South Sydney Rabittohs v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, ANZ Stadium, Sydney
This will be a cracking game to start the Easter weekend of NRL action. South Sydney should still be buzzing from their dramatic come from behind golden point victory over the Wests Tigers on Monday night. However, they must now contend with the short turnaround and the loss of English enforcer Sam Burgess to a knee injury.
The Bulldogs are 1-17 from last week, with coach Des Hasler continuing with Kris Keating at halfback while Trent Hodkinson remains out injured. Ben Barba has been brilliant at the back. The skill last week to set up Josh Morris for a 105 metre try was freakish, and his defensive effort in holding up two tries over the line showed he is willing to put his diminutive frame on the line for the blue and white.
However, the Bunnies big men of Taylor and Crocker will surely want to test that theory out for themselves. If Souths forwards control the middle of the park and shut down the movement to the Bulldogs backs, we could be in for another tight finish.
What’s going on with the Tigers? They have lost four on the trot, threw away victory in the final 10 minutes last week, and now have lost their go to workman in Gareth Ellis to a fractured foot. On the plus side, the return of skipper Robbie Farrah and prop Keith Galloway should give them a much needed boost going forward.
The Broncos couldn’t be more different. They are young, fit and on form. They defeated a strong St George Illawarra side last week, and have named an unchanged line up for this weekend.
Corey Norman has been playing excellently, however it’s his halves partner, Peter Wallace, who has been really pulling the strings. These two are single-handedly silencing the critics who thought they would fail to fill the void left by Darren Lockeyer.
The Titans were gallant in their loss to the Dogs last week. Their forwards worked hard in a tight battle and we can expect the same again. They’ll hopefully be boosted out wide by the return of Jamal Idris, however the difference will be whether Scott Prince can rely on stand in five-eighth Jordan Rankin to pick up the same workload of Greg Bird, who was ruled out for a few weeks with an ankle injury.
The Roosters put in their best performance of the season against the Warriors, completely outplaying them. Mitchell Pearce and Braith Anasta were outstanding, while Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves were constant menaces up front. Pick them to be amongst the action once again.
This is the first time in years that people will be seriously questioning who to tip in the southern Sydney derby. For years, the simple and almost certain answer has been the Dragons. However, after looking good whilst winning their past three matches, Cronulla are becoming a team people aren’t scared to back again.
This has all come off the amazing efforts of Paul Gallen. Week upon week, Gallen tops the runs, metres and tackles. This work has helped rejuvenate Todd Carney’s free flowing game, and given back Jeff Robson his preferred position of team marshal.
The Dragons were always in with a sniff last week against the Broncos, and proved that you’ll need to play a full 80 minutes to take points from them. How the Sharks deal with boot of Jamie Soward will be crucial. If they dominate the field position, they’ll dominate the scoreboard.
The depleted Raiders take on the wounded Warriors in what the Green Machine will be hoping will be their first home win of 2012. The Raiders injury toll expanded last week, adding Brett White and Joel Thompson to the lengthy list. This gives props Dane Tilse and Joe Picker a chance to lead from the front for the first time in 2012.
The Warriors have hopefully wiped their performance against the Roosters from their minds, and will need to sharpen up in defence if they are to take the points. They are leaking 40 tackles per game and are constantly on the back foot as a result. They will also need to revive their once famous offloading skills, which always left teams unsure of what to do. Look for Feleti Mateo, Shaun Johnson and Manu Vatuvei to head that department.
This match has the feeling that it means something more than two competition points already. For the winner, the season will begin to look up again. For the loser, it will feel as though there is a long way to go.
No Kurt Gidley is a huge blow for Newcastle. They have only one seven of the past 24 games he has missed in the past five seasons. However, Newcastle fans will find solace in the fact that in form hooker Danny Buderus will be captain the club once again, a position he held some season ago.
The Eels looked like an actual NRL team for the first time last week, largely due to the superstar that is Jarryd Hayne. He is a constant threat anywhere on the field and seems far more relaxed in his decision making now, with Chris Sandow and Ben Roberts directing the shots.
Jarrod Mullen will be the key for the Knights. They have the forwards to get the metres and the outside backs to pile on the points. It will be up to him to get the ball to them at the right time. However, the stats really don’t lie. No Gidley, no win.
North Queensland Cowboys v Melbourne Storm, Dairy Farmers Stadium, Townsville
While there’s no doubting that North Queensland looked good last week, it’s the simple fact that Melbourne simply looked better. The Storm are sitting pretty atop the NRL ladder and deservedly lead the competition in almost every department. However, if there was a team that could show the rest of the premiership that they are in fact beatable, it’s the Cowboys.
No team likes playing in the heat and humidity of North Queensland. Add to that the ability of Payne, Bowen and Thurston to make something out of nothing, and it could be a fun evening in Townsville.
While those three may rule the roost in the north, Smith, Cronk and Slater pretty much rule everywhere else. Give any of these three enough time with the ball in hand and the points will come.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles v Penrith Panthers, Brookvale Oval, Sydney
It’s the first time the Eagles have played at the ‘Fortress’ this season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The loss to Parramatta last week made it three from three, and the defending premiers will be hoping the home support will be there to help them topple the boys form the west.
The Panther’s have a very well balanced side and should be up there come the end of the season. However, while Michael Jennings, Luke Walsh and Lachlan Coote have been the go to men for the Panthers, more needs to be expected from some of the Panthers big men.
Kieran Foran and Brett Stewart have both been named despite carrying injuries, with Jamie Lyon also returning and Jorge Taufua holding his spot on the wing. If Manly are serious about defending their premiership, despite the injuries and suspensions, then they need to win this one.
Tip: Sea Eagles