Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
This weekend sees the completion of round 7 of the Bartercard Cup with a further three games.
On Sunday, top of the table Mt Albert Lions travel to Christchurch to take on the Bulls.
The Bulls haven't being going quite as good as they had in their first two seasons of this competition, being the winners in year 2000.
Its a rebuilding phase after the loss of a number of experienced players this year and the young talent is showing glimpses of a bright future for the franchise.
The Lions though will need to take note of what happened to previously unbeaten Hibiscus Coast two weeks ago when the Raiders went down, in a major upset, to newcomers Taranaki.
Christchurch has long been a bit of a burial ground for a number of good Auckland teams over the years and it will be important the John Ackland coached side retain their focus or they too could be another side to come unstuck down South.
"We expect to get another two points this week as the team is playing good football at the moment and they have plenty of confidence. We're not fazed by the travel or the conditions we're likely to experience," said Lions manager Paul Gordon.
At the present time the Lions do look like the form team of the competition but the nature of this competition is that no results can be taken for granted. At home the Bulls will be a different side than the one that we've seen on the road.
They're sure to get plenty of support and will have more experience of playing in the wintry conditions of the south, which will be something different for the Aucklander's to what they normally experience at home.
However with a forward back that contains the strength of Hutch Maiava, Fui Fui Moi Moi and Paea Kailea, along with the ball skills of Keneti Asiata, they should be too strong for the Bulls.
The Lions back line will be weakened with the loss of Vinnie Anderson from the centres. Anderson was to take his place in the Warriors line up last week but unfortunately for him fell victim to injury before he could take his place in the side and will be out for three or four weeks.
Ivory, at 190cm and 112kg's, has to be one of the biggest three quarters in the competition and is a handful for any side to contain.
The Lions shouldn't loose too much in Anderson's replacement.
The Bulls will be relying on Captain Shane Beyer's, Danny Champion and Eddie Hei Hei to shore up the defence and deny the Lions their go forward.
Form suggests that the Lions should take out the match.
Grey Lynn Park looks to be the place to be on Saturday when Marist/Richmond play Manurewa. This promises to be an excellent game of football with both teams looking to be in good touch at the present time.
The Marlins have had a slow start to the season but the last two matches have seen them produce some top draw footie. Likewise the Brothers have now got their game pretty well organised and are playing with a lot more confidence.
Ricky Henry and Jamie Cook in the backs and Karl Guttenbeil in the forwards are regularly scoring points, providing the spark that helps raise the enthusiasm levels for the Brothers.
The Marlins are playing more like a team now but they'll need to ensure that their defence is right up to the mark on Saturday.
Marist/Richmond always pull a good crowd to their home games and the strong support that they get will give them an advantage over their opponents.
On field results also make them slight favourites and should be able to pull of another win, but it will be close.
The third game of the weekend sees Hibiscus Coast Raiders against Glenora Bears at Ericsson Stadium at 2.30pm on Sunday.
The Raiders will still be annoyed with themselves for slipping up against Taranaki in their last match and will want to return to form quickly.
The Bears are a developing side and have only a win and a draw so far this year.
The Bears look as if they're still some way off before they could be tipped to get past the Raiders.
The Raiders will be looking for the long awaited return of Karl Te Mata to their forward pack and the break since their last game gives them the prospect of being able to field their strongest team so far this year.
They're used to playing at Ericsson and still remain unbeaten there. That should still be the case after this weekend. A win in this game will set up next weekend's game against Mt Albert as the match of the year as both teams look to settle the argument of who's the best team as we reach the halfway mark of the competition.