by Stew Moses
Firstly my fearless predictions for Season 2014:
Premiers: Cant split Cronulla or Penrith, but hopefully it’s the stand alone team that wins it over a joint venture side that really shouldn’t be allowed in this competition under the current structure.
Minor Premiers: Cronulla
Wooden Spoon: Wyong but Manly, Newtown & Canterbury could easily figure in a battle to avoid the spoon.
Now that’s out of the way here is my R1 #VBNSWCUP Preview...
Wentworthville Magpies Vs NZ Warriors
Belmore Sports Ground, Saturday, March 8 - Kick-off: 12.00pm
Referee: Damian Briscoe
Wenty Player to Watch: Chris Sandow – one of two high profile players selected to play in the NSW Cup this weekend (the other being Konrad Hurrell who also happens to be playing in this same fixture). Beaten to a first grade spot by Brad Arthur favourite, Luke Kelly, Sandow will have the task of forming a combination with new recruit Toby Evans who got a taste of playing at this level last season with the Windsor Wolves & was another member of that Panthers Holden Cup team.
Warriors Player to Watch: Konrad Hurrell would be the obvious player to keep a watch on & no doubt will be looking to size up his opposing centre (most likely Ryan Morgan) & prove a point to Matt Elliott that he should be back playing in the NRL. Look out Ryan!
The Verdict: A game that features two teams whose rosters suggest further rises up the ladder in 2014. The Magpies have recruited heavily with the likes Justin Hunt, Toby Evans, Liam Foran, Brendan Santi all making their club debuts & complimenting the experienced Chris Sandow, Ken Sio, Ryan Morgan, Api Pewhairaingi, Taniela Lasalo, Daniel Harrison & Ben Jones, more than compensating the loss of Jake Mullaney, Pat O’Hanlon, Matt Ryan, Ben Roberts, Brayden Willeme & Nathan Smith. The Warriors also debut in their own right in 2014 after taking control back from the Auckland Vulcans & have a new coach in Rohan Smith (who was part of the Panthers Holden Cup coaching staff). The Warriors are looking to build their NSW Cup squad from within given the vast array of talent coming through from their Holden Cup squad. The likes of David Fusitia, Tuimoala Lolohea, Michael Sio, Raymond Faitala-Marinrer, Siliva Havili & David Bhana are hardly household names now but have the potential to be superstars of the future in the NRL & compliment the likes of Konrad Hurrell, Ngami Laumape, Ben Henry, Sebastine Ikahihifo & Charlie Gubb.
Tip: This is one of the hardest games to pick of the round but I favour Chris Sandow’s experience at this level to be the ultimate difference & Wenty to open their account for season 2014 with a narrow 1 point win.
Sportingbet Stadium, Saturday, March 8 Kick-off: 2.10pm
Referee: Liam Nicholls
Broadcast: LIVE on Fox Sports 1 and also radio coverage courtesy of Hawkesbury Radio 89.9FM (Link available via www.hawkesburyradio.com.au)
Panthers Player to Watch: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak – this prodigious talent still eligible for Holden Cup but touted as the next big thing among Penrith’s plethora of back line talent plays his first game at NSW Cup level. Last year’s Holden Cup premiership winger gets his chance to shine in the fullback role after fellow Holden Cup team mate & fullback Kieran Moss was unavailable for selection with injury. Trialled brilliantly against the Wyong Roos scoring three tries showing blistering speed in the process.
Knights Player to Watch: Korbin Sims – loves playing against the Panthers (when they were laying under the umbrella of the Windsor Wolves in 2013) scoring in both meetings. Particularly destructive ball runner close to opposition try lines, the Panthers will need to be at their defensive best to keep Korbin under wraps. Last year’s form earned the younger brother of Ashton & Tariq, a NRL debut as well as appearing in the World Cup with Fiji & it won’t be too long before he is back in the top grade.
