Gold Coast Titans vs. Wests Tigers (TV style) – My call (Round 21, 2017)

Yesterday, I called the Round 21 match in the National Rugby League (NRL) between the Gold Coast Titans and the Wests Tigers.

The Titans came into this critical having won their last four matches against the Tigers, and 11 of their 18 matches against the Tigers overall.

The Titans were looking to keep their finals hopes alive, while the Tigers were looking to keep out of wooden spoon contention.

Find out what happened right here, and enjoy my sports commentary!

 

Sydney Roosters vs. North Queensland Cowboys (TV style) – My call (Round 21, 2017)

Last night, I called the Round 21 match in the 2017 National Rugby League (NRL) season between the Sydney Roosters and the North Queensland Cowboys, which was held at Allianz Stadium in Sydney.

The Roosters came into this match having won four of their last six matches against the Cowboys, including three of their last four. They also had a great record against the Cowboys at Allianz Stadium, winning 10 of their 13 matches at the venue.

Overall, the Roosters had won 24 out of their 34 matches against the Cowboys coming into a match that both teams needed to win to realistically stay in the race for the minor premiership.

So, who would grab a crucial victory in the race towards September?

Find out right here, and enjoy my sports commentary!

Parramatta Eels vs. Brisbane Broncos (TV style) – My call (Round 21, 2017)

Last night, I called the Round 21 match of the 2017 National Rugby League season between the Parramatta Eels and the Brisbane Broncos, which was held at ANZ Stadium in Sydney.

It was their first meeting at the venue since 2001, and the Eels were looking to extend their winning streak out to five matches.

The Broncos, however, were looking to extend their winning streak out to three, and had won four of their last five matches against the Eels, including their last three.

In terms of recent historical records at ANZ Stadium, the Broncos have a poor record, winning only four of its last 11 matches at the venue.

Who would grab a crucial win, in terms of their premiership aspirations?

Find out right here, and enjoy my sports commentary!

2017 Hungarian Grand Prix Preview

The 11th round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place this weekend at the Hungaroring in the village of Mogyoród, just outside of Budapest in Hungary.

Sebastian Vettel comes into the Hungarian Grand Prix with a one point lead over his nearest championship rival Lewis Hamilton. Vettel leads on 177 points after a late tyre puncture cost him vital championship points at the British Grand Prix, finishing in seventh, and last on the lead lap at Silverstone.

Meanwhile, Hamilton (176 points) cruised to a fifth British Grand Prix victory, which equalled the records of Jim Clark and Alain Prost, which was his fourth victory of the season, and his third grand slam (pole position, race win, fastest lap, and leading every lap of the race) of 2017.

Challenging those two in the world championship battle is Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, who is just 23 points behind Vettel in the Drivers’ World Championship on 154 points, after helping Mercedes grab an unexpected one-two at Silverstone, capitalising on the tyre issues suffered by both Ferrari’s after starting ninth on the grid due to an unscheduled gearbox change.

Daniel Ricciardo is fourth in the world championship for Red Bull on 117 points, 60 points behind Vettel after finishing fifth at the British Grand Prix after starting 19th due to mechanical problems with his car in qualifying (although he had a five-place grid penalty for a unscheduled gearbox change), and an early run off the circuit during the opening laps of the race.

Kimi Räikkönen is fifth in the drivers’ world championship on 98 points after a brilliant drive at Silverstone, running in second for the vast majority of the race, and was faster than his teammate Vettel, before he had to pit because of a slow puncture. However, Räikkönen did recover to salvage third for Ferrari, and proved to all of the doubters, including his own team, that he is far from done in his Formula One career.

Talking about being far from done, Max Verstappen’s 2017 season hasn’t really gotten started, but at the British Grand Prix, his Red Bull managed to hold up and be reliable enough to claim fourth in the race to return to sixth in the world championship on 57 points, sneaking ahead of Force India driver Sergio Pérez (52 points), who finished ninth at Silverstone.

Esteban Ocon is eighth in the world championship on 43 points after finishing a position ahead of his teammate Pérez at the British Grand Prix, with Toro Rosso driver Carlos Sainz Jr. (29 points) ninth in the championship standings, ahead of Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg (26 points), who produced arguably his best performance of the season to date, qualifying sixth, starting fifth, and finishing in sixth position in a car that is no where near the standard of the front-runners.

Taking a look at the Constructors’ World Championship, Mercedes (330 points) have extended their lead to 55 points over Ferrari (275 points), with Red Bull comfortably in third position on 174 points, ahead of Force India (95 points), who are comfortably ahead of a great scrap for fifth place, with Williams (41 points), Toro Rosso (33 points), Haas (29 points) and Renault (26 points) all within 15 points of each other.

Ninth in the Constructors’ World Championship is Sauber on five points, with the struggling McLaren on just two points.

