in Canberra are another good example of this, having not lost to the Raiders in Canberra since the 2012 Elimination Final, in spite of having to travel to our nation’s frozen capital every year- And one of those games was of course, the 2016 Qualifying Final.

The Raiders shut out the Tigers last week in Sydney 28-0 , while the Sharks poured on seven tries against the Eels to win 42-22, and to be honest, the scoreboard doesn’t do justice to the damage the Sharks did.

As a result, this match has become a classic case of the speeding Volvo in Cronulla, versus the Brick Wall in the Green Machine.

The fact that the Sharks now have both Wade Graham and Shaun Johnson back in the line-up (SJ is on the bench), and that good record in Canberra, means the visitors are now somehow the betting favourite- Which is funny to think, considering the Raiders are 4th and just came off yet another shutout win.

FRIDAY

Gold Coast vs New Zealand @ Cbus Super Stadium, 6pm AEST

A Battle of the Bottom Dwellers.

If the Titans announced a Mal Meninga Review into their Football Department every week, Garth Brennan would be a coach on par with Bennett, Bellamy and Robinson.

That upset win against the hated Broncos on their own dungheap means the Titans now have wins in two of their past three games, and were it not for a few missed shots at goal against the Cowboys, that streak could’ve been three in a row.

Tyrone Peachey’s ill-fated move to the Titans appears set to reach it’s uneventful end, as he seeks a move back to Penrith.

Apparently he’s discontent with being the second best Tyrone on the team, akin to Mark being the second-best Waugh playing for Australia.

On the flip side, it’s becoming clearer that the boys from Aotearoa won’t be playing finals in 2019, having fallen to 13th with a 4-8 record, as they show glimpses of good footy every now and then, followed by disappearing for long stretches.

That’s so Warriors.

Although on the bright side for the visitors, they have won 15 of their past 17 encounters against the Titans, and they won 26-10 back in Round 4… which apparently still only makes this game a 50/50.

North Queensland vs Wests Tigers @ 1300SMILES Stadium, 7:55pm AEST

Due to upcoming Origin byes and road trips, this will be the Cowboys’ last game in Katter Country for over a month.

The Cowboys saw their three-game winning streak snapped by the visiting Sea Eagles, who shut down the hosts in the 2nd Half.

The Sea Eagles were the better team for 73/80 minutes… the only bright spot for the Cows was that they made the most of those seven minutes, and scored three converted tries to keep them in the game right to the death.

They also weren’t helped by the fact that Paul Green screwed the pooch, when he used all eight interchanges before Jordan McLean pulled his hamstring, meaning they had to play the final 10 minutes with 12 men.

As for Wests… well, scoring points would be a good start.

The Cowboys will probably win, but the better question will be, who will have the honour of losing their eye in one of Josh McGuire’s delightful facial massages?

SATURDAY

Melbourne vs Newcastle @ AAMI Park, 3pm AEST

Aside from beating the Warriors, the big news for the Stormers this week is Cameron Smith getting the nod for Queen’s Birthday Honours list, so now when people ask him how his name is spelt, he replies to that his name is Cameron… with an AM.

In the meantime, the Storm keep plugging away with that no-frills footy, taking full advantage of their Northern rivals slipping up and putting them a game on top, with a game in hand to boot.

Led by Mitchell Pearce, the Knights are the hottest team going around, with six wins on the bounce and only PD off Canberra in 4th, and sure, you could pick holes in most of the opposition they’ve played, but they just keep on winning, and last week, they took full advantage of a weakened Souths, even with Kalyn Ponga having an evening nap and David Klemmer injured after Origin I.

Now, they face their toughest test yet- The Storm in Rugby League Mordor.

Imagine the scenes from the New South Wales selectors if Pearce sends Cameron Smith to Suplex City, and then goes on to win the game for the Knights with a last second field goal.

They’ll still end up picking Nathan Cleary.

Souths vs Penrith @ ANZ Stadium, 5:35pm AEST

It really does speak volumes that the team in 14th is currently in better form than the team in 2nd, but here we are, it’s happening, and we have to plan for it.

Souths are feeling the Origin pinch, and have now dropped two games in a row, with a further blow coming with the loss of both Burgess brothers to suspension (Tom) and shoulder surgery (Sam).

