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VB NSW Cup: Round 5 previews

NSWRL NRL.com Thu, Apr 03, 2014 - 7:30 PM

Eels halfback Luke Kelly will line-up for his second successive game for Wentworthville this weekend in the VB NSW Cup. Copyrigh Copyright: Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Cronulla Sharks Vs NZ Warriors
Remondis Stadium, April 5, 12.40pm 
Referee: Daniel Olford
Broadcast: LIVE on Fox Sports 1 and Sky Sport NZ 

The Sharks will be attempting to stave off a third straight loss, something that hasn’t happened to them since round six 2012, when a desperate Warriors outfit heads to Remondis Stadium on Saturday. The Warriors looked set for their first ever win last week only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, conceding three late tries to the Tigers. The Sharks' performance against the Knights isn’t one that would have pleased Tony Herman either so look for a much improved performance at home this round. Not many changes here for the Warriors but both Sebastine Ikahihifo and Raymond Faitala Mariner have been named on an extended NRL bench, although whether one or both of those players start in the NRL will depend on the result of Sione Lousi’s appearance at the judiciary. No Sopoaga or Moors here for the Sharks but they will be boosted by the inclusions of Eric Grothe Jnr and Ben Roberts who will both add plenty of first grade experience to this side. The Warriors (formerly Vulcans) were one of the few sides to knock off the Sharks last season so look for them to take it right up to the reigning premiers here.

Young guns: The battle between the two number nines should be a real highlight for all of those in attendance and also everyone watching both in New Zealand and right around Australia on Sky Sports and Fox Sports respectively. Much has been written about Michael Lichaa in recent weeks, but cop the tip, if you haven’t seen this kid play, you’re in for a real treat. Similarly so in regards to Siliva Havili. Havili is a very different hooker to that of Michael Lichaa though, but still very effective in his own way. Siliva is actually a throwback to hookers of old who were built more like locks. Keep an eye on both of these young kids because you will see plenty of them in first grade over the coming decade.

Prediction: Hard to see Cronulla losing three in a row. Sharks by 7.
 
Illawarra Cutters Vs North Sydney Bears
WIN Stadium, April 5, 30pm
Referee: Adam Cassidy
Broadcast: NSWRL Match Centre coverage (NSWRL.com.au)

After a first up loss to the Tigers, the Cutters have bounced back to be unbeaten in their last three outings. Wins against the Jets and Sharks plus a draw against the Warriors sees the Cutters heading in the right direction for new coach, Ian Millward. The Bears on the other hand have found it a touch tougher early doors and have just the one win to show for their efforts. The Bears may count themselves a touch unlucky though to have not come away with the two points from their clash with Mounties after they scored four tries to Mounties three only to be let down by their goal kicking. Sam Williams comes back into this side for Michael Witt who has been recalled to first grade. The Dragons have named a large extended bench for their clash with Souths so it will be interesting to see if there are any other late inclusions down in Wollongong. Much the same with the Bears with both Cameron McInnes and Alex Johnston named on a six man bench for the Bunnies. They will be boosted though by the inclusions of Lote Tuqiri and Ben Lowe while Beau Champion has been named at six here. Ryan Carr has been leading the Cutters well during the first month of the season, so look for the former Bear to have another big one here against his old club.

Like a glove: Peter Mata’utia has slotted straight into the Cutters/Dragons system as if he had been playing there all of his life. The eldest of the four Mata’utia brothers, Peter had to leave his three younger brothers behind in Newcastle this past off season in search of further NRL opportunities down south. If his early season form for the Cutters is anything to go by, this was probably a wise choice.

Prediction: The Cutters are on a roll and will want to keep it going at home. Cutters by 8.
 
Newtown Jets Vs Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 
Henson Park, April 5, 3pm
Referee: Jared Maxwell
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of Steele Sports Radio (www.steelesports.com.au)

Two teams square off here that will be desperate to kick start their seasons with two points. The Jets remain winless in three outings after losses to Wenty, Mounties and Illawarra while the Bulldogs have had just the one win against the Sea Eagles. In the Jets’ defence, the three sides they have faced all currently hold down top five spots on the ladder, but nonetheless they wouldn’t be happy with the way they are playing. The Bulldogs are an enigma wrapped in a riddle. The talent that the Bulldogs put out on the park against Wyong last week would have seen them break the VB NSW Cup salary cap (if there was one) however their performance certainly didn’t reflect this. Once again here, the Bulldogs will field a number of current and former internationals in Kasiano, Inu and Maitua and may yet get Eastwood back if his services are not required on Friday night. In addition to these guys they also have more than capable players in the form of Burr, Alaalatoa, Cook and Low just to name a few. A vastly improved performance by the Dogs will definitely be expected here. The Jets continue to search for some early season form but there were some signs last week that they are getting closer. No doubt that with this Saturday being their first home fixture of 2014, the Jets will be out to put on a more inspired display for the Bluebag faithful.

Time to stand up: With off-season recruit Jake Watts still out injured, a fair bit of pressure currently sits squarely on the shoulders of Samisoni Langi and Arana Taumata. Taumata will play his third game for Newtown this weekend while Langi has now played a handful of games for the Jets both last year and this season. Like most new relationships, things can take time to click for a new halves pairing, but unfortunately for Newtown, they cannot afford for this one to take too much longer. Say what you like about Taumata and his past, the guy can play football, and despite the fact that he has only been at the club for a brief time, this Saturday is as good a time as any for him to step up and lead his team to a victory. If he can do so, he will become an instant cult hero at Henson Park.

