Can anything stop the two-horse race? Is the top eight already settled? Can eels upset prime ministers?

This time of year is arguably when the best level of play occurs.

Teams had a few months to get their suits right, injuries mostly didn’t do too much damage, and the towering specter that is Origin didn’t engulf all the mid-season attention and throw away kits. club irrelevant.

At this point in the year the teams are pretty much as they are, which is bad news for Canberra, Newcastle and the Gold Coast, who were supposed to be final contenders but are in contention for the wooden spoon.

This might be the most predictable rest of the season in many years. Penrith and Melbourne look on a collision course to meet in the Grand Final on October 2 and the other six teams in the top eight look like playoff material: Cowboys, Sharks, Eels, Rabbitohs, Roosters and Sea Eagles.

Not just because they played well or at least decent, but because the other eight teams don’t inspire much confidence that they can pull themselves together.

It’s not quite Wake Me up When September Ends, but the NRL needs some of the current wrestlers to find some form to take away the feeling of inevitability from the outcome of the season.

Here are the burning questions for each team ahead of Round 9.


Rabbitohs v Broncos at Accor Stadium, 7:50 p.m.

Is Keaon Koloamatangi ready for Origin? The Rabbitohs second rower was part of the extended NSW squad last year and with Angus Crichton struggling for form at the Roosters, he could be a bench option for the Blues. Oddly, Rabbitohs lock Cameron Murray will likely move to the second starting line for NSW, as he did in all three games last year, with Isaah Yeo getting the No.13 shirt while the second Bunnies rower Jai Arrow will likely be at the back. from the scrum for Queensland as the Maroons have decent upfront options even though Jaydn Su’A and David Fifita are missing Kurt Capewell, Jeremiah Nanai and Felise Kaufusi.

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Does anyone know if Brenko Lee can still play? He hasn’t played a full game in the NRL since making his debut for Melbourne centers in the 2020 Grand Final against Penrith. He missed all of last year with a serious calf problem and was only allowed 24 minutes off the bench in Brisbane’s Round 4 loss to the Warriors. He’s the 18th man for this game and won’t be replacing Kotoni Staggs or Herbie Farnworth anytime soon, but at 26 he should be far from an exhausted force.


Raiders vs. Bulldogs at GIO Stadium, 6 p.m.

If someone doesn’t cheer for Jarrod Croker, does he have a heart? Whenever an unofficial NRL XIII Best Guy has been compiled over the past decade, Croker has been one of the first names dropped in the bar where such banter tends to be a topic of conversation. He’s been hampered by knee, shoulder and back injuries of late and had to get back into shape via the NSW Cup, but the 291-man player is finally back in the Canberra centres. Under contract for two years after this one, hopefully he can get out on his own terms in first year rather than injury or stuck on reserve.

Can dogs bark in the red zone? Amid all the controversy and celebration that followed their win over the Roosters last week, the 16-12 victory was another example of Canterbury getting the ball on the pitch and then failing to capitalize. They should have put the Roosters away but their failure to put points on the board almost cost them when Joseph Suaalii dove into the corner at the end but was denied as his foot made contact. The Dogs, who haven’t won back-to-back games since a four-game dead cat rebound at the end of the 2019 season, are fourth in the NRL for games in the opposing 20-yard box but still dead last for points per game (10.8).

Panthers vs. Eels at BlueBet Stadium, 7:55 p.m.

Can Penrith’s back five be waived? One of the many reasons the Panthers are undefeated is that their outside backs are averaging a league-best 798 yards per game, which is significantly more than the Eels (585). If yard-eating NSW winger Brian To’o is allowed to return from injury, Parramatta’s task will be even more difficult.

Brian To'o of the Panthers is tackled

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

What happened to Parra’s defense? Most line breaks conceded per team at 6.3. Worse than the last Knights (5.4), Dragons (5.1) and Broncos (4.8). The Eels can at least do well after conceding a break as their 20.3 points allowed per game are in the middle of the table, but nonetheless, if they have any hope of challenging Penrith and Melbourne for the title, their defense has needs an overhaul.

