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You’ll need to take risks if it’s a case of playing catch-up

While tipping competition leaders will obviously stick to the favourites this weekend in an attempt to maintain their advantage, you’ve got no alternative but to take a few risks if you’re trying to bridge the gap. Amazingly, there is only one game in the NRL that has no bearing on the finals or the wooden spoon — Dragons v Warriors. It’s a similar scenario in the AFL with the Power v Lions clash the only game that doesn’t affect the finals and wooden spoon race, although many would argue that the Saints, who take on the Giants, are done and dusted for 2012. In the Rugby Championship, it’s hard to see the All Blacks and Springboks succumbing to the Wallabies and Pumas respectively.

 NRL (Round 25)

4-SEA EAGLES v 7-BRONCOS: Monster game. The Sea Eagles are now premiership favourites, which may surprise many, but it’s hard to fault their form and last weekend they quite simply destroyed the visiting Knights. The Sea Eagles have lost just three of their past 19 games at Brookvale and will fancy their chances against the Broncos, who have lost five straight. However, the Broncos have been far from disgraced in their past two games, against the Bulldogs and Storm, which indicates that they’re not that far away. The Sea Eagles have their injury concerns, but how can you expect the Broncos to win at Brookvale when they couldn’t win in Canberra a few weeks ago? A win will enhance the Sea Eagles’ hopes of hosting a qualifying final, while a win for the Broncos will improve their prospects of hosting an elimination final. Tip: SEA EAGLES.

 9-RAIDERS v 1-BULLDOGS: The Raiders have won three straight and are sitting just outside the top eight with an inferior “for and against”. The Raiders have a decent record against the Bulldogs in Canberra, but the competition leaders are aiming for their 13th straight win and last weekend’s great escape against the Tigers may have been a blessing in disguise. Canberra’s weather is tipped to be awful, which may also work in favour of the Raiders, who have an incredible habit of saluting in games they’re not expected to win. The Raiders were far from impressive against the Roosters last weekend, which encourages you to stick with the Bulldogs. There is speculation that the Bulldogs could rest players, which would be surprising as one more win will assure them of the minor prmiership. It would be wise to keep an eye on betting markets on Friday afternoon. Tip: BULLDOGS.

15-PANTHERS v 10-TITANS: The Panthers need to win as they strive to avoid the wooden spoon. The Titans, who play the Sea Eagles in the final round, need to win to keep their remote finals hopes alive. It’s also the last home game of the season for the Panthers, who have won just three of their past 14 games at home — held to less than 20 points on 11 occasions. Earlier in the season, the Panthers smashed the Sea Eagles at home and last week they produced a big second half to roll the Warriors in Auckland. In the six games between the Panthers and Titans the ledger stands at 3-3. The Titans have had a wonderful second half to the season and are more than a genuine chance. If you’re using consistency as a guide, then the Titans, who overwhelmed the Panthers in Round 15, cannot be discarded. Tip: TITANS.

12-DRAGONS v 13-WARRIORS: The Warriors show coach Brian McClennan the door, so no doubt they will come out this week and roll the Dragons. Isn’t that how it works? What did the Eels do when they gave Steve Kearney the boot? They topple the Storm and Broncos. Hornby and Young play their last game in Wollongong, so surely the Dragons will lift. The Warriors are facing a club record-equalling seventh loss this weekend and, unfortunately, they have never won in Wollongong in eight attempts. The Dragons were more than competitive against the Cowboys last weekend, while it appears as though the wheels have completely fallen off the Warriors. The Dragons are justifiably favourites because you’ve just got no idea what the Warriors are going to bring to the table. Tip: DRAGONS.

5-COWBOYS v 11-KNIGHTS: The Cowboys can still make the top four and may even host a qualifying final if results go their way. Realistically, the Cowboys will either host an elimination final or travel for a qualifying final as they face the Sharks in Sydney in Round 26. The Cowboys only have to tweak their defence and they will make a big noise in September. To have any chance of making the finals, the Knights must win in Townsville before overcoming the Rabbitohs in Newcastle. The Cowboys have been dynamite at home in 2012, while it’s hard to consider the Knights after an inept first half against the Sea Eagles. Interestingly, the Knights have won six of their past 10 games in Townsville. Tip: COWBOYS.

