History against the NRL's slow starters
Round four this weekend looms as an important one for the 2011 premiership hopes of almost half the NRL's teams, with statistics revealing that only two teams in the past 10 years have won the NRL title after starting the season with a 1-3 win-loss record.
And of those two teams - the Roosters in 2002 and Panthers in 2003 - the Roosters actually did it after winning only one of their first five games.
The Warriors and Titans head into this weekend's round still chasing their first win of season 2011; while the Eels, Panthers, Rabbitohs, Roosters and Raiders all have just one victory each so far.
Defending premiers St George Illawarra won three of their first four games last year, as did the Bulldogs and Tigers when they won the premierships in 2004 and 2005 respectively; while the Storm won all four in 2007.
Not surprisingly then, indifferent form and injuries have led to the round four team selections announced yesterday revealing sweeping changes to the Warriors, a shock positional move for the Panthers and a teenage debutant named for the Titans.
Warriors coach Ivan Cleary has wielded the axe on his side ahead of their clash with the Sharks on Sunday in a bid to halt their worst start in seven NRL seasons.
New Zealand Test fullback Lance Hohaia, who was dumped for rookie Glen Fisiiahi, is the biggest casualty of the shake-up which sees just five players from the side which lost to the Dragons last weekend retain their position for the "away" match in Taupo on New Zealand's north island.
Cleary has selected completely new combinations in the centres and the halves. Skipper Simon Mannering will partner utility Shaun Berrigan in a makeshift centre pairing; while Feleti Mateo has been named at five-eighth, with James Maloney replacing the dumped Brett Seymour at halfback.
Only one change was forced, with centre Jerome Ropati to miss the remainder of the season after a knee reconstruction.
Panthers coach Matt Elliot has named lock Kevin Kingston at halfback for their clash with the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night while regular halfback Luke Walsh is sidelined with a shoulder problem. Kingston hasn't played halfback since the junior grades, and even then it was just filling in.
For the Broncos young speedster Gerard Beale will play his third position in a fortnight after being selected at fullback; while 19-year-old Dale Copley has received a call-up to the wing in the only forced change to the 17-man squad that grafted out a 14-8 win over the Titans.
Titans rookie forward Ben Ridge, from Darren Lockyer's hometown of Roma, was named as the replacement for injured lock Ashley Harrison (hamstring) for the clash with the Raiders at Canberra Stadium on Saturday night. In the only other team change, prop Matt White has been named
in the starting front row after he was 18th man last Friday night against the Broncos.
The Raiders have shuffled their starting side with coach David Furner moving players from the bench to the starting 13. Joe Picker (ankle injury, 2 weeks) is the only player missing from the 17 that lost to the Tigers last weekend.
The loss of Picker means Trevor Thurling will get his chance to start for the Raiders for the first time in 2011, with Josh Miller and Danny Galea named on an extended bench.
Other changes this week for the Raiders come with Travis Waddell starting the game at hooker and Glen Buttriss shifting back to the bench; and up front, Dane Tilse will start ahead of NSW prop Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, who will be used as an impact player from the bench.
In other key selection news, English international Sam Burgess has been named to make an early return from injury (shoulder, rnd 1) for the Rabbitohs in Friday night's clash with the Sea Eagles at Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford. He will replace Eddy Pettybourne, who was suspended for three matches by the NRL judiciary.
Manly skipper Jamie Lyon has been named to make a surprise comeback from a hamstring strain and will line up alongside rising young star Will Hopoate in the centres.
For the Eels, forward Carl Webb will make his debut for the club against his former team the Cowboys on Saturday night at Parramatta Stadium. He is one of four changes to the Eels side.
Webb, who turned 30 last week, made a successful comeback from a hamstring injury for Wentworthville last weekend and will add impact to the side in the absence of Fuifui Moimoi who has taken an early plea on his grade one careless high tackle charge and will miss one match.
Webb will start the match from the bench. Joel Reddy returns to the side in the centres after missing much of the pre-season after shoulder surgery and playing two games for Wentworthville. He replaced Chris Walker (hip injury).
The other changes in the squad are hooker Anthony Mitchell, who impressed in the last two rounds of 2010, coming in for the injured Casey McGuire (calf) and starting the match from the bench (Matt Keating is starting hooker), and Mitchell Allgood who returns from one week’s absence with injury. He replaces Billy Rogers on the bench with Shane Shackleton retaining his starting position in the front row.
For the Cowboys, fullback Matt Bowen, twice struck down by a career-threatening knee injury, is preparing to break North Queensland's record for NRL games played, when he lines up for his 204th match in 10 years, eclipsing Paul Bowman's previous record mark.
The Knights have been forced to make several changes for their clash with the Dragons at Ausgrid Stadium on Sunday after a horror run of injuries. Joel Edwards wins a spot at lock; Marvin Karawana comes onto the bench; captain Kurt Gidley will partner Jarrod Mullen in the halves; and Wes Naiqama moves to fullback to accommodate the return of veteran Adam MacDougall.
Injured players from Sunday’s loss to the Sea Eagles - Beau Henry (ankle), Ben Rogers (shoulder) and Cameron Ciraldo (chest) - face extended periods on the sideline.
For the Wests Tigers, exciting young halfback Jacob Miller will make his NRL debut against the Sydney Roosters at the Sydney Football Stadium on Sunday.
Miller has been a revelation in the opening three rounds for Wests Tigers in the U20s competition playing five-eighth and half-back and he will wear the number seven jersey after regular halfback Robert Lui suffered an ankle injury. Wests Tigers have 11 players from their NRL squad on the injury list after just three rounds.
The unbeaten Bulldogs have named an 18-man squad for Monday’s round four NRL clash against the Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park, with the only change from their round three win over the Roosters being the addition of Chris Armit on a five-man interchange bench.
The Storm have a number of players in doubt with injuries from their bruising loss to the Cowboys. Centre Dane Nielsen suffered concussion, while Kevin Proctor copped a knock to the face that will require scans to determine the extent of the damage.
Back-rower Sika Manu has not been named after he twisted awkwardly in a tackle on the leg he broke two years ago.