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Tuesday, September 22, 2020
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NRL round 14 preview: COVID breaches and blockbusters

Round 14 can’t come soon enough after a week of drama with the Brisbane Broncos finding more and more ways of garnering negative headlines both on and off the field.

Ten of their players were found to have breached the NRL COVID protocols to throw their disastrous season into even more chaos.

We also saw the sacking of Dragons coach Paul McGregor during the week to become the fourth coached axed so far this season.

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On the football side of things and we have been given another Thursday night blockbuster between the Roosters and Storm which should kick the round off with a bang.

Sydney Roosters (4th) vs Melbourne Storm (2nd) Thursday 13 August 7.50pm @SCG

These two played off in the game of the season earlier this year so fingers crossed this one is a similar contest.

The Roosters are sticking with Lachlan Lam at halfback with Kyle Flanagan still on the outer, but it’s Luke Keary who is the chief playmaker.

Keary was outstanding last week against the Dragons, setting up a try and scoring one himself in a performance that should see him start at five-eighth for the NSW Blues.

The Roosters are still without a few key players, but they welcome back the experienced Josh Morris into the centres.

The Storm will be without their two best players with Cameron Munster joining Cameron Smith on the sidelines for few weeks.

Without Smith and Munster, it will be interesting to see just who the chief playmaker is for the Storm.

Despite the absence of some star players, the Storm continue to roll on and have now won seven straight matches.

Both teams are battling some injury issues but there are still plenty of quality players to get excited about for this clash.

The Storm will be looking for their second victory over the Roosters this season.

New Zealand Warriors (11th) vs Penrith Panthers (1st) Friday 14 August 6pm @Central Coast Stadium

The Warriors announced Nathan Brown as their new head coach from next season with Phil Gould also joining the club as a consultant.

With some young players starting to show some promise, perhaps the future at the Warriors could be bright.

The Warriors have been the surprise packet of the NRL in recent weeks with consecutive upset wins giving them a small chance at playing finals.

Many expected the Warriors to struggle as the season went on, but they are playing with a spirit that defies expectations of a team that has been away from home for so long.

Their last two wins over the Tigers and Sea Eagles have been excellent, but they face a much tougher task this week.

The Panthers are undoubtedly the form team of the competition right now and their halfback Nathan Clearly is the NRL’s best player.

Cleary has been magnificent during the Panthers’ eight-game winning streak and he’s not alone as the entire Panthers side seems to be in career best form.

They dominated the Raiders in the first half last week in a display that should have other premiership contenders very concerned.

Parramatta Eels (3rd) vs St George Illawarra Dragons (12th) Friday 14 August 7.55pm @Bankwest Stadium

The Eels escaped a soaked Kogarah last week with a fortunate win in crazy conditions.

There’s not much to take away from a game like that other than the two points and the Eels would be looking forward to some better weather for this clash.

Ryan Matterson comes back in for the Eels and will provide a huge boost to their side as they look to get back to their best form.

The Dragons have finally decided to pull the plug on Paul McGregor’s time at the club as they look to move forward in their next chapter.

McGregor coached the Dragons for seven years, but after a poor start to this season, he needed a miracle to keep his job and, unfortunately, three straight losses has brought about an end to his time at the Dragons.

McGregor is the fourth coach to be sacked this season and we’ve seen improved performances from the Bulldogs and Warriors since they axed their coaches so perhaps a change of voice could provide the Dragons a spark to cause an upset.

The Dragons will play their first match without Paul McGregor as head coach since 2013.

Cronulla Sharks (8th) vs Gold Coast Titans (13th) Saturday 15 August 3pm @Netstrata Jubilee Stadium

The Sharks were on the wrong end of last week’s slogfest against the Eels, but only had themselves to blame after three missed conversions and a dumb penalty cost them victory.

They find themselves just inside the top eight so they can’t afford to throw games away like they did last week, and an improved Titans side will provide them a tough challenge.

