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David White’s Blog

It could be tight in the NRL, but AFL match-ups looking clear cut

NRL Finals – Week 2

To say there is no love lost between the Sea Eagles and Sharks is like describing Johnathan Thurston as “a bit miffed” after the Cowboys’ 20-18  loss to Cronulla last weekend.

There was the 1973 grand final when a game of rugby league turned into an 80-minute brawl.

And who could forget the 1978 drawn decider — OK, maybe Sharks fans might want to erase that from their memory after the Sea Eagles’ 16-0 win in the rematch.

Since then, the Sharks have never beaten the Sea Eagles in a final or featured in a season decider.

In the battle of the beaches, it has usually been the Sharks with sand kicked in their face.

And that trend does not look like changing on Friday night.

The Sharks enjoyed the rub of the green last weekend when the now infamous seventh tackle try helped them move into the second week of the finals.

But it seems they will need plenty more luck to overcome a Sea Eagles outfit, battle hardened by last weekend’s absorbing 4-0 loss to the Roosters if playmaker Todd Carney (hamstring) succumbs, as expected.

There is a question mark over Sea Eagles fullback Brett Stewart (hamstring). But the Sea Eagles still have ample backline firepower to oust a gallant Sharks, who have somehow launched a finals tilt amid an ASADA investigation.

Brett Stewart is yet to prove his fitness, a worrying sign for the Sea Eagles who have won just twice in eight games without him this year.

But Peta Hiku has still been a season find at fullback for the Sea Eagles. Last week, he notched remarkable 297 metres against the Roosters.

Even the most one-eyed Knights fan would be tempted to bet on NSW winning a State of Origin series before contemplating slapping their hard-earned on Newcastle running out winners in Melbourne.

Yep, their record in Victoria is that bad.

Since their last win in  2004, they have lost 10 straight in Melbourne. And the Storm have emerged triumphant in the past seven clashes with the Knights at all venues.

Throw in the fact the Storm are desperate to make amends after last week’s 20-10 loss to the Rabbitohs to keep their title defence on track and it does not auger well for the Knights.

But two words sum up why the Knights will arrive in the Victorian capital with a spring in their step — Wayne Bennett.

He might not know how to smile but the dead-pan Knights coach sure knows how to win.

And the seven-time premiership victor might yet have a 2013 title dark horse in his midst. Panned for recruiting a “Dad’s Army” player roster, Bennett is ready to spring the mother of all finals upsets in Melbourne thanks mainly to his much-maligned veterans.

They will be hoping momentum from a three-game winning run will finally help them overcome second-half fadeouts that have cost them victory in their two regular-season clashes with the Storm in 2013.

Both have named unchanged sides with Storm winger Sisa Waqa remarkably set to play despite a horrific aerial collision against the Rabbitohs that was expected to at least leave him with a bigger headache than NRL referees boss Daniel Anderson nursed after the Sharks’ seventh-tackle try.

Everyone talks about Melbourne’s “big three” but the game might hinge on Newcastle’s No. 6. Few doubted Jarrod Mullen’s talent since he made his NRL debut at 18 — except the man himself.

Being dubbed the “next Andrew Johns” by no less than Andrew Johns might not have helped. However, some wise words from Bennett have helped the ex-NSW half emerge as the NRL force experts tipped him to become when he first ran out in 2005.

Like last weekend, it’s hard to pick a winner in either game with all four teams capable of advancing to a preliminary final.

Perhaps the Knights have more chance than the Sharks to cause an upset.

AFL Finals – Week 3

Five years, 11 games — the Hawks’ losing streak against the Cats has become legendary.

But if the Hawks can break a run of outs which stretches back to the 2008 grand final, they’ll be able to say the two wins that bookended the defeats were the two most important.

With a spot in the grand final up for grabs, the Hawks have never been better placed.

Dangerous Cyril Rioli and Lance Franklin return from injury and suspension, while the Cats are without important veterans Corey Enright and Paul Chapman for the same reasons.

Franklin’s one-match suspension for a clumsy bump could have proved costly for the Hawks, but wasn’t.

So the spearhead owes the Hawks a big one. No better time or bigger stage to do it.

Particularly since Cats defender Tom Lonergan has had his measure in most of their recent meetings.

While the Dockers are daisy fresh — many key players have had just one match in the past three weeks — the Swans limp west battered and down on numbers.

Kurt Tippett (knee) and Tom Mitchell (ankle) joined the long list of unavailable Swans, headed by Adam Goodes.

Yes, the Swans have depth, but the Dockers appear to hold all the aces.

Defender Michael Johnson is back from injury, and they showed against the Cats a fortnight ago that they can squeeze the life out of the competition’s best in hostile territory.

On home soil, after a week off, against wounded opposition, it’s hard to see anything else but the Dockers booking a spot in their first grand final.

The Dockers’ midfield, led by Michael Barlow and tagger Ryan Crowley, ran roughshod over the Cats.

It is an area the Dockers have drastically improved under coach Ross Lyon, and will be the critical test of Sydney’s wounded warriors.

Bottom line. The Hawks and Dockers are basically at full strength, while, in the contrast, the Cats and Swans are missing key personnel.

For the Hawks and Dockers to miss the grand final would be staggering.

The Hawks would put the “Kennett Curse” to bed and the Dockers will avenge their 2006 preliminary final loss at the hands of the Swans.

 

 

 

 

 

If you thought picking AFL finals winners was hard, try the NRL!

Hands up if you picked four from four in the AFL finals last weekend?
Every chance you could be telling fibs.
There were upsets galore which has turned the AFL premiership on its head.
The bad news is that the first week of the NRL finals is by far a tougher prospect when it comes to settling on a winner in all four games.
All eight teams are capable of winning, so if you’re having a punt then I can only wish you the best of luck.
As usual, we’re is just providing you with information that might help you split teams on a head to head basis.
And we’re is 100 per cent genuine when we suggest that all four games in the NRL finals can go either way.
However, like the AFL, home ground advantage could prove crucial.
NRL Finals – Week 1
Rabbitohs v Storm: The Rabbitohs couldn’t match it with the Roosters last weekend and it took until golden point before the Storm put the injury-riddled Titans to the sword. Both teams have glaring issues when it comes to defence out in the backs, while it’s uncertain whether Finch or Widdop will line up at five-eighth. The Storm got the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium earlier this season, but are the Storm becoming too reliant on Smith, Slater and Cronk? The Rabbitohs can improve and if they click as one unit then surely they’re capable of nullifying the Storm’s big three. Considering the turnover of players they endure on an annual basis, the Storm will surpass the achievements of 2012 if they were to somehow make it back-to-back premierships. The Rabbitohs have every right to be nervous, but they have been highly consistent this year and you’d think that they’re more chance of winning the grand final compared to the Storm. How will the Storm back up from golden point last Saturday night?
Sharks v Cowboys: Both teams were big winners last weekend, but perhaps the Sharks were more the impressive after clocking the Raiders in Canberra minus of key men. The Cowboys are on a roll and never really looked like losing when they sank the Sharks – minus Carney – in Sydney a few weeks ago. Gallen and perhaps Carney are massive “ins” for the Sharks and there is conjecture as to whether or not Scott will be available for the Cowboys. As well as the Cowboys are playing, the Sharks perhaps boast a few more strike weapons but write the Cowboys off at your peril. No other player can guide his team around the park as well as Thurston, so if the Sharks can nullify his impact then the Cowboys may endure further finals heartbreak in Sydney. Tariq Sims is set to explode for the Cowboys after missing the finals in recent years because of injury, but we’ll soon find out if the Queensland outfit will miss the experience of the recently retired Johnson. We were adamant that, at full strength, the Sharks were good enough to crack the top four and at full strength they’re perhaps the only team capable of matching the Roosters, Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles and Storm.
Roosters v Sea Eagles: The Roosters have posted two wins over the Sea Eagles this season, so the tri-colours would have every right to feel confident. The Sea Eagles cannot be discarded; however, they have only posted one win against a fellow member of the top four in 2013 – that was against the Storm at Brookvale. The Roosters were fantastic against the Rabbitohs in the battle for the minor premership, while the Sea Eagles, who had key players missing, suffered a shock home defeat at the hands of the Panthers on the eve of the finals. Not a good sign. Waerea-Hargreaves is a huge loss for the Roosters, but they will take some stopping if they can continue from where they left off against the Rabbitohs. The Sea Eagles can win as they have players capable of turning a match at the drop of hat, but how fit are Brett Stewart and Watmough?
Bulldogs v Knights: Like the Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles last weekend, the Bulldogs were highly disappointing against the Broncos in Brisbane in a game they were expected to win. In contrast, the Knights completed their preparations for the finals in ruthless fashion with a massive win over the Eels. Can the Bulldogs flick the switch and bounce back against the Knights? Good chance they will, but there are question marks over the fitness of Kasiano and Eastwood, and it’s hard to imagine Barba guiding the side to victory. It’s hard to work out the Bulldogs in 2013 and it’s hard to predict what they will bring to the table on Sunday. Good chance that the Knights were preparing for the Sharks before last weekend, but facing the Bulldogs wouldn’t be causing them too much concern. Apart from Gidley, the Knights are just about at full strength and with coach Bennett at the helm the Novocastrians might just buck the trend this weekend and claim a win on the road. Forget the Bulldogs; it’s the Knights who are flying well below the radar.
AFL Finals – Week 2
Cats v Power: Worrying signs for the Cats after an inept display against the Dockers. Meanwhile, the Power could not have been more emphatic after eliminating the Magpies in a stunning upset. The Power have been wonderful and will have a crack; however, they have lost their past nine games against the Cats. The Cats have a habit of striking back after a loss and, although they have the class and experience to overcome the Power, it’s hard to see them toppling the Hawks in a preliminary final. In saying that, the Cats are more chance of rolling the Hawks next week compared to the Power. Everyone expects the Cats to fall away sooner rather that later after dominating the competition, so perhaps it will be Power, along with the Dockers, who will become a force in the coming years. One thing is for certain, this particular Cats-Power contest will be a lot closer than when last met in final at the MCG – that was the 2007 grand final when the Cats annihilated the Power. Clearly, the Cats need Hawkins back in their side.
Swans v Blues: Recent history suggests that teams who lose qualifying finals bounce back the following week. Everything pointed to a Dockers and Eagles win in the corresponding semi-finals last year, but the Crows and Magpies – their respective opponents – got the cash at the end of day despite playing second fiddle for the first three quarters. It was a memorable win by the Blues last weekend, but unlike the Tigers it’s doubtful the Swans will take a backaward step as they seek redemption after a deplorable second half effort against the Hawks last weekend. Remember that the Blues did finish ninth after 22 rounds and you’ve got to wonder if they’ve got anything left following two emotional wins over the Power and Tigers. The Blues have never won at ANZ Stadium and eclipsing that record may prove a difficult task if the Swans, as expected, treat the match like a demolition derby. The Swans have lost Goodes, but how fit is Blues ruckman Kreuzer? Regardless of the result, you’d like to be on the Dockers in Perth next weekend.

Bulldogs’ loss highlights how tough this tipping caper can be

What chance have punters got if the Broncos can overcome the Bulldogs after producing rubbish against the Panthers and Knights?

Out of the finals race, the Broncos end the season on a winning note after a week of ridicule.

In contrast, the Bulldogs complete their finals preparations in disastrous fashion with an unexpected loss in Brisbane.

Copping a serve in the media no doubt inspired the Broncos. However, the controversy this week surrounding the Ben Barba saga back in February perhaps put the Bulldogs off their game.

Losing to the Broncos in an upset result probably rules out the Bulldogs as a genuine premiership threat.

Good luck if you’re in the mix as far as winning your respective tipping competition is concerned.

 

NRL – Round 26

 

Rabbitohs v Roosters: The Rabbitohs have lost only one game this season against a top four side, albeit narrowly to the Storm, so they will take some stopping. The Roosters were no match for the Rabbitohs in Round 1 and certainly crave revenge; however, losing two straight has got to be a concern at this time of the year. Should be an epic and it could, in fact, be a grand final prelude.

 

Dragons v Warriors: Hard to believe that the Dragons lost to the Eels considering they still fielded a pretty decent side. The fact that the Dragons blew a 12-0 lead makes the loss look even bad. The Warriors need a miracle to make the top eight, but are clearly playing the better football and should get the cash in Wollongong.

 

Storm v Titans: The Storm have got the wobbles and will have to bounce back quickly if they expect to defend their premiership title. The Storm’s performance against the Sea Eagles mirrored what I expected from them in 2013. You just can’t keep turning over players and expect Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk to produce miracles. The Titans have been great this season, but, sadly, an injury crisis midway through the season will see them fall agonisingly short of the finals.

 

Cowboys v Tigers: It was remarkable that the Cowboys were sitting well adrift of the top eight midway through the season. They have since won five in a row and it will be amazing if they don’t topple the Tigers and seal a finals berth. Who would want to play the Cowboys in an elimination final? This a no-brainer, especially if the Cowboys continue from where they left off against the Sharks and if the Tigers continue from where they left off against the Rabbitohs.

Sea Eagles v Panthers: Even without Brett Stewart and Jamie Buhrer, and perhaps Anthony Watmough, the Sea Eagles should still be too strong for the Panthers, who exited the premiership race when the Bulldogs made them look second rate last weekend. It’s hard to see the Sea Eagles taking a backward step after dismantling the Storm, but tread with caution as the Panthers have produced a number of shock wins when you least expect it.

 

Knights v Eels: Like the Cowboys, the Knights are an absolute special this weekend. The Eels were terrific against the Dragons and there’s every chance that Jarryd Hayne could return to the line-up. The Knights were down 14-0 in Brisbane and appeared to be in severe trouble before posting a 26-18 victory after losing Kurt Gidley to injury. It would border on the bizarre if the Knights were to slip up against the wooden spooners.

