Round 25 brings us an absolute quality serving of rugby league to indulge in.
The opening match set the tone with a blockbuster match between the Bulldogs and Cowboys sitting at 4th and 5th on the ladder respectively heading into the match. We know that the difference between 4th and 5th could mean you get eliminated in week 1 of the finals or not.
The Cowboys stamped their authority at the Bulldog’s spiritual home ground of Belmore Oval winning 24-16. We saw a rather convincing performance, which saw the bulldogs only able to post points through an intercept and a miscommunication from the Cowboys off a bomb. Canterbury left a lot to be desired in their performance whilst the Cowboys got a much needed road win heading into the finals. The Bulldogs have now dropped to 5th and lost their first round insurance in the process.
Storm (1) v Broncos (6)
An important match up for two squads looking to make deep runs in September. A win here could see the Storm consolidate their 1st place position and lock up the Minor Premiership.
The Broncos on the other hand could well fall lower on the ladder and lose a home ground advantage should other results not go their way over the last two rounds. The Panthers and Titans are hot on the heels of last year’s runner up and will have their sights set on making a final push in Round 25.
Which leads us to the next game.
Titans (8) v Panthers (7)
Could you ask for a better match up so late in the season? Here are two teams fighting for spots in the big dance. The winner of this one guarantees their spot in the finals.
The Titans are putting Hayne in at Fullback for the first time this season. Hayne is hopeful to pop his try scoring cherry since returning from his trip abroad. This game is especially important for the Titans who face the Cowboys in the final round of the season. A much tougher task than this upstart Panthers line up.
If the Titans lose their last two games they face the very real possibility of being pushed out of the Top 8 by the Warriors or the Tigers.
Austin injury to test Canberra’s depth
He turned into a talisman for the Green Machine last year and Blake Austin has played a key role in this year’s success story for the Canberra Raiders. Austin injured his hand in a defensive drill at training earlier in the week. The Raiders five-eighth underwent surgery on Thursday with an indefinite timetable for his return. The Raiders could well have lost Austin for the remainder of the season. Sam Williams steps in to partner Sezer in the halves for this weeks clash against the Sea Eagles at Brookvale.
It will be interesting to see how quickly Williams can find his feet given he’s been with the Green Machine in the past and how well he fits with Sezer. Williams could significantly impact the Raiders chances of completing a true underdog story come finals time.
Given they’re only 2 points behind the Sharks for 2nd spot on the ladder, Williams and the boys from the nation’s capital can’t afford a slow start together if they want to nab home field advantage in week 1 of the finals.
The Shark’s slump v the Rooster resurgence
Fair dinkum, where has this brand of footy been from the Rooster all year? They’re composed in attack, stout in defence and their kicking game has been out and out what you expect from a top 8 contender. This is exactly what the boys from the Shire didn’t want to hear given their unexpected drop in form in the last few weeks.
After beating the Knights 36-4 at home in round 20, the Sharks have drawn with the Titans, been convincingly beaten by the Raiders at home, were embarrassed in the local derby against the Dragons and outmatched against the Rabbitohs in last Monday’s wet encounter.
The Sharks have to face the Storm in Melbourne in Round 26. This match is of the outmost importance if Cronulla want to open their finals campaign at home.
Warriors (9) v Tigers (10)
A fantastic Sunday afternoon clash pits two sides with faint finals aspirations against each other.
Both sides are on the outer looking in, but both have a chance to make the finals with back-to-back wins to close out the season. They’re banking on the Panthers winning their clash against the Titans given that the points differential for both clubs is quite poor.
The Warriors get to host a Tedesco-less Tigers outfit and an Eels side who looks as though they’ve mailed it in for the season. A very favourable run home for the boys across the ditch indeed.
Should the Titans slip up at home the Warriors could do what the Warriors always seem to do, sneak into the finals late in the season and cause headaches for whoever they face.
The Dragons, Rabbitohs, Knights and Eels are all out of contention and are all facing one another. This has helped facilitate so many interesting games in the one round.
Round 25 has the makings of one of the most influential penultimate rounds in recent memory. For those of us who don’t have commitments with the missus or the family, we’ll be able to settle in indulge in what promises to be an entertaining prelude for the NRL finals.