Will round four answer more questions than it asks? I'm not so sure and after three rounds of the NRL, only a couple of things are certain, the Roosters and Penrith are the real deal once again, Manly still can't tackle and the Cowboys have taken out a mortgage on the wooden spoon after two narrow losses at home.
Tonight's blockbuster between the Roosters and Panther coincides with the opening of the Royal Easter Show and hopefully the NRL can get an overflow of Easter Show patrons to attend the 2003 grand final rematch. In any case, a crowd of under 40,000 would be viewed as a disappointment in my eyes but we'll let the game speak for itself and the intensity will be so high octane that ground security have barred anyone from lighting a match with 200 metres of the stadium for fear of igniting an already explosive situation.
The game itself will see the two form teams of he NRL go head to head once again and like we all did last year, we all think the Roosters will win and win well. The Panthers have a knack of proving the critics wrong and I've become accustomed to eating my words but as much as I'd love to see the Panthers win tonight, I think it will be a tall order even when you consider the Roosters are without Craig Wing, who gives them so much thrust out of dummy half. The Panthers do know how to absorb the pressure the Roosters will dish out and with Gower and Campbell pulling the strings and Rhys Wesser yet to break his try scoring duck, the Panthers might continues the Roosters inferiority complex and deliver Ricky Stuart another bout of insomnia. Roosters by 4.
First game on Saturday sees Parramatta taking on half of Parramatta in Canberra. The Eels registered their second win on the trot with a gutsy display over Newcastle while the Raiders got the points in Townsville but have looked extremely sluggish in the first three rounds and if they aren't on their game this week, the Eels will make them pay dearly. Brad Drew is starting at half back this week whilst Simon Woolford returns from a one match suspension and his inclusion should give the Raiders the edge they need to win their first home game of the year. I think the Raiders forwards will pave the way for a hard fought but high scoring victory over the much improved Eels. Raiders by 12.
If you are a gambling man, then the Rabbitohs are a good bet to knock over the inconsitsent Sharks at Aussie Stadium. The Sharks registered their first win for the year over Manly but it was far from convincing while the Rabbitohs are fresh from the bye and will still be on a high after their controversial win over the Tigers a fortnight ago. The Rabbitohs look to have far more tenacity and ticker than the Rabbitohs we are used to and with Adam Macdougall on fire, Souths are a good bet to spring an upset here and keep their position in the top eight. Rabbitohs by 7.
The battle of the NRL's most disappointing sides takes place in Townsville on Saturday night and with the Cowboys holding an impressive record over the Tigers (6-1 all time), they may actually get a rare win at home and momentarily appease their long suffering fans although the Cowboys give new meaning to the Jekyl and Hyde syndrome. The Tigers are in the same boat and after two controversial losses in two weeks, they are looking for the rub of the green to go their way for a change. I'm not prepared to back the Tigers at this stage after a pre-season the promised so much and so far delivered so little. Cowboys by 1.
The Melbourne Storm have continued to defy the critics and pounded the hapless Dragons into the Olympic Park turf last week and will look to do the same to the Broncos, who are the worst home side in the NRL since the re-opening of Suncorp Stadium. Melbourne have the back line and the forwards to inflict eighty minutes of pain on the Broncos and with Matt Orford and Cameron Smith named in the preliminary 25 man Kangaroo squad, they have the guns to outshoot the Broncos who will again be relying on the brilliance of Darren Lockyer to get them home. Shaun Berrigans return to the fold will be a massive boost for the Broncos back line. His straight running has the potential to rip any defence to shreds but the tired looking Broncos pack must first lay the platform for Lockyer and Berrigan to weave their magic. Not this week I'm afraid. Storm by 14.
The Dragons are fast running out of time and the Knights are showing signs they know how to win without Andrew Johns. The Nathan Brown experiment is fast turning into a disaster as the club lurches on without any leadership on the field. For whatever reason the club seems to play better when Trent Barrett is absent and the Knights will be out to prove to everyone they can win without Johns and with Buderus and Kennedy in sparkling form, they still have a side to be reckoned with but the Dragons at WIN seem to lift compared to the Dragons at OKI Jubilee, where their record is simply atrocious. For whatever reason I think the Dragons will turn up to play this weekend and give the critics the ammunition they need to write off the Knights. Dragons by 2.
The Warriors season may never get off the ground with the way they are playing at the moment but luckily for them they are playing the tackle shy Sea Eagles who already averaging thirty points a game in defence and Brookvale is a happy hunting ground for try scorers. The Warriors have lost Francis Meli through injury by on paper they have one of the best squads in the NRL but look unmotivated at present not to mention the fact Stacey Jones is still carrying some type of injury. The Warriors are missing the ability of P J Marsh to wreak havoc out of dummy half much the same way Craig Wing does and until Marsh returns, the Warriors will struggle out of dummy half. Manly know how to score the points but they also know how to let them in and until they stem the tide of points, they will continue to be on the outside looking in. Warriors by 8.