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Testing time all round

It’s an abbreviated weekend  in all three codes, but the action should prove attractive all the same. The absence of Origin stars make the NRL unpredictable. Will the underdogs shock punters in the AFL once again? And rugby Tests in Auckland, Brisbane and Durban will surely capture the imagination.

NRL (Round 14)

During his farewell press conference after his dramatic exit as ARLC chief executive this week, David Gallop claimed that the NRL premiership was as close as its ever been and that all games were an even-money best. He’s not wrong. There are only five games this weekend, with the second game in the State of Origin series looming, but good luck picking the card.
1-STORM v 4-TIGERS: The Tigers have lost all of their nine games in Melbourne, but surely they can break the ice with the Storm missing Smith, Cronk, Slater and Chambers. Manu and Proctor could be late inclusions for the Storm, but they would no doubt be short of a gallop. The Tigers, who have won their last six games, have lost only Farah to Origin and if they can’t get the Storm on this occasion they never will. Bellamy coaches his 250th game as Storm coach. Tip: TIGERS
13-KNIGHTS v 15-RAIDERS: The Knights concede 50 points in Brisbane and the Raiders concede 40 points at home against the Tigers. The big difference is that the Knights were able to score points. The Knights have won nine of their past 10 games against the Raiders in Newcastle. No Boyd or Uate for the Knights, while the Raiders are missing Shillington and Berrigan. The Raiders are under the pump and there is speculation tackling-machine Fensom won’t play. Tip: KNIGHTS
6-SHARKS v 10-TITANS: The Sharks are chasing their fifth straight win at home, but the Titans are on the march after an excellent month of football. Will the loss of Gallen and Carney for the Sharks be as significant as the loss of Bird, Bailey, Harrison and Myles for the Titans? It was a terrible loss for the Sharks against the Eels on Monday night, while the Titans could not have been more impressive when they rolled the Cowboys last Friday. A genuine 50/50 contest. Tip: SHARKS
12-ROOSTERS v 2-BRONCOS: The Roosters have proven competitive in recent weeks, but they have been unable to seal the deal. It’s perhaps a godsend they take on a Broncos outfit who have been ravaged following the loss of Hodges, Thaiday, Civoniceva, Hannant and Gillett to the Maroons. Pearce is the only player the Roosters have lost to Origin. The “Baby Broncos” won’t lie down, but the Broncos were no match for the Storm when they rested stars after Origin I. Tip: ROOSTERS
14-PANTHERS v 9-WARRIORS: At full strength, the Panthers would take a power of beating. They’re looking for their third straight win at home on Monday night,  and that follows a respectable effort against the Cowboys in Townsville. However, with the loss of Lewis, Jennings and Grant,  can former Warriors coach Ivan Cleary lift them? The Warriors, who still find it tough going on Australian soil, have Locke back  and boast an outstanding bench.  Tip: WARRIORS

AFL ( Round 11)

If you picked the card last weekend, you’re a genius. Considering you’d have to have had the confidence to tip the Demons, Power and Lions, some would suggest you’re a liar. With one betting agency, a Demons-Power-Lions multi was paying $169.51. Will the upsets continue this weekend? One thing is for certain — teams favoured to get the cash will be focussed and there’s no way they will treat the opposition with disrespect.
7-BLUES v 8-CATS: In the space of a month, the Blues have gone from contenders to pretenders. It has been a dramatic fall from grace and they were made to look second-rate against the Power in Adelaide last weekend. The Cats made a slow start to the season, but appear to be back on track and field a very good side with the return of Hawkins, Corey, Enright and Wojcinski. The Blues are far from full strength and will have to produce a rabbit out of the hat. Tip: CATS
10-TIGERS v 11-DOCKERS: Similarly, the Tigers are on the way up and the Dockers are on the nose. Despite their win over the Hawks, the Tigers still had their cynics before posting an emphatic win over the Saints in a classic last Friday night. The Tigers are making everyone stand up and take notice and boast a good record over the Dockers at the MCG. The Dockers have lost their last two against the Eagles and Crows, and facing an in-form Tigers won’t be easy. Tip: TIGERS
18-SUNS v 9-SAINTS: Ablett registers 53 possessions against the Magpies and the Suns still lose by 97 points. The Saints, who played well during the month of May, were far from disgraced against the Tigers and with a bit more luck in front of goal they would have won handsomely. The Suns have played well at home and although desperate to register their first win of the season the Saints will just have too much class. Riewoldt and Milne could combine for 10 goals. Tip: SAINTS
2-BOMBERS v 5-SWANS: You reckon the Bombers won’t be wired after succumbing to the Demons. Will that come back to haunt the Bombers come finals time? The Swans were awesome against the Bulldogs, but can they back that performance up when they arrive in Melbourne. The Bombers have won their past eight games at Etihad Stadium, but escaped with a one-point win over the Swans in the corresponding match last year. No Goodes enhances the Bombers’ prospects in arguably the match of the round. Tip: BOMBERS
13-POWER v 6-HAWKS: The Hawks were nothing short of ruthless against the Kangaroos in Tasmania after an inept display against the Tigers, but the Power will provide stiff opposition, especially at home, as they have won their past three games. If the Hawks and Franklin continue from where they left off last week they should win comfortably, however the Power were fantastic against the Blues and who’s to say that at their best they won’t claim another big scalp. Tip: HAWKS
16-DEMONS v 4-MAGPIES: A bouyant Demons will be counting the hours before Monday after toppling the Bombers, but commonsense will tell you that the Magpies will start the match a raging hot favourite after winning seven-straight. No Pendlebury for the Magpies, but they welcome back Swan, Jolly and Tarrant. Demons coach Mark Neeld will provide inside knowledge on the Magpies as a former assistant coach, so punters will have to decide as to whether or not they will take the Pies by Under 39 points or Over 39 points. Tip: MAGPIES

Rugby union

 AUSTRALIA v WALES: At the start of the week, the Wallabies had more chance of beating Scotland than overcoming Wales.  Humiliated by the Scots in Newcastle on Tuesday night following a limited preparation, the Wallabies will field a much stronger side against the Welsh in Brisbane and therefore will fancy their chances as they strive for redemption. Shocking weather prevailed in Newcastle, which perhaps made the Scots feel at home, obviously thwarted the Wallabies, so fine conditions in Brisbane may bring the best out of them. Wales, the Six Nations champions, haven’t won on Australian soil in 42 years and have lost their past four Tests against the Wallabies. The Welsh arrived in Australia last week to prepare for the three-Test series, so they’re clearly on a mission. The Wallabies are missing strike weapons in attack with Cooper, Beale and O’Connor sidelines, which gives the Welsh a fighting chance. Tip: WALLABIES
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