Panthers winger Kevin Naiqama returns to the VB NSW Cup this weekend with Dave Simmons and Josh Mansour making their returns from injury.

VB NSW Cup: Round 21 previews

Wyong Roos Vs Wentworthville Magpies
Remondis Stadium, Saturday, August 2, 10.40am
Referee: Adam Cassidy
Broadcast: LIVE on Fox Sports 1 and Sky Sport NZ

The season officially goes on the line here for the Wyong Roos with their back to back losses putting them in a position where every single one of their remaining five matches are now must win. Sitting four points outside the top eight with a relatively poor for and against, it would seem as though the Roos will now need to win out to have any chance of qualifying for their maiden finals series. With four of the Roos remaining five matches to be played against sides currently inside the top eight, it would appear the boys from the Central Coast have a mountain to climb. Their opponents here in Wentworthville enter this clash with their own issues though, having dropped three straight games, and slipped from second to fourth on the ladder as a result. With the worst for and against of all of the sides currently in the top eight, Wenty enter this match knowing that every loss will see them slip further down the ladder, so wins are all important in their quest to finish inside the top four. Wyong will have to finish the season without their inspirational leader in Mitch Williams who dislocated his elbow during last week’s 22-12 loss to the Knights, while for Wenty, they will take an almost identical side into this clash from the one that went down to the Cutters last week.

Better Bureta: Bureta Faraimo has been nothing short of outstanding this year, and with a little over a month left of the regular season, he looks a short priced favourite to take out the leading try scorer gong. With Marika Koroibete (15 tries) no longer playing VB NSW Cup and Sami Sauiluma (15 tires) spending plenty of time in first grade recently, perhaps the biggest threat to Faraimo (18 tries) will come from an unlikely source in Curtis Johnston (15 tries). And when we say unlikely, we mean no disrespect to Curtis, who has proven to be a prolific try scorer in recent seasons, but given that he is the winger in a side that is statistically the worst attacking team in the competition, it is somewhat amazing that he is even in the conversation. Anyway, it will certainly be interesting to see how it all plays out over the concluding rounds.

Prediction: Expecting the game to be in the balance for 70 minutes before Wenty take control late. Magpies by 8.

Penrith Panthers Vs Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Sportingbet Stadium, Saturday, August 2, 3.00pm
Referee: Daniel Olford
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of Hawkesbury Radio 89.9FM (www.hawkesburyradio.com.au)

The Penrith Panthers bounced back from their first loss in almost three months last week when they accounted for the Sharks in what was a highly competitive game of rugby league. With the scores locked at 14 apiece late in the match, a Will Smith penalty goal followed by a late Wes Naiqama try was enough to see the Panthers leave Bathurst with the win. Speaking of Will Smith, it would be remiss of us not to congratulate him on being named for his first grade debut this round. Smith is yet another example of a player that has shown in his time with both the Knights and more recently the Panthers, that if you keep knocking on the door, eventually it will open. The Panthers opponents here in Manly were competitive against the Warriors in Auckland last Sunday for large parts of the match, but lacked some polish in the key moments. Look for them to head west on Saturday with a nothing to lose attitude and really take it up to the competition favourites. Despite the loss of Smith, the Panthers continue to field a very strong side, and do get back the services of Kevin Naiqama, who drops down following the return of Josh Mansour. Manly will be without Masada Iosefa who appeared to suffer an ankle injury in Manly’s 32-18 loss to the Warriors.  

Berryman A Marked-Man: He headed south over the offseason with pretty big wraps, but it is probably fair to say that Delroy Berryman has taken his time to find his feet at Manly. Obviously it can be hard for an outside back in a team that has struggled at times in 2014, but Berryman has scored five tries in the last fortnight, and is proving to be a shining light in recent weeks. Berryman looks set for a matchup against Eto Nabuli here in what looms as a mouthwatering clash. Garth Brennan would have noticed that the Warriors almost exclusively targeted Manly’s right-hand edge last Sunday, so Berryman can expect to see plenty of traffic come Saturday.

Prediction: Hard to see anything but a win to the home team. Panthers by 16.

Mounties Vs NZ Warriors
Aubrey Keech Reserve, Saturday, August 2, 3.00pm
Referee: Chris Treneman
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of 2GLF FM 89.3 (893fm.com.au)

An intriguing clash looms large here as the fifth placed Warriors make the trip across the Tasman to tackle the sixth placed Mounties. The home side should be feeling fresh having had their second bye of the season last weekend while the Warriors head into this one off the back of three straight wins. It looks on paper to be a good old fashion matchup between attack and defence. The Warriors have the league’s second best defensive record at present, allowing just 19.5 points per game on average, which is only marginally behind the Cutters, who allow 19 points per match. In fact, the Warriors have conceded just 72 points in their last six matches, although it is worth noting that they did lose twice over that stretch. Mounties looked to have recaptured their attacking verve of late, scoring 124 points in their last four outings, so hopefully the week off hasn’t cooled their hot form. The Warriors will be without Solomone Kata here after he left the match early last week with a leg injury, but they have named David Fusitua, so that should soften the blow somewhat.  

That’s Why They Call Me Big Papa: Abraham Papalii was a one man wrecking ball last Sunday against Manly. The big fella showed size, speed and strength on his way to a three try haul. Papalii was also held up once and dragged down inches short on another occasion. The young Warriors wrecking ball ran roughshod over the Sea Eagles outsides backs on his way to a game high 188 run metres that included 4 line breaks and 10 tackle busts. It will be interesting to see how he goes this week though, as Mounties are perhaps one of the biggest sides in the VB NSW Cup, and it is highly unlikely he will get it all his own way once again.

