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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

NRL round 11 preview: The business end nears

It seems like just yesterday the competition resumed but here are, already at round 11 which signifies the start of the second half of the home and away season.

It’s been a season unlike any other but the thing that remains the same is just how quickly it flies by.

The best teams are starting to sort themselves out but there is still plenty of jostling for finals positions to go and round 11 will provide some big tests for some finals contenders.

Parramatta Eels (2nd) vs Wests Tigers (7th) Thursday 23 July 7.50pm @Bankwest Stadium

Thursday night footy shapes up as another blockbuster with a top 8 clash between two Western Sydney sides.

The Eels recorded just their second loss of the season last round against Manly but have been boosted by the return of three star players.

Mitchell Moses, Blake Ferguson and former Tiger, Ryan Matterson, have all been recalled to the starting side.

Matterson controversially left the Tigers last season in search of more money and there is certainly no love lost between the two parties. Hopefully, the drama around Matterson provides some extra spice in this game.

The Tigers are coming off an enormous win against the dismal Broncos last week, but the Eels at Bankwest present a much bigger challenge.

They have stuck with the halves combination of Benji Marshall and Billy Walters that worked so well last week, meaning Luke Brooks will come off the bench again.

The Tigers have long teased their fans with big wins but have been unable to back it up against the best teams. They now get the opportunity to show how good they are on the big stage of Thursday night footy.

Ryan Matterson takes on his old club after leaving the Tigers on less than ideal terms.

North Queensland Cowboys (12th) vs Manly Sea Eagles (10th) Friday 24 July 6pm @Queensland Country Bank Stadium

Last week was the end of the Paul Green era at the Cowboys after he and the club agreed to part ways.

The Cowboys were good in defeat last week against the Panthers and if they can bring the resilience they showed in that match, they are every chance of beating Manly.

Their young fullback Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow is a joy to watch for fans and looks like having a bright future ahead.

Manly produced their best performance of the season to upset the Eels without some of their superstar players.

Jake Trbojevic was superb in that match and footage of him inspiring his teammates in the changerooms at half time showed why the NRL community thinks so highly of him.

They are boosted by the return of Addin-Fonua-Blake who was in sensational form before copping a two-game suspension for abusing a referee.

Brisbane Broncos (14th) vs Melbourne Storm (3rd) Friday 24 July 7.55pm @Suncorp Stadium

This one has warning signs all over it for the Broncos as they look to avoid another humiliating loss.

They were belted 48-0 by the Tigers last week and the whole club has been dragged through the mud all week after a performance that lacked effort.

Most fans can deal with their team losing games if they feel like they’re trying their best but some recent efforts from the Broncos have left many questioning their desire to compete.

The club is facing their lowest ebb in recent history and it doesn’t get any easier as they come up against a high-flying Storm side.

The Storm smashed the Titans 42-6 last week and have won their last 4 matches so come into this match on a roll.

Cameron Munster starred in his return match against the Titans and his presence made the Storm far more lethal in attack.

It’s worrying signs for the rest of the competition as the Storm look to have found their groove and will no doubt be there come finals time like they always are.

The Storm will be looking to run up a score against the hapless Broncos.

New Zealand Warriors (13th) vs Sydney Roosters (5th) Saturday 25 July 3pm @Central Coast Stadium

The Warriors looked like a side that have been away from home a long time last week when they were dominated by the Sharks.

They’ve sacrificed a lot to keep the competition going so it’s hard to be critical of the Warriors but it gets even tougher this week against the Roosters coming off a loss.

The Roosters have looked lethal the past few weeks and recent losses to the Storm and Raiders have brought them back to the pack.

They’re missing Victor Radley in the middle of their defence, but with his season-ending injury, they need to find a way to cover for him. Perhaps that may be through Sonny Bill-Williams who has been linked to a return to the Roosters.

Despite a couple of recent close losses, they should be far too good for the Warriors.

Cronulla Sharks (9th) vs St George Illawarra Dragons (11th) Saturday 25 July 5.30pm @Netstrata Jubilee Stadium

This has the makings of a close clash and could be vital in determining which side could feature in the finals.

The Sharks have racked up some big scores lately against some of the poorer teams but haven’t beaten a team inside the top 8 so there are question marks about their finals credentials.

The Dragons’ first win of the season came against the Sharks in round 5 and have looked a far better side since that game.

The move of Ben Hunt to hooker has worked well for them with the combination of Corey Norman and Adam Clune in halves doing the job for the time being.

They have won 4 of their past 6 matches and have put themselves just a game outside the top 8 so a win here is vital if they want to play finals.

This clash shapes as a pivotal one for both sides finals chances.

Canberra Raiders (6th) vs South Sydney Rabbitohs (8th) Saturday 25 July 7.35pm @GIO Stadium

The Raiders will be looking to continue their momentum after their best win of the season against the Roosters last week but haven’t managed back-to-back wins since the competition recommenced.

The Raiders picked up yet another injury last week with Michael Oldfield hurting his hamstring which means they will have their third debutant in as many weeks.

Local junior Harley Smith-Shields will become Raider number 367 when he lines up on the bench with last week’s debutant Semi Valemei moving to the wing and Jordan Rapana to centre.

The Raiders secured the services of Corey Harawira-Naira during the week but given he hasn’t trained or played for several months, he may still be a few weeks away from playing.

The Rabbitohs have mixed their form in recent weeks and are coming off a loss to the Knights last week.

They are still without Latrell Mitchell due to suspension and have been dealt a double injury blow with James Roberts and Ethan Lowe out for extended periods.

They still have enough quality players to trouble the Raiders and are more than capable of causing an upset in the nation’s capital.

Newcastle Knights (4th) vs Canterbury Bulldogs (16th) Sunday 26 July 2pm @McDonald Jones Stadium

The Knights looked formidable for 60 minutes against the Rabbitohs but a late fade-out almost cost them victory.

Kalyn Ponga was back to his best and the more he is involved in attack, the more dangerous the Knights look.

They sit in 4th spot on the ladder and are surely on their way to the finals for the first time since 2013.

The Bulldogs’ season continues to go from bad to worse after they blew a golden opportunity for their second win of the season last week.

The squad looks devoid of confidence and will need a complete turnaround in form to upset the Knights.

They released Corey Harawira-Naira during the week but in some good news for the club, they announced the signing of Canberra Raider Nick Cotric on a three-year deal from next season.

Kalyn Ponga was back to his best last week and will prove a handful for the Bulldogs.

Gold Coast Titans (15th) vs Penrith Panthers (1st) Sunday 26 July 4.05pm @Cbus Super Stadium

The Titans have been more competitive for most of this season but were belted by the Storm last week and looked uncompetitive in the second half.

In some good news, captain Kevin Proctor returns from injury and adds some much-needed experience to their young side but they will need that youth to excel against the ladder leading Panthers.

The Panthers have won 5 in a row but have been dealt a triple injury blow for this week.

Api Koroisau, Dean Whare and Dylan Edwards are all out which could open the door slightly for the Titans.

The loss of Koroisau is particularly big as he has been sensational this season and has been a large part of the Panthers’ success this year.

Despite his absence, the Panthers have enough quality to take care of the Titans.

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