Prediction: The Jets, off the back of Taumata, to register win number one for 2014. Jets by 4.

Penrith Panthers Vs Mounties 
Sportingbet Stadium, April 5, 3.15pm 
Referee: Luke Phillips

The Panthers gave us all a taste of just why they were pre-season favourites last weekend when they lit up the scoreboard at Ringrose Park. A 42 point display off the back of a Wes Naiqama day out now sees us with a mouthwatering clash this weekend, when they host the only unbeaten side remaining in the VB NSW Cup, Mounties. The visitors kept their winning streak alive last weekend with a gutsy 20-18 win over the Bears at a soggy Aubrey Keech Reserve. Mounties actually scored one try less than the Bears on the day, but it was the boot of Mitch Cornish that proved the difference after he slotted a penalty goal late in the piece. There is little doubt that this will prove to be Mounties' toughest test to date but the club has now established a great winning culture and will fancy their chances of heading west and coming away with the win. Jake Foster looks set to play first grade this week in the only really significant change from the Mounties side that took to the park last weekend. The Panthers will be without Dallin Watene-Zelezniak here who is set to make his NRL debut, replacing an injured David Simmons. Kevin Naiqama will reunite with older brother Wes out wide. With the two having played plenty of VB NSW Cup together in their Newcastle days, look for them to strike up a nice combination straight from the get go.

Frenemies: Two of the competition’s better young forwards will square off here when Kyle O’Donnell (Mounties) and Sam Anderson (Panthers) take to the park on Saturday. Having spent plenty of time together at Newcastle, and then again at Penrith last season, O’Donnell and Anderson will be very familiar with one another’s games. We would be surprised if these two hadn’t exchanged a few cheeky texts this week in the lead up to the game, and you can look for it to continue on the park as well.

Prediction: The Panthers to roar at home. Panthers by 8.

Wests Tigers Vs Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 
Leichhardt Oval, April 6, 10.50am
Referee: Chris Treneman
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of 2GLF FM 89.3 (893fm.com.au)

The Tigers kept their great start to the 2014 season going last Saturday when they scored three late tries to secure the win in Wellington. It is never ideal to put yourself in a position where you have to score three late tries to win a match but we would hazard a guess that Paul Fletcher may have managed to crack it for smile in the sheds at Westpac Stadium after that one. Manly should be fresh for this one having had the bye last round and they will be hopeful of registering win number one after nearly doing so against Wenty in round three. The Sea Eagles will field a re-jigged side from the one that narrowly went down to Wenty a fortnight ago. Jack Littlejohn and Manaia Rudolph will takeover in the halves which allows Clinton Gutherson to return to his more preferred fullback role. They will also regain the services of Tony Satini and Daniel Harrison. The Tigers look to be largely unchanged although Koroibete looks set to come back in at the expense of Jy Hitchcox. The Tigers' first game of the year at Leichhardt is always a special occasion and we could definitely think of worse ways to start a Sunday.

Dare to dream: We know it is only round five and that there is plenty of water to go under the bridge before we even get to the finals much let alone a Grand Final, but the talent contained within this Wests Tigers outfit got us thinking about how they would fair against the 2012 Balmain Grand Final side. For what it is worth, we reckon that this squad is every bit as talented as the 2012 Grand Final side… the real question then is how far have the other side’s come on in the same time frame? Would love to hear Paul Fletcher’s views on this one. He is probably the only person who would really know the answer.

Prediction: The Tigers are looking the goods early doors and should be too strong here. Tigers by 12.
 
Wentworthville Magpies Vs Wyong Roos
Ringrose Park, April 6, 3pm 
Referee: Liam Nicholls
Broadcast: Radio coverage courtesy of ALIVE fm (alive905.com.au) 
Broadcast: NSWRL Match Centre (NSWRL.com.au)

Wenty dropped their first points of the season last Sunday when they went down at the hands of a red hot Panthers side while Wyong maintained their excellent record against the Bulldogs as they posted a well-deserved 32-18 win at Lidcombe Oval. The loss of Chris Sandow and Ken Sio certainly didn’t help Wentworthville’s cause last weekend, but with the pair set to remain in first grade for the immediate future, Brett Cook will be looking for the likes of Luke Kelly, Justin Hunt and Vai Toutai to step up and fill that void. Mark O’Meley wound back the clock last round and lead his Roos to a win against one of his old clubs. Shrek also managed to cross the stripe for the last try of the match much to the delight of the fans on hand at Lidcombe Oval. The Roos almost managed to knock over Wenty at Ringrose in this corresponding fixture last year so look for them to take it right up to the home team here. Api Pewhairangi returns from injury for Wenty while Evander Cummins will be given a shot at fullback.

Batting above their average: We have waxed lyrical in the past about what a great job the Roos have done since entering the VB NSW Cup in 2013. But off the back of last weekend’s win against the Bulldogs, we didn’t think it would hurt to go there once more. They currently sit in ninth place, only outside the eight on for and against. Their win last round is now their 7th in their 28th match in the competition, and while a 25% win rate may not sound impressive, considering they are doing it all with no assistance from an NRL side, we reckon that is nothing to sneeze at. The Roos always show plenty of determination and rarely quit when the going gets tough, so this always means they are a tough commodity to face at any time. In terms of their personnel, they have put together a decent squad, but look for Rip Taylor to be working the phones to a number of players currently playing in France. In a month’s time, we might just see an even tougher Roos side than the one that has already won two of their four games. There’s some food for thought.

Prediction: The Roos will fancy themselves but Wenty might just sneak home late. Magpies by 6. 

Newcastle Knights have the bye