 

Raiders v Sharks: The fact that the Bulldogs lost gives the Sharks the opportunity to finish in fifth place. However, no matter if they finish fifth or sixth, it will be no easy game next weekend when they host either the Knights or Cowboys in an elimination final — that’s unless the Titans or Warriors pull a rabbit out of the hat. The Raiders have been a major disappointment at home and will be happy to end the season on a winning note. The Sharks lose Paul Gallen, but welcome back Todd Carney. It will be no easy game for the Sharks after getting creamed by the Raiders in an elimination final in Canberra last year. The Sharks have more to play for and need to get their house in order before embarking on a finals campaign.

AFL Finals – Week 1

Hawks v Swans: With Lance Franklin and perhaps Cyril Rioli missing the game, the Swans, who welcome back key players such as Kurt Tippett, Dan Hannebury and Lewis Jetta, are a big chance of posting their first win over the minor premiers at the third attempt in 2013. The Hawks left it late before getting the cash against the Swans last weekend in Sydney, but expect the premiers to bring their A grade game to the table on this occasion. No Adam Goodes could prove the diference between winning and losing as far as the Swans are concerned.

 

Cats v Dockers: The Dockers are more than a decent chance, but you would have fancied their hopes even more had the game been scheduled for Etihad Stadium instead of Simonds Stadium. The Cats are virtually unbeatable at home; however, the Dockers will arrive in Geelong with a very strong line-up and cannot be taken lightly. The Cats are out to avenge last year’s elimination final loss and the fact that they didn’t lose a game against fellow top-four sides during the premiership rounds augurs well for the home team in what could be a fiery contest.

 

Magpies v Power: It’s a huge advantage for the Magpies to be playing the game at the MCG as their supporters will turn out in force. The Magpies should win and are deserved favourites; however, they have produced fluctuating form this season and that gives the Power hope. The Power also rolled the Magpies by 35 points in Adelaide back in Round 14, which proved that Port were perhaps in the mix as far as sealing a top eight spot was concerned. The Power’s form on the road hasn’t been all that flattering in 2013 and the manner in which they capitulated against the Blues last weekend is hard to ignore. Should the Magpies win, they’re no good things to advance against either the Cats or Dockers next week.

 

Tigers v Blues: The Tigers qualified for the finals on merit, while the Blues were given a second chance following the demise of the Bombers. That suggests that the Tigers have been more consistent when it comes to producing winning form; however, the Blues would have to full of confidence after their remarkable win over the Power. The Tigers are favourites, but will the Blues let this opportunity slip? Both teams have midfield class and boast decent strike weapons in front of goal, so the team who clicks in defence will more than likely advance. The Tigers were lucky to win the Round 1 clash when the Blues produced a big finish. The Tigers were a mile in front when last both teams clashed in Round 21 before the Blues rallied to win by 10 points. The Tigers had a relatively comfortable climax to the end of the home and away season, but it wasn’t all that long ago that they rolled the Hawks in a stunning upset.

 

 

The Rugby Championship – Week 3

The Springboks have a dismal record in Brisbane, but the Wallabies haven’t gelled all year no matter if Robbie Deans or Ewen McKenzie has been in charge of the side.

There are signs that the match could go right down to the wire, but losing James Horwill is a blow for the Wallabies. We’ll stick with the home side on this occasion, but a Springboks win would not come as a surprise as they may have the game plan to trouble of Wallabies fullback Israel Folau and fly-half Quade Cooper.

The Springboks put 73 points on the Pumas when both teams clashed in Johannesburg in Round 1. The Pumas hit back in style before losing narrowly to the Springboks in Mendoza.

Facing the All Blacks in Hamilton is an ominous assignment and the harsh truth is the Pumas could be doing well to prevent the world champions from posting more than 50 points.

 

 

Hard to see the Bulldogs losing in Brisbane on Thursday night

Hard to believe that the NRL has scheduled a Thursday night game in Round 26.
 
The only thing that comes to mind is why?
 
At least there will now be the utmost focus on the Rabbitohs-Roosters blockbuster come Friday night.
 
The Broncos, who have missed the finals, play host to the Bulldogs, who will finish either fifth or sixth, at Suncorp Stadium.
 
It would be nothing short of extraordinary if the Broncos were to win the game following diabolical performances against the Panthers and Knights – two teams they should have easily accounted for.
 
The Bulldogs were too good for the Panthers last weekend, so based on recent history last year’s beaten grand finalist’s should get the cash without too many complications.
 
If the Bulldogs go down, then you can forget about them troubling the top four teams during the finals.
 
One of the big questions in relation to the match is whether or not Ben Barba, who had reportedly played his last game for the Bulldogs, will line up against the club he will join in 2014.
 
The appearance of Barba will certainly generate plenty of interest in the game and may provide the Bulldogs with the X factor.
 
Scott Prince (300 games) and Peter Wallace will make their final start for the Broncos, while David Stagg plays his 200th first grade match, but that may not be enough to get them over the line against the Bulldogs.
 
It’s hard to get excited about the Broncos, who blew a 14-0 lead against the Knights in a game they just had to win.
 
The Bulldogs have won four of their past five games against the Broncos and that trend should continue tonight.
 
Ben Hunt could find it hard to match opposing halfback Trent Hodkinson.
 
Hunt has been a major disappointment this season and the fact that he has been retained at the expense of Prince and Wallace probably explains why the Broncos have missed the top eight.
 
In the Broncos’ defence, the loss of Justin Hodges was significant.
 
The Bulldogs are just about at full strength and should complete their preparartions for the finals with victory.
 
Sportsword will provide tips in the other seven games, but those selections could change and therefore you are encouraged to consult the website over the course of the weekend.
 
Check out Sportsword’s blog previewing the remainder of the Round 26 action tomorrow.

It’s heating up in the battle to cap off season with tipping honours

NRL – Round 25
BRONCOS v KNIGHTS: These two sides are at opposite ends of the seven team log jam vying for the remaining two finals spots. There’s no two ways about it for the 13th placed Broncos, they need to win their remaining two games for an outside chance of sneaking into the top eight. The seventh placed Knights might get another chance next week, but they’ll be looking to seal it here after a lacklustre 26-6 loss to the Cowboys on Saturday. After being overrun by the Panthers last Friday, the Broncos will be buoyed by the return of Alex Glenn at centre, while Knights enforcer Willie Mason returns for the suspended Kade Snowden.
TIGERS v RABBITOHS: A big mismatch here. Second place takes on third last. A win for the Rabbitohs sets up a blockbuster next week against the Roosters for the minor premiership. Sam Burgess’ return from suspension means all four Burgess brothers will play together for the first time in the NRL. The Tigers ended a six game losing streak last week, albeit against the lowly Dragons. While Tigers skipper Robbie Farah returns from injury and Benji Marshall will be playing his 200th NRL game, this one should be all one-way traffic in favour of the Bunnies.
WARRIORS v RAIDERS: This is another do-or-die clash as both teams need a win to have a crack at making the top eight. The 12th placed Raiders have been through a week from hell. Coach David Furner was sacked, they racked up a fourth straight loss when they were beaten by Manly, and now their main strike weapon Blake Ferguson has been stood down for going AWOL, drinking while injured and being charged by police for allegedly driving under suspension. However the good news for the Raiders is the return of captain Terry Campese and forward Tom Learoyd-Lahrs. The Warriors go into this clash unchanged from their narrow win over the Titans. It would take a massive turnaround for the Raiders to get up in Auckland. They’ve lost nine of their 11 away matches this year.
BULLDOGS v PANTHERS: Here’s another match-up with significant finals ramifications. Looking dead and buried after four straight losses, the Panthers have resurrected their finals hopes with two wins against fellow finals contenders the Warriors and Broncos. While the Bulldogs are pretty much assured a top eight spot, they’ll want a win here to secure a home final. However they’ll have to do so without second rower Frank Pritchard, who has accepted a two week suspension after a shoulder charge in the loss to the Rabbitohs on Friday. With their season on the line, the Panthers have a lot more to play for and might just force a third consecutive upset.
SEA EAGLES v STORM: The Storm (third) can still finish in the top two, while Manly (fourth) are yet to lock down a top four finals spot. Manly haven’t beaten a top four side all year, and they’ll be looking to do so here to lift their confidence heading into the finals. Manly have lost Anthony Watmough but get back fullback Brett Stewart, while Tohu Harris returns for Melbourne at the expense of Tim Glasby. Not much separates these two sides, as the Storm have won four of their last five, and Manly seven of their last eight. Like most games between these two rivals, this one will be a cracker. The Storm’s recent hot form, including last week’s 64-4 win over the Eels, edges them ahead as narrow favourites.
SHARKS v COWBOYS: Both sides head into this clash in red hot form. Since North Queensland coach Neil Henry was informed he wasn’t required at the club in 2014, the Cowboys have won four straight to jump up to eighth spot. But their last month could come crashing down at the hands of the Sharks, who can still pinch a top four finish after upsetting the Roosters on Monday. With Ray Thompson injured, Rory Kostjasyn will start at hooker for the Cowboys and Jayden Hodges, cousin of Broncos star Justin, will make his debut off the bench. The Sharks’ are unchanged and their dominant win over the competition leaders last round earns them the narrow favouritism in this one.
ROOSTERS v TITANS: The ninth placed Titans are on the ropes. With an away match against Melbourne next week, a third straight loss here will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reach the top eight. Roosters captain Anthony Minichiello returns, shifting Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to wing and Shaun Kenny-Dowall to centre. The Titans will be without Ashley Harrison and Mark Minichiello, but fortunately have Luke Bailey and Greg Bird returning. The Roosters will be out to make up for Monday night’s loss against the Sharks, which ended an eight game winning streak. Expect them to bounce back for their run up towards the finals.
EELS v DRAGONS: Pride. That’s pretty much all there is to play for in this battle of the cellar dwellers with the wooden spoon already in the firm grips of the Eels. Eels superstar Jarryd Hayne returns to the side at fullback for Jake Mullaney, while the Dragons have brought Josh Drinkwater onto the bench for Craig Garvey. The Dragons have lost eight of their last nine games, including the last five, the most recent being a 34-18 defeat to the lowly Wests Tigers. The Eels are arguably travelling worse, losing 12 of their last 13, which culminated with a 60 point thrashing at the hands of the Storm on Sunday. The irony is that in a round full of sudden death clashes, this is probably the hardest winner to pick.
AFL – Round 23
SWANS v HAWKS: Hawthorn will secure top spot on the ladder with victory. Should that happen, both teams can expect a rematch in the first week of finals. The Swans continue to rack up the injuries at the wrong time of the season and have lost Rhyce Shaw, Dan Hannebery and Nick Smith. The Hawks won’t risk Cyril Rioli and Liam Shiels, nursing sore ankles, or Brent Guerra, who has a sore back. Hawks spearhead Lance Franklin might be able to do some reconnaissance ahead of a possible move to next-door Skoda Stadium with GWS next season. He excels in this type of match, and will be keen to muster form ahead of the finals.
SAINTS v DOCKERS: Interesting that Sportingbet reported a big move for St Kilda on Wednesday and suspended markets – correctly believing it was an indication the Dockers would rest star players ahead of this match. The Dockers have made 10 changes. For Saints Stephen Milne, Justin Koschitzke and Jason Blake, it will be their last AFL match and they’ll hope to give the Saints their fifth win of the year as they contemplate rebuilding. Koschitzke and small forward Adam Schneider also bring up the 200 game milestone. The roll call of Dockers having the weekend off includes stars David Mundy, Nat Fyfe, Hayden Ballantyne, Stephen Hill, Michael Walters and Michael Johnson, among others, which gives the Saints a big chance.
CATS v LIONS: Geelong will secure second spot with victory here, or even top spot if Hawthorn are knocked off the night before. Brisbane can put themselves right in the hunt for the now-vacant last finals berth if they can upset the Cats – as they did earlier this season at the Gabba. The killer stat here is that Geelong have lost once at their home ground fortress in the past six seasons. The Cats are resting ruckman Nathan Vardy, replaced by Trent West, who had been out of form and favour. He faces a tough battle against in-form Brisbane counterpart Matthew Leuenberger, although the Cats should have the edge elsewhere.
POWER v BLUES: The key domino to fall in the battle for the golden ticket to this season’s finals. If Carlton win, they’ll play finals next week after Essendon’s elimination. No other results will matter. But Port will be looking to rebound from a disappointing performance against Fremantle last weekend to hit the finals in form. It is also the last AFL match to be played at Football Park before both the Power and Crows move base to Adelaide Oval next season. The return of Andrew Walker, Jeff Garlett and Matthew Kreuzer will be welcome for Carlton, but the loss of Brock McLean is a big blow to a midfield already without Chris Judd and Andrew Carrazzo.
BOMBERS v TIGERS: After such a difficult few days to cap off a nightmarish month, this all depends on where the Bombers’ heads are at. If they can show the fight they did to beat Carlton last weekend, Richmond could be in for a torrid encounter they’d prefer not to have the week before their first finals appearance in 12 years. If the bans, fines, elimination from finals and exile of their coach has flattened the Bombers, the Tigers will coast. Essendon have promoted David Hille, 32, and 30-year-old Nathan Lovett-Murray for farewell games. Essendon assistant Simon Goodwin will slip into the big chair in Hird’s absence against former Bomber Damien Hardwick. Bombers skipper Jobe Watson has been immense for his club through a difficult period. Can he keep producing?
EAGLES v CROWS: Two teams with the slimmest of finals hopes, which may be non-existent by the time they kick off. Both finalists last season, little has gone to plan for either in 2013 and they’ll be looking to reload for next year. The Eagles will be farewelling Andrew Embley and Adam Selwood. Could this be premiership coach John Worsfold’s last match in charge of the Eagles? A loss will have him thinking of the merits in going on.
SUNS v GIANTS: The Suns will be hoping to round off a promising season with victory over their expansion rivals. Few would have seen the Suns winning seven matches this season already. GWS have won just once in 2013, and in Kevin Sheedy’s coaching swansong, would love to send him out a winner. But Gold Coast have shown such signs of life this season it is hard to see them letting one slip against a Giants team which will hope to emulate the Suns’ efforts next season. Gold Coast skipper Gary Ablett has had a couple of quietish weeks. Here’s an opportunity for three Brownlow votes.
MAGPIES v KANGAROOS: By the time of their match, North Melbourne will know if they can make the finals, and what they must to do to get there. Collingwood can finish either fifth or sixth, and should Richmond have won on Saturday night, it is almost certain to be sixth unless they get the mother of all percentage boosts here. The expected return of Dayne Beams is a plus for the Magpies but they’ve lost Luke Ball. Will North be alive by kickoff?
BULLDOGS v DEMONS: Pride is all that’s at stake here. The Bulldogs’ super run of form came to an end with their narrow loss to Brisbane last weekend – a slow start costing them dearly. But they have made great strides this season under Brendan McCartney, and will be looking to end their year on a high. Melbourne have been shamefully bad all year, and could still finish bottom if they lose badly here and GWS knock off the Suns. Bulldogs veteran Daniel Cross plays his final match for the club. He wants to continue on elsewhere next season, so look for him to shine in the shop window, and to farewell his club of 13 years in style.

