Round 23 of the Premiership saw Top 8 incumbents Manly and Brisbane open the door to the chasing pack with losses to the Dragons and the Eels respectively. Of the chasing pack - Canberra kept their head above water by defeating the Bulldogs 28-14, Parramatta beat Brisbane 30-14 and although South Sydney lost 18-16 to the Storm - they too stayed alive with their differential not taking a beating. After losing to the Warriors 22-10, Newcastle must win all 3 remaining games and rely on results to make the playoffs.
Further up the ladder the Roosters dropped to 5th with their shock 18-12 loss to the Sharks, while the Tigers jumped into 3rd by beating the Panthers 43-18. The Gold Coast beat North Queensland 37-18 to move into 2nd, while St.George-Illawarra defeated Manly 32-10.
But the team that struggled the most in Round 23 (compared to recent form) was the Brisbane Broncos who were without Darren Lockyer due to a rib injury. If he can't play until Round 26 as expected - the Broncos may need to win at least one game from the next two to ensure they can make the playoffs when he returns.
Does No Darren Lockyer = No Hope for the Broncos?
That leaves us looking at this week's schedule and highlighting the Knights-Broncos, Eels-Tigers, Panthers-Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles-Warriors & Raiders-Dragons as key battles for spots in the Top 8.
The fact that we've highlighted five of the eight games (and the Roosters-Titans game is a Top 4 battle) - is a good indication that this weekend should be a great round of footy!
If Manly and Brisbane win - they will make life extremely difficult for Parramatta, Canberra & Newcastle to make the Top 8 given their superior differential to those teams. Only South Sydney with +59 have a differential that is good enough to force their way into the Top 8 if they finish on equal points with any team above them currently.
NOT The Footy Show Episode 35 - Round 24 NRL Preview Podcast -
|=| WHO HAS A DATE WITH A NUDIE RUN? + Waz catches up with 101.5FM Superstar Matt Duncan to talk Broncos and Quade Cooper to Rugby League + Nic and Waz walk you through what happened in Round 23 including the Mark Gasnier 'Try' Debacle and Preview Round 24 with our Special Fried Rice Picks + Dave tries to make sense of Darren Lockyer's Contract + Mat Rogers retires + NRL Tweet Player of the Year Update + Defending the 40/20 Kick and Why do teams ignore the Short Kick-Off?
|=| Wednesday's Market: NEW $2.00 v BRI $1.80 (Graphic is Tuesday's Team Lineup)
|=| Recent Clashes: Newcastle have won the past 2 v Brisbane but only 3 of the last 10. Knights won 30-22 at Suncorp in Round 8.
|=| Wednesday's Preview:Newcastle may be only a mathematical chance at reaching the playoffs but they could deal the Broncos own hopes a huge blow by beating them at EnergyAustralia on Friday Night. Newcastle have named Jarrod Mullen to return from a rib injury and his inclusion mixed with the lack of Darren Lockyer for the Broncos - make the Knights a real threat despite their table position. Brisbane lacked direction without Lockyer last week despite plenty of possession and the home ground factor is big for the Knights.
Going with Newcastle to upset the Broncos and well and truly open the door to the teams outside the Top 8.
|=| Team Selection + Fantasy News August 17 (Friday's Update with help from SMH's Late Mail): Newcastle have named Jarrod Mullen to return from a rib injury at the expense of Scott Dureau. That is the Knights only change to the 17 that lost to the Warriors last Sunday. Brisbane will be without Darren Lockyer again (and maybe for the rest of the regular season) with his own rib injury and Corey Norman has been listed to play five-eighth again despite Matt Gillett starting there against Parramatta. There are no other changes for the Broncos.
