NRL Tips guru Steve Green previews a big night of Round 21 action, with Wests travelling to Newcastle and Souths hosting the ladder-leading Storm.
Newcastle Knights vs Wests Tigers
I am amazed by the inconsistency of Wests. After looking like they were about to go on an amazing run into the finals, they were totally dominated by a Doggies team that is sitting dead last.
For all the praise Coach Cleary receives, I still do have some questions about the game plan he has used with Wests at times this year. I really think that the Tigers played far too conservatively last week, which played right into the Bulldogs’ hands. For example, although they only scored 4 points, Wests had managed a completion rate of over 90% by only making 6 errors all game.
But despite desperately needing points, Wests only made 5 offloads all game. Now I understand some teams offload less than others, but if you are trailing by 12 points and not making any inroads with your running game (they only made 1 line break all game), then surely risking a couple of offloads to get momentum is the natural strategy to employ!?
I am not sure why Wests played the way they did, but I am not confident to bet on them or against them in this match up. Particularly given the Knights are equally unpredictable. Last week they blew a 12 point half time lead, turning in an awful 2nd half of footy against a Cowboys team that had been pretty poor for most of the game.
A Knights player that deserves special mention is Lachlan Fitzgibbon, who I believe is the most underrated player in the NRL. Although he is finally getting some praise for his efforts, he is a top-flight player that would not look at of place in a Kangaroos squad at the end of the year. Guerra and Ese’ese also continue to contribute and if Wests forward pack doesn’t step up, then the Knights will be too strong.
Some injury concerns hanging over Watson and Ponga and so much uncertainty as to the form of these teams makes for an interesting watch.
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Melbourne Storm
There is no doubt that Souths have hit a bit of a rough patch and the Storm are flying high, but I believe that the factors that have led to this could be reversed on Friday night.
Firstly, it is worth noting how much the ladder has changed since NRL CEO Todd Greenberg issued his edict to referees to back down on the strict enforcement of the rules. Earlier in the season, the likes of the Roosters, Eels and Storm were struggling because the tactic of wrestling and moving off the line too quickly were being rightfully penalised. This environment allowed for teams like Souths and the Warriors to get a roll on and play from the front foot…it made for entertaining footy and meant that teams that cheated were no longer rewarded.
But due to a concerted campaign from old school hacks that think the “good old days” were when teams won games with score lines like 8–3, there has been a clear change in the ways refs police the ruck.
The reason I think that we may be about to see another shift in this match, is because this game is in Sydney and if the Storm try to wrestle their way to victory against the Souths massive forward pack, the referees (with Souths fans booing the house down) will not sit idly by and allow for such spoiling tactics. It is sad that the refs can have such an impact on the outcome of the game, but they most certainly do.
As for the Storm’s form, while it has been very impressive, I am not sure they have faced a team as good as Souths, away from home, for a very long time. Their recent run of wins include playing Dragons without any Origin players, the Raiders, Manly and an out of form Warriors outfit (where they just won)…so I do think the Storm are still very beatable.
For Souths to win however, they must tighten their edge defence. Without Inglis, Souths lack experience and mongrel out wide and this is where the Storm are so strong.
All in all, this game is set to be a thriller and I would have the home team slight favourites.