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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.

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