FRIDAY, 10th March 2006Wests v St George Illawarra at Telstra Stadium, 7.30pmTigers: Brett Hodgson (c), Daniel Fitzhenry, Dean Collis, Paul Whatuira, Jamaal Lolesi, Benji Marshall, Scott Prince, Bryce Gibbs, Robbie Farah, John Skandalis, Anthony Laffranchi, Ben Galea, Liam Fulton.Interchange: Michael Crockett, Keith Galloway, Ryan O?Hara, Todd PaytenDragons: Clint Greenshields, Reece Simmonds, Mark Gasnier, Matt Cooper, Wes Naiqama, Trent Barrett (c), Ben Hornby, Luke Bailey, Dean Young, Jason Ryles, Corey Payne, Ashton Sims, Andrew Price.Interchange: Justin Poore, Michael Henderson, Matt Bickerstaff, Aaron GorrellReferee: Paul SimpkinsSaturday, 11th March 2006Newcastle v Parramatta at EnergyAustralia Stadium, 5.30pmKnights: Milton Thaiday, Brian Carney, Matthew Gidley, George Carmont, Anthony Quinn, Kurt Gidley, Andrew Johns (c), Craig Smith, Danny Buderus, Josh Perry, Steve Simpson, Clint Newton, Regan Tanner. Interchange: Adam Woolnough, Daniel Tolar, Riley Brown, Kirk ReynoldsonEels: Wade McKinnon, Luke Burt, Ben Smith, Timana Tahu, Eric Grothe, John Morris, Tim Smith, Nathan Cayless (c), PJ Marsh, Paul Stringer , Nathan Hindmarsh, Chad Robinson, Glenn MorrisonInterchange: Mark Riddell, Dean Widders, Josh Cordoba, Michael Vella, Matt Petersen, Daniel Wagon. (two to be omitted)Referee: Russell SmithCanterbury v Penrith at Telstra Stadium, 7.30pmBulldogs: Luke Patten, Hazem El Masri, Reni Matua, Willie Tonga, Matt Utai, Daniel Holdsworth, Brent Sherwin, Chris Armit, Corey Hughes, Roy Asotasi, Willie Mason, Andrew Ryan (c), Tony GrimaldiInterchange: Adam Perry, Mark O'Meley , Nate Myles, Andrew EmilioPanthers: Rhys Wesser, Lee Hookey, Danny Galea, Luke Lewis, Nick Youngquest, Preston Campbell, Craig Gower, Joel Clinton, Luke Priddis, Craig Stapleton, Matthew Cross, Tony Puletua (c), Shane RodneyInterchange: Frank Puletua, Bryan Norrie, Luke Swain, Mark O'HalloranReferee: Sean Hamptstead Manly v Canberra at Brookvale Oval, 7.30pmSea Eagles: Brett Stewart, Paul Stephenson, Steve Bell, Steve Matai, Chris Hicks, Michael Monaghan, Matt Orford, Jason King, Shane Dunley, Brent Kite, Steve Menzies, Anthony Watmough, Ben Kennedy (c) Interchange: Travis Burns, Luke Williamson, Kylie Leuluai, Mark BryantRaiders: Adrian Purtell, Phil Graham, David Howell, Adam Hogg, Jason Smith, Lincoln Withers, Willie Raston, Simon Woolford, Troy Thompson, Ben Jones, Jason Croker, Alan Tongue Interchange: Todd Carney, Terry Martin, Thom Learoyd-Lars, Josh Miller, William ZillmanReferee: Shayne HayneSunday, 12th March 2006New Zealand v Melbourne at Ericsson Stadium, 11.00am (QLD) 12pm (NSW) 2.00pm (NZ)Warriors: Brent Webb, Tony Martin, Jerome Ropati, Clinton Toopi, Manu Vatuvei, Sione Faumuina, Nathan Fien, Ruben Wiki, Lance Hohaia, Steve Price (c), Awen Guttenbeil, Wairangi Koopu, Louis AndersonInterchange: Grant Rovelli, Micheal Luck, Epalahame Lauaki, Evarn Tuimavave18th man: Todd ByrneStorm: Billy Slater, Matt Geyer, Matt King, Greg Inglis, Jake Webster, Scott Hill, Cooper Cronk, Garret Crossman, Cameron Smith, Antonio Kaufusi, David Kidwell (c), Michael Crocker, Dallas JohnsonInterchange: Brett White, Ryan Hoffman, Ian Donnelly, Steve Turner, Jamie Feeney (one to be omitted)Referee: Steven ClarkBrisbane v North Queensland at Suncorp Stadium, 2.00pm (QLD) 3.00pm (NSW)Broncos: Karmichael Hunt, Steve Michaels, Justin Hodges, Shaun Berrigan, Darius Boyd, Darren Lockyer (c), Brett Seymour, Shane Webcke, Michael Ennis, Petero Civoniceva, Dane Carlaw, David Stagg, Tonie CarrollInterchange: Casey McGuire, Ben Hannant, Neville Costigan, Shane PerryCowboys: Matt Bowen, Neil Sweeney, Ty Williams, Paul Bowman, Matt Sing, Johnathan Thurston, Brett Firman, Mitchell Sargent, Aaron Payne, Shane Tronc, Jacob Lillyman, Luke O'Donnell, Travis NortonInterchange: David Faiumu, Steve Southern, Justin Smith, Matthew ScottReferee: Tony ArcherSouth Sydney v Sydney at Telstra Stadium, 2.30pmRabbitohs: Todd Polglase, Nathan Merritt, Shannon Hegarty, Adam MacDougall, Paul Mellor, John Sutton, Ben Walker, Peter Cusack (c), Stuart Webb, Scott Geddes, David Fa?alogo, Luke Stuart, Shane RigonInterchange: Jaiman Lowe, Manase Manuokafoa, Shane Walker, Joe Galuvao, Yileen Gordon (one to be omitted)Roosters: Anthony Minichiello, Amos Roberts, Ryan Cross, Iosia Soliola, Sam Perrett, Braith Anasta, Jamie Soward, Craig Fitzgibbon (c), Brett Finch, Adrian Morley, Anthony Tupou, Chris Flannery, Ashley HarrisonInterchange: Craig Wing, Shane Shackleton, Lopini Paea, David Shillington, Steve Meredith (one to be omitted)Referee: Jason Robinson
