There are only two weeks left of the 2015 NRL regular season, and the hunt for top eight positions has never been more fiery.
Manly appeared as though they would enter the finals as the competition’s in-form team, but might have signed off on their chances after losing at home to the lowly Eels last weekend, while the similarly-positioned Dragons enjoyed a comfortable win.
Round 25 gets underway with a blockbuster between the Rabbitohs and Broncos in Sydney on Thursday night, and will culminate with a match between the Raiders and Panthers in the nation’s capital on Monday.
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South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Brisbane Broncos
Round 25 of the NRL gets underway in the best way possible as reigning premiers South Sydney play host to the ladder-leading Broncos on Thursday night. Souths stamped themselves as legitimate title hopes with a big away win over the Cowboys two weeks ago but were comfortably outplayed by the Bulldogs last weekend. Brisbane have fallen into a poorly-timed form slump in dropping three of the last four games and face an uphill battle in the Bunnies this evening.
Manly Sea Eagles vs Sydney Roosters
Following a particularly lacklustre start to the year, Manly appeared all but out of finals contention but mustered an impressive run of form to work themselves to the edge of the eight. Having dropped the points to the Eels at Brookvale last weekend however, the Sea Eagles have probably ended their chances of a post-season berth and face a monumental task in the Premiership-favourite Roosters on Friday night. Manly seem to be playing to the standard they expect their opponent to play to, and are a chance at good odds this week if they continue the trend.
Parramatta Eels vs Cronulla Sharks
Parramatta tossed a huge spanner into the works of Manly’s finals charge last weekend and can continue to cause havoc to the top eight with a win over the Sharks at Pirtek Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The Eels are undoubtedly the most un-tippable team this year – beating good opposition one week but being played off the field by cellar-dwellers the next. Cronulla have been the season’s surprise packets and should win this game if they are any chance of figuring late in the finals picture.
Newcastle Knights vs Canterbury Bulldogs
Having started the year with five-consecutive wins, Newcastle found themselves in sixteenth position before coach Rick Stone was let go a month ago but have seemed somewhat revitalised since club legend Danny Buderas was handed the reigns on a temporary basis; posting two good wins over notably opposition from four games. Having beaten the Storm in Melbourne last weekend, the Knights will be full of confidence leading into their match with the Bulldogs on Saturday, who appear to be peaking at the absolute opportune moment for a finals assault. This actually has the potential to be one of the better games this weekend, but the Dogs will probably be too good.
Melbourne Storm vs North Queensland Cowboys
Melbourne were shocked at home by the Knights in Week 24, and while firmly entrenched in the top eight, appear to be relying on their stars just a little too much to figure as serious premiership contenders. The Cowboys are amidst one of their best seasons on record and remain a serious chance of the minor premiership, but have to win this game to remain in touch. Had this match been scheduled for Townsville the Cowboys would probably be morals, but the fact it’s being played at AAMI Park means it could realistically fall either way. Both teams represent excellent value from a betting perspective.
Wests Tigers vs New Zealand Warriors
Wests Tigers made headlines mid-week after it was revealed club legend, captain and hooker Robbie Farah will be demoted to reserve grade next season should he remain with the franchise. Citing a ‘re-building phase’ as the reason for the announcement, Wests have been largely terrible all season; pulling out the occasional good performance in between a lot of rubbish. The Warriors appeared a genuine threat until halfback Shaun Johnson suffered a season-ending injury and have since fallen completely out of form. An expansive game with plenty of passing is perhaps the only thing that can salvage this fixture.
Gold Coast Titans vs St George Illawarra Dragons
St George appeared to be dropping out of form at a terrible time but probably salvaged their finals hopes last weekend when beating the Panthers; particularly after Manly lost to the Eels. The Gold Coast signed off on Canberra’s season with an impressive win at home last weekend, and will be confident they can repeat the dose against the Dragons; a team they have a great record against. St George will do everything in their power to seal a position in the top eight but cannot afford to go to sleep against the Titans.
Canberra Raiders vs Penrith Panthers
Monday night’s match between the Raiders and Panthers is one of the few that has absolutely no bearing on the top eight, and as a result could very well figure as one of the most well-contested fixtures of Round 25. Blake Austin has been the buy of the season and is sure to come out firing against the team that give him his first start in the NRL. Evening matches in Canberra at this time of year are tough for any travelling team, and the Panthers will probably not be up to scratch.