Our own Rick Edgerton is in to wrap Game II of #Origin and looks ahead to the decider in a fortnight...
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NSW CUP MATCH PREVIEWS - ROUND 24
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Vs Auckland Vulcans
The Crest Stadium, Saturday, August 20
Referee: Jon Stone
Summary: Both sides have been boosted by some handy inclusions heading into the match which will probably decide the 2011 NSW Cup Minor Premiership. Ben Roberts, Mickey Paea and Corey Payne return for the Bulldogs while for the Vulcans, try-sneak Pita Godinet takes his place at fullback after a few fruitful weeks in the NRL.
Undoubtedly the highlight of this match will be the battle of the two forward packs. The Vulcans pack has steam rolled all in their path but the Dogs pack, which includes names like Hodgson, Warburton, Millington and Paea, will add more than just some resistance.
James Gavet (Vulcans) has been one of the most damaging ball runners in the NSW Cup this year and should he want to test himself against the best in the business, Saturday is his day. Glen Fisiiahi moves to the centres to cover for the loss of Lewis Brown while for the Dogs, Trent Cutler shifts from fullback to halfback with Josh Reynolds still holding his place in first grade.
Talking Point: The battle for the Minor Premiership - Following a round of upsets last weekend, the Vulcans are now a real chance of claiming the title for the first time in NSW Cup history. This is their litmus test though. The Dogs are a ferociously proud Club who wear their hearts on their sleeves so they won't be giving up without a fight.
Prediction: There is no doubt that this match, on paper, is the match of the season. It is a big ask for the Vulcans to travel over and beat the competition favourites on their home turf. Although the Dogs aren't at full strength, we still think the pride instilled in that jersey will get them home in a VERY close one.
Manly Sea Eagles Vs Central Coast Centurions
Brookvale Oval, Saturday, August 20
Referee: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski
Summary: Both sides are coming off impressive last start wins. Manly accounted for the fourth-placed Newtown Jets while the Centurions were too good for a Michael Jennings led Windsor Wolves outfit at Morrie Breen Oval. The Centurions have been bolstered by the return of a few key men as the injury crisis in the NRL dissipates.
Marvin Karawana, Mark Taufua, Dan Tolar and Peter Mata'utia are all available for Coach Rip Taylor in a line-up which forces Junior Kangaroo Kyle O'Donnell onto an extended bench. While Manly sit in last position, Coach Luke Williamson and NRL Coach Des Hasler would be pleased with the progression of a few of their youngsters in the NSW Cup.
Michael Oldfield, James Cunningham, Dean Whare and Daniel Harrison have proven that they are more than capable of making the jump to the NRL.
Talking Point: Can the Centurions be finals contenders? - The Centurions have promised big things all year and, despite a mid-season slump courtesy of injuries to the Knights NRL squad, they showed last week that they will cause a few headaches in the final series. Plenty of attacking flair mixed with some considerable size in the forward pack is a recipe which bodes well for success in the Final Series.
Prediction: Last weekend Manly showed they have a promising future after blooding some very talented youngsters in the NSW Cup this year however the returning strength of the Central Coast Centurions will be too much for them here. Centurions by 8.
North Sydney Bears Vs Cronulla Sharks
North Sydney Oval, Saturday, August 20
Referee: Michael Laverty
Broadcast: TripleH 100.1 FM (Link available via www.nswrl.com.au's Weekend Game-Cast)
Summary: The one thing the Bears were missing at the start of season of 2011 was direction in the halves but since the return of Matt Mundine, the Bears have been a different side. Mundine's combination with his former NYC partner Malcolm Webster has been a key component in the Bears' four match winning streak.
The Sharks are coming off a shock loss to the Western Suburbs Magpies and their ranks have been strengthened by the inclusion of representative centre Ben Pomeroy. Scott Porter returns to the starting line-up and from all reports from Henson Park last weekend the Sharks looked considerably better when Porter came off the bench and combined with Tim Smith.
