Belinda Sharpe will be the first female to referee an NRL match when the Broncos play the Bulldogs on Thursday.
Belinda Sharpe will be the first female to referee an NRL match when the Broncos play the Bulldogs on Thursday. Mark Evans

Durko's Dissections: NRL previews for round 18

Some more big clashes, Tony Durkin dissects the latest round of rugby league action.

 

Broncos V Bulldogs

Suncorp Stadium, tonight 7.50pm

History: Played 54, Broncos 30, Bulldogs 23, drawn 1

Last met: Bulldogs 36-22, round 21, 2018

Ladbrokes odds: Broncos $1.38 Bulldogs $3

Most interest in this clash will centre on the historic debut of Belinda Sharpe, the first NRL female referee, but the result is much more important to the combatants. The Broncos need to win to keep their slim finals hopes alive and the two points will swing the Bulldogs further away from the wooden spoon. Although the Dogs have eight wins from their 16 appearances at Suncorp, their line-up is well below strength and the Broncos should be too strong.

TIP - Broncos

 

Paul Gallen will return for the Sharks this week.
Paul Gallen will return for the Sharks this week. CRAIG GOLDING

Warriors V Sharks

Westpac Stadium, Wellington,

tomorrow 6pm (AEST)

History: Played 38, Sharks 22, Warriors 16

Last met: Sharks 18-15, round 16, 2018

Ladbrokes odds: Warriors $1.97 Sharks $1.83

Having lost four in a row and struggling, the Sharks will be desperate for a win in Wellington and have been boosted by the return of some big guns, including skipper Paul Gallen. But the Warriors have shown recent superb attack and will test the - of late - tackle-shy visitors. In their favour is the fact the Sharks have won six of their past eight against the Kiwis, and the Warriors have won just twice in nine hostings in the NZ capital.

TIP - Warriors

 

 

Penrith's Nathan Cleary will be a big inclusion.
Penrith's Nathan Cleary will be a big inclusion. Brett Costello

Panthers V Dragons

Panthers Stadium, tomorrow 7.55pm

History: Played 33, Dragons 20, Panthers 13

Last met: Panthers 28-2, round 12, 2018

Ladbrokes odds: Panthers $1.62 Dragons $2.28

After they were beaten by the Warriors in round 10 and were sitting bottom of the ladder, Panthers coach Ivan Cleary had no explanation for why his side was playing so poorly. Six successive wins later, and with his Origin-halfback son Nathan returning, the Panthers are red-hot favourites to beat the rollercoaster Dragons who have lost three from their past four and appear shot premiership ducks. The only positive for the Dragons is that their heart and soul, James Graham, is back, although Ben Hunt is a huge loss.

TIP - Panthers

 

James Tedesco will play his first game since the Blues' Origin success.
James Tedesco will play his first game since the Blues' Origin success. Brett Costello

Roosters V Knights

SCG, Saturday 3pm

History: Played 53, Roosters 31, Knights 20, drawn 2

Last met: Knights 38-12, round 11, 2019

Ladbrokes odds: Roosters $1.33 Knights $3.25

Touted as the best chance since 92-93 to win back-to-back NRL premierships, the mighty Roosters have stunningly lost five of their past seven, yet there is no panic. And with powerhouse Jared Waerea-Hargreaves cleared by the judiciary and James Tedesco and Boyd Cordner returning, the premiers are back to near full strength and, for the other 15 clubs, the alarm bells are ringing. The Knights, with the imperious Kalyn Ponga on deck, need to stem a mini slump after losing three of their past four, but could well be on the end of a big score.

TIP - Roosters

 

 

Raiders V Tigers

GIO Stadium, Saturday 5.30pm

History: Played 35, Tigers 19, Raiders 16

Last met: Raiders 28-nil, round 13, 2019

Ladbrokes odds: Raiders $1.47 Tigers $2.65

Like a thief in the night the Raiders have snuck into third spot on the table and in doing so - apart from a characteristic outburst last weekend from coach Ricky Stuart - have hardly raised an eyebrow. When at full strength - which they aren't again this weekend - the Green Machine looks the real deal and should be too strong for the Tigers at home, where the temperature will be near zero at kick-off.

TIP - Raiders

 

 

Cowboys V Rabbitohs

1300Smiles Stadium, Saturday 7.35pm

History: Played 35, Cowboys 17, Rabbitohs 17, drawn 1

Last met: Rabbitohs 32-16, round 9, 2019

Ladbrokes odds: Cowboys $2.24 Rabbitohs $1.65

While the Rabbitohs scraped in with a field goal last weekend to maintain their tenuous hold on second spot, the Cowboys showed some long-lost resolve to beat the premiers in one of their most impressive wins of the season. And with all three Burgess boys still missing, the Cowboys - again likely to be without concussed skipper Michael Morgan - have a golden chance to sneak closer to the top eight with another spirited effort, this time at home. The clash of the halves will be pivotal.

TIP - Cowboys

 

Titans V Storm

Cbus Super Stadium, Sunday 2pm

History: Played 19, Storm 13, Titans 6

Last met: Storm 10-8, round 24, 2018

Ladbrokes odds: Titans $2.9 Storm $1.42

Often, when a coach is sacked, the team turns around its form. But that won't happen on the Gold Coast on Sunday. Sitting last on the table, without nine of their NRL squad and reeling from the sacking of Garth Brennan, the Titans will do well to keep this respectable. The decision by Craig Bellamy to rest his Origin players could be interpreted as arrogance, but with the rampaging Storm leading by six points his call is not surprising.

TIP - Storm

 

Tom Trbojevic will make a welcome return for the Sea Eagles.
Tom Trbojevic will make a welcome return for the Sea Eagles. DAVE HUNT

Sea Eagles V Eels

Lottoland, Sunday 4.05pm

History: Played 139, Sea Eagles 83, Eels 52, drawn 4

Last met: Eels 44-10, round 7, 2018

Ladbrokes odds: Sea Eagles $1.48 Eels $2.6

Having won seven of their past eight against their old rivals and sitting equal fifth with them on the ladder - sixth on percentages - the Eels will fancy their chances at Brookvale where they been victorious just 20 times in 64 visits. But with Tom Trbojevic back and a big, mobile pack performing stronger each week, the Sea Eagles look the goods in this.

TIP - Sea Eagles

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