TRANS-TASMAN PREVIEWS | We've got a look over and made our picks for the opening night of the rep ro...
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It's been a week of high drama in Rugby League: Panthers coach Matt Elliott standing down immediately rather than at the end of the season; the soap opera caused by Johnathan Thurston being charged for contrary conduct and then found not guilty (you know things hit farcical proportions when a federal politician like Bob Katter weighs in on the issue); Broncos players Andrew McCullough and Ben Hunt being stood down by the club for public intoxication; Newcastle Knights legend Matt Gidley being named the club's new CEO. All we need now is a round filled to the brim with great footy and we can honestly say that this week has had everything.
And yet again, Friday night footy has a little bit of everything too: there are teams that have rediscovered form and others that look like they have no hope of finding it. With the deciding State Of Origin match looming just ahead, most NSW and QLD fans will be holding their breath and crossing their fingers in the hope that their state's star performers remain fit and healthy for next Wednesday; but for fans of a majority of the clubs playing on Friday night, they will simply be hoping that their team can win a game.
WESTS TIGERS VS CANTERBURY
Both of these teams were tipped by many to make the top eight at the beginning of the year. You wouldn't know it going off their recent performances. Both teams are struggling but are still in finals contention.
The Bulldogs will be boosted by the return of Jamal Idris and Trent Hodkinson, but after disappointing losses to Cronulla and Manly, they will need to produce a big game to convince their fans that they are capable of getting out of the mid-season rut that they have found themselves in.
On the other hand, the Tigers will be missing their star playmaker Benji Marshall. His loss will cause the Tigers to lack dimension in attack - a lot of responsibility will be on Robert Lui's shoulders as he is asked to lead the way to a victory in the halfback position.
Depending on where their confidence is at, both teams may opt for a simple attacking structure as they try to complete their sets and create pressure. There are two contests in the game that will be entertaining to watch: the contest between the back rowers of both teams, and the great rivalry between hookers Michael Ennis and Robbie Farah. In the first round of the season, the Bulldogs had the Tigers' measure. Will it be more of the same, or are the Tigers ready to roar once more?
RABBITOHS VS BRISBANE BRONCOS
The Broncos look strong. After losing a few they've now put together three wins in a row and are beginning to bounce back to the kind of form they demonstrated at the start of the season.
Justin Hodges is back, but Jharal Yow Yeh has tonsillitis and Andrew McCullough and Ben Hunt have been stood down. Kurt Baptiste will be their hooker and he will need to be on the top of his game if he is to win the battles around the ruck against his counterpart Issac Luke.
The big question to be answered in this game is whether Dave Taylor can repeat the one-man demolition job that he put on against the Titans last week. The more involved he gets, the better the Bunnies' chances are against a team who on paper look to be the favourites.
The potential centre combination for Queensland, Justin Hodges and Greg Inglis, will face off against each other, and it will be interesting to see how Hodges goes after being absent for several weeks with a hamstring injury. If he plays well, he should nearly be an automatic walk-up for the Queensland right centre position.
When Brisbane have lost games this season it has been through their inability to keep up with teams when they kick on in the second half. Souths started the season by failing to close out games when they were ahead and have struggled to win in recent times when they get themselves into a grinding contest.
In other words, this game could go either way in all sorts of situations. Regardless of the outcome, it's going to be entertaining.