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NRL round 8 preview panel

Preview of League Round 8 matches (all times AEST):
NRL round 8 preview panel
by AAP

By Ian McCullough and James MacSmith

SYDNEY, April 24 AAP - Preview of League Round 8 matches (all times AEST):

FRIDAY, April 25

St George-Illawarra Dragons v Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium 4.00pm

Head to Head: Dragons 17 Roosters 12 Draw 1

Last clash: Round 17 2013 - Roosters 36 bt Dragons 0 at Oki Jubilee Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Dragons $3.00 Roosters $1.40 Draw $0.00

FootyTAB: Dragons +7.5

Both sides returned to winning ways last week after some indifferent performances but it was the Dragons who looked the more convincing against the Warriors while the Roosters laboured to a hard-fought victory over Cronulla. But there were some encouraging signs for Trent Robinson with under-pressure five-eighth James Maloney rediscovering some form and representative back-rower Boyd Cordner producing his best display of the year. Dragons coach Steve Price was delighted with his team after the 20-10 over the Warriors with hooker Mitch Rein and Josh Dugan coming in for special praise.

Key: The Dragons' 'spine' was excellent in their last game with fullback Dugan, hooker Rein, halfback Michael Witt and five-eighth Gareth Widdop all impressing. But it will be a much tougher test against the premiers in front of a sell-out crowd.

Tip: Roosters

Melbourne Storm v Warriors at AAMI Park 6.00pm

Head to Head: Storm 17 Warriors 14 Drawn 2

Last clash: Round 20 2013 - Warriors 30 bt Storm 22 at Mt Smart Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Storm $1.33 Warriors $3.40

FootyTAB: Warriors +9.5

Have Melbourne lost their invincibility? That was the question being asked after Canberra scored a last-minute win in round seven. It was the third defeat in four for the Storm but given the 'sirengate' drama, it should have been a fourth straight loss. The good news is they now face a Warriors side struggling with confidence. The bad news is that the men from across the Tasman love playing Melbourne and possess an outstanding record against Craig Bellamy's side. In the last four games played at AAMI Park the Warriors have won two of them.

Key: Sam Tomkins was comfortably the Warrriors' best player in the their defeat by St George Illawarra. If the mercurial Shaun Johnson is on his game this week then Warriors are a genuine chance of beating the Storm again.

Tip: Warriors

Brisbane Broncos v South Sydney Rabbitohs at Suncorp Stadium 8.00pm

Head to Head: Broncos 21 Souths 6 Drawn 1

Last clash: Round 8 2013 - Souths 26 bt Broncos 12 at Suncorp Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Broncos $2.10 Souths $1.75

FootyTAB: Broncos +2.5

Inconsistent Brisbane can really make a statement about their premiership intentions in this game against NRL heavyweights Souths. Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire dropped a selection bombshell in axing club favourite Nathan Merritt for Alex Johnson in a sign pasts effort mean nothing. Sam Thaiday (calf) remains sidelined for Brisbane, while the Rabbitohs welcome back George Burgess and Ben Te'o from suspension. There is sure to be a finals-type atmosphere at Suncorp Stadium for what could be a finals preview.

Key: Ben Barba. Which version of the enigmatic superstar will take the Suncorp Stadium turf?

Tip: Souths

SATURDAY, April 26

Cronulla Sharks v Penrith Panthers at Remondis Stadium 3.00pm

Head to Head: Sharks 42 Panthers 37 Drawn 3

Last clash: Round 20 2013 - Sharks 38 bt Panthers 10 at Remondis Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Sharks $1.85 Panthers $1.95

FootyTAB: Panthers +1.5

This is a game the Sharks really have to win if they are to keep their finals hopes alive.

They have been hit hard by injury but apart from Luke Lewis most of their players are now fit. Penrith have consistently struggled to score points this year and that is where Cronulla could have the edge, if Todd Carney fires. If Beau Ryan (neck) plays for the Sharks expect plenty of niggle between him and Panthers playmaker Jamie Soward.

Key: Paul Gallen was massive in his return from an ankle injury in their loss to the Sharks and will be much better for the run.

