GRAND FINAL DAY LOCKED IN | Three big fixtures next Sunday at Sydney's ANZ Stadium! Burleigh and Ill...
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I hope that I'm not the only one out there who is pulling my hair out with the inconsistent nature of the NRL after four rounds of competition. But even though it might be wreaking havoc with my footy tipping, the unpredictability of the season so far has me more hooked than ever.
There are no teams left undefeated or winless. Everybody has tasted the sweetness of victory and the bitterness of loss. And so we find ourselves with round five kicking off with a Friday night double that is as hard to pick as it appears.
Up in Townsville the North Queensland Cowboys would love nothing more than to post back-to-back home victories to offer their fans and their team a bit of consistency that has been sorely lacking over the last few years.
After the Knights thrashed them in round two, a lot of people thought that 2011 was going to be another rendition of last year. But when they rolled the Melbourne Storm and narrowly lost to Parramatta, they are looking like a team with a bit more confidence and class.
Their opponents, the Gold Coast Titans, were less than a minute away from four straight defeats last week until Canberra half Matt Orford gifted them a golden opportunity to claw their way back into the contest. True to the caliber of the Titans, they claimed the win. How that will boost their confidence is anyone's guess.
These two sides haven't really shown their potential at all this season, and when they have, it's on the backs of certain individuals. For the Cowboys, the input of Matt Bowen has been invaluable. Not only in his attack, but in his defence as well. The tackle he put on Jarryd Hayne to knock the ball loose and deny the Eels fullback a try last week was all class.
With Scott Prince back in the side this week, the Titans may come out a little more relaxed and composed after notching their first win. As always, their halfback and captain is the lynch pin to their performance. Cut down his options like the Brisbane Broncos did in round two, and the Titans don't appear dangerous at all. Give him an inch though, and Prince will take a mile and together he and the Titans will tear their opponents to pieces.
Speaking of being torn to pieces, how horrible is the injury toll of the Wests Tigers? Their left-side combination of Lote Tuqiri and Chris Lawrence is gone; their halfback, Robert Lui, is gone; there's still a question mark floating over when Gareth Ellis is going to return; and Captain Robbie Farah is carrying Osteitis Pubis, a painful chronic groin injury that will eventually require surgery. Admirably, Farah's fighting on, and so too are the Tigers. They tried hard last week against the Sydney Roosters, but were off the pace when it mattered the most.
With his skipper carrying a chronic injury and a new halfback inside him, Benji Marshall will need to step up more than he has over the opening rounds, which is saying a lot. The man with the twinkle toes and unique array of flick passes has carried the team on his back single-handedly at times this year, and he's going to need players around him to lift so he can work his magic against the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
The Bunnies are starting to play to their potential, especially in their victory over the Manly Sea Eagles last Friday. Manly played consistently well through the entirety of the game, but Souths at times were phenomenal - until the last ten minutes of the game, that is. Yet again, Souths suffered from a case of putting the cue in the rack a tad too early.
They can't afford to do the same to a side with Benji Marshall calling the shots. If the Four Nations final last year proved anything, it's that Benji has a knack of imparting his will upon a game when his team needs him the most.
Like the unpredictable bounce of a Steeden, the NRL season doesn't appear to be offering up any consistency in results just yet. And for fans of the game, there can't be anything more intriguing than that.