14-ROOSTERS v 8-TIGERS: If the Roosters fall to the Tigers and Bulldogs they could end the season with the wooden spoon should the Panthers and Eels win their last two games. Therefore, the Roosters won’t lie down for a second against a side missing one of the best players in the NRL — Farah. Incredibly, the Roosters belted the Tigers 42-28 at Leichhardt in Round 15. With a forthcoming appointment against the Storm and with their finals spot in the balance, the Tigers have to win. Minichiello lines up for his 250th game for the Roosters and Heighington is preparing for his 200th game for the Tigers, so both teams have an additional incentive. The Roosters have won five of their past six games against the Tigers, which also includes seven wins in 10 games at Allianz Stadium. If the Tigers continue from where they left off against the Bulldogs they will win. Tip: TIGERS.

3-RABBITOHS v 16-EELS: Time is running out for the Eels when it comes to avoiding the wooden spoon. And toppling the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium, a venue where they play pretty good footy, is no easy assignment. The Rabbitohs will secure a spot in the top four should they get the cash and they need to get their game back in order after recent defeats at the hands of the Sea Eagles and Sharks. They need to find their “mojo” sooner rather than later because a road game against the Knights in Round 26 is an ominous prospect, especially if they need a win to secure home ground advantage for a qualifying final. The Rabbitohs have won their past four games against the Eels, while the Eels have found the Rabbitohs tough going at Homebush. The Eels will be desperate as they try to avoid their first wooden spoon since 1972, but if the Rabbitohs don’t win they may not be around come the third week of the finals. The fact that coach Maguire dumped Luke is perhaps the jolt that the Rabbitohs needed at this important stage of the season. Tip: RABBITOHS.

2-STORM v 6-SHARKS: The Storm were cruising at the start of the season — they won their opening nine games — before the Sharks got them 12-10 in Sydney. Having fought back magnificently to roll the Broncos last weekend, they can just about secure a qualifying final on home soil if they get the cash. The Sharks are three points clear of the Broncos, Tigers and Raiders in sixth place, but they can ill-afford to be complacent because if they succumb in Melbourne there’s every likelihood they could miss the finals as they face the Cowboys in Round 26. The Sharks only have to win one more game and they will host an elimination final. The Sharks boast a good record under lights, but their recent record on a Monday night is poor. After five straight defeats, the Storm are seemingly back in town with wins over the Panthers, Titans and Broncos. The Sharks have been resilient against the top teams this season and are capable of winning in Melbourne, but you just get the feeling the Storm will prevail on this occasion. Tip: STORM.

 AFL (Round 22)

12-TIGERS v 10-BOMBERS: Can the Bombers arrest an alarming form slump? Flying at the start of the season, injuries have cruelled the Bombers and remarkably they’re facing their sixth straight loss. If the Bombers lose this game, especially with a game against the Magpies in Round 23, they will miss the finals, so there’s plenty at stake. The passing of Bombers icon Merv Neagle will no doubt be felt by the club. The Tigers aren’t exactly setting the world on fire, but they haven’t got as many injuries as the Bombers and are playing better footy than the Bombers. If the Tigers don’t get the Bombers on this occasion they never will because it’s difficult to see the Bombers recovering from a 96-point defeat incurred last weekend against the Blues. Tip: TIGERS.

11-SAINTS v 18-GIANTS: The Saints meet the Blues in the final round, so they need to post a big win over the Giants in a bid to improve their percentage as they seek to keep their slim finals hopes alive. Even without Riewoldt, the Saints will win comfortably. They were far from disgraced against the Cats last weekend and it’s good to see that they have introduced five youngsters for the Giants clash. Everyone in the footy community just wants to see the Giants put in a bold showing. Tip: SAINTS.

 14-POWER v 13-LIONS: The Lions will hit the ground running after stunning the Crows last weekend when all seemed lost at quarter time. It’s the final home game of the season for the Power, so you would expect them to produce a creditable performance. It’s unlikely though because the Power have lost their past four games, which include a loss against the Giants in Sydney. The Lions have posted successive wins only once this season, but they have a great opportunity to end the year with confidence as they face the Bulldogs in Round 23. The Lions have won three of their past four games in Adelaide and have won five of their past seven games against the Power. Tip: LIONS.

 1-SWANS v 2-HAWKS: Should be a spectacular game. Franklin, Mitchell and Gibson return for the Hawks, but the Swans have lost just one game at the SCG in 2012 (against the Crows). The Hawks’ win over the Swans in Sydney last year was only their second at the SCG in 12 years. Significantly, the Swans made the footy world stand up and take notice when they trounced the Hawks by 37 points in Launceston in Round 5 — keeping the Hawks scoreless in the third quarter. If the Swans win they secure the minor premiership. In contrast, if the Hawks win they enhance their hopes of hosting a qualifying final. The Swans destroyed the Bulldogs last weekend, while the Hawks go into the game following wins over the Power and Suns. Tip: SWANS.

