Sea Eagles v Rabbitohs
Friday, 5.30pm, Brookvale Oval
Win at all costs. That will be the message from both Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs coaching staff on Friday as two teams with their season hopes fading fast do battle at Brookvale Oval.
It was meagre pickings for Manly a fortnight ago when thrashed 26-10 by Cronulla at home.
Winger Suni Fatialofa was the only try-scorer for the Sea Eagles, while prop Jake Trbojevic was at his usual powerhouse best, racking up 180 metres in attack and 28 tackles in defence.
Their opponents on Friday, South Sydney, will be sapped of confidence after a heartbreaking loss to Melbourne.
A valiant Rabbitohs should be awarded full marks for effort, however, with an impressive seven players making 20 tackles or more.
If South Sydney can shore up the discipline that saw them make 15 errors in the encounter, they could well snatch this one.
Fullback Dylan Walker was dazzling in defeat, earning 121 metres, four tackle-breaks and a try. If South Sydney emulate form like that across the park, they are specials.
Manly’s strike power is very much forward focused.
They might just find themselves run ragged by a spritely South Sydney side.
Tip: Rabbitohs by eight points.
Cowboys v Raiders
Saturday, 3.15pm, 1300SMILES Stadium
Both teams enter this clash off the back of gripping close encounters, and it will be thrilling to see how a fortnight’s preparation has Saturday afternoon’s match pan out.
Two tries in the final five minutes wasn’t enough to get the Cowboys over the line against the Broncos in a nail-biting Queensland derby a fortnight ago.
Centre Javid Bowen and halfback Sam Foster crossed in the 76th and 79th minutes respectively to leave the Cowboys an agonising two points shy of an important victory.
Prop Patrick Kaufusi played out of his skin in the 36-34 defeat, making 152 metres, 23 tackles and setting up a try. Teammate Jayden Hodges was also breathtaking in the No.9 jersey, the rake amassing an incredible 58 tackles and setting up a try.
The Broncos will need similar defensive efforts across the park when they host Canberra on Saturday. The Green Machine boasts the fourth-best attack in the Holden Cup (185 points), despite a dour draw against the Warriors in their most recent outing.
In that uncharacteristic performance, only three Raiders cracked triple figures in attack, utility Tahakilu Pangai the most with 109.
Lock Dennis Tomarchio (37 tackles) was gallant in the 22-all draw, as was centre Brenko Lee, who scored a hat-trick of tries.
The Raiders should do this comfortably, but will need to be at their best and recapture their attacking mojo in front of a hostile Townsville crowd or an upset is well and truly on the cards.
Tip: Raiders by 12 points.
Wests Tigers v Broncos
Saturday, 5.15pm, Campbelltown Stadium
The Representative Round came at the worst possible time for the Wests Tigers, who had finally shown glimpses of the form that saw them capture last year’s premiership.
A worrying slump had seen them suffer consecutive losses for the first time this season and an unfamiliar home ground in the form of the SCG had placed a huge amount of uncertainty over their match against the Dragons.
But, put simply, the Wests Tigers shone.
The black-and-golds ran riot across the hallowed SCG turf, churning through eight tries to four in a 48-20 belting.
The halves pairing of Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses worked a treat for the defending premiers, with both setting up tries and sharing in the spoils themselves with four-pointers of their own.
Lock Brenden Santi proved why he is early Origin material with 31 tackles, a tackle-break and a clean error sheet.
The Broncos’ two competition points, meanwhile, came with much less ease and grace. In many ways Brisbane were lucky to escape with a 36-34 victory over the Cowboys – who left their run slightly too late.
Halfback Ashley Taylor was back to his usual best, scoring two tries and setting another one up. He also made five tackle-breaks, while interchange player Francis Molo (two tries, 135 metres, two line-breaks) was close to best on field. Second-rower Corey Oates was also impressive with a brace of tries.
There’s nothing quite like a Campbelltown crowd to make visitors feel unwelcome. The Broncos need to fire on all cylinders if they are to topple the Wests Tigers.
Defence will be key in this match. Whoever misses the fewest tackles wins.
Tip: Wests Tigers by four points.
Titans v Knights
Sunday, 11.45am, Skilled Park
With just two wins between them and the leanest two attack columns on the Holden Cup ladder, Sunday’s clash between Gold Coast and Newcastle doesn’t exactly scream of blockbuster potential.