Update August 20: Matt Hilder & Cooper Vuna will play after passing fitness tests. Jarrod Mullen will also play - despite the pain of injured ribs. Brisbane will be 1-17.
|=| 4th Penrith Panthers: 12-9, 517-441, +76, 28pts. |=| 9th South Sydney Rabbitohs: 10-11, 518-459, +59, 24pts.
|=| Wednesday's Market: PEN $1.48 v SOU $2.65 (Graphic is Tuesday's Team Lineup)
|=| Recent Clashes: Penrith & South Sydney have split the last 10 games since Round 18, 2004. Souths won 42-22 at ANZ in Round 12 earlier this year.
|=| Wednesday's Preview: It's hard to endorse either of these two sides on current form - the Panthers have lost 5 of 6 and Souths have lost 4 of their past 7 while on the cusp of the Top 8. The injuries to key South Sydney players - especially John Sutton - puts an end to their title hopes but they can still make the playoffs if they can find 2 wins from their last 3 games. For Souths one of those wins must be here but the Panthers have plenty to play for with their Top 4 spot on the line. Luke Lewis & Michael Gordon have been trying their guts out lately but they need the likes of Luke Walsh, Michael Jennings & Trent Waterhouse to find another gear... and I think they will on a Friday Night at CUA.
Penrith at home look to have an edge of class on the Bunnies - so they get my tip.
|=| Team Selection + Fantasy News August 17 (Friday's Update with help from SMH's Late Mail): Penrith have been without Lachlan Coote for two weeks despite his naming in the team and this week Matthew Elliott left him out altogether due to a groin injury. Michael Gordon holds onto the fullback spot after two impressive weeks there. Sandor Earl is on one wing and Adrian Purtell has been swapped with Brad Tighe and onto the other wing. Tim Grant aggravated his ankle injury in his comeback and may be done for 2010 unless the team makes it deep into the Finals, while Matthew Bell & Masada Iosefa are added to the bench. South Sydney move Sam Burgess to the second row and start Michael Crocker at lock forward. Luke Capewell stays at five-eighth while Beau Champion - while named - is still no sure thing to play with Dylan Farrell on th bench as cover. Jason Clark comes in on the bench for Jamie Simpson.
Update August 20: Michael Jennings has a shoulder injury but should play after a painkilling injection. Masada Iosefa will play - meaning on of Nathan Smith, Matt Bell, Gavin Cooper or Daine Laurie will miss out. Beau Champion seems likely to play at this stage with Dylan Farrell on standby.
|=| Wednesday's Market: MAN $1.50 v WAR $2.60 (Graphic is Tuesday's Team Lineup)
|=| Recent Clashes: Manly have won 7 of the last 10 games against the Warriors since 2005. Warriors have won 5 of 8 at Brookvale. Manly won 14-6 at Mt Smart Stadium in Round 4.
|=| Wednesday's Preview:Manly weren't bad against the Dragons but they had their chances early in the 2nd half and couldn't get that vital 3rd try that would've leveled the game. In the end Manly lost by 22 points to put themselves under pressure to stay in the Top 8 - and with the Warriors in town that will not be an easy task. The Warriors are playing very well at the moment and their home form needs to cross the Tasman with them to Brookvale. I'll give Manly the benefit of the doubt that they were beaten by a better team on Monday but that game was there to be won.
Manly and the Warriors are evenly matched, so the Brookie factor gets Manly my vote on Election Day.
|=| Team Selection + Fantasy News August 17 (Friday's Update with help from SMH's Late Mail): Manly have named William Hopoate to return from a hamstring injury at fullback - relegating last week's debutant Michael Oldfield back to the Toyota Cup. Jason King pleaded guilty to a high tackle on Jarrod Saffy but will not miss a game. Manly are otherwise unchanged. The Warriors still haven't recalled Jerome Ropati or Kevin Locke as Joel Moon and Bill Tupou have done well as their replacements the past few weeks. Ropati seems the man most likely to force his way into the squad if fit. Ian Henderson is in serious doubt for this game despite being named - Aaron Heremaia would start if Henderson can't play.
Update August 20: William Hopoate looks to have recovered from a hamstring strain and will take his place at fullback. The Warriors will replace Ian Henderson with last year's Toyota Cup hooker Alehana Mara - who was in line to start the year in the NRL before Aaron Heremaia's excellent trial form. |=| Follow The NRL Tweet for more |=|
|=| Wednesday's Market: MEL $1.28 v CRO $3.65 (Graphic is Tuesday's Team Lineup)
|=| Recent Clashes: Melbourne have won 6 of the last 10 against Cronulla but that includes the last 3 in a row. Storm won 14-10 in Round 1 at Toyota.
|=| Wednesday's Preview:Melbourne only have 2 home games left and they will be eager to give their fans something to enjoy before a longer than normal off-season begins. Despite being flat against South Sydney - the Storm still won and the Sharks don't have as much to play for as the Bunnies did last week. Although Cronulla defeated the Roosters - I still can't see the Storm letting this game slip as even if Greg Inglis & another star get rested - they'll win.
