GRAND FINAL DAY LOCKED IN | Three big fixtures next Sunday at Sydney's ANZ Stadium! Burleigh and Ill...
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Round 2 has come upon us in the NRL with some great clashes lined up. Last week was a tough one, and I came away relatively unscathed with 5 from 7, but was caught eating plenty of humble pie as the Raiders made short work of a Manly outfit sadly lacking in cohesion. Other than that, I thought Penrith played some gutsy footy to overcome the supposed might of the Bulldogs pack, whom I had my hard-earned on.
Anyhooo, let?s sink our teeth into these ones?
Bulldogs v Tigers
Please all stand to attention for Harmony Day, and what better was to celebrate something peaceful than for 26 blokes to run into each other at speed for 80 minutes.
The Tigers have the wood over Canterbury a bit lately, beating them at Homebush twice last year in two very different matches. The first was a breath taking one-point victory thanks to a Scott Prince field goal in the final minute. The other was an absolute smash-up with the Tigers winning 54-2, preventing the Bulldogs from even crossing the stripe.
Things will be different out here this time though. The Bulldogs have lost 7 games in a row now and are entering some scary territory with regards to consecutive loss records. Last week they seemed to control the game for a fair while and then lost their way before Penrith took over and came away with victory. As such I think Steve Folkes will have them pretty revved up for the game this week and keen to tear Wests apart.
For the Tigers, the loss of Marshall is a critical blow to their penetration of the defensive line. They are using Daniel Fitzhenry at 5/8 outside Scott Prince who did look pretty good last week. Their victory over the Dragons was probably understated given how many tries they bombed, but plenty of that attacking flair was being generated by Benji. But I think the Bulldogs will be too desperate on Friday night and will come away with the points, but they?ll do it tough. The Tigers bench these days is a pretty awesome sight.
Eels v Warriors
Next we travel to the Isle of the Long White Cloud where Parramatta are playing a ?home? game against the Warriors in Waikato. New Zealand was a happy hunting ground for the Eels last year, defeating the Warriors at both Ericsson and Waikato Stadiums with relative ease.
This year both teams meet after suffering first round losses in matches they were perhaps expected to win. The Warriors especially need to begin their climb up the ladder from -4 as it will only become a steeper hill with every week they lose. Last week against the Storm there were some encouraging signs for New Zealand, but too many handling mistakes let them down. They brought the reliable Todd Byrne back onto the wing and kept Grant Rovelli on the bench. He made for a great impact weapon last week and really got the team moving.
Out at Parra, coach Smith has decided to include Mark Riddell in the team at starting hooker this week after dropping the portly rake to Premier League in round 1. Other than that the team is pretty much as it was last week with Daniel Wagon a likely omission from the five man bench.
Looking at Parramatta?s start over the past few years suggests that they rarely drop two games early in the season. Plus their team looks more formidable and with Riddell back I think he will add the spark that was missing from last week?s feeble surrender to Newcastle. Parra by a few.
Sharks v Broncos
The second instalment of Super Saturday comes to us from Cronulla where the Sharks play their first game of the year with a new look team against first round whipping boys the Broncos.
Ben Ross, Lance Thompson, Darren Albert, Darren Mapp and Tevita Latu have all been named in a new look Sharks line-up. David Simmons assumes the fullback duties with Peachey over in the UK somewhere and Phil Bailey is in the centres, which I?m not entirely comfortable with.
Brisbane arrives in the Shire with their bums still a bit sore after the Cowboys showed them what-for last week. Wayne Bennett has been copping it from all angles and the Broncos have now lost eight in a row, their equal worst ever losing streak. But, they have won the past three encounters between these two sides, including two held down at Endeavour Field.
I think the Broncos can hit back here to take the win, but in part I think it will be Cronulla?s preparation that helps them. It?s always tough having the bye in the first round and with so many new faces at the club it?s going to be hard to get rhythm so early in the season ? just look at Manly last week. Despite the fact I think they?ll lose, Cronulla do have the forward pack and a pretty clever no.7 to take the game to Brisbane, but I think the Broncos will be out to prove to the world that last week was an unsightly aberration.
Cowboys v Sea Eagles
With stubbie in hand you should now be relaxing comfortably in the lounge room as the third game of the night kicks-off in our beloved FNQ.
The white-hot Cowboys are the new premiership favourites after Johnathan Thurston delivered a 9.5/10 performance last week against the Broncos (sorry, he did miss a goal). Their first game was reminiscent of Melbourne?s blockbusting start to 2005 where they towelled up a few highly fancied sides and they look set to continue emulating them. North Queensland certainly have all the hallmarks of a great team this year ? fitness, speed, size, flamboyance and their depth is astonishing. Hannay and Webb are still playing Queensland Cup and the signs aren?t good that they?ll be making a return to first grade anytime soon. It comes as no surprise that the Cowboys have made no changes to their line-up and go into this one against the Sea Eagles as raging hot favourites.