Prediction: Almost impossible to tip a winner, maybe the Warriors… maybe. Warriors by 2.

Newtown Jets Vs Wests Tigers
Henson Park, Saturday, August 2, 3.00pm
Referee: Damian Briscoe
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of Steele Sports Radio (www.steelesports.com.au)

The Jets play their last home game of 2014 here against the Tigers, and with the bye to come next weekend, this is a must win clash for the Bluebags. A win here to the home side, and a loss for the Knights, would see Newtown right back in the top eight conversation, if they are not in it already. The Tigers are unlikely to just rollover though, as their spot inside the top four continues to be in danger, and a loss here could indeed see them finish the round in as low as fifth spot. It was another shaky performance by Paul Fletcher’s men last round, as they, for the second time in some three weeks, gave the last placed Bears a decent sniff, before rallying in the second half to account for the team from North Sydney. With the injuries currently seeing a number of first graders sidelined at the Tigers, this core group of players looks set to have to carry the side through until the finals at least. Arana Taumata has been named to return here from injury, which sees Samisoni Langi shift back to the centres, while the very exciting Jackson Hastings has been named on the bench and looks set to make his VB NSW Cup debut. Jack Madden has once again been named although he didn’t play last week with Farlow filling in at six, so there is some chance that may happen again this Saturday.

Henson Park Swansong: With the Jets currently in talks with a couple of sides regarding forming an affiliation for 2015 and beyond, it is highly unlikely that this would be the last time that we see the Bluebags run onto Henson Park. But rugby league can be a funny old game at times so we say, just in case, get out there for Reunion Day this Saturday afternoon. It’s always a great day with plenty of the Jets old boys heading out and making a day of it and maybe the powers that be might have some more news on 2015? Would be a nice day to make an announcement.

Prediction: The Jets season continues to go on the line and their performance should reflect that. Jets by 6.

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Vs North Sydney Bears
Belmore Sports Ground, Saturday, August , 3.00pm Referee: Drew Oultram

The Bulldogs, like the Jets, will also play their last home game of 2014 here when they host the North Sydney Bears. With a bye still in hand and three away games to finish the year, this will be the Bulldogs final chance to claim two competition points at Belmore. The Dogs went down to Newtown 38-22 last Friday night while the Bears started well enough against the Tigers but faded late, to eventually go down 30-22. Interestingly enough, despite their respective positions on the ladder, these two sides played a cracker when they first met back in early May, when the Bulldogs posted a 27-20 win over North Sydney. Jaline Graham scored a great individual try that day, so he for one will have good memories when he looks across at his opponents on the weekend. Both Harlan Alaalatoa and Pat O’Hanlon have been named here which will certainly bolster Andy Patmore’s squad, and it looks a strong one when you consider NSW U20’s representative Tyrone Phillips can only manage a spot on the bench. The Bears have once again had to call upon a number of players from their feeder clubs, with a host of players from Asquith and Burwood set to suit up for the Bears here. 

Smokin Joe: In what has been a tough year for the Bears, Joe Uluibau is one that can certainly hold his head up high. Joe is one of the players that were mentioned above that have been called into this North Sydney side to help fill the breach. Although some players from the competitions below fail to flatter when given a chance in the VB NSW Cup, Uluibau certainly doesn’t fall into that category. One of his first games for the Bears this year was against the Bulldogs in round eight (b) and he was one of their best, scoring a double on that occasion. Look for Joe to trouble his opposite number all game long.

Prediction: If the Bears are going to win their third game of 2014, it might be here, but sticking with the Dogs. Bulldogs by 4.

Newcastle Knights Vs Illawarra Cutters
Newcastle No.2 Sports Ground, Sunday, August 3, 2.00pm
Referee: Lawrence McDonell
Broadcast: NSWRL Match Centre coverage available via NSWRL.com.au

Just the one Sunday game this round, but it looks a beauty, as the eighth placed Knights play host to the second placed Cutters at the picturesque Newcastle No.2 Sports Ground. The Knights made it back to back wins after they ground out a professional win against Wyong last weekend while the Cutters remain undefeated since a Round 14 loss to the Panthers, thanks to a 44-18 win over Wenty last Saturday. Illawarra remain in control of their own top four destiny so to speak with a good for and against, some winnable games still to come as well as a bye in the last round of the regular season. The Knights on the other hand know that they need to keep winning to keep the Jets at bay, but they would also be aware that a top four spot is not out of the question either with their last five matches all at home. Nathan Ross returns here for Newcastle after spending a few weeks on the sideline with a knee injury while for the Cutters, Geoff Daniela comes into the team for Dylan Farrell, whose season is over after he suffered a pectoral injury last weekend.

26-0: This was the score line, in favour of Illawarra, when these two sides last met at WIN Jubilee just over a month ago. The Cutters were on fire this day, but Rick Stone would not have forgotten this result and we’re sure it would have been mentioned at least once or twice at training this week. Look for the Knights to want to return serve now that the match is being played on their home turf.

Prediction: The Cutters will deservedly start favourites here but the Knights are tough to toss at home. Knights by 7.

Cronulla Sharks have the BYE