Looking at who will be strong at the Hungaroring, the top three teams in Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull have cars that should suit this circuit quite well, with some longer, faster corners that should suit Mercedes, point and squirt sections which will suit Ferrari, and a lack of long straights that will give Red Bull a podium sniff.

However, looking at the drivers who have been successful at the Hungarian Grand Prix, only one driver stands out.

That is Lewis Hamilton, who has won at the Hungaroring on five occasions, and while his main objective will be to claim his sixth Hungarian Grand Prix victory on Sunday, Hamilton, on Saturday, will be looking to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 68 career pole positions in Formula One, and similar to when he equalled Ayrton Senna’s pole position record in Canada, this would be the perfect place to equal this record, given the success he has had here, a place where Schumacher won at on four occasions.

Hamilton is my tip for the Hungarian Grand Prix, and if he does win, he will take the lead in the world championship.

As for the other podium positions, I am tipping Kimi Räikkönen to continue the form he showed at Silverstone to finish in second, ahead of a tight battle between (in no particular order) Sebastian Vettel, Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.

 

The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on Friday at 10am and 2pm local time (6pm and 10pm AEST).

The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 11am and 2pm local time (7pm and 10pm AEST).

The 70 lap race is on Sunday from 2pm local time (10pm AEST).

 

My thoughts on officiating in the NRL

Over recent days, recent weeks, and many, many years, referees and officials in the National Rugby League (NRL) have been criticised from pillar to post from supporters, journalists, commentators, former players, and even from their own employers, the NRL.

They have been criticised for not policing the ruck and play-the-ball correctly.

They have been criticised for not ruling on the obstruction rule correctly, likewise on the laws surrounding the professional foul, with the referees (although giving penalties to the non-offending team) missing many infractions of professional fouls, and not punishing the offending player(s) with 10 minutes in the sin bin.

They have been criticised for not ruling on the offside rule correctly, whether that is a defensive team being within the 10 metres, jumping off their imaginary line too early, or their markers not being square, to whether the attacking team is offside from a kick, to whether an offside player is within in 10 metres of the ball, regardless of whether they were involved in the play or not.

They have also been criticised for not protecting the playmakers, the stars of rugby league, and when incidents like the high tackle/dangerous contact to the head/neck by Canberra Raiders forward Sia Soliola on Melbourne Storm fullback Billy Slater, the referees, including the bunker, don’t feel they have the ability to send-off a player for any incidence of serious foul play because of the way they are coached.

Did I say coached?

Yes, coached. The referees in the NRL are coached, and train together every single week, and are assessed every single week, both individually and as a group.

They also have a mandate, as delivered by their coaching staff to promote a certain style of play, a free-flowing game of rugby league, keeping within some set guidelines, and are only allowed a small margin of error to move within achieving their key performance indicators (KPIs).

However, is it the best thing in the world for officials in any sport to be constantly and consistently coached in what they are doing?

My answer to this question is an emphatic NO!

The referees in the NRL, as well as in other sports cannot be coached.

Officiating is an instinctive activity requiring interpretation of the laws in which the sport in question is played under.

Everyone has a different interpretation of different laws of the game in any sport, and it is up to that official, and that official alone to officiate the game in question in the best way that he or she best sees fit.

You cannot tell someone how they should referee a game of rugby league, or a match of any other sport because the laws of any sport requires self interpretation.

Any organisation in any field that thinks they can tell someone, or teach someone how they should do something, and say this is the way they must do it will always fail in the end.

You can’t teach someone how they should commentate, you can’t teach someone how to write an article, you can’t teach someone how they should play a particular sport, or coach a particular sport, and you certainly can’t teach an official in how they should referee a game.

You can teach someone the rules of their job, or the laws of the game that they are playing or officiating, but you cannot tell them how they should operate within these guidelines. This is always up for interpretation, and it is up to the individual themselves to decide how they should operate within this space.

However, in the case of Sia Soliola, the damage has already been done!

There is no chance in the world that Soliola is going to receive a fair and just hearing at the NRL Judiciary because of all the public slander the incident has received from nearly all parties, which has bordered on defamation of Soliola, his club, and most importantly his family.

I hope my article gives you an insight as to how officiating in sport, among other things, should always be approached and conducted in.

Wests Tigers vs. Parramatta Eels (TV style) – My call (Round 20, 2017)

Yesterday, I called from the home the Round 20 match in the 2017 National Rugby League (NRL) season between the Wests Tigers and the Parramatta Eels, which was held at ANZ Stadium in Sydney.

Both teams were playing for the Stay Kind Cup, an initiative between the NRL, the two clubs, the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation, and the Kelly family in honour of Stuart Kelly, the brother of one-punch victim Thomas Kelly, who sadly took his own life after being constantly bullied while campaigning hard against alcohol-fuelled violence, as well as campaigning for better laws around this societal issue.

The Eels had won three of their last four matches against the Tigers, although the Tigers had won seven of their last 11 matches against the Eels.