Manly must be gritting their teeth at the prospect of this game. They took Canberra too lightly last week and got shown up by a more committed team. Now they face an uphill battle to get new combinations happening in a cauldron atmosphere at Dairy Farmers Stadium. I?m not going to say they can?t do it but this round I?m going to stick with the Cowboys who, if they get on a roll early again, could make things really ugly for Des and his boys.
Roosters v Storm
Sunday kick?s off with what?s sure to be a free-flowing game of footy. Michael Crocker returns to his previous home to tackle a Roosters outfit minus controversial Englishman Adrian Morley. As expected Shillington steps in to fill the void which should see Tupou start the game this week.
But I?m not a huge fan of their new hooker policy. Looking around the NRL these days there are so many good hookers in the more traditional mould ? Buderus, Priddis, Smith, Woolford, Riddell and Farah. I?m afraid to say that the Roosters have one sitting on the bench in Wing and instead decide to recycle their disused halfback Finch instead of just biting the bullet and dropping him.
The Storm were impressive in short spells last week against the Warriors and I think if the Roosters allow them the kind of latitude they afforded to Souths in their game last week then there could be some feathers ruffled out at Bondi. Melbourne are the type of team who can feed of the uncertainty of their opponents and once they smell blood in the air it can get ugly. I thought King and Inglis were outstanding last week and looking out wide at the Roosters three-quarter line, I think they?ll struggle to contain them.
I?m taking the Storm here in what may or may not be an upset.
Dragons v Panthers
The Panthers travel down to Wollongong to face the newly privatised off-field juggernaut that is the St George Illawarra Dragons. It?s a shame they?re not so all-conquering on the field though.
WIN Stadium is somewhat of a graveyard for Penrith however ? the last time they won there was in Round 1 1991 against the Steelers. Over the last three years they?ve been a regular visitor there and each time have put up a good show, but they?ve ultimately come away empty handed on each occasion.
There?s little else in my mind than the word peculiar to describe the team Nathan Brown named on Tuesday afternoon. Whilst I like and respect Dean Young as a player, I tend to prefer him at hooker mostly or in the back row. I?m very uncertain of his ability to play five-eighth or whether he will in fact do so on game day. Nevertheless, Brown has decided that not one, not two, but three hookers will be playing for the Dragons this week, with Aaron Gorrell wearing the number nine and young gun George Ndaira coming off the bench to make his first grade debut. This must send a terrific vote of confidence to Chris Sheppard who would have been the obvious choice to come in at halfback for the ill Barrett with Hornby moving to 5/8.
The Panthers must fancy themselves in this one and I have to admit I?m leaning in their direction. Rhys Wesser looks pretty sharp this year as does their halves combination. Penrith certainly displayed a clever and also tough brand of footy last start against Canterbury. So what will they produce here? I think they can get away with the win based off the fact that the Dragons have an unsettled line-up at the moment and I?m not confident Gasnier will see enough ball to make the sort of impact he did last week.
Raiders v Knights
The last game of the round kicks-off in the Nation?s Capital where it?s sure to be a little crisp. Lucky for the folk down there it happens to be ?Canberra Day? on Monday and it?s no small coincidence that they scheduled a rugby league match the day prior so every one can have a good night out at the pub afterwards. Smart people them Canberrans.
Back to the footy, and the Raiders beguiled everyone last week including me whose mouth was agape for most of the match as so many green jersey?s were in motion for a good portion of the game. There must have been many happy Raiders fans last Saturday and the relinquishing of the captaincy seems to have given Simon Woolford a new lease on life. He had a top game as did a number of other players, the only sour note being the season-ending injury to Josh miller.
Newcastle was likewise rather impressive as they dispatched Parramatta to the boundary in their first outing. But I fear there is much improvement in the Knights line-up. Mr Carney will probably want to forget about his little incident at the Steyne last Monday night and the attention could possibly put him off a bit. They have a solid pack and the best halfback running around but I just have this feeling about the Raiders again.
Last year you would have said if you target Jason Smith then you can shut them down. But this year it?s a different story, they have a few other playmakers who have stepped up, judging by last week anyway. However, I think this theory can actually apply to the Knights, whereby if you target Johns then you go a long way to stopping the team and everyone knows Canberra are hard to beat at home.
I?m going to tip the Green Machine, because it just wouldn?t be fair on Canberra Day if the local boys don?t get a win.
The Rabbitohs have the bye this week and it?s probably just as well. On Sunday they?ll finally work out who owns the club and the week off could provide a type of release to the impasse which has dogged them of late.