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Another intriguing weekend

How are NRL clubs going to shape up after Origin II? Will the upsets continue in the AFL? And what will a host of rugby union internationals produce this weekend?

 NRL (Round 15)

10-DRAGONS v 3-BULLDOGS: Up until their Round 2 clash, the Dragons had won the previous six games between the clubs. Not surprising considering the Dragons were one of the dominant teams in the premiership in recent years. That game in March was significant because the Bulldogs have only gone with the job and the Dragons have battled. It’s reaching the last chance saloon for the Dragons and although playing in Wollongong they will find it tough going against the rampant Bulldogs. Scoring points, especially tries, isn’t an issue for the Bulldogs, who are aiming for a fourth straight win, but for the Dragons, who have only triumphed once in their past five starts, they just can’t find the stripe. A Dragons win would be a big surprise. Tip: BULLDOGS

8-COWBOYS v 2-BRONCOS: After unexpectedly toppling the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium in Round 2, the Cowboys will fancy their chances against a wounded Broncos. Tate is unlikely to play for the Cowboys, while the Broncos are set to miss Hodges, Thaiday, Parker and Civoniceva. The Broncos have a fantastic record in Townsville and were highly impressive against the Roosters last weekend. In the corresponding match last year, the Cowboys were extremely disappointing when the Broncos celebrated Darren Lockyer’s record 350th appearance with a comprehensive 34-16 win. The Broncos succumbed to the Storm after Origin I when they rested players, so how are they going to deal with a fired up Thurston? A genuine 50/50 contest. Tip: COWBOYS

6-SHARKS v 9-WARRIORS: Should be a wonderful game. Many critics would have fancied the Warriors to make the finals instead of the Sharks and those same critics will argue that come September the Warriors will replace the Sharks in the top eight. The Sharks have won their past five games at home. Carney is certain to play for the Sharks, but will Gallen back up after clearly injuring his knee on Wednesday night. The Warriors were too good for the Panthers on Monday night, but how will the Kiwi outfit perform on the road for the second straight week. Both teams boast outstanding packs, while Lewis Brown will have to match it with crafty Sharks hooker Isaac de Gois. Realistically, there’s not a split pea between both teams. Tip: WARRIORS

16-EELS v 7-RABBITOHS: Amazingly, the Eels have won just one of their past 19 matches away from Parramatta Stadium and they haven’t won back to back matches since Round 20 in 2010. However, after a great win over the Sharks a fortnight ago, the Eels have to be respected. The Rabbitohs were clocking one win after another before blowing it against the Bulldogs a fortnight ago in a match they could have easily won. The Rabbitohs have won the past three games the Eels, including a 56-6 triumph at ANZ Stadium – the venue for this weekend;s match – in Round 22 last year. The loss of Sam Burgess is a blow for the Rabbitohs, but Inglis, Merritt, Taylor and Luke spells trouble for the Eels. The Eels’ hopes rest with Hayne and former Rabbitoh star Sandow. Tip: RABBITOHS

 11-TITANS v 15-PANTHERS: The Titans have finally struck form and were considered a big chance against the Sharks and thus making it four straight wins before Prince pulled out at the 11th hour. After getting hammered by the Storm a month ago, the Panthers have been competitive in their last four games for two wins and two defeats. Subsequently, the Panthers cannot be written off. The return of halfback and captain Prince will assist the Titans, and the return of Myles, Harrison and Bird is an added bonus. Panthers trio Lewis, Grant and Jennings, especially, will be buoyed after inspiring the Blues to victory. The Panthers have dropped fullback Coote. The Panthers have won three of the past five games between the teams, but the Titans are the form side. Tip: TITANS

4-TIGERS v 13-ROOSTERS: It’s hard to get excited about the Roosters. Despite three straight defeats they were playing well enough to get the visiting Broncos, who were missing their Origin stars last weekend, but capitulated disastrously in defence to go down 40-22. Poor form at the start of the year is a distant memory for the Tigers, who are aiming for their eighth straight win. The loss of Sironen will probaly see Lawrence switched to five-eighth to partner Marshall, while Reddy will more than likely end up in the centres. Pearce returns to the Roosters line up, but it’s unlikely to make any difference because the Tigers are playing well and are a genuine top four contender. The battle between rival hookers Farah and Friend should prove compelling. Tip: TIGERS

5-SEA EAGLES v 1-STORM: This promised to be an epic until the Storm lost Slater to a knee injury following Origin II. With the Storm losing arguably the best player in the world, the Sea Eagles are counting their lucky stars and start the match as favourites. Like the Broncos, the Storm are about to feel the affects of the State of Origin period, but they already have plenty of money in the bank as they are two games clear of the Broncos in top spot. The Sea Eagles have lost just one of their past 15 games at Brookvale Oval, and have kept their opponents to just 12 points or less on 10 occasions. The Storm won’t lie down and memories of last year’s controversial match at Brookvale will provide plenty of motivation, but even Smith and Cronk will feel lost minus Slater. A re-shuffled Storm backline will make the Sea Eagles’ task a lot easier. The Stewart brothers and Watmough are big ins for the Sea Eagles, and you reckon Cherry-Evans isn’t looking forward to his battle with Cronk. Tip: SEA EAGLES

 Rugby union

No Super Rugby until June 29 as the international program continues. In games featuring Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, all three teams should make it back-to-back wins against, respectively, Wales in Melbourne, England in Johannesburg and Ireland in Christchurch. Ireland are up against it when they face the All Blacks, while you can expect improvements from Wales and England. The Welsh were far from disgraced against the Wallabies in Brisbane, so the 2011 Tri Nations champions cannot afford to take the 2012 Six Nations champions lightly.  Wales welcome back 200 caps worth of experience for the second Test, including hooker Matthew Rees, lock Alun Wyn, No 8 Ryan Jones and centre Ashley Beck. Coach Warren Gatland has arrived in Australia after resting at home with two broken ankles and his presence will surely inspire the Dragons. The Wallabies have won their past five against Wales, so they will take some stopping. Ashley-Cooper, Horne, Ioane, Barnes, Genia, Pocock, Palu, Kepu, Polota-Nau and Robinson are the key men for the home side. In other internationals scheduled for this weekend, Canada play hosts to Italy in Toronto, Fiji take on Scotland in Lautoka, Argentina meet France in a heavyweight contest in Cordoba, USA face Georgia in Denver, and Japan await Samoa in Tokyo.  Tips: NEW ZEALAND, AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AFRICA

 AFL (Round 12)

See blog posted June 13th.

 

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