LIKELY squad: Matt Bowen, Ty Williams, Josh Hannay, Paul Bowman, Matt Sing, Johnathan Thurston, Brett Firman, Carl Webb, Aaron Payne, Shane Tronc, Steve Southern, Luke O?Donnell, Travis NortonInterchange: Rod Jenson, Mitchell Sargeant, Justin Smith, David FaiumuStrengths:North Queensland?s line up remains pretty much unchanged for the 2006 season which means that the combinations that are currently in place will only improve as the players understanding of each other?s games improve. This will mean the Cowboys will be a better team in 2006.The Cowboys first ever Grand Final appearance will be a great boost for their club, their community and the players coming into the 2006 season. They now have the confidence and the belief that they can match it with any team at the highest level and put to bed critics who stated their finals run in 2004 was a fluke.Johnathan Thurston?s Dally M medal and an entire off-season for Brett Firman will only help the Cowboy?s halves combination become even stronger. Thurston?s ability to scoot through holes has made him one of the premier halves in the competition and hopefully he will continue his brilliant run of form in 2006.The Cowboys? forward pack is still as strong and aggressive as last season with the ability to dominate packs and move forward. The backline is also electrifying as well, with stable and sure centres and a brilliant back 3.Weaknesses:Losing Paul Rauhihi will definitely hurt the Cowboys. While he wasn?t a tremendous impact player last year, he was an influential figure to have in the team and did get away a lot of offloads. His presence on the field will be sorely missed by the entire team.The lack of size on the bench should be a concern for Graham Murray. Aside from Mitchell Sargeant, the Cowboys don?t have another big man on the bench with Justin Smith, David Faiumu and Rod Jenson not big enough to play prop, meaning one of Southern or O?Donnell will need to fill in at prop to give the two starters a rest. It will be a problem for Murray to organise this.Graham Murray being in charge of the NSW side will be a disruption for the Cowboys outfit. The travel associated and the lack of mentorship during the Origin period will put a dent in the Cowboys run in the middle of the season. Hopefully the caretaker coach can make sure the Cowboys don?t fall off the rails.One to Watch:Emerging Cowboys Prop Matthew Scott has been chosen as the Cowboys young gun for the 2006 season. A player who is held in high regard by Graham Murray at the Cowboys, he will be looking to become a regular feature in the Cowboys squad for 2006 with the departure of stalwart Paul Rauhihi to England.The 185cm, 104kg Scott made three appearances for the Cowboys in 2005 improving with each game he played. The Cowboys prop was vital in winning the North Queensland Young Guns the Qld Cup premiership last season and will be looking to impress Graham Murray in the trials in 2006 to make sure he will feature in the 2006 premiership push for the Cowboys. Gains and Losses:Gains: Ray Cashmere, Brett Anderson, Robert Tanielu, Leigh Coghill, Russell Aitken, Jamie Frizzo, Scott Smith, Mark Henry.Losses: Paul Rauhihi, David Myles, Leigh McWilliams, Jaiman Lowe, Michael Luck.Assessment:The Cowboys will finish from 5th to 8th this season as I believe they will do what the Broncos usually do - start strong, and then during Origin time will fall away suddenly and then come home with a wet sail.The lack of actual size on the bench will also mean they may not push for the premiership like they did last season. They will need to have another big man on the bench to ensure they push for the Grand Final.
