Warriors to start on minus four points

THE New Zealand Warriors will go into their opening round encounter against Melbourne on minus-four competition points after the NRL today confirmed the penalty for salary cap breaches would stand.Earlier this week the Warriors provided the NRL with a written submission contesting the breach notice which penalised the club four competition points and $430,000 for salary cap breaches in 2004 and 2005. The Warriors had argued against the severity of the four-point penalty and confirmed the efforts they had undertaken to remedy all breaches.But after considering the Warriors' written submissions, the NRL decided to proceed with the penalties as outlined to the club last week. The club, which now complies with the salary cap following a final audit of all existing contracts and projections, will not lodge any further appeal.

North Sydney begin their season

IT?S finally that time of year again, round 1 in the greatest game of all. Season 2006 begins for the North Sydney Bears Premier League and Jersey Flegg teams.The Steve Carter Coached Jersey Flegg team will be the main match when they take on the Central Coast RIP at the Bears alternate home ground, T G Milner Field in Eastwood, on Sunday 12th March at 3:00pm. The Bears Junior Rep teams will play their round 3 fixtures prior to the Flegg with the Harold Matthews starting at midday.Meanwhile the Premier League Coach, Josh White, is hoping his Bears can hammerhead the Sharks into oblivion when they travel to Toyota Park on Saturday afternoon at 3:30pm.?I?m very excited, it all starts this weekend. I?ve told the boys we want to be consistent week in week out. I think we are a competitive team and our goal is to reach the finals?.On Thursday night as part of the lead up to the season the Premier League team will view specially edited highlights from their pre-season training and trial matches by New Zealand production company ButoBase.PHOTO: Bears fullback John Russell is expected to turn many a head this season with his passionate brand of attack and defence. Photo: Steve LittleTeam Lists for this WeekendNorth Sydney Premier League vs. Cronulla Sat March 11th at 3.30pm at ToyotaPark1. John Russell2. Andrew Moodie3. Karl Johnson4. Daniel Watkins5. Richard Retimana6. Daniel Russell (C)7. Ben Black8. Aaron Trinder9. Ben Ellis10. Eddie Sua11. Chris Saab12. Scott Perrin13. Luke Fatnowna14. Brendon Crabb15. Ryan Russell16. Reihana Peters22. John Kagi25. Michael HarperCoach ? Josh WhiteNorth Sydney Jersey Flegg vs. Rip, Sun March 12th at 3pm at TG Milner Field1. Joel Bennett (VC)2. Chris Heasman3. Daniel Phillips4. Paddy Kilmurray5. Rhyce Williams6. Jason Saliba7. Anthony Delaivuna8. Mitch Erickson9. Sean Bovis10. Tupou Peaua11. Mick Morris (C)12. Arnold Mano13. Chris Dears14. Blayden Baird15. Blayne Davis16. Blake McLean17. James Maloney19. Pio Rokomaqisa20. Martin Field21. James VainakoloCoach ? Steve Carter

Trial form means nothing: Hornby

ST George Illawarra halfback Ben Hornby believes ordinary trial form will count for nothing when his side meets Wests Tigers in the NRL season opener at Telstra Stadium tonight.Both clubs have struggled in the pre-season, with the defending premiers losing the World Club Challenge to Bradford in England and then copping a 42-18 flogging from Manly in their last trial game.The Dragons were overrun in their traditional Charity Shield encounter against South Sydney before succumbing to the Sydney Roosters in their last hit-out.

Warriors to learn their fate

THE New Zealand Warriors will today learn if they'll go into their opening NRL match against Melbourne at Ericsson Stadium on less than zero points.Earlier this week the Warriors provided the NRL with a written submission contesting the breach notice which penalised the club four competition points and $430,000 for salary cap breaches in 2004 and 2005. The NRL is expected to announce today that the points penalty will stand.