The Verdict: The Panthers make their debut in their own right in the NSW Cup in what is undoubtedly the match of the round & they look like one of the teams to beat, sharing favouritism with the Sharks for the title such is the depth & durability in the roster under Holden Cup premiership winning coach Garth Brennan. The Panthers have lost plenty of fringe players during the off season but equally have recruited the likes of Kevin Naiqama, Will Smith who both come up against their former team mates for the first time, Shaun Spence & Leilani Latu. Despite a heavy pre-season injury toll, the Panthers still boast a side containing 8 players with NRL experience headed by Isaac John, Ryan Simpkins & Matt Robinson. Furthermore, this side boats no less than 6 of last year’s winning Holden Cup squad members, 4 of whom have already tasted NSW Cup experience. The Knights won both these games last year but Rick Stone lost the one that mattered most - the preliminary final & will keen to ensure his team won’t suffer two successive losses against the Panthers. The Knights roster looks somewhat weakened in 2014 having lost the likes of Peter Mata’utia, Adrian Davis, Mitchell Frei, Dylan Smith, Siuatonga Likiliki & Anthony Quinn& will rely on the likes of new recruits Brayden Willeme & Matt Minto to help guide around a relatively inexperienced Knights side containing just 4 players with NRL experience, among them Matt Hilder & Josh Mantellato. Nonetheless Rick Stone is an astute coach & will have his charges primed for this game.
Tip: With two of three games decided by 4 points or less in 2013, I predict another high scoring game but a win to the Panthers by 4.
Manly Sea Eagles Vs Mounties
Brookvale Oval, Saturday, March 8 Kick-off: 2.30pm
Referee: Jeff Hartup
Manly Player to Watch: Clinton Gutherson – the Manly fullback was a shining light amongst an otherwise gloomy season in the NSW Cup in 2013 culminating with a NRL debut against the Panthers in R26 scoring a try in the process. Plenty of wraps on this Manly junior.
Mounties Player to Watch: Joe Bond – recruited from Redcliffe & highly touted for first grade honours with the Broncos at one point, will be a handy acquisition for a Mounties side that will need to deal with the Raiders also having a feeder arrangement with Souths Logan in the Qld Cup & won’t be getting as much access to players as otherwise thought.
The Verdict: Important game for two sides which missed the finals in 2013. Manly particularly need to get their season off on the right track otherwise it could be another long season for the boys from the Northern Peninsula. Manly have been bolstered for this game through the recruitment of Delroy Berryman, Tony Satini, Mark O’Dare, Jack Littlejohn, Masada Iosefa, Jayden Hodges, Tyson Andrews & complimented with the promising talents of Jake Trbojevic, who like Clinton Gutherson also debuted in the R26 NRL game v Penrith. Their recruitment far outweighs the loss of Ben Farrar, Jacob Gagan, Dane Chisholm & Nick Skinner hence better days are just around the corner in the NSW Cup for the Sea Eagles. The Mounties boasts the likes of recruits Kyle O’Donnell, Lagi Setu, Roidney Coates & Kurt Horton to compliment the likes of Bill Tupou, Sami Sauliuma, Mitch Cornish, Matt McIllwrick, Shane Shackleton & Jake Foster.
Tip: I think Manly will be more than competitive but will be searching for combinations among their vast array of new recruits early in this season whilst Mounties do have somewhat of a more settled look about them. Mounties by 10.
Illawarra Cutters Vs Wests Tigers
WIN Stadium, Wollongong, Saturday, March 8 Kick-off: 3.00pm
Referee: Chris Treneman
Cutters Player to Watch: Sam Williams – touted as the man to solve the Dragons’ NRL crisis in the halves alongside Gareth Widdop but has failed to fire in the pre-season trials losing out to Michael Witt & now must prove himself all over again in NSW Cup this time for the Cutters. Was selected to play for Country last season so obviously has the class to regain his spot in first grade & will benefit from having his Mounties halves partner Ryan Carr alongside him once more.
Tigers Player to Watch: Blake Austin – like Sam Williams, Austin makes his debut for his new club after failing to nail down a first grade position at the Penrith Panthers. Trialled strongly pre-season but Mick Potter has opted to play the safety card of playing the experienced Braith Anasta alongside boom half Luke Brooks. Austin will be hoping for an injury free season to have a real crack at nailing a first grade spot at the Tigers & is easily the most dangerous player on the field for both sides such is his talent.
