Storm v Bulldogs
Thursday 5.50pm, AAMI Park
Early front-runners Canterbury-Bankstown will face their toughest test yet when they travel south for a gripping encounter with the Melbourne Storm.
The Bulldogs are one of only three teams to win each of their opening two games and have done so off the back of some jaw-dropping rugby league from an attractive backline.
At the weekend it was winger John Sila setting tongues wagging, with a monumental display of power and speed that saw him rack up seven tackle-breaks and an astounding four tries.
His contribution to the Bulldogs’ 32-24 win over Parramatta was complemented beautifully by five-eighth Moses Mbye who is beginning to emerge as an NRL certainty.
The Storm endured a much less convincing preparation, slumping to 10-point defeat at the hands of North Queensland after opening their campaign with a solid win against the Dragons.
Storm custodian Denny Solomona could hold the key for the home side after an impressive match in the number 20 jersey last week.
Countering Bulldogs pivot Mbye is Corey McGrady who will need to improve out of sight if the Victorians are in with a shot. This will be won and lost in the halves – and the Bulldogs won’t at all mind that.
Tip: Bulldogs by 10 points.
Wests Tigers v Eels
Friday 5.50pm, Leichhardt Oval
It’s tough to find a clear favourite for this battle of the west, with both sides somewhat abandoning the form that saw them clinch impressive victories in Round 1.
Parramatta found themselves stuck in first gear for much of their clash with the Bulldogs, with prop Pauli Pauli and winger James Tuitahi the only Eels to rack up more than 100 metres.
For the Wests Tigers it was defence that let them down from the outset, fullback Kieran Moss crossing for his first of three tries inside the first minute.
The results are a reverse of a fortnight ago when Parramatta put on a 46-point attacking blitz and the Wests Tigers held Newcastle to just 12 points.
If both sides can recapture that form it will make for a fascinating Friday afternoon. If things play out more like last weekend, this could be a dour slug fest.
Home side advantage is really the only indicator here, but a fickle one.
Tip: Wests Tigers by two points.
Titans v Sea Eagles
Saturday 2.15pm, Skilled Park
The only positive to take from the Gold Coast’s performance last weekend is that their opponents this week were even worse.
In a very worrying sign for Sea Eagles fans, things seem to have picked up where they left off in 2012. Manly coughed up an unforgiveable 15 errors in their 26-14 shellacking at the hands of Newcastle, which would have looked even worse had prop Jake Trbojevic not crossed the line with less than a minute to go.
Five Sea Eagles were forced to make more than 20 tackles in a performance that showed little sign of a silver lining. They will be hoping for a change in fortunes this weekend and it could come in the form of a dejected Titans outfit.
The Titans let in seven tries at home to the Raiders and weren’t much better with the ball in hand, fullback Matthew Russell the only player to make triple figures in metres gained.
Both forward packs have been forced to do plenty of tackling over the past fortnight; don’t be surprised if the floodgates open this week.
It will be fascinating to see which of the two talented halfbacks Matthew Beddow (Gold Coast) and Zach Nicholls (Manly) puts the pill in the right place at the right time most often. Whoever wins that battle, wins the war.
Tip: Gold Coast by four points.
Roosters v Broncos
Saturday 5.15pm, Allianz Stadium
A sensational comeback win by the Roosters over the Warriors last weekend will give them a pile of confidence as they head into this important clash against Brisbane.
The Broncos travel to Sydney with plenty of soul-searching to do and will go down to the Roosters if they haven’t improved since stumbling to a 40-28 loss to the Dragons last week.
Here’s hoping both teams are at the tops of their game, with salivating match-ups all over the park lending this clash blockbuster potential.
Brisbane back-rower Caleb Timu was easily the best of a beaten bunch last week (two tries, 25 tackles, five tackle-breaks) and Jack Siejka, his opposite number in the tri-colours is just as explosive. Siejka was quiet last week but his aptitude for the NRL is no secret.
The battle of the five-eighths will also be fascinating, with Brisbane’s Kodi Nikorima and the Roosters’ Samisoni Langi amongst the best in the game over the opening fortnight.
These two teams are fairly evenly matched from back to front, but expect the Broncos to fire up for a derby they relish.
Tip: Broncos by eight points.