Injuries hit Hull

HULL have suffered a double blow as they prepare for their engage Super League match against champions Bradford, with the loss of hooker Richard Swain and prop Ewan Dowes. Swain, Hull?s captain, is likely to be sidelined for at least six weeks with a torn bicep - while Dowes suffered a recurrence of a hamstring injury in Friday?s 10-6 home defeat by Harlequins. ?Richard?s injury and loss puts pressure on us - but it also opens a door for someone else to step up to the plate and take their chance,? said coach John Kear.Hull, who have lost their last two matches, crashed to a club record 71-0 on their last visit to Odsal in the play-offs last October.Meanwhile, Bradford, who have the chance to leapfrog St Helens into top spot, are enjoying a 17-match unbeaten run stretching back to last July - but coach Brian Noble believes Hull represent dangerous opposition. ?There will be a lot of emotional issues in their thinking for this game,? he said. ?The last time they were here they lost 71-0, and it will have been in their minds during the close season. They have an early opportunity to put the record straight. ?They also started the season very well but have now lost two games in a row, and that is something they will want to put right.?New Zealand Test winger Lesley Vainikolo, who has played only one of the Bulls? opening four League matches because of an ankle injury, is included in the squad. Bradford Bulls v Hull FC, Odsal, Friday March 10 2006Bradford 18-man squad: Hape, Deacon, Vagana, Fielden, I. Harris, B. Harris, St Hilaire, Lynch, Bai, Gene, Pryce, Ferres, Vainikolo, Henderson, Langley, McKenna, Withers, Cook.Hull 18-man squad: Briscoe, Brough, Carvell, Chester, Cooke, Domic, Dixon, Hill, R. Horne, King, Lupton, Radford, Raynor, Thackray, Tony, Wheeldon, Yeaman, Whiting.Referee: K Kirkpatrick

Warriors and Wolves hungry for points

WIGAN and Warrington meet at the JJB Stadium on Friday night desperate for points, having found themselves in the wrong half of the table after the first four rounds. While the Wolves have shown a gradual improvement since their opening-round defeat by Salford, Wigan are fresh from a crushing 28-10 defeat at Salford - a result coach Ian Millward is confident was a one-off. ?I?m disappointed that we?ve not got more than one win,? he said.?But if you look at the three games we lost the only one that has really upset me was the poor performance at Salford. ?I?d like to think it was a minor setback; I?m very confident that it was. ?We?ve made some mistakes but we?re working hard to rectify them, and I think people will see how hard we?ve been working on Friday night. ?I know where we?re going. Nothing has been lost, but we have a lot to gain. Twenty-four games is a lot of games.?Millward is boosted by the return of his captain Sean O?Loughlin and he will make a late decision on whether to play Australian Test forward Bryan Fletcher or give him another run-out with the Under-21s as he continues his rehabilitation from major stomach surgery. Warrington coach Paul Cullen, with virtually a full-strength pack to choose from, has dropped prop Danny Lima after a run of 50 successive appearances. ?Rob Parker?s recovery from injury gives me the opportunity to rotate the pack,? said Cullen, who is delighted with his side?s improved form. ?We have improved with every outing since round one. Unfortunately we came up against the best side in the competition last week - and we were one score off them. ?It is a mark of our progress that we were very disappointed we didn?t win. The mood in the camp is positive.?Wigan Warriors v Warrington Wolves, JJB Stadium, Friday March 10 2006Wigan 18-man squad: Ashton, Brown, Calderwood, Dallas, Godwin, Hargreaves, Hansen, Higham, Paleaaesina, Logan, Moran, O'Loughlin, Orr, Prescott, Richards, Seu Seu, Tickle, Vaealiki.Warrington 18-man squad: Grose, Fa'afili, M. Gleeson, Kohe-Love, Briers, Sullivan, Leikvoll, Clarke, Hilton, Swann, Wainwright, Noone, M. Gleeson, Westwood, Wood, Barnett, Parker, Bridge.Referee: A Klein