The Titans earnt a well-deserved victory over the Cowboys last week and their performances in recent weeks have shown the team is improving under coach Justin Holbrook.

Jamal Fogarty has become more comfortable leading the side around while the return of fullback Alex Brimson has created an extra attacking weapon for their side.

Hopefully the Titans can continue their rise and really challenge the Sharks in this one.

North Queensland Cowboys (14th) vs South Sydney Rabbitohs (7th) Saturday 15 August 5.30pm @Queensland Country Bank Stadium

The Cowboys have slumped to 14th on the ladder after six straight defeats including a horror 30-10 loss to the Titans last week.

Michael Morgan returned against the Titans but was well below his best, so the Cowboys need him to find form quickly if they are to cause an upset over the Rabbitohs.

The Rabbitohs secured a comfortable win over the struggling Broncos last round and will be looking to cement their place in the top eight against another struggling Queensland side.

If the Rabbitohs forwards can at least break even with the Cowboys pack, their backline should have too much firepower for the Cowboys to handle.

The Cowboys will be looking to snap a six game losing streak when they take on the Bunnies.

Canberra Raiders (5th) vs Brisbane Broncos (15th) Saturday 15 August 7.35pm @GIO Stadium

The Raiders are coming off the back of their most disappointing performance in recent weeks after they were completely outplayed by the Panthers in the first half last week.

The Raiders attack has struggled to find points consistently all season, with their top score being just 24 points, which they have recorded three times this season.

Given the Broncos are the worst defensive team in the league, allowing over 30 points per game, the Raiders must be looking at this clash as a chance to get their attack flowing and put up a score.

Getting the win is the main thing, but once that is secured, racking up some much needed for and against is vital for the Raiders top four chances.

The Broncos season just continues to get worse after it was announced they’re under investigation for 10 players blatantly breaching the strict COVID protocols.

The club’s board, coach and players have been under enormous pressure all season long and the last seven rounds are going to feel like an eternity if they can’t conjure up a win or two on the way home.

Newcastle Knights (6th) vs Manly Sea Eagles (9th) Sunday 16 August 2pm @McDonald Jones Stadium

There was doom and gloom surrounding the Knights a few weeks ago when they suffered some serious injuries, but they were brilliant last week in a dominant 44-4 victory over the Tigers.

There were signs the Knights may still play a pivotal role come finals with Kalyn Ponga back to his best while their new recruit Blake Green seemed to fit in seamlessly at five-eighth.

They are boosted by the return of NSW front rower Daniel Saifiti who is an integral part of their forward pack.

The return of the Knights’ star front rower is a double blow for the Sea Eagles as they have lost their star big man Addin Fonua-Blake for a month with a knee injury.

Making the top eight is starting to look like an impossible task for the floundering Manly side who have lost their past two matches.

Sitting a game outside 8th position on the ladder and with bad for-and-against, this is a game that Manly must win to keep their finals hopes alive.

The last clash between these sides ended in a controversial victory to the Knights.

Wests Tigers (10th) vs Canterbury Bulldogs (16th) Sunday 16 August 4.05pm @Bankwest Stadium

The Tigers have shown so much promise at stages this season, but their last two performances have typified the recent inconsistencies of the club.

With their finals chances on the line last week, they were completely blown off the park by a more desperate Knights outfit.

Coach Michael Maguire has resisted making wholesale changes but there are a few changes to the side this week with Billy Walters out injured giving Josh Reynolds a reprieve as the bench utility. Jacob Liddle has also been named to start at hooker, shifting Moses Mbye back to centre.

If Maguire and the Tigers are fair dinkum about becoming a consistent club in coming years, they need to get back on track with a win against the Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs form had improved since Dean Pay was sacked as coach, but they were no match for a quality Storm outfit last week.

They made some costly errors with the ball and some poor discipline saw them lose 41-10.

Lachlan Lewis has been suspended for a high shot on Cameron Munster, meaning Jack Cogger will start at halfback and give himself a chance to earn that number 7 jersey going forward.

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