Staff Writers, NRL.com
Broncos v Roosters: Andrew McCullough v Jake Friend
These 24-year-old Queensland rakes are the future front-runners to succeed Cameron Smith in the Maroons’ No.9 jersey. McCullough has been outstanding so far this season, picking up man-of-the-match honours in Round 1 against the Bulldogs and topping that off with the match-winning try last week against the Cowboys. The Dalby Devils’ product has completed a mountain of defensive work, churning out 58 tackles per match in duel 80-minute performances against the ‘Dogs and Cowboys.
Jake Friend had a superb 2013 season for the Roosters, culminating with a flawless display against the Sea Eagles in the Grand Final. Further evidence towards his rise in becoming heir to Cameron Smith was his man-of-the-match performance for the Tricolours in their 36-14 World Club Challenge drubbing of Wigan. The Noosa Pirates junior is also a tireless worker in defence; that’s despite not playing the full 80 minutes every match, as he interchanges with Daniel Mortimer at dummy-half. Of his 118 minutes of playing time over two games this season, Friend has made a total of 80 tackles – his average tackle count in 2013 was 35.
Get your ticket to NRL Round 3Wests Tigers v Rabbitohs: Robbie Farah v Issac Luke
In Farah and Luke, both sides boast a hooker capable of turning the match in an instant and their battle out of dummy-half promises to be a special one, with Farah leading the league for metres made from dummy-half (199), and Luke next on the list (162).
Luke will be aiming up after a disappointing showing last week against Manly, which included five missed tackles and three errors, but he will have his work cut out for him in getting the better of Farah, with the NSW rake starting the year in sublime form, already registering a try, two try assists and two line breaks in two matches so far.
Watch the NRL LIVE with a 2-week free trial.Panthers v Bulldogs: Lewis Brown/Elijah Taylor v Frank Pritchard/Tony Williams
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Physically, it’s a no-brainer. Only problem is this game still has some brains in it. Penrith’s under-sized duo of Brown and Taylor are a nimble and hard-working pair, often using their speed and subtle footwork to create second-phase play out wide.
In contrast, there’s certainly nothing subtle about the Bulldogs’ second row of Pritchard and Williams, whose charges are just as brutal with the ball as they are off it.
It’s a classic case of brains versus brawn and history tells us it’s often split down the middle.
Sharks v Dragons: Michael Gordon v Adam Quinlan
The Dragons have done well to find a legitimate replacement for their injured fullback Josh Dugan in the form of Adam Quinlan. So far in 2014, Quinlan has averaged 107.5 metres from the back and helped himself to two tries and a line break.
While Quinlan has played solidly against some well-tuned fullbacks, including England international Sam Tomkins, this week he will go head-to-head with the Sharks Michael Gordon, who did well in a badly beaten side last Monday.
Gordon has averaged 131.5 metres in 2014, also notching a try assist and two line-break assists. These two speedsters will light up Remondis Stadium on Saturday night.
Cowboys v Warriors: Matt Scott and James Tamou v Sam Rapira and Ben Matulino
The reason that this match-up is so important to the outcome is that, on paper, the two respective front-rowers are very evenly poised. Matthew Scott measures 185cm and 106kg compared to Rapira at 184cm and 105kg, while Tamou has a two-centimetre edge on Matulino in height (195cm compared to 193cm) and a 7kg advantage in weight (114kg compared to 107kg).
Although on the beaten side, Scott and Tamou could hold their heads high after the defeat to the Broncos in Round 2, combining for a total of 289 metres and 48 tackles and enabling their side to spend 49 minutes of the game in the opposition's half.
The Warriors' heavy defeat was no fault of their front-rowers, who contributed 278 running metres and 40 tackles and carried their side into Dragons' territory, where they spent an astonishing 64 minutes of the game. Winning the ruck is crucial under the new rule interpretations and the respective props will be key in getting sets started in the right fashion.
Sea Eagles v Eels: David Williams v Semi Radradra
Last year's top try scorer v this year's top try scorer (so far!). Radradra has been a revelation for the Eels this year, tearing apart the Warriors in Round 1 and scoring the side's only try last week, after also equal-topping the scorer's list at the Dick Smith Auckland Nines.
But Williams has been doing it for a while and notched up 20 meat pies last year (equal best with Jorge Taufua), finishing off one of the slickest backline movements in the NRL.
As an added bonus they should be marking each other if Radradra holds his place on the left wing and Williams takes his usual place on the right. It's almost impossible to see Williams failing to get his name on the score sheet, while if the Eels are to somehow force an upset it seems inevitable Radradra will extend his tally.
Raiders v Titans: Albert Kelly/William Zillman v Terry Campese/Anthony Milford
Two of the brightest stars in the game at the moment. Their class and their spectacular, light-footed displays of speed and evasion are something that both of their sides value. While these men are more inclined to do something special, there will be always a man behind them stabilising their side.
For the Raiders and Titans these men are Terry Campese and William Zillman. Both veterans are no strangers to displays of brilliance themselves and are undoubtedly lynchpins in their side’s fortunes – a perfect foil to their younger teammate’s gobsmacking plays.
Storm v Knights: Cooper Cronk v Akuila Uate
Cronk’s kicking game proves so vital to Storm’s attacking forays - he gained on average 390 metres a game by foot last season. It is a facet of Melbourne’s game that allows it the territorial dominance for the likes of Cameron Smith and Billy Slater to be at their damaging best.
However this week Cronk and co. will face the best kick-return player in the NRL. Uate led the competition last season for kick return metres - though on Monday will be without his partner in crime Darius Boyd (hamstring) who was ranked third in this category.
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