Friday, March 30
The news that Australian halfback Cooper Cronk is remaining with the club is a massive boost for the already highflying Melbourne Storm. Add to that the ominous try-scoring form of Billy Slater and it’s tough, but certainly not impossible, to see the Knights getting up.
Newcastle’s performance last week against the Dogs was impressive, and was what we’d been expecting from a Wayne Bennet coached side. They were defensively sound and it will have to be priority number one, once again, with the perennial attacking trio of Smith, Cronk and Slater the main targets.
The Knights have Kurt Gidley back and always tend to be a better side when he is there. If they can get on the front foot early in attack and slow the play the ball area down in defence then they are a shot of grinding this one out.
Both sides are coming off great performances last week. The young Broncos side showed fantastic resolve to come from behind and recover despite the horrible leg break sustained to winger Jharal Yow Yeh. They are looking fit, controlled and really determined at present.
The Dragons were equally as impressive against Manly. The kicking game of Hornby and Soward was second to none, the forwards were going forward for the full 80 minutes and Brett Morris at fullback continued to look dangerous.
I just see the competition points remaining in Queensland for this one. It should be a high quality affair.
Saturday, March 31
The Panthers are playing some solid football at present, but the Sharks are looking to make it three from three for the first time in years.
The form of the men in black comes of the back of key men Lachlan Coote , Michael Jennings and Luke Walsh. The forwards have been decent, but not outstanding. They were up against a soft Parramatta pack last week and will face a must sterner test in that of the Paul Gallen led Cronulla defence.
Gallen’s extraordinary work rate in attack also defies belief. His efforts have allowed Todd Carney to be able to run free in attack, while halfback Jeff Robson has called the shots. The Sharks in a close one.
Parramatta v Manly, Parramatta Stadium
The Sea Eagles should dominate this match up. The only hope for Parramatta will be how much the mid-week decision of club stalwart Nathan Hindmarsh to retire, will inspire the blue and gold to finally perform.
Jarryd Hayne returning is also a massive plus, but the Eagles played well in their grinding loss to St George last week. They’re still without representatives Tony Williams and Glenn Stewart, but the young backrowers of Harrison and Buhrer have stood up well.
If the Eels ever need a win, it is now. As for Manly, questions will undoubtedly be asked if they don’t take this one.
Tip: Sea Eagles
Sydney Roosters v Warriors, Allianz Stadium
The Roosters position on the table is flattering, while the Warriors are starting to look like the team that made the last Grand final again.
The boys from Bondi are having a tough time keeping the football, and if there is one thing that you don’t want the men from across the Tasman to have too much of, it is exactly that. Maloney and Johnson are dictating and playing as if they have played for years, while Pearce and Anasta just seem to be playing .
I think the Kiwis will enjoy their night out in Sydney on Saturday.
Sunday, April 1
Gold Coast Titans v Canterbury-Bankstown, Skilled Park
I’ll keep this one short. No Scott Prince, no Jamal Idris, no club stability and no form makes it extremely tough for the Titans. The fact that it is at home on the Gold Coast is a boost, so hopefully the fans will get down to show the club support in the most difficult time in their short history.
Des Hasler will have cracked the whip after a sub-par performance last week against the Knights and I expect them to come out firing. They seem to have their bite back since he arrived and expect them to be too strong for the Titans.
If there is one thing missing for the Bunnies, it’s that winning mentality. They’ve got the big men to take them forward and the flair out wide to stack the points on any team, but learning how to win games isn’t something that comes overnight.
The Tigers remain without Robbie Farah, while Benji Marshall’s fitness is still yet to be confirmed. They’ll give the star man till match day to prove himself, but Tim Sheen’s will still want Tim Moltzen to finally step in and take responsibility in the halves if they are to win this one.
Monday, April 2
Canberra Raiders v North Queensland Cowboys, Canberra Stadium
If there is one place the Cowboys don’t like to travel to, it’s the cold of the capital. The Raiders on the other hand, are playing their first game back home in three matches and looked sharp on Monday night.
Having Terry Campese back fit and firing is huge for Canberra. They also have a big, strong and mobile pack, one that I think North Queensland will find hard to contain on the edge.
The Cowboys have lost Matt Scott to injury, and Jonathon Thurston has not been himself of late. They have a good side on paper, but questions remain over their consistency, especially away from Townsville.