Round 1 NRL preview

WELCOME back League fans. You may now refrain from cupping your hand towards your forehead and screaming ?C?mon!??yes, the season has arrived. And not before time either! Whilst I was going to impart some wise and philosophical thoughts on the eve of a new season, we've all been waiting so long that I thought it might be better to wipe the foam from our collective mouths and just to get stuck in straight away.Tigers v DragonsFor Dragons fans 2006 begins with the same team that ended their 2005 title aspirations. The reigning premiers take on the pride of Kogarah, and Wollongong, in the first match of the year which promises to be a real ripsnorter.A healthy rivalry is developing between these two joint venture clubs and this game should crystalise its? credentials as a grudge match. The Tigers are missing a few players from their all-conquering Premiership team, namely Pat Richards, Mark O?Neill and Shane Elford, who have either left the club or are injured. In Elford?s case, he tried to leave, then came back and is now injured. The backline has been boosted with the acquisition of Jamaal Lolesi and the earlier than expected return of Benji Marshall reuniting with Scott Prince in the halves.The Tigers forward pack has never looked so good. Last year all the talk was on their smallish stature but that won?t be a problem for them in ?06. My only concern is they may lose a little mobility, which was one of their best assets. In contrast, the Dragons pack is pretty much the same except for the omission of club stalwart Lance Thompson (Sharks) and the injury to Shaun Timmins. Newcomer Andrew Price finds himself locking the scrum containing two Australian props and a couple of other handy forwards in Young, Payne and Simms.The backline is also much the same, with regulars in Gasnier, Cooper, Naiqama with Greenshields taking the field. Reece Simmonds finds himself on the other wing after being given a chance by coach Brown. He appears to be the only weak link in the backs, with Captain Barrett leading the charge at five-eighth and Hornby subbing for the injured Head.This game is a hard one for punters to start with as the Tigers have been good starters over the past few years and the Dragons notoriously slow. Strangely, I think all the pressure is on the Dragons, who are favourites to win the comp, whereas the Tigers are the longest priced Premiers in history. I give it to the Tigers by a few.Knights v EelsA truly bizarre set of circumstances waits to unfold before us at the opener of Super Saturday for 2006. With Smith and Hagan set to complete the unprecedented coach swap at the end of the year, it got me thinking about what might happen at halftime. Will Smith get a bit edgy and try to find his way to the home team?s locker room at the break just to find out what it will be like? Maybe Hagan will see something in a player at Parramatta he doesn?t like and sneak in to the away side?s change room to correct it? Whatever the case, it couldn?t be more ironic or well-timed that these two teams take the field.Thaiday for Newcastle is under a bit of a fitness cloud, but otherwise both teams should take the field as announced. Once again neither team has gone through any drastic makeovers during the off-season and they are sporting pretty much their strongest outfits. Newcastle?s strength lies in their halfback (obviously) and also their back-row. Big, mobile and skilful, they?ll be looking to exploit Parra on the fringe of the rucks and get a roll-on for Johns to take advantage of. If they succeed they will be hard to stop in front of a home crowd that love their team.Parra are a little different. Whilst they have Hindmarsh to counter Newcastle?s back-row, it?s their three-quarters that will have the edge on their opponents. Burt, Smith, Tahu and Grothe are frenzied attackers and McKinnon is superb in bringing the ball back. Along with the boisterous nature of Smith at half, they could really cause Newcastle some headaches.It?s a tough one to pick, but I?m going to take the home side. Johns will have to dust off a few cobwebs, but I think he can get them home. Their transient winger from Ireland should be an interesting one to watch as well.Bulldogs v PanthersThe 2004 Premiers meet the 2003 Premiers after both of them failed to even make the semi?s last year. Each of these sides have undergone some upheaval in their player ranks with the ?Dogs losing long-time five-eighth Braith Anasta to the Chooks backline mainstay Lolesi to the Tigers. For Penrith, it might be easier to name who?s still there.Galuvao, Ross, Rogers, Pomeroy, Crossman, Donato and Franze have all moved on with the only notable purchases being Hookey, Youngquest, Norrie and Stapleton, none of which saw regular first grade in the NRL last year. I?d be a bit worried if I were a Panthers fan and the Gower issue hasn?t exactly helped their off season preparation. It could take this team a few weeks to gel and in the meantime they need some of the senior players to stand up.The Bulldogs are probably a happier camp though with the only off field dramas being the injury to wonderboy Sonny Bill Williams. It?s a bit of a mystery what?s going on with his knee, but they?ve got to take the field