 5-EAGLES v 4-MAGPIES: Yet another colossal contest that will shape the finals. The Eagles have a better percentage than the Magpies, so a win for the Perth outfit will see them return to the top four. They face the Hawks in Melbourne in Round 23, so this weekend’s match could prove the difference between contesting a qualifying or elimination final in two weeks time. The Magpies face a similar fate and are you game enough to tip against them in a big game on the road? The Magpies have won every time interstate this season, but injuries might just get them on this occasion. The return of Swan and Goldsack is a bonus, but losing Maxwell and Jolly will hurt. The Eagles should dominate in the ruck. Kennedy, Butler and Rosa are huge “ins” for the Eagles. The Magpies boast a good recent record against the Eagles, but were awful against the Kangaoos last weekend.  Tip: EAGLES.

17-SUNS v 9-BLUES: The Blues annihilated the Suns by 119 points when the Gold Coast franchise debuted at the Gabba last year. It may be a lot closer on this occasion, but the Blues will win. The Bombers are certainly on the nose at the moment, but the Blues were fantastic last weekend and there’s every chance they can grab eighth spot on the ladder. The Blues need to boost their percentage, so it could be a long night for the Suns because their rivals will come out breathing fire from the opening bounce. Like the Giants, we all want to see the Suns string four solid quarters together against a top team. Tip: BLUES.

7-CATS v 15-BULLDOGS: Let’s not beat around the bush. The Cats will win and unless the Bulldogs can find something they will incur yet another heavy loss. The Bulldogs have had a shocking season and to string nine straight defeats together is unacceptable. The only teams the Bulldogs have accounted for this season are the Demons, Giants, Suns, Power and, amazingly, Kangaroos. The Cats have that formidable look about them with the finals looming and will prove stiff opposition in an elimination final no matter who they play. The Cats lose Selwood, but welcome back Varcoe. The Bulldogs have lost their past three games at Simonds Stadium and the Cats have not trailed at quarter time at Simonds Stadium all season. Tip: CATS.

 6-KANGAROOS v 8-DOCKERS: The Kangaroos are red-hot. They have won nine of their past 10 games and they made the Magpies look second rate with an awesome performance last weekend. The Kangaroos are the second highest scorers in the AFL behind the Hawks, so the Dockers, who are proving solid in defence these days, have got to stand up to have any chance. The Kangaroos knocked the Dockers out of the finals with a massive 98-point win at Etihad Stadium in the final round last year, so they won’t lack motivation. The return of Sandilands is great news for the Dockers and it’s hard to fault the goal-scoring form of Pavlich, but the Kangaroos are on fire and have endless avenues to goal. The Dockers have got the Demons in Perth in Round 23, but if they lose to the Kangaroos they may hand eighth spot to the Blues or Bombers. It has been seven years since either team has won successive games when the two combatants have clashed. The Kangaroos won the last game. The Dockers have won twice at Etihad Stadium this season against the Saints and Demons. Tip: KANGAROOS.

16-DEMONS v 3-CROWS: The poor old Demons could be in the firing line following the Crows’ extraordinary loss to the Lions last weekend. With a Round 23 assignment at home against the Suns, the Crows could seal a home qualifying final as the Swans meet the Hawks this weekend before the Swans take on the Cats and the Hawks meet the Eagles. A game at the MCG is vital for the Crows, who have appeared at the ground on only one previous occasion this season. It’s the last game for the Demons at the MCG this season, so can they send former captain Green out in style? The Crows midfield, as well as tall timbers Tippett and Walker, could have a field day. The Demons have won four of its past five matches against the Crows at the MCG, while the Crows have lost their past six matches at the MCG. Tip: CROWS.

 Rugby Championship (Week 2)

It could be a case of deja vu this weekend. It’s hard to see the Wallabies stopping the All Blacks in Auckland or the Pumas overcoming the Springboks in Mendoza. The Wallabies haven’t won at Eden Park since 1986 and, in going down 27-19 loss in Sydney last weekend, they never looked like beating the world champions. Losing Pocock is massive for the Wallabies and the All Blacks seem poised to retain the Bledisloe Cup. The Pumas will be full of beans hosting their first game in the series, but the fact that they couldn’t post a try last weekend in a 27-6 defeat must be a concern. It might well be a lot closer on the scoreboard this weekend, but the Springboks have won 15 of the 15 games between the two nations and should post yet another Test win. There are early signs that it’ll be the All Blacks and Springboks battling it out for the title.







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