Both teams were fired up for a big performance, with the Tigers desperately needing the win to keep away from wooden spoon contention, the Eels wanting to get closer to a finals birth, and possibly push for a top four finish.

So, who would get the vital two competition points?

Find out right here, and enjoy my sports commentary!

Penrith Panthers vs. Gold Coast Titans (TV style) – My call (Round 20, 2017)

Earlier today, I called the critical Round 20 match in the National Rugby League (NRL), in terms of their finals aspirations, between the Penrith Panthers and the Gold Coast Titans, which was held at Pepper Stadium in Penrith.

Coming into this match, the Panthers had won five of their last seven matches against the Titans, although the Titans had won two of their last three matches against the Panthers.

Overall, the Panthers have won nine of their 15 matches against the Titans, although at Pepper Stadium, the head-to-head record was all level at three matches a piece.

So, who would take the vital victory to keep within striking distance of the finals?

Find out right here, and enjoy my sports commentary!

2017 FINA World Swimming Championships – Preview

The world’s best swimmers descend into Budapest for the 2017 FINA World Swimming Championships, which starts on Sunday from the Danube Arena in the Hungarian capital.

For many of the world’ elite, it will be opportunity to either back up, or bounce back from their performances at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro almost a year ago.

For others, like the Australian swimming team, it will be seen as an opportunity to build up their performances in preparation for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, which will be held up on the Gold Coast.

Schedule (All dates and times are Central European Summer Time, which is the local time for Budapest)

23rd July

09:30 – 13:15 

MEN’S 400M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 400M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

MEN’S 100M BREASTSTROKE (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

MEN’S 50M BUTTERFLY (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 100M BUTTERFLY (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 200M INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

MEN’S 4X100M FREESTYLE RELAY (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 4X100M FREESTYLE RELAY (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

17:30 – 19:45 

MEN’S 400M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 400M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (FINAL) 

MEN’S 100M BREASTSTROKE (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

MEN’S 50M BUTTERFLY (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 100M BUTTERFLY (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 200M INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

MEN’S 4X100M FREESTYLE RELAY (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 4X100M FREESTYLE RELAY (FINAL) 

24th July

09:30 – 13:15 

MEN’S 200M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 1500M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

MEN’S 100M BACKSTROKE (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 100M BACKSTROKE (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 100M BREASTSTROKE (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

17:30 – 19:30 

MEN’S 200M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

MEN’S 100M BACKSTROKE (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 100M BACKSTROKE (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

MEN’S 100M BREASTSTROKE (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 100M BREASTSTROKE (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

MEN’S 50M BUTTERFLY (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 100M BUTTERFLY (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 200M INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY (FINAL) 

25th July

09:30 – 13:15 

MEN’S 800M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 200M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

MEN’S 50M BREASTSTROKE (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

MEN’S 200M BUTTERFLY (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

17:30 – 19:50 

MEN’S 200M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 200M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 1500M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (FINAL) 

MEN’S 100M BACKSTROKE (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 100M BACKSTROKE (FINAL) 

MEN’S 50M BREASTSTROKE (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 100M BREASTSTROKE (FINAL) 

MEN’S 200M BUTTERFLY (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

26th July

09:30 – 13:15 

MEN’S 100M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 50M BACKSTROKE (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 200M BUTTERFLY (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

MEN’S 200M INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

MIXED 4X100M MEDLEY RELAY (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

17:30 – 20:10 

MEN’S 100M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

MEN’S 800M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 200M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 50M BACKSTROKE (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

MEN’S 50M BREASTSTROKE (FINAL) 

MEN’S 200M BUTTERFLY (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 200M BUTTERFLY (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

MEN’S 200M INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

MIXED 4X100M MEDLEY RELAY (FINAL)

27th July

09:30 – 13:15 

WOMEN’S 100M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

MEN’S 200M BACKSTROKE (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

MEN’S 200M BREASTSTROKE (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 200M BREASTSTROKE (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 4X200M FREESTYLE RELAY (PRELIMINARY ROUND)

17:30 – 20:00 

MEN’S 100M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 100M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

MEN’S 200M BACKSTROKE (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 50M BACKSTROKE (FINAL) 

MEN’S 200M BREASTSTROKE (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 200M BREASTSTROKE (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 200M BUTTERFLY (FINAL) 

MEN’S 200M INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 4X200M FREESTYLE RELAY (FINAL) 

28th July

09:30 – 13:15 

MEN’S 50M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 800M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 200M BACKSTROKE (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

MEN’S 100M BUTTERFLY (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 50M BUTTERFLY (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

MEN’S 4X200M FREESTYLE RELAY (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

17:30 – 19:50 

MEN’S 50M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 100M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (FINAL) 

MEN’S 200M BACKSTROKE (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 200M BACKSTROKE (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

MEN’S 200M BREASTSTROKE (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 200M BREASTSTROKE (FINAL) 