Sharks v Warriors
Sunday, 11.45am, Sharks Stadium
Oh dear. They are the two words fans of both of these sides will be muttering in response to disastrous, winless, starts to season 2013.
With 70 points scored against them in 160 minutes of football, the Warriors boast the worst defence in the Holden Cup. The bad news doesn’t end there – their 28 meagre points thus far have been bettered by every other side.
For Cronulla, their demons are more clear-cut. Their attack has simply failed to fire. Only their opponents this Sunday have scored fewer points.
But a shining light for the Shire boys this season has been centre Anthony Moraitis, whose three tries from two losses this year have been very impressive.
He lines up against David Fusitua, a centre whose reputation has so far outweighed results. The Warriors need him to click, fast.
With both point-scoring and defence emerging as chronic problems for both sides it’s difficult to see where tries will come from.
But don’t forget, the Warriors lost on the buzzer last weekend. That, and a trip across the Tasman, might just have sucked the wind firmly from their sails.
Tip: Sharks by four points.
Panthers v Rabbitohs
Sunday 12.45pm, Centrebet Stadium
Lick your lips, it’s time for a tasty top-of-the-table extravaganza.
The Rabbitohs put memories of a heartbreaking two-point loss to the Roosters behind them at the weekend and were probably the best side of the Round in a clinical 32-18 dismantling of the Cronulla Sharks.
Centre Aaron Gray enjoyed the hum of a home crowd as he scored two tries and ran like the wind for 132 metres. His partner in the centres Tyrone Phillips was equally impressive, scoring a try himself, running for 161 metres and breaking five tackles.
Their opponents Penrith remain undefeated and have proven to all and sundry why they deserve their place atop the Holden Cup ladder.
Last week it was more of the same, punctuated by a stunning performance from fullback Kieran Moss who scored a hat-trick of tries, made 214 metres, broke seven tackles and set up a further two four-pointers. All before bedtime.
The battle of the backs that awaits us this Sunday is nothing short of salivating and if you’re at the ground it will be difficult to peel yourself away for refreshments.
Expect the Panthers to do it, just, in a high-scoring but tight Sunday-afternoon thriller.
Tip: Panthers by six points.
Raiders v Dragons
Sunday 4.15pm, Canberra Stadium
Both the Raiders and Dragons will be ruing a lack of consistency over the opening rounds, but equally happy that a corner has been turned – the combatants both racking up their first win last weekend.
But the redemption won’t last long for one of the sides and one has a funny feeling it will be the Raiders to return to their losing ways.
While the Raiders’ 38-24 win over the Titans was infinitely better than their Round 1 farce, the Green Machine did let in 24 points and commit a worrying 15 errors.
Star halfback Mitch Cornish (one try, two try assists) was adequate without being brilliant and the two Raiders wingers ran for a combined total of just 64 metres.
The Dragons’ 40-28 win, in contrast, makes for much more convincing reading.
Four of the Dragons’ back five made more than 100 metres, lock Kal Collins delivered 51 bone-jarring tackles and the Dragons made a mockery of the Broncos’ defence in racking up 43 tackle-breaks. Had they not taken their foot off the gas in the last 10 minutes, the score would have been more representative of their dominance.
All this says that Canberra, though enjoying hometown advantage, will need to lift if they’re to head to Newcastle next week with any confidence at all.
Tip: Dragons by 14 points.
Knights v Cowboys
Monday 4.45pm, Hunter Stadium
Rounding out week three of the Holden Cup are two sides who must feel relieved to have walked away with two points at the weekend.
The Knights, though victorious, might think it best if their clash against the Sea Eagles is soon forgotten. The Novocastrians were forced to trade blows with Manly for most of the match and should have gone on with a much bigger win against a much lesser opponent.
For the Cowboys, the relief will be of a sweeter kind, proving to naysayers that their first round blip was just that. The Melbourne Storm were flattered by the 26-16 scoreline as North Queensland had well and truly wrapped the result up with 15 minutes to play.
Power up front proved a valuable asset for the Cowboys and they will be hoping prop Patrick Kaufusi (126 metres, three tackle-breaks, 23 tackles) carries similar form into this clash.
This week he runs into defensive behemoth Jackson Hill who made 35 tackles last outing and missed precisely zero.
An interesting forwards clash awaits and one that might just tumble in favour of the visitors.
Tip: Cowboys by eight points.