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VB NSW Cup: Round 6 previews

Warriors lock Feleti Mateo makes his return to the NSW Cup this weekend against the Bulldogs. Copyright: Grant Trouville/NRL Photos Credit: Grant Trouville/NRL Photos Copyright: Grant Trouville/NRL Photos
Mounties Vs Newcastle Knights
GIO Stadium, April 12, 12.40pm 
Referee: Liam Nicholls
Broadcast: LIVE on Fox Sports 1 

Mounties lost their first match of 2014 last weekend going down 32-16 to the Panthers. Despite the loss, Mounties held on to their spot on top of the table, but it now leaves us with no unbeaten sides after five rounds of play. The Knights will be fresh for their trip to the capital after having had the bye last round, and they also head south with winning form after they have won back to back matches following a round two loss, ironically enough, to Mounties. With both of these sides currently sitting on eight competition points and only separated by for and against, there is a very real possibility that the winner of this clash will find themselves on top of the ladder at rounds end. The Knights welcome back Nathan Ross from injury for this one and will also be further aided by the addition of off season recruit, Matt Minto. Mounties have named Sauiluma, O’Donnell and McIllwrick who were all late withdrawals last week up in Penrith, and this should see them back to almost full strength for this top four clash. In this corresponding match at GIO Stadium last year, it was a 28-16 win for the home side.

Once was a Raider: One player for Newcastle who will be out to impress is former Raider, Travis Waddell. The Indigenous All Stars representative was unwanted by the club at the end of 2012 and eventually made his way to the Knights. Most players fire up for clashes against their former clubs. Look for Waddell to be one of the Knights’ best come Saturday. 

Prediction: The Knights will be smarting after their round two loss to Mounties and will want to return serve here. Knights by 6.
 
Penrith Panthers Vs Wests Tigers
Sportingbet Stadium, April 12, 3pm
Referee: Daniel Olford
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of Hawkesbury Radio 89.9FM (www.hawkesburyradio.com.au)

After a sluggish start to their 2014 campaign, the Penrith Panthers appear to have righted the ship in recent weeks and are beginning to show the kind of form that prompted many to consider them the team to beat in the VB NSW Cup before a ball was even kicked. They will have their hands full on Saturday though when the third placed Tigers head to the foot of the mountains. The Tigers have perhaps been the surprise packet of the opening five rounds as they have rung up a four and one record. Heart stopping wins in each of their last two matches against the Warriors and Manly has seen them become the comeback kids of the competition. The Tigers, much like the Panthers, appear to have wonderful depth this season, however that depth is set to be tested this week with Blake Austin and Kurtis Rowe both earning call ups to the NRL. Their spots will be taken here by Jy Hitchcox and Jack Madden, who both played plenty of matches for the Tigers in 2013, so chemistry should not be an issue. No such dramas for the home team who will arguably field their strongest team to date.   

The entertainers: We are blessed to have some wonderful talent running around each and every week in the VB NSW Cup, and this will be on show for all and sundry once again this Saturday when the Tigers and Panthers square off. Adding to the interest though is the fact that at this very venue in less than a months’ time, there will be a Pacific Test with Fiji taking on Samoa. A number of Fijian hopefuls will go at it here with Nabuli, Naiyaravaro, Koroibete and the Naiqama brothers all big chances of gaining selection. 

Prediction: The loss of Austin and Rowe to first grade tips the scales in favour of the home team. Panthers by 8.
 
Newtown Jets Vs Wentworthville Magpies 
Henson Park, April 12, 3pm
Referee: Adam Cassidy
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of Steele Sports Radio (www.steelesports.com.au)

A winless start to the season almost came to an end for the Bluebags last round however a late Tyrone Phillips try to the Bulldogs has meant that Newtown head into this match with their backs against the wall. Despite this, the Jets will not be hitting the panic button just yet as a win here could possibly see them in the eight by rounds end, such has been the closeness of the competition over the opening rounds. Wentworthville, like Newtown, appeared headed for a draw last weekend until a Luke Kelly penalty goal after the siren got them out of jail against a resilient Wyong outfit. The Newtown Jets have had the wood on Wenty in recent years, including taking all three of the fixtures played between the two clubs last season which included knocking Wenty out in week one of the finals. This is a fact that would not have been lost on Brett Cook at training this week and we are sure he has reminded his players. Conversely, the home side will be feeling good about their chances against a side that they know they play well against. Joseph Ualesi is out here for Wenty and his place will be taken by club stalwart, Danny Howard. For the Jets, Paul Rokolati comes in for Jonathan Reuben while young Jake Watts has been named to make his club debut at this level and should offer the Jets some impact off the bench. 

In the trenches: With a bit of precipitation once again threatening the Sydney skyline this weekend, expect this clash to be an old fashioned knock them down drag them out affair. This style of match perhaps favours the Jets who have struggled to post points early in the season, but expect the Wenty pack to be ready and raring to go. The likes of Lasalo and Ma’afu will need to lead the way for the visitors and look for Santi to lead the tackle count in what is sure to be a willing encounter.   

Prediction: Like the halves combination of Justin Hunt and Luke Kelly with an additional run under their belts. Wenty by 4.