The Titans haven’t tasted victory since Round 1, the Knights since Round 2, so whatever the result this weekend, let’s hope there are plenty of copies of the team songs available in the sheds after the game – just to jolt the players’ memories.
The home side’s latest dose of misery came in the form of an unadulterated thrashing at the hands of Parramatta a fortnight ago.
The Titans managed only a try either side of halftime on their way to a 32-10 shellacking.
The Gold Coast’s 15 errors were telling and they will need to drastically improve their discipline if they are to resurrect a season that is quickly spiralling out of control.
In the Hunter, things aren’t looking much better.
At times the Newcastle crowd were hoping for an introduction of the mercy rule as they watched their side trounced 30-14 by competition leaders Penrith.
Positives were few and far between but five-eighth Ben Roose was easily the best of a beaten bunch, setting up a try, a line-break and making 25 tackles. Centre Joshua Allison (145 metres, one try assist, one tackle-break) was also great for the blue-and-reds.
It’s hard to see which way this one will go, with both sides impotent in attack to this point in the season. Surely the Gold Coast will be giving their all to avoid making the Skilled Park crowd miserable for the second time in a row. Here’s hoping.
Tip: Titans by 10 points.
Sharks v Bulldogs
Sunday, 12.45pm, Bluetongue Stadium
One team might be sitting pretty in the top four, the other might be languishing in 10th spot, but make no mistake – the result of this match is far from certain.
Cronulla enter the clash off the back of a 26-10 thrashing of Manly away. It was the Sharks’ best 80 minutes of the season and there were brilliant performances right across the park.
No less than eight players made 100 metres or more in attack, with hooker Michael Lichaa causing headaches all over Brookvale with 143 metres of his own, 26 tackles, two tackle-breaks and a try assist.
Five-eighth Fa’amanu Brown was also a standout, scoring two tries, making 122 metres and 19 tackles.
Meanwhile, the usually brilliant Bulldogs struggled to keep up with the Sydney Roosters and the 34-30 scoreline flattered them if anything.
Genius five-eighth Moses Mbye was as always unstoppable, scoring two tries and breaking seven Roosters tackles. Herman Ese’ese was also a silver lining for the Bulldogs – the prop scoring a try, making 99 metres, 36 tackles and a line-break.
This is a match that shows ladder position doesn’t always dictate a clear outcome.
If the Sharks, who enjoy home crowd advantage, play as well as they did against Manly a fortnight ago, the Bulldogs could well find themselves bundled out of the top four, with the sky-blues climbing ever closer to the top eight.
Tip: Sharks by four points.
Panthers v Eels
Monday, 4.45pm, Centrebet Stadium
Who can stop the Penrith juggernaut? It’s the daunting question facing 15 clubs in the Holden Cup, and this Monday it’s Parramatta’s turn to attempt an answer.
If their form from a fortnight ago has survived the break, they are at least in with a sniff.
The Eels were phenomenal against an albeit hapless Titans side, with a forward pack emerging that will even send shivers down the spine of the undefeated Panthers.
Prop Pauli Pauli was jaw-dropping on his way to 179 metres, 11 tackle-breaks and a try assist.
His partner in crime Junior Paulo was equally impressive with 192 metres and a line-break.
Defence up front was also stunning, with hooker Kaysa Pritchard (26 tackles) and back-rower Diamond Charlie (25 tackles) stopping everything that moved.
While Penrith also have up-front power in bucket-loads, they have built a season on razzamatazz from the competition’s best backline.
They have their style of play down to a fine art – the five outside backs are given constant quality ball and had to make just 37 tackles between them against the Knights a fortnight ago.
Regan Campbell-Gillard at prop made 134 metres and 27 tackles and the prospect of him running at the two Parramatta front-rowers on Monday is enough to lend this game match-of-the-round credentials.
Add to that pocket-rocket No.9 Kieran Moseley (38 tackles, one line-break, six tackle-breaks, one try assist) and his battle with Kaysa Pritchard, and it’s enough to make you go stir crazy waiting for Monday. We are already going a bit mad with excitement and tipping Parramatta. With a field-goal thrown in for good measure.
Tip: Eels by seven points.