NRL Round 26 Preview

There is so much resting on the Friday night game at Suncorp Stadium between Brisbane  and Penrith that it is the crucial match of the final round. If the Broncos win they claim eighth spot while a loss brings the Wests Tigers back in with some hope. The Broncos are in one almighty slump and the first half showing against Manly was very poor with the second half just marginally better. The Panthers put the Gold Coast out of contention last week and would love to finish a disappointing year by doing the same to the Broncos. Brisbane is lucky that results in round 25 mean their destiny is still in their own hands, but unless there is a major turnaround they will only be taking up space in the finals. Brisbane Broncos 1-12  

Newcastle and South Sydney  meet at Hunter Stadium on Friday night with the Knights getting ready for Mad Monday and the Rabbitohs with the great incentive of securing a vital place in the top four. The Bunnies returned to their best form on the back of an outstanding match from Greg Inglis against Parramatta and while one man doesn’t make a team, Inglis at his peak is an awesome opponent and can so easily make the difference in any match. Newcastle will want to show coach Wayne Bennett they can improve to make next year’s finals, but South Sydney should be far too good. South Sydney Rabbitohs 13+

The early Saturday game at Skilled Park should be an easy victory for Manly  against a Gold Coast side that now has nothing to play for after being outpointed by Penrith last weekend. The Titans will be disappointed with a season that showed plenty of promise, but in the end came to nothing.  The Sea Eagles, though, are a real chance of making it back-to-back premierships. Manly was thoroughly professional in the demolition of Brisbane and while the game was as good as won with a 16-0 halftime lead, keeping the Broncos scoreless until the last minute is the type of defence on which titles are won. Manly Sea Eagles 13+

It could be a do or die match for the Wests Tigers  against Melbourne  at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday evening. If Brisbane is beaten by Penrith on the previous night, then the Tigers can scrape into the final eight and their chances have improved with Benji Marshall taking an early guilty plea following his dangerous contact charge. The Storm still doesn’t know how it managed to score a last-minute win over Cronulla on Monday night, but even having taken the two points from the match, there is no denying that Melbourne is not going as well as early to mid-season. The Tigers were very poor last weekend but if they are still in with a chance when the match starts then expect a much better showing. Wests Tigers 1-12

The Bulldogs  came crashing back down to earth last Friday night against the Raiders in a chilly Canberra. The home side was good and if the Raiders had produced that form on a consistent basis during the season they would now be near the top of the table. However, Canterbury weren’t right on their game and in this competition that can not only mean defeat but by a big margin. If anything, the loss could be a blessing for Des Hasler who now has the ammunition he needs to rev his side up coming into the finals. The Doggies will be much better than they showed against the Raiders when the finals begin and will be improved greatly for this last round game against the Roosters at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night. The Chooks  should be competitive but the Dogs will win. Canterbury Bulldogs 1-12

It would not surprise if the Warriors'  last game of the season against Canberra  at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday draws one of the poorest crowds of the year. Who could blame Aucklanders for not showing up given the disgraceful way the Warriors have played over recent weeks? The side has given in without any semblance of a fight and are without doubt the year’s biggest flop. Canberra has been terribly inconsistent through the year but has left its best football until the business end.  The Raiders are now inside the eight and don’t want to give that position up. If Brisbane and the Wests Tigers win their games, then the Raiders will know the for and against differential, but can put that out of the equation by getting two points for a win. Canberra has it all to play for. Canberra Raiders 13+

How Cronulla  copes with the disappointment of its last-minute loss to Melbourne on Monday night could be the key to the Sharks' home clash with North Queensland . The Cowboys approach will also be dictated by previous results in the final round because if South Sydney and Manly have won then the Northerners cannot make the top four. If they are still in with a chance then the odds swing in their favour.  Cronulla knows that it will be playing in the finals but in the bottom half of the eight. The last round hasn’t been good to Cronulla recently with the Sharks losing the corresponding game in the past three years. North Queensland Cowboys 1-12

The Sunday evening game at ANZ Stadium has no bearing on the finals with Parramatta  and St George-Illawarra  both out of contention after very disappointing seasons. The once mighty Eels have to accept the wooden spoon but Dragons supporters shouldn’t be too quick to remind the Blue and Gold Army of that stat. Given the way their side has played this year, they could be in the same position next season. It is the chance for the Eels to farewell Nathan Hindmarsh and Luke Burt and for the Dragons to thank Ben Hornby and Dean Young. Parramatta has lost its past nine matches at the Olympic Stadium so the Dragons have to be favoured. St George-Illawarra 1-12