by Warren Boland
A full round of eight NRL matches stretches from Thursday to Monday this weekend, starting with last year’s grand finalists meeting for the second time in 2017 in what is becoming a fierce rivalry.
The absence of Cooper Cronk, apparently rested by the Storm, is a let-down for the clash and will make it more difficult for Billy Slater to dazzle by comparison with the Sharks’ fullback Valentine Holmes as both chase Maroon selection for Origin 2.
There is a long list of Queensland Origin hopefuls who should be playing the house down this weekend to force their way into the team.
As well as Slater and Holmes, the list includes Jarrod Wallace, Coen Hess, Gavin Cooper, Scott Bolton, Ethan Lowe, Korbin Sims, Felise Kaufusi, Cameron Munster, Daly Cherry Evans and, if declared fit to play, Corey Norman. Also a chance to play this weekend is Jonathon Thurston.
Meanwhile the Maroons whose places are in jeopardy after their resounding loss in in first Origin match – Justin O’Neill, Nate Myles, Jacob Lillyman and Aidan Guerra – will be determined to shore up their places with strong games. Even Anthony Milford and Sam Thaiday will be feeling the heat.
It will be a surprise if the Blues make any changes but the impressive return from injury of Josh Mansour last week and, possibly, Tom Trbojevic this week will keep Brett Morris on his toes.
Two of the three matches this Saturday are being played in Bathurst and Darwin. They are toss-ups anyway and the venues don’t make it any easier.
Here are my picks for Round Fourteen (winners in capitals):
- SHARKS v Storm
- SEA EAGLES v Knights
- BRONCOS v Rabbitohs
- TITANS v Warriors
- PANTHERS v Raiders
- Eels v COWBOYS
- Tigers v ROOSTERS
- Bulldogs v DRAGONS
Last week: 7/7 Total: 68/99