Round 9 Preview - Back to the
drawing board.

It's not just me who needs to re-asses their season, a few teams out there were shown up in spectacular fashion last week as the competition took another twist in it's seemingly unending random nature. But whilst I face little more than the scorn of my peers for the meagre 31 from 56 picks I've carved out thus far, the failures of the Sea Eagles, Roosters, Storm and Warriors have far greater implications.

Last week certainly raised more questions than it answered, but perhaps the most pertinent of them is "Should we prepare ourselves for an all-Queensland Grand Final?"

And with the annual City v Country matched held in Lismore on Friday night there could be a few sore bones running around over the rest of the weekend, so take that into account when filling out your card. For the record, I'm backing the lads from the bush, who took out the title last year and will raise the trophy again in 2005.

Dragons v Rabbitohs

It will be hard for the Rabbitohs to get into a rhythm here with another new halves pairing and a few changes in the backline. Mad Dog and Hegarty are back which is a boost but there will be heaps of pressure on new no 7 in Mick Moran.

The Dragons are coming off two good wins and appear to be building some momentum. They haven't been playing the house down but have displayed some composure over the last fortnight. They have plenty of flesh on display in Lismore the night before, so it remains to be seen who actually turns pulls on a jumper. Although Cooper and Gasnier haven't been named, don't believe everything that you read in the papers.

The Dragons will win at home and depending on how well their stars back up will determine how close the Bunnies get.

Panthers v Raiders

It's not easy to pick this one, as I was far from impressed with both teams last week. The Panthers mildly outshone a woeful Warriors outfit and the Raiders did likewise to the Knights.

Penrith have a few backing up this week but they should be able to handle it. With Luke Priddis beginning to play exceptional footy and Campbell probably still bubbling from the night before they will be hard to stop.

You can?t really write off Canberra this year though. Looking at their list it's not exactly the most impressive one running around but somehow they seem to manage a good show every week. It's actually quite frustrating for tipsters who keep trying to pick against them, but with Smith and Woolford back they'll be in the hunt.

Canberra have named an extended bench which may suggest a last minute reshuffle, but I'm going to take the Panthers mainly because of the Schif's absence from the Raiders squad and the Penrith Stadium factor.

Sharks v Warriors

Oh boy, this could get embarrassing?

I'm not exactly sure how the Sharks and the Warriors playing in Perth fits into the rugby league calendar, but I'll tip my hat to anything that promotes the game. Which begs the double-barrelled question "do the folk of the West want to watch the Warriors get smashed and can they even relate to either of these teams?"

I guess they'll vote with their feet in the end and perhaps it's a pre-eminent strike to the incoming Perth Farce super 14 side. What they're going to get is a red-hot Sharks outfit belting the bejesus out of a lazy, under-performing team from New Zealand who have travelled the best part of 6 hours to get what's coming to them.

Price, Wiki, Guttenbeil and Jones really need to bring their A-game to town otherwise Kimmorley, Dykes, Vagana and Peachey will make it a very long evening for them.

Broncos v Bulldogs

The Broncos are humming along very nicely this season, piling on the points in most games with the only flaw in their season being the abomination against the Storm. They have power and size upfront (Webcke, Civoniceva and Thorn), skill and creativity (Lockyer and Hunt) and speed to burn in Bott and Berrigan.

The Bulldogs on the other hand are far from the well oiled machine that we all thought they would be right about now. It's a shame because if both teams were at full-strength this would be a cracking contest. But O'Meley, Mason and Williams are all out and Sherwin, El Masri and Anasta will be backing up.

Asotasi is performing out of his skin at the moment though but this won't be enough to stop the Bronco Express up at Suncorp. A player to watch could be Charlie Tonga from the bench for Canterbury, who at 27, is making his long awaited entry to first grade football.

Eels v Cowboys

The Cowboys are coming to town to take on the Eels in what should be an entertaining spectacle.

Parramatta couldn't kick a cow in the guts last week and deserved to lose. Dean Widders, Grothe jnr and Wade McKinnon have been the exception however, turning in good report cards each week. So far this season their forwards have shied away from the hard stuff up the middle of the pack, but they're going to be needed this week.

The Cowboys will be buoyed by the news that favourite son Matt Bowen just signed on for another three years. He can forget about that now and get on with playing footy, which should set off an alarm bell or two in Parramatta.

Simply, the Cowboys are looking great. They lead the comp, have awesome forwards, in-form halves and electrifying backs. They dismantled Easts last week in a precisely coordinated operation. So can the Eels stand in their way? Not this week, but I think they will improve their game and lift against North Queensland.

Roosters v Knights

All eyes will be on new halfback Jamie Soward, who comes with a fair pedigree and even more expectation upon him. The Roosters are searching for the right balance in their halves which so far this season has yielded little. Talk of Anthony Mundine joining the club is still doing the rounds but my bet is that Soward will combine well with Finch when he returns.

The Knights, well what a story. I tipped them to pick up the two points last week and they looked incapable of picking up a piece of paper. Carmont is in doubt and there is little resistance in the forwards.

I think this could be another loss to the Knights and an ideal setting for the young Soward to get his first taste of NRL.

Sea Eagles v Tigers

Last Friday night, sitting in Suncorp Stadium (perhaps the best ground in the world to watch rugby league) I settled in with my pie, sauced it up, then washed it down with a XXXX expecting to witness something special.

I was left agog by the result.

Did Manly's second grade team show up or are Brisbane really that good? Did the occasion simply get to the visitors and give them a mammoth case of the shakes? Well, who knows really, but we're going to find out at about 5pm on Sunday exactly how deep the scars are that the Broncos engraved upon their psyche.

The Tigers were at least competitive but then discovered fresh insights into how to lose a game. Perhaps the biggest surprise at the moment is how well they go in the forwards. None of them are particularly spectacular but seem to work well together. But the damage was done out wide and their three-quarters need to pick up their act.

I'm going with Manly here as Fortress Brookvale will surely prove their saving grace.

The Melbourne Storm have the bye this weekend and they'll be busy figuring out if they're pretenders or contenders this year. Some serious chinks are beginning to localise in their pack and they need to sort it out quick smart.