While the 2018 #NRL Pre-Season is still a few weeks away, there's a bunch of warm-up clashes happeni...
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Last week the Cutters led by a two try effort by former Wolves winger/centre Geoff Daniela on debut, scored the upset of the round in defeating the defending premiers & denied me the chance to score a perfect round in the process!
Anyway onwards & upwards as its time to preview R4 of the #VBNSWCUP:
Broadcast: LIVE on Fox Sports 1 and Sky Sport NZ
WARRIORS (8th - P2 D1 L1 B1 F: 36 A: 50 -14): NRL Experienced Players: (7) - Tuimavave, Peyroux, Fusitia, Laumape, Gubb, Palavi, Ikahihifo
Player To Watch: Jarred Wilson - The former Panther Holden Cup squad who was the unlucky one to concede his spot in the 2013 premiership run to Jack Gibson Medalist James Roberts, has followed his coach home to NZ looking to start afresh & after two games in the NSW Cup has made an immediate impact scoring 4 tries. The Junior Kiwi will face his sternest test yet at this level, marking up against Marika Koroibete.
TIGERS (3rd - P3 W2 L1 F: 74 A: 52 +22): NRL Experienced Players: (6) - Koroibete, Austin, Luani, Murdoch-Masila, Farlow, Buchanan
Player To Watch: Ben Murdoch-Masila - Starting to get back to his form & ensuring his NRL counterparts are looking over their shoulders with a powerhouse two try performance against Wyong last round. His aggression will be needed against one of the most skilful & athletic packs in the competition in the Warriors.
The Verdict: The NZ Warriors were a tad lucky to escape with a draw last start against the Cutters & after having the bye last week will be refreshed as they look to getting their first win of the season. Coach Rohan Smith welcomes back David Fasitua & John Palavi from NRL duties but lose Konrad Hurrell in the process. The Tigers after losing late to the Sharks in Round 2, bounced back to win comfortably against the Wyong Roos last Saturday & will be looking to consolidate their position in the top 4 with a win in Wellington. In a major boost for coach Paul Fletcher, Jack Buchanan will be a handy addition to the Tigers interchange bench. It's a real toss of the coin job picking a winner in one of the games of the round but I favour the Tigers narrowly by 2.
Illawarra Cutters v Newtown Jets
WIN Stadium, Saturday, March 29 - Kick-off: 3.00pm
Referee: Daniel Olford
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of Steele Sports Radio (Link available via www.steelesports.com.au)
CUTTERS (7th - P3 W1 D1 L1 F: 60 A: 68 -8): NRL Experienced Players: (7) - Mata'utia, Daniela, Runciman, Green, Matthews, Mataka, Garvey
Player To Watch: Geoff Daniela - A late call-up to make his debut for the Cutters last week, scored 2 tries in the upset win over the Sharks & repaying the faith shown in him after being released by the Penrith Panthers despite a strong season for the feeder team, Windsor Wolves in their run to the 2013 Grand Final.
JETS (12th - P2 L2 B1 F: 26 A: 82): NRL Experienced Players: (3) - Gallant, Taumata, Taukeiaho
Player To Watch: Arana Taumata - After a career that has spanned no less than 7 NRL clubs, 1 NSW Cup team, 1 Ron Massey Cup team & even a Sydney Rugby Union team, it seemed Arana's career was at a crossroads having all but signed to play Group 6 footy with Oakdale but enter the Jets desperate for an experienced half to steer the ship after first choice half, Bobbie Goulding Jnr struggled with the demands this competition has to offer.
The Verdict: Two contrasting teams square off against one other. On one hand, the Cutters will be buoyed going in to this clash having defeated the Sharks last start but will have to win back-to-back games minus the likes of Bronson Harrison, Jack Stockwell & Junior Tia Kilifi. The Jets on the other hand seem to going through a rebuilding phase with plenty of ex Rooster NYC players coming into the NSW Cup for the first time in 2013 & perhaps aren't used to handling the rigours of the NSW Cup week to week as yet. The Jets only have the 3 players with NRL experience versus the Cutters 7. Despite some big losses for the Cutters, they still have the quality & experience to lose this one. Cutters by 12.
MOUNTIES (1st - P3 W3 F: 134 A: 36 +98): NRL Experienced Players: (8) - Pangai, Sauiluma, O'Donnell, McIllwrick, Learoyd-Lahrs, Foster, Nicholls, Setu
Player To Watch: Tom Learoyd-Lahrs - Gets his chance to kick start his season in the NSW Cup after a lengthy injury spell. Forms a formidable front row at this level along with Kyle O'Donnell & Matt McIllwrick. Infact the starting 6 for the Mounties have all played in the NRL. Tom's battle with Burgess brother, Luke especially in the opening exchanges will be worth the price of admission alone.
BEARS (6th - P2 W1 L1 B1 F: 56 A: 56): NRL Experienced Players: (5) - Morgan, Champion, L Burgess, J Clark, Areaiiti
Player To Watch: Beau Champion - recently swapped places with Liam Reddy for a spot in the Souths NRL side & will be keen for a big performance against mountainous centre Mosese Pangai as a means of getting back in favour with NRL coach, Michael McGuire.
