NRL playoffs preview: Elimination time as NRL gets serious

Cowboys halfback Jonathan Thurston. Photo / Getty
Cowboys halfback Jonathan Thurston. Photo / Getty

David Skipwith assesses the first round of NRL playoffs.

Broncos (5th) v Titans (8th)

Elimination Final, Suncorp Stadium, tonight, 9.55pm
It's do-or-die in the local derby between last year's grand finalists Brisbane and the outfit from the holiday strip who no one expected to feature at the business end of the season. The Titans enter their first finals series in six years but will need to overturn a horror nine-game losing run at Suncorp Stadium to keep their campaign alive. Neil Henry's side are tenacious and will compete to the end but are short on big game experience, while Wayne Bennett's men are accustomed to playing on the big stage. The Titans need to bounce back from consecutive defeats to the Panthers and Cowboys, while the hosts have won five-straight.
My Tip: Broncos by 12.

Raiders (2nd) v Sharks (3rd)

Qualifying Final, GIO Stadium, Saturday, 7.35pm
After looking unstoppable during a 15-game winning run, Cronulla stuttered at the back end of the regular season, losing four of their last five games and blowing their chance to claim the minor premiership with last week's 20-point loss to Melbourne. Canberra are growing in confidence and are looking for their 11th-straight win after leapfrogging the Sharks to claim a home match following last week's 52-10 thrashing of Wests Tigers. The Green Machine's huge forward pack is bolstered by the return from injury of prop Junior Paulo (back), and their right-edge pairing of centre Joey Leilua and Kiwis wing contender Jordan Rapana are in fine form. The Sharks are without forward Joseph Paulo but welcome back centre Ricky Leutele, with Gerard Beale shifting to the bench.
My Tip: Raiders by 10.

Storm (1st) v Cowboys (4th)

Qualifying Final, AAMI Park, Saturday, 9.55pm
As the best-performing team of the regular season, Melbourne host last year's premiership winners in a clash for a preliminary final berth, with the loser assured of a second life. The Storm have beaten the Cowboys twice already this year and are in ominous form after dispatching Cronulla last weekend. The Cowboys have had to contend with the laughable distraction of Kiwis lock Jason Taumalolo being charged by police for throwing eggs at cars, and struggle away, but have the line-up to test the Storm's highly structured game plan. The visitors welcome back Kangaroos test prop Matt Scott, while Kiwi-born giant Nelson Asofa-Solomona could be a late inclusion for the Storm after serving a suspension.
My Tip: Storm by six.

Panthers (6) v Bulldogs (7)

Elimination Final, Allianz Stadium, Sunday, 6.10pm
The in-form Panthers meet a Bulldogs side struggling for cohesion in recent weeks in a sudden-death Sydney derby. Penrith have all the momentum and possess a varied and creative style of play that's carried them to five-straight wins, while the Bulldogs attack has misfired throughout three consecutive defeats. The Bulldogs are weakened, with fullback Will Hopoate's religious beliefs preventing him from playing on Sundays and retiring wing Sam Perrett out with a neck injury. Coach Des Hasler has shifted Brett Morris to fullback and Tyrone Phillips will play on the flank, while big Kiwis front-rower Sam Kasiano will start off the bench after serving a two-week suspension. The Panthers are unchanged from the 17 that flogged Manly last week, with Moses Leota included on an extended bench.
My Tip: Panthers by six.

- NZ Herald

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