Tim Ashworth takes a look at this weekend’s games in the NRL.
Friday, March 23
The Battle of the West usually lives up to the hype, but after both teams suffered embarrassing losses last week, they’ll be looking to get their season back on track – or simply get going for the Eels.
Parramatta have amazingly named an unchanged side despite being torn to shreds last week by the Cowboys, with marquee man Jarryd Hayne still only a slim chance of recovering from his knee injury in time to play.
The Panthers have had a steady start to 2012, and were simply outclassed by a brilliant Inglis inspired South Sydney last week. The big positive for them this week is the return of big man Tim Grant, who’s a certain starter and will provide a huge boost up the middle for the mountain men.
Brisbane head in to the match as favourites following their steady two from three start to the season. However, it’s the performance of the Bunnies last week that has the tipsters feeling that an upset is on the cards over in Perth.
The Broncos have grinded out their victories on the back of some sloppy football, and probably played at their best in their one loss. The young attack is yet to reach its full potential, and they’ll be looking to halfback Peter Wallace to step up and direct the shots.
The move of Greg Inglis back to fullback could turn out to be the masterstroke of the season from Coach Michael Maguire. He almost individually tore apart the Panthers in his first game at the back in five years. Add to that the intimidating form of monster forward Dave Taylor and the Rabbitohs may just prove too hot for the Brisbane boys.
Tip: South Sydney
Saturday, March 24
Both teams have had disappointing starts to the season. The Warriors have been slow out of the blocks in each of their games. While the ongoing off field troubles for the Titans doesn’t seem to be helping a side desperate not to pick up the wooden spoon two years running.
Feleti Mateo was a standout for the Warriors off the bench against the Dogs, and they’ll be looking for his X-Factor again when he gets on. However, it’s really up to the halves of Maloney and Johnson as to whether the Kiwis can grab their first win at home this season.
Despite the poor start, the Gold Coast forward back has been tireless. They’ll receive another boost if Nate Myles passes a fitness test on his knee, but it’ll be up to halfback and co-captain Scott Prince to control the game if the Titans are to come home from the Tasman trip with any points.
St George-Illawarra Dragons v Manly Sea Eagles at OKI Jubilee Stadium, Sydney
St George bounced back with a bang last week by demoralising preseason favourites the Wests Tigers. On the other hand, the defending premiers Manly suffered a shock loss to the Sharks and lost gargantuan forward Tony Williams for seven weeks to a dangerous throw charge.
Already dealing with the short turnaround, the loss of Williams is huge blow for Manly. Glenn Stewart also remains on the sidelines, so it will be up to the young Eagles forwards of Harrison and Buhrer to step in and fill the void left by the representative duo.
The Dragons were in impressive form against the Tigers, led astutely round the park by Soward and Hornby. If they control the flow of possession and the pack dominate the metres in the middle of the park once again, the Dragon’s should go back-to-back.
North Queensland Cowboys v Cronulla Sharks at Dairy Farmers Stadium
After a disappointing start to 2012, the Cowboys have bounced back with two impressive victories on the bounce. However, the Sharks are on a high of their own after holding on to beat the defending premiers at home and secure their first points in almost 10 months.
Premier prop Matt Scott is made to eat up the metres, just as Dallas Johnson is made for tackling. If the Cowboys forwards lay the same platform they have done in attack and defence over the past two weeks, expect to see the Thurston and Bowen show continue out wide.
That being said, the Cowboys will need to contain captain courageous Paul Gallen, who made an astounding 249 metres and 34 tackles last week. On top of this, the fresh but surprisingly well structured halves combination of Robson and Carney were equally essential to the Sharks winning performance on Monday night.
Sunday, March 25
Despite the Roosters winning two from three, the result on Sunday won’t be anything but a Storm victory, who are in frightening early season touch.
The Roosters won ugly last week and looked horrible in doing so. They made a whopping 23 errors against a Raiders side that played the entire second half with only one man on the bench.
As long as Melbourne maintains their intensity and Billy Slater is playing (he most definitely is) Melbourne should run away with this one.
The Dogs have been impressive since Des Hasler took the helm at the beginning of 2012, with many not expecting the tight, well drilled unit he moulded at Manly so quickly. The same can’t be said of Wayne Bennett’s impact at Newcastle, where expectations remain high despite some mediocre performances and a growing list of injuries.
The Dogs have the size and skill in the engine room to put the Knights on the back foot early. All they will need to do then is make sure the ball gets to the back five of Barba, Turner, Morris, Wright and Goowdin and the points should come.
Newcastle will be looking to 34 year old hooker and club legend Danny Buderus to lead the team in attack and defence. However, the big loss for Newcastle remains Kurt Gidley, and the Knights have a bad habit of losing when he doesn’t play.
Monday, March 26
Quite simply, this is a must win games for the Tigers who have gone from preseason premiership favourites to passive pretenders after only three rounds. The Raiders have issues of their own too, with an injury list that includes star fullback Josh Dugan (shoulder) and defensive linchpin Shaun Fensom (bicep).
The hopes of the Tigers once again rest on the shoulders of Benji Marshall, after Robbie Farah was suspended for two weeks for a dangerous throw. While Marshall’s form has been as expected, he will need more from his halves partner, Tim Moltzen, if their season is to get back on track.
Despite English powerhouse Gareth Ellis returning for Wests, the Raiders forwards won’t be intimidated in anyway. They have been the shining light for the men in green this season, and if they are to win this one, they best lock a target on Marshall early and make sure to shut him down.