Tip: Sharks

North Queensland Cowboys v Parramatta Eels at 1300SMILES Stadium 5.30pm

Head to Head: Cowboys 12 Eels 16 Drawn 1

Last clash: Round 8 2013 - Cowboys 14 bt Eels 10 at Pirtek Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Cowboys $1.55 Eels $2.45

FootyTAB: Eels +4.5

The Cowboys will still be smarting from another refereeing controversy that went against them in their loss to Manly and need to get their season kick started, or another slow start to the year could cost them. Ray Thompson replaces Robert Lui at halfback as the coach Paul Green seeks some answers for their sluggish form. The Eels are on the way back, no doubt, but this is the sort of game they need to win if they are to make the finals. Jarryd Hayne is in sparkling form and could be the difference if Parramatta's forwards can match the daunting Cowboys pack.

Key: Cowboys superstar Johnathan Thurston is strangely lacking confidence. He has been good without being great so far this year. Granted he could use some help from teammates, but he needs to lift his game to its usual heights.

Tip: Cowboys

Canterbury v Newcastle Knights at ANZ Stadium 7.30pm

Head to Head: Bulldogs 19 Knights 20 Drawn 1

Last clash: Finals Week 1 2013 - Knights 22 bt Bulldogs 6 at ANZ Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Bulldogs $1.45 Knights $2.75

FootyTAB: Knights +5.5

Can the Bulldogs make it four one-point wins in a row? They have become the kings of the close finish in recent weeks but which Newcastle side will turn up to meet them? Coach Wayne Bennett said last year he didn't know and that has been magnified this season. After spanking the Sharks 30-0 in round four the Knights lost to the Cowboys 28-2 before beating the Raiders in Canberra 26-12 before being thumped by Brisbane 32-6 at home last week. They have had their troubles of course this year the Knights but they need to start getting some consistency. A stubborn Bulldogs outfit is unlikely to let them do that. Willie Mason (suspension) is a massive loss for the Knights, Kade Snowden comes in.

Key: Two weeks ago Bennett rated Beau Scott as the in-form forward of the NRL. He can prove that here against the NRL's in-form pack.

Tip: Bulldogs

SUNDAY, April 27

Manly Sea Eagles v Canberra at Brookvale Oval 2.00pm

Head to Head: Sea Eagles 28 Raiders 17 Drawn 1

Last clash: Round 24 2013 - Sea Eagles 36 bt Raiders 22 at GIO Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Sea Eagles $1.40 Raiders $3.00

FootyTAB: Raiders +7.5

Manly are again flying under the radar. They are equal top after seven rounds without much fuss and with a number of key players sidelined over that period. Glenn Stewart has finally decided his future and that should steel the tightly-knit Sea Eagles with Canberra in the cross-hairs. The Raiders had a morale-boosting win over the Storm last start and will want to grab some momentum. Good luck. Look for Manly to blow them off Brookie early then ease off the gas. Kieran Foran (knee) is out for Manly with Jamie Lyon stepping into five-eighth.

Key: Glenn and Brett Stewart. The brothers are heartbroken about Glenn's exit but still have this year to claim another NRL title. Glenn is likely to fill Foran's playmaking role, and will do it with aplomb.

Tip: Sea Eagles

Wests Tigers v Gold Coast Titans at Leichhardt Oval 3.00pm

Head to Head: Tigers 6 Titans 6

Last clash: Round 2 2014 - Tigers 42 bt Titans 12 at Cbus Super Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Tigers $1.90 Titans $1.90 Draw $0.00

FootyTAB: Tigers +1.5

A round eight top-of-the-table clash that no one would have expected pre-season. But both these sides have been early season standouts. The Tigers with plenty of flair, the Titans with plenty of grit and grind. The Tigers smashed the Titans 42-12 in round two but a repeat is unlikely. The Titans have won four from five since then and were in it right to the death again against Penrith last week. This is sure to be another close one. Liam Fulton returns for James Gavet (shoulder) for the Tigers.

Key: Leichhardt Oval. The Tigers are rarely beaten at their spiritual home.

Tip: Tigers

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