MEN’S 100M BUTTERFLY (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 50M BUTTERFLY (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

MEN’S 4X200M FREESTYLE RELAY (FINAL) 

29th July

09:30 – 13:15 

MEN’S 1500M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 50M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

MEN’S 50M BACKSTROKE (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 50M BREASTSTROKE (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

MIXED 4X100M FREESTYLE RELAY (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

17:30 – 20:10 

MEN’S 50M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (FINAL)

WOMEN’S 50M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 800M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (FINAL) 

MEN’S 50M BACKSTROKE (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 200M BACKSTROKE (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 50M BREASTSTROKE (SEMI-FINAL ROUND) 

MEN’S 100M BUTTERFLY (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 50M BUTTERFLY (FINAL) 

MIXED 4X100M FREESTYLE RELAY (FINAL) 

30th July

09:30 – 13:15 

MEN’S 400M INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 400M INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

MEN’S 4X100M MEDLEY RELAY (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

WOMEN’S 4X100M MEDLEY RELAY (PRELIMINARY ROUND) 

17:30 – 20:10 

MEN’S 1500M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 50M FREESTYLE SWIMMING (FINAL) 

MEN’S 50M BACKSTROKE (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 50M BREASTSTROKE (FINAL) 

MEN’S 400M INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 400M INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY (FINAL) 

MEN’S 4X100M MEDLEY RELAY (FINAL) 

WOMEN’S 4X100M MEDLEY RELAY (FINAL) 

 

One of the storylines I am looking forward to seeing is whether Mack Horton can back up the performances he produced in Rio de Janeiro last year.

The 21 year old won gold in the Men’s 400m Freestyle at the Olympic Games last year, which was one of only three gold medals for the Australian swimming team in Rio de Janeiro, and won a bronze medal in the Men’s 800m Freestyle at the 2015 FINA World Swimming Championships in Kazan two years ago.

However, Horton has had to deal with some outside controversy (from some circles) over his stance on the issue of doping, as well as dealing with a health scare, which forced him to have a mole removed from his chest that could have turned cancerous.

Horton will compete individually in the Men’s 200m Freestyle, Men’s 400m Freestyle, Men’s 800m Freestyle, and in the Men’s 1500m Freestyle, events in which he should be a strong medal threat.

Another storyline I am looking forward to follow is whether Cameron McEvoy can bounce back from a disappointing performance in Rio de Janeiro after finishing seventh in the Men’s 100m Freestyle, and missing the final in the Men’s 50m Freestyle, but helping Australia to bronze medals in the Men’s 4x100m Freestyle relay, and the Men’s 4x100m Medley relay.

Out of the times in 2017 to qualify for the world championships, McEvoy is second fastest in the Men’s 100m Freestyle, and fourth fastest in the Men’s 50m Freestyle.

McEvoy will be carrying Australian hopes in the sprint events after the withdrawal of Kyle Chalmers, the gold medalist in the Men’s 100m Freestyle in Rio de Janeiro, after he underwent heart surgery to fix a condition known as supraventricular tachycardia, also known as an abnormally fast heart rhythm.

McEvoy will face fierce competition from British swimmer Duncan Scott, as well as American swimmers Nathan Adrian and Caeleb Dressel as he looks to go one better than the silver medal he achieved in the Men’s 100m Freestyle in Kazan two years ago.

A third storyline to follow is how Bronte Campbell bounces back after a disappointing performance in Rio de Janeiro last year.

Much was expected of her and sister Cate, who will not be competing at the world championships, at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, and despite helping Australia to a gold medal in the Women’s 4x100m Freestyle relay, Bronte Campbell could only finish fourth and seventh in the Women’s 100m Freestyle and the Women’s 50m Freestyle respectively in Rio de Janeiro.

So far in 2017, out of the times to qualify for the world championships, Campbell is top five in the world for both events, and should be a strong medal threat in Budapest.

And the final major storyline that I am going to be following over the course of the world championships in Budapest is whether Katie Ledecky can continue her dominance over world swimming.

The American won four gold medals in Rio de Janeiro, winning the Women’s 200m Freestyle, Women’s 400m Freestyle, Women’s 800m Freestyle, and a part of the United States of America (USA) team that won the Women’s 4x200m Freestyle relay, and won a silver medal in the Women’s 4x100m Freestyle relay for the USA.

She has won more gold medals at Olympic Games and World Championships combined, and holds the world record in the Women’s 400m Freestyle, Women’s 800m Freestyle, and the Women’s 1500m Freestyle.

In my opinion, Ledecky is the best swimmer in the world, male or female, and I am expecting her to produce some sparkling performances in Budapest.

I cannot wait for the 2017 FINA World Swimming Championships, and it would be good to see Australia put in better performances in Budapest, compared to what they produced in the highly-pressurised environment, in so many ways, in Rio de Janeiro.