LIKELY squad: Ben Hornby, Colin Best, Mark Gasnier, Matt Cooper, Wes Naiqama, Trent Barrett, Mathew Head, Jason Ryles, Dean Young, Luke Bailey, Ashton Sims, Ben Creagh, Shaun Timmins,Interchange: Michael Henderson, Justin Poore, Corey Payne, Matt BickerstaffStrengths:The Dragons once again have a top platform to build on. They have a strong balanced side which contains pace, strength and raw ability. The team has gone through a bit of a tough time at the moment but the starting side is still rather young and will continue to develop.The Dragons? backline is their most dangerous asset. Australian centres Matt Cooper and Mark Gasnier combine for the best centre partnership in the competition while their outside men possess enough strength and pace to finish off anything they set up. Colin Best?s try scoring tally last season was enough to signify this.Ben Hornby is one of the best talents in rugby league today. The reason is largely attributed to his versatility. He is equally accustomed to fullback as he is to five-eighth or halfback. He did a stellar job in the absence of Mathew Head last season, and one would expect to see him carry the ball in hand as often as possible to give the Dragons another dimension in attack.The forwards are once again strong with the inclusion of young guns Ashton Sims and Ben Creagh to the starting team. Ryles and Bailey are two of the best props in the game and the pack which is mixed with youthful exuberance and valuable experience will be one of the best in the competition.Weaknesses:The Dragons? bench is not as solid as it once was. It may be time to promote some younger blood that has the potential to have greater impact. The Dragons have tremendous forward depth and always have had the ability to produce great forwards, but its time for Nathan Brown to eliminate guys like Payne and Henderson and give guys like Habercecht a go, who have the potential to make an impact on a game.The Dragons? mental state is shaky to say the least. While they have had the talent to win the competition for the last five years, they just can?t put it together when it counts. They are labelled the perennial chokers and for good reason. They are once again the favourites for the competition, so could they choke?Physical fitness is also a concern for the Dragons. The Dragons always have a tendency to get injuries to big names at the worst times. This is a weakness for the Dragons, but something that is beyond their control. Hopefully their physios are amongst the best in the country, because they will need to be.One to Watch:2005 Dragons Jersey Flegg player of the year Tom Haberecht is the Dragon?s youngster to watch this season. The Dragons purchased Haberecht from the Bulldogs in 2005 and he made an instant impression on the Dragons, becoming a vital player in the premiership winning Jersey Flegg team.The 20 year old, 95kg and 185 cm Haberecht has made a huge impression on coach Nathan Brown in the pre-season, enough for him to be considered for First Grade this early in his career. While Haberecht only has modest goals to cement a place in Premier League this season before getting a shot at First Grade, it is definitely conceivable that with Lance Thompson?s departure from the Dragons that this young gun will get his shot to impress sooner rather than later. The Dragons have always managed to bring in great forwards into the club and this is just another example. Haberecht is a devastating ball runner and a hard defender. He is definitely one of those classy players that a team is usually built around and the Dragons will be looking for him to continue his progression through Premier League and eventually to take on a leadership role in the First Grade squad. Gains and Losses:Gains: Bryson Goodwin, Matt Bickerstaff, Damon Alley-Tovio, Sam Isemonger, Lagi Setu, Andrew Price.Losses: Lance Thompson, Michael Ennis, Albert Torrens, Daniel Holdsworth, Willie Manu, Bryan Norrie, Nick Youngquest, Shane MarteeneAssessment:The Dragons once again are in with a shot to take out the competition, but will they have the mental preparation to win it? Only time will tell. Based on their top 17 it?s hard to conceive they will be outside the top 8, but I don?t feel they will be minor premiers. I think they?ll push the top 4 but fall just short. I believe the Dragons will finish in between 3rd and 6th.