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VB NSW Cup: Round 1 previews

Warriors centre Konrad Hurrell gets his first chance to push for an NRL recall in Round 1 of the VB NSW Cup this weekend. Copyright: Wayne Drought/NRL Photos Credit: Wayne Drought/NRL Photos Copyright: Wayne Drought/NRL Photos
 

Wentworthville Magpies v NZ Warriors
Belmore Sports Ground, Saturday, March 8, 12pm
Referee: Damian Briscoe
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of Steele Sports Radio (www.steelesports.com.au) and 2GLF FM 89.3 (www.893fm.com.au)

What better way to kick off the 2014 season than a monster card of football out at Belmore this Saturday. There will be four matches played in total which includes a couple of Junior Rep fixtures, but the first match on the day looks every bit a classic with Wenty set to take on the debuting Warriors. Warriors coach Rohan Smith will be out to make a statement to the other 12 competing teams that his Warriors side is here to play. A relatively young side on paper, the Warriors look to be one of the excitement machines of 2014 with players like Ngani Laumape, Ben Henry, Konrad Hurrell and Sebastine Ikahihifo all looking to impress and force their way back into the top squad over the coming rounds. Much the same could be said about Wenty, with players like Justin Hunt, Chris Sandow, Ryan Morgan and Daniel Harrison all just a few good performances away from putting some pressure on their NRL peers. In total there will be 16 players across both teams who have tasted first grade before and this quality is sure to shine through in what promises to be a fitting way to kick off season 2014.
        
Keep an eye on: The Hurrell-icane – it is unlikely that Konrad Hurrell would have taken the news well that he would be playing at Belmore on Saturday as opposed to Pirtek Stadium on Sunday night… and this doesn’t bode well for the Wenty defenders. One of the game’s most destructive ball runners when given time and space, Hurrell just may take his frustration out on either Ryan Morgan or Api Pewhairangi. Regardless of who gets the job, you won’t want to take your eyes off it for a minute.    
  
Prediction: Awfully hard to settle on a winner here but fancy the Warriors may just sneak home. Warriors by 2.

Penrith Panthers v Newcastle Knights 
Sportingbet Stadium, Saturday, March 8, 2.10pm
Referee: Liam Nicholls
Broadcast: Live on Fox Sports 1 and also radio coverage courtesy of Hawkesbury Radio 89.9FM (www.hawkesburyradio.com.au)

Like the Warriors, the Panthers have taken back control of their second tier side over the off season, and will be out to make an immediate impact. The Panthers side named for round one is a vastly different one from the side that, under the banner of the Wolves, competed in the 2013 Grand Final just over five months ago. Talented players like Isaah Yeo, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Eddie Aiono all got a brief taste of VB NSW Cup last year but look set to feature more prominently this season, while the club has also welcomed talented players like Kevin Naiqama (Knights), Will Smith (Knights) and Shaun Spence (Tigers) over the break. It is scary to think that players including Bryce Cartwright, George Jennings, Luke Capewell and Eto Nabuli are all currently on the sidelines because if they were not required in first grade, they would walk straight into this 17. The Knights will be out to put the disappointment of their second straight preliminary final loss behind them as they head to Sportingbet Stadium for this round one clash. Rick Stone would have been hopeful of playing a Matt Minto and Michael Dobson halves combination here, however the hamstring injury suffered by Jarrod Mullen at the Auckland Nines has scuttled that for the foreseeable future, so Tyler Randell is filling in at six. Another injury loss for the Knights is that of promising forward Joseph Tapine, meaning even more responsibility will fall on the shoulders of the likes of Hilder, Sims and Vaivai in the interim. The VB NSW Cup leading point scorer for the past two seasons, Josh Mantellato, should be ready and raring to go following his breakout performance for Italy at the Rugby League World Cup over summer, and his right-side combination with former Eel Brayden Wiliame should prove to be a fruitful one for the Novocastrians.                  

Not so little brother: Toka Likiliki – the ‘little’ brother of now Gold Coast Titan, Siuatonga Likiliki – had a huge year in 2013 and surprised many with his play at times. But all that will count for little if he is unable to replicate the type of form that saw him claim more than a couple of man of match titles last season. His match-up in the front row with another former Knight in Sam Anderson should be a beauty.      
  
