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With all games having bearing on finals, it doesn’t get any easier!

The NRL continues to be as unpredictable as ever. The Knights smashing the Raiders in Canberra, the Panthers getting the cash on the road against the Sharks, and then the Eels making the Broncos look second rate.

The fact that the Storm have lost five straight for the first time since 2002 is hard to comprehend, but credit to the Dragons, who remain in the finals race. If you picked the card last weekend and had a flutter, you could have got odds of $327 with one betting agency.

It doesn’t get any easier this weekend for punters as all eight games will have a bearing in the finals race. Picking winners in the AFL isn’t proving as difficult, but it would be wise to do your homework as there are a host of teams battling for spots in the top four and the top eight.

Both Super Rugby semi-finals were even money bets and, although the Chiefs and Sharks lived to fight another day after two epic contests, the Crusaders and Stormers were far from disgraced.

 NRL (Round 22)

14-ROOSTERS v 11-DRAGONS: Big game for both teams. The Roosters need to win with the Panthers and Eels breathing down their neck in the battle for the wooden spoon, a “gong” they ended up with just two years ago. The Dragons have battled to string two wins together in recent weeks, but it was hard not to be impressed with their effort against the Storm last weekend. The Roosters, who haven’t beaten the Dragons since 2008, will be out to avenge a heart-breaking last-minute loss suffered on Anzac Day. Hard to consider the Roosters after their implosion against the Titans a week ago. Tip: DRAGONS.

3-STORM v 15-PANTHERS: The Storm are out to arrest an alarming losing streak, while the Panthers are eyeing a third straight win. The Storm were big winners at Penrith in Round 9 and were flying, but at the moment it’s hard to consider the Storm as premiership material. The return of Slater is a boost for the Storm and, with one run under his belt, he is capable of producing a five-star performance. If the Storm lose they may find it difficult to not only cement a spot in the top four, but may battle to make any impression in September. The Panthers have lost 10 straight against the Storm. Tip: STORM.

9-KNIGHTS v 1-BULLDOGS: A massive contest. The Knights have suddenly hit form with big wins over the Sea Eagles, Warriors and Raiders and, significantly, they have won their past four matches against the Bulldogs in Newcastle. The Bulldogs are 5-11 in Newcastle, but how can you ignore their credentials after having won their past nine games? The Bulldogs have been relentless in both attack and defence, but it was hard not to be impressed with the Knights’ all-round performance in what was a crucial game in Canberra. The Knights need to win to keep in touch with the top eight, while the Bulldogs need to win to keep their minor premiership hopes alive with the Rabbitohs breathing down their necks. Tip: BULLDOGS.

4-COWBOYS v 6-SEA EAGLES: Just about the match of the round. The Cowboys were on the verge of springing an upset against the Bulldogs in Sydney last weekend when they levelled at 18-18 before blowing their chances with untimely errors. Meanwhile, the Sea Eagles were shot ducks against the Warriors in Perth before producing a stunning second-half comeback to keep their top four hopes alive. The Cowboys have been tremendous at home this season, while the Sea Eagles face yet another long road trip. The Cowboys boast a pretty good record against the Sea Eagles in Townsville, but the Sea Eagles cannot be written off as Brett Stewart is due back from injury and Watmough avoided suspension. Tip: COWBOYS.

12-WARRIORS v 7-SHARKS: The Warriors were in decent form before suffering a narrow road loss against the Broncos. Amazingly, they led 18-0 against the Knights and Sea Eagles before capitulating in spectacular style. Can they recover? The Sharks suffered an honourable loss in Wollongong against the Dragons before blowing it at home against the Raiders and Panthers — two games they were expected to win. Had they got the Raiders and Panthers, the Sharks would be sitting pretty in the top four. The Warriors, who will once again be missing inspirational leader Mannering, have a decent record against the Sharks in Auckland and start the match as favourites. The Warriors can forget about the finals if they lose. The return of Gallen and Carney is a boost for the Sharks, but losing Graham and Gibbs is a blow. Should be a cliff-hanger. Tip: WARRIORS.

13-RAIDERS v 5-BRONCOS: It’s impossible to work out the Raiders. They obliterate the Sharks on the road before producing yet another inept performance at home against the Knights. The Raiders have an appalling record at home in 2012, which is staggering as Canberra has been a graveyard for visiting teams over the years. The Broncos were abysmal against the Eels on Monday night and it’s unclear whether they’re capable of bouncing back. The Broncos have won only one of their past four away games and have only tasted victory once in their past five visits to Canberra. It’s the last chance saloon for the Raiders as far as pushing their claims for a finals spot, while the Broncos can forget about the top four, and perhaps even a top eight berth, should they lose. With no Lockyer for the Broncos it’s showing, but injuries haven’t helped. Both teams will be desperate and one thing is for certain. They can only improve after producing rubbish last weekend. There’s a chance Reed and Parker could return for the Broncos. Tip: RAIDERS.

8-TITANS v 2-RABBITOHS: Both teams are in exceptional form, so we could be in for a classic. After a miserable start to the season, the Titans are mounting a huge challenge in their quest to qualify for the finals. Minus Inglis, the Rabbitohs were fantastic against the Tigers last weekend and who says they’re not capable of winning the competition? The in-form Titans pose a huge challenge for the Rabbitohs, but victory will enhance their minor premiership hopes should the Bulldogs stumble in Newcastle. The Rabbitohs are the only team who have not won a game at Robina, but they’re oozing confidence and are good enough to win the game. In contrast, the Titans have most of their best players fit and healthy, except for Bird, and a win, which would not be unexpected, will keep them in eighth spot. The Titans pack can thwart the Rabbitohs and it’s imperative that Reynolds nullifies Prince. The loss of Inglis and Luke may give the Titans the edge on this occasion, but Merritt spells danger for the Titans. Tip: TITANS.

10-TIGERS v 16-EELS: If the Tigers can’t beat the Eels then they don’t deserve a spot in the finals. The Tigers are hard to beat at Campbelltown, but the Eels have got to be some chance if wins over the Storm and Broncos are any guide. However, it has to be said that the Eels have only enjoyed success on the road twice in their past 24 excursions, which obviously gives the Tigers a slight edge. The Tigers have won only one of their past five games, having succumbed to the likes of the Knights, Bulldogs, Cowboys and Rabbitohs. The Tigers pack has to come out firing as the Eels were superb in the battle of the forwards against the Broncos. Avoiding the wooden spoon is enough to inspire the Eels. Tip: TIGERS.

 

 AFL (Round 19)

2-HAWKS v 6-CATS: What a game this should be. Remarkably, the Hawks haven’t beaten the Cats since the 2008 grand final, but are the Cats playing well enough to get the premiership favourites on this occasion? The Hawks are on an eight-match winning streak and to dismantle the Bombers last weekend by almost 100 point, especially without Franklin, sent a clear message to the likes of the Swans, Crows, Magpies and Eagles. The Cats were highly impressive after putting the visiting Crows to the sword last weekend, but can they make it nine straight wins against the Hawks. Scarlett returns to the Cats line-up after suspension and Johnson has been named after making an early exit against the Crows. The loss of Franklin is a blow for the Hawks, but the return of Hodge is significant. No West may give the Hawks the edge in the battle of the rucks. The midfield battles will prove intriguing. Tip: HAWKS.

15-BULLDOGS v 8-KANGAROOS: The Bulldogs can’t fire a shot at the moment, while the Kangaroos are seemingly finals-bound. It has to be said that the Bulldogs were victorious when last both teams clashed in Round 7, but the Kangaroos have rebounded in style by winning six of their next seven games. Their only loss during that period was a two-point loss against the Eagles in Hobart. The Bulldogs have lost their past six games and the last time they kicked triple figures was against the Kangaroos this year. Scoring points hasn’t been an issue for the Kangaroos of late and they should win comfortably. Losing Cross for the rest of the year may see the Bulldogs end the year without another win. Tip: KANGAROOS.

18-GIANTS v 14-POWER: No need to labour the topic, but the Giants have been overwhelmed in recent weeks. Brogan and Cornes return to the Giants line-up for the match against their former club , with whom they helped win the premiership in 2004. Fresh from their win over the Demons in Darwin, the Power were no match for the visiting Dockers last weekend. The Power should bounce back this weekend and in no way will they take the Giants lightly after losing to the Suns in Adelaide last year. Giants coach Kevin Sheedy celebrates his 1000th game as a player/coach in the VFL/AFL and assistant coach Mark Williams will be doing his best to conjure victory against his former club. An upset is on the cards if the Power afford their opponents respect. Tip: POWER.

9-DOCKERS v 5-EAGLES: A potential blockbuster as victory is paramount for both teams. The Dockers are gradually building momentum and need a win to keep their top eight hopes alive. The Eagles have lost three straight and need to bounce back or they could miss not only a top four spot, but also the chance to secure home ground advantage for an elimination final. Cox and Naitanui give the Eagles a huge advantage as the Dockers are still missing Sandilands. Pavlich has been kicking goals at will of late and the fact that key Eagles defender and captain Glass is missing is good news for the Dockers. The Dockers have won four straight, but the only win they have notched this year over a side currently in the eight was by four points against the Cats in Round 1. The Eagles have had the wood on the Dockers in recent derbies, but the Dockers are a genuine chance on this occasion. Tip: EAGLES.