Once again, it’s those 50/50 games that will trouble tipsters

In the NRL (Round 24) it’s hard to see the Dragons, Sea Eagles and Storm succumbing to the Tigers, Raiders and Eels, respectively.
The other games could go either way, but betting agencies suggest that the Cowboys should account for the Knights and the Roosters should get over the Sharks.
However, take nothing for granted following the Panthers’ unbelievable win over the Warriors in Auckland last weekend.
The Cowboys and Roosters are flying, however the Knights have won in Townsville in the past and the Sharks will be out to produce a big one at home after their remarkable win over the Dragons which was in fact their first win in Wollongong in 24 years.
That leaves three games left and yes, they could go either way.
No Barba, Eastwood and Kasiano is a blow for the Bulldogs as they set out to avenge the narrow loss they suffered at the hands of Rabbitohs over Easter.
Sam Burgess is missing from the Rabbitohs line up, however the return of Inglis and Sutton saw the red and greens achieve the rare feat of toppling the Sea Eagles twice in a season during the premiership rounds.
It was a great win by the Rabbitohs as the Sea Eagles are one of the form teams in the competition.
The Bulldogs sealed victory against the Raiders with a scintillating first half performance, however to have any chance against the Rabbitohs they will have to put it together for 80 minutes.
It’s hard to compare the Bulldogs with the top four teams based on consistency, so it’s the Rabbitohs.
The other Friday game is a bit of a lottery as well – Panthers hosting the Broncos.
The Panthers, like the Raiders and Warriors, have not only been hot and cold all season, but more importantly have struggled to post wins at home.
The Broncos have been highly competitive at home all season, but they’re a completely different animal on the road.
A loss for either side will hinder their hopes of making the final eight.
The Panthers would be full of beans after their win over the Warriors and we’ll finally get a clear idea how the Broncos will function in a big game without the injection of Hodges.
There is a case to tip either side and although the Panthers have battled at home this season it has to be said that the Broncos are 4-7 on the road in 2013.
The Broncos are favourites with the bookies, so perhaps that’s the only way you can split the teams.
A few years ago, the Panthers and Broncos played out a draw on a Friday night after golden point extra time at the foot of the mountains.
Now let’s try and pick a winner out of the Titans and Warriors match.
Had been keen on ther Titans for most of the week until it was announced that Zillman and Bird were scratchings for the Gold Coast’s final home game of the season.
That enhances the prospects of the unpredictable Warriors, who will either bounce back after a shock loss to the Panthers or fold like a pack of cards in a game they were expected to win.
The Titans are sitting in eighth spot, but lose this game and their finals hopes are in jeopardy with two roads games against the Storm and Roosters.
There might be two games left after this weekend, however the Warriors are done and dusted if they lose this match.
And to make life harder for tipsters, the Warriors edged the Titans 25-24 when they met in Auckland in Round 8.
It’s the kind of game where the Warriors can strike back and with their season on the line, especially with the Titans missing key men, they may just sneak home.
It’s a horrid game for tipsters, and don’t forget it wasn’t all that long ago that an under-manned Titans stunned the Bulldogs in Sydney.
Meanwhile, in the AFL (Round 22), take it as an absolute given that the Magpies, Crows and Tigers will get the four points against their respective opponets the Eagles, Demons and Giants.
The Eagles have a raft of players missing for the Friday night game, which will only improve the Magpies’ hopes of hosting an elimination final in two week’s time.
The best way to split the Kangaroos and Hawks is that a week ago the Kangaroos overcame the struggling Bombers and the Hawks proved to good for a resurgent Magpies.
The Hawks are the team to beat in the premiership race despite the fact that the Cats, Swans and Dockers are showing promising signs, and it would be extraordinary if they were to slip up at Etihad Stadium.
Back in Round 5, the Hawks got the Kangaroos by three points at the MCG.
The Cats-Swans clash is mouth-watering to say the least and in the corresponding match last year the visiting Swans were no match for the Cats.
Six weeks later the Swans claim the premiership after the Cats had fallen to the Dockers in an elimination final in Melbourne.
The Cats got the Swans by 21 points in Round 4 and the home ground advantage will surely enhance the Cats’ prospects.
The Dockers are tipped to win their final two matches as they eye second place, so for the second-placed Cats and third-placed Swans this is a massive game because there’s every likelihood that the loser will forfeit the right to host a qualifying final.
The Swans were poor in this corresponding match last year and no doubt they will improve, however the Cats rarely lose at home and were nothing short of outstanding against the Eagles in Perth last weekend.
The Power beat the Dockers in Perth they seal a spot in the finals and also improve their chances of perhaps hosting an elimination final if the Bombers continue to their downward spiral and they roll the Blues in the final round.
Lose to the Dockers, and the Power will more than likely battle it out for eighth spot when they host the Blues.
We were expecting an Adelaide side to make the finals this year, but for it to be the Power came as a surprise.
They’ve had a great year, but the Dockers have been spectacular this season and if they end up winning their last two games they might end up facing the Hawks in the grand final.
The Dockers will take a power of stopping if they secure a qualifying final and preliminary final at home, regardless of the opposition.
There are signs that the Dockers are building momentum just like the Lions in 2001 when they blitzed the second half of the season before sealing the premiership.
Just when you thought you could write off the Blues they come out and knock off the Tigers, who went into the match as a warm favourites.
The Blues can still make the finals if they topple the Bombers, who are only a shadow of the side that started 2013 in blistering form, and the Power in their final two games.
The Bombers have lost four straight and face a rival whom they defeated by just five points in Round 11.
No need to harp on the Bombers’ problems off the field, but who is going to flick the switch as they strive to get their 2013 campaign back on track.
If the Blues lose their finals hopes are over – unless the Bombers are kicked out of the competition – and for the Bombers they will be cannon fodder against who ever they face in an elimination final unless they spring back to life.
Surely, it’s the Blues.
Pride is at stake for the Saints when they host the Suns, who have pushed the Eagles and Power to the very limit in their past two road games.
The Saints have won only one of their past 13 games and after giving the Swans a run for their money in the first half last weekend they ended up leaving the SCG with their tails between their legs.
It might be case of Nick Riewoldt inspiring the Saints to victory or Gary Ablett guiding the Suns to a win.
Not an easy task to pick a winner and although the Saints are slight favourites we’ll stick our neck out and back the Suns.
The Lions have played some pretty good footy at home this season, but they will have to be at their best as the Bulldogs are suddenly a team to be reckoned with.
As well as the Bulldogs have played in Melbourne of late road games are a different story, although they did post a fine win over the Power in Darwin during the year and we all know how well the Adelaide-based team is travelling.
It could be a high-scoring contest.
The Lions now how to find their way to find the goalposts and the Bulldogs have scored 99 points or more in their past four games.
The Bulldogs stunned the Lions by 68 points in Round 1 after the Brisbane-based outfit had just claimed the NAB Cup title.
It’s unlikely the Lions have forgotten about that game and retribution would be a motivating factor.
There’s a lot to like about the Bulldogs, but a win at the Gabba would be a surprise.
No need to elaborate on Week 2 of the Rugby Championship following the big wins posted by the All Blacks and Springboks last weekend.
It’s hard to see the Wallabies bridging the gap against the All Blacks in Wellington and the Pumas troubling the Springboks in Mendoza.
The All Blacks and Springboks are specials.
They will win comfortably.

One or two tricky games for us to contend with this weekend

Plenty of one-sided games in the NRL (Round 23) and AFL (Round 21) this weekend.
In the NRL, take it as a given that the Broncos will roll the Eels, that the Cowboys will overcome the Titans, that the Sharks will topple the Dragons, that the Warriors will sink the Panrthers, and that the Roosters will prove too good for the Tigers.
The Raiders-Bulldogs game could go either way with the Raiders missing Campese and Fensom and the Bulldogs losing the services of Kasiano and Eastwood.
Until their 68-4 hammering at the hands of the Storm, the Raiders had been outstanding at home and surely they will strike back after giving the Roosters, the competition leaders, a run for their money last weekend.
The Bulldogs cannot be written off, but they seem to lack that spark minus Barba and backing up on a Saturday afternoon in Canberra after playing on Monday night doesn’t help.
How will the Bulldogs deal with Ferguson after his five-star performance against the Roosters?
The Knights-Storm clash in Newcastle should be a ripping contest, and the Knights are a juicy $3.00 if you fancy their chances.
Rolling the Sharks on the road was a boost for the Knights, but the Storm are seemingly back to their best after annihilating the Raiders and putting the Rabbitohs – minus Inglis and Sutton – to the sword.
The Knights have lost just one of their past six games and are in this match up to their eye-balls if they click in both attack and defence.
You’d be a brave man to tip against the Storm; however, it’s unlikely the Knights will buckle at home like the Raiders and the return of Gidley is a shot in the arm for the Novocastrians.
The battle between rival fullbacks Boyd and Slater could play a vital role in the final result.
Of course we were always going to leave the best until last.
The Rabbitohs-Sea Eagles encounter at Gosford tonight is without question a genuine blockbuster.
The Rabbitohs got the Sea Eagles 20-12 at Brookvale in Round 7 to prove to the rugby league world that they were clearly a force to be reckoned with in 2013.
The return of Inglis and Sutton is a massive boost for the Rabbitohs; however, the Sea Eagles are aiming for their seventh win in a row and boast a 10-2 record in Gosford.
Losing Watmough is a blow for the Sea Eagles, but they have a three-quarter line that will cause the Rabbitohs all kinds of problems.
It was obvious that Reynolds was carrying an injury against the Storm, so you’ve got to wonder if he is 100 per cent fit to match it with Cherry-Evans.
You would feel pretty confident no matter who you tip, but the loss of Sam Burgess perhaps swings the match in favour of the Sea Eagles.
This weekend’s action in the AFL kicks off in spectacular fashion with the Hawks up against the Magpies.
Are the Magpies back in town?
After their struggles against the Suns and Giants, the Magpies hit back to roll the Bombers and Swans.
A win is a win, but in the case of the Bombers the walls finally came crashing down and injuries finally caught up with the Swans.
The Hawks, who just keep winning, are a solid test for the Magpies and if both teams click it could be an epic.
The return of Franklin, Hodge and Birchall is magnificent news for the Hawks, who have kicked big scores against the Magpies in recent times.
Pendlebury, Swan, Ball and Beams will get their hands on the footy and will keep the Magpies on the move. However, they will find it difficult to get on top of Mitchell, Sewell, Hodge and Rioli.
Cloke is capable of kicking a bag for the Magpies, but surely Franklin and Roughead are proving a lot more reliable in front of goal.
At their best, the Magpies will take some stopping, but, unlike the Hawks, they’ve proved highly inconsistent all season.
If the Magpies, unchanged for the first time since 1999, win then they are definitely back in the premiership hunt.
It has been mooted that the Swans and Cats were the biggest threats to the Hawks, but perhaps it’s now the Dockers who are the biggest dangers.
The Hawks are purring along nicely and are worthy premiership favourites, and a game against a supposedly rejuvenated Magpies outfit might just be the perfect tonic at this stage of the season.
Meanwhile, you’d think the Tigers would be too good for the Blues, but a few weeks ago the Tigers were cruising before suffering a diabolical loss at the hands of the Kangaroos.
Bottom line though, you couldn’t possibly see the Blues winning.
Like the Tigers, the Power are bound for the finals and it’s hard to see them losing at home at the hands of the Suns.
The Suns have recorded a win over the Power in Adelaide in the past, so you’d be advised not to take anything for granted.
The Power got the Suns quite comprehensively in Round 4 and they were far from disgraced in an honourable road loss at the hands of the Cats last weekend.
The Suns gave the Eagles plenty of cheek in Perth when last they appeared on the road, so the Power beware.
The Bombers are showing signs that the drugs scandal has finally hit home; however, they did hit the wall at the same time last year to miss the finals.
Forecasting the fortunes of the Kangaroos is like trying to pick the winning Lotto numbers – it borders on the impossible.
If the Bombers are kicked out of the competiton, then the Kangaroos are a chance of making the finals if they finish ninth.
We’ll give the Kangaroos one more chance, but don’t hold your breath because it’s impossible to speculate what the Bombers and Kangaroos will bring to the table.
The Kangroos got the Bombers by 24 points in Round 20 last year at Etihad Stadium – the venue for tomorrow’s game.
The Eagles can perhaps smell an upset when they play host to the Cats, especially after winning the corresponding match last year by five points.
The Eagles will be confident after downing the Bombers in Melbourne.
The Swans gave up second spot last weekend against the Magpies, so surely the Cats won’t do the same thing because they will slip to third spot if they go down as the Swans are odds-on to account for the Saints.
Like the Kangaroos, the Eagles might sneak into the finals if they finish ninth and the Bombers are denied the opportunity to play finals.
It’s a big game in Perth, but you’ll have the right to question if the Cats are in fact serious premiership contenders if they don’t win the game.
The Lions, Dockers and Swans will prove too good for the Giants, Demons and Saints, respectively.
Can’t see any upsets there.
Splitting the Bulldogs and Crows is no easy task.
The Bulldogs have been terrific in recent weeks and are more than a decent chance against the Crows.
The Crows jumped out of the boxes against the Kangaroos last weekend and ended up relinquishing the lead before steadying to get the cash.
The Crows are favourites, but the Bulldogs can win if they put it together from start to finish.
In the Rugby Championship, the Wallabies will prove competitive in Sydney but they’ve got too many new faces and with that in mind we’ll stick with the All Blacks.
The Springboks should post a comfortable win over the visiting Pumas in Johannesburg.

