KEATING v SANDOW… Canterbury halfback and former Eels playmaker Kris Keating – the man whose form is keeping former boom halfback Trent Hodkinson out of first grade – isn’t letting Parramatta’s woeful 2012 cloud his expectations when the great rivals clash at Homebush tonight.
The Bulldogs head into the much-hyped encounter as overwhelming $1.11 favourites but Keating said his former club always saved something special for Canterbury.
“Even though Parra aren’t going that good they always seem to turn up against us,” the 23-year-old told NRL.com in the hours leading up to his head-to-head battle with beleaguered Eels No.7 Chris Sandow.
Canterbury walloped the Eels 46-12 back in Round 9, with Keating starring for the blue and whites with three try assists and three line-breaks. Meanwhile Sandow made little impact in 31 minutes off the bench the week after he was dropped to the NSW Cup.
“It’s a different game because no matter how good or bad either side is going they always turn up to play against one another. Last time we played them, the first 20 minutes was probably the most physical we had all year. It’s always a big game.”
Unfortunately, a season-ending back injury to Keating’s brother and Parramatta hooker Matt means the pair will again miss the opportunity to face off. It will be the third time in four meetings since 2011 that one of them has missed the clash through injury, with Kris admitting it was tough to see his brother sidelined yet again (Matt missed the corresponding game last year after he was accidentally bitten by the family dog).
“It’s disappointing for him,” he said. “He is already bored! He woke me up early this morning banging things around the house looking for something to do. He is pretty devastated but he is better off getting it fixed now so that he is ready for the pre-season.
“The good thing though is that it makes it easier for Mum and Dad to watch the game now.”
While Matt prepares for a lengthy recovery, Kris is on the verge of signing a new deal with the Bulldogs after cementing the No.7 jersey ahead of Trent Hodkinson.
“I’m hoping to have something finalised in the next fortnight,” he said. “I’m really enjoying it here. It was a rough start to the year for me but I’ve got my crack now and I’m enjoying my footy. I’ve got a bit of belief in myself now and I’m working hard at training, trying to get all the little things right.”
GORDON COMEBACK ON HOLD… Penrith fans have been doing it tough this week following news of Luke Lewis’ impending departure and it is only going to get worse with Michael Gordon unlikely to return from a knee injury this season. Despite reports that Gordon was close to making a comeback, we’re hearing that he isn’t in any rush to get back on the field given he won’t be with the Panthers in 2013. Gordon signed a three-year deal with Cronulla in May and is keen to make sure he is fully fit and ready to go when he joins his new club for pre-season training.
FAST FRIENDS… The impressive partnership between Blake Ferguson and Sandor Earl on Canberra’s right edge should come as no surprise – the pair have quickly become best mates since Earl arrived in the nation’s capital three weeks ago and catch up for coffee outside of training almost every day.
MORRIS’S MINOR HICCUP… John Morris faces an anxious wait to see whether the club continues its push to sign Luke Lewis just a week after the Sharks hooker looked set to ink a new one-year deal for 2013.
Morris had all but agreed to terms with Cronulla for next season after meeting with coach Shane Flanagan and football manager Darren Mooney but admits he isn’t sure where he stands should Lewis find himself heading to the Shire.
“We’ve got a fair few players off contract and now with Luke Lewis coming into the picture things tend to get put on the back-burner,” Morris told NRL.com. “Last week they indicated that over the next fortnight we should be able to get something worked out. I had a couple of brief chats to the coach and we’re looking at extending for another 12 months.
“We’ll have to wait and see what happens but I think the signs are still good. The club is definitely interested in keeping me on and I’d love to stay. The way we’ve gone this year is a sign that what we’ve got is working for us and I think the coach is pretty keen to keep everyone locked away.”
Morris arrived at Cronulla three years ago at the height of the club’s struggles and said he wanted to remain a part of the Sharks’ resurgence.
“That’s one thing I said to ‘Flanno’, that I really want to experience success at the Sharks,” he continued. “I came here when things were at their worst and we’ve worked really hard to change the perception of the club. Flanno has done that this year with bringing back the pride and the passion and I really want to win a premiership here.
“The club is moving forward and I want to make sure I’m here for it. I’m not really interested in going anywhere else if we can get the right deal here.”
Having spent the majority of his career as a utility, Morris has settled in well to his preferred role at dummy-half this season and has formed a solid combination with starting hooker Isaac De Gois.
“I suppose you always want to start but the modern game… some sides have rep players coming off the bench, so it’s not really a problem these days,” Morris explained. “It has just worked well for us. Isaac has been playing the first 25-30 minutes and I’ve been coming on for about 35 minutes when the game opens up a bit so I can play with a bit of skill around the ruck and keep the momentum going.
“That’s been a big thing for us this year – when our bench has come on we haven’t lost any momentum, whereas last year we’d pull off Snowden and Douglas and we’d go backwards.
“But it’s been good this year. I think our bench has kept us going forward and it’s been good to get on in that critical part of the game. It’s been a new challenge and one that we’re working through pretty well.”
LOWRIE UP IN THE AIR… Melbourne lock Todd Lowrie is no closer to securing his future, with the Storm yet to decide on a final offer for next season. Lowrie is keen to sign a long-term deal and although his preference is to stay in Melbourne the club is yet to come to the party. The former Newcastle and Parramatta forward has interest from two Sydney clubs as well as a number of UK Super League sides.