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Cronulla Sharks Vs Penrith Panthers
Remondis Stadium, April 27, 12.40pm
Referee: Chris Treneman
Broadcast: LIVE on Fox Sports 1 and Sky Sport NZ and Radio coverage courtesy of Hawkesbury FM (hawkesburyradio.com.au/index.cfm)
This matchup, between what is effectively last year’s grand finalists, is the one VB NSW Cup fans have been waiting for. Whiz kid Dallin Watene-Zelezniak returns for the Panthers this weekend, making the Panthers’ back three one of the most potent in the competition once you add Eto Nabuli and Kevin Naiqama into the mix. Nathan Gardner was a late inclusion for Tony Herman last weekend and he has again been named to start at fullback for the defending premiers. Ben Hampton has been named at five-eighth but the Storm have indicated he will play in their Anzac Day clash against the Warriors, with Pat Politoni or Kurt Mann his likely replacement. With injuries starting to clear up at both clubs, the scary thing for other teams in the competition is that these teams are going to be boosted by some more high profile inclusions in the coming weeks. While the Sharks sit in eighth on the competition table, they are only one win behind the first-placed Mounties side. Sharks Coach Tony Herman said he would have been happy to scrape through with a few wins due to the injuries sustained in the top squad but we think he would be more than happy with where the Sharks sit with almost a third of the competition completed.
A sign of the times: It is plain and clear to see just how far the VB NSW Cup has come in a few years. More than 20 players with NRL experience will line up for this Fox Sports television match. With a mix of seasoned veterans and some of the best emerging talent in the game, VB NSW Cup fans should be excited about the future of the competition.
Prediction: Tough to split these two teams with the amount of talent they possess. The Sharks to sneak home by two on the back of their home crowd.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Vs Newcastle Knights
Belmore Sports Ground, April 26, 1.30pm
Referee: Adam Cassidy
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of 2GLF FM 89.3 (893fm.com.au)
The Knights will be confident following their 48-point thumping of Wyong last weekend, while the Bulldogs will be chasing just their second win of the season. The Knights have looked a far better side when Michael Dobson has been steering them around from the halfback position. Their loss to Mounties was his first game back in the VB NSW Cup so you could give some leeway with regards to not gelling at GIO Stadium on that afternoon. Dobson will play his third consecutive game with halves partner Tyler Randell and their performance last week shows things are starting to click. There is plenty to like about the Knights side with an abundance of size up front and some first class finishers out wide. It is hard to pinpoint just where the Bulldogs are going wrong so far this season. Their forward pack has plenty of experience in O’Hanlon, Burr and Maitua and they have some of the most promising emerging talent in the competition in the backline as well. Perhaps it is just a confidence thing. One thing we know is that we pity the team who runs into the Bulldogs when they get their groove back so to speak.
In a Belmore Minute: It has been interesting to watch the progression of former NSW age representative back-rower David Minute in the VB NSW Cup so far this season. The promise he showed as a junior is starting to come to the fray again. He is behind an NRL strength back-row this weekend but look for him to push for a starting position come the representative season.
Prediction: The Bulldogs are always a tough ask at Belmore but we can’t see them stopping the march of the Newcastle juggernaut this weekend. Knights by 10.
Newtown Jets Vs NZ Warriors
Henson Park, April 26, 3pm
Referee: Liam Nicholls
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of Steele Sports (www.steelesports.com.au)
The Jets have had the worst start to their season in recent memory as they now sit in 10th position on the VB NSW Cup ladder with just one win to their name. The Warriors on the other hand have begun to fire, as predicted by us a few weeks back. The Warriors' form reversal can be linked with the return of Chad Townsend to the VB NSW Cup over the last two weeks. Townsend returns to the NRL this weekend, forcing Steve Waetford into the No.6 jersey and Kevin Locke remains at fullback. The Jets' reinforcements have arrived this week with former Manly hooker Heath L’Estrange , Remi Casty, Kane Evans and Tautau Moga all lining up for Greg Matterson. In an interesting selection, back-rower Brad Barrett has been named in the centres to cover Warriors big man Konrad Hurrell. Former Warrior Sio Siua Taukeiaho will face his old team mates for the first time and his match up against John Palavi will add some spice to the game at Henson Park.
Mighty Mouse: Shannon Gallant was signed by Cabramatta this year with a plan to play in the Ron Massey Cup in season 2014. With seven rounds completed, Gallant would have to be leading the Jets’ best and fairest voting. He has been exceptional at the back and the Jets should be thanking Cabramatta’s recruitment men for Gallant’s signature.