 

2017 NRL season – The run home

We are heading into the business rounds of the 2017 National Rugby League (NRL) season, and there are a number of teams who are queuing up for a shot at premiership glory.

After making my predictions before the season, and at the halfway mark of the season (Part One, Part Two), it is time to make some more predictions as we head ever closer to the finals as to where your team will finish in 2017.

 

Melbourne Storm (currently first on 30 points, +120 differential)

(My predicted regular season finish: First on 42 points, +164 differential)

(My predicted finals finish: Third)

Remaining matches

Round 20: Canberra Raiders Loss by 6

Round 21: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles Win by 6

Round 22: North Queensland Cowboys Win by 6

Round 23: Sydney Roosters Win by 2

Round 24: Newcastle Knights Win by 18

Round 25: South Sydney Rabbitohs Win by 12

Round 26: Canberra Raiders Win by 6

My thoughts

The Melbourne Storm continue to amaze in so many ways, and I think from this position, they will win their second-successive minor premiership. The only match out of their last seven regular season matches I predict they will lose will be this week against the inspired and desperate Canberra Raiders, and will march into the finals on the back of six straight wins, which would be their longest winning streak of the season.

In the finals series, the Storm will win their seventh match in a row against the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles in Week One to move straight through to the preliminary finals. However, they will suffer a shock loss at home against the Raiders to crash out of the finals one win short of a second-successive grand final appearance.

 

Sydney Roosters (currently second on 28 points, +53 differential)

(My predicted regular season finish: Third on 38 points, +100 differential)

(My predicted finals finish: Fifth)

Remaining matches

Round 20: Newcastle Knights Win by 12

Round 21: North Queensland Cowboys Win by 8

Round 22: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles Loss by 2

Round 23: Melbourne Storm Loss by 2

Round 24: Wests Tigers Win by 18

Round 25: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks Win by 1

Round 26: Gold Coast Titans Win by 12

My thoughts

The Sydney Roosters are a completely different team in 2017 compared to 2016, and while I don’t think they are quite as good as the team that won the premiership in 2013, and the minor premiership in 2013, 2014, and 2015, they should comfortably make the top four, despite a couple of hiccups in Round 22 and 23 against the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles and Melbourne Storm.

However, the Roosters will lose in Week One of the finals against the Brisbane Broncos in an absolute thriller, before being shocked in Week Two against the Canberra Raiders to go out in straight sets.

 

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (currently third on 26 points, +87 differential)

(My predicted regular season finish: Fourth on 34 points, +98 differential)

(My predicted finals finish: Sixth)

Remaining matches

Round 20: St George Illawarra Dragons Win by 2

Round 21: Melbourne Storm Loss by 6

Round 22: Sydney Roosters Win by 2

Round 23: Wests Tigers Win by 18

Round 24: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Loss by 1

Round 25: New Zealand Warriors Loss by 6

Round 26: Penrith Panthers Win by 2

My thoughts

The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles have proven everyone wrong, including myself, and should comfortably cruise into the finals, and likely finish inside the top four, despite losses against the Melbourne Storm, Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and the New Zealand Warriors during the final seven rounds.

However, the Sea Eagles fantastic season will come to an end after Week Two of the finals after losing to the Melbourne Storm and the North Queensland Cowboys.

 

Brisbane Broncos (currently fourth on 26 points, +68 differential)

(My predicted regular season finish: Second on 40 points, +142 differential)

(My predicted finals finish: Premiers)

Remaining matches

Round 20: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Win by 12

Round 21: Parramatta Eels Win by 6

Round 22: Gold Coast Titans Win by 12

Round 23: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks Win by 8

Round 24: St George Illawarra Dragons Win by 18

Round 25: Parramatta Eels Win by 12

Round 26: North Queensland Cowboys Win by 6

My thoughts

The Brisbane Broncos have been my pick to win the premiership in 2017, and while I think they will just miss out on the minor premiership, they will finish inside the Top Two after winning their final eight matches of the regular season, which would be their longest winning streak of the season.

In the finals, the Broncos will defeat the Sydney Roosters in a classic to qualify for a preliminary final, where they will defeat their great rivals, the North Queensland Cowboys, to qualify for their second grand final in three years.

They will meet the Canberra Raiders in the grand final, and in a tightly-fought contest, the Broncos will claim their sixth premiership in a unified competition (seventh if you include Super League), which would be their first premiership in 11 years, after completing an 11 match winning streak, and complete the ultimate redemption story after losing the 2015 NRL Grand Final against the Cowboys in extraordinary circumstances.

