SUPERLEAGUE Round 9 games will be played on Thursday and Good Friday, forming the first part of the traditional Easter weekend double headers. Round 10 games will follow on Easter Monday and Tuesday, completing what can be a testing but always interesting weekend for the players, clubs and fans alike.Thursday night's televised match is the much anticipated local derby between Leeds Rhinos and Bradford Bulls at Headingley. In recent weeks Leeds have eclipsed Bradford on the table, and will be hoping for a win to make up for their loss to the Bulls in the 2005 grand final. Bradford will be looking to improve following an unexpected loss to Warrington last start, and to put aside talk that Wigan are looking to poach coach Brian Noble. Friday's televised game is another famous local derby pitting Wigan Warriors against undefeated St Helens at Knowsley Road. Francis Meli has suffered an ankle injury and will not be available for St Helens over the next six weeks, but Jason Cayless returns to the squad following a short illness. Wigan will be hoping for a return to form following the sacking of coach Ian Millward, but under these circumstances an upset seems very unlikely in this top versus bottom clash. In other games on Friday, Warrington Wolves host Salford City Reds in a clash between two teams who are in the top six on the back of some winning form. Les Catalans Dragons travel to London without the services of suspended Alex Chan when they take on the Harlequins. On a high following their conclusive defeat last week of Wigan, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats host Castleford Tigers who will be hoping to recover from last weeks defeat on French soil. And finally Huddersfield Giants will be hoping that a win at home against Hull can keep them in the top six.
ON a cold British night, international rugby league met its destiny when the New Zealand Kiwis thumped the previously unconquerable Kangaroos 24-0, to lift the coveted Tri Nations trophy.It dawned in the hope of a new era, of expectant crowds consistently getting high class competitive matches at the top level. It breathed hope into the aspiration of international rugby league to be taken very seriously, even ahead of the glamour of Australia's State of Origin.The Kiwis now face an even bigger challenge. A question of quality, and character, against the odds, yet again. The entire country had been waiting in anticipation of the two sides fighting it out on the hallowed turf o Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium, particularly with the dream halves combination of Les Catalan's Stacey Jones and the Wests Tigers Benji Marshall. However, in a cruel twist of fate, both players were rubbed out with long-term injuries.The challenge now falls upon new shoulders, we closely explore the options available to Kiwis Coach Brian "Bluey" McClennan.Lance Hohaia ? Warriors: Lance's career has been punctuated with inconsistencies. He came into first grade with a hiss and a roar, helping the Warriors to a Grand Final appearance in his debut year in 2002. Since then, more often than not he has failed to nail down the position of five eighth at the Warriors, even though he had the honour of working outside the little general, Stacey Jones. However, he received a lifeline in 2005 when he was pushed into the hooking position, a position he seemed to make his own at the Warriors with a succession of incisive performances in an otherwise less than memorable year for the Auckland franchise. As 2006 dawned however, no quicker than feeling assured of himself in first grade, he again found himself on the outer in the hooking role to Grant Rovelli and George Gatis. In his favour, in the limited opportunities he has had to don the number seven jersey, he more often than not has come up trumps.Jerome Ropati ? Warriors: A player with enormous credentials from his exploits in the Bartercard Cup for Marist. However, he has found the going a lot tougher at NRL level and is yet to truly convert that potential into proven first grade ability. Currently out of the Warriors line up due to a hamstring injury, he looms as an option to play at five eighth for the Kiwis. Jerome plays a simple brand of football, lots of drifting across field to pick up inside runners, and taking it to the line. He is somewhat limited in his kicking game. What goes in his favour though is an exceptional debut test match last year against Australia where he picked up two tries from fullback.Marcus Perenara ? Warriors: Ropati's former halves team-mate from Marist in the Bartercard Cup, Marcus was seemingly being woven into the Warriors outfit as the logical long term replacement to Stacey Jones. However, no sooner did the Warriors begin highlighting his potential to the public was the news that the Warriors had released Perenara. He ended up joining the Parramatta Eels, but has featured mostly in reserve grade. He made his first grade debut last weekend against the Penrith Panthers in a losing performance. Marcus is rated for his passing, and kicking game, and also his goal-kicking ability and is the brother of former Kiwi Henry Perenara.Jeremy Smith ? Parramatta Eels: If you were working out a crossword, and stumbled across the question, "Best young half yet to be tried for a lengthy period at NRL level ? five letters" you would instantly write the surname Smith into the boxes. Jeremy is without question an audacious talent. He has great organisational skills, a terrific kicking game, a creative passing game and a strong running game. It is somewhat perplexing that he has not yet debuted for the Eels. Jeremy's inexperience will count against him, but McClennan is renowned as a strong analyst of the game and no doubt Jeremy's ability will be rated on it's merits accordingly.Billy Ngawini ? Canterbury Bulldogs: Perhaps the most talented young hooker running around, yet to play first grade. Billy put his name firmly in the cross-hairs of the Kiwis selectors after an astounding performance for New Zealand "A" versus the Australian Presidents XIII, a team that featured Mark O'Meley, Willie Mason, Matt Cooper, Trent Barrett, Scott Prince and Ben Creagh. Spectactors left that game with an impression of a very incisive young player who made a lot of line breaks off the back of good go-forward, particularly from Tony Puletua and Awen Guttenbeil. Despite not playing first grade, its clear to all who saw him in action that night that Kiwi representative honours are not too far away for Ngawini.Nigel Vagana ? Cronulla Sharks: Word on the street's of the Shire is Vagana will be a late inclusion versus the Wests Tigers. Nigel is a proven and established NRL star, particularly following his try scoring exploits at the Bulldogs, and Auckland Warriors. He has not quite reached the same heights of consistency at the Cronulla Sharks, but gained some form when being promoted into a makeshift five eighth role at the end of last year. He was the number six outside Stacey Jones in last years triumph, and also donned the jumper in a memorable test victory at North Harbour Stadium in 2003 outside Thomas Leuluai. Kicking game is severely limited, but can make a break on his own or from supporting a strong offload up the centre of the ruck.Thomas Leuluai ? London Harlequins: Form is hard to read. Played too basic a gameplan while at the Warriors after being given countless chances to establish himself, albeit at a young age. Is the son of former Kiwis legend James Leuluai. Kicking game is quite poor for a recognised halfback, often finding the recipient on the full with limited kicking range a problem also. Tends to play a short passing game, that can restrict the outside backs and create a target for his own forwards. Has been up and down for Harlequins this year. Two things will count against Thomas, the considerations of travel, and the inconsistent form of Harlequins.Sione Faumuina ? Warriors: Has moved around at the Auckland franchise, from being a bench man, to playing lock forward, to play centre and now occupying the five eighth position. Was in scintillating form against Manly last week, but suffered from the same trait as a lot of young inexperienced halves ? the lack of knowledge as to how to skin a cat. Created numerous opportunities but was unfamