Five-eighth Jamie Soward holds the keys to a Panthers win on Easter Monday. Credit: Robb Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos.
Rabbitohs v Bulldogs: Greg Inglis v Perrett
The two custodians are polar opposites as fullbacks; Inglis a locomotive that bulldozes his was through any obstacle in his path while Perrett is more likely to slip by before the defence has noticed. The pair are the best fullbacks in the league when it comes to running metres with Perrett covering an average 165 per game and Inglis clocking in at just over 148. The Souths steamroller has also notched an NRL-best for tackle busts with 32, but Perrett has proven himself more than handy in this department as well with 23 of his own. The GI train has roared back into life after a few quiet weeks when the Rabbitohs were down on confidence, and is undoubtedly the gamebreaker of the two fullbacks, but if Perrett can hold his own and the Dogs' frontline can contain the Queensland and Kangaroo rep, they'll have won more than half the battle.
Knights v Broncos: Joseph Leilua v Justin Hodges
Once a dubbed a rugby league bad boy due to a series of off-field indiscretions and a lackadaisical attitude, Joseph 'BJ' Leilua has seemingly turned his private life around and improved as a footballer under the tutelage of Knights' coach Wayne Bennett. Having played 59 NRL games for the Roosters between 2010-2012 – mainly as a winger – the 22-year-old has found a new lease on life after joining the Knights last season, playing most of his 25 games in the centres and crossing for 16 tries to date.
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Leilua's 2014 season has continued on a steady ascent, with the powerful frame of the 186 centimetre, 111-kilogram Samoan international churning out some impressive statistics so far. He has played all six games, scoring three tries and making four line breaks – all three tries coming in the first half of the 30-0 rout of the Sharks in Round 4. However, it is in the tackle breaks category where 'BJ' really shines; he has made 35 tackle breaks so far this season – the most in the NRL – and has backed these dominant carries up by producing 811 all-run metres, averaging 135 metres per match.
His opponent, Justin Hodges, is still finding his feet after returning from a second achilles injury against the Eels a fortnight ago. Restricted to 55 minutes against Parramatta, Hodges' impact off the bench was almost instantaneously felt as a typical dummy-half run and clever offload helped deliver the Broncos their opening try through Dale Copley. The 31-year-old managed to silence the critics after his Eels display who said that he might not return from injury the same player he once was but his first full game back last week didn't quite go according to script. In an ordinary display against the Titans he made four handling errors and the time to impress selectors enough to regain his Kangaroos jersey for the Test against the Kiwis in two weeks' time is fast running out.
Sea Eagles v Cowboys: Kieran Foran v Johnathan Thurston
Central Coast footy fans get an advanced preview screening of the Test showdown in two weeks' time when the Kiwi No.6 in Foran goes head to head against his Kangaroos counterpart in Johnathan Thurston.
Two of the most competitive players in the game, Foran and Thurston have enjoyed differing fortunes in terms of games won and lost and the different roles they play for their teams are reflected in the statistics.
The Cowboys' superstar leads in the major categories including tries (3-0), try assists (5-2), line break assists (7-1) and line breaks (2-1) but it is Foran's Sea Eagles who have four wins from six games while the Cowboys have just the two.
With Daly Cherry-Evans inside him controlling the direction of the Manly attack, Foran is free to take on the line with his running game, something the Cowboys can expect to see plenty of if their forwards are on the back foot.
Dragons v Warriors: Trent Merrin v Simon Mannering
The two loose-forwards are real leaders for their respective teams, and get through more work than anyone else on the pitch. Both scored tries last week in close contests, with Mannering making 34 tackles and showing the type of determination which his side desperately needs right now.
Merrin had 42 tackles and carried his team in attack when they needed it, through 14 hit-ups for 186 metres against the Storm. The duel between the two in the middle will be exhausting. Not likely to win you a game with the ball in hand, it is in defence that these two can really change a match.
Sharks v Roosters: Todd Carney v James Maloney
One fired a pass that almost landed into the second tier of Pirtek Stadium's western grandstand, while the other sported a new hairdo that was louder than his personal game. Based on both their efforts last week, you'd be hard-pressed convincing a casual observer that Carney and Maloney have been the past two NSW pivots. Apparently a week's a long time in football, but if that's the case, then one of these two will have spent a long time out of form by the end of Saturday night.
Raiders v Storm: Jack Wighton v Ben Roberts
One of them is a centre playing five-eighth at Ricky Stuart's persistence. The other is a Parramatta and former New Zealand international trying to make a name for himself down south. Combined it gives us an intriguing Easter Sunday match-up. Wighton has played admirably in an unfamiliar position and hopes to fulfil his potential in the No.6 – his two try-assists so far are a testament to his growing ability. While Roberts, who made his second appearance for the Storm last weekend following the demotion of Ben Hampton, was crucial in his sides' last gasp victory.
Eels v Wests Tigers: Darcy Lussick v Martin Taupau
It's the battle of the fiery bench props and the war of words started early in this one http://www.nrl.com/tigers-call-out-lussick/tabid/10874/newsid/77655/default.aspx. Lussick can usually be relied on to bring the aggression, as attested to by the fact that this is his first game back from a four-match suspension for a swinging arm on Roosters hard man Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, while Taupau has been the epitomy of controlled aggression all year in his battles with big-name props like Jason King, the Burgess brothers and the Cowboys all-Test front row. Taupau hasn't taken a backwards step and along with the likes of Aaron Woods, has won the battle in the middle more often than not. Lussick, along with the likes of Tim Mannah and Fuifui Moimoi, will be desperate to arrest the Tigers' go-forward when the big angry benchies meet on Monday.
Panthers v Titans: Jamie Soward v Albert Kelly
Having set up a couple of Penrith wins with some clutch passes and kicks over the first five weeks, Soward was unable to crack a stoic Rabbitohs defensive line last Friday night. And while Albert Kelly had to watch Aidan Sezer steal the show last week, the Titans halfback has always been the more flamboyant of the two. It will be interesting to see which of the two have their way on Monday night.