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News from around the NRL this week…

Matai, Williams in battle of texts
Steve Matai and Tony Williams are no longer teammates but the pair remain close friends and have been texting up a storm in the lead-up to tonight’s Manly-Bulldogs clash at ANZ Stadium.

“He sent me a text on the weekend and said ‘maybe a few of you guys feel like having a rest this weekend’,” Matai laughed when asked whether the pair had spoken this week. “I [wrote back and] said ‘good game, have a rest on the weekend’. He said ‘oh… maybe’.

“But I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays in the centres this week either just to mark up against me. I think he might want to bump me off a few times.

“But it will be a bit strange. I’ve never played against T-Rex. We spent four or five seasons here together and we’ve become good mates so it will be funny to go up against him.”
While Matai has been in fine form for the Sea Eagles in 2013, Williams has struggled in his new surrounds. But the Sea Eagles centre said he fully expected his old mate to hit his straps in the coming weeks.

“I’ve spoken to him a few times and he said he is enjoying the training and enjoying the players. Everything is fine there,” Matai said. “I think it’s just hard for him to find his role at the moment in the team. I’m sure he’ll find that in the next few weeks… hopefully not on Friday night.”

Vatuvei not confident
Manu Vatuvei, the Warriors winger who is set to make his comeback from three games out with an ankle injury in Sunday's home game against South Sydney, says he isn't sure his return will be soon enough to win selection for New Zealand in the Anzac Test. 

"Making the Kiwis is always massive for myself, but with two weeks to come back I'm not too sure," he said. "There are these other guys who are playing really good at the moment who have earned that spot." 

Most people would think Vatuvei needn't worry. As long as he's fit, surely the Kiwis can't afford to leave him out.

Ignorance bliss for Widdop
He is coming up against one of the best in the business this week but Melbourne’s premiership-winning five-eighth Gareth Widdop says he isn’t one to spend too much time studying his opposition No.6.

Asked if he looked to his NRL rivals to add new elements to his own game, Widdop said that the Storm tends to focus internally rather than externally with only minimal attention paid to what other five-eighths are doing.

“I would say not a lot,” Widdop explained. “We have a great coaching staff down here and obviously we go through a lot of footage. I do watch a lot of football and knowing what the other players do always helps – but it’s not something we focus on.”

Nevertheless, he pointed to Tigers five-eighth Benji Marshall as a player that could hurt them this week.

“As I said, it hasn’t been our focus but obviously everyone knows what a good player he can be. He is very, very dangerous,” Widdop said. “I think it’s really a test of our defence because if we don’t do our jobs properly he knows how to find a hole.”

Barba’s media game
By our observations at least, Canterbury fullback Ben Barba appears well and truly on the path back to his old self – cocky, self-assured and enjoying life again. 

Why do we say this? Each week, upon directive from the NRL, all 16 clubs are required to hold at least one media session in which a minimum of six players are put up for the media for around 20-30 minutes. Not surprisingly, the Bulldogs have refrained from putting Barba forward since his return to training a few weeks back but that didn’t stop him having a bit of fun when he saw loitering inside Belmore Sports Ground this week. 

As he exited the tunnel, Barba flashed a cheeky grin and proclaimed: “I can’t believe I’m not doing media this week!” before throwing the football he was holding into the air and racing onto the training field!

Wrong-way Ricky
It’s been a tough few weeks for new Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart but at least he will feel a little more comfortable at Parramatta Stadium this week than he did when he last arrived for the Eels’ Round 1 clash with the Warriors.
Moments before kick-off, Stuart strolled confidently up the stairs at the back of the stadium and turned right up the corridor to take his seat in the coach’s box… before suddenly realising he had no idea where it was! A quick about-face to ask security and Stuart was on his way.

Ryles all done
Melbourne’s 34-year-old prop Jason Ryles says there’s no chance of him playing on to 35 or 36 – like Petero Civoniceva. 

“I'm definitely finishing up at the end of this season,” Ryles stold "I made that decision a while ago. I would have finished up after the Roosters at 32 had an opportunity not come up at the Storm, but the chance to play with the players here, and under the coach, and just to be in the Melbourne system, was too good to refuse. I can see why it works so well here now."

New Price right
Former Canterbury and Warriors captain Steve Price is revelling in his post-playing role as the father of a promising competitor. Price's 17-year-old daughter, Jamie-Lee, made her debut for the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic in the trans-Tasman netball competition last weekend. 

She was introduced in the last quarter of the team's big win over the NSW Swifts, and Price couldn't have been more proud. 

"It was awesome," he said of the experience of being there to witness Jamie-Lee hitting the big time. "Very nerve-wracking, and a bit emotional. Jamie-Lee plays wing defence. She grew up playing goal defence, but most of the goal defenders in this competition are really tall. She's tall, but not as tall as them. I can't wait for her next game."

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