The Sharks struggle to score points and the Storm defence has stayed solid - so pick Melbourne at AAMI.
|=| Team Selection + Fantasy News August 17 (Friday's Update with help from SMH's Late Mail): Melbourne have named Adam Blair & Jeff Lima after the pair were rested last weekend against Souths. Greg Inglis seems the most likely Storm Star to get a break after struggling in recent weeks. Aiden Tolman has busted his ribs and is done for the year - meaning his Melbourne career is over as he joins Canterbury next year. Cronulla retained the same 17 that shocked the Roosters at Toyota Park last Friday Night.
Update August 20: Melbourne winger Matt Duffie has a medial strain in his knee and is out for the rest of the season. His replacement will be either Willie Isa or Toyota Cup sensation Dane Chisholm. Cronulla should be 1-17.
|=| Wednesday's Market: NQL $2.35 v CBY $1.60 (Graphic is Tuesday's Team Lineup)
|=| Recent Clashes: Canterbury have won 2 in a row against North Queensland but the Cowboys had won 4 straight before that. First Clash of 2010.
|=| Wednesday's Preview:Both these sides have been woeful in 2010 which makes picking a winner extremely difficult. On one hand you've got the Cowboys who don't live up to the team they have on paper (they have only 5 wins in 21 starts) and Canterbury have limped to 7 wins with essentially the same squad that finished 2nd last year. It is only the absence of Johnathan Thurston with injury and the fact the Bulldogs still have most of their quality available that makes me lean towards the visitors.
Picking Canterbury but that doesn't mean I believe Coach Kevin Moore has remembered that his team can attacking football for 80minutes. It's because they are playing the Cowboys.
|=| Team Selection + Fantasy News August 17 (Friday's Update with help from SMH's Late Mail): North Queensland challenged and beat Scott Bolton's biting charge on Clinton Toopi at a Wednesday Night NRL Jokediciary hearing. Dane Hogan accepted a ban that will end his 2010 season for a spear tackle. Luke O'Donnell's season looks over due to a knee injury and Nick Slyney & Isaak Ah Mau come onto the bench. John Williams stays on the wing after being a late inclusion last week. Canterbury bring back Luke Patten & Ben Barba at the expense of Junior Tia-Kilifi & Blake Green. No return for Ben Hannant this week due to an ankle injury and the Brisbane bound forward may have played his last game for the Bulldogs.
Update August 20: Luke Patten and Ben Barba look to have overcome back and eye injuries respectively and will travel to Townsville. Brett Kimmorley sustained a slight concussion last week against Canberra but should play. With Scott Bolton beating his NRL Jokediciary charge he will play.
|=| Wednesday's Market: CAN $2.25 v STI $1.65 (Graphic is Tuesday's Team Lineup)
|=| Recent Clashes: Canberra has won 10 of the last 11 against St.George-Illawarra and the Dragons have not won in Canberra since 2000. Canberra won 22-14 at WIN Stadium in Round 11.
|=| Wednesday's Preview:Canberra may have beaten the Dragons in 10 of the last 11 games, but all streaks come to an end eventually. Despite Canberra needing to win this game to make their chances of reaching the playoffs so much easier - they will miss Travis Waddell's influence at hooker as the youngster began to make a difference around the rucks. St.George-Illawarra welcome back Matt Prior & Ben Hornby and that should add enough quality to overcome a Raiders team that has disappointed their home fans for most of the season - and are in truth not playing great football at the moment despite their recent success.
Canberra might get a big crowd for this one but I expect the Dragons to get the 2 points.
|=| Team Selection + Fantasy News August 17 (Friday's Update with help from SMH's Late Mail): Canberra have lost impressive young hooker Travis Waddell to a shoulder injury inflicted by his teammate David Shillington and Alan Tongue will start at hooker. Glen Buttriss comes onto the bench as does Shaun Fensom who was sent to the QLD Cup for conditioning last week. The Dragons have recalled Matt Prior and Ben Hornby who missed the Manly game, which means their replacements Luke Priddis and Nick Emmett may lose their spots on the bench for this game.
