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Round 6 NRL
Easter is a great time of the year on the Rugby League calendar. The stock standard three days of footy gets extended to four with the inclusion of the Easter Monday holiday. This ensures a feast of action for the punter with games being played in all sorts of different locations.
Last week I put in an underwhelming 4 from 7 which takes me to 22/35 on the leader board. This week is another challenging one for the tipsters among us, but I think I?ve got it worked out. The highlight will surely be Sunday, when the worst game of the round (Tigers v Sharks) is followed up by the best game of the week (Knights v Cowboys).
Roosters v Broncos
The Good Friday blockbuster is turning into a war of the walking wounded. Both clubs are suffering heavy injury tolls with Cross, Morley and Fitzgibbon for the Roosters watching from the sidelines, while Tate, Hodges and Ennis are all nursing their wounds in Brisbane. Bennett has also dropped Seymour for Perry in a halves reshuffle.
It?s an interesting clash this one and with both teams under-strength we can anticipate a desperate encounter with the crowd figure to be a genuine litmus test for the Roosters? popularity.
I think Brisbane have too much upfront for the Roosters. Webcke and Civoniceva with Thaiday off the bench should prove too strong for the green-horned Roosters trio of Hall, Shillington and Tonga. Stuart?s tactics for the match will undoubtedly see him target Lockyer in defence as has been the recent trend. Ironically, whilst plotting his downfall this week, he?ll more than likely team up with him in a fortnight against the Kiwis.
Sea Eagles v Dragons
Super Saturday kicks-off with what shapes as an exciting and evenly matched contest. You probably wouldn?t think that given the hiding the Dragons copped last week, but they?ll be hell-bent on erasing the nightmares of round 5. Likewise, the Sea Eagles are playing solid footy with the gear-stick seemingly stuck in third at the moment. I think they?ll fire up at home and really start to hit their straps.
The Dragons have named Gasnier at five-eighth again, with Naiqama returning to the fold in the centres for Millard. Timmins also makes his long-awaited return with Bickerstaff likely to drop off a five man bench. There?s some suggestion that Brown might promote halfback Mat Head following his return from injury in Premier League last week, but we?ll have to wait until an hour before kick-off for that one.
Manly?s pack played well last week against the bigger Warriors forwards and they?re going to need another similar effort this week against some good opponents. The one thing the hosts don?t want to get caught up in is taking the Dragons too lightly after last week?s shellacking. In 2000 the Dragons turned around a 50-4 drubbing at the hands of North Queensland to come out the following week and belt Auckland 54-0 after the casual Warriors turned up for a game of touch.
I think the Dragons can get them here in a tight one and the game will show plenty about their mentality. If they lose at Brooky and play like busted?s, I think St George Illawarra fans could be in for a long season.
Panthers v Storm
Next we travel to Adelaide for the first time in a while. There?s no sign of the Rams this time around but heading across to the City of Churches does invoke images of Graham Appo and Tony Iro running amok in their heyday. Ahh, bring ?em back I say!
The Storm have had the bye, which might have been a good thing this time around. With Slater and Hill serving their first week of suspensions, the Storm are short on troops and the extra week will help with their combinations. Turner assumes the custodial duties with Geyer switching to five-eighth and Walker slotting in on the wing. Given the circumstances it?s not a bad line-up and Crocker returns to add some mongrel. Interesting to see Inglis remain in the centres with King. He impressed last year when deputising for Slater, but it would seem Bellamy is keen for him to remain in the three-quarters to expose their less-fancied rivals in Galea and Lewis.
There?s a question mark over Gower after his injury last week, but the Telegraph would have you believe he?s fit and well after playing 18 holes on Wednesday. What better preparation for a game of Rugby League? I bet the Storm, and most likely Crocker, are pretty keen to test out that windpipe of Craig?s. But given their forward pack and the depleted Storm line-up, I think the Panthers will win. The game will be a huge test for Cronk, who is missing his regular buddy on his outside. Whilst I think Geyer is capable in the position, I?m not sure Inglis and King will get enough ball to trouble Galea and Lewis.
Raiders v Warriors
The final Saturday game sees us return to the Nation?s Capital where the Warriors travel across the ditch to take on the Lime Green. There?s generally a bit of spite in these ones, I recall a semi-final in 2003 at the SFS played with Origin-like intensity. Boy that one was a cracker, with old stager Ruben Wiki untouchable that night. He?s now at the Warriors and he returns ?home? to Canberra for the first time since he left the club.
It?s hard to judge the Raiders based off last week?s form. They were starved of the ball all game by a clever Bulldogs outfit but towards the end of the match they chanced their arm and scored a couple of tries. The second to Carney involving a chip and chase was close to try of the week.
