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Sunday, July 25, 2021

NRL round 18: The race for eighth

NRL round 18 sees the Sharks and Warriors face off in a battle that could determine which club clinches the final spot in the top eight.

The Warriors need a win to keep their slim hopes alive while a Sharks victory would secure their spot.

Some other matches of note are the Panthers taking on the Eels in a top four clash while the Titans and Broncos meet in a Queensland derby.

Wests Tigers (9th) vs South Sydney Rabbitohs (7th) Thursday 10 September 7.50pm @Bankwest Stadium

The Tigers are back in their familiar ninth position on the ladder and are still a mathematical chance of making the top eight, but they will be relying on other results.

They looked shaky early against Manly last week, but a spirited fightback in the second half lead to a thrilling 34-32 victory. Although some of their teammates missed the action after leaving early which says a lot about where the Tigers are at.

David Nofoaluma has been a shining light this season with 17 tries including three last week and Adam Doueihi’s move to the centres worked wonders, so the Rabbitohs will have to look out for those attacking threats.

The Rabbitohs suffered a hard-fought loss to the Storm last week but lost no admirers in a gritty performance.

They looked a little lackluster in attack without Latrell Mitchell there and may not have enough firepower to beat the best sides without him.

They should still be too good for the Tigers here as they look to secure a home final.

Canterbury Bulldogs (16th) vs Manly Sea Eagles (12th) Friday 11 September 6pm @ANZ Stadium

The Bulldogs keep knocking on the door of a victory, but again came up just short against the Titans last week as they remain on the bottom of the ladder.

They will be without their star playmaker Kieran Foran who tore his pec last week and has most likely played his last game for the Bulldogs.

With two tough matches after to come, this is the Bulldogs chance to get the win that can lift them off the bottom of the ladder.

Manly squandered a golden opportunity against the Tigers last week but the loss added another chapter in their disappointing season.

There has been talk that Foran may rejoin his old club next season to partner Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves, but the most important thing for Manly is that Tom Trbojevic is fit and healthy next year.

Penrith Panthers (1st) vs Parramatta Eels (3rd) Friday 11 September 7.55pm @Panthers Stadium

The Panthers were a little bit scrappy against the Broncos last week but their class shone through in the end as they ran out 13 point winners.

The Eels are the only team to defeat the Panthers this season, but that was all the way back in round 5 when the Eels were the hottest team in the NRL.

Since then, the Panthers have stormed into premiership favouritism with 12 wins in a row and look a far superior team to their Western Sydney rivals.

The Eels had some good fortune in their close win over the Warriors last week, but it has almost secured them a top 4 finish.

They haven’t been at their best for a couple of months now, so a win here would give them an enormous confidence boost heading towards finals.

waqa blake running with the ball
The Eels are the only side to defeat the Panthers this season.

St George Illawarra Dragons (11th) vs Canberra Raiders (5th) Saturday 12 September 3pm @WIN Stadium

The Dragons season of disappointment is almost at a close and they must be looking forward to next season having just announced Anthony Griffin as their next head coach.

Griffin has coached at the Broncos and more recently the Panthers where he had a messy falling out with Phil Gould but should provide plenty of experience to the club as they look to get back to playing finals.

The Raiders had a disappointing loss to the Roosters last week where they fell away in the second half with some uncharacteristic errors.

Josh Papalii has been named to play despite not playing in the second half last week with a shoulder injury.

The Raiders desperately missed his impact when he went off with the bench unable to replicate his strong ball running.

They are still a mathematical chance of making the top four but will need to win their remaining matches and rely on other results going their way.

jarrod croker scoring a try
The Raiders defeated the Dragons 22-16 in a tight contest earlier this season.

Gold Coast Titans (13th) vs Brisbane Broncos (15th) Saturday 12 September 5.30pm @Cbus Super Stadium

The Titans have improved dramatically under Justin Holbrook this season and are looking for their third straight win.

Jamal Fogarty has been a revelation at halfback for the club and his inclusion has relieved the pressure on Ash Taylor.

They beat the Broncos convincingly earlier in the season and should be confident of getting the job done again to cement their position as the best team in Queensland.

The Broncos effort was much better against the Panthers last week, but it wasn’t enough as they went down by 13 points.

Tom Dearden is certainly worth persisting with as halfback, but they would be looking to partner him with an experienced five-eighth next season.

David Fifita coming up against his future club should make for interesting viewing as he would be looking to impress his teammates for next season.

Sydney Roosters (4th) vs Newcastle Knights (6th) Saturday 12 September 7.35pm @SCG

The Roosters defence was too good for the Raiders last week and James Tedesco was back to his best in a stunning display.

They have just about their full team back and it seems like they are timing their run to perfection as the finals approach.

Their attack was a little bit plain last week as Tedesco looked like the only dangerous player, but they should be far too strong for an undermanned Knights side.

The Knights will be without star fullback Kalyn Ponga who has been rested after copping a battering against the Sharks last week.

Young gun Tex Hoy has been named to replace Ponga which will be a huge test against such an experienced side.

Mitch Barnett and Hymel Hunt are also out of the side, but Daniel Saifiti and Edrick Lee have been named to return from injury.

The Knights big win over the Sharks last week secured their first finals berth since 2013 but theyd surely love to secure a home final.

mitchell pearce kicking the footy
Mitchell Pearce will need to star for the Knights if they are to upset the Roosters.

Melbourne Storm (2nd) vs North Queensland Cowboys (14th) Sunday 13 September 4.05pm @Sunshine Coast Stadium

The Storm are almost certain to finish in the top two once again after another remarkably consistent season.

Ryan Papenhuyzen is out of this match with Nicho Hynes replacing him. Papenhuyzen has been sensational this season and is a big loss for the Storm but they should still be too strong for the Cowboys.

The Cowboys finally broke their 9-game losing streak with a golden-point victory over the Dragons last week.

Valentine Holmes was the hero that day and they are going to need plenty more heroics from him to beat the Storm in this one.

Cronulla Sharks (8th) vs New Zealand Warriors (10th) Sunday 13 September 6.30pm @Netstrata Jubilee Stadium

The Sharks were incredibly disappointing against the Knights last week and are still yet to beat another top eight side.

The loss was compounded by the loss of Chad Townsend and Wade Graham to suspension, but Shaun Johnson comes back into the side.

Sharks coach John Morris said after games like last week his side don’t deserve to be playing finals and it would hard to argue if they lose to the Warriors here.

The Warriors were unlucky against the Eels last week, but they showed plenty of heart to come back and almost snatch victory.

They have been the feel-good story of the season and if they could somehow pull of a miracle and make the finals, they would surely become everyone’s second team.

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