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We take a look at the four games behind and ahead of us in NRL Round 2, asking and answering (sometimes) some of the big questions.
1. Are Manly on-target for back-to-back premierships?
They might not be playing with the same rigid structure that won them 2011 honours, but the added flair that Geoff Toovey has injected into this premiership outfit might just be what the club needs to become the first team since Brisbane in 1992-93 to win genuine back-to-back titles. They still have a few issues to iron out in defence but if they can keep these performances up over the course of the season, their premiership favouritism is well deserved. The less said about the Tigers, the better. The Sharks almost nabbed them, and at times Manly made them look like cannon fodder. Lots to work on out west.
2. Round 2 bouncebacks - fact of life?
The Cowboys were woeful. Ordinary. Hopeless... we could stick any number of descriptive ways to describe their Round 1 performance. So it stunned plenty when they came out and put the Broncos to sword on fulltime on Friday night - but not me. The "Round 2 bounceback factor" is alive and well - as evidenced by two of the weekend's four matches so far going to the side that lost their clash last week. The Cowboys played a much more controlled, patient style of footy and it paid off against a Brisbane side who perhaps just slacked off a little at the end.
3. Canberra the real deal?
If you asked me where Canberra fitted in to the ladder a few weeks ago my prediction would have them bottom four. Now they've taken the Storm to the wire and comfortably beaten a reasonably strong Gold Coast Titans side, I'm not so sure they can be written off. They head to Allianz next week to face the Roosters in what could be a very good Sunday afternoon clash. Jack Wighton is an incredible find!
4. Aura gone for St George Illawarra? Are Canterbury contenders?
It's easy to rubbish the Dragons for last night's performance - they were not a good football team last night. Countless errors, poor decision making and the Bulldogs did a great job to halt their momentum at every turn. While they turned in an ordinary performance last night, I only cast my mind back ten days to when they outmuscled a very good Newcastle outfit. They've got it in them, and they'll be up for the task against the Tigers on Friday. As for the Bulldogs, well only time will tell. The signs were good last night but they have a tough start to the season, with clashes coming up against the Warriors, Knights and Storm in the next five weeks. Their control was superb throughout much of the clash but their depth is a worry.
This afternoon's triple treat starts with the Sharks hosting the Knights... and I almost couldn't tip this one. The Sharks pushed the Tigers all the way last weekend and arguably deserved better than the one-point extra time loss they finished with. Similarly the Knights were pipped by a very good Dragons side and will be looking for an improved showing in the Shire. It's hard to know whether the Knights will come together so quickly or whether they need more match time to gel as a unit. The goal for the visitors? Keep Carney quiet. They failed to do so with Soward last week and it cost them.
6. Last minute win a cover-up?
There's no doubt the Roosters heart-stopping final seconds victory over South Sydney last week was one for the highlights reels, but has it covered up some worrying form at the Roosters? While the Panthers were solid before being run over by the Bulldogs last week, the Roosters looked like a shadow of their 2010 grand-final losing squad until some Aubusson-Cordner-Minichiello brilliance got them across the line last Monday night. I'm not convinced.
7. Storm dynasty... is it winding down?
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the Storm's legitimacy in recent seasons, they still have plenty to be happy about in the way they came back to the NRL with a resounding season performance in 2011. Last week though, showed the importance of the big three in their title push. If, as reports have at times suggested, Cooper Cronk moves on to another club in coming years, then the Storm may have some trouble. Craig Bellamy is notorious for unearthing young prodigies and creating a brilliant working unit, but last week's near-loss to Canberra has me asking questions about their title claims in 2012. If Souths can recapture the form that saw them push for a finals spot late last year, they'll rate themselves a chance of upsetting the Storm down south tonight.
8. Another long year for the Eels?
While few would doubt the Warriors credentials after last week's spirited loss to premiers Manly, the talking point ahead of this game will no doubt be the form of the Eels last week and the late inclusion of Jarryd Hayne and Willie Tonga. Parramatta didn't look good at any stage of their 18-6 loss to Brisbane last Friday and it's really only through Brisbane's lack of ball control that they went to the break 6-0 up. Their go-forward is suffering as well. If they don't perform I can see the Warriors winning in a big one.
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