 

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks (currently fifth on 26 points, +65 differential)

(My predicted regular season finish: 10th on 28 points, +48 differential)

Remaining matches

Round 20: South Sydney Rabbitohs Win by 2

Round 21: New Zealand Warriors Loss by 2

Round 22: Canberra Raiders Loss by 1

Round 23: Brisbane Broncos Loss by 8

Round 24: North Queensland Cowboys Loss by 6

Round 25: Sydney Roosters Loss by 1

Round 26: Newcastle Knights Loss by 1

My thoughts

The defending premiers currently sit fifth on the competition ladder, and while many people think the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks have a great chance of going back-to-back, I am predicting them to have a great fall, losing their last six matches, which would be their longest losing streak of season, including a two-point loss against the New Zealand Warriors, plus one-point losses against the Canberra Raiders, Sydney Roosters, and the Newcastle Knights to miss the Top Eight on points differential, and become the first defending premiers (excluding salary cap penalties) to miss the finals since the Wests Tigers back in 2006.

 

North Queensland Cowboys (currently sixth on 26 points, +56 differential)

(My predicted regular season finish: Fifth on 34 points, +68 differential)

(My predicted finals finish: Fourth)

Remaining matches

Round 20: New Zealand Warriors Win by 18

Round 21: Sydney Roosters Loss by 8

Round 22: Melbourne Storm Loss by 6

Round 23: Penrith Panthers Win by 2

Round 24: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks Win by 6

Round 25: Wests Tigers Win by 6

Round 26: Brisbane Broncos Loss by 6

My thoughts

The North Queensland Cowboys, in the absence of co-captains Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott, are proving how strong their club is, and despite some close losses in the final seven rounds against the Sydney Roosters, Melbourne Storm and the Brisbane Broncos, they will comfortably make the finals for the seventh year in a row.

In the finals, the Cowboys will defeat the St George Illawarra Dragons in Week One, before defeating the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles in Week Two to set up another blockbuster against the Brisbane Broncos, where their finals run will come to an end.

 

Parramatta Eels (currently seventh on 24 points, -19 differential)

(My predicted regular season finish: Seventh on 30 points, -15 differential)

(My predicted finals finish: Seventh)

Remaining matches

Round 20: Wests Tigers Win by 12

Round 21: Brisbane Broncos Loss by 6

Round 22: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Loss by 2

Round 23: Newcastle Knights Win by 12

Round 24: Gold Coast Titans Win by 2

Round 25: Brisbane Broncos Loss by 12

Round 26: South Sydney Rabbitohs Loss by 2

My thoughts

The Parramatta Eels have comprehensively proven me wrong, and while on paper they look to have one of the easiest runs home, they will only win three of their last seven matches, including their last two to scrape into finals in seventh position, and with a negative points differential.

The Eels will then suffer a Week One exit at the hands of the Canberra Raiders.

 

St George Illawarra Dragons (currently eighth on 22 points, +52 differential)

(My predicted regular season finish: Eighth on 28 points, +55 differential, 112.7 percent)

(My predicted finals finish: Eighth)

Remaining matches

Round 20: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles Loss by 2

Round 21: Newcastle Knights Loss by 2

Round 22: South Sydney Rabbitohs Win by 2

Round 23: Gold Coast Titans Win by 6

Round 24: Brisbane Broncos Loss by 18

Round 25: Penrith Panthers Loss by 1

Round 26: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Win by 18

My thoughts

In recent weeks, the St George Illawarra Dragons have been struggling, winning only one of their last four, including losing their last two matches, and while I think that losing streak will stretch out to four matches, I believe the Dragons will win three out of their last five matches, including their Round 26 encounter against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs to be tied on the same amount of competition points, as well as on points differential with the Penrith Panthers.

However, the superior defence of the Dragons throughout 2017 will see them qualify for the finals in eighth position on percentage.

Despite making the finals, their stay in September will be short-lived, losing to the North Queensland Cowboys in Week One of the finals.

 

Penrith Panthers (currently ninth on 20 points, +21 differential)

(My predicted regular season finish: Ninth on 28 points, +55 differential, 111.8 percent)

Remaining matches

Round 20: Gold Coast Titans Win by 12

Round 21: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Win by 8

Round 22: Wests Tigers Win by 18

Round 23: North Queensland Cowboys Loss by 2

Round 24: Canberra Raiders Loss by 1

Round 25: St George Illawarra Dragons Win by 1

Round 26: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles Loss by 2

My thoughts

The Penrith Panthers have started to find some momentum in 2017 after a difficult start, winning their last two matches. I think they will win their next three matches to extend their winning streak to five, which would be their longest winning streak of the season.

However, the Panthers will lose three of their last four matches to finish equal with the St George Illawarra Dragons, both on competition points and on points differential, and despite the strong attack of the Panthers, the superior defence of the Dragons will see the Panthers miss out on the finals in heartbreaking circumstances.

