The pointy end of the 2018 NRL season is fast approaching and results are beginning to dictate the finals chances of several clubs.
League-leaders St George face league cellar-dwellers Parramatta in the first Round 16 game on Thursday night, before the Roosters and Storm lock horns in a battle for the ages in Sydney on Friday.
Saturday night’s meeting between the Broncos and Raiders in Brisbane will enhance the prospects of one club while making it harder for the other, South Sydney will look to keep their impressive campaign rolling when they host North Queensland.
The biggest mismatch of the round looks like taking place when the Dragons host the Eels on Thursday.
Its been a truly outstanding season for the Dragons, who take their place in this fixture as the competition leaders and with a game in hand over the second-placed Rabbitohs. They welcome back Origin stars Greg Inglis, Damien Cook, Angus Crichton and Dane Gagai and face the league’s strugglers, who have failed to make any impression in 2018 despite being widely touted as a top-four chance.
The end of the season seemingly cannot quickly enough for Parramatta, who simply cannot put together an 80-minute performance and who have only three wins to their name. Their stars haven’t really come to the party and they’ll struggle to contain the premiership favourites.
Focus shifts across the Tasman on Friday evening when the Warriors host the Cronulla Sharks.
The Warriors have exceeded all expectations this season and enter Round 16 within the top four. They overcame a spirited Cowboys side in Townsville most-recently and are subsequently gunning for a third-consecutive win.
The Sharks will be buoyed by the mid-week signing of gun prop Aaron Woods and the former Canterbury player remains a live chance of stepping out in this game. Cronulla boast one of the league’s best teams on paper but they have steadily built to the task this time and enter this game just inside the eight.
The Warriors are still capable of a shocker but they have been a lot more convincing in 2018 and have often found a way to win, in situations they would have previously choked.
We are set for an outstanding contest when the Roosters and Storm square off in Sydney on Friday night. These are two potential grand finalists and the Cooper Cronk factor is sure to add just a little extra spice to the meeting.
The Roosters are another club who did plenty wrong in the early stages of 2018 but they are now well and truly in the hunt for the finals and can leapfrog the Storm with a win here. They welcome back a number of Origin stars and always bring plenty to games with the Melbourne club.
The Storm have been typically competitive all year and will also relish the return of several stars from Origin duty, including Billy Slater and Cameron Munster.
There will be a lot of feel in this fixture and the Roosters can salute for the home fans, at great odds.
The Panthers and Sea Eagles square off in what is set to be an interesting fixture on Saturday afternoon.
Penrith were expected to find a position on the edge of the eight this season, but they enter this round third in overall standings and a live chance of finishing in the top four. With the exception of prop Regan Campbell-Gillard, the Panthers are close to full strength and face a Manly side that has struggled to make an impression.
Finals are already out of the picture for the Sea Eagles and they are playing for nothing more than pride, from this point on. They will be buoyed by the return of the Trbojevic brothers and they are clearly a far better side with the duo in tow.
This looks reasonably one-sided but there is little value remaining for the Panthers in head-to-head betting. The Sea Eagles can beat a line currently set at 11.5 points.
The Knights are offered an opportunity at a rare win when they host the hapless Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon.
Newcastle were quickly brought back to earth after flying the gates at the beginning of the season and the loss of Mitchell Pearce has certainly given them some excuses. All of that aside, they’ve managed six wins and are set to meet a Bulldogs that have been unable to gain a foothold on the competition.
The Dogs released prop Aaron Woods less than a season into his four-year deal and they are a club in absolute shambles. Having also lost Moses Mbye to the Tigers a fortnight ago, Canterbury are almost starting from scratch and face a big task in the spirited Knights.
The Knights can continue their slow rebuild this weekend and cover a small line currently set at 4.5 points.
The game of the round could take place when the Broncos host the Raiders in Brisbane on Saturday night.
This is eighth versus ninth and a win for the Broncos would make it extremely difficult for the Raiders to play finals football. This certainly hasn’t been the best season on record for Brisbane but they do enter this fixture off the back of a win over the Sharks away form home. A similar performance, in front of their parochial home crowd would create a big task for the Raiders.
Canberra have probably been the league’s slow-burners but they have found a decent patch of form and can make a serious run, in what is an open NRL premiership. The return of Josh Hodgson made a huge different in the Raiders’ demolition of the Tigers in Round 15 and they are primed for another big performance in Brisbane.
A win over the Broncos would do wonders for the Raiders’ chances and confidence, and they are a live chance.
Wests Tigers will host the Gold Coast on Sunday afternoon, in what looms as a great opportunity for both clubs.
Nothing was expected of the Tigers this season but they have already exceeded expectations and their chances have continued to build with the additions of Moses Mbye and Robbie Farah in recent weeks. It will take a nearly seamless run home, but they are a chance of finals football and are offered a good test in a similarly-positioned side in the Titans this week.
Gold Coast actually boast a decent team on paper but are one of the league’s most inconsistent outfits are ultimately, are their own undoing. The did put the Dogs to the sword in Round 15 and a similar performance would seriously test the Tigers.
It is extremely difficult to trust the Titans from a betting perspective but I am confident that this will be extremely close and they can beat the line.
Souths will look to continue their impressive run of form and fight for the minor premiership when they host a disappointing North Queensland Cowboys side on Sunday afternoon.
Its been an outstanding campaign for the foundation club in 2018 and they will be close to full strength this weekend with he likes of Inglis, Cook, Crichton and Gagai all set to slot straight back into the fold after Origin.
The Cowboys were attempting to give future immortal Johnathan Thurston a fairy-tale farewell this season, but it has played out in almost opposite circumstances and they probably won’t make the finals.
Souths look the goods and can cover a line currently set at 8.5 points.