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Saturday, January 23, 2021

NRL round 10 preview: Grand Final rematch the headline act

Round 10 kicks off with a bang as the Raiders and Roosters meet for the first time since last year’s Grand Final.

Both sides are missing key players and there will be a much smaller crowd, but it still promises to be an enthralling contest.

The Tigers and Broncos are both under pressure for recent poor performances so expect them to be fired up for their clash while the Rabbitohs and Knights face-off in a top-8 battle.

Sydney Roosters (4th) vs Canberra Raiders (7th) Thursday 16 July 7.50pm @SCG

The Grand final rematch will look completely different to last year’s decider with both teams battling injuries.

The Roosters lost Victor Radley and Sam Verrills to season ending knee injuries and will also be missing Daniel Tupou for an extended period.

Despite they injuries, the Roosters took care of the Cowboys last week and still have more than enough talent on their roster to match it with anyone. They get Boyd Cordner, Brett Morris and Isaac Liu back this clash as well.

The Raiders had a night from hell in Canberra last Saturday against the Storm, losing a tight match with some controversial decisions going against them and losing Josh Hodgson and Bailey Simonsson to season ending injuries.

The long-term injuries are becoming concern for the Raiders with those two joining John Bateman, Corey Horsburgh, Sia Soliola and Emre Guler on the sidelines.

The 2019 Grand Final feels like a long time ago but the Raiders would still be feeling the pain from that controversial loss, just like their fans are.

Melbourne Storm (3rd) vs Gold Coast Titans (15th) Friday 17 July 6pm @Sunshine Coast Stadium

The Storm have won three games in a row and despite having to play their home games on the Sunshine Coast, they should be too good for the Titans.

They’ve beaten the Roosters and Raiders the past two weeks and look likely to make another assault on this year’s finals.

They’ve won those past two matches without their star five-eighth Cam Munster, but veteran Cam Smith continues to lead his side flawlessly.

The Titans had a come-from-behind victory over the Warriors last week, but the Storm are a class above.

Ash Taylor was concussed in last week’s match and did not return to the field, but the side played well in his absence with Jamal Fogarty taking the reins.

Even if Taylor is passed fit to play, the Titans may be better served allowing Fogarty to control the side more and Taylor to take a back seat.

Wests Tigers (8th) vs Brisbane Broncos (14th) Friday 17 July 7.55pm @Leichhardt Oval

Tigers coach Michael Maguire has responded to last week’s disappointing loss to the Rabbitohs by dropping halfback Luke Brooks.

Brooks missed nine tackles last week in a poor defensive showing and has been replaced by Billy Walters in the halves. He has been a mainstay in the Tigers 7 jersey for several years now, so this is a not a decision Maguire would have taken lightly.

It will be a whole new halves combination for the Tigers after five-eighth Josh Reynolds was suspended for kicking Campbell Graham in the head, so Benji Marshall will replace him.

The Broncos finally broke their drought last week against the Bulldogs, but the Tigers will prove a much tougher test.

Their captain Alex Glenn suffered a knee injury and will miss the next six weeks meaning Ben Te’o will partner Corey Oates in the second row. Imagine seeing that at the start of the year.

The win last week relieved a little bit of pressure, but they need to beat a decent side before they celebrate too much.

Luke Brooks has been dropped for the Tigers in a surprise selection.

St George Illawarra Dragons (11th) vs Canterbury Bulldogs (16th) Saturday 18 July 3pm @WIN Stadium

The Dragons have started producing the type of football we expected of them from the start of the season.

Ben Hunt played hooker for the full 80 minutes and the side looked better as they smashed Manly 34-4 last round.

The Dragons sit just one game outside of the top eight and should be licking their lips as they come up against a wounded Bulldogs outfit.

The Dogs have lost five games in a row and last round’s loss to the Broncos was the end of coach Dean Pay.

Pay had been under serious pressure all season and always looked likely to lose his job.

Sometimes teams can respond well after a coach gets sacked so maybe we’ll see the Bulldogs players show some spirit.

Their only win this season came against the Dragons six weeks ago so maybe they can do it again.

South Sydney Rabbitohs (6th) vs Newcastle Knights (5th) Saturday 18 July 5.30pm @ Bankwest Stadium

The Rabbitohs are coming off a solid win against the Tigers last round but lose fullback Latrell Mitchell to suspension.

Mitchell’s replacement Alex Johnston is more than capable though, so he should slot in nicely while Corey Allan replaces the injured Campbell Graham on the wing.

The Rabbitohs forward pack has looked far better in recent weeks but they will need to be at their best against an impressive Knights pack.

The Knights were tough in defeat to the Eels last round but will be looking for more spark in attack.

Kalyn Ponga has been below his best in recent weeks and the Knights need to find a way to involve him more in the attack if they want to score points.

In a big blow they lose NSW front rower Daniel Saifiti for up to six weeks with an injured knee, but welcome back Mitch Barnett and Connor Watson to the side.

Mitchell Barnett returns for the Knights in a tough clash against the Bunnies.

Manly Sea Eagles (10th) vs Parramatta Eels (1st) Saturday 18 July 7.35pm @Lottoland

This one is between two sides going in different directions as the Eels are flying high while Manly are struggling to win a game.

Manly have now lost three matches in a row and are still without a couple of their key players to make the challenge of facing the Eels even tougher.

The Eels just keep on grinding out wins and go into this match full of confidence.

They have the number one defence so far this season and are third in points scored so it’s fair to say the Eels are travelling alright.

Their forward pack has been on fire this season and should be able to dominate the battle against a Manly pack missing their best player in Addin Fonua-Blake.

The last time these two played it was a tight match with the Eels prevailing in a controversial finish.

New Zealand Warriors (13th) vs Cronulla Sharks (9th) Sunday 19 July 2pm @Central Coast Stadium

The Warriors were unlucky not to beat the Titans last round and welcome back Kodi Nikorima for this clash so should believe they are capable of causing an upset.

The New Zealand based club have been stuck in Australia for several months now without seeing their families and it’s clearly taken a toll with four players to head home after next week’s match against the Roosters.

It’s obviously been a tough period for the Warriors so it would be great to see them get a win here.

The Sharks were on a roll before last week’s drubbing at the hands of the Panthers.

They conceded 56 points in a horror defensive performance and they would be keen to correct that this week.

They sit in 9th position on the ladder but if they’re serious about playing finals in 2020, they will want to win this and win it well.

Penrith Panthers (2nd) vs North Queensland Cowboys (12th) Sunday 19 July 4.05pm @Panthers Stadium

The Panthers charge to a premiership continues to gather steam after their 56-point effort last week against the Sharks.

They struggled for points earlier but are now the 2nd ranked attacking team in 2020 and look like one of the genuine premiership contenders.

Four-try hero from last week Charlie Staines is out of the side after breaching the strict COVID protocols and has been replaced by Dean Whare.

The Cowboys have conceded 84 points in the last two weeks and, based on that form, it’s hard to see them troubling the Panthers at all.

To make matters worse, the Cowboys have lost star Valentine Holmes for two months with an ankle injury and Scott Drinkwater is also out with a knee injury.

It’s tough times for the Cowboys at the moment and they would need a special performance to get the win here.

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