The 2018 Pre-Season is well and truly underway in the UK with several games already played and plent...
3 days ago
Paul's back for another look at the weekend ahead. Check out his tips and see if yours will match up...
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Below, Paul runs the rule over Round 7, which kicks off with a Good Friday blockbuster at ANZ Stadium:
So much history. 147 games of history, actually, behind this Good Friday blockbuster between and Bulldogs and the Bunnies and what better way to start your Easter long weekend. They've played some great games and had some great players. Bob McCarthy's intercept try in the 1967 Grand Final was a story told at my dinner table growing up and there have been plenty more chapters added to the rivalry between these proud Sydney clubs.
More recently, the Good Friday match has become another wonderful new tradition. Your humble previewer would love to talk more about this recent history, alas he was apparently refused entry at the after-match drinks last year, which gives you an idea of his performance at the actual match. The Bulldogs attack not good enough to trouble Souths defence for long enough in this one. Keep an eye on Greg Inglis, the glue that sticks the bunnies together. GI the difference again here.
The Knights looked like their old selves in Canberra last week. Stingy without the ball and very frugal with it. No, I didn't just call the Newcastle Knights a bunch of tight arses; rather they play a conservative style of football modelled around their defence. Thank Christ for Jarrod Mullen, whose deft touches with the football last week were a pleasure to watch. Mullen returned from injury last week and the difference was immediate.
This week, after he's signed a brand new, 4 year deal, Mullen will again be the spark that turns this Knights team from the banal to the watchable. The Broncos, still learning how to succeed with the Ben Hunts and Ben Barbas of the world, will be desperate here. After destroying the Dragons in Wollongong they've lost two heartbreakers but unfortunately a trip to Hunter Stadium on Friday night aint the right cure for a broken heart.
Manly Sea Eagles v North Queensland Cowboys
Friday 7:30pm at Central Coast Stadium, Gosford
Your Good Friday triple header finishes with the mighty Eagles hosting the well-travelled and exhausted Cowboys from Central Coast Stadium. The boys from Townsville have not won a game away from 1300 SMILES Stadium this year to continue a trend that has plagued them forever. This week, the long trip to Gosford will see them undone again and will have critics wondering why the greatest halfback in the league can't help change this dreaded curse.
Manly have plenty of weapons. When they play to their potential, this team has it all and won't be messing around again after bludging their way through the second 40 minutes of last week's net session against the Sharks. The return of Jorge Taufua has made the Eagles look even more dangerous and they should run away with this match in the last quarter. A test of character for the Cowboys here but they fall just short against Manly, again.
Saturday afternoon at 5.30 from Kogarah's famous Jubilee Oval and the red V faithful may still be furious. They might take more than a week to simmer down after the mess that occurred last Monday night in Melbourne but more importantly, it's the players who'll need to re-focus more. The Warriors were gallant in defeat against Canterbury last week and showed signs that they have not forsaken 2014 just yet.
The Dragons better take them seriously; and they will. The leadership they are getting from Gareth Widdop this year has been astounding. He does not sit still for one moment, always barking at his forwards and organising his backs, Widdop will again lift his teammates to new heights and will be ably supported by Josh Dugan behind him and an ever improving pack of forwards in front him. This last point is the difference. The Warriors big men won't be able to keep up.
Cronulla Sutherland Sharks v Sydney Roosters
Saturday 7:30pm at Remondis Stadium, Woolooware
8-0, 9-8 and then 14-12; these are the last 3 losing score lines for the defending premiers. Has it been raining for that long over the Chooks? Has the dark cloud of a premiership hangover hovered so squarely over them that they can't fight their way out? Can I spend an entire ‘column' asking questions without answering them? No. But the Roosters need to worry about some other questions right now. Have they got what it takes to bounce back?
They travel to the depths of the Shire to try and answer this question and the Sharks won't make it easy. They've never been a walkover at home and this week, their defence better not be. The Chooks will come out swinging and should direct all their attack towards Cronulla's bumbling backline. The likes of RTS, SKD and Mick Jennings have a huge advantage over their opposite numbers here. If the Roosters halves cannot take advantage of this mismatch, they'll deserve even more criticism.
In the space of a month, the Melbourne Storm's famous defence has opened up like the Yarra to allow an average of over 25 per game. Just stop and think about that for a second… This puts them second worst in the league, defensively, and what's more shocking is that in the past three weeks they've allowed a whopping 92 points. Had enough? I haven't - they've lost their last two games at home and something has gone horribly wrong.
Why? Could it be the end of the dynasty? Is the wretched, stinking, soul destroying wrestling tactic a thing of the past? If so, has it been carrying this team of superstars over the past 8 years? My exaggerations aside, if Melbourne can't plug the many holes in their defensive line, the Raiders could have a field day on Sunday afternoon in the national capital. They'll be out for revenge after last year's 60 point defeat to Melbourne and since I got that tip wrong, I'll go with the Storm to keep Canberra winless at home.
You've never heard such overwhelming love for a Wests Tigers forward pack. The compliments just keep flowing in and it comes as a huge surprise to league fans, considering the Tigers brand has long been known for its razzle dazzle approach to Rugby League. Well, whether this reputation was true or not, the likes of Galloway, Woods, Adam Blair and their reserves are now in charge at Tiger Town and their reputation is now built on brawn.
This weekend, it will certainly need to be because they have about 20 years' worth of brain sitting on the sideline. With Braith Anasta suspended and Robbie Farah injured, Wests will struggle to turn any field position into points. They will struggle with cohesion through their spine and will not be able to match Parra for the full 80 minutes. The Eels continue their resurgence and hold off a spirited but undermanned Tigers outfit.
Ivan Cleary still seems to be thinking long term, by the looks. He seems to be suffering youngsters like Josh Mansour, who played the worst game of his short career last week at home against the Bunnies. He remains persistent with Peter Wallace, who struggled to point his team in the right direction last week; even with so much possession handed to him in the early stages by the fumbling Rabbitohs. Where to from here, for the Panthers?
A tough loss. They did not measure up last Friday and this week they face the table topping Titans to close out your Easter weekend and the pressure will be on. The Titans have surely tricked more punters than they have scored points. Their negative differential may look odd sitting atop the premiership but the other columns say 5 wins and 1 loss. Their defence has been great when it needs to be and it will be again here. The Panthers attack is still working itself out.