The Sharks and the Storm have broken clear and the are sitting up in rarefied air. With the Broncos and the Cowboys well below their best the Raiders and the Bulldogs both a chance to surge up the ladder and start contesting for a top 4 spot. For everyone else it's about getting the sit right for a run into finals.
The match ups this week:
Roosters v Bulldogs (Thu 30/06, 7.50pm)
Hasler loves his sides to fly under the radar and then make a run late in the season. When you rack up 40 against last years premiers not only are you on everyone's radar you have just about busted the damn thing. The Dogs are starting to become a very scary prospect with a massive forward pack, that can not only run they all have a passing game too. For the Roosters all they can rely on is the return of Guerra and Ferguson from Origin and Pearce comes back from injury. Sadly though, this is all they have to look forward to. If the Roosters find a way to win it will be one of the upsets of the season. A win and a couple of other games going their way puts the 'Dogs of War' in the top 4. Rhyming aside, if the dogs show up with the same form they did against the Broncos they will leave a path of chicken carnage so devastating the Colonel wouldn't touch them. Bulldogs by plenty!.
Broncos v Storm (Fri 01/07, 7.50pm)
The Broncos need a win, and they need one bad. Origin periods famously leave Brisbane clutching at straws and this year is no exception. I have said it in previous weeks that the form of Mlford and Hunt can be attributed mostly to them missing McCullough. Generally McCullough controls their ruck and Milford and Hunt go about doing what they do. With him back the Broncos might at least challenge the Storm. For Melbourne they keep rolling towards September. Cronk and Smith back up so well, Origin just doesn't affect them like it does other teams. Even though the Sharks are top of the table, Melbourne are the form team of the comp. Forget this being an away game as Melbourne relish playing at Suncorp (it's almost a home game for Cronk and Smith anyway). Bromwich is the best prop in the world at the moment and his go forward should provide the Storm with enough of a platform. The Storm will target Hunt in defence who often finds himself out of position. I think this week the Broncos slip out of the top 4. They might push Melbourne for 80. But I have the Storm winning by 6-8 points.
Warriors v Titans (Sat 02/07, 3.00pm)
The Warriors continue to impress in their typical Origin 'purple patch'. They won 3 on the trot and then pushed the Sharks all the way into Golden Point. Johnson is back to his best and when he runs with the ball, there is no better light footed pivot in the game. The Titans all season have been there or there abouts, Last week against the Raiders (a strong attacking side) they got found out. The Warriors equally as attacking as the Raiders will be another test. Unfortunately for the Titans they will be without their young rising Star Ash Taylor, and they will, sadly, most likely go down again this week.
West Tigers v Panthers (Sat 02/07, 5.30pm)
The West Tigers got within a point of the Storm last week and their second half showed when they click they can beat any team in the competition. This match up is about future halves Cleary/Cartwright v future halves Moses/Brookes. Taylor will use Farah as a game breaker again and probably bring him on around the 20 minute mark to add some punch to the Tigers attack. For the Panthers Jamie Soward sits out again and by all reports he has played his last game of NRL and may be on a plane to Super League as early as next week. The Panthers have a side for the next five years building and a premiership is in their near future. This is a tough one to pick. I can't split the side's as Farah's experience is offset by Wallace's. This is a game where Aaron Woods needs to step up and assert his dominance. Even though the smart money has the Panthers edging the Tigers, I just have a hunch Taylor's men will get home. If the do call me clairvoyant.
Sharks v Eels (Sat 02/07, 7.30pm)
Is Semi back yet?. You know what, I don't think it matters. This is a simple one, the Sharks are ticking along nicely with nearly every player in top form. They represent NSW Origin more than any club and Ben Barba could be set to be their next rep. player named (and Graham might get a run if he keeps his charge sheet clean). Sharks are going for 12 straight wins, a record in the clubs history. Their 11 straight win was matched in 2015 by the Cowboys and they went on to win the whole damn thing. Coincidence?. For the Eels it's simple. Foran and Radradra causing so many off field disruptions, not to mention the scandals that imploded the side earlier in the year. I don't care how focused Arthur has them (and he is doing a stellar job by he way, I don't think any other coach could have held the side together like he has) it's too much for them. The Sharks probably wont blow them off the park. They will just do enough to win without straining too many players.
Raiders v Knights (Sun 03/07, 2.00pm)
The 'Knights-mare' continues (one of my best!). The Raiders are starting to look like they can string together an 80 minute performance. They switched off the least they have in recent times against the Titans. The danger for the Knights is up the middle. Junior Paulo is close to the signing of the season and he and 'Pappa' (Josh Papalii) are destroying teams. If that wasn't hard enough to contain up the middle you have Leilua/Croker chopping sides up in the centres, both sides of the ruck. There isn't too much to say for Newcastle here, they are clearly setting their sights on 2017 and beyond with Brown using 2016 as an experience year for his young players. Brown has a plan in place for the future, it is just that that future doesn't include this weeks game. The Raiders could rack up a scary score if they click. Canberra 20+
Rabbitohs v Cowboys (Sun 03/07, 4.00pm)
This is a real test for the Cowboys. They missed Morgan last week and it showed as they couldn't finish the Sea Eagles off. Up by 18 early you thought the procession would start but they switched off in places. Scott for some reason was pushing a lot of silly passes. They were solidified wen Asiata came on (he is a skillfull backrower) and I would expect him to get more game time this week. Thompson comes back into the side. He would probably walk on as a starting halfback for any other side, but he decided to stick with the Cowboys he loves and play as a fringe player which has seen him rack up 100 games over a long career. The Cowboys will welcome him back and that means they can use Kostjasyn as an impact player. The Rabbitohs season is all but over and if you look at list v potential they are the team that gets the least out of their roster more than any other team. The imbalance appears to be the focus they poured into getting Burgess back from Rugby and GI has had his worst season in a lot of ears. Reynolds will have to figure something out if the Bunnies are any chance. The other thing in the Rabbitohs favour is the game time. Although obscure and you would think it wouldn't factor, the Cowboys play 95% of their NRL season on a Saturday night and a Sunday game will be a shift for them. I have the Cowboys to win a close one.
Sea Eagles v Dragons (Mon 04/070, 7.00pm)
With Cherry-Evans back and the forwards giving a bit mre up the middle in the hard Manly grunt department the Sea Eagles played better than they have in a long time against the Cowboys. And they almost got the win. However on the flipside of the coin the Dragon also looked very good with Marshall in vintage form. The key match up is in the halves with DCE pushing for Morgans empty QLD spot and Benji taking on the line again. The Silver tails have much more on the line than the Dragons as one more loss with definitely end their season. This is one of the hardest matches of the round to pick, with Walker back in his preferred position and DCE and Lyon combining well, all Manly need is for Stewart to find a bit of form and they could g on a run. At home at Brookvale I have Sea Eagles to record a much needed win. It might be a bridge too far in 13th position on 10 points. But with the teams 8 -12 above them in such up and down form, if DCE and Lyon stay fit and with the Trbjoevic brothers playing well, the Silver Tails could be bolters to make the top 8 and if they manage that they might just well shake up a couple of teams along the way.