Andrew Bryan, NRL.com
Can it get any better? Yes, yes it can
What an amazing week of rugby league, with a combined seven points deciding three games on Sunday and a biggest winning margin of just three points! And the season is about to get even better! What about the fixtures we have coming up? It certainly is a great time to be a rugby league fan.
Heritage Round features some massive blockbusters and will be highlighted by the NRL paying tribute to the 50-year anniversary of Norm Provan and Arthur Summons’ iconic embrace when the Dragons and Wests Tigers play at the SCG on Sunday afternoon.
And around the corner we have the Australia v New Zealand and Samoa v Tonga Test Matches, Under-20s Origin and Country v City… but wait, there’s more: we then have the traditional ANZAC Day clashes to look forward to. Strap yourself in: some serious football is coming our way!
Celebrating Heritage Round
The Queensland derby between the Broncos and Cowboys is sure to be a heated clash, while in Sydney all the focus will be around Sonny Bill Williams, as his Roosters take on the Bulldogs. These two teams share a rocky recent history – there is no love lost and this is sure to be an absolute cracker. Get ready for media articles galore re-living the whole SBW Bulldogs walkout in 2008 and dredging up all the past. It is sure going to be an interesting build-up!
On Saturday, a top-of-the-table clash awaits as the Storm take on the Rabbitohs. How good could this game be? Inglis v Slater, Cronk v Reynolds, Smith v Luke, Burgess v Hoffman… WOW! Across the park, this is a great battle of intriguing match-ups. You don’t need to be a fan of either team to really enjoy this one.
What about Sunday afternoon – Sharks and Sea Eagles re-ignite famous grand final clashes of years gone past. This should be a highly physical encounter.
And then we have the old girl herself, the glorious Sydney Cricket Ground, for so long the home of rugby league. So much history, so much tradition highlighted by the 50-year anniversary of the immortal embrace between Arthur Summons and Norm Provan. The most iconic of all rugby league moments will be celebrated when the Dragons take on the Wests Tigers. What a powerful way to celebrate the Greatest Game of all!
More details here.
We are only five rounds into the NRL competition and already representative season is upon us. How quick has that gone? The Australian team to take on New Zealand in the Nation’s capital will be picked on Sunday, April 14, with Country and City Origin teams announced straight afterwards. Samoa will also take on Tonga after the Under-20s Origin at Centrebet Stadium on Saturday night. It should be a great night’s entertainment – the hakas alone are worth the price of admission.
Our NRL Facebook page ran a survey last week asking fans to decide who had made the best start to 2013. The most popular responses from fans were: Cooper Cronk, George Burgess, Adam Reynolds, Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Sonny Bill Williams, Nathan Merritt, James Maloney and Tyrone Roberts.
It made for interesting reading. While NRL.com carried an article about Daly Cherry-Evans hoping to be in the mix for Queensland Origin, it is hard to see the talented youngster getting a run with Cooper Cronk seemingly taking his game to another level. This column isn’t sure how many levels there are, with so many players ready to take their game to the ‘next [insert cliché]’ but surely Cronk is close to going off the charts!
You can’t help but be impressed with the start from Sonny Bill Williams. While he undoubtedly polarises opinion, you can’t question his ability on a rugby league field. We all know about his ability in attack, with strong running, tackle-breaks, offloading and most recently cut-out passes, but it is his defence and work rate that have really stood out – especially considering he didn’t have a traditional off-season to develop game fitness. All eyes will be on him this week as we count down to the Bulldogs encounter.
Nathan Merritt is knocking loudly on the door for representative honours. The man simply can’t stop scoring, his record is mighty impressive. What about the try he scored against the Warriors on Sunday? Not many would have scored from that position; you get the feeling he expected to when he picked up the ball (if you haven’t seen it, check out the video highlights on NRL.com). While Akuila Uate seems to have returned to his powerful best and Brett Morris is still playing good football, will it be enough to keep Merritt out of a NSW jersey this time around? He wouldn’t look out of place in ANY representative jumper. He can’t do much more.
Dog of a start
Last year’s premiership runners-up the Bulldogs were out-muscled and out-enthused by Manly last Friday night – leaving them with only one win from five games. However, the blue-and-white have been without Ben Barba and a number of key forwards during which time they have taken on premiership heavyweights Melbourne, South Sydney, Manly and North Queensland. Canterbury’s ability to hang in these contests without being anywhere near their best should give Bulldogs fans confidence. How many teams in this competition would expect to win those fixtures with or without players missing? It is only a matter of time before it clicks at Belmore. Although, the Roosters won’t make things easy on Friday night – what a tough group of fixtures to start the year!