Prediction: Penrith will be looking to put on a show for their home fans and should make a winning start to their season. Panthers by 10. 

Manly Sea Eagles v Mounties 
Brookvale Oval, Saturday, March 8, 2.30pm
Referee: Jeff Hartup

Two sides that missed the finals last season clash here in what serves as the perfect opportunity for either one to start their 2014 campaign on the right note. Both of these sides have a number of new players, with Manly in particular looking a vastly different side to the one which finished 11th last season. Former Jet and Bulldog Jack Littlejohn has joined the club and will captain them this weekend while they have also signed Tony Satini (Panthers), Masada Iosefa (Tigers) and Delroy Berryman (Redcliffe Dolphins). Berryman in particular should be interesting to watch as he has come down south with huge wraps on him out of the Intrust Super Cup, so it will be interesting to monitor his progress as the season unfolds. Mounties may well feel the pinch in the personnel department this season with their NRL affiliate, the Raiders, also renewing ties with Souths Logan (secondary affiliation) in the Intrust Super Cup, meaning some handy players who may have found themselves at Brookvale Oval this Saturday will now be running around on the Sunshine Coast instead. However Stephen Antonelli and his staff will not use this as an excuse and still have plenty of ammunition at their disposal. Kyle O’Donnell will debut for the club after moving to the Raiders from the Panthers this past off season while Joe Bond has also joined Mounties from the Redcliffe Dolphins. Mitch Cornish would have had his sights set on partnering Terry Campese in the halves this year but has been overlooked for round one. Look for Cornish to be one of Mounties’ best to start the year.                     
Northern exposure: Berryman and Bond – as alluded to above, both Berryman and Bond have headed south with substantial wraps placed on them by our friends to the north. These two would know the other’s games inside and out having played together for some time at the Dolphins. If Berryman makes a break and gets in the clear, look for Bond to be all over him like a cheap suit.              
Prediction: Another flip of the coin fixture here but Manly posted a great win against Mounties at Brookie last year and can repeat the dose here. Sea Eagles by 4. 

Illawarra Cutters v Wests Tigers 
WIN Stadium, Wollongong, Saturday, March 8, 3pm 
Referee: Chris Treneman

The Cutters missed out on the finals by the barest of margins in 2013 while the Tigers made it through to week two after a win against the Vulcans, however you get the feeling that both of these sides will be aiming much higher in 2014. The Cutters have said goodbye to Paul McGregor this past off season, with the man known as ‘Mary’ elevated to a role with the St George Illawarra Dragons NRL side. So in steps Ian Millward, another whose name is synonymous with rugby league down south. Millward has wiped the slate clean for this season and if you take a quick glimpse at their line up for the weekend, that slate should start filling up with wins quickly one would imagine. The halves combination of Williams and Carr played several games together for Mounties last season, so they should hit the ground running, while the rest of the roster is littered with NRL experience in players like Green, Mata’utia, Groat Matthews and Mataka. The Tigers also look to have a more than serviceable roster for the upcoming season with established players such as Waters and Austin in the halves balanced with some exciting young talent in Rowe, Lovett and Naiyaravoro. Like the Panthers, the Tigers have a relatively high injury toll already. When the likes of Galloway, Nofoaluma, Simona, Sironen, Halatau and Moses all return from injury, look for this Tigers VB NSW Cup side to be good… very good.              
   
Wrecking ball: Blessed with size, strength and speed, there are not too many defences which can contain Taqele Naiyaravoro when he is on song. Naiyaravoro looked on pace to score 30 tries last season until a leg injury sustained in the VB NSW Cup Representative match brought his amazing season to a shuddering halt. Now fully fit and itching to hit the track, look for Taqele to be one of the competition’s leading tryscorers early on in the season as he pushes for an NRL berth.  

Prediction: Two very evenly matched sides on paper. Favouring the home side ever so slightly but a Tigers win would not surprise. Cutters by 6.  

