Ahead of Friday's #NRL game between Penrith Panthers and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, writer Rob C...
3 hours ago
It must be one of the world's hardest occupations to pick winners at the moment, and I'm not just saying that because I'm sitting on a very shabby 13 from a possible 21 so far.
After three rounds of cracking football we find ourselves with a very strange looking premiership table. Many thought the Sea Eagles would improve, but to be leading at this stage was probably out of the question, likewise with the Raiders who are in second place. The Sharks and the Tigers are probably higher than most would have imagined as well, and the Bulldogs in ninth place look to be struggling a little. Then there are the Dragons, 3rd placed in the pre-season betting market, who find themselves firmly anchored to the bottom of the ladder.
?And happy April fool's day to Lote Tuqiri, who discovered he'd signed a three-year deal with the Roosters this morning in an exclusive story by League Unlimited!
Eels v Panthers at Parramatta Stadium, 7.30pm
These two clubs tend to put on a hard fought encounter and this week should be similar.
Parra will be looking to turn around some skittish early season form and Brian Smith has tinkered with the engine to that new car and come up with a few changes in the forwards. The pack looks strong and so does the bench, but I'm still not convinced that they're all used to one another. Burt has been moved to fullback following the withdrawal of McKinnon and Petersen comes off the bench and onto the wing.
The Panthers were unconvincing last week against the Dragons but I think it will be a different story this round. The only real change has seen Lewis to the wing and Galea into the starting line-up at centre. Once again the forward pack looks imposing and it should be a great battle in the middle of the park. I'm favouring the Panthers in what promises to be a terrific start to the weekend.
Storm v Broncos at Olympic Park, 5.30pm
Let's hope some Victorians get out and support their boys at Olympic Park this weekend, as they've got one of the form teams in the comp visiting.
Melbourne were poor by their standards last week, particularly their execution. But let's not underscore Manly right now, who are in glittering form. And the Storm have been hit with a few injuries and suspensions, which will dampen spirits a bit.
The Broncos on the other hand are in great touch, with only one aberration against the Warriors in what is otherwise a great start to the year. Their forwards are really stepping up each week and then you've got Lockyer calling the shot to a backline jam-packed with skill and finesse. And they'll get the money here too with the contest in the halves set to be a highlight.
The late mail here is that Hodges for the Broncos has succumbed to a hamstring injury and will be replaced by Kiwi Tame Topou.
Cowboys v Knights at Dairy Farmers Stadium, 7.30pm
The Knights travel to Townsville on Saturday night to meet their appointment with the Grim Reaper - oh boy they could be in for a walloping.
Johns and Gidley have struggled to overcome injury in a team already down on form. They're missing Buderus, Woolnough, Perry and Hughes. But the attribute they're missing most is confidence. The team looks far from imposing and ripe for the picking, and perhaps crushing.
The Cowboys on the other hand are cruising. They swept to victory over the Warriors last weekend and appear to have some great communication going early on with their new halves combination. Thurston is a new man, he's playing great footy and will only improve as the season progresses. They'll touch up the Knights who could be facing a very lean year.
Raiders v Dragons at Canberra Stadium, 7.30pm
A big talking point at the moment is when to pick the Dragons after a disastrous beginning to their 2005 campaign. One gets the feeling that when they do come good someone will be on the end of a real nasty beating.
But will it be this weekend? I don't think so. Canberra have played well in their first two games of the year and at home are always hard to beat. Lincoln Withers' snoz is of concern but he's a tough little bugger and would play without his right eye such is the size of his ticker.
In a big blow, Cooper is out for the Dragons but they do welcome back five-eighth and captain Trent Barrett who will add some stability and structure to their play. But don't expect too much of him at this early stage as he hasn't played for over six months. If you're looking for miracles I'd suggest you think again, while they played better last week, in the past few years Canberra have been a real bogey team for the Dragons and that trend will continue on Saturday night.
Warriors v Rabbitohs at Ericsson Stadium, 12pm
This is a hard one to pick given the form of both teams right now.
Souths have been playing their hearts out for the first three games and coming close to victory against the Roosters in round 1 and the Raiders in round 3. They gave it to Parra in round 2 and could well be sitting on top with Manly if a few things had gone their way.
The Warriors look like they're still finding their feet. Price is beginning to settle in but they've had Wiki suspended and swapped around a few players in their backline and backrow.
I'm going with the Warriors here due to the home ground advantage and the absence of Mad Dog at the back for the Bunnies, who really does pack some punch for them.
Sharks v Bulldogs at Toyota Park, 2.30pm
This could be a very interesting game. With Hutch and Nigel shaping up against their former club and Stevens returning to the fold, the Sharkies look to have Canterbury's measure, especially with it being played down in the Shire.
The Bulldogs are a little below par and they're still facing a mini-injury crisis with O'Meley, Mason and Perry on the sidelines. Their bench is made up of rookies who are far from household names and Andrew Ryan really needs to step up and lead the team a bit more.
I'm favouring Cronulla in this one, with Kimmorley and Dykes to relish the contest against Sherwin and Anasta. Big Sam Isemonger is a late withdrawal, with James Stosic filling the void.
Roosters v Tigers at Aussie Stadium, 3pm
Another hard one to pick with current form not giving away too many hints.
At stages last week the Tige's looked like world-beaters, throwing the ball around and really taking it to the Bulldogs in what ended up being a thrilling victory. But will this continue or will it be another win that merely presents hope to their faithful before they take it away the following week?
On the other hand, the Roosters looked very disorganised against a red-hot Broncos outfit and some heads rolled, starting with their new off-season recruit. The last time Brett Firman was dropped he broke his leg, so let's hope history doesn't repeat itself. Finch steps back into the no. 7 jumper and will attempt to restore direction to a team who's halves appear makeshift and haphazard.
But with Mini back and a forward pack who should get on top of their opposition, I'm going to peep through my fingers and take the Roosters. Glad to see the Tigers get a Sunday main game though.
The Sea Eagles are up against the bye this week and will retain their position atop the ladder. What a great start to the year for them and I hope they continue to surprise the competition.