Bulldogs v Sea Eagles
Friday 5.20pm, ANZ Stadium
An apparently resurgent Manly side face an uphill battle if they’re to continue an impressive winning run that has seen them earn consecutive victories for the first time since 2011.
Their latest was an impressive 28-16 triumph over the Wests Tigers at Brookvale Oval. The running was with the Sea Eagles from siren to siren and it was again Manly’s forwards who sparkled brightest. Prop Jake Trbojevic was a dynamo in racking up 139 metres, 20 tackles, four tackle-breaks and Manly’s opening try.
But their opponents on Friday offer no cake-walk. The Bulldogs are sitting pretty in third place with three wins from four games and will enjoy the same home crowd that got them home by four points against the Rabbitohs last Friday.
The blue-and-whites are again proving to have one of the most unstoppable backlines in the Holden Cup. Winger John Sila has scored eight tries in just four games. Custodian Patrick Templeman has set up five tries and six line-breaks, while five-eighth Moses Mbye has been one of the Bulldogs’ best with three try assists and a lethal kicking game.
The Sea Eagles will be aiming for a grudge match, a war up front, a grind out. The Bulldogs will be steering the ship towards razzle-dazzle. If it heads that way, they should do it easily.
Tip: Bulldogs by 10 points.
Titans v Broncos
Friday 5.20pm, Skilled Park
Location is about the only thing these two teams have in common. The Broncos remain in the top eight, having never relinquished the position since Round 1. The Titans, meanwhile, are not acclimatised to the air at the top of the ladder and are languishing in second-last place after a heavy 40-12 loss to front-runners Penrith.
Fullback Jahrome Hughes was a silver lining for the Titans in setting up their only two tries, earning 152 metres and two tackle-breaks in attack and lending a hand in two line-breaks. He will need to post a similar performance if the Titans are to topple their big brothers this week.
The Broncos also enter the match-up a week after a loss, albeit with much more to cheer about.
Only the kicking games of Cameron Cullen and Ashley Taylor let down the maroon-and-golds – a heartbreaking try to Melbourne fullback Denny Solomona in the 72nd minute clinching a 28-24 victory for the Storm.
But with six Brisbane players making 20 tackles or more, the coaching staff will feel the poor defence that denied them a finals berth last year has evaporated.
The Titans have shown glimpses of expansive ball play this year, but it will need to be at a peak on Friday night if they are to run around their opponents. Unlikely.
Tip: Brisbane by six points.
Eels v Sharks
Saturday 3.15pm, Parramatta Stadium
An intriguing clash looms between two sides that share only a couple of wins between them.
The Eels' sole triumph occurred on their first outing of the season; the Sharks' on their most recent.
Knowing the importance of momentum, it's hard to go past the away team.
Cronulla dominated in a fierce local derby clash against the Dragons on Saturday, hooker Fa'amanu Brown lifting the sky blues to a convincing and inaugural 36-24 win.
His astounding four tries, 20 tackles, 14 tackle-breaks and 168 metres were as Gallen-like as they were jaw-dropping.
This week he runs into an Eels side that simply needs to offer a greater resistance than that seen in their last quarter of football, lest a massacre unfold. Parramatta led by four tries to two with 15 minutes to go but allowed the Roosters to steamroll them in a gripping 22-20 clash.
Prop Junior Paulo was once again the best of a beaten bunch, the man mountain contributing 27 tackles, four tackle-breaks and a try assist.
Here's hoping his efforts prove contagious, or there could be some very sore heads out west come kick-off in first grade.
It should be a fascinating 80 minutes between two closely matched sides. The clash of rakes Brown and Pritchard is a salivating prospect.
Tip: Sharks by four points.
Cowboys v Panthers
Saturday 4.15pm, 1300SMILES Stadium
North Queensland, a team obviously on the improve, this week meet their Mount Everest – and it is 13 men wide and chocolate in colour.
The home side will be ruing the performance that ended their winning run last week and will serve as their preparation for a clash against early 2013 favourites.
The Cowboys only managed one try across the Tasman, a 69th-minute consolation to winger Zac Mackay.
North Queensland simply cannot afford a repeat of the 49 ineffective tackles they dished up if they are to conquer the Panthers.
Penrith showed they are definitively the team to beat with a 40-12 demolition of the Titans.
Winger Dallin Zelezniak bagged a hat-trick, while five-eighth Daniel Foster and fullback Kieran Moss scored two tries of their own in a glorious afternoon for the best backline in the Holden Cup.
Up front, prop Regan Campbell-Gillard also shone with 128 metres and 24 tackles.
The form leading into this clash couldn't be more different. But Townsville will be far more welcoming to the Cowboys than Auckland was. That fact alone suggests a tighter score line than most will be anticipating.