It’s hotting up in NRL and AFL — and tipsters’ stress levels rising

NRL – Round 22
The Storm put 68 on the Raiders on the road and the Rabbitohs, minus Greg Inglis, have lost two of their past three games.
The Storm got the Rabbitohs 17-10 in Sydney in Round 6, so even if Inglis makes a shock return this weekend the premiers are going to take some stopping at home.
The Eels play host to the Tigers with the Eels out for revenge after a 31-18 defeat at Leichhardt in Round 3.
Maybe the Eels as they have played well at home in most of their games and Jarryd Hayne makes a return, while the Tigers were appalling against the Titans and are missing the injured Robbie Farah.
The Roosters were awesome on the road against the Panthers, however Anthony Minichiello now joins Sonny Bill Williams on the sideline with injury.
Expect the Raiders to lift after getting blown away by the Storm and the return of Blake Ferguson is a bonus, however rolling the competition leaders is a big ask despite rolling the Dragons in their last appearance on the road.
The Sharks and Knights should be a terrific contest, but the Sharks will take some stopping as they’ve proved hard to beat at home all season and the return of Paul Gallen saw them pull off a remarkable win over the Warriors in Auckland.
The Knights have had their fair share of wins against the Sharks over the years, reagrdless of the venue, and the fact that Danny Buderus breaks the record for club appearances should inspire his teammates, however they’re missing key players and you’ve got to wonder how they’ll back up after their golden point draw with the Broncos.
There is a whisper that Kurt Gidley may take the field for the Knights at the 11th hour, which will only enhance the prospects of the Knights.
The Warriors rolled the visiting Sea Eagles 18-16 in Round 13, so the Sea Eagles will be fired up when both teams square off at a neutral Bluetongue Stadium.
The Sea Eagles have won their last five games and have piled on 198 points to prove that they will take a power of beating.
The Warriors were on fire until a shock loss at the hands of the Sharks, so it’s hard to get a gauge as to how they will perform against the Sea Eagles.
Losing to the Sharks was a bolt from the blue for the Warriors, who have already won on the road against the Roosters this season – and that too was unexpected.
The Broncos are running into some kind of form and they would be kicking themselves after letting victory slip from their grasp before sharing the points with the Knights.
The Dragons appeared to have the Bulldogs on toast on Monday night before capitulating in extraordinary style in a 39-20 loss, so it’s hard to see them winning in Brisbane regardless if Josh Dugan, who was knocked back by the Broncos after he was sacked by the Raiders, brings his A-grade game to the table.
The fact that the Broncos played 90 minutes last weekend at least gives the Dragons, who have posted their fair share of upset wins in Brisbane, hope.
The Panthers have their injury concerns and are starting to struggle if last week’s heavy loss at the hands of the Roosters is any guide.
After a narrow loss at the hands of the visiting Broncos, the Cowboys hit the jackpot when they smashed the Rabbitohs in Townsville.
Hard to believe that the Cowboys are aiming for back to back wins for only the second time this season, and it would a surprise if they didn’t achieve that task, especially with Johnathan Thurston back to his best, as the Panthers have leaked 112 points in their past three games.
It was a great win by the Titans against the Tigers as it snapped a four-match losing streak, however facing the Bulldogs in Sydney is a difficult assignment.
The Bulldogs had their problems at the start of the season, but have steadied and appear bound for the finals.
The Titans jumped out of the blocks at the start of the year, however injuries have cruelled their campaign and a spot in the top eight seems unlikely.
The Titans will match the Bulldogs in the engine room, however the Titans lack the class in the backs to match the Bulldogs.
AFL – Round 20
There could be a host of one-sided games this weekend starting off with Hawks up against the Saints.
Lance Franklin and Luke Hodge are missing from the Hawks line up, but they will bounce back after a heavy loss against the Tigers and it’s hard to see the Saints, who have only won three times this season, posing a serious threat.
The Lions were too good for the Saints last weekend in Brisbane, however meeting the rampant Tigers at the MCG may not be an enjoyable experience.
The Tigers have rolled the Dockers and Hawks in recent weeks, but surely they won’t have one of their renowned hiccups against the Lions with a spot in the top four a realistic possibility.
Facing the Cats after a loss, especially when they play their next game at home, has always proven to be a difficult task and the Power could be in for a long day despite having the right to be full of confidence after their wonderful win over the Crows.
The Power will play finals, but a win over the Cats would be a shock.
The Blues are on the nose and the Bulldogs are a breath of fresh of air if recent form is any guide, however the Blues can just about kiss a finals berth goodbye if they stumble at the hands of the ever-improving Bulldogs.
The ramifications should the Blues lose would be enormous and many would argue that it was ridiculous replacing Brett Ratten with Mick Malthouse.
The Suns won’t play finals, but they have had an excellent season and will get the Demons this weekend.
The Suns are just about the bet of the round, and with Gary Ablett lining up for his 250th game in the wake of the Suns’ impressive effort against the Eagles in Perth the Demons are no chance.
The Magpies boasted an extraordinary record against the Swans before a humbling 47 point preliminary final loss to the red and whites last year at ANZ Stadium.
The Magpies have been one of the best teams on the road in recent years, however they have had their struggles this season and rolling the red-hot Swans back at ANZ Stadium will prove tricky.
The Swans have won six in a row, which includes nine wins in their past 10 games, and following shock defeats suffered by the Hawks and Cats last weekend it’s unlikely they will give up their top two spot without a fight.
It will be a ripper contest and the Magpies, who looked great against the Bombers, are more than a chance, however without an experienced ruckman they deservely start the match as the outsider.
And remember, the Magpies lost on the road recently against the Suns.
Once again, it’s hard to fault one aspect of the Swans’ game.
Are the Bombers finally showing signs of stress?
They were never in the hunt against the Magpies and as a result relinquished their spot in the top four to the Dockers, who arrived in Melbourne last weekend and put the Blues to the sword.
The Bombers should bounce back, but they will have to be at their best as the Eagles, who almost had their pants pulled down by the Suns last weekend, welcome back Matt Priddis, Mark LeCras and Chris Masten.
The Crows-Kangaroos clash is harder to split than the Swans-Magpies game.
The Crows knew how the Kangaroos have felt on more than one occasion this season when they snatched defeat from the jaws against the Power last weekend.
Back in Round 9, the Kangaroos were well on their way to claiming the four points against the Crows before the boys from Adelaide rallied to seal a stunning one point win at Etihad Stadium.
The Kangaroos haven’t rolled the Crows at AAMI Stadium since 2003, but if they continue from where they left off against the Cats they are capable of getting the cash.
If the Bombers lose their points, the Kangaroos would not be fit to fill their spot in the top eight if they fail to account for the Crows at a hostile venue.
It’s hard to know what the Crows will bring to the table after a shattering loss at the hands of the Power.
The Kangaroos have played the Crows in Adelaide since 2009.
The Dockers have an extremely favourable draw running into the finals and will not only finish in the top four, but are capable of cracking the top two if the Hawks, Swans and Cats stumble in coming weeks.
The Dockers should improve their precentage when they play host to the Giants – 95 points separated both teams in the corresponding match last year.
The Giants are buoyant after toppling the Demons and they gave the Magpies a run for their money a fortnight ago, so hopefully the Giants will step up for four quarters against a side who are suddenly a genuine premiership threat.

Great games in the NRL and AFL, but Brumbies face long night

NRL – Round 21
An absolutely sensational round of matches in the NRL this weekend.
There’s up to six games that can go either way, so the NRL premiership and tipping competitions could be turned upside down.
First of all, the Roosters and Sea Eagles should get the cash against respective opponents the Panthers and Eels as they strive to enhance their top four hopes.
Now comes the hard part.
The Knights might be at home against the Broncos, but they have a shocking Friday night record and have lost key men to injury following last Sunday’s heavy loss to the visiting Roosters.
The Broncos got across the line against the Cowboys when it looked like they had blown their chances and the question has to be asked if they can get the cash in yet another important road game.
The Warriors are on the march and may have too much class for the visiting Sharks, however the Sharks welcome back inspirational captain Paul Gallen and the big difference between both teams is that the Sydney-based outfit sit inside the top eight while the Auckland-based franchise sit outside the top eight.
It would be remarkable if the Cowboys were able to produce a late season finish and sneak into the top eight, especially in the wake of Neil Henry’s imminent departure at the end of the season.
They were unlucky to succumb to the Broncos last weekend, but are they good enough to overcome the rampant Rabbitohs.
The competition leaders – minus Greg Inglis – were fantastic on the road against the Titans, however they will have to be well and truly on their game if they expect to get the cash in Townsville.
What’s that saying about a team lifting after their coach gets the bullet.
The Raiders are aiming for their 13th straight win at home and would fancy their chances against the Storm, who have lost their past two games.
The Storm were devoid of their Origin stars when smashed by the Bulldogs before going down narrowly to the Warriors in an honourable loss in Auckland.
A win for both teams is vital.
For the Raiders it will guarantee them semi-final football and may enhance their prospects of making the top four.
Speaking of the top four, the Storm have slipped to fourth and if things don’t improve they face the likelihood of meeting the Rabbitohs or Roosters in Sydney during the first week of the finals – and the Bulldogs, Sharks and Raiders sit only three points adrift of the premiers.
Injuries are causing the Titans and Tigers concern, and as a consequence they’re battling to produce the goods for 80 minutes.
Both coaches – John Cartwright and Mick Potter – are also under the pump.
The Titans can kiss the finals goodbye should they lose the game and you’ve just got to wonder if Benji Marshall is focused after making a quick trip to New Zealand through the week to talk turkey with Super Rugby franchise the Blues.
If the game was in Sydney, you’d tip the Tigers.
However, it’s on the Gold Coast and therefore you’ve got to cut the Titans some slack.
The Dragons stunned the Rabbitohs a fortnight ago, so it’s unlikely the Bulldogs will take them lightly as they eye a spot in the finals.
A loss for the Bulldogs and the Knights and Warriors will be breathing down their neck if that pairing happens to prevail this weekend.
The home ground advantage will assist the Dragons, however it’s hard to get truly excited about the big red “V” after blowing it against the Raiders last weekend and even with Ben Barba missing from the Bulldogs line up.
However, as is the case in five other games this weekend, you just never know what is likely to transpire come Monday night.
AFL  – Round 19
History suggests that the AFL ladder doesn’t change that much from now until the end of the “home” and “away” schedule, however that doesn’t mean that teams sitting outside the top eight are necessarily going to lay down.
The Kangaroos blew a 41 point lead when last they faced the Cats at Etihad Stadium in Round 2, which proved to be a regular occurrence this season and which will ultimately cost them a spot in the finals.
Both teams square off once again at the same venue in what should be an entertaining Friday night clash and you don’t have to be Einstein to realise that the Kangaroos crave for revenge.
The Kangaroos have lost Andrew Swallow, while the Cats welcome back Jimmy Bartel.
A loss for the Cats, which would come as a surprise, may jeopardise their hopes of finishing first or second.
The winless Giants were wonderful against the Magpies last weekend, while the Demons once again produced a shocker in a diabolical loss to the Kangaroos.
The Giants appeared to have the Demons’ measure back in Round 4 at the MCG before the Victorian outfit sealed the deal after kicking 10 goals in the final quarter.
The Giants will win the game and thus break the ice for the first time in 2013 if they continue from where they left off against the Magpies, while the Demons will win if the Sydney-siders suddenly and inexplicably go backwards in their development.
The Tigers weren’t that bad after having their colours lowered by the Swans at the SCG last weekend, but the Hawks are an ominous assignment.
The Hawks are flying and deserve to be labelled as premiership favourites, and there’s no way they will take the Tigers lightly following a 62 point loss when last both teams clashed in 2012.
It’s hard to see the Tigers missing the finals and a win would improve their hopes of hosting an elimination final, while for the Hawks a loss may give the Swans and Cats a lift as they envisage a spot in the grand final.
The Eagles have their injury concerns and they were clearly exposed against the Bulldogs last weekend.
Home ground advantage will help the Eagles immeasurably when they take on the Suns, who are still a rough hope of remaining in the finals race if they post an upset win in Perth.
The Eagles should win, especially with Darren Glass and Andrew Embley returning, but you never know.
The Blues-Dockers encounter could end up being the match of the round.
The Blues are on a roll after rolling the Saints, Kangaroos and Suns, but the Dockers, along with the Bombers are as perhaps the next best team after the Hawks, Swans and Cats, are quality opposition.
A loss for the Blues will seriously hinder their finals hopes, while the Dockers face the prospect of blowing a spot in the top four should they go down.
Will it be the speed of the Blues or the defensive skills of the Dockers that will split the teams?
The Blues are a genuine chance, no doubt, while the Dockers, who shared the spoils with the Swans in Sydney earlier in the season, must produce a big one in Melbourne if they are to be taken seriously as a premiership contender.
The Carlton match is a big one for the Dockers, who welcome back Araon Sandilands and Hayden Ballantyne.
With Matthew Pavlich you’d feel a bit more confident when it came to assessing the Dockers’ chances.
The Saints are slipping off the map quicker than an ice-berg and the drug saga surrounding Ahmed Saad would have been a further kick in the guts as they prepare for their trip to Brisbane to face the Lions, who gave the Power a run for their money in Adeliade last weekend.
Hard to see the Lions losing this one, which may ease the pressure on coach Michael Voss with his future remaining up in the air.
The Bulldogs were great against the Eagles last weekend, so hopefully they can match it with the Swans if they can continue from where they left off last weekend.
There were times against the Eagles where the Bulldogs were easy on the eye, but like Elle McPherson in her prime it has been hard to take your eyes off the Swans for most of the year and a loss to the Bulldogs would border on the monumental.
Considering the amount of key players are missing it’s amazing how well the Swans are playing and at full strength they will once again take some stopping come September.
Gary Ablett might be the rage for the Brownlow Medal, but Kieran Jack should poll well in this year’s count.
The Crows won’t play finals this year, but they would just love to throw the Power’s top eight hopes into disarray with an unexpected win over their cross-town rivals in Showdown XXXV.
Didn’t have the stomach to tip the Power in Round 3 because the Crows, after all, were a beaten preliminary finalist last season.
Going for the Power on this occasion and it would be frustrating for tipsters if the Crows got over the line.
The Power holds an 18-16 advantage over the Crows in Showdowns, and history suggests that the games are normally 50/50 contests and the under dogs can never be discounted.
If you’ve picked 8 from 8 by this stage, then good luck trying to spilt the Magpies and Bombers in what should be an absolute clinker.
The Bombers were emphatic winners on Anzac Day, but a heavy loss to the Hawks last weekend followed by yet another week of scandal surrounding an alleged doping culture at the club that saw coach James Hird come under heavy scrutiny must surely be taking its toll.
The Bombers have defied the critics and cynics all year and although may expect them to crack there’s every chance they will topple the Magpies.
It’s hard to work out the Magpies and there are signs that they’re starting to fall away.
After losing to the Suns on the road, it took them until the final quarter before the overcoming the Giants at the MCG.
The Magpies, who are the favourites, are out to avenge the loss they suffered on Anzac Day and have proven this year that they can lift on the big stage at the MCG when required.
A loss for the Magpies may not only ruin their hopes of hosting an elimination final, but it may see the Blues take their spot in the finals once the top eight is settled.
The Bombers can ill-afford a loss because it may prove the difference between playing a qualifying final or an elimination final come the first week in September.
You just don’t know what the Magpies and Bombers will bring to the table, so perhaps the bookies are your best guide.
Super Rugby – Final
The Chiefs are all the rage as they attempt to make it back-to-back Super Rugby titles.
They’re currently a $1.30 favourite as they welcome the Brumbies, a $3.60 outsider, to Hamilton.
For the Chiefs, the 2013 finals resembles their 2012 campaign.
A win over the Crusaders at home before posting a big win over the visiting Sharks in the final.
For the Brumbies their finals campaign resembles that of the Sharks in 2012.
A win over the Cheetahs in the elimination final before ending the Bulls’ unbeaten run in finals in Pretoria.
The Sharks won in Brisbane a year ago when they got the Reds before stunning the Stormers in Cape Town.
In the end, travelling got the Sharks as they were cannon fodder for the Chiefs in a 37-6 loss.
Travelling may end up getting the Brumbies as well.
It’s the first game between the Chiefs and Brumbies this season and a team from Australia and South Africa has yet to win a final in New Zealand.
The amazing George Smith plays his final game for the Brumbies and that will no doubt inspire the the Canberra-based outfit, but it’s hard to overlook the Chiefs as they have scored the most tries and most points in 2013.
A host of players are playing their final game for the Chiefs, so it will be an emotional occasion for everyone connected with the Wailkato franchise.
The Brumbies were lucky to eliminate the Cheetahs a fortnight ago after a shocking loss to the Force in Perth, which makes last week’s win over the Bulls even more remarkable.
Yes, the final is a two-horse race, but a Brumbies victory would be staggering.
Weighing everything up, the Chiefs should win comfortably and the Brumbies may end up rueing the fact that they didn’t end the premiership rounds in top spot.
They had the opportunity, but blew it.

