Finch: Who'll cast a spell during NRL Magic Round?
"HOW is it Round 9 already?" is the conversation starter I've heard around the water cooler this week. It feels like only yesterday that we were sweltering through summer praying for the NRL action to return.
Fast forward nine weeks and the NRL is getting ready to create history with the first Magic Round; eight games on the same weekend at the same venue, Suncorp Stadium.
There's few people on the Fox League roster that have played for more clubs than me so I feel I'm well versed to run my eyes over the games for Magic Round this weekend.
TITANS v SHARKS
The Sharks' game is one built on effort and enthusiasm and never was that more prominent than in their two-point win over the Storm last week. Under extreme circumstances, the Sharks were able to get the Storm into the grind and Kyle Flanagan and Chad Townsend were able to kick them to victory. The Titans have been frustrating to watch this year, they've been world beaters one week and horrible the next. Injuries haven't helped either side this year but I think the Sharks will prove too strong in this one. Sharks by 4
TIGERS v PANTHERS
The Panthers showed plenty of effort against the Raiders last week but their attack still looks clunky and a little disorganised. On paper the Panthers side is too good to be where they're currently sitting on the ladder and have shown glimpses of what they've capable this season. The loss of Viliame Kikua and Issiah Yeo is huge for the Panthers, but they've still got a formidable pack with representative stars Regan Campbell-Gillard and James Tamou. Michael McGuire would have put a rocket under the Wests Tigers after their loss to the Roosters and will have them fired up for this clash, but I don't think that will be enough. Panthers by 12
MANLY v BRONCOS
Is there a side in the NRL under more pressure than the Broncos? Anthony Seibold has swung the axe this week dropping James Roberts and Jamayne Isaako and will be looking for his young charges to respond. Meantime Des Hasler has re-ignited the passion in Manly this season, the old siege mentality that the Sea Eagles were and are famous for is back. Their effort against the Dogs last weekend was inspirin, but I can't see them replicating that again this weekend. Broncos by 6
BULLDOGS v KNIGHTS
I can't wait to see the fireworks fly when David Klemmer goes toe to toe with his former Bulldogs teammates for the first time. Mitchell Pearce has really turned his form around over the last couple of weeks, he's narrowed his focus and his Knights teammates have jumped on the back of that. The Bulldogs are a young side with plenty of heart and if you can guarantee one thing this weekend it's that they'll turn up ready to play. Jack Cogger, a former Knight himself, has been a great addition to the Dogs' line-up but I feel it will be his former teammates who'll be celebrating at full-time on Saturday. Knights by 10
WARRIORS v DRAGONS
This game is a dead-set toss of a coin. The Warriors will be buoyed by the addition of Kodi Nikorima this weekend. Nikorima and Blake Green have the ability to form one of the most potent halves pairings in the comp with Green guiding the Warriors around the park and Nikorima focusing on his natural running game. Paul McGregor would have been into his Dragons side this week after their second-half capitulation against the Eels last weekend. The Dragons have the ability to be a top-four side this season but need to find some steel in their defensive line. Dragons by 8
STORM v EELS
The first edition of the 'Brett Finch Cup' this weekend sees the Storm looking to bounce back against the rampant Eels. Having been on the end of a Craig Bellamy spray in my time, I can guarantee you that the whips would have been cracking at Storm training this week. The Eels were superb against the Dragons last week but the test for them is to back it up. Storm by 10
ROOSTERS v RAIDERS
The second edition of the 'Brett Finch Cup' pits the Roosters against the Raiders in what is shaping as the game of the round. Latrell Mitchell is in a league of his own at the moment and was untouchable last weekend against the Tigers and with his partners in crime, Luke Keary and James Tedesco, the Roosters are formidable opponents. On the other side of the coin Ricky Stuart has the Raiders firing on all cylinders this season. They'll be without John Bateman this weekend but with Josh Papalli, Josh Hodgson and Elliot Whitehead, they have one of the best packs in the competition. Raiders by 6
RABBITOHS v COWBOYS
It's hard to see anything but a Rabbitohs win in this one. Sam Burgess has been in sublime form this season and is laying the platform for Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker to play off. If Latrell Mitchell is in a league of his own at the moment then Walker isn't far behind him. He's ability to break a game open from anywhere on the park and at any time is second to none. The loss of Josh McGuire is a massive blow for the Cowboys and one I can't see them overcoming. Rabbitohs by 16