The Verdict: Another team that features two teams with stronger rosters & I expect them both to move further up the ladder in 2014. The Cutters have the experienced Ian MIllward replacing Paul McGregor promoted to Dragons NRL coaching staff & have done well in recruitment with the likes of Peter Mata’utia, Sam Williams, Ryan Carr, Josh Ailaomai & Willie Mataka. Another recruit Matt Groat comes up against his old team mates for the first time since making the move in the off-season. Conversely the Tigers also look stronger in 2014 headed by Blake Austin, while there is plenty of talent coming through in the form of Nathan Brown, Kurtis Rowe & Kyle Lovett just to name a few. Powerhouse Fijian winger Taqele Naiyaravoro returns to the team for the first time since a mid-season injury ruined what looked like being a breakout season for the winger.
Tip: In this one however I tip the Cutters by 4.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Vs Cronulla Sharks
Belmore Sports Ground, Saturday, March 8 Kick-off: 5.00pm
Referee: Adam Cassidy
Broadcast: Radio coverage courtesy of Steele Sports Radio (Link available via www.steelesports.com.au) and 2GLF FM 89.3 (Link available via 893fm.com.au)
Bulldogs Player to Watch: Moses Mybe – while plenty of Bulldogs fans should be excited by the return of Reni Maitua, it’s the next generation of players headed by Moses Mybe that Bulldogs fans should really be excited about. Moses starred in NYC last year & even saw some game time in the Cup last year & will be better for the experience come this season. In fact Moses is regarded as being on the cusp of NRL selection having impressed many in the pre-season trials for the Bulldogs & having been named as 18th man for the NRL team in R1 is a testament of that promise.
Sharks Player to Watch: Michael Lichaa – Hooker who made last year’s NYC team of the year & featured in the Sharks’ grand final win over the Wolves in 2013. Will this be an audition in front of his possible future employers the Bulldogs if the rumours are true?
The Verdict: Plenty of talent from last year’s exciting Bulldogs NYC squad feature in their opening team for 2014. However facing the defending premiers first up which will be a daunting task. The Sharks don’t look too much weaker despite the loss of Kirisome Auva’a, Stewart Mills, Tyrone Peachey, Chad Townsend, Matthew Wright & Mark Taufua given the recruitment of Eric Grothe Jnr & the return of Ricky Leutele & Dayne Weston from long term injury & will once again figure for title favouritism alongside the Penrith Panthers.
Tip: The Sharks should win this by 14 points.
Morry Breen Oval, Saturday, March 8 Kick-off: 5.00pm
Referee: Daniel Olford
Broadcast: NSWRL Match Centre
Roos Player to Watch: Mark O’Meley – all eyes will be on how the Ogre leads this relatively inexperienced but improving Wyong Roos roster in his first competitive match in Australia after returning from the English Super League
Bears Player to Watch: Kane Morgan – former Wolves player who has returned home to the Bears to take over the fullback position from Parramatta recruit Justin Hunt. Season 2013 was cruelly ended by a knee injury during the pre-season trials hence will be looking for better times ahead with the Bears
The Verdict: The Bears with the loss of Justin Hunt, Nathan Peats, Josh Starling, Bennett Leslie & Michael Crocker, Matt King & Greg Nichols to retirement, don’t look quite as imposing as in previous seasons. To add spice to this game Darren Nicholls & Shaune Corrigan also left the Bears during the off season & will face off against their former team mates first up. Wyong look like a team that could well offload the wooden spoon in season 2014 under experienced coach Rip Taylor & led by their major off-season recruit Mark O’Meley & complemented by the signings of promising talent such as Dale Clacherty, Alex Langbridge, & Tekina Veilea. However the Bears with the likes of new recruits fullback Kane Morgan, former Raiders NYC player Jordan Worboys at five eighth, centre Kirisome Auva’a, who will look to replicate the type of form that saw him help the Sharks to last year’s title, props Nathaniel Neale & Neccrom Areaiiti & hooker Blake South, should just have enough class to get the two competition points over a what should be a very spirited Roos outfit.
Tip: Bears by 8.
Newtown Jets have the BYE.
NOTE: The opinions within this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LeagueUnlimited.com