The NSW Blues have been named for the first game of the 2017 #Origin series.
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Sydney Roosters v St George Illawarra Dragons
Allianz Stadium - Thursday 25 April (ANZAC Day) 4:00pm
A week after City v Country falls flat on its face thanks to some poor marketing by the NRL; and other reasons... we come to a fixture that needs no introduction, that will never fail to deliver and that is now one of the great Rugby League traditions; The ANZAC Day match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium. I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it.
A special day: and what better cause than honouring those who have served, fought and died for Australia and New Zealand in the theatre of war. 4pm. The National Anthem, the last post, a minute’s silence and then finally - kick off. Saints will be underdogs in this one with the Roosters sitting 4th on the ladder and looking bloody good in defense. The chooks roll on with another win and their first on ANZAC day since 2007.
AAMI Park in Melbourne hosts your night-cap and your mis-match of the round. The Warriors are 1 from 6 and are second last on the ladder. The New Zealanders have fought hard the past month. They’ve beaten the Cowboys and then lost heartbreakers to Souths and Canberra. No doubt this display of pride is due to injured players slowly returning and a forward pack that has some starch. This week though, they are up against the best in the NRL.
The Storm haven’t lost a game of footy for ages and they won’t be losing this one. It must be said that the Warriors do have a decent record in Melbourne, compared to other clubs, but no amount of statistical mumbo jumbo can get them out of this one. Multi-Million Dollar Man Gareth Widdop plays his first game after agreeing to leave Bellamy’s bunker but contrary to that price tag, he won’t have much work to do here.
2 v 3 on the ladder and two Sydney teams make for the perfect formula; Friday night from Brookvale Oval. Sea Eagles fans hate nobody more than the mighty Rabbitohs and this rivalry goes back to 26th April 1947 – the very first time the Bunnies and the Eagles met. Now, exactly 66 years later, they play for the 129th time and this one is dripping with Rugby League nostalgia. For you kids out there, look up the story of Mal Reilly v George Piggins and enjoy.
Nowadays, it may not be as violent but it will be a battle. Two monster forward packs will trade blows and two of the best young halfbacks in the NRL will put on a clinic. With Greg Inglis and Brett Stewart rounding out a full plate of superstars, sit back and enjoy your match of the round. Home ground advantage should get the Eagles home late, but only after the Bunnies make a very good account of themselves in this defensive struggle.
For those who’ve visited our nation’s capital in recent weeks, you’ll know what is meant by the phrase, ‘colder than a witches’ teat’. There’s a breeze that flows across the ACT that fills your lungs with ice and makes you hate the city with the fire of a thousand suns. Ironic? Yes. Good weather to train in before heading to Townsville? No. A balmy North Queensland evening awaits the visiting Raiders to kick off your Saturday night at 5.30pm.
The Green Machine have the better record of the two teams but away from the confines of Canberra, it aint looking good. The Cowboys needed the fortnight’s break and will be desperate to get their season back on track after a gut-wrenching loss to the Broncos. This is just the tonic. The Raiders have some new faces in their starting squad and Jonathan Thurston will look to exploit the ensuing confusion. North Queensland pull away late.
Campbelltown Stadium hosts the second game on Saturday Night and the Tigers are on the brink. They’ve come close in recent weeks, but just not close enough. They gave the Storm a scare for 60 minutes but couldn’t close the deal, only to then go to the SCG and fumble away their chance at a miracle comeback thanks to the slippery hands of Ben Murdoch-Masila. It has been a tough start under new coach Mick Potter.
It won’t get easier against the visiting Broncos. They are 3 and 3 on the season but far from struggling. Sitting on a two match winning streak but more importantly, their attack has now moulded into something dangerous. Scott Prince seems to have found a rhythm with his new team-mates and Peter Wallace is enjoying it. The Broncos will have to contend with another almighty performance from Robbie Farah, but not much else.
Sunday afternoon football comes to you from sun-baked Skilled Park as Newcastle travels north to Robina. Hard to split these two teams. They’ve both come off disappointing 2012 campaigns and have both turned their fortunes around in 2013. They hold nearly identical records this season in both attack and defense and sit right next to each other on the competition ladder. The bookies, on the other hand, are in love with the Titans.
So, with the similarities obvious, the difference here will be the halves. Jarrod Mullen is due for one of his blinders whilst Tyrone Roberts gets better with every game. The Titans will be happy to see Aidan Sezer back in the squad but it won’t be enough. This will be a beauty as two grizzly forward packs go head to head. Mason v Myles a highlight, but for you League fans with a good memory, you’ll be hoping for another dose of Timana Tahu v Jamal Idris.
Cronulla Sutherland Sharks v Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford - Sunday 28 April 3:00pm
The once mighty ‘Dogs have the worst attack in the competition by quite a margin. They sit bottom of the table only 6 months after winning a Minor Premiership. Losers of 4 in a row and a CEO, they are either cursed, or simply don’t have the cattle this year to compete. Either way, their round 6 match against the Roosters signified rock bottom for this proud club. A big test of their mettle this weekend in what must be make or break. How to respond?
With violence, some would say. Send the forwards out there with a mission to destroy and let the rest take care of itself. Unfortunately for the ‘Dogs, they are playing against the Sharks who thrive under this kind of approach. Even more unfortunate for the visitors will be if Todd Carney suits up for Cronulla. He will – and the lovely people of Gosford will enjoy a beauty from Bluetongue Stadium with the Sharks getting home.
My tip: Sharks 20-18
Monday Night Football from Centrebet Stadium and for these two clubs, it’s a case of building for the future and building experience in the process. The Eels look like they are getting closer to resembling a professional 1st grade team, compared to previous years. The Panthers, unfortunately, do not. Ivan Cleary continues to tinker with his halves but with an impotent backline outside of them, Luke Walsh and Tom Humble won’t be piling on the points here.
The Eels could be turning a corner and if their forwards can handle the likes of Tim Grant and Sam McKendry, they’ll bounce back from last round’s heartbreaking loss to the Gold Coast and keep their fans hoping for more. If Chris Sandow plays anything close to his best, he could have a field day kicking to an in-experienced Penrith back 3 and then, unleashing Jacob Loko and Jarryd Hayne on a helpless Panthers defensive line.