Previews of this weekend's action...
Penrith Panthers v NZ Warriors
Sportingbet Stadium, Saturday, May 3, 1.00pm
Referee: Adam Cassidy
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of Hawkesbury Radio 89.9FM (www.hawkesburyradio.com.au)
The seventh-placed Panthers will host the fourth-placed Warriors this Saturday at Sportingbet Stadium in what is the first of four huge games set down for the day. The Panthers side has been decimated with a number of first choice players either unavailable due to injury or representative commitments. The likes of Eto Nabuli (Fiji), Reagan Campbell-Gillard (Fiji), Waqa Blake (Fiji), Kevin Naiqama (Fiji), Kierran Moseley (QLD) and Isaac John (NZ) would have all been likely starters for the Panthers here had they not been selected for their respective sides, and their absence is certainly set to test the depth at the club. The Warriors will be shooting for five in a row here and despite the loss of Carlos Tuimavave (18th man for Samoa), Dominique Peyroux (Samoa), Sam Lousi (suspended) and Michael Sio (Samoa), they still appear to have named a very strong side. Kevin Locke has returned from injury in style the past few weeks while the inclusion of former QLD Maroon Dane Nielsen shows just how much depth the club has at present. The Panthers will do it tough this weekend however the club prides itself on its young talent coming through the ranks and we wouldn’t be surprised to see them stand up when called upon.
Stone Cold Locke: The Warriors have been a new side since Locke returned to the VB NSW Cup. He gives his young side plenty of confidence at the back. With confidence in their custodian, the younger play-makers have been able to open the shoulder blades so to speak. The Warriors will be a danger come finals time if players like Locke stay around.
Prediction: A weakened Panthers side may find the Warriors a little too good. Warriors by six.
Mounties v Wests Tigers
Aubrey Keech Reserve, May 3, 3.00pm
Referee: Daniel Olford
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of 2GLF FM 89.3 (893fm.com.au)
After a blistering start to the 2014 season, Mounties, have lost three of their past four clashes and as a result have slipped from first to sixth on the competition table. The Tigers should be rested here following the bye last weekend, but they, much like the Panthers, are heavily affected by losses heading into this round. Marika Koroibete (Fiji), Ben Murdoch-Masila (released to Penrith) and Taqele Naiyaravoro (released to NSW Waratahs) are all not going around here while a number of others are missing due to the clubs mounting injury toll. Mounties have no such concerns with the club naming a near identical side to the one that went down to Wyong last Sunday; however they have added the experienced Jake Foster to their starting side. These two sides have had a history of playing exciting clashes against one another and with the prospect of a dryer weekend in Sydney; we wouldn’t expect anything less once again.
Old Bull Young Buck: We are unabashed Nathan Waters fans and we are really looking forward to his clash against rising star Mitch Cornish here. Waters goes about his business with ruthless efficiency and wears his heart on his sleeve. Cornish will need to bring his ‘A’ game to Aubrey Keech Reserve on Saturday or he might just get a rude shock from his more seasoned opposite number.
Prediction: Mounties to right the ship at home. Mounties by eight.
Newtown Jets v Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Henson Park, May 3, 3.00pm
Referee: Damian Briscoe
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of Steele Sports Radio (www.steelesports.com.au)
The Jets and Sea Eagles currently sit four and five points respectively outside the top eight at present so this clash between the two storied clubs will carry some extra significance. Now by no means is it time to hit the panic button, however it may be time for slight concern in terms of maintaining pace with the bottom half of the top eight. The Jets would have done plenty of soul searching this week following one of the clubs biggest home losses in recent memory last round, going down to the Warriors 48-12 while Manly, off the back of a good win against the Bears a week earlier, went down to Wollongong and could only manage one try in a 26-4 loss to the Cutters. Manly will be without two of the clubs young stars in Clinton Gutherson and Jake Trbojevic here as they will be out at Penrith playing for NSW in the U20s Origin clash while the Jets have made a number of changes including dropping Shannon Gallant and naming Jake Watts at six and recalling Kurt Kara into the starting side. Plenty of history on show with these two clubs, but more importantly there is plenty to play for – should be a good one.
Late Changes: Representative rounds are the perfect time to drop an NRL star back for some extra game time and we wouldn’t be surprised if either Geoff Toovey or Trent Robinson send a few players to Henson Park to grab some more playing time ahead of the Origin period. Watch this space.
Prediction: Tipping the Jets at home but with little confidence. Jets by two.