Great weekend of footy in store as finals speculation hots up

NRL – Round 20
Absolute ripper round of games in the NRL this weekend – enough to cause the leaders of your respective tipping competition plenty of stress.
The Cowboys-Broncos clash is a toss of the coin as both teams welcome back their State of Origin stars.
The Bronocs will lift and can’t be wriiten off, but their away form has been a little erratic in 2013.
The home ground will assist the Cowboys, but unless they bring their A grade to the table they won’t win.
The Bulldogs will get the Eels – nothing more to add.
The Dragons haven’t beaten the Raiders since 2007, but the the Raiders have struggled on the road this season.
Facing the Raiders in Wollongong is a bonus for the Dragons, who would be full of beans after their big win over the Rabbitohs.
A genuine 50/50 match up.
The Titans have got the forwards to match the Rabbitohs, but injuries to key backs may hinder their chances against the green and reds.
A Titans win would come as an upset, but we’ll find out once and for all if the loss of Greg Inglies has left the Rabbitohs rudderless.
The Warriors are on a roll and the Storm find it tough going after the Origin period.
It should be a wonderful contest.
Dismiss the Storm at your peril, however the Warriors are more than a decent chance.
If both teams produce their best it could be a classic.
After winning three straight games, the Panthers faced a finals contender in the Knights and were made to look second rate.
Like the Panthers, the Sharks have their injury concerns and they will be aiming to bounce back after a heavy loss against the Roosters.
Big game for both teams, but the home ground may get the Sharks home.
The Knights-Roosters fixture is clearly the match of the round.
Both teams are virtually at full strength, although the Knights are missing Kurt Gidley.
It should be a great game and there should be an abundance of attacking flair.
The home ground assists the Knights immeasurably, however defence might get the Roosters over the line.
The Sea Eagles are eyeing a spot in the top four, but if they can’t overcome the Tigers at Campbelltown then the premiership race is a three horse race between the Rabbitohs, Roosters and Storm.
AFL – Round 18 
Having Team 1 up against Team 2 in the AFL is a great way to launch this weekend’s action.
It has been yet another controversial week for the Bombers, while the Hawks welcome back Lance Franklin and Sam Mitchell.
Unlike the Hawks, the Bombers have yet to claim a scalp of major significane this season – downing the Dockers in Perth wasn’t bad – and perhaps the odds are slightly stacked in the Hawks’ favour.
Once thing is for certain though.
If the Bombers win then they will officially be recognised as a premiership threat.
The Suns-Blues game is enough to cause tipsters nightmares.
If the Suns can beat the Magpies at home then surely they can roll the Blues, who they toppled in the corresponding match on the Gold Coast last year.
The Blues were lucky to get out of jail against the Kangaroos, but significantly they have been labelled as a warm favourite against the Suns.
The Kangaroos will defeat the Demons – tipsters must decide whether the margin will be under or over 39 points.
No matter what the Kanagroos win by, the Magpies will probably win by a bigger margin against the Giants.
The lack of key players perhaps proved the difference against the Tigers as far as the Dockers were concerned.
The Dockers, who are a major threat in 2013, welcome back quality players and should get the cash against the Crows, who were super against the Cats.
Speaking of the Cats, you would expect them to rally after a surprise loss – remember how they bounced back after they succumbed at the hands of the Lions – and unfortunately the Saints could end up being the “whipping boys”.
The Cats will win.
The Lions are travelling OK, however the rejuventaed Power are seemingly bound for the finals and as has been the case this year they are terribly hard side to beat at home.
Had it not been for a trip to Darwin the Lions may have been in this match up to their eye-balls – they may still win.
These are the kind of games where the Power have prevailed for most of the season, so for them to let this game slip would come as a surprise.
The Bulldogs were far from disgraced against the Hawks last weekend and many pundits give them a chance against an Eagles outfit missing Darren Glass, Matt LeCras, Adam Selwood and Nic Naitanui.
Have the Eagles put the cue in the rack?
The Eagles were ordinary at home against the Swans, so how are they going to perform in Melbourne minus key players even if the opposition is the Bulldogs.
It’s unlikely the Bulldogs will get a better opportunity to roll the Eagles and if they fail to get the four points then everyone has the right to ask if the red.blue and whites are in fact making progress.
The Eagles can kick goals and Josh Kennedy can trouble the Bulldogs, but they can leak points and the loss of Glass is significant.
The Swans-Tigers game is a great way to end the weekend.
It was hard to fault one aspect of the Swans’ game against the Eagles, which is a worry for opposing clubs as the premiers are still missing key players.
The Tigers have won eight of their past 10 games and surely a finals spot beckons.
Getting the Swans at the SCG will have other clubs looking over their shoulders, but can the Tigers produce the all-round effort against an opponent that has caused them troubles in recent years despite claiming the scalp of the Dockers.
The Swans won’t lie down, but neither will this current group that represents the Tigers.
Super Rugby – Finals (Week 2)
The Chiefs are a difficult side to beat at home, but the Crusaders are well and truly peaking at the right time of the season and as usual they find a way to win.
The Crusaders clocked the Chiefs 43-15 in Christchurch a few weeks ago, so you would expect the Chiefs – the defending champions – to lift at home.
The Chiefs got the Crusaders in a semi-final in Hamilton last year in a match up that should have been the final as the Chiefs smashed the Sharks the following week.
It should be an epic battle and the Crusaders, who decimated the Reds last weekend, are in sparkling form.
However, it’s hard to ignore teams who host semi-finals and therefore the Chiefs, who have re-shuffled their side, won’t be a push over.
The Bulls have never lost a home final and have won 22 of their past 24 games against trans-Tasman opposition at fortress Loftus Versfeld.
The Bulls, who were battling for the minor premiership with the Chiefs and Brumbies a fortnight ago, were disappointing in a 30-13 road loss against the Stormers in the final round.
That gives the Brumbies slight hope.
However, the Brumbies were lucky to escape with a win over the gallant Cheetahs last weekend and for them to win in Pretoria would border on the extraordinary.
The Brumbies haven’t got the greatest record in South Africa and the Bulls welcome back key players.
Morne Steyn’s success rate of 86.2% in front of goal at home is also of concern for the Brumbies.

Home teams favoured in Super Rugby — but NRL, AFL tricky

NRL – Round 19
Only six games this weekend, but if you can get the winner of the Tigers-Warriors and Panthers-Knights games you may end up getting the card.
The Tigers are incredibly hard to beat at Leichhardt Oval and edged out the Warriors 24-22 at the venue last year when the New Zealand outfit seemingly had the match in the bag.
It has been a tumultuous week for the Tigers following the Benji Marshall saga, so in a game that could go either way the Warriors, who have been in super form of late, may get the cash on this occasion.
The Panthers have won six of their past eight games and will prove hard to beat at home, while the Knights have won their past two games after a poor run of form.
It’s hard to work out what these two teams are going to bring to the table and the Knights start the match as a slight favourite.
The Knights haven’t exactly set the world on fire on the road this season, so tipping them to win at Penrith is a risk.
However, the Panthers have their injury concerns and Beau Scott returns for the Knights, so maybe it’s the Novocastrians.
A word of warning though – the Panthers are one of the form teams in the competition.
The Raiders will beat the Eels, the Roosters – minus Sonny Bill Wiliams – will get the Sharks, who may struggle without Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis, and the Sea Eagles backline should cause the Titans plenty of problems, although the Gold Coast boys won at Brookvale last year.
The Dragons can make the finals, so long as they win every one of the last eight games.
Won’t happen.
They face a Rabbitohs side who have not only won their past six games, but who sit on top of the ladder and are the premiership favourites.
Greg Inglis is a big loss for the Rabbitohs, however they should prevail against a team whom they defeated back in 1971 when last they won the premiership.
AFL – Round 17
Here’s the good news.
The Hawks will overcome the Bulldogs, the Bombers will eclipse the Giants, the Magpies will topple the Suns, the Lions will account for the Demons, and the Cats will take some stopping against the Crows.
So that means that there’s four other games that can genuinely go either way.
The Kangaroos were awful against the Dockers in Perth three weeks ago before bouncing back to cream the Tigers at Etihad Stadium.
Well, the Kanagroos stole defeat from the jaws of victory against the Lions last weekend, but in their defence injuries cruelled their hopes at the end of the day.
The Blues had a great win over the Saints last weekend, however they have lost eight of their past 10 games against the Kangaroos.
Perhaps it’s the Kangaroos, but the Blues won’t lie down.
How will the Eagles and Dockers back up after their Western Derby?
History suggests they are ripe for the picking the following week.
The Dockers got the Tigers by a point in Perth in Round 5, but on this occasion they play the first of only two games at the MCG this season before the finals.
The Tigers haven’t beaten a member of the top seven all season, so it’s a huge game for them and they do return from a long trip to Cairns.
The Tigers are a narrow favourite according to the bookies, but the difference between both teams at this stage is that the Dockers are a genuine premiership contender.
Now you’ve got to try and split the Saints and Power at Etihad Stadium.
The Power, who enter the match as favourites, have lost their past eight games at Etihad Stadium, so with that in mind the Saints are a chance.
The Saints are no chance of making the finals, while the Power still sit in eighth spot.
If Saints can keep it together in defence they’re some chance because they have the forwards and midfielders to cause the Power problems.
The Power have lost Kane Cornes, who may have matched up on Lenny Hayes, but boast a handy midfield and the likes of Westhoff, Butcher and Schulz pose a threat in front of goal.
If the Power, who have been super competitive against the top teams this year, can’t get the Saints then perhaps they don’t deserve a spot in the top eight come September.
The Swans clocked the Eagles by 52 points when last they travelled to Perth, but you could argue that the Eagles are a better side these days.
The Eagles have lost three of their past five games, but up until last week’s loss to the Dockers they had proven to be stiff opposition.
The Swans just keep on winning and they have seemingly found an extra spark following a shock loss at ther hands of the Power in Adelaide recently.
The Swans lift for games like this, but it’s desperate stakes for the Eagles and a loss may end their hopes of making the finals once and for all.
The premiers are a very warm favourite, but at $2.70 in a two horse race you’d be crazy to dismiss the Eagles so easily.
Super Rugby – Finals (Week 1)
Amazingly, neither the Crusaders and Reds or Brumbies and Cheetahs have opposed each other in 2013.
Makes it a bit tricky then to line the teams up for the qualifying finals.
The Crusaders are peaking at the right time of the season and are capable of making it yet another Super Rugby title.
The Reds boast an amazing record against New Zealand opposition this season, but facing the Crusaders in a sudden death final is no easy assignment.
Anything is possible, but you get the feeling Ewen McKenzie will be coaching the Reds for the last time come Saturday.
The home ground advantage should be enough to get the Brumbies over the line against the Cheetahs, but a shocking loss in Perth at the hands of the Force a week before the finals gives the Cheetahs hope.
The Cheetahs had the bye last weekend, so they’ve had two weeks to prepare for the game following a home win against the Blues when last they took to the field.
The Brumbies should bounce back in chilly Canberra, but when the Cheetahs toured Australasia earlier this season they were annihilated by the Chiefs before posting wins against the Highlanders, Waratahs and Force.

