The grizzled old veterans from Cronulla travel north to Suncorp Stadium on Friday night to face the youth and exuberance of the Baby Broncos. The likes of Robson, Gibbs, Best and Ross have found a formula that works in the Shire this year and led by Todd Carney and Paul Gallen, find themselves sitting in 4th position on the ladder. This brings us to the difference between these two teams in your round 17 opener.
The Broncos have their spine intact and with Peter Wallace in control again, the home side will counter the Sharks' experience with speed and a little bit of superstar in Corey Norman. Once the comparisons die down, this Broncos' number 6 will be forging his own reputation and will continue his good form this week. Brisbane don't crack the Sharks easily, but will keep them at bay in defence and run away late with the ball.
Both, finally, winners last start to give hope to tortured fans and perhaps salvage a season to forget so far. The Eels host the Knights at Parramatta Stadium on Saturday night and the winner will be able to claim something they have not all season. A winning streak. Neither club has won consecutive matches in 2012 and before you thank me for that magnificent piece of research, allow me to blow your minds with a stern warning.
Keep your friends and family away from any pubs in Parramatta when this game finishes. Smart money says that Willie Mason will renew his alliance with former teammates Willie Tonga and Reni Maitua from the days of their 2004 premiership season. Smart money also says to get on the Knights here. They play with confidence and the Eels play without Jarryd Hayne which is enough to go against the home side for mine.
The Cowboys have been preparing for this part of the season for many years now. Representative scheduling poses a huge threat to many sides' claim to the premiership and many before them have struggled after July. However, North Queensland seem to be better prepared this year. Coach Neil Henry now has two years away from the QLD origin team and this time of year is exactly why he quit that role. His focus now solely on the Cowboys.
So, without Thurston, Scott and Tate, they travel to Mt Smart Stadium to face a Warriors team sitting just outside the 8 but boasting a team full of weapons. These weapons will be deployed to break through a brave but out-gunned Cowboys defensive line. They will hold on early but when Shaun Johnson and James Maloney get their share of possession, the home side will finish stronger.
With the injury to Luke Walsh last week against Parramatta, Ivan Cleary now has no choice but to blood the next wave of Penrith juniors and hope it sets a foundation for years to come. NYC superstar Harry Seijka will start for the Panthers at halfback while 21 year old Blake Austin joins him in the number 6 jersey. These two will have enthusiasm and energy on their side as Panthers fans get a preview of what 2013 might look like.
On Sunday though, this combination won't be enough to crack a disciplined Rabbitohs defence. The Bunnies held a full strength Broncos team at bay last week for the better part of 60 minutes and will not give up their current position in the top 8 to a couple of young upstarts from the foot of the mountains. Issac Luke sets the table and Adam Reynolds serves up a tasty dish for Souths fans as their season gets back on track and the visitors lose their 4th in a row.
A quick comment on the TV rights issue and why it is so important for the Greatest Game of All. Rugby League is the most watched sport on television in Australia and that is because of games like this one. Only the brave will surface on Monday night at Canberra Stadium but for the rest of us, this is a matchup made to be watched on delay. You physically won't be able to put up with the pace without using fast forward.
Jamie Soward will find touch often, he'll take the two points often, there will be plenty of mistakes and you can bet your last dollar of the weekend that there won't be a lot of points scored. So, with my Raiders and Dragons bashing out of the way, the curse of the capital hits St George Illawarra again. They have not beaten Canberra since 2007 and most of those Raiders victories came as stunning upsets. Sam Williams finally gets the call back to 1st grade and the Raiders get the biscuits.