A Queensland derby kicks off NRL Round 21 on Thursday and concludes with a huge game between the Rabbitohs and Storm on Sunday night.
In between the battle for spots in the top eight continues as the race towards September and the finals gathers pace.
We preview all eight games in Round 21:
North Queensland Cowboys vs Brisbane Broncos
It’s an all-Queensland affair on Thursday night as the struggling Broncos and Cowboys attempt to keep pace with the top eight after disappointing losses last week. Tenth placed Brisbane were unbeaten in their last five games and rising into the eight, but were brought crashing back down to earth last week, crushed 40-4 by competition leaders Melbourne. The situation is much more dire for the Cowboys. After their 28-4 loss to the Tigers last week, North Queensland have fallen to 13th on the table and four points adrift of the top eight. These two teams usually play extremely tight matches, with the 10 of the last 11 being decided by a 1-12 margin. However, the Broncos won their last clash 29-10 back in Round 2 and have generally being playing better the last few weeks, despite their reality check against Melbourne. I’ll back the Broncos home in a close one.
Prediction: Broncos by 1-12 ($3.05 TopBetta)
New Zealand Warriors vs Manly Sea Eagles
Manly continue their charge towards the top four as they face the struggling Warriors in the first game on Friday night. The Sea Eagles have been on fire over the last couple of months and bring a three-match winning streak into this encounter, conquering the Eels, Storm and Knights. Manly have only lost one game since May, and that was by a 21-20 scoreline to the Rabbitohs almost a month ago. The Warriors were crushed 46-12 by the Raiders at home last week as they dropped down to 12th on the ladder, leaving them with a nearly-impossible task to make the finals. It’s hard to go past Manly. Hasler will ensure there’s no complacency from his side, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Warriors are on the end of another big scoreline on Friday.
Prediction: Manly by 13+ ($2.62 TopBetta)
Penrith Panthers vs Cronulla Sharks
A crucial clash with top eight implications awaits on Friday night as the Sharks and Panthers collide in Round 21. Cronulla had been in dire form up until two weeks ago, when they edged the Cowboys by two points, but they went to another level last week, taking out top four side Souths 39-24 to surge into the top eight at the expense of the Panthers. After putting together a seven-match winning streak to fire into the top eight from bottom spot, the Panthers have lost their last two games, and with it, all of their momentum. Penrith’s woeful recent record against the Sharks, means this could be a tough night for the home side. Cronulla are starting to click and if they play like they did against Souths, they should be too strong in this one.
Prediction: Sharks by 1-12 ($2.80 TopBetta)
St George Illawarra Dragons vs Gold Coast Titans
It’s been a nightmare season for both these teams, but one of them will pick up a much-needed two points as they fight to avoid the wooden spoon. Gold Coast have been terrible all year and have barely put in an effort in their last couple of defeats to the Broncos and Roosters, with their last win coming back in early June. St George Illawarra haven’t been too bad in their last couple of losses, going down in close against to the Rabbitohs and Eels, both of whom are in the top six. The Dragons should still be far too strong for the Titans at home. Gold Coast are leaking points left, right and centre and aren’t playing to NRL standard at the moment.
Prediction: Dragons by 13+ ($2.20 TopBetta)
Parramatta Eels vs Newcastle Knights
The Eels made it four wins from their past five games with a scrappy but effective 12-4 win over the Dragons last week. The Knights however crashed to their fifth straight defeat when they were thumped 30-6 by the Sea Eagles. The Knights are on a downward slide and the only good thing for them here is they have beaten the Eels 11 times in their past 13 clashes. Despite losing their past five games, they do still sit just two points out of the top eight but another loss could see them lose touch with the field. The Eels are now looking comfortable in sixth position, four points clear of seventh place but with a home final up for grabs, they must keep winning to guarantee they play at Bankwest Stadium in the preliminary finals. If the Eels get just an even share of possession and keep the errors down, they can finish ahead on the scoreboard here.
Prediction: Eels by 1-12 ($3.05 TopBetta)
Canterbury Bulldogs vs Wests Tigers
The Bulldogs let the entire competition know last week that they can still play good football with a shock 16-8 win over the Panthers. The Tigers again showed just how hard it is to beat them on the treasured ground of Leichhardt Oval as they dished out a 28-4 hiding on the visiting North Queensland Cowboys. Whilst they appear to be out-gunned in the middle, I believe the Tigers back seven can produce enough speed out wide to land more points in this game. Tigers in a close one.
Prediction: Tigers -4.5 ($1.90 TopBetta)
Canberra Raiders vs Sydney Roosters
The Roosters had been running hot and cold since a 30-24 win over Canberra during Magic Round at Suncorp, but they’ve hit top form again since a disappointing loss to the Cowboys, putting 48 and 58 points on the Knights and Titans respectively. The Raiders have been extremely impressive for the entire season, spending the bulk of it inside the top four and now chasing a coveted top two finish. Ricky Stuart’s side are on a four-match winning run and come into this showdown on the back of a huge 46-12 thrashing of the Warriors across the Tasman last week. Canberra have won three of the last four encounters between the teams, but the Roosters managed to prevail 30-24 back in Round 9. This has all the makings of a classic, and at home, I think Canberra can come out on top.
Prediction: Raiders win ($1.99 TopBetta)
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Melbourne Storm
The Rabbitohs didn’t know what hit them last week when the Sharks sprung a surprise 39-24 upset win on them. Meanwhile the Storm continued their winning run towards September with a resounding 40-4 shellacking of the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium. The Rabbitohs surprised the Storm last year by beating them at ANZ Stadium, however, Melbourne still hold a commanding monopoly on their Sydney rivals overall. Being played at Central Coast Stadium, it takes a bit of the gloss away from the home ground advantage and makes life a little easier for the Storm. Not that Melbourne need too much help in that regard as they have already won nine of their ten away games so far this season. I believe the Storm will be too strong in the end.
Prediction: Storm -5.5 ($1.90 TopBetta)