Sea Eagles v Tigers at 4 Pines Park, 3 p.m.

What will be the loss of Brad Parker? He’s not the flashiest client, but he’s been an integral part of Manly’s backline for the past two years and such are Morgan Harper’s recent struggles, coach Des Hasler left with a pair of rookies to Ben Trbojevic and Tolu Koula as a center against the Tigers. .

Can Tigers prostitutes start somewhere next year? Api Koroisau is heading to the club next year, but Jacob Liddle and Jake Simpkin have shown enough to suggest they are at least valid replacement options either at the Tigers or at another club if they ask for a release. Liddle is under contract with the Tigers until the end of next year while Simpkin’s contract lasts for an additional season. The Tigers are only a few yards off the fictional half this season due to the combined efforts of these two, who each rank in the NRL top 10 for that category.

Roosters vs. Titans at BB Print Stadium, Mackay 5:30 p.m.

Can the Roosters maintain their dominance over the Titans? The Habs have risen in their last eight meetings, the two most recent clashes by just one point, but Gold Coast fans don’t like being reminded of last year’s playoffs. One more pass and they win. Agony.

Has Greg Marzhew finally found his feet in the NRL? He was at the Eels for a few years and was tipped every year as a player to watch, but never made the jump as injuries hampered him. He played eight games in and out of the Titans squad last year, but after being recalled late in the first round, he cemented his place on the wing and leads the NRL in tackle breaks at 54. ahead of Roosters opponent James Tedesco (51).

Cowboys v Knights at QCB Stadium, 7:35 p.m.

Where is The Hammer now? Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow looked hesitant as he returned from a knee injury in the second half of Darwin’s demolition of the Eels but was still able to play a part in the late avalanche of tries . He was again named on the bench and with Scott Drinkwater excelling at full-back, could Todd Payten place him in crosses ahead of veteran Peta Hiku.

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow gives it a try

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Can knights learn to catch? They have made 30 errors in their own half this season – it’s always bad to turn the ball around, but even more so when it gives opponents position on the pitch. With a patched squad, Newcastle will struggle to stay competitive against the scorching Cowboys if they continue this trend.


Storm v Dragons at AAMI Park, 2 p.m.

Why isn’t Melbourne good at absolutely everything? It’s taken a while, but there’s a stat that somehow shows the Storm isn’t elite in one aspect of the greatest game of them all. In fact, they are last in the league. Forced retirements – they rank 16th at just five for the season. Now this may be because when you’re averaging 6.5 tries per game you don’t need to get those comically misspoken sets of reeeeepeat but it still shows they’re not the perfect storm that lazy title writers like to describe them as.

Can anything stop the two-horse race? Is the top eight already settled? Can eels upset prime ministers?

(Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Are the Dragons about to face reality? They picked up three trotting wins by six or less against a clumsy Roosters side, the hapless Knights and a feisty but overmatched Wests Tigers side. After this game they have the Titans, Warriors and Dogs, so St George Illawarra can still hold down a place on the periphery of the top eight, but that seems to be their ceiling in 2022.

Sharks v Warriors at PointsBet Stadium, 4:05 p.m.

Doesn’t Nicho Hynes care about preserving his appearance? Sharks point guard and fellow point guard Matt Moylan are each in the top five for line commitments per game at 13 and 12 respectively. Their propensity for taking the ball deep into the defensive line was a big reason Cronulla (54) is second only to the rampant Storm (56) in line breaks in 2022.

How did the Warriors manage to win four of their eight games? They turned lousy winning into an art form with two of their wins coming on field goals and another after the Tigers were denied a fair try. They stayed on the mark at 4-4 to continue their ingrained inconsistency, but they should probably be lower on the ladder considering their defense (25.3 points conceded per game) is only better than the Knights. without legs (25.8). They also averaged 316 meters per game less than their opponents, the biggest negative difference of any team in the competition.

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