One player in the Sharks ranks who will be looking to finish the season off strongly will be hard running front-rower Andrew Clayton. Clayton has been the mainstay of the Sharks front-row in the NSW Cup and with Luke Douglas and Kade Snowden heading elsewhere in 2012, a spot may open up in the NRL squad should his form warrant selection.
Talking Point: Bears warming to the task - Last year was an uncharacteristically poor one for the Bears but their recent form suggests they are back! Four straight wins over some pretty impressive opposition has the top four teams peeking over their shoulders. Coach Wayne Lambkin has been signed on for another year and several members of their squad have been given summer contracts by the Rabbitohs. Everything points to a successful Final Series for the Bears.
Prediction: The Sharks still boast an impressive line-up despite losing a few players to the NRL but it would be hard to tip against the Bears with all the momentum they have had in the last month. Bears by 6.
Balmain Ryde-Eastwood Tigers Vs Wentworthville Magpies
Leichhardt Oval, Saturday, August 20
Referee: Matt Noyen
Summary: Daniel Mortimer has been named to face the Balmain Ryde-Eastwood Tigers despite copping a nasty accidental knee in the ribs from Glen Fisiiahi in Wentworthville's 28-20 loss to the Auckland Vulcans last weekend.
Former Tiger Matt Ryan was almost the best player on the park last weekend and he will be fired up for a big one against his old Club where manly believe he should have progressed higher. The Tigers should be well rested after enjoying the BYE weekend in Round 23 and they need to aim up because there place in the final series is in jeopardy.
The Tigers currently sit in eighth with the Wolves breathing down their neck. It is a pretty simple equation for the Tigers, win at all costs. In a boost for the Magpies, try-scoring ace Dylon Gilbert returns after a weekend on the sideline. Gilbert bagged a hat-trick against the Wolves in Round 21 and he will be a welcome addition to Brett Cook's backline.
Talking Point: The battle for the final series - With three games remaining both of these sides can potentially miss the final series should they not treat each match as their grand final. Windsor sits six points adrift of the sixth-placed Magpies and only three points behind the eighth-placed Tigers. With the Central Coast Centurions all but guaranteed of top-eight finish courtesy of a BYE, these two teams must stand up now or risk giving last year's Grand Finalists a sniff.
Prediction: Really tough one to tip here. Both teams are playing for their lives so they should be throwing everything at each other. Wenty snuck home 18-12 in Round 4, expect the positions to reverse here.
Western Suburbs Magpies Vs Windsor Wolves
Campbelltown Sports Stadium, Saturday, August 20
Referee: Phil Haines
Broadcast: Hawkesbury Radio 89.9 FM (Link available via www.nswrl.com.au's Weekend Game-Cast)
Summary: The Western Suburbs Magpies held an almost NRL strength Cronulla outfit to only eight points last weekend at Henson Park while a Michael Jennings double wasn't enough for the Wolves to get over a rampant Central Coast Centurions side at Morrie Breen Oval.
Windsor's finals aspirations almost rest wholeheartedly on the back of one man, Masada Iosefa. Iosefa is not only one of the best hookers in the NSW Cup on his day but would also challenge any first choice hooker in the NRL.
After watching the Wolves in recent weeks, it looks as if Guy Missio has given him a free reign to appear wherever he sees fit in attack. Ryan Walker finds himself at fullback after a couple of weekends in the NRL while Magpies Coach Leo Epifania has named an unchanged line-up for what should be an entertaining match.
Talking Point: Heap some praise on Leo Epifania - Epifania has done exceptionally well with his side this year and last week's win over an almost NRL strength Cronulla outfit was testament not only to his skills as a coach but to the resolve of the playing group at the Magpies. In seasons past, the Magpies have received NRL players from the Wests Tigers but this isn't the case in season 2011 for various reasons we won't enter into here. Sure, the Magpies were probably outsiders to make the top-eight from the get-go, but they go out each week and play with all the passion and intensity which is expected when you pull on the black and white jersey.
Prediction: The Maggies are still an outside chance to make to top-eight and they also have a BYE in hand. The Wolves must win to stay alive as well. Shooting from the hip, Magpies by 10.
Newtown Jets have the BYE