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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

NRL round 19 preview: The top eight

While the top eight teams have already been decided with just two rounds remaining, the final positions will be determined over the next two weeks.

The Panthers will be out to secure the minor premiership when they take on the Cowboys in Townsville while the Raiders will be looking to put pressure on the Eels for that all important top four spot with another win.

South Sydney Rabbitohs (6th) vs Canterbury Bulldogs (16th) Thursday 17 September 7.50pm @ANZ Stadium

The Rabbitohs escaped with a narrow victory over the Tigers in a performance that would have you questioning their ability to match it with the best sides.

Damien Cook has started to find his best form over the past month, but they are missing the firepower Latrell Mitchell gives them.

The Bulldogs have been competitive in most matches they’ve played this season but still find themselves in last place on the ladder with just the two wins for the season.

It would be a shame for them to pick up the wooden spoon with the Broncos clearly the worst team this year, so they should come out desperate to cause an upset here.

There are talks of major problems at board level at the Bulldogs, which could make things tough for incoming coach Trent Barrett for next season.

North Queensland Cowboys (14th) vs Penrith Panthers (1st) Friday 18 September 6pm @Queensland Country Bank Stadium

The Cowboys have had a torrid year but were reasonably competitive against the Storm last week.

Josh McGuire has been suspended after a foul-mouthed tirade aimed at referee Grant Atkins last week and there are now reports he could be on his way out of the Cowboys.

Jason Taumalolo has been named on the extended bench, but the Cowboys wouldn’t risk further injury to their star player with just two games remaining and nothing to play for.

The Panthers are on an absolute roll with 13 straight wins as they get ready for finals.

Many experts think they may falter in the finals due to a lack of experience and a relatively soft draw this season, but you can’t knock the way they have played.

Nathan Cleary has become the best player in the NRL this season and if the Panthers can maintain a healthy roster, they can beat anyone.

They should be far too strong for the Cowboys in this match and seal a well-deserved minor premiership.

Nathan Cleary running with the ball
The Panthers can secure a well-deserved minor premiership with a win.

Parramatta Eels (4th) vs Brisbane Broncos (15th) Friday 18 September 7.55pm @Bankwest Stadium

The Eels have been struggling for form lately but need to win games against the Broncos and Tigers over the last two weeks to seal a top four spot.

Their defence did a remarkable job to keep the Panthers to just three tries last week, but it was their attack that struggled.

Mitchell Moses hasn’t been able to lead the attack around effectively and without Dylan Brown’s running game, they look limp with the ball.

Their front row of Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard have dropped off considerably from their early season form and are a big part of the Eels fall.

The Broncos season from hell is almost over but it doesn’t get any better with Payne Haas ruled out of this match.

Brodie Croft was due to return before copping a nasty knock at training meaning Tyson Gamble will make his debut at five-eighth.

The 17 taking the field for Brisbane this weekend would have to be one of the weakest sides in their history. It would take something extraordinary for them to cause an upset.

michael jennings celebrating a try
The Eels need to win their last two matches against the Broncos and Tigers to secure a top four finish.

Manly Sea Eagles (10th) vs Gold Coast Titans (12th) Saturday 19 September 3pm @Lottoland

Manly got a solid win over the Bulldogs last week but it has ultimately been a disappointing season for them.

Tom Trbojevic has been a big loss this season, but he has been named on the extended bench so could be a late inclusion for Manly as he looks to push his case for a spot in the NSW team.

The Titans have won three matches in a row now and could finish as high as ninth if they win their final two.

They have improved dramatically under Justin Holbrook this season and would certainly back themselves to beat Manly to make it four in a row.

Melbourne Storm (2nd) vs Wests Tigers (9th) Saturday 19 September 5.30pm @Sunshine Coast Stadium

The Storm were slightly off their game against the Cowboys last week but still did enough to get the job done.

They look certain for yet another top two finish and should have too much class for the Tigers.

The Tigers were unlucky not to beat the Rabbitohs last week after yet another spirited comeback.

Their stars have been woeful in the last two weeks and they simply can’t afford to give the Storm an early lead.

The interesting matchup on the night will be the battle of the hookers with Harry Grant taking on his mentor Cameron Smith.

Grant will re-join the Storm next year after being loaned to the Tigers this season where he has impressed many to firm as the likely Queensland hooker and would love to play well in this one.

Meanwhile, Smith continues to defy his age by playing brilliantly and will no doubt want to show Grant that he is still the best hooker in the game.

Cam Smith passing the ball
Cameron Smith will be looking to prove he’s still the best hooker in the game when he takes on Harry Grant this weekend.

Sydney Roosters (3rd) vs Cronulla Sharks (8th) Saturday 19 September 7.35pm @SCG

The Roosters are in the box seat to claim their third premiership in a row as they start to play their best football at the right time of year.

James Tedesco has been rested for this match and there are question marks over Boyd Cordner after copping another head knock, and the Roosters wouldn’t risk him after his recent concussion issues.

A matchup against the Storm in week one of the finals looks likely for the Chooks and they should be too good for the Sharks here.

The Sharks are yet to beat another team in the top eight and will need to be somewhat competitive here if they have any plans of doing something come finals time.

The task will be made tougher with Wade Graham and Chad Townsend still out suspended, leaving the majority of the playmaking duties to Shaun Johnson.

Canberra Raiders (5th) vs New Zealand Warriors (11th) Sunday 20 September 2pm @GIO Stadium

The Raiders produced a stellar second half against the Dragons last week as they look to ramp up before finals.

They need to win their last two games and hope the Eels drop one to make the top four, so there’s no chance of them taking the Warriors lightly.

Josh Papalii extended his deal with the Raiders during the week, so expect another big game from the leader of the forward pack.

The Warriors finals hopes were dashed after a close defeat at the hands of the Sharks but don’t expect this brave club to surrender now.

They have many obstacles thrown at them this season but haven’t complained once and have continued to challenge all opponents.

No doubt they will be looking forward to heading home after the season, but they would love to finish it on a high.

Newcastle Knights (7th) vs St George Illawarra Dragons (13th) Sunday 20 September 4.05pm @McDonald Jones Stadium

The Knights form has been up and down in recent weeks and they were comprehensively beaten 42-12 by the Roosters last week.

It was a disappointing performance given there is only two weeks left before finals, but they were missing without their star fullback Kalyn Ponga who returns for this week.

If the Knights are to make any impact in the finals, they need to sure up their defence and put on a strong showing over the next fortnight.

The Dragons were smashed by the Raiders last week as another disappointing season comes to a close.

The only positive from the 37-8 drubbing was the debut of exciting winger Cody Ramsey who bagged two tries and retains his spot.

It would be a big surprise to see the Dragons win but sometimes these end of season games can throw up some strange results.

Kalyn Ponga saluting the crowd
Kalyn Ponga returns for the Knights after being rested against the Roosters last week.
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