Mounties v Penrith: Clash of the titans
(St Marys Stadium, Saturday 25 April, 3:00pm)
It's a showdown for the ages as the undefeated Mounties take on defending champions Penrith this Saturday at St Marys.
"It's a big clash, it's a big challenge for us against the reigning premiers," Mounties coach Steve Antonelli said. "It's a real test for us to see where we are at."
Mounties snapped the Newtown Jets' four-game winning streak last weekend to remain unbeaten and set up a salivating blockbuster top-of-the-table clash between two of the competition's heavyweight contenders.
In their respective Round 7 matches, Mounties outclassed the Jets 24-8 in dramatic fashion while Penrith overran the New Zealand Warriors 34-20 after trailing 16-6 thanks to Will Smith's dominant performance in the halves.
With selections in the VB NSW Cup rep side up for grabs for both sides, it's a huge occasion for Mounties who are motivated to beat the premiers and stamp their premiership credentials.
While they are the only team not to lose in the VB NSW Cup this season, Antonelli insists staying unbeaten is not their focus.
"We don't really look at that," Antonelli said. "We just worry about our week-to-week performance and improving each week. Seven wins from seven matches is good but we move into each week and try to improve collectively as a team and as individuals."
The second-placed Panthers will be hungry to be the first side to topple Mounties this season and reassert themselves as the team to beat.
"It's becoming a bit of a challenge each week with teams aiming up to knock us off," Antonelli said. "It's a challenge for us to take but if, individually, all 17 of my side are at their best, then we will be very hard to beat. That's what the VB NSW Cup is all about. It's about every individual being at their best."
North Sydney v Manly: Rivals set for pivotal clash
(North Sydney Oval, Sunday 26 April, 3:00pm)
New coach Ben Gardiner is hoping to build on the North Sydney Bears' impressive 32-4 upset victory over the Roos as they face off against old foes Manly.
"I didn't expect things to go as well as they did last week," Gardiner said. "The boys played with good energy and did a lot of basic things that have been around in rugby league for over 100 years that came together for us in one day. Our challenge is to do that week in week out, not just as a one-off. We're working really hard to ensure that and make sure the process takes care of the outcome."
It was an unforgettable coaching debut but Gardiner places the credit on his side.
"As a coach it's always really nice to win," Gardiner said. "Along the way you need to put in the work and if you get the result it's an even greater benefit. The boys do that - it's not the coach. The coach just stands in the background making sure the team is ready to go. It's rewarding for me but even more rewarding for the players."
The Sea Eagles are also coming into the match full of confidence after a solid 18-14 victory against the Canterbury Bulldogs. It's an important match for both sides sitting with just two wins after the opening seven rounds. Gardiner knows the Bears can't get ahead of themselves in a long season.
"You have to stay grounded," Gardiner said. "We'll worry about ourselves and what we do. That was key for us last week. We knew Wyong were a good side but it's about us and making sure our standards are at a high level. That means doing all the little things on the field and ticking all the boxes so that we perform the way we should.
"I know it's a cliché but I like to take it week by week. Last week was last week and this week is this week. We won't worry about the opposition and focus on improving on last week. We want to continue to keep moving forward in addressing those areas for improvement."