Round 16 Preview ? The silly season

The June 30 deadline for approaching players coming off contract next year is set to expire in a week which means round 16 is the last footy on offer before Rugby League?s homeless are rounded up and paraded about the landscape like a prized bull in the main arena at the Easter Show.

We?ve all heard the rumours of which player is going where next year, but who?s to say a strong performance this week from one of their boys will stand in the way of those selfless and incorruptible player managers attempting to squeeze that little bit more out of club?s who are in desperate need of new chargers?

Yes, we?ve arrived folks, that week in the year where agents get down on their collective knees and thank their respective higher powers for creating the game of Rugby League so they many engage joyfully in the sport of bidding frenzies all in the name of getting a fairer deal for their client and a better sports pack for their BMW. Round 16 is exciting in its evenness, with most matches having the potential to go either way. Generally when this happens, a sane approach is a bad approach and late inclusions often hold the key. Given how things went to script last week my 5 from 7 looked a little mediocre and I?m sitting on 59 from 97 overall with plenty of improvement still required and that elusive perfect score poking its tongue out at me. Roosters v Eels Straight off the bat we?ve got a hard one with the Chooks needing a win and the Eels hitting their straps. Easts have hit a real mid-season slump as the rep schedule grinds away along with their fallibility being exposed. Last week they suffered a tight loss and gave up a handy half time lead in a meek surrender to the Sharks and rounded out a generally poor month for a team whom the League community has come to expect more from. The Eels are a different story though. They?re in line for their 7th straight and the telling factor amidst this remarkable streak is the fashion with which they?re winning. They appear to have little bias in how they go about their work - be it handing out a hiding, coming from behind or a succeeding in the tight ones ? Parra show no prejudice towards their opponents. The sheer desperation of the Roosters won?t be enough to match an inform Parra outfit in this one, but with the Chooks at home and needing a win, a fair crowd should be on hand to prove me wrong. Raiders v Cowboys I?m not suggesting for a second that North Queensland are about to crumble, but travelling from the tropical surrounds of Townsville to the arctic conditions of Bruce must surely be one of the more difficult road trips for any team. Here we are in the middle of a frightfully cold winter and the Cowboys have to swap their pina colada?s for a thermos and scarf. That said, Canberra have been an insignificant presence on the NRL radar of late, with teams falling over themselves on the way to subjecting the Green Machine to five losses on the trot. One wonders if the ?machine? has a spin cycle that can turn the events of the past few weeks on it?s head.

Methinks not. North Queensland are way too powerful for this two stroke engine and the return of Travis Norton should in some way compensate for the loss of Carl Webb. Panthers v Knights The Knights travel away from home this week to once again take the field when they?re on a hiding to nothing. Anchored at the bottom of the ladder and with the recent news that they?re putting the cleaners through the club, this week has a watershed aspect for Newcastle as they look to build their team for next year.

Penrith were probably looking towards 2006 as well until last week?s surprise victory over Melbourne. They have a sniff of the eight and will fancy their chances of walking away with the two points on Saturday, but surprisingly they might find themselves with a fight on their hands.

The loss of Luke Lewis to injury will hurt and couldn?t come at a worse time for him as he verged on Origin selection, ironically at the possible expense of team mate Luke Rooney. The Knights really have nothing to lose here and will throw everything at the Panthers, who are still yet to find their groove. But at home in front of a pretty big crowd, the Panthers will take the money.

Storm v Rabbitohs This game could be one for the record books in terms of crowd numbers. You never enjoy watching a game being played in front of 3,000 blokes and a dog, but this might happen on Saturday down in Melbourne. The Storm lost last week and have been struggling to get 10,000 to a game at Olympic Park, and although Souths have had a strong past month, they aren?t exactly a drawcard. With no aerial ping-pong on in Victoria at the weekend fans have a choice between the Storm v Souths and the Wallabies taking on Italy. If anything, it could provide a remarkable insight to the controversial Sweeny report issued earlier this week.