North Sydney Bears v Canterbury Bulldogs
Sportingbet Stadium, May 3, 3.10pm
Referee: Drew Oultram
Broadcast: LIVE on Fox Sports 1
Similarly to the clash between the Jets and Sea Eagles, the Bears and Bulldogs will both be desperate to claim the two points here in an attempt to kick start their season. The Bears were perhaps unlucky not to have claimed the win against Wenty last weekend when they scored four tries to Wentworthville’s three only for some wayward goal kicking to cost them any chance of victory. The Bulldogs were never really in their clash against the Knights last weekend and would be hopeful of a much improved showing here on national television. Both of these teams have been affected by the representative round with Lote Tuqiri (Fiji) unavailable for the Bears while Reni Maitua (Samoa), Krisnan Inu (Samoa), Tyrone Phillips (NSW) and Lloyd Perrett (QLD) will all miss for the Dogs. Not a lot separates these two sides statistically with both having scored and conceded a similar amount of points after the first few months of the season. While neither of these sides have been playing champagne rugby league of late, they appear to be fairly evenly matched and a close game should be on the cards as a result.
Lights, Camera, Action: With many players going around here that often ply their trades in the lower grades; it is the perfect opportunity to show their wares on national television. You just never know who is watching these matches on Fox and maybe, just maybe, a five-star performance could see one of these guys kick start their football careers.
Prediction: The Bears came so close last week and can get the chocolates here. Bears by four.
Wyong Roos v Illawarra Cutters
Morry Breen Oval, May 4, 3.00pm
Referee: Chris Treneman
Broadcast: NSWRL Match Centre coverage available (NSWRL.com.au)
The Wyong Roos maintained their very good start to the season with their fourth win of the year last weekend while the Cutters continue to be the quiet achievers of the competition as they have snuck up into fifth spot with little fanfare. The Cutters bounced back from their round seven loss to the Warriors with a commanding 22 point win over Manly last round, and with the top two sides squaring off on Sunday and the Tigers set to start outsiders against Mounties on Saturday, a win for the Cutters could quite possibly see them elevate themselves inside the top two or three by rounds end. Both Leeson Ah Mau (Samoa) and Peter Mata’utia (Samoa) will both miss here for the Cutters however their side still looks to be a more than serviceable one. Wyong continue to be largely unaffected by injury and that type of continuity in their playing ranks can only be a good thing for a side that continues to show a few of the bigger clubs how to go about it in the VB NSW Cup.
All Fired Up: Given that they are only in their second season of the VB NSW Cup, it isn’t that often that the Roos will come up against former players but that is the case here. Junior Tia Kilifi played 21 of a possible 24 games for the club last year in the clubs inaugural season prior to heading down the south coast this off-season. Players usually fire up for clashes against their old clubs, but often former team mates also fire up and roll out the welcome mat. It will be worth keeping an eye on Junior while he is out there to see if there are any old scores looking to be settled come Sunday.
Prediction: Cutters to get over the top of a valiant Wyong side late in the piece. Cutters by eight.
Wentworthville Magpies v Newcastle Knights
Ringrose Park, May 4, 3.00pm
Referee: Liam Nicholls
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of Triple H FM (www.triplehfm.com.au/hhh)
The competition's top two sides will go at it at Ringrose Park on Sunday in what promises to be a spectacular game of rugby league. The Knights are yet to taste defeat to a side not named ‘Mounties’ in 2014 and will be excited about taking on Wenty having scored 128 points in their last three outings. Wenty head into this one on the back of two straight wins, but they will know that they will need a better effort than what they took to North Sydney Oval last Sunday if they are to knock off the Knights here. Both of these sides are averaging well over 30 points a game in attack so those that head out to Ringrose Park on Sunday look set for a footballing treat. Mouthwatering clashes right across the park with both sets of outside backs capable of scoring from deep in their own end of the field while the forwards look well matched, particularly the clash between Vaivai and Allgood. With all three grades on the card at Ringrose and the promise of some decent weather, what better way to spend a Sunday than at Ringrose Park with your mates.
Battle at the Back: We briefly touched on some of the key match ups above, but the one that looks perhaps the most exciting is the clash of the two number ones. Since returning from a broken jaw, Nathan Ross has looked dynamic for the Knights at the back and has scored five tries in three outings and could’ve quite easily scored more to be honest. Justin Hunt has been shuffled around a little bit in his matches for Wenty thus far in 2014, but he has been at the back the last two weeks and is named there again for this one. For what it is worth, we think this is his best position and it is only a matter of time until he catches fire again.
Prediction: Possibly the match of the round. Could go either way. Draw.
*Cronulla Sharks have the BYE