Round 9

Rep season is upon us with the first big game of the season between City and Country to kick things off.

Predicting a winner in this game is impossible but I am leaning slightly towards Country purely on the back of Ricky Stuart?s coaching smarts and I think the players who have not played under him will revel in the knowledge he has passed on. City will be no slouch either but there is bad blood between the coaches of these two sides through their association at the Roosters so don?t let anyone fool you into thinking this is a nothing contest. Country by 8.

The first Saturday game is usually for the ?nothing? game of the round but tomorrow?s game is an exception. The much improved Tigers take on the high flying Roosters at Aussie stadium and whilst I think the Roosters on form should win, this game will be tighter than expected. The Tigers showed a steely resolve against the Panthers and should have probably won the match but the Roosters, ever the professionals, will make sure there is no complacency and put the Tigers to sleep. Fittler will also be relieved to have his future settled so expect him to have a mighty game. Roosters by 12.

A very tough match to pick. Two of the competitions cellar dwellers are last up winners so there is something to get excited about here. The Cowboys are yet to win at home whilst the Warriors are showing signs of life after their narrow win over the Storm in Auckland last weekend. Graham Murray will be backing up from coaching the City side so his focus may not be what it should be. Having said that, the Warriors need to win more than one game to convince me they are hitting their collective straps. Cowboys for me by 4.

Melbourne lost a game most expected them to win and at the graveyard that has Olympic Park has become, things will be different this weekend. The Sharks were lapped by the Dragons but didn?t play as bad as the 42-12 scoreline would suggest. Taking on the Storm in a cold Melbourne is a prospect no team relishes and a last start losing Storm will be out to make amends, so they should win comfortably although they do have several players backing up from the tonight?s game. Within the space of 24 hours, Matt Orford and Brett Kimmorley will face off, so it should be a great battle in the halves. Storm by 16.

Penrith look to be struggling at present but premierships aren?t won in May so a confidence boosting victory over the hapless Rabbitohs should provide the tonic for the Panthers to cure there early season woes. Souths are no chance in this match and even though they give their all, they simply don?t have the class to compete with premiership contenders and the Panthers are contenders, even if they look a little rusty at present. A definite overs match for the punters out there. Panthers by 24.

If I had to pick a potential upset this round, this would be the game. The Dragons are on fire but don?t have a good record against Manly, regardless of where they play, but Brookie has not been a happy hunting ground for the Dragons. If you cast your mind back twelve months, Manly thrashed the Dragons and Nathan Brown slapped Trent Barrett and manhandled Lance Thompson. The Dragons also have quite a contingent backing up from the City/Country game so some of the troops may be a little leg weary. Manly are also getting closer to a win and I think they might just manage to jag this one and give the folk on the peninsula something to smile about for a change. Manly by 2.

The Bulldogs confounded the critics (this one included) to beat the Broncos when no one else thought they could do it. How a team can remain so focussed in the face of overwhelming adversity is beyond me and I think they will be switched on when they play the Knights in Newcastle this weekend. The Knights are competitive in games without Johns but against quality opposition they just lack the class of Johns to see them home. The Knights can win it but they don?t have a flash record against the Bulldogs and who can forget the El Masri conversion in 2002 from the touchline to win the game after time had expired. Unbelievable stuff and it kept their 17 match winning streak alive. Bulldogs by 14.

The final game of the rounds is between the injury depleted Broncos and the lacklustre Raiders at Canberra Stadium. The Raiders were awful against the Roosters last week but they couldn?t have asked to face the Broncos at a better time. They are without many of their star players and they do struggle in the chilly Canberra conditions. The Broncos are without Webcke, Lockyer, Shaun Berrigan, Barry Berrigan, Brad Meyers and Petero Civoniceva and that is simply too big a void to fill and win in a hostile environment. Had the Broncos been at full strength I have no doubt they would have given the Raiders a hiding, who, somehow could find themselves back in the top four if they win. Canberra can still lose this game and unless Matthew Elliott comes up with a different game plan, the Raiders hopes of winning their first title since 1994 will be an impossible dream. Raiders by 6.