without him on Saturday night and looking at their forward pack, they certainly have some grunt. Asotasi and Mason starting with O?Meley set to continue his impersonation of a wrecking ball from the bench. Andrew Ryan, as captain, needs to put in a lot more this season and the new combination of Sherwin and Holdsworth with provide some interesting viewing.I?m backing the Bulldogs here.Sea Eagles v RaidersA great stoush to finish off the weekend awaits us at Fortress Brookvale where the Raiders will travel north to do battle with the folk from the peninsula.Manly have a pretty new-look about them with Storm players Orford and Bell joining the team. These guys will have a big impact upon proceedings on Saturday night with Bell scooping the centre spot vacated by Terry Hill and Orford pushing former halfback and captain Monaghan to the five-eighth role. I?m glad they?ve stuck him there instead of hooker though as I prefer Shane Dunley in the no.9 uniform. The Sea Eagles back-row is terrific and if Kennedy, Menzies and Watmough can get the upper hand in the forwards, then Manly will dominate.For the Raiders, well I?m not getting caught in this trap again. For the past two years I?ve feared for their safety on the football field and they seem to come up with gutsy victories when you least expect it. But this week you?ve really got to wonder. No Schifcofske is the big factor, but injuries throughout the forwards and backs have decimated their line-up. Jason Smith is going to need one hell of a game if he?s to pull off a victory here.I can?t see it happening though, Manly by plenty.Warriors v StormSunday?s first game sees us travel across the ditch to New Zealand where the Warriors take on the Storm in a must win game for the home team. The beginning of a new season is hard enough without having four points stripped from you before a ball is even kicked in anger. But that?s the situation the Warriors find themselves in and they need to get back to square as soon as possible. When you look at it, they?re effectively being stripped of their byes, so when their first week off comes around they won?t be able to slouch about.The Storm have some new blood in their side with the inclusion of Cooper Cronk at halfback and hothead Michael Crocker. He?s got a bit of mongrel in him though and they could use a bit of it. The backline looks sensational, with current, former and future State of Origin reps popping out everywhere. They?ll be very hard to contain over in Auckland and have the size to match it with some of the bigger Kiwi guys.But both these teams have some new combinations to work out after losing their established halfbacks at the close of ?05. Jones will be sorely missed at New Zealand and it remains to be seen if Cronk can fill Orford?s boots sufficiently. All this points to a potentially scrappy affair, especially if there?s bad weather.I?m going to take the Storm as they tend to get out of the block pretty quick each year thanks to their coach?s tough fitness standards.Broncos v CowboysNext we move on to our all Queensland affair, with last year?s runners-up facing off against a Broncos outfit with a few question marks floating around it.Big Gordie doesn?t seem to need an invitation to bag his old club these days and one must wonder what sort of an effect that might have on his former team mates. It?s funny though how players can?t say anything about the NRL without a neat $10,000 fine, but it?s perfectly acceptable for a current NRL director to give his thoughts on the coaching situation and specific players whenever he has a microphone stuck under his nose.Anyway, back to the footy. The Cowboys lost the big one last year and I bet it?s still stinging. I?m sure they want to get in there and erase the memory of their last game pretty quickly. They?ve lost Rauhihi from the engine room and dropped Webb and Hannay, but the side they put on the field is still a very good looking one.I?m backing the Cowboys in this one as I think they enjoy playing at Suncorp and I really don?t think it poses much of a threat to visiting teams. I think the Broncos will take a little while to get into the swing of things this year.Rabbitohs v RoostersOur third game this week at Telstra Stadium sees the Roosters travel to their next-door neighbours new home ground. The Rabbits have taken up residence in Homebush and will be keen to notch their second victory there after taking home the Charity Shield in their first trial game.Anasta and Harrison both turn out in their new clubs colours for the first time but the unfortunate injury to Joel Monaghan weakens the backline somewhat. In the forwards it will be interesting to see how Fitzgibbon goes at prop. Morley and Tupou will pitch in where needed but they are far from imposing. The Bunnies look like they have the forwards to match them in this one. Geddes and Cusack up front with Fa?alogo and Stuart in the back-row are tradesmen and will get the job done. Their backs look a little skinny though. Mad Dog is in the mix with Hegarty, but I?m not sure why Buddy Gordon got the brush. Merritt on the wing could pose a risk in defense being so small.Although I think the Bunnies will have a bright year, my money?s on the Roosters this week.