The Verdict: Mounties were predicted by many good judges (including myself as) to make their way into the Top 8 this year on the back of their improved depth at this level. However they have exceeded all expectations so far having put all three opponents to the sword thus far this season to remain undefeated in first place & are the most potent attacking team averaging 44 points per game. The Mounties 6 Pack will be a daunting task for the likes of Norths with all 6 starting forwards having NRL experience. They lose Bill Tupou to the Canberra Raiders but gain Matt McIllwrick & Tom Learoyd-Lahrs. North Sydney have had an indifferent start to the season having defeated Wyong handsomely in Round 1 before returning from the bye to be ambushed 50-22 by Newcastle, who were no doubt still smarting themselves from the huge loss inflicted by Mounties the previous round. The Bears will now be looking to bounce back from that last start loss to the Knights & will boosted by the inclusion of Beau Champion, Luke Burgess & Jason Clark for this match. This will be the toughest test for the Mounties yet but I believe they can go 4 from 4 with a 8 point win.
KNIGHTS (5th - P3 W2 L1 F: 84 A: 82 +2): NRL Experienced Players: (6) - Mantellato, Wiliame, Tetevano, Houston, Hilder, Waddell
Player To Watch: Travis Waddell - wasn't long ago Waddell was in the NRL Knights side but now finds himself on the bench in the NSW Cup, sharing the hooking role with Chad Redman. Will no doubt come up against arguably the best hooker in the NSW Cup, Bulldogs-bound Michael Lichaa at some stage during the day.
SHARKS (4th - P3 W2 L1 F: 80 A: 76 +4): NRL Experienced Players: (9) - T Robinson, O'Neill, Manumalealii, T Robinson, Lichaa, Weston, Moors, Griffen, D Fifita
Player To Watch: Michael Lichaa - still finds himself in NSW Cup after his NRL coach, Peter Sharp responded to the news he was heading to Belmore in 2015 by sacking him from the NRL squad. Right or wrong decision remains to be seen but at this level would be the best hooker going around & is a crucial lynchpin to the Sharks regaining the composure to bounce back from their shock loss last round.
The Verdict: Its 4 v 5 on the table & statistically these two teams also match up similarly in both attack & defence. On one hand, Newcastle will be boosted by the return of sharp-shooting goal-kicker, Josh Mantellato but lose the impact Korbin Sims provides in the forward pack. Chris Houston maintains his place in the NSW Cup having started the season in first grade. The Sharks on the other hand provide a club debut to speedster Travis Robinson after a longer than expected lay-off due to injury. Justin O'Neill continues his recovery process for at least another week in the NSW Cup team as well. The Sharks also gain the services of Slade Griffen but lose Ben Roberts in the process. I expect the class of the Sharks to wear down the Knights to win it by 10 in what should be another great clash.
BULLDOGS (9th - P3 W1 L2 F: 74 A: 70 +4) NRL Experienced Players: (8) - Inu, Cook, Burr, Maitua, Eastwood, Alaalatoa, Massey, Kasiano
Player To Watch: Krisnan Inu - returning from injury via the NSW Cup & will be a handful first up for his opposing centres although Shaune Corrigan is no slouch at this level if he happens to make up on the NZ International.
ROOS (11th - P3 W1 L2 F: 54 A: 88 -34) NRL Experienced Players: (2) - Corrigan, O'Meley
Player To Watch: Alex Langbridge - normally plays in the halves, the former Storm under 20's half finds himself playing fullback in lieu of Grant Nelson & will be an interesting clash against a player with plenty of wraps in Tyrone Phillips.
The Verdict: Wyong play their first away game of the season after opening the first three rounds at home but it was against Canterbury last year away from home that allowed them to win their first game in the NSW Cup (Please note the venue change is Lidcombe Oval on Sunday in lieu of Belmore Sports Ground). However this Canterbury side is quite possibly the strongest it will look all season with the inclusion of internationals Inu, Eastwood & Maitua along with Damien Cook who joins Sam Kasiano in returning from injury through the NSW Cup. The Bulldogs have lost pat Templeton to injury but more then cover that loss with Tyrone Phillips equally at home at fullback. Bulldogs should win this game in a canter by at least 20 points.
MAGPIES (2nd - P3 W3 F: 112 A: 62 +50) NRL Experienced Players: (8) - Toutai, Morgan, Kelly, Lasalo, Hunt, Paulo, Foran, Jones
Player To Watch: Justin Hunt - returns from injury to play in the hooking role when normally a utility back & in the process forces an equally experienced player in Liam Foran back onto the bench. Comes up against promising hooker Kierran Moseley & will be absorbing clash.
PANTHERS (10th - P3 W1 L2 F: 62 A: 66 -4) NRL Experienced Players: (11) - Yeo, W Naiqama, Capewell, John, Anderson, Robinson, N Smith, Simpkins, Spence, T Eisenhuth, Cherrington
Player To Watch: Eto Nabuli - The Flying Fijian Porter is back for his first game of the 2014 season in the NSW Cup after being injured in the Auckland Nine at a time when a first grade spot was definitely on offer. Last year's sensation in the NSW Cup scoring 29 tries in his first season in Rugby league, no doubt big things are expected in 2014. Could be marking up against Val Toutai & if so will be a great battle out on the flank.
The Verdict: Could well be the game of the round given there are 19 players with NRL experience coupled with some real stars of the future on show for both teams. Wentworthville got out of jail in the closing minutes escaping with a close win over last placed manly to maintain their unbeaten record thus far in season 2014 & look a side worth the pre-season hype. The Panthers spluttered into life last Saturday largely on the back of an ill-disciplined performance from the Bulldogs but coach Garth Brennan would have been much happier with his side's defence particularly when defending the error, which too many are still being made when in possession. Both teams defensive records are similar but Wenty have had a far more settled look about its team in season 2014 compared to the Panthers. The Panthers side for this weekend bears little resemblance to the one beaten two weeks back by Wyong given the number of players returning from injury in the last two weeks. This game could go either way but if the Panthers can regain their cohesion in attack as players return from injury, they should win this game narrowly by 4 points.