But, in a case of good timing, Cody Walker is back in the halves after a rest, although the bigger news is that Dane Gagai’s future at Souths is once again back in the public forum, as the arrival of James Roberts leaves him in danger of playing second fiddle in the backline.

The only thing that Gagai does of any note at club level is sit around and scratch his arse until Origin comes around, when he turns into rugby league’s answer to Jonah Lomu.

On the flip side, the Panthers have somehow won three in a row, making the mighty leap from 16th to 14th, their most recent performance being that stirring win against the Roosters, with Jimmy Maloney and Nathan Cleary both putting their hands up to the NSW Selectors.

It’s hilarious to say this, but I really mean it- the Panthers can seriously win this.

Parramatta vs Brisbane @ Bankwest Stadium, 7:35pm AEST

The Eels and Broncos.

It’s harder to imagine two teams who have caused more ‘frustrated head on concrete’ related injuries this season.

Fittingly, they’re almost even on the ladder- Both sit on 12 points, with the Eels in 8th on -23 and the Broncos in 9th on -24 with a game in hand.

They also both suffered disappointing losses last weekend- The Eels were lucky to only lose 42-22 to the Sharks, in what was an old-fashioned arse kicking, and the Broncos lost Tom Dearden, and the game to the Titans, 26-18.

It snapped the Broncs’ three-game winning run, and once again, Darius Boyd tried too hard to defend a try.

I haven’t seen someone try that hard to get themselves fired from a sports team since George Costanza destroyed one of the Yankees’ World Series trophies.

This game could seriously be the comedy event of the season.

SUNDAY

Manly vs St George Illawarra @ Brookvale Oval, 2pm AEST

Both teams desperately needed a win last weekend, and that’s what they got.

The Sea Eagles finally had their best team on the park this season (DCE, The Turbo brothers, Walker etc) in Townsville, and thanks to Des threatening to confiscate their iPads at Half-Time, overcame the dogged Cowboys to win 22-20, holding the ‘Boys scoreless in the 2nd Half.

What made it somewhat more impressive was that Tommy Turbo (On his comeback) had next to no impact.

The Red V were in a free fall, and it got even better with a horrible start against the Doggies on the Queen’s Birthday, knocking on and conceding a try to their old rivals inside two minutes, but from there on, they absolutely dominated and won 36-12, joining the freight train on 12 competition points.

The Dragons have won their past 4 against the Sea Eagles, including that heartbreaking 12-10 win on Easter Saturday, which was settled by Mikaele Ravalawa’s 78th minute try… and a missed ‘escort’ penalty against the Red V on the last play of the game.

You get the feeling that in front of the Brooky faithful, the Sea Eagles will ironically be ones breathing fire.

Easts vs Canterbury @ The SCG, 4:05pm AEST

Keeping up that “First time at The SCG” business that seems to be going on with the Roosters this season, this will be the first time the two teams have played one another at the SCG since Round 5, 1986.

The Dogs won 19-12, and just to show you how long ago that was, Arthur Beetson was coaching Easts, and Warren Ryan was coaching Canterbury.

The Immortal Artie has since passed, and last I heard of Warren, he was impersonating Bruce Lee at a Maroubra pub.

The Chooks have slipped badly, losing three games on the trot and struggling to score in all of them, although thanks to that eight-game winning run, they have enough of a cushion to stay in 3rd spot, with the Green Machine breathing down their neck.

The struggles of the Chooks with key injuries once again highlights just how brutally hard it is to go back-to-back in the modern NRL.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are now welded on to 16th spot, after the Dragons easily dealt with them on Monday afternoon, and yet again, they struggled with the exact same problem they’ve faced all year.

They get through their sets, and simply have no idea what to do when they get into enemy territory, and politely hand the ball back.

Latrell Mitchell has apparently found his motivation and is back in the Roosters team, as is Angus Crichton, while Kiwi captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak is all set to go for the Berries, and Dylan Napa is all set to take on his former employers for the first time.

On paper it’s the biggest mismatch of the round, and the perfect chance for the Chooks to return to the Winners Circle.

Which means it’ll be a 6-4 slugfest.

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