Tip: Panthers by eight points.
Dragons v Knights
Sunday 12.45pm, WIN Jubilee Oval
The Dragons were thoroughly thumped by the Knights in the corresponding match of 2012 – and if last week's display is an accurate indicator of form, they may well be in for a sickening case of déjà vu.
If it weren't for five Dragons digging deep and making more than 30 tackles each (lock Kal Collins an astonishing 51), the Sharks may well have torn St George Illawarra to shreds beyond recognition.
It's hard to pinpoint where the young Dragons are going wrong, but with few errors and reasonable discipline – their greatest fault is most likely identical to their NRL counterparts in a sheer difficulty to score.
That said, with 43 tackles, 121 metres and three tackle-breaks, hooker Craig Garvey was admirable in defeat and deserves a mention.
The Knights meanwhile have demonstrated some of the best defence in the Holden Cup. Though perched at 12th place on the ladder, the Knights have conceded fewer points than any other side outside the top eight (92).
The stats undoubtedly suggest a dour 80 minutes and unless the last-placed Dragons acquaint themselves with the try line soon, they could see potential for a spot in the top eight vanish before their eyes.
Tip: Knights by six points.
Warriors v Rabbitohs
Sunday 1.45pm, Mt Smart Stadium
The Warriors are starting to look the real deal again. Two very solid wins in a row are proof of that.
Their most recent triumph came in the form of a near-faultless 25-6 trouncing of the Cowboys at home.
No less than nine New Zealand players racked up triple figures in attack, while the Warriors heard the shrill whistle of a penalty blown against them only five times.
Hooker Michael Sio, who scored a try, broke two tackles, made three offloads and 27 tackles, was simply stunning.
The Warriors are now sitting in ninth place and are poised to strike, with a victory against a worryingly inconsistent South Sydney the only thing standing between them and a foot in the top eight.
With 12 minutes to play against the Bulldogs, the Rabbitohs looked to have sewn up a much-needed win. But the snooze button was hit at the most inopportune of times and the Bunnies now have consecutive losses against their name.
Dummy-half Cameron McInness was yet another No.9 to star on the weekend in a losing side and he will surely feel his try assist, five tackle-breaks and 30 tackles were worthy of victory.
A double dose of Mt Smart must be tantalising for the Warriors who look likely to exploit home crowd advantage again and make it three from three.
Tip: Warriors by 10 points.
Raiders v Roosters
Sunday 4.15pm, Canberra Stadium
The Roosters will be hoping to avoid a serving of Capital punishment in this juicy, tantalising match of the round.
It's 4th v 5th and for good reason, with both sides demonstrating stunning football on their way to three victories from four outings.
The Raiders' fullback Anthony Milford was close to the best player of Round 4, scoring two tries, racking up 145 metres and nine tackle breaks in their 30-26 triumph over Newcastle. He has been rewarded with jersey No.18 in first grade this week but is still likely to turn out for the -20s.
Sydney, meanwhile, called on power up front in snatching a thrilling 22-20 win against Parramatta.
Second rower Rhyse Martin (112 metres, 23 tackles, four tackle-breaks and an important late try) was the pick of the bunch. Partner Jack Noble (30 tackles) was also far from shoddy.
Across the board the Roosters deserve applause for holding nerve when everything suggested they shouldn't.
How mouth-watering an encounter to ponder: the Raiders' potent attacking backline attempting to run ragged one of the most in-form forward packs in the competition.
The trip to Canberra is one of the most fabled and notoriously difficult in Australian rugby league. One can't help but be swayed that the home crowd might narrowly claim their latest victim this Sunday.
Tip: Raiders by two points.
Storm v Wests Tigers
Monday 4.45pm, AAMI Park
Fireworks at AAMI Park look set to conclude Round 5 of the Holden Cup.
Memories of a disappointing 2012 are becoming ever-more distant for the Melbourne Storm, who at the weekend notched up their third win of the season to surge into second place.
A hat-trick to fullback Denny Solomona handed the Storm victory in a gutsy and absorbing 80 minutes of football against Brisbane.
Just four points separated the modern-day rivals at fulltime and six Storm players were forced to make 29 tackles or more in holding the Broncos out.
Halfback Corey McGrady was brilliant for the away side in setting up two vital tries.
Their opponents this week enjoyed a less-rewarding day at the office. The Wests Tigers slumped to a comprehensive 28-16 defeat to Manly in a match they really should have won.
Wests defended well at times but were totally run off their feet by last year's minnows.
One can only assume the performance was an anomaly, as only Penrith boast a leaner 'against' column than the sixth-placed Tigers.
A total of nine Wests Tigers players made 20 tackles or more against the Sea Eagles. The formidable task of drying up points against Melbourne will require all that effort, and then some.
Tip: Storm by eight points.