Tipping winners in the first week of the play-offs was a bit like trying to tip winners each week in the NRL – as we saw the Broncos bundled out of the competition by the Dragons and the Panthers returning to their best form against the Warriors.
From now on – all teams face a sudden death situation – and it will be interesting to see which teams handle the additional pressure as the stakes (all of a sudden) become a lot higher.
I thought the Rabbitohs were in good touch against the Storm – despite a couple of defensive lapses – and the Sharks had their chances in their game against the Roosters.
Both of these teams will be favourites this week – but this doesn’t seem to faze the Panthers and the Dragons who have both re-captured something like their best form in recent weeks.
Sharks V Panthers:
A little bit of history between these two teams and some added spice with James Maloney and Matt Moylan playing against their old clubs in such an important game.
No Wade Graham for the Sharks is a huge blow and the Panthers have a slight advantage in the halves with Maloney and Nathan Cleary combining well last week.
In particular, they kicked for a total of 735 metres V the Warriors 538.
Valentine Holmes ran for an incredible 320 metres last week and the Sharks are still ranked No 2 (on for and against in the last 6 weeks).
Should be a great battle between two aggressive, mobile forward packs.
My tip- Sharks by 6
Rabbitohs V Dragons:
The Dragons seem to be on an emotional campaign after their big (and unexpected) win against the Broncos – who were inspired by their forward leader Tariq Simms and their star halfback Ben Hunt.
They will need Jack De Belin and James Graham to be fit and firing against their more fancied South Sydney forward pack featuring the Burgess brothers.
The Dragons will miss their International five-eighth Gareth Widdop who makes a big difference to the balance (and confidence) of their team.
The Rabbitohs have the best attack of any team left in the competition and I expect them to improve their defensive issues on the left edge from last week.
They have two of the game’s biggest stars in Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess and I expect them to advance to the Preliminary Final against the Roosters.
My tip – Rabbitohs by 8
As the countdown to the Grand Final continues – Mal Meninga and the Australian selectors - will have the challenging task of finding four new members of the spine for the Kangaroos upcoming Test matches against the Kiwis on Oct 13 and the Tongans on Oct 20 – both at Mt Smart Stadium.
The retirements of Cameron Smith, Jonathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater has left a whopping 162 games of Test experience out of the team that has been unbeaten since Mal took over in 2016.
Toss in the injury to Michael Morgan, who deputised superbly for Thurston in the World Cup campaign last year, and you can understand the significant, changing dynamic of the Test team.
The Origin series and the finals campaign (and who remains fit) will have a huge bearing on the selection of these key positions and the remainder of the team when its announced in early Oct.
With form and experience in mind my thoughts on the spine are:
James Tedesco is likely to become the next Test fullback who is in font of Tom Trbojevic and Valentine Holmes.
Damian Cook – who was exceptional for NSW in three games – has been in great form for the Rabbitohs and is the likely successor to Cameron Smith at hooker.
Cameron Munster – has made the transition to the five-eighth role from his original position of fullback – and has stepped up in the absence of Cooper Cronk at Melbourne and should claim the No 6 Test jumper.
James Maloney – is likely to be the Test halfback – after playing a starring role in the Blues win over QLD (alongside Nathan Cleary) and he will be instrumental in the Panthers hopes of playing on Grand Final Day.