Why the Blues will be up against it in State of Origin III

 1. No Paul Gallen. Aaron Woods, Andrew Fifita and James Tamou have got “ticker”, but just lack the class and big match experience. Tamou has played for Australia, but he’s a novice.
 2. James McManus has had a great season for the Knights and he has the bulk to trouble the Maroons, however a lack of pace could be his undoing. What’s that saying – “Speed Kills”. And he usually appears on the left wing for the Knights. He lines up on the right wing for the Blues.
 3. Trent Merrin is an honest toiler, but what does he honestly offer the Blues. Is he a strike weapon in attack or is he the Blues’ defensive saviour? The fiesty Beau Scott is fit and he would have surely offered plenty in both attack and defence for the Blues
 4. Todd Carney and Peter Wallace were fantastic in the Bronocs-Sharks match to prove once and for all that they should have been the halves for the Blues ahead of Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney, who provided nothing in Origin I and II and are liklely to go missing again in Origin III.
 5. How fit is Greg Bird? Win or lose we’ll no doubt be advised after the game that he was “needled up” for Origin III. Had he missed Origin III following the loss of Paul Gallen then the Blues would have been absolutely no chance.
 6. It has been a dream preparation for the Maroons as there hasn’t been a single disruption. The bottom line is that the Maroons have got great backs, tremendous forwards and a handy bench. One question must be raised though. Will they rue dumping Ashley Harrison for Chris McQueen and Matt Gillett is the “Trent Merrin” in the Maroons outfit?
 7. Forget Origin I. Origin II was the true indication when it came to comparing the Blues and Maroons. The first 60 minutes the Maroons produced in Origin II was is perhaps unrivalled in State of Origin history.
 8. The home ground advantage will assist the Blues, but they will have to find another gear following their win in Origin I to have any chance. They just haven’t got the players to match the individual brilliance that a host of Maroons can provide.
 9. Following Origin II, Nathan Merritt and Josh Reynolds can feel pretty stiff that they were the only players to get punted for Origin III. The sad thing for the Blues is that there are up to half a dozen players, apart from Todd Carney and Peter Wallace, running around in the NRL premiership who should be lining up in Origin III.
10. In recent times, the only way the Blues have been able to match the Maroons is when they adopt a physical approach. Well, it was hard to fault their desire in Origin I. However, come Origin II the Maroons produced a blitzkrieg and the Blues simply had no response. In Origin I, the Blues threw the kitchen sink at the Maroons, but in the second half the Queensladers fought back and more than matched the New South Welshmen. In Origin II, the Blues were blown off the park and never once did they assume the ascendancy.
The heart says the Blues, but the head says the Maroons. It’s a no brainer. That means the Maroons will make it eight straight State of Origin series wins. It will also mean that the Maroons will dominate selection in the Australian side for the World Cup. The only good news for supporters of the Blues is that a Queensland team may not feature in the NRL finals this year.
Maroons by 1-12

Origin affects NRL; big games in the AFL; Super Rugby finals loom

NRL – Round 18

Once again, State of Origin will have an important bearing on the fortunes of all eight teams this weekend.

The Broncos may have copped a hammering at the hands of the Storm last weekend, but there were numerous occasions they came close to scoring.

How will they peform against the Sharks with a host of key players on deck for Queensland?

The Sharks are missing Lewis, Gallen and Fifita, but on paper they appear a lot stronger than the Broncos and will enhance their top eight hopes with a win.

The Broncos will aim up, but surely they will only get the cash if the Sharks produce a shocker.

The Eels have posted a number of special wins at Parramatta Stadium this season, but after a big loss at the hands of the Sea Eagles, no Hayne, the dumping of Sandow, and players clearly out of form it’s hard to see them winning.

The Panthers are flying and a loss would come as a surprise, although the big question is how they will recover from their trip to Darwin.

The Storm are missing Smith, Cronk, Slater and Hoffman for the grand final replay against the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium.

The Bulldogs have the depth to cover the loss of Morris and Reynolds, and if they can’t win this then they don’t deesrve a spot in the finals.

The Cowboys are shot ducks and it’s impossible to see them qualifying for the finals after yet another disappointing road performance in Canberra last weekend.

Not only are the Cowboys missing their Origin stars, but a host of veterans have been dumped from the starting 13.

The Sea Eagles are missing Watmough and Cherry-Evans, but are good enough to win in Townsville and thus keep their top four hopes alive.

AFL – Round 16

From the start, it’s hard to see the Magpies, Cats, Swans and Bombers succumbing to respective opponents the Crows, Demons, Giants and Bombers.

The Crows will lift on the big stage at the MCG, but the Magpies are eyeing the top four and it’s hard to see them letting this match slip.

The Cats have posted some big wins against the Demons at Simmonds Stadium in recent years, and it could be a similar case on this occasion.

The Swans will get the Giants, it’s as simple as that – and you can be rest assured it will be by more than 39 points.

Even without Watson, the Bombers should get the Bulldogs, who were pushed to the limit by the Giants last weekend before escaping with a four point win.

The Power have claimed a number of high profile scalps at AAMI Stadium this season, but overcoming the Hawks is a huge ask.

Writing the Power off at home is a gamble, however you would expect the first-placed Hawks to strike back after a stinging loss at the hands of the Cats last weekend.

The Suns are 2-0 against the Tigers and both teams meet once again in Cairns.

The Tigers were poor against the Kangaroos last weekend after stringing a number of wins together, while the Suns – minus Ablett – were no match for the Lions at the Gabba.

It’s hard to see the Suns making the finals as they sit three games outside the top eight.

The Tigers should never have lost the corresponding match last year, but they are lot better side these days and based on 2013 form they should prevail.

However, it’s a danger game for the Tigers and there place in the top eight will come under the spotlight should the Suns win.

Splitting the Blues and Saints isn’t all that easy.

The Blues were terrible against the Magpies last weekend, while a depleted Saints outfit were far from disgraced in an honourable loss against the Dockers in Perth.

The Saints, who boast a good recent record against the Blues, welcome back Riewoldt and Milne.

Scotland returns for the Blues, while Waite is out with injury, yet the Blues are a surprisingly warm favourite.

Clearly the bookies know something we don’t, but history suggests that a Saints won’t exactly come as a surprise.

The Kangaroos were fantastic last weekend when they put the Tigers to the sword, however they face a danger game as the Lions have been solid at the Gabba for most of the season.

The Lions sit just one game behind the Kanagroos, but a loss will surely end their hopes once and for all.

It’s hard to know which Kangaroos team will turn up this weekend, however if they continue from where they left off last weekend they will win.

Like the Tigers, it’s a danger game for the Kangaroos.

So we leave the best for last.

How do you split the Eagles and Dockers in arguably the match of the round.

The Eagles sit outside the top eight in ninth place, so they have plenty of incentive to perform and will be buoyant after a courageous win against the Crows in Adelaide.

The Dockers sit outside the top four on percentage and would be feeling confident after rolling the Saints in Perth last weekend.

The Dockers rolled the Eagles by 28 points in Round 1, but the Eagles have been mighty impressive in recent weeks and are more than a decent chance this weekend.

The Dockers have dominated the “Derby” in recent times and although McPharlin is a big loss they would be full of beans with Pavlich and Sandilands back on deck.

The loss of Waters is a blow for the Eagles, who are also suffering from a long injury toll – and that might prove the difference when it comes to settling on a winner.

Super Rugby – Round 20

Last round before the finals.

The finalists for 2013 have been decided and they are the Bulls, Chiefs, Brumbies, Crusaders, Reds and Cheetahs.

Yes, the Cheetahs.

Games this weekend will determine where teams will finish up from 1-6.

The Cheetahs have the bye this weekend, so they will more than likely finish sixth.

The Crusaders are peaking at the right time and it’s hard to see them falling to the unpredictable Hurricanes in Christchurch.

The Hurricanes won the Round 4 clash against the Crusaders 29-28 in Wellington.

The Rebels have had a tumultuous week and although they play their final game of the season in Melbourne they may find it hard to match the enthusiasm of the Highlanders.

The Blues were genuine finals hope after an excellent start to the season, but they have fallen by the wayside.

They host the second-placed Chiefs, who could end up in top spot if they win in Auckland and the Bulls fall to the Stormers in Cape Town.

In a prelude to Wednesday’s State of Origin clash, the injury-ravaged Waratahs and Reds meet at ANZ Stadium.

The Waratahs would like to end the year on a high note, but the for the Reds they could claim a home qualifying final is they win and the Crusaders slip up against the Hurricanes.

Bit of a lottery, but the Reds in a tight one.

The third-placed Brumbies can end the premiership rounds in either first, second or third spot.

The Brumbies have had a wonderful campaign and many argue they are the team to beat for the 2013 title.

If they’re good enough to beat the British and irish Lions, then the Brumbies are good enough to sink the Force in Perth.

Amazing to think that if the Bulls and reigning champions Chiefs lose this weekend the Brumbies will claim the minor premiership.

The Sharks, last year’s beaten finalists, are among a host of teams who have had a disappointing season, however they will exit with a home win over the Kings, who have been a worthy replacement for the Lions in Super Rugby.

Like the Waratahs against the Reds, can the Stormers, the 2012 minor premiers, play the role of party poopers when they host the Bulls?

A loss could see the Bulls slip to third-place, so you would expect them to lift against the Stormers who look like ending their campaign in seventh spot.

Quite simply a great weekend of footy across all the codes

NRL – Round 17

Not only will it be interesting to see how teams perform in various grounds around Australia this weekend, but it will also be interesting to see how certain teams stand up after they were fined for salary cap breaches today.

First of all, it’s hard to see Roosters and Sea Eagles falling to the Dragons and Eels, respectively.

The Storm will start the match against the Broncos as warm favourites, especially with Cameron Smith returning, but the boys from Brisbane are capable of giving the premiers a run for their money if they can continue from where they left off against the Warriors.

The Sharks comprise a host of former Tigers, so it could be an interesting clash as the Tigers strive to avenge a 30-6 loss at Allianz Stadium in Round 9.

The Tigers are on a roll and can’t be written off, however the Sharks could prove hard to beat at home.

The Titans and Panthers square off in Darwin in a game that can honestly go either way.

The Titans, who have the edge in the forwards, were awful against the Knights last weekend, while the Panthers, who have the edge in the backs, have won five of their past eight games.

Teams who arrive in Darwin first to prepare for a game, regardless of the code, usually win these games. The Titans were the first team to land in the Top End.

The Raiders-Cowboys clash in Canberra is a lottery as well.

The Raiders, who have lost their past two road games, have win their past 10 at home, while the Cowboys have won their past two and their past five games against the Raiders.

The Raiders are tremendously hard to beat at home and it should be a chilly 9C in Canberra on Sunday, but there are signs that the Cowboys have finally clicked into gear.

The Bulldogs return to Mackay where they toppled the Storm a year ago.

On this occasion they face the Knights, who snapped a four-match losing streak by creaming the Titans last weekend.

The Knights belted the Bulldogs 44-8 in Round 10, so the Bulldogs will be out for revenge against a team who have struggled on the road all season.

The Rabbitohs are flying and face a Warriors outfit who must travel around 5000km for the match in Perth.

The Warriors, like the Rabbitohs, are on fire and succumbed to a narrow 24-22 defeat at the hands of the Rabbitohs in Auckland in Round 5.

The Warriors have yet to win a game in Perth and they have just won two of seven on the road in 2013, and while there is a doubt regarding the fitness of Manu Vatuvei and Russell Parker the Rabbitohs are set to welcome back George Burgess and Chris McQueen.

AFL – Round 15

Pick the winner in the Blues-Magpies, Lions-Suns, Crows-Eagles and Cats-Hawks encounters and you’ll probably have a pretty good weekend.

Perhaps it might be a wise decision to turn to the bookies if you can’t split the teams.

The Blues have key men returning, while the Magpies have lost key men – and speculation is rife that Magpies star Harry O’Brien isn’t exactly seeing eye to eye with coach Nathan Buckley.

If the Blues don’t get the Magpies they never will, but the Magpies have a habit of bouncing back after a poor effort and they were certainly made to look second rate against the Power last weekend.

The Bulldogs may have lost to the Demons last weekend, but they won’t be losing to the Giants in Canberra.