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Cronulla Sharks
Belmore Sports Ground, Saturday, March 8, 5pm 
Referee: Adam Cassidy
Broadcast: Radio coverage courtesy of Steele Sports Radio (www.steelesports.com.au) and 2GLF FM 89.3 (www.893fm.com.au)

Last year’s premiers begin their title defence with a trip to Belmore to face a young and exciting Bulldogs squad. The Bulldogs are another one of those sides that are currently feeling the cost of injuries to their top squad, with four almost guaranteed NRL starters in Inu, Eastwood, Kasiano and Lafai all missing at present. While this has given players such as Corey Thompson, Pat O’Hanlon and David Klemmer a chance to impress Des Hasler in first grade, it has probably left Barry Ward and his staff a little light on at this level. There are no such worries for the visiting Sharks, who appear to have picked up where they left off last year, naming an all-star back line that includes former Blues and Kangaroos representative Eric Grothe Jr as well as Nathan Gardner, Ricky Leutele and Nathan Stapleton. A few young guys worth keeping an eye on for the Bulldogs throughout the season will be Pat Templeman, John Sila and Moses Mbye. All have already tasted a bit of footy at this level but now get the opportunity to really stamp their brand on this side. All three have wonderful attacking pedigree, and Sila in particular knows his way to the try line. Win or lose, the Bulldogs will definitely be one of the more interesting sides in this year’s competition.

Back to back attack: Much like the Roosters in the NRL, many people who know a bit about this competition are expecting the Sharks to be the team to beat once again. If you look at this week’s line up it is hard to argue against them being one of the early-season favourites. No less than eight of the Sharks named this week have NRL experience, but it will be interesting to see what effect the departure of Chad Townsend has on the side. Penani  Manumalealii was a wonderful foil to Townsend in 2013 but will now have to step up and handle a lot more responsibility throughout the match. His halves partner Kurt Mann is still quite young despite having wonderful potential and even when Holdsworth likely re-joins the side upon Robson’s return from injury, it perhaps will be Penani who ultimately has the biggest say on the Sharks’ title defence.

Prediction: Hard to tip against last year’s premiers who look to have the edge on a young Dogs side. Sharks by 10.

Wyong Roos v North Sydney Bears
Morry Breen Oval, Saturday, March 8, 5pm 
Referee: Daniel Olford
Broadcast: NSWRL Match Centre 

The Wyong Roos gave a wonderful account of themselves in their debut season, winning five games and coming close to winning several others. And while there was great pride in many of those close losses, one gets the feeling that under Rip Taylor, losses won’t be acceptable no matter how brave they are. Last year the Roos jumped into the deep end of the pool so to speak as they didn’t formalise their entry into the competition until quite late in the piece, making recruiting and the like more difficult. Fast forward to now and the Roos have added some real quality to their list for 2014. Dale Clacherty from the Knights is a good young outside back while the signing of former Bears in Shaune Corrigan and Darren Nicholls should help bring some experience to a fairly young squad. However it has been the signing of Mark O’Meley which has justifiably caught most of the public’s attention. Despite it feeling as though O’Meley has been around forever, at just 32 years of age, the man affectionately known as ‘Ogre’ should still have plenty to offer at this level of the game. The Bears will field a vastly different side from the one they put on the park during their last match back in September. The likes of Justin Hunt (Parramatta), Nathan Peats (Parramatta), Matt King (retired), Josh Starling (Manly), Darren Nicholls (Wyong), Greg Nichols (retired), Bennett Leslie (rugby union) and Shaune Corrigan (Wyong) have all moved on, meaning that this is very much a new look Bears outfit. Former Bunny Kane Morgan is set to play fullback this round while former Raiders NYC player Jordan Worboys has replaced Nicholls at five eighth. Kirisome Auva’a will look to replicate the type of form that saw him help the Sharks to last year’s title. 
 
Time to make his Mark: NSWRL Media caught up with Mark O’Meley earlier in the week and this article will be up on NSWRL.com.au Friday night and in this weekend’s edition of Rugby League News available at all VB NSW Cup grounds. Mark was open and honest about how he came to be playing for the Roos in 2014 instead of still plying his trade in England, or looking for an NRL contract. He also spoke about not wanting to do himself or the team a disservice by not being up to scratch. He sounded very determined to rip in and prove a point. Expect O’Meley to be one of the Roos’ best each week.  

Prediction: The Roos will be in this match right up to their ears but the Bears may just get home late in the piece. Bears by 7.

Newtown Jets have the BYE
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