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Melbourne Storm centre Justin O'Neill returns from injury for the Sharks in the VB NSW Cup this weekend. Copyright: Renee McKay/NRL Photos.
Penrith Panthers Vs Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Sportingbet Stadium, March 22, 2.10pm 
Referee: Daniel Olford
Broadcast: LIVE on Fox Sports 1, Radio Coverage courtesy of Hawkesbury Radio 89.9FM (

The Penrith Panthers will be desperate to post their first win of 2014 when they host a Bulldogs outfit confident of springing an upset. Many people’s Premiership pick in the pre-season, the Panthers have looked anything but title favourites following back-to-back losses to the Knights and Wyong respectively. Completing sets has been a major cause for concern for Penrith over the opening rounds, and despite having welcomed a handful of new recruits to the club, the Panthers chemistry is certainly not where Garth Brennan would like it to be at present. The Bulldogs bounced back from a round one loss to the Sharks to post a 22 point win over the Sea Eagles last weekend. Despite the scoreboard indicating that the Dogs won comfortably, for the second week in a row they trailed at half time, so new coach Andy Patmore will be hoping for a faster start here. The inclusions of both Wes Naiqama and Isaac John should be welcomed ones for the home side while the Bulldogs will field a near unchanged line up from the one that won last week.

New Sherriff In Town: As of this match, Andy Patmore has officially replaced Barry Ward as the head coach of the Bulldogs VB NSW Cup outfit. It seems a fitting appointment when you consider how many young kids are running around in their side. A large number of these NYC graduates have spent considerable time under Patmore over the past few seasons at Belmore and his already established relationships with said players may well pay off for the Dogs over the course of the year.  

Prediction: Hard one to tip but will go with the Dogs in what would be considered by most as an upset. Bulldogs by 4.

Cronulla Sharks Vs Illawarra Cutters
Remondis Stadium, March 22, 2.40pm
Referee: Chris Treneman
Broadcast: NSWRL Match Centre (

It may be a new year in the VB NSW Cup but for the Sharks some things haven’t changed. Two wins from as many starts to begin the season for the side from the shire sees them once again putting up their hand as the team to beat. Despite a raft of injury concerns, Coach Tony Herman has once again proven himself to be one of the best coaches in the competition by plugging in several replacement players into his system and still achieving the desired result. The Cutters gained their first point of the 2014 season last weekend when they returned from Auckland with a point following their 12-all draw with the Warriors at Eden Park. It was a match that the Cutters may well have won but having said that, if a late field goal attempt from the Warriors had been successful, they might have gone home with nothing to show for their effort, so perhaps a draw was not a bad result. Some big inclusions this week for the Sharks with Penani Manumalealii returning to the side after he made his NRL debut on Monday night. He will also be joined by Isaac De Gois and Justin O’Neill. For the Cutters, they are largely unchanged however they have lost the services of Matt Groat with his place in the starting line up to be taken by Rory O’Brien.

Justin The Nick Of Time: The Sharks are currently undergoing a significant injury crisis at present, so it must be nice to be able to call upon the services of Storm flyer, Justin O’Neill. A former Junior Kangaroo and Maroons squad member, O’Neill is returning from injury and will be looking for a solid hit out prior to raising his hand for first grade over the coming rounds.  

Prediction: Almost impossible to tip against the Sharks these days but look for the Cutters to make them earn it. Sharks by 8. 

Mounties Vs Newtown Jets 
Aubrey Keech Reserve, March 22, 3pm
Referee: Damien Briscoe
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of 2GLF FM 89.3 (

The ladder-leading Mounties side play their first home match of 2014 here as they host a Jets side looking to bounce back following a poor first up effort against Wenty. Having had the bye in round one, the Jets looked a step behind their opposition for large periods of the match last Sunday however did manage to stop the bleeding in the second half and will be hopeful they can start faster here against Mounties. Starting fast was not an issue for Mounties last weekend against the Knights as they led 24-6 at half time and could have quite easily lead by more. The likes of Bond, Sauiluma, Hawkins and Cornish have been linking up well over the opening two rounds and will be eyeing off a wounded Jets outfit here. Newtown will hand a debut to young Jake Watts here who is a former South Sydney U20s player. Watts was injured in the Jets final trial match just a couple of weeks ago but appears to have made a faster than expected recovery to take his place. Speculation also during the week that the enigmatic Arana Taumata has been thrown a lifeline by the Jets, however given that he will have only had one training run with his new side under his belt, it would be more unlikely than likely to see him out on the field Saturday, but you just never know. No Matt McIllwrick for Mounties with his place in the starting lineup taken by Reece Goldsmith who bagged a double last round.

Hot To Trot: Mounties have started the 2014 season like a house on fire and will look to continue their good form here against the Jets. After posting a 40 point win over Manly back in round one, Mounties almost repeated the dose last weekend against the Knights, with only a late Korbin Sims try denying them another 40 point win. At times last week Mounties were scoring for fun, so it will be interesting to see what type of resistance the Jets can offer come Saturday. 

Prediction: Mounties are in white hot form to start the year and will be confident of a win at home. Mounties by 10.

