Round 20 promises to be rather exciting for Super League 15 fans. With major points up for grabs across seven games, the top six teams will finally secure a place in the play-offs. Before that, there's an awful lot of scores to be decided.
Fixtures and Predictions
July 12—Crusaders vs. Hurricanes, AMI Stadium, Christchurch, New Zealand. K/O Time: 3.45 a.m ET.
The Crusaders have been in fine form recently and will be buoyant after last week's 43-15 victory over the Chiefs. Todd Blackadder's side have reached 40 points in their last two matches and have strung together a three-game winning streak since falling 28-19 to the Chiefs back in May. Combined with the Hurricanes' terrible defensive run of late, the home team should be considered favourites for the win.
Despite being near the foot of the table, the Highlanders managed to score six tries against a Hurricanes side that is too forgiving at the back. The likes of Mose Tuiali'i, Hosea Gear and Elliot Dixon compounded the Wellington side to defeat, despite the fact Mark Hammett's team still managed to rack up five tries of their own. Against a ruthless Crusaders side, the scores won't be so close.
Prediction: Crusaders by 14.
July 12—Rebels vs. Highlanders, AAMI Park, Melbourne, Australia. K/O Time: 5.40 a.m ET.
As already mentioned, the Highlanders proved resilient last week and emerged with a decent victory over one of the campaign's better-equipped opponents. Jamie Joseph takes his side to Melbourne for a game that will be charged with emotion.
As confirmed by FOX Sports, sacked Rebels boss Damien Hill may have the alcohol-induced bust-up between Kurtley Beale and Cooper Vuna to blame for his dismissal. Beale will certainly miss the match in order to continue his rehabilitation program in Sydney, as reported by the official Rebels website.
As discussed by ABC, Beale is linked with a return to the Waratahs, meaning Rebels fans might have another reason for disappointment after the finale whistle. Lachlan Mitchell is also ruled out of the game after receiving a ban against the British and Irish Lions, while Scott Higginbotham continues to recover from the shoulder injury that has hampered his year.
Neither team has maintained a decent run of form in recent times, but the raw emotion surrounding the Rebels is going to play a huge part in this result. With outgoing staff confirmed alongside key injuries, the Highlanders have the perfect opportunity to end the season on a high. This will be mighty close, but the Rebels will pull it off.
Prediction: Rebels by seven.
July 13—Blues vs. Chiefs, Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand. K/O Time: 3.45 a.m ET.
The Blues have claimed one win from the last six games, giving up hope of qualifying for the play-offs. As reported by ESPN, Steven Luatua is doubtful for the match against a Chiefs side that guaranteed to finish inside the top three.
Dave Rennie's team fought for a 23-16 victory over the Blues at the end of March, but there's very little to suggest the score will be so close this time. The New Zealand Herald has confirmed All Blacks forward Liam Messam will return for the match that must result in at least a bonus point if the visitors are to win the New Zealand conference. That motivation enough will see the gap between these two teams widen.
Prediction: Chiefs by 21.
July 13—Waratahs vs. Reds, ANZ Stadium, Sydney, Australia. K/O Time: 5.40 a.m ET.
A disappointing 24-22 loss to the Rebels really cost the Waratahs a successful season. Although the side from New South Wales also went on to suffer defeat against the Crusaders, it is the May 24 shocker that many will look back on. Even so, the Queensland Reds are in town, so this is by no way a meaningless game against their most hated rivals.
Red have tasted victory just once out of their last three games. James Horwill's team won 25-17 the last time these two met, as a brace of tries from Ben Tapuai settled the tie that day. His late heroics helped overshadow a performance that nearly saw the Reds throw away a 17-3 first-quarter lead. Can the Waratahs give their fans something to shout about? It's going to be mighty close, but not close enough for the home side.
Prediction: Reds by five.
July 13—Force vs. Brumbies, NIB Stadium, Perth, Australia. K/O Time: 7.45 a.m ET.
The Brumbies are just three points off topping the Super 15 ladder and will be rejuvenated by the return of seven Australian international players. If the Chiefs and Bulls lose, the Brumbies could build on their recent win over the British and Irish Lions with a dramatic jaunt for the top spot.
On the other hand, the Force were recently humbled 28-13 to a weakened Waratahs side. These teams last met during Round 11, where the Brumbies won 41-7. The Australian conference winners are at home, have huge motivation to keep playing and are bolstered by the return of many important individuals. Surely a hangover from the series loss to the British and Irish Lions isn't going to see the home side slip up?
Prediction: Brumbies by 28.
July 13—Sharks vs. Kings, Kings Park, Durban, South Africa. K/O Time: 11.05 a.m ET.
As reported by Yahoo! Eurosport, the Kings have made 12 changes ahead of this game. Matt Sexton is more than happy to rest players so that the Kings are fresh when competing in promotion-relegation matches with the Lions.
As such, the Sharks will have the perfect opportunity to overcome last week's disappointing 20-19 loss to the Bulls. Despite leading much of the match, Riaan Viljoen missed an important penalty kick to seal victory. Expect the Sharks to handle their business properly this week, defeating a much-changed and highly unfancied Kings side.
Prediction: Sharks by 33.
July 13—Stormers vs. Bulls, Newlands Stadium, Cape Town, South Africa. K/O Time: 1.10 p.m ET.
Perhaps the most interesting tie of the round comes in Cape Town. The Bulls must capture victory in order to guarantee first place, but while the Stormers are just short of missing a play-off position, Allister Coetzee's squad could cause major upset with a diligent display.
The Stormers have not played to the best of their abilities throughout this campaign, but a determined performance could do wonders for the team's future. The Bulls are unbeaten in their last nine games, and since losing to Brumbies at the end of March, have pushed up the table with a seemingly unstoppable run of points.
Can the Bulls triumph? Right now, it's difficult to bet against a side that so often seems to get the job done. The Bulls don't always win by many points, a pattern I expect to continue in Cape Town.
Prediction: Bulls by five.
Which teams do you think will claim victory in Round 20? Who will top the ladder? Let me know in the comments section and be sure to discuss all things sport with me on Twitter:
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