NRL Round 26 - Parramatta vs. Souths (Friday 7:50pm AEST)
If there were any doubters about Parramatta's premiership credentials, they were seemingly dispelled during last week's 52-34 victory over Brisbane.
The doubts disappeared after just 40 minutes with the Eels leading 30-10 at half-time thanks to Kirisome Auva'a capitalising on an Adam Blair error to cross after just 12 seconds and Semi Radradra powering through the Broncos' defence for the next three tries.
After such an enormous high, Parramatta must be wary of a letdown, but they are $1.20 favourites to avoid a fall and secure a top four berth when they face Souths ($4.50) at ANZ Stadium.
After a six-match winning streak, the Eels appeared to take Newcastle lightly in Round 23, which resulted in a 29-10 defeat. It's their only blemish in nine matches, with their dual victories against the Broncos in the past five weeks easily their best performances. Another Knights-like slump against the Rabbitohs and their top four hopes could be in jeopardy.
Visiting AAMI Park is a daunting task at the best of times, but Souths virtually had no chance against Melbourne last week with Alex Johnston ruled out due to a hamstring injury and Adam Reynolds suffering concussion early in the game. The rest of the team will be figuratively battered and bruised after the Storm's 64-6 annihilation.
Despite both teams calling ANZ Stadium home this season, Parramatta have performed far better at the venue (10-3) compared to Souths (5-6). With a top four spot on the line, and the Rabbitohs missing their best attacking threat in Alex Johnston, the Eels cannot let this opportunity slip.
Best of the rest
NRL Round 26 - Melbourne vs Canberra (Saturday 7:30pm AEST)
In last week's preview, I pondered if any team could stop Melbourne Storm. After watching them thrash Souths 64-6 at AAMI Park last Saturday night, I'm wondering if an 'off day' is the only way the Storm won't avenge last year's Grand Final loss to Cronulla.
Melbourne's dominance of the home-and-away season, evident by their early collection of the minor premiership, is a strong indicator of why the Storm are $2 to win the premiership and they are $1.25 favourites to stretch their winning streak to seven matches against Canberra ($4) at AAMI Park.
The Storm have been almost unbeatable at AAMI Park this season with eight wins from 10 matches, and one of the defeats occurred against Parramatta when stars Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater were absent due to Origin. It will be a tough assignment for Canberra, but they can take heart that they're 3-3 all-time at AAMI Park.
It will be interesting to see how the Raiders attack this game. Premiership ambitions at the start of the season have already been dashed with one round remaining despite last week's 46-28 victory over Newcastle. With finals out of the equation, the first 10-15 minutes could indicate if Canberra are ready to spoil Cronk's last home-and-away game in purple at AAMI Park, or whether they've spent this week concentrating on their 'Mad Monday' plans.
Melbourne have a strong recent record against most sides, and that's the case against Canberra, winning four of their last five encounters including last season's 14-12 preliminary final triumph at AAMI Park. The Storm will be desperate to continue their impressive form as the finals approach, along with celebrating Cooper Cronk's career in front of an adoring home crowd.
NRL Round 26 - Wests Tigers v Warriors (Sunday 6:30pm AEST)
In a quirk of the schedule, the final game of the 2017 NRL home-and-away season has no bearing on the make-up of the top eight. Instead of securing a finals berth, pride will be the motivating factor when Wests Tigers ($1.53 favourites) and the Warriors clash ($2.50) clash at Leichhardt Oval.
The end of this season cannot come quickly enough for both of these teams. The Tigers changed coaches after three rounds when Jason Taylor was dramatically sacked and eventually replaced by Ivan Cleary, while the Warriors' early season promise again fizzled in the second half of the year, with their losing streak currently at eight.
Even though the finals hopes for the Tigers evaporated early in the season, they have been resilient in the past three weeks. A stirring 30-26 comeback win over Manly at Leichhardt Oval in Round 23 has been followed by close losses against the Sydney Roosters (22-18) and North Queensland (22-14).
Unlike the Tigers, finals football was still on the horizon for the Warriors with 10 rounds remaining in the season. However, a 26-22 defeat to Manly at nib Stadium in Perth was the first of eight straight losses, resulting in question marks over the coaching tenure of Stephen Kearney.
A significant knee injury to Shaun Johnson in the second half of 2017 did them no favours, but their damning away form is another reason why they will miss the finals for the sixth consecutive season. The Warriors have only recorded one victory from 10 attempts outside of New Zealand in 2017, and the fact it was against Gold Coast isn't really that impressive.
The Tigers have not been the most reliable conveyance this year, but they have won their last three contests against the Warriors (two of those at Campbelltown Stadium), and despite being 1-2 at Leichhardt Oval this season, the losses were against Melbourne (22-14) and Cronulla (22-16); far superior class-wise to the side from across the Tasman. The Tigers will be determined to farewell James Tedesco and, unless the deal to Canterbury falls through, Aaron Woods in style before they move on.