The Tigers have won four straight and appear headed for the finals, however they need to be on their game against a desperate Kangaroos outfit who can kiss the finals goodbye once and for all if they don’t get the cash.

Apart from the Giants and Demons, the Lions have leaked the most points this season which may give the Suns hope as they head up the road to face their Queensland rivals at the Gabba.

However, the Lions are a much better side at home and should hit back following an inept display against the Hawks in Launceston.

The Lions got the Suns by two points on the Gold Coast in Round 3, and the Suns have only improved since then.

If the Lions can beat the Cats at home, then they can beat the Suns.

The Suns need to win this if they envisage making the finals in 2013.

You could tip the Crows or Eagles and you’d still be feeling nervous.

The home ground advantage is a boost for the Crows and the bookies think the Crows can win.

The loser can forget about the finals and don’t give up on the Eagles too quickly because they were gallant against the Bombers last weekend and pushed the Hawks to the limit when last they travelled.

The Cats are aiming for their 11th straight win over the Hawks, while the Hawks are aiming for their 12th straight win.

It’s impossible to split both teams with confidence, particularly as the Cats have won eight of the past 10 games against the Hawks by less than 10 points.

The Cats hit back in style following a stunning loss to the Lions when they put the Dockers to the sword last weekend, while the Hawks weren’t exactly pushed to the limit as they cruised to victory against the Lions.

It should be another classic, and by the way the bookies have the Hawks as favourites.

After what should be a truly spectacular Saturday, it is little mundane come Sunday.

The Swans will overcome the Demons and the Dockers are good things to sink the Saints, who head to Perth minus Nick Riewoldt.

The other game on Sunday pits the courageous Bombers up against the Power, who rival the Suns as the most improved team in 2013.

Big wins at home against the Swans and Magpies must surely give the Power confidence, however the Bombers are proving hard to beat, especially at Etihad Stadium.

Has another week in a drugs-induced spotlight worn away at Essendon?

Has Power coach Ken Hinkley kept his players’ feet on the ground?

And will the Bombers be focussed after an emotional win over the Eagles in Perth?

It’s a big game for the Power.

If they get within 20 points of the Bombers then it’s hard to see them missing the finals, but if they end up rolling the Bombers they will definitely make the finals.

Super Rugby – Week 19

The Australian teams return to the fold next weekend, so it’s the last chance for the New Zealanders and South Africans to take advantage with the finals looming large on the horizon.

On form, the Crusdarers-Chiefs clash in Canterbury might well be a prelude to this year’s final.

It rivals the Cats-Hawks clash in the AFL as arguably the most anticipated match of the weekend.

Perhaps it could be wise to stick with the Crusaders on this occasion because they quite simply destroyed the Highlanders in Dunedin last weekend.

The Chiefs recorded a solid home win over the Hurricanes a week ago, but were probably not as convincing as the Crusaders.

Pride will be on the line when the Hurricanes play host to the Highlanders.

You shouldn’t endure too much stress if you settle on the Hurricanes.

The loser of the Cheetahs-Blues game in Bloemfontein can forget about the finals.

The Blues are some chance after a narrow loss to the Sharks in Durban, while the Cheetahs never got out of second gear in a disappointing loss to the Stormers in Cape Town.

The Cheetahs will lift at home and the bookies believe they can win, and thus keep their unlikely finals hopes alive.

It’s the last roll of the dice for the Blues, so they won’t give up without a fight.

The Stormers, who will amazingly miss the playoffs after falling one game short of the final last year, will prove too good for the Kings, while the second-placed Bulls could go top with a home win over last year’s beaten finalists the Sharks.

The Bulls will grab first place if the Crusaders down the Chiefs.

No easy games in NRL, AFL and Super Rugby

NRL – Round 16

What’s worse than picking winners in the NRL when clubs are missing players because of State of Origin?

That’s picking winners after Origin.

You’ve got no idea who is going to back up.

And you’ve got no idea what the starting line-ups are going to be until match time.

This is when the bookies can be a reliable source.

The Raiders have been pretty ordinary on the road in 2013 and after failing to overcome an under-strength Tigers at Campbelltown it’s hard to see them rolling the Rabbitohs.

At this stage the Rabbitohs are bound for the grand final, while the Raiders are no certainties to make the eight.

The Tigers-Storm clash at Leichhardt is an interesting match up.

Cameron Smith is missing from the Storm line up, but with Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Ryan Hoffman returning the Tigers are going to have their work cut out for them.

The Tigers aren’t out of it by any stretch of the imagination, but you’d like to be on the Storm.

The Panthers turned their season around with an emphatic 19-0 win over the Dragons at WIN Jubilee Oval in Round 11, so the Panthers will be out to make it a double against an opponent who are determined to avenge that defeat.

The Panthers have their injury concerns and how will the Dragons react with Jamie Soward exiting the club.

The Knights-Titans clash in Newcastle should be a terrific contest.

The Knights got the Titans by a comprehensive 30-6 margin on the Gold Coast back in Round 7, but the Titans had their injury concerns that day.

Things have certainly changed as the Knights are now facing their fifth straight loss, while the Titans have won four of their past five games – they suffered an honourable defeat at the hands of the Rabbitohs in Cairns.

Toss of the coin here, but perhaps it’s the Knights.

The Warriors and Broncos met in Round 12 in Brisbane with the New Zealand outfit getting the cash 56-18, however that was prior to Game 1 in the State of Origin series.

The Broncos will field a much stronger side on this occasion, but the Warriors have suddenly hit form and it would come as a surprise if they didn’t make it five straight wins.

However, it would be wise to treat the Broncos with due respect.

Have the Cowboys turned the corner?

They’re still a long shot to make the finals, but rolling the Dragons in Wollongong was a good sign and they could prove a handful for the Sharks.

The Sharks are sitting in sixth place and like the Titans are well and truly flying under the radar, so they can’t be written off – although the loss of Paul Gallen to injury is a blow.

The Roosters-Sea Eagles clash on Monday night will be a cracker and both teams would fancy their chances.

The Roosters got the Sea Eagles 16-4 on a Monday night at Brookvale Oval in Round 9 – even after having prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves sent off.

Waerea-Hargreaves returns from suspension for the Roosters and prior to his ban he was arguably the best player running around in the NRL.

The Sea Eagles are expected to welcome back fullback Brett Stewart, so splitting both teams is no easy task.

The Roosters are favourites, but the loss of five-eighth James Maloney to injury is a blow.

Both sides last played the Bulldogs.

The Roosters escaped with a two point win, while the Sea Eagles suffered a two point loss in golden point.

AFL – Round 14

Well, we got the Bombers over the line against the Eagles, but only just.

There’s a host of other games that will keep punters nervous before they finally lodge their tips.

The Swans are missing Adam Goodes, but back at home following a shock road loss at the hands of the Power they should get the cash against the Blues.

The Blues played OK against the Hawks a fortnight ago, however they would be the first to admit that the Swans at the SCG is an ominous assignment.

The Suns-Crows match on the Gold Coast is likely to be a ripper contest, however many experts argue that the Suns are more chance of making the finals compared to the Crows.

The Suns have been great at home this year and were far from disgraced when they faced the Bombers in Melbourne, while the Crows were appalling in their past two games against the Swans and Tigers.

The Crows are 4-0 against the Suns and go into the match as favourites, but the Suns are a definite chance on this occasion.

The Power are buoyant after toppling the Swans last week, but the Magpies have a fantastic record on the road and will take some stopping when they arrive in Adelaide.

It’s seventh (Magpies) aganinst eighth (Power), so with that in mind the Power might just give the Magpies a run for their money.

Should the Power win they are capable of making the finals.

In contrast, the Magpies can be written off as a premiership threat if they lose regardless if they make the finals.

The Demons might fancy their chances against the Bulldogs, but you’d be a brave man to take the battling Dees.

The Bulldogs should win, but they would want to improve after an inept display against the Tigers last weekend.

Bulldogs pair Will Minson and Ryan Griffen pose a major threat for the Demons.

The Cats have been waiting a while to extract revenge on the Dockers following their defeat in the elimination final at the MCG last year.

The Cats have an outstanding home record, but the Dockers are flying and are more than a decent chance.

The Cats are the second highest scoring side in the AFL, while the Dockers boast the best defence.

Second place on the ladder is on the line for the winner.

Steve Johnson is a huge loss for the Cats, while the Dockers are missing Michael Barlow and David Mundy.

A game under lights at Skilled Stadium might take some getting used to as far as the Dockers are concerned, so perhaps it might be wise to stick with the Cats.

It might be easier to settle on winners come Sunday.

The Lions would be on a high after rolling the Cats last weekend, but they may find it tough going to overcome the rampant Hawks in Launceston.

The Kangaroos were abysmal against the Dockers last weekend and as fate would have it they have the chance to bounce back to winning ways when they play host to the Giants in Melbourne.

The Tigers are on a roll and despite losing the services of ruckman Ivan Maric they should account for the Saints.

The Tigers looked great against the Bulldogs last weekend, while the Saints experienced few problems against the Demons.

The Tigers got the Saints by 17 points in Round 2, but since then the Tigers’ stocks have soared and the Saints have battled for consistency.

Super Rugby – Week 18

We here in Australia are enjoying the Test series between the Wallabies and the Lions, but it’s back to business for the teams from New Zealand and South Africa at a Super Rugby level.

The Chiefs, Bulls and Crusaders are heading for the finals and should prove too good for the Hurricanes, Kings and Highlanders, respectively.

The Highlanders might just give some cheek in Dunedin, but in all honesty a Crusaders loss would come as a shock.

It’s the last roll of the dice for the Blues when they take on the Sharks in Durban.

The Blues will miss the finals if they lose, and overcoming the Sharks will prove no easy task despite the fact that last year’s beaten finalist have parted company with theire coach.

The Stormers are no chance when it comes to making the finals, but start their match against the Cheetahs – who sit in fifth place – as favourites.

The home ground advantage no doubt gives the Stormers a decided advantage, but the Cheetahs remain in the finals race and you would expect them to lift when they arrive in Cape Town.

A Stormers win would not comes as a surprise, but expect the unexpected from the Cheetahs.

Eagles or Bombers? It’s a lottery

Yet again, Essendon enter a match with the drugs scandal that has bubbled along all season threatening to boil over, thanks to captain Jobe Watson admitting this week he took a banned substance last year with the backing of Bombers officials.

But it’s hard to suggest the resultant furore will put Essendon off their game, given the way it seems to have galvanised them previously this season.

A bigger worry might be that the only Essendon player old enough to have been around when the Bombers last beat West Coast in Perth – in 2001 – is Dustin Fletcher, with the Eagles having handed Essendon eight Subiaco beatings since.

Essendon might also be wary about coming off the bye, given the shock defeats sustained by Geelong and Sydney when they were in that situation last round.

The  10th-placed Eagles looked to be finding some form despite losing to Hawthorn last Friday night, with ruckman Nic Naitanui superb and their midfield finding touch.

Essendon have brought in ruckman Tom Bellchambers for newcomer Joe Daniher and lost Heath Hocking to a calf injury, while the injury-plagued Eagles have lost Shannon Hurn (ankle) and Scott Selwood (thumb) among four changes.

The Eagles had only one forward – Josh Kennedy – have a notable impact against the Hawks and their defence leaked goals with alarming ease, which might again be a concern against an Essendon attack containing dangerous trio Stewart Crameri, Joe Daniher and Michael Hurley.

 

 

What’s going to happen at Suncorp tonight?

Here’s 10 views in relation to the second game in State of Origin.

Yes, it will be great to see the Blues win and end the Maroons’ seven year drought, but at the same time you’ve got to be impartial regardless if you were born and raised in NSW.

1. The Blues were fantastic for the first 60 minutes in Origin I, but they couldn’t put the Maroons away and if the truth be told the Maroons were the better side late in the second half.

2. There was a suspicion of a forward pass leading up to Jarryd Hayne’s try in Origin I and how often would the Maroons miss as many tackles as Michael Jennings weaved his way to the try-line.

3. The loss of Jarryd Hayne, James Tamou and Blake Ferguson has got to be disruptive factor for the Blues, especially as coach Laurie Daley had basically settled on a side long before Origin I.

4. Will the Maroons regret dumping Ashley Harrison and David Shillington? Plenty of experience to go missing if the Maroons are under the pump in Origin II.

5. Daly Cherry-Evans has that spark in attack that could cause the Blues problems when he takes the field from off the bench.

6. The Blues has an ordinary bench – Todd Carney should be there instead of Josh Reynolds and Feleti Mateo is a better option than Trent Merrin. Andrew Fifita is capable of wreaking some havoc and Anthony Watmough would have to replicate the incredible individual display he produced when the Blues won Origin III at Suncorp Stadium in 2009.

7. It’s hard to see the Blues playing any better than what they did in Origin I, while in contrast there is plenty of improvement in the Maroons side.

8. Aiden Tolman would have been a better option in the front row for the Blues than Aaron Woods. And Mitchell Pearce still hasn’t grabbed an Origin match by the throat.

9. Of the matches played in Brisbane after the Blues have won Origin 1, the Maroons hold a 6-1 advantage. The last time the Blues were successful was in 2000 when they won 28-10. That was the year when the Blues defeated the Maroons 56-16 in Origin III in Sydney – that’s the game when the Blues went through with the “hand grenade” celebration following a try.

10. The current Maroons line up is outstanding, so apart from clicking as one unit the Blues must display physical attributes to have any chance – as was the case in Origin I. The bottom line is that the Maroons have far too many players that possess individual brilliance and the series should be tied at 1-1 going into Origin III.

