The final round of the home and away season begins with arguably the most crucial match of the week, as the ninth-placed Raiders take on the Roosters. The Raiders’ have ultimately been undone by key injuries and early season inconsistency in 2021, but they have been a vastly improved side since the Origin period. They were unlucky not to beat the Sea Eagles a fortnight ago, but they kept their season alive with a win over the Warriors last round. The Roosters meanwhile are well and truly limping their way into the finals, and they were given a real touch-up by the Rabbitohs last week; a result which ultimately saw them slip to sixth on the ladder. The Raiders are playing with a necessary desperation to secure a finals spot, but the returns of Angus Chrichton, Josh Morris and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and a desire to avenge last week’s embarrassing loss should be enough to secure a Roosters win.
The Storm will have a serious point to prove on Friday night after having their winning streak snapped at the hands of the Eels, but have still made the decision to rest several of their big names ahead of the finals. Missed tackles and costly penalties saw the Storm undone in the second half, setting up an intriguing race for the minor premiership with Melbourne and Penrith now tied on points heading into the final round. For Cronulla, the stakes are arguably even higher. The Sharks can book an unlikely finals spot with a win over the Storm, while a loss would leave them at the mercy of other results. Cronulla has lost three consecutive games to the Storm, the most recent being a 40-14 beatdown back in April and whilst the Sharks have been impressive in their two recent wins, the Storm will be too good here and secure the minor premiership.
The battle of the West highlights Friday’s fixtures, and with a minor premiership on the line for the Panthers and a potential top 4 spot for the Eels, this game could arguably be the match of the round. The Eels’ freefall down the ladder has seemingly ended, and they are chasing a third win in succession this week after downing the Cowboys, and far more impressively, the Storm, but have interestingly opted to rest their key players. The Panthers look to be nearing a return to their brilliant best, and they’re timing their run of form to absolute perfection and with the Eels naming a severely weakened side, I’m siding with the Mountain Men at the line.
Unlike almost every other club fighting for positions, the Knights can rest easy knowing they’ve done enough to lock up seventh spot. Newcastle made it five on the trot last week with a thrilling one-point win over the Titans and will be hoping to keep that momentum rolling into the finals against the Broncos on Saturday. Brisbane’s season really hasn’t gone as planned under first year head coach Kevin Walters, but they have been playing some decent footy of late to suggest they can at least make a contest of this. Last week’s eight-point loss to the Sharks was an honourable one as the Broncos tightened up defensively in the second half, while there was also only eight points separating these two sides when they met just four weeks ago. The Knights have scored the second least amount of points in the competition and even though the defence of both sides hasn’t been anything to write home about across the year, unders looks a strong bet on Saturday.
Saturday 4th September 5:30PM, Queensland Country Bank Stadium
Manly appears locked and loaded to finish fourth on the ladder, providing they take care of the hapless Cowboys on Saturday night. North Queensland snapped their losing streak in a 38-26 win over the Dragons last week, but such is the struggles of the Dragons, not much can be read into the win. The Sea Eagles walked away comfortable 50-18 victors over the Cowboys without Tom Trbojevic back in Round 14, and given last week’s win over the Bulldogs, another double-digit victory appears likely. Manly’s average winning margin is a staggering 26 points and on a dry and fast Townsville surface, could certainly rack up a score against the Cowboys.
Saturday 4th September 7:35PM, Sunshine Coast Stadium
Having comprehensively disposed of arch rivals the Roosters last round, South Sydney have opted to rest the majority of their representative players with little to play for heading into the final round. Whilst they are a mathematical chance of finishing above the Panthers in 2nd place, the home ground advantage this typically affords the side is null and void with all games to be played in Queensland with Wayne Bennett opting to rest a number of his stars. Once a finals hope, the Saints have gone down without so much as a whimper during the second half of the season as they now hope to avoid an eighth straight loss. The Dragons sunk to a new low last week with a disheartening 12-point loss to the Cowboys, however I will give them one more shot to end the season positively and I hope their more experienced line up can get the job done.
There is a logical scenario where the Titans can still play finals, but it’s going to take more than just a hope and a prayer, considering their inferior for and against and 2 points abreast of the 8th placed Sharks and 9th placed Raiders. While the Warriors officially saw their season come to an end last week with a loss to the Raiders, it’s fair to say they’ve been playing some decent footy in recent weeks and must be commended for continuing to be competitive despite living out of home for the better part of 2 seasons and losing Dally M medallist Roger Tuvasa Scheck last month. The Warriors rattled off three wins in succession not that long ago and also proved themselves a handful against the Titans when they won 19-6 back in March and will put in one more strong performance to end the year.
Sunday 5th September 4:05PM, Moreton Daily Stadium
The Dogs have already locked up another wooden spoon, but they’ll fancy themselves a live chance on Sunday against a Tigers outfit that has lost back-to-back games in blowout fashion. The Tigers will be keen to atone for back-to-back losses and their recent track record against Canterbury suggests they should do just that. The Tigers won by eight when these two sides met in round 21, extending their winning streak over the Dogs to three. While the Tigers continue to be perennially average, hooker Jacob Liddle has been a shining light this season and off the back of his speed out of dummy half, I envisage a win to end their season on a positive note.
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