4-MAGPIES v 10-SAINTS: Both teams contested the grand final just two years ago, but unless the Saints can show some consistency on a regular basis only the Magpies will feature in the end-of-season program in 2012. The Saints were far too good for the Bulldogs last weekend, but the Magpies are a totally different proposition. The Saints haven’t impressed too often against the top teams this season and the bad news is that Jolly, O’Brien, Thomas, Wellingham and Sidebottom return for the Magpies. The Magpies midfield could make it a long night for the Saints, but will it be Cloke (Magpies) or Riewoldt (Saints) who fires in front of goal. Tip: MAGPIES.

13-LIONS v 12-TIGERS: The Lions are showing signs that they’re on the way up. The Tigers have been showing signs for the last few years that they’re a teams on the rise, yet they continue to frustrate. Three narrow defeats at the hands of the Suns, Kangaroos and Blues — three games they should have won — has virtually ended their season. The Lions were creamed in Perth last weekend when they proved no match for the Eagles and, as a result, changes have been made to the side, with the likes of Drummond and Rich returning. The Tigers got the Lions at the Gabba last season and have been installed as favourites this weekend, but can they remain focussed for the rest of the year? Every chance it could be a close tussle. Tip: TIGERS.

16-DEMONS v 17-SUNS: Unlikely the Demons will show “alleged” signs of tanking against the Suns. Following a win over the Bombers earlier in the season, surely the Demons can kick clear of the Suns and Giants by recording a comfortable win. The Demons got the Suns at the MCG last year, but the Demons were playing a lot better back then compared to how they’re performing in 2012. The Demons were no match for the Kangaroos last weekend, while the Suns have been far from impressive against the Lions and Swans after their wonderful win over the Tigers in Cairns. If the Suns can put it together they’re a realistic chance, especially if Ablett runs amok, but in the end the experience of Green, Frawley, Rivers, Jones, Macdonald, Moloney and Sylvia should guarantee the Demons a win. Tip: DEMONS.

11-BLUES v 1-SWANS: The Blues will be full of beans after a morale-boosting win over the Tigers last weekend, but are they good enough to stop the all-conquering Swans? Waite returns to the Blues line up but, not to be undone, the Swans welcome back Mumford. The injury to Reid is a blow for the Swans, but Goodes may prove a worthy replacement as he is moved to the forward line. The Swans have won eight straight and show no signs of losing a game but, interestingly, the Blues got the cash when last both teams clashed — a 34-point win at Etihad Stadium. No Judd doesn’t help the Blues’ cause. The Swans are perhaps due for a loss; however, it’s unlikely to occur this weekend as teammates prepare to mark O’Keefe’s 250th appearance with victory. Tip: SWANS.

 3-CROWS v 7-BOMBERS: The Bombers ended a poor record in Adelaide recently when they defeated the Power. The Crows are a different story and it’s hard to see the free-falling Bombers prevailing. Injuries are hurting the Bombers, perhaps more than any other club, and following two heavy defeats at the hands of the Cats and Hawks there’s every indication it could get ugly against the Crows. After a disappointing loss at the hands of the Cats, you can fully expect the Crows to click back into gear on home soil. The Magpies are the only team to have rolled the Crows in Adelaide this season, and to have Thompson escape injury and to have Jacobs return from injury is a huge fillip. The Bombers are only a shadow of the team that dominated at the start of the season when they won eight of their first nine games. It’s a case of deja vu for the Bombers because they were in a similar situation last year before missing the finals. A spot in the top eight may evaporate this year as well unless they can turn things around quickly. The Crows are good things. Tip: CROWS.

 

 Super Rugby (Final)

2-CHIEFS v 6-SHARKS: The fact that the Chiefs have qualified for the final came as no surprise, but it’s a different story for the Sharks. However, unlike the Chiefs, the Sharks were highly impressive towards the end of the preliminary rounds, and to eliminate the Reds and Stormers on the road was nothing short of outstanding. The Sharks are deserved finalists as they have mixed exciting attack with resolute defence. However, the Chiefs are a different kettle of fish and surely the travel factor will finally catch up with the Sharks. Also, the Chiefs got the Sharks in Round 9 when they finished on top 18-12 in Durban. The good news for the Sharks is that centre Paul Jordaan and fullback Pat Lambie return to side, while centre Tim Whitehead is missing with a broken hand. Hooker Bismarck du Plessis and flyhalf Frederic Michalak will play after copping injuries against the Stormers last weekend, but the loss of Francois Steyn is a blow for the Sharks. The good news for the Chiefs is that they’re unchanged following their epic win over the Crusaders last weekend. The home ground advantage is huge for the Chiefs and the fact they have played their past six games in New Zealand is a massive bonus. Chiefs pair Sonny Bill Williams and Aaron Cruden are expected to cause the Sharks backs grief, while in the battle of the forwards the Chiefs will soon get sick of Keegan Daniel and Ryan Kankowski. If both teams fire it could be a classic, but the Chiefs will take some stopping. Tip: CHIEFS.

 

 

 

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