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Click here if you care to forget about the Bulldogs crowd dramas, cap rort inquiries into players and their managers and the umpteenth Leagueie trying to talk up his contract value by leveraging against Rugby Yawnion.
It?s time to talk footy and after picking 6/7 last week I?m sitting pretty on a total of 11/14 and enjoying the rare early season form which usually deserts me as it does the Dragons around March each year. This week is no push-over though, with plenty of match-ups that could go either way.
Knights v Bulldogs
A big game this one. Newcastle are always hard to beat at home and it?ll be a full house at Marathon to give them an extra boost. This game is a classic tale of tough forward pack (Bulldogs) versus a talented backline (Knights).
Both sides will be on a high after last week but Newcastle want to be careful not to get too carried away with scoring 70 points. The Raiders were pretty shabby and the Knights were clinical in attack but poor in defence. Johns showed that when he leads from the front they can run away with things, but it won?t be a simple lay-down misere on Friday night.
The Bulldogs steamrolled Wests last week and have had a full 7 days to recover from that encounter, so they?ll be a little fresher than the Knights. Their forward pack took enormous pleasure out of destroying their fit and competitive rivals and blind Freddy could have seen that Canterbury were parading about with a sign saying ?We?re back?.
It?s a tough ask to hold the Bulldog forwards, but if Newcastle can do that it will pave the road to victory in the backs. They managed it against Parramatta up there a fortnight ago and whilst the Doggies are stronger in the prop department, Newcastle has a terrific backrow. Knights by a few with the home crowd, but beware of El Masri, he can pop up anywhere.
Tigers v Warriors
A very hard pick. The famous stat here is that the Warriors have never won in New Zealand outside Auckland and the Tigers have given them a touch up at Jade Stadium over the past two seasons in their ?away? home games.
It really has been a terrible start for the Warriors. During the off-season they must have looked at the draw and realised they had 3 games in a row in New Zealand giving them every chance to make up the 4 points that they were docked. But so far they haven?t been able to click into gear and with the schedule they have in the next few weeks, their season is perilously close to being over at round 3.
The Tigers are in a spot of bother as well. Injuries to key players (Marshall, Fulton, Farah, Heighington & Gibbs) has pulled the rug from under their feet, but that?s no excuse for selection oddities. Whilst he did win the premiership last year and is a great coach, I simply don?t know what Tim Sheens is doing with Jamaal Lolesi at lock - they have ample backrowers. It could well be to link up with Reynolds at halfback, who replaces the one-dimensional Fitzhenry with Prince shifting to five-eighth.
With the reshuffle at Wests I?m going to go with the Warriors to break their duck. They?re gone without a win on Saturday.
Sea Eagles v Sharks
The Sharks depart the Shire and head to the Peninsula chasing their first win in our second instalment of Super Saturday. They?re not the only ones looking for first points with the Sea Eagles sure to be desperate at Fortress Brooky.
Cronulla played a pretty stupid brand of footy in the second half last week. They seemed to want to close the game down and just bank a victory with about 20 minutes to go. Their options were poor and they played a deflated style of footy that discouraged any sort of attacking venom whatsoever.
The Sea Eagles were at least committed in Townsville after going down in a bit of a scrappy affair which is to be expected from a team with a new playmaker. But the question for Manly fans is how long will this last and how long can they afford it to last? I don?t think it will last much longer. Manly will beat Cronulla on Saturday and it?ll be a top game of footy as there?s plenty of fireworks in both forward packs.
Cowboys v Storm
I?d call this one game of the round. Two brilliant attacking teams facing up against one another with the backdrop of a cyclone devastated home town praying for victory. With Innisfail born Billy Slater lining up for Melbourne, there?s sure to be passion on both sides.
The Storm have had two solid victories against New Zealand and Easts without setting the world on fire. But at stages throughout each match they have controlled the game and looked comfortable before the opposition has staged a fightback to make the scoreline appear closer than it was. They can?t afford to do that this week, with the Cowboys sure to capitalise on any opportunity that comes their way.