Newcastle Knights Vs North Sydney Bears 
St John Oval, Charlestown, March 22, 3pm 
Referee: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski

The Knights, who are unaccustomed to losing at home, will be out to avoid a second straight home loss when the Bears make the trek up the M1 on Saturday. The Bears posted a professional win against Wyong back in round one and then had the luxury of the bye last weekend. The Knights had a solid win against Penrith a fortnight ago but were nowhere near their best last weekend when they went down to Mounties 46-10 at Hunter Stadium. The Knights have lost David Fa’alogo for this one but do get Zane Tetevano back from injury. The Bears will also field a new centre combination with Beau Champion and Aaron Gray named here while Cameron McInnes, Nathaniel Neale and Chris Grevsmuhl will all make their first start for the Bears. The Knights only managed to post two tries last week with one coming from a miracle around the back pass and the second coming on the full time siren. More points will be required here for Rick Stone’s men as this Bears side looks to have plenty of points in them. The clash between Curtis Johnston and Josh Mantellato out wide looks to be an exciting one with both men standing in excess of six feet tall and loving to contest the high ball. 

Home Cooking: The Knights didn't lose a home fixture at all in 2013 however they have already blotted their 2014 copybook after last weekend's loss to Mounties at Hunter Stadium. This weekend sees them play another home fixture, this time at the home of Central Charlestown (Newcastle Rugby League), so it will be interesting to see if they can get back on track despite being short on troops at present.

Prediction: The Bears should be fresh off the bye and may be able to win on the road as a result. Bears by 7.

Wyong Roos Vs Wests Tigers
Morry Breen Oval, March 22, 5pm 
Referee: Jeff Hartup
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of Steele Sports Radio ( 

A great win for the Roos over the Panthers last round should see them ready and raring to take on the visiting Tigers this Saturday afternoon. The Tigers put in a good effort against the Sharks last round but just found them a touch too good late in the piece. Losing Blake Austin on the eve of the game certainly wouldn’t have helped their cause so they will be happy to have him back on Saturday. The Roos two starting props in Stromquist and O’Meley have been leading from the front for Wyong over the opening rounds so look for them to once again be the pillars on which Wyong build their attack around. Darren Nicholls started to look more comfortable around his new team mates last weekend and once he begins to form a partnership with Mitch Williams. The Tigers beat the Roos both times they played them last season however despite their 13 and 12 point margins, the matches were much tighter than the final score indicated. Paul Fletcher would remember this well and surely won’t allow his troops to be complacent heading into this one. 

The Bash Brothers: While they aren't exactly Paul Gallen and Greg Bird, Marika Koribete and Taqele Naiyaravoro may prove to be the VB NSW Cup’s version of the ‘Bash Brothers’. Not in the same sense mind you of Bird and Gallen who primarily operate in the middle third of the park, the Fijian wingers will look to steam roll their way over the line out wide against a smaller Wyong backline. Naiyaravoro showed last year that at his best he is almost unstoppable in this grade while Koroibete returned to the fold last week and has already managed to get his name in the scorers' book. If this pair gets going early, it may make for an interesting afternoon of football up on the coast.

Prediction: Wyong will be confident after their win last week but the Tigers side looks too strong on paper. Tigers by 10.
Manly Sea Eagles Vs Wentworthville Magpies
Brookvale Oval, March 23, 12.45pm 
Referee: Jon Stone 
Broadcast: NSWRL Match Centre (

The Manly Sea Eagles will be in search of their first win of 2014 as they host a Wentworthville side that is yet to taste defeat. Wenty, along with Mounties have been the standout sides over the opening two rounds of the competition and their good form does not surprise when you cast your eyes across their team list. Players such as Sandow, Sio, Hunt, Lasalo and Ma'afu wouldn’t look out of place in a lot of NRL sides and young guns such as Santi and Faraimo also add some class to the roster. In an interesting twist of fate, Daniel Harrison has been granted a release from Parramatta to return to Manly, and will this week play against many men that he was only two weeks ago training and playing alongside. Luke Williamson has shifted the talented Clinton Gutherson from fullback to five eighth in search of a much needed spark in the only significant team change from the side that went down to the Dogs last week. Manly have been very competitive against both Mounties and Canterbury in the first forty minutes however have fallen away badly in the second halves. Manly will be looking for a more complete 80 minute effort against a Wenty side that will show them no mercy if they can’t.

Sio Is Streaking: Two tries in round one was quickly followed up with a classy hat-trick last weekend by Ken Sio. Both he and Wenty have started this season in fine fashion and along with Chris Sandow, Sio looks to be in great touch early doors. Brad Arthur has resisted the temptation of changing his NRL side too much despite Parramatta's heavy loss to the Roosters last weekend, however one could only imagine that Sio may find himself back in the NRL sooner rather than later should he maintain this type of form in the VB NSW Cup.

Prediction: Wenty have been ultra-impressive through two rounds and should keep their unbeaten start to the season in tact here. Magpies by 14.  

NZ Warriors have the bye

Full team lists here.
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