NZ Warriors Vs Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 
Eden Park, April 13, 11.45am (NZT) 9.45am (EST)
Referee: Shane Rehm
Broadcast: LIVE on Fox Sports 1 and Sky Sport NZ

While the performance of their first grade side at Remondis Stadium last Saturday has garnered all of the headlines this week, we cannot overlook that the 44-6 win by the Warriors over Cronulla in the VB NSW Cup match was the first in the club's short existence. Coach Rohan Smith will be a relieved man to have broken the duck after they went very close against the Cutters and Tigers in recent weeks, and he can now focus on taking his side to even loftier heights. The Bulldogs managed to earn themselves a draw last round when a late try to Tyrone Phillips was enough to see the Bulldogs take a point away from their trip to Henson Park. The Bulldogs still appear to be a bit of a work in progress under new coach Andrew Patmore, but there is far too much talent in their squad for them not to be winning games on a consistent basis, and one gets the feeling that once they click, the other sides in the competition will need to look out. Feleti Mateo and Chad Townsend have both been named here following the appointment of Andrew McFadden to the NRL coaches’ hot seat mid-week while for the Dogs, their actual starting side may not be known right up until kick off with the NRL side naming an extended bench, and some other key players possible late inclusions. This match will be the first of three grades between the two clubs on Sunday from Eden Park, and with all matches shown live both in NZ and into Australia, we can’t think of better way to start your Sunday.

Centre of attention: We are unabashed Carlos Tuimavave fans at NSWRL HQ and once again we can’t wait to watch him go around this Sunday. A player who is adept at many positions including five eighth and fullback, Tuimavave will run around in the centres this round and may even come face to face with former Kiwi international, Krisnan Inu. Look for the young bull to want to get one up on the more seasoned Inu in what should be a cracking clash.

Prediction: The Warriors will have taken great confidence out of last week’s win and can repeat the dose here. Warriors by 12.

Manly Warringah Sea Eagles Vs Cronulla Sharks
Brookvale Oval, April 13, 12.45pm 
Referee: Luke Phillips
Broadcast: NSWRL Match Centre (NSWRL.com.au)

The Sharks have lost three games in a row for the first time since early in the 2012 season and will head to Brooky to face a desperate Manly side who are still searching for their first win of 2014. Some close calls of late will give Manly fans some genuine belief that they can get the job done here against a Sharks side that is clearly down on confidence at present. When you cast your eyes across the Sharks roster, they certainly don’t lack for talent, but unlike last year when they swept all before them, the chemistry between a number of new recruits just doesn’t appear to be there just yet. On the flipside, Manly’s chemistry has clicked in to gear somewhat in recent rounds but they just keep getting pipped at the post. The form of new recruit Manaia Rudolph has been encouraging and he will continue to grow in confidence the more he plays with his new team mates. The inclusion of NRL regulars such as Cheyse Blair and Tom Symonds will have also given this Manly side a massive confidence boost. Matt Prior has been named at lock here for the Sharks and they will also debut their midweek signing from the PNG Hunters, Mark Mexico. Our spies up north tell us Mexico has been in top form in the Intrust Super Cup, so it will be interesting to monitor his form over the coming weeks. 

So close they can taste it: It has been a case of so close yet so far away in recent weeks for the Sea Eagles. A late Ben Jones try and Sandow conversion cost them a win against Wenty a few weeks ago, and then a last second Blake Austin field goal cost them at least a point against the Tigers last week. There is little doubt that the Sea Eagles are playing much better now than they were during their opening two fixtures when they were beaten by a combined 62 points by Mounties and Canterbury. But close losses rarely see you advance up the ladder, so look for Manly to go all out here at home against the Sharks in search of win number one.

Prediction: A Manly win wouldn’t surprise but will give the Sharks another chance. Sharks by 4. 
 
North Sydney Bears Vs Wyong Roos
North Sydney Oval, April 13, 4pm 
Referee: Alan Shortall

After the Bears’ round one 34-6 win over Wyong, not many would have figured that the Roos would be in eighth place and the Bears in ninth when they met again this round… But that is exactly what has happened. Since that round one win, the Bears have failed to post another victory while the Roos have managed to post two wins and perhaps could count themselves a shade unlucky that they didn’t come away from Ringrose Park with at least a point last weekend. In the Bears’ defence, there have been some issues including injury at South Sydney over the past month that has definitely not helped their cause of late, but Wayne Lambkin will not want to use that as an excuse and will be hopeful of getting back on track here. Beau Champion and Kane Morgan have been named here for North Sydney after missing last week’s loss to the Cutters while for Wyong, they have named an unchanged line up from the one that came so close against Wenty last week.    

Familiar foe: There is a large contingent of ex Bears currently playing at Wyong so this clash should have a little extra meaning to it. Mark O’Meley, Darren Nicholls, Brock Molan, Shaune Corrigan and Jay Florimo have all pulled on the red and black at some point in their careers and would all obviously love to get one over on their old club. All bar Corrigan played in their round one loss to North Sydney, and they will have been disappointed with their effort that day. Look for them to make amends here. 

Prediction: The Roos are playing with great spirit and will be hard to toss here. Roos by 2.  

Illawarra Cutters have the bye 
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