 

Canberra Raiders (currently 10th on 18 points, +27 differential)

(My predicted regular season finish: Sixth on 30 points, +59 differential)

(My predicted finals finish: Grand Finalists)

Remaining matches

Round 20: Melbourne Storm Win by 6

Round 21: South Sydney Rabbitohs Win by 12

Round 22: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks Win by 1

Round 23: New Zealand Warriors Win by 12

Round 24: Penrith Panthers Win by 1

Round 25: Newcastle Knights Win by 6

Round 26: Melbourne Storm Loss by 6

My thoughts

The Canberra Raiders have had difficult year so far in 2017, winning only seven out of their 17 matches, which has surprised most who tipped them to be premiership contenders, including myself. However, their golden point victory in Round 19 against the St George Illawarra Dragons, inspired by their halfback Aidan Sezer not only ended a four match losing streak, I think it will inspire them into a great run of form.

The Raiders will complete a seven match winning streak, which would be their longest of the season, to qualify for the finals in sixth position, with the only match they will lose in the regular season run home being against the Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park.

Once in the finals, the Raiders will win three-straight matches against the Parramatta Eels, Sydney Roosters and Melbourne Storm to qualify for their first grand final since 1994.

However, in a tight contest, the Raiders will fall just short against the Brisbane Broncos in their quest to win their first premiership since 1994.

 

New Zealand Warriors (currently 11th on 18 points, -38 differential)

(My predicted regular season finish: 12th on 22 points, -92 differential)

Remaining matches

Round 20: North Queensland Cowboys Loss by 18

Round 21: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks Win by 2

Round 22: Newcastle Knights Loss by 6

Round 23: Canberra Raiders Loss by 12

Round 24: South Sydney Rabbitohs Loss by 8

Round 25: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles Win by 6

Round 26: Wests Tigers Loss by 18

My thoughts

The New Zealand Warriors are the greatest underachievers this competition has ever seen, and with the injury to Shaun Johnson, you can’t see the Warriors shrugging off this tag anytime soon, and will miss the finals for the sixth year in a row.

The Warriors will lose seven out of their last nine matches, including four of their last five to comfortably miss the finals once again.

 

Gold Coast Titans (currently 12th on 18 points, -42 differential)

(My predicted regular season finish: 14th on 20 points, -75 differential)

Remaining matches

Round 20: Penrith Panthers Loss by 12

Round 21: Wests Tigers Win by 12

Round 22: Brisbane Broncos Loss by 12

Round 23: St George Illawarra Dragons Loss by 6

Round 24: Parramatta Eels Loss by 2

Round 25: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Loss by 1

Round 26: Sydney Roosters Loss by 12

My thoughts

The Gold Coast Titans, despite their injuries, have put up a respectable record of seven wins from 17 matches, and despite the strong and consistent they have put in, I think they are about to fall away from any realistic contention.

The Titans will lose six of their last seven matches, including their last five, which would be their longest losing streak of the season, to finish 2017 in 14th position.

 

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (currently 13th on 18 points, -59 differential)

(My predicted regular season finish: 11th on 26 points, -91 differential)

Remaining matches

Round 20: Brisbane Broncos Loss by 12

Round 21: Penrith Panthers Loss by 8

Round 22: Parramatta Eels Win by 2

Round 23: South Sydney Rabbitohs Win by 2

Round 24: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles Win by 1

Round 25: Gold Coast Titans Win by 1

Round 26: St George Illawarra Dragons Loss by 18

My thoughts

The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs are going to miss the finals, and if they do miss the finals, they will become the first Des Hasler-coached club to miss the finals since 2004.

The Bulldogs will lose their next two matches, before going on a four-match winning streak, which would be their longest winning streak of the season, as their finals hopes hang by a thread.

However, despite this winning run, other results go against them, leaving them with an unrealistic task to make the finals against the St George Illawarra Dragons as their season collapses in a heap.

 

South Sydney Rabbitohs (currently 14th on 16 points, -42 differential)

(My predicted regular season finish: 13th on 20 points, -62 differential)

Remaining matches

Round 20: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks Loss by 2

Round 21: Canberra Raiders Loss by 12

Round 22: St George Illawarra Dragons Loss by 2

Round 23: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Loss by 2

Round 24: New Zealand Warriors Win by 8

Round 25: Melbourne Storm Loss by 12

Round 26: Parramatta Eels Win by 2

My thoughts

The South Sydney Rabbitohs have shown signs of life at some points of the season, but have shown signs of inconsistency, and I think they will fall away during the last seven matches of the season.

In fact, the Rabbitohs will lose their next four to complete a six-match losing streak, which would be their longest of the season, and will lose seven out of their last nine matches to finish in 13th position.

 

Wests Tigers (currently 15th on 12 points, -169 differential)

(My predicted regular season finish: 16th on 14 points, -235 differential)

Remaining matches

Round 20: Parramatta Eels Loss by 12

Round 21: Gold Coast Titans Loss by 12

Round 22: Penrith Panthers Loss by 18

Round 23: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles Loss by 18

Round 24: Sydney Roosters Loss by 18

Round 25: North Queensland Cowboys Loss by 6

Round 26: New Zealand Warriors Win by 18

My thoughts

I think the Wests Tigers will claim the wooden spoon after a tumultuous year. They will complete a seven-match losing streak in Round 25 against the North Queensland Cowboys, which would be their equal-longest of the year, before winning their last match of 2017 against the New Zealand Warriors.