Update August 20: Ben Hornby is expected to play after recovering from a virus. Nick Emmett & Luke Priddis are expected to miss out. Canberra will cut either Danny Galea or Shaun Fensom from their 5 man bench with Glen Buttriss a chance to start in place of Alan Tongue at hooker - Tongue will shift to the bench.
|=| Wednesday's Market: PAR $1.71 v WTG $2.15 (Graphic is Tuesday's Team Lineup)
|=| Recent Clashes: Parramatta have won 8 of the last 10 against the Tigers but the Tigers have managed to win 2 of the past 3 since 2009. Tigers won 23-12 in Round 3 at the SFS.
|=| Wednesday's Preview:Parramatta Stadium will be a sell-out for this game as the Tigers & Eels renew hostilities. Last year Jarryd Hayne put the Tigers to the sword in Round 24 and that loss saw the Tigers lose Taniela Tuiaki and drop out of the Top 8 race. That game alone will add some incentive for the Tigers to put the Eels away in similar fashion for 2010. Tigers can grab outright 2nd spot if the Titans lose on Monday, while the Eels would still be alive in the playoff race with a loss - as long as the Broncos & Sea Eagles lose as well. Hayne looks like he's carrying an injury and although he was still special at times v Brisbane - he's clearly struggling.
Going with the Wests Tigers to turn on the class behind Farah & Marshall - despite the best efforts of Hayne.
|=| Team Selection + Fantasy News August 17 (Friday's Update with help from SMH's Late Mail): Parramatta are still without second rower Ben Smith due to suspension and Justin Horo starts again. Taniela Lasalo and Anthony Mitchell hold their spots on the bench and that means there is now room for Daniel Mortimer in the 17. The Wests Tigers have not bothered to name Wade McKinnon this week after he failed to play the past 2 weeks due to a hamstring injury. Mitch Brown starts at fullback. Keith Galloway missed last weekend with concussion and is named but the Tigers have lost Bryce Gibbs with a knee injury. John Skandalis holds his spot on the bench as does the little used Geoff Daniela.
Update August 20: Timana Tahu is still no certainty to return from an ankle injury with Jonathan Wright expected to replace him if required. Keith Galloway should play after missing last week with a concussion, while Wade McKinnon could be a late starter at fullback if his hamstring gets through another training session before Sunday.
|=| Wednesday's Market: SYD $1.60 v GLD $2.35 (Graphic is Tuesday's Team Lineup)
|=| Recent Clashes: Results of 5 games between Roosters & Titans since 2007: SYD, GLD, GLD, GLD, SYD. Roosters shocked Titans 30-16 at Skilled in Rd 12.
|=| Wednesday's Preview:Huge game for the Roosters who can move back into the Top 4 with a win over the 2nd placed Gold Coast. After winning 5 in a row the Roosters have dropped 2 straight to the Dragons & Sharks, while the Titans have won 4 in a row after a 3 match losing streak. Mat Rogers is in great form in what will be his final year in the NRL, while Scott Prince & Preston Campbell are in good touch. Titans have the recent form on the board but even in defeat on Friday Night the Roosters still looked dangerous in attack. Todd Carney is doing his best but needs Mitchell Pearce & Braith Anasta to pick up the slack...
Monday Night Football at the SFS will define the Roosters chances in this premiership for mine and I think they'll win a tight one.
|=| Team Selection + Fantasy News August 17 (Friday's Update with help from SMH's Late Mail): The Roosters have once again named Mitchell Aubusson to return from a shoudler injury but he is still questionable. Lopini Paea joins the bench as cover for the forwards and rookie centre Jonathan Ford may get another run if Aubusson is unable to play. The Titans named Greg Bird to return from his hamstring injury and Michael Henderson should play after recovering from a virus. Ben Ridge is 18th man, while Aaron Cannings misses out.
Update August 20: Mitchell Aubusson will play - with the Monday Night fixture helping him recover from a shoulder injury. Lopini Paea will drop off the bench. Ben Ridge will remain 18th man for the Gold Coast.