Prediction: The Jets' return to Henson will bag them their second win of the VB NSW Cup season. Jets by four.
Illawarra Cutters Vs Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
WIN Stadium, April 26, 3pm
Referee: Daniel Olford
The Cutters ran into the red hot Warriors last weekend and couldn’t match their intensity, especially in the first half, in their match at WIN Jubilee, while Manly showed some real potential in their 42-14 win over North Sydney. Manly youngsters Jake Trbojevic and Clinton Gutherson will use this match as their last chance to push for selection in the GIO NSW Under 20s side for next weekend’s clash against Queensland. Kyle Stanley and Sam Williams will start in the halves for the Cutters for the second weekend while Ian Millward’s forward pack is unchanged from last weekend. Manly have named Epalahame Lauaki to start in the back-row with Tom Symonds and Daniel Harrison with Ligi Sao missing this match courtesy of a careless high tackle charge he picked up last weekend against the Bears. A win for Manly will give them some breathing space from the last-placed Bulldogs side while a loss for the Cutters further clogs up the VB NSW Cup top-eight.
Crafty Craig: Craig Garvey lit up the field when he came into the fray at WIN Jubilee last weekend and it will be intriguing to see how Ian Millward uses the former Earlwood and La Perouse junior this weekend.
Prediction: A rejuvenated Manly side will push the Cutters all the way but the class of Sam Williams and Kyle Stanley will get the Illawarra side home. Cutters by 6.
Wyong Roos Vs Mounties
Morry Breen Oval, April 27, 3pm
Referee: Lawrence McDonell
Broadcast: NSWRL Match Centre coverage (NSWRL.com.au)
The Roos failed to turn up to the Newcastle No. 2 Sports Ground last weekend and they paid deeply for their misfortunes. They were hammered 54-6 by the Knights and were taught a Rugby League lesson in the process. Wyong Coach Rip Taylor would have been ruthless in his assessment of the match and he would have shot a few rockets at his team during the week, having them primed to take on the competition leaders at home. For Mounties, Jarrad Kennedy returns to Steve Antonelli’s imposing forward pack which already boasts names like Nicholls, O’Donnell and Learoyd-Lahrs. Wentworthville put on a try-scoring exhibition against Mounties last weekend and Antonelli would not be happy with his side's recent performances in the defensive department. They have leaked 116 points in their past three matches and they can’t afford to give the Roos easy opportunities at home in this match. Two of the best hookers go head to head here in Mitch Williams and Matt McIlwrick. The incumbent VB NSW Cup Player of the Year has begun to find the form he displayed in last year’s competition and how he plays will be critical to his side’s chances come Sunday.
Shrek V Learoyd-Lahrs: Two former Blues props square off in a matchup which will shake the very foundations of Morry Breen Oval (and possibly the Leagues club next door). O’Meley has already left former Bulldogs teammate Reni Maitua in his wake so he will have his sights set on making a statement early when Tommy carts the ball up.
Prediction: There is too much power in the Mounties forward pack for the Roos to handle. Mounties by 10.
North Sydney Bears Vs Wentworthville Magpies
North Sydney Oval, April 20, 3pm
Referee: Phil Henderson
The Bears find themselves in some unfamiliar territory as they currently sit in 12th position on the VB NSW Cup ladder. Times are tough at North Sydney as the Bears are trying to manage the best they can with limited personnel, courtesy of some injuries in key positions at the Rabbitohs. Wentworthville however are polar opposites having just smashed the competition front-runners in front of an appreciative home crowd at Ringrose Park. Liam Foran was exceptional for the Magpies last weekend. He had a hand in almost every Wenty try and his kicking game just kept turning around the massive Mounties forwards, creating holes in the defensive line for Bureta Faraimo and Justin Hunt to capitalise on. The key to a Bears victory is the performance of their halves in Kurt Aldridge and Jordan Worboys. If Aldridge and Worboys can gain the upper hand on their more experienced opponents in Foran and Kelly then the likes of Nathan Merritt and Joe Uluibau can cause some real dramas out wide.
Because i’m Api: Api Pewhairangi has continued to push for NRL selection with his form for the Magpies in recent weeks. He was good in a beaten side against the Jets and looked every bit the player which matched it in the NRL last year under Ricky Stuart. He is definitely a man to watch for the Bears.
Prediction: The Magpies are on a roll and they will account for the Bears here. Magpies by 10
Wests Tigers have the bye