The Warriors are a different case. They?re struggling to put consistency on the park and are susceptible to a loss away from home. Fien is controlling play well and the forwards are making ground up the middle, but they?re having difficulty finishing off plays when they make a break or pressure the line. Toopi looks to be recapturing some of his old form, Gatis is a good acquisition and Faumuina goes hard at five-eighth. But I?m leaning towards the Raiders on this one. I haven?t yet managed to pick them right this season, so I?m banking on breaking my duck this week.
Tigers v Sharks
Cronulla jump on the team bus and head down to Campbelltown Oval for their match-up with Wests on Sunday arvo in what is set to be a pretty ordinary affair. The Tigers and Sharks have some problems unfortunately and they can?t be fixed overnight. Kimmorley is out which will be a huge blow to Cronulla?s chances in this one. Likewise Marshall is unavailable and the Tiger?s attack will suffer as a result.
Dykes shifts to half for Cronulla, making way for the untried Kearney at five-eighth. It could be a chance for Dykes to shine, as his game has been muffled of late. Ross is playing his heart out but without much support and very little on the bench it?s hard to see how they can win this one.
Wests still have the crux of their team running around and welcome back Robbie Farah to hooker. He will give the Tigers better direction out of dummy half and will tidy up around the rucks. I?m also pleased to see Skando starting the match, giving them more bump and grind in the opening exchanges, although I still don?t know what Lolesi is doing at lock. I would have thought he?d be a better option at five-eighth than Fitzhenry, who has proven unimaginative in the position. The Sharks have a good record the ground winning 50% of the time, but I think the home side by a few.
Knights v Cowboys
If you only watch one game of footy this week make sure this is it. Very rarely do we get to see the two form players of the comp, in the two form teams of the comp, squaring off at one another in this sabre-rattling, fist-clenching, muscle-flexing Round 6 blockbuster. Fittingly for Easter Sunday, this is a clash of Biblical proportions.
After Newcastle?s demolition job on Powder Puffs last week, they walk into the arena at Marathon Stadium as favourites in my book. I can?t see too much wrong with them at this stage. Foolishly I predicted they would lose last week, citing their defence as a bit leaky. Suffice to say I don?t regard that as a problem anymore. They are strong across the park and are at full-strength.
The Cowboys are also at full-strength with the exception of Ty Williams. They?ve dropped Firman altogether this week with Justin Smith playing the role of five-eighth and Thurston to halfback. Their forward pack is menacing and they have Aaron Payne back from injury. Tronc and Webb off the bench could prove to be the difference as well as the under-rated Faiumu and my personal favourite Rockin? Rod Jensen.
The only way for North Queensland to win this game will be through rolling the Newcastle forwards. If they can manage to create inroads through the middle of the ruck and then get the ball to Thurston and Bowen they might jag a win. But I can?t see it happening this time around. Newcastle were out to prove a point last week and I think they?ll do it again this week. Buderus had a huge game and his dummy half running in this match will be vital.
And then of course, there?s Johns, Newcastle?s messiah. The sheer brilliance of the man cannot be overstated. His positioning of players, kicking, running and passing is above anyone else?s in the game. He will relish the chance to lock horns with Thurston, who is leading the LU Player of the Year Awards, as they both mark their territory ahead of the Anzac Test.
Rabbitohs v Bulldogs
We wrap things up on Easter Monday when the Bunnies do battle with the Bulldogs at each team?s home ground, the cavernous Telstra Stadium. Again, this is the easy pick of the week thanks to the atrocious form of Souths, but with Walker back I think they?ll do a little better.
The big talking point though is undoubtedly the return of Sonny Bill Williams and that?s going to get plenty of people watching. After a ten month stint in body rehab, the walking ball of muscle is set to take the field against the team that ended his 2005 season. Strangely, he has a habit of injuring himself against the Rabbitohs, doing his ankle against them in 2004. All eyes will be on the clock at around the 20 minute mark when he takes the field and if at any stage he stays down after a tackle, a cold shiver will surely go down the spine of any Bulldogs fan.
With Walker back Souths will at least have some direction and if they can compete in the forwards they?ll be in with some sort of chance. It?s hard to imagine a Bunny boilover as opposed to a Bunny boiling here though, with O?Meley and Mason in devastating touch last week. The Doggies halves will get another week to solidify their communication as well, but other than Sonny Bill there?s little impact off the bench. Dogs by plenty.
The Eels have the bye this week and that's sure to result in some heavy self-examination. They've got a local derby next week against the Tigers at home and I bet they'll be fired up for it after the disappointment of their loss to Penrith.