Anyhow, onto the game, and the Bunnies field a very strong team after a frustrating loss to the Dragons in round 15. Their forwards are playing with renewed pride and troubled halfback Joe Williams returns after an injury to Mick Moran. Melbourne?s pack has been somewhat unimpressive in recent weeks and if they?re not careful Souths will catch them out. Watch for Harrison to have a particularly good one after his name was mentioned as a possible Origin candidate.

Well, it?s one of those games. I?ll stick with the home team as Slater, King and Smith are back and Orford might want to show his potential coach for next season an extra string to his bow. But in recent times I?ve found myself cheering on the Rabbitohs and am happy to sacrifice a perfect round if they get up.

Warriors v Broncos

A ten year anniversary commemoration is planned for this clash as the Warriors take on their very first opponents in the ARL when they joined a decade ago. A change of name, management, competition and several jersey strips later the only two things that will be the same is the venue of Ericsson Stadium and halfback, Stacey Jones. Will the result differ from their heartbreaking 25-22 defeat at the hands of Brisbane on the 10th day of March, 1995, in front of 29,220 screaming Kiwi?s? The side back then was choc-full of overpaid Pommies who were lost to the significance of the game in New Zealand. Unfortunately inaugural skipper Dean Bell has something better to do than fly to New Zealand and celebrate the event with the club who?s paying for his retirement.

I think this is going to be another disappointment for the Warriors as they battle indifferent form and are struggling for cohesion within the team. Coach Tony Kemp must be feeling some heat as the side is precariously placed just one win from the top eight. But looking at the Broncos team it really is hard to fault them and they will make short work of the Warriors, who strangely cannot win in New Zealand outside of Auckland. Go figure?

Dragons v Tigers The Dragons play their second game of the year at Kogarah against the Tigers in what should be a tough encounter. The Tigers forwards punch well above their weight and will step up to one of the strongest packs in the comp to discover their true measure. They were embarrassed last week and will be looking to make up for their disappointing trip to Brisbane.

The Dragons have lost Timmins to suspension and Barrett is still injured but they field a team largely capable of giving the comp a real shake. They?ve been progressing up the ladder and much has been made about the two byes they still have up their sleeves. This might lead to a case of them looking at the round 18 clash with Parra as their next test, effectively forgetting about this game. But they shouldn?t underestimate the plucky Tigers, who have proven to be a handful at times for teams who don?t take them seriously.

I?m sticking with Saints in this one, but I think it has the potential to be a very entertaining contest. Last year?s 50-nil drubbing at this same venue will play on the minds of the visiting party.

Sea Eagles v Bulldogs

Two very interesting teams collide here at Fortress Brookvale, following on from their round 10 match at Homebush which saw the Sea Eagles win 18-10.

The Bulldogs, visiting Brookie and beginning to believe in themselves again, have big prop Mark O?Meley playing his second game back from injury. He was impressive last week and a few of the Raiders players are still picking themselves up. Shrek also wants his sky blue jumper back and will put in a big one to stake his claim.

Manly are riding high in third spot and very much outpacing the expectations of everyone in the League community. But can they keep producing the goods at home?

Both teams were stifled against their lesser opponents last week, but perhaps the most telling aspect of the game will be the performance of the forward packs. Whilst O?Meley is coming back it has been Roy Asotasi leading the way for Canterbury for most of the year. Anasta is at lock and Ryan really needs to step up a gear and support in the engine room. For the Sea Eagles, Ben Kennedy has been the destroyer with good assistance from Kite, Watmough and Menzies. Hill has also sledged anything that has come near him to the point of tears.

The law of averages says that Manly need to lose at home sooner or later, but I don?t think it will be this week. It?s never a pleasant experience for the travelling party and Canterbury will fail on Sunday.

The Sharks have the week off and will remain in the top 5 thanks to the two points. If results go their way they could move into the top 4 depending mostly on how the Cowboys fare in the nation?s capital but also the Sea Eagles v the Doggies.