Andrew Voss on the Anzac Test, a huge triple-header at Campbelltown Stadium and why some of the bottom-five NRL sides can bounce back to a slow start to 2017.
Who wins the Anzac test?
I am so close to locking in a tip for New Zealand, with only their underwhelming performance at the Four Nations tournament leaving me in doubt.
The Cameron Smith 50-test milestone has to be huge for the Kangaroos in terms of motivation, but you can only prepare to do so much with a just a couple of training runs under your belt.
The Kiwis look a far stronger outfit than the one that lost the Four Nations final 34-8. Two players in particular make the team more potent: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Kieran Foran.
But again, David Kidwell’s side is in the same boat as Mal Meninga’s team. It is such a short preparation.
So perhaps I’ll sit on the fence in this one and predict a draw!
How big will Saturday be at Campbelltown?
I think it could be one of the best days of rugby league in the season.
There’ll be no short of passion on show in the PNG v Cook Islands game to kick off the day.
Is there anyone out there who can split the Fiji and Tonga squads? I’ll pay just to watch Suliasi Vunivalu make his representative debut.
And as for the third game… well league fans really need to savour the occasion.
From the moment it was announced England would be coming out for a mid-year test, I was excited.
Some of my fondest memories as a kid were of Great Britain playing series in Australia during our season.
And now they return, if but for one game; and how good will the contest be? I reckon Wayne Bennett’s men are under plenty of pressure, and as a result I’m expecting Samoa to take them right to the wire on Saturday night.
As a matter of fact, I reckon it will prove to be Samoa’s finest international league moment.
I can’t wait to call the match for Fox League.
Who is to blame for the City/Country selection fiasco?
As much as everyone would like to point the finger solely at the NRL clubs that were keen for their players to be unavailable for the match this year, I think the NSW selection policy of the past is the catalyst to the problem.
From the moment the Blues coach and/or selectors chose to ‘rest’ some players from the game, we were asking for trouble.
Every fan of the game knows it has never been a State of Origin selection trial. Ask David Mead or Blake Austin to back that up from more recent tussles.
You can’t sell the fans something that it isn’t, and by allowing the selection of some players to sit out the match year after year, you opened the door for the clubs not to buy into the annual fixture.
Go further back and look at the handful of years the Dragons' Matt Cooper was allowed to just bypass the game.
Annually, we have allowed players to suffer from one week ailments that would miraculously be healed by the time the club competition resumed a week later.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big a rugby league traditionalist as any one. I love the history of the game. I sincerely hope Sunday is a good game and a great day. But I’m also a realist.
And while City/Country will officially die with Sunday’s game, the truth of the matter is, it was diagnosed as ‘critically ill’ more than a decade ago… and we chose not to treat it.
Are any of the bottom-five sides still a hope in the NRL this year?
Call this my nine-round pep talk, but I say yes.
I’ve included a bottom five as there is a clear cut that starts at six points and ends up with the two points next to the name of Newcastle.
Of those handful of sides I think the Titans are definitely on the way up and are starting to look like the team that qualified for the finals last year.
We’ve seen glimpses of what Souths are capable of, likewise the Tigers.
But here is my boldest prediction. I’m going to say that the Panthers reached the bottom of the barrel in Round 9 against Brisbane, and will now start the climb back towards achieving their potential.
They certainly have a bit to work on, however I know what I saw in the run to the finals last year and it looked the real deal. That talent can’t be lost.
So I’ve started a countdown to the Panthers next game on Saturday week against the Warriors.
At home, it will be a real make or break game. Let's wait and see if my prediction that they’ve turned the corner proves correct.
Are there any positives for the Cowboys at the moment?
For a side that I thought would win the competition this year, it’s not too flattering to see them 9th on the ladder on 10 points.
One of the reasons I separated the Cowboys from plenty of the others was after breaking down the draw. I thought they would get off to a flyer with six home games in the first nine rounds.
But the record shows they have now lost three of those games to Manly, the Tigers and the Eels. I had them down to win all three. In another home match they got up in golden point against the Raiders.
The positive I see through an indifferent run is the rapid improvement of Kalyn Ponga. I’m starting to think that there is no way that coach Paul Green can leave the 19-year-old out of his side. In my opinion, he is that good. And if the Cowboys are to bounce back quickly, Ponga can be a key figure.
Where that leaves Lachlan Coote if he gets fit I’m not too sure, but my radical proposal while Jake Granville is out would be to play him at hooker.
And don’t just put the Cowboys' plight down to Johnathan Thurston’s injury. While they have lost two with JT out, they also lost two at home with him in.
Were the Roosters unlucky to lose in the dying minutes against the Warriors?
Full marks to Trent Robinson and his team for the way they handled the disappointment of the finish to their game last Sunday.
It was a tough game of footy, in tough conditions that could have gone either way.
But they didn’t complain at all about the final penalty that led to the match-winning goal from Shaun Johnson, despite the fact it had many confused supporters at the time.
Referee Ashley Klein and his fellow officials ruling Mitchell Pearce offside was a great call in a pressure moment. I honestly admit, there is no way I would have picked that up at the time if I were commentating the match.
I’ve heard the bleating from upset fans saying: “Yeah, but what about the high tackle they missed, or a forward pass, or not ruling offside on the goal-line?”
My response is you will never go even close to achieving 100 per cent right from the officials. They’re up against it. The players are all encouraged to bend or turn a blind eye to the simplest of rules. I guarantee, no amount of money would have me want to be an NRL referee.
They have my admiration, and Mr Klein has even greater respect this week for such a tough call.
Enjoy your representative weekend of rugby league.