Maroons by 13 plus

 

Origin makes it hard for NRL tipsters, but AFL different story

NRL – Round 15:
Once again, the loss of State of Origin players makes it a little tricky to tip teams with confidence.
However, some teams will miss their key players more than others.
The Roosters may find it tough going against the Bulldogs minus Pearce, Maloney and Jennings, and there’s now mounting speculation that Williams will miss the game because of injury.
The loss of Morris and Reynolds is a blow for the Bulldogs as they set out to avenge their 38-0 defeat in Round 6, but the Roosters may find it tricky containing Barba and once again the Bulldogs don’t lose too many games with Graham in their side.
And Tolman will be out to prove that perhaps the NSW selectors got it wrong.
Farah and Woods are missing from the Tigers, while Papalii aqnd Ferguson are out of the Raiders line up.
The Tigers should bounce back at Campbelltown after their mauling in Brisbane, while the Raiders are playing pretty good football and will start the match as deserved favourites.
Marshall must produce a big one if the Tigers are any chance.
It’s a danger game for the Raiders as they’ve battled on the road this season, but surely Campese and Shillington will keep them on the straight and narrow.
The bottom team faces the top team when the Eels take on the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium.
It’s a home game for the Eels, so why play the game at ANZ Stadium – the home ground of the Rabbitohs – instead of Parramatta Stadium.
Minus Hayne, the Eels were no match for the Sharks last weekend and it could be a similar scenario on Sunday unless Sandow produces a rabbit out of his hat.
No Inglis, Merritt, McQueen or Te’o will stretch the Rabbitohs’ depth, but the Eels will still find it tough going stopping Reynolds, Sutton, Luke, Asotasi and the eldest Burgess brother.
If the Eels don’t get the Rabbitohs on this occasion they never will.
The Titans have had a highly impressive season and were far from disgraced against the Rabbitohs in Cairns.
The Titans are missing Myles and Bird, but have Harrison on deck after he was surprisingly punted from the Maroons team for Origin II.
In contrast, the Storm head into Monday’s game minus Smith, Slater, Cronk and Hoffman.
Hard to write off the Storm, but it would be nothing short of sensational if they got the cash against the Titans.
The Storm will be there at the end of the season when the whips are cracking, but the Titans can forget about September action if they don’t win this game.
AFL – Round 13:
Not for the first time this season, we won’t be beating around the bush.
It’s hard to see an upset in the six games set down for this weekend.
The big issue for punters is to decide whether or not to take teams by under 39 points or over 39 points.
The Hawks-Eagles, Dockers-Kangaroos and Lions-Cats encounters may end up being a lot closer on the scoreboard, but it’s hard to see the Hawks, Dockers and Cats succumbing to their respective opponent.
The Eagles are fielding arguably their strongest team of the year, it’s the last roll of the dice for the Kangaroos, and the Lions will surely lift with Brown and Merrett returning to the fold.
The Hawks, Dockers and Cats will more than likely finish in the top four and all three are capable of winning the premiership, and they’re not exactly in bad form.
The Swans destroyed the Crows in their last clash, so it’s hard to see them succumbing to the Power when they return to Adelaide for their second straight match at AAMI Stadium.
The Power were too good for the Giants in Sydney and won’t lie down against the premiers, but the Swans are a different kettle of fish and the inclusion of Tippett will only enhance their prospects.
How will the Saints recover from the Milne saga?
And how will the Demons recover following the demise of their former coach?
With both Riewoldt and Dal Santo preparing for their 250th game for the Saints, a Demons victory under the new coach Craig seems highly unlikely.
The Bulldogs have the best ruckman at their disposal with statistics indicating that Minson is the best in the business.
With that in mind, Minson’s teammates should get first use of the football.
That might well be the case, but the Bulldogs’ win-loss record tells you that they struggle to capitalise on the scoreboard.
The Bulldogs take on the high-flying Tigers this weekend and it would be an utter shock if the Tigers went down.
The Tigers are playing great footy and following wins over the Eagles and Crows it’s hard to see them buckling at the expense of the Bulldogs.

It’s tough settling on winners in the NRL, but not so in AFL

NRL – Round 14
Picking the winners on Friday night might prove the difference between having a good or bad week when it comes to the NRL premiership.
Two games that can genuinely go either way.
The Dragons were fantastic against the Knights, but over the years they have posted their fair share of wins in Newcastle.
Therefore, you would expect that the Dragons will prove hard to beat in Wollongong against the disappointing Cowboys.
The Dragons are a warm favourite, which comes as no surprise as the Cowboys have been legless in 2013 and their away form has always been a concern.
It’s definitely the last chance saloon for the Cowboys and the return of Cowboys is a bonus, while the Dragons have found a spark in Josh Dugan despite not having Jamie Soward in the line up.
You can’t go wrong if you settle on the Dragons, but you get the feeling that the Cowboys might just make it back to back wins at WIN Stadium after an impressive 32-22 victory in Round 24 last year.
Now that you’ve chosen the winner of the Dragons-Cowboys game, good luck splitting the Sea Eagles and Bulldogs at Brookvale Oval.
The Sea Eagles have a habit of bouncing back after a loss, but it’s only been five days since their bruising contest against the Warriors in Auckland.
The Bulldogs were at their attacking best against the Cowboys in Townsville, but they did leak 26 points.
The Des Hasler factor will once again inspire the Sea Eagles who toppled the Bulldogs 20-6 at ANZ Stadium in Round 5.
The Sea Eagles are favourites in a game that can go either way especially as the Bulldogs were victorious 20-12 when last they visted Brookvale.
Brett Stewart remains a big loss for the Sea Eagles, while Ben Barba appears to be getting back to his best for the Bulldogs.
The Raiders appear to back on track and are proving hard to beat at home, while it’s hard to excited about the visiting Panthers after their stunning home loss to the Tigers.
However, the Panthers stunned the Dragons 19-0 when last they played on the road.
The Sharks are just about good things to overcome the visiting Eels – put it this way the Sharks cannot be considered as a genuine finals threat if they don’t win.
The Rabbitohs-Titans game in Cairns is another interesting clash.
The Rabbitohs are the competition leaders, while the Titans continue to produce good form.
The fact that it’s a day game might enhance the Titans’ hopes of springing an upset, however the Rabbitohs haven’t done much wrong this year and it’s hard to fault any apsect of their game.
You’d be mad to tip against the Rabbitohs, but it would be wise to remember what the Titans did to the Eels when last they featured on the road.
Hard to tip against the Storm at home when they take on the Knights, the Roosters should get the cash against the Warriors, and the Broncos can just about forget about finals if they succumb to the Tigers at Suncorp Stadium.
The Warriors are eyeing their fourth straight win, but there’s a strong possibility that fullback Kevin Locke may miss the game against the Roosters.
AFL – Round 12
It’s Chris Judd’s 250th game and you would expect the Blues to lift against the Hawks, however former Blues coach Brett
Ratten is now on the Hawks coaching staff and no doubt his influence will play a significant role in the result.
The Hawks, who had a brutal draw at the start of the season, are 9-1 and it’s hard to see them letting this game slip against a side who they have not lost to since 2005.
The Hawks can win the premiership, while the Blues are no certatinties to make the finals.
The Crows had a sensational win over the Kangaroos when last they ventured to Melbourne, but since then they have fallen at home to top four teams Fremantle and the Swans.
The Crows take on the Tigers at the MCG, and the Tigers would have every right to feel confident after a spectacular win in Perth against the Eagles a fortnight ago.
The Crows will bounce back after a shocking 77 point loss at the hands of the Swans, however to turn it all around and claim victory against the Tigers would be incredible.
Put the red line through the Tigers as far as making the finals is concerned if they don’t get the cash.
The Dockers will enhance their top four hopes even further with a comfortable win over the Lions – the Dockers won’t get out of third gear.
Simon Black breaks the games record for the Lions in his home town of Perth, but it won’t be enough to inspire the Brisbane outfit to victory.
After giving the Cats a run for their money at Simonds Stadium two weeks ago, the in-form Suns are capable of putting the wind up the Bombers at Etihad Stdium.
The Bombers would be buoyant after their amazing comeback win over the Blues last weekend, but it’s hard to work out if the Blues are a good side or an average side.
The Suns were an average side, but they’re clearly on the rise and they will relish facing the Bombers.
It would be a monumental upset if the Bombers went down, but rest assured the Suns won’t lie down.
The Giants were wonderful for three quarters against the Cats before falling away in the last quarter, so are they playing well enough to make it back to back wins over the Power at Homebush?
The Giants are still searching for their first win in 2013 and you’ve got to think that they’re some chance against the Power if they can continue from where they left off last weekend.
Five straight defeats have followed five straight wins for the Power, but surely they won’t buckle as Kane Cornes prepares to set a club record by making his 255th appearance.
The Power are by no means certainties, however they would have learned their lesson from last year and when it comes to comparing the teams they clearly have the better players.
The Bulldogs have strung wins together against the Saints and Power, but they face stiff opposition in the Magpies.
The return of Matthew Boyd and Adam Cooney gives the Bulldogs hope, especially as the Magpies have been hot and cold all season.
The Magpies should sneak home, but it won’t be easy.
The midfield battle could prove even, but the Magpies might just have the edge up forward and own back.
Danger game for the Magpies.

Split rounds add to the challenge across all three footy codes

NRL – Round 13
 
Up to a dozen players have been told by the Eels that their services are not required in 2014, which can’t help their chances against the Roosters on Friday night.
 
The Eels have proven hard to beat at home this year, but you’ve got to question how focussed they will be and fresh from a whipping in Mudgee at the hands of the Titans it’s hard to see them getting the cash against the rampant Roosters.
 
The Knights put 40 on the Bulldogs when last they appeared at home, so you’ve got to fancy their chances against the hot and cold Dragons despite looking inept on the road against the Warriors and Rabbitohs.
 
Who knows what the Dragons will bring to the table, especially now that Jamie Soward has lost his place in the team.
 
The Cowboys are struggling and there has to be a doubt surrounding the fitness of Johnathan Thurston, so even with the home ground advantage something remarkable would have to happen for them to stop the Bulldogs.
 
The Bulldogs have struck form and are worthy favourites, however with speculation Neil Henry faces the sack with a loss you’ve got to wonder if the Cowboys will find something with their finals hopes slipping by the wayside.
 
The Sea Eagles have won nine of their past 10 against the Warriors, so you’d fancy their chances in Auckland.
 
However, the Warriors have seemingly turned the corner with big wins against the Knights and Broncos, and aren’t without a hope against a side who have caused them problems.
 
Dare we say it – it’s a genuine 50/50.
 
Speaking of teams who have turned the corner, the Panthers are flying and it’s hard to see them succumbing to the visiting Tigers now that Robbie Farah is out of action. 
 
The Sharks got the Rabbitohs after missing the likes of Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis, but can they replicate that wonderful display when they head to Melbourne to face the Storm who are back in town after a fabulous win over the Roosters.
 
Apart from Justin Hodges, the Broncos welcome back their Origin stars and their return for the Raiders clash in Canberra is timely following the hiding they suffered at the hands of the Warriors on Monday night.
 
It would be a spectacular reversal in form if the Broncos get the cash against the Raiders, who are pretty handy at home and who gave the Sea Eagles a run for their money in their last start appearance at Brookvale.
 
AFL – Round 11
 
The Bombers let it slip in the second half against the Swans at the SCG, while the Blues had a dominant win over the Giants.
 
Full credit to the Tigers for getting the cash in Perth against the Eagles, but the Eagles posted a big win over the Giants before taking on the Tigers.
 
Significantly, the Tigers were hammered by the Bombers before facing the Eagles.
 
Picking the winner of the Bombers-Blues encounter is perhaps the toughest of all six games.
 
The Bombers are out to avenge a stunning 96 point defeat at the hands of the Blues when last both teams met towards the end of the 2012 season.
 
Don’t write off the Blues as they will lift for this game, however the Bombers might just get over the line on this occasion.
 
The Crows are licking their wounds after a narrow loss to the Dockers and face another tough game at home when they play host to the Swans.
 
The Swans stunned the Crows with a win at AAMI Stadium in the first week of the finals last year, but prior to that the Crows had won eight of their past 10 games against the 2012 premiers.
 
Losing to the Dockers was perhaps a sign that the Crows are missing that edge in front of goal following the loss of Taylor Walker and despite the efforts of Patrick Dangerfield.
 
The Crows will lift as Dangerfield lines up for his 100th game, but if the Swans can roll the Magpies at the MCG they’re capable of toppling the Crows once again at AAMI Stadium.
 
The game could go right down to the wire and it would be wise to treat the Crows with respect.
 
The Saints were smashed by the Kangaroos last weekend, while the Eagles had nothing against the Tigers.
 
It’s hard to get a gauge how this game will pan out, however many punters would consider it as an upset if the Saints rolled the Eagles.
 
The Eagles will miss Darren Glass, but the Saints are clearly missing Lenny Hayes.
 
The Suns will give some cheek at home against the Kangaroos, but if the Kangaroos can string four good quarters together they should prevail.
 
As well as the Suns played against the Cats, it’s hard to ignore their capitulation in the fourth quarter.
 
The Cats and Magpies will win against the Giants and Demons.
 
In fact, both teams will win by big margins.
 
Super Rugby – Round 17
 
The All Blacks are lining up against the French this weekend and the Springboks will take on the Italians, so why are the Aussie teams playing with the British and Irish Lions on our shores?
 
The Lions have every right to blow up if the other Australian franchises follow in the footsteps of the Force and field “second string” outfits.
 
And what is also amazing is that players from the Australian franchises on deck this weekend are attending a Wallabies camp.
 
Go figure.
 
No wonder Aussie teams struggle to win the Super Rugby title.
 
The Rebels have been great in recent weeks, however you’ve got to take the Brumbies in Canberra.
 
Like the Force’s hopes of posting their first ever win over the Waratahs in Perth.
 
Force players were rested from the Lions clash with the Waratahs match in mind, but is there anything left in the Waratahs tank following a devastating loss at the hands of the Crusaders.
 
 
 
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