No axe hovering over Bennett, say Broncos

THE Brisbane Broncos says there's no axe hovering over Wayne Bennett's head despite former skipper Gorden Tallis saying the coach will have little choice but to quit if his NRL side flops in 2006.Tallis believes Bennett has put himself under enormous pressure by sacking Kevin Walters, Gary Belcher and Glenn Lazarus from his coaching staff following another finals collapse last year.

Payne sticks with Cowboys

HOOKER Aaron Payne has re-signed with the North Queensland Cowboys until the end of the 2008 NRL season.The 23 year old debuted with the Cowboys in 2002 and has played 62 games for the 2005 grand finalists. The Cowboys open their season in a Queensland derby with the Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday.

Wests Tigers outsiders on eve of NRL opener

WITH the 2006 NRL season upon us, defending premiers Wests Tigers are considered unlikely to go back-to-back in the premiership race.Centrebet Sports have Wests Tigers listed at 15/1 to win this year's premiership, that's 10th in the rankings and well out of favour with the punters.St George Illawarra Dragons (6.00), Parramatta Eels(7.00) and Sydney Roosters (7.50) head up the list of favourites to take out the 2006 premiership.South Sydney Rabbitohs and Canberra Raiders are the rank outsiders at $61.00.For Friday night's match, Wests Tigers are paying $2.75, despite taking on an under-strengthed Dragons outfit. Saints are favourites to win the NRL opener at $1.48.All things considered, Wests Tigers are looking like specials this weekend.ROUND 1 BETTINGWESTS TIGERS 2.65 v ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA 1.48 NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS 1.80 v PARRAMATTA EELS 2.00 THE BULLDOGS 1.38 v PENRITH PANTHERS 3.05 MANLY SEA EAGLES 1.23 v CANBERRA RAIDERS 4.15 NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS 1.72 v MELBOURNE STORM 2.10 SOUTH SYDNEY 3.65 v SYDNEY ROOSTERS 1.28 BRISBANE BRONCOS 1.65 v NORTH QLD COWBOYS 2.25 PREMIERSHIP BETTINGST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA 6.00 PARRAMATTA EELS 7.00 SYDNEY ROOSTERS 7.50 NORTH QLD COWBOYS 10.00 THE BULLDOGS 10.00 BRISBANE BRONCOS 11.00 NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS 11.00 MANLY SEA EAGLES 13.00 MELBOURNE STORM 15.00 WESTS TIGERS 15.00 CRONULLA SHARKS 23.00 PENRITH PANTHERS 23.00 NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS 41.00 CANBERRA RAIDERS 61.00 SOUTH SYDNEY 61.00 For all the latest odds, margins etc, log onto www.centrebet.com

Holmes a Court suspects Singleton involved in rival bid

PETER Holmes A Court suspects fellow multi-millionaire businessman John Singleton is behind a rival bid to privatise the South Sydney rugby league club.Holmes A Court, whose proposal requires the backing of 75 per cent of Rabbitohs members at an extraordinary meeting on March 19, believes Singleton is involved in a rival $4.8 million counter-bid to buy the famous NRL club.Singleton has denied any involvement.

Cronk is Storm's big hope with new long-term deal

MELBOURNE Storm appears to have settled on rising star Cooper Cronk as its long-term replacement for departed star halfback Matt Orford.The 22-year-old former utility has signed a new contract until the end of the 2009 NRL season. He's set to start in halfback position in this week's first round match against the New Zealand Warriors in Auckland. Cronk displayed red-hot form in pre-season trials to make his case as the replacement for Orford who moved to Manly in the off-season.Lock Dallas Johnson has also signed up for another two years with the Melbourne club after sounding out a possible move over the off-season.

Meyers blow for Bulls

BRADFORD'S Australian second row forward Brad Meyers could be sidelined for nearly three months with a knee injury.The 26-year-old Meyers, who has missed only four matches since joining the Bulls from Brisbane Broncos 18 months ago, suffered ruptured medial ligaments in his left knee during his side's 50-18 win over Catalans Dragons last Saturday. Cook Islander Adam Watene, a close-season signing from Castleford, has been brought in as cover and could make his Bradford debut against Hull at Odsal on Friday.

Villasanti's future in own hands

NEW Zealand Warriors coach Ivan Cleary says former Australian Test prop Richard Villasanti is free to stay or leave the NRL Club.Docked four competition points and fined $430,000 for salary cap breaches over the past two years, the Warriors are looking to cut costs before the start of the 2006 season. Villasanti has been asked to look at playing elsewhere as the Warriors seek to get under the NRL salary cap, but Cleary says the big front rower is not being forced out.Villasanti was left out of the Warriors line-up to play Melbourne in Auckland on Sunday and will play in a curtain raiser for the club's development side against a team from New Zealand's domestic league.

Focus back on 2006 for Eels, Knights

PARRAMATTA and Newcastle will today turn their attention back to the 2006 season and this weekend's opening round clash between the two sides following confirmation yesterday of Brian Smith's impending move to the Knights.Smith ended weeks of speculation by agreeing to a three-year deal with the Knights from 2007, completing a bizarre coaching swap with Knights counterpart Michael Hagan, who will join the Eels, also on a three-year deal, next season. Smith has admitted that the move could prove somewhat of a distraction this season as he helps Knights staff assemble their playing roster for 2007, but says he is committed to helping the Eels win a premiership this year.Both coaches believe this week's coaching drama will not affect the players in the lead-up to Saturday night's clash at EnergyAustralia Stadium. The Knights will be seeking revenge on their home turf after being walloped by the Eels 50-0 in the corresponding match last season.

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