 

Newcastle Knights (currently 16th on eight points, -180 differential)

(My predicted regular season finish: 15th on 14 points, -219 differential)

Remaining matches

Round 20: Sydney Roosters Loss by 12

Round 21: St George Illawarra Dragons Win by 2

Round 22: New Zealand Warriors Win by 6

Round 23: Parramatta Eels Loss by 12

Round 24: Melbourne Storm Loss by 18

Round 25: Canberra Raiders Loss by 6

Round 26: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks Win by 1

My thoughts

Many experts have already pencilled in the Newcastle Knights to win the wooden spoon, and many people would agree with them.

However, although I think the Knights will complete an eight-match losing streak against the Sydney Roosters, which would be their longest in 2017, they will win three of their last six matches, including knocking out the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks from finals contention to avoid the wooden spoon on points differential.

 

The 146th Open Championship – Preview

The 146th Open Championship takes place this week, starting on Thursday, from the Royal Birkdale Golf Club in the Merseyside town of Southport in England.

It is the third major championship of 2017, after a well-deserving victory at The Masters for Sergio Garcia after so many years of trying to breakthrough to claim that elusive major, and a shock victory, for some people, for Brooks Koepka at the United States (US) Open.

However, we head into The Open Championship waiting to see if one of the expected heavyweights of world golf can breakthrough to claim their first major of 2017.

I am talking about the likes of Dustin Johnson, who has missed the cut in his last two events, including the US Open, missed The Masters due to an back injury suffered at his Augusta home, but has won three times this year, and is the clear World Number One.

I am also talking about the likes of Hideki Matsuyama, who has risen quietly to second on the world rankings after some consistent performances, including finishing in a tie for second at the US Open, and has won once this year, but hasn’t won a major so far in his career to date.

Jordan Spieth is another heavyweight, a two-time major winner, who hasn’t won a major so far in 2017, but comes into The 146th Open Championship in great form after winning the Travelers Championship in a playoff over Daniel Berger among his two victories this year.

Rory McIlroy is another heavyweight contender, but the four-time major champion has had a shocking year by his standards, missing the cut in three of the last four events he has played, and hasn’t won a tournament this year, his best finish, a second-place finish at the BMW SA Open hosted by City of Ekurhuleni back in January.

Sergio Garcia has also become a heavyweight contender after claiming his first major of his career back in April at The Masters, as well as claiming the Omega Dubai Desert Classic back in February, and has made the cut in his last 18 events, including in the 12 events he has played in 2017.

However, the same cannot be said of Jason Day, who has missed the cut in his last two events, including the US Open, with a best finish of second so far in 2017 at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May, losing in a playoff to Billy Horschel, after dealing with family issues relating to his mother Dening’s lung cancer diagnosis and surgery.

At a venue where at least one Australian has finished inside the Top 10 on seven of the nine times that it has hosted The Open Championship, it would be the perfect place for Day to regain form, and possibly challenge.

Talking about Australian chances, Adam Scott is also a chance of contending, but has had a poor year by his standards, dropping to 15th in the world, and has had only four Top 10 finishes in 2017.

You can also add Marc Leishman to the mix, and is in consistent form at the moment, making the cut in his last six events, including finishing in a tie for fifth at the Quicken Loans National a couple of weeks ago, adding to his win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard back in March.

Other contenders to look out for include defending champion Henrik Stenson, Jon Rahm, Alex Noren, Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Rafael Cabrera Bello, Matt Kuchar, Francesco Molinari, and Daniel Berger just to name a few.

However, Royal Birkdale has proven in the recent past that it can play tough, with the winner of the last two Open Championships at the venue failing to score under par for the tournament, and while conditions are going to be relatively settled and consistent throughout the championship starting on Thursday, with a little bit of rain on Friday and Saturday, there is a severe weather warning for scattered thunderstorms in the Southport area on Wednesday which could make things challenging.

Looking at some statistics pertaining to Royal Birkdale, only twice, Peter Thomson (1954) and Ian Baker-Finch (1991), has a winner of The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale been a first-time major winner. Thomson is the only two time winner of an Open Championship held at Royal Birkdale.

In addition, out of the eight golfers who have won The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, four of them have gone onto win at least five majors in their career, while seven of the eight have won more than one major in their careers.

The Par 70 golf course, stretching 7,156 yards will a true test, and the man who wins at Royal Birkdale Golf Club this week will have earned it, and would likely be a multiple major winner by the end of their career.

So, I am going to tip Jordan Spieth to win The 146th Open Championship, with Dustin Johnson, and Jason Day challenging from behind.