Last week North Queensland struggled to get out of third gear against Manly but as it turns out they didn?t need to in order to win the contest. We know they can turn it on and I get the feeling they?re going to do that on Saturday night. The Cowboys forward pack will dominate their smaller rivals at Melbourne, who will miss the aggression of new recruit Mick Crocker desperately. The clash in the halves will be an interesting sub-plot to the match.
Rabbitohs v Dragons
Well it?s not getting any easier. Necessity was the mother of invention last week for the Dragons as they played Dean Young at five-eighth in what I would hope is his last outing in that position. It was always going to be tough for him, but with Barrett returning this week he settles nicely back into the hooking role. The big factor here for the Dragons is the absence of Luke Bailey. They missed his go-forward last week when he was forced from the field and with Creagh also on the sidelines the Dragons bench is starting to look pretty weak in comparison to last season.
The Bunnies will turn up at Homebush for the first time as a privately-owned team. It remains to be seen how this will affect the club?s mental preparation, but I can?t see it having anything other than a positive affect. They had a week off with the bye and they?d be keen to erase the memories of their first round loss to the Roosters. Walker is still out and he?s replaced by boom rookie Beau Champion who showed his wares a little last season and also in the Charity Shield.
This is a hard pick. On one hand the Dragons have Barrett, Gasnier, Ryles and Hornby in the team, but I think they key is who they?re missing ? Cooper and Bailey ? which makes them look a little fragile. Souths are full of toilers in the forwards department and a great playmaker in Sutton who could prove the difference in a backline that is under rated, but they are coming off the bye. I?ll tip the Dragons, if they lose this one there will be gnashing of teeth down at Kogarah.
Broncos v Eels
Heading up to Lang Park now and the Eels take on the Broncos in what shapes to be a good stoush. Both sides have a win each and there?s plenty to be talked about in each line-up.
I?m lost with Brian Smith?s selection policies. He?s got Tahu and Grothe on the bench returning from injury presumably in case Graham and Peterson break a leg in the warm up? It could be one of his last minute change of heart decisions this week. We all know how well they work. At least he?s got Riddell there again after a good performance against the Warriors.
Moving on to the Broncos, and Wayne Bennett has stuck with Lcokyer at five-eighth as you?d expect, but he?ll be closely watched in case he turns up at fullback. Hunt may be called upon in the frontline and with Hodges back in the team there?s some more flair and creativity than last week.
Across the park Parramatta just look too strong though. I think it?s probable that their forwards will dominate the Brisbane pack who are a bit lethargic. They are big guys and it will be interesting to see the difference daylight savings makes to the heat up in Queensland, which may have caused them to struggle against the Cowboys. The Eels should win by a few and they also have the demons of round 5, 2005 to exorcise (Brisbane won 54-14).
Roosters v Raiders
The final game of the round sees two last start losers confront one another in the heart of League territory ? the Sydney Football Stadium. It?s a great ground to view the game from and let?s hope the Roosters can get a few bodies out there this weekend. They?ll certainly need some support after losing to the Storm last weekend.
Easts are starting to worry me though. Braith and Ashley aren?t pulling their weight and the persistence of Finch at hooker is debasing the team. He keeps issuing orders at every opportunity and I don?t think that?s his role anymore. If I were him I?d stick to giving good service out of dummy half to Soward and Anasta before Wing comes on and commences his darting runs out of hooker.
Canberra are in a different boat. They got smashed last week and still managed to score 32 points. One thing Leagueies always do after a bad loss is to try and erase that memory the very next week, so perhaps I?ve shown my hand a little early here. With the return of Schif and what?s more or less their strongest line-up, the Raiders have no excuses here. They?re a tipping disaster but I think I?ve cracked the code ? just tip them when most people think they?re going to lose and they generally win.
The Penrith Panthers have the bye this round and they have surprised most people with their lofty position on the ladder. Close victories over the Bulldogs and the Dragons could give them an edge in tight matches later in the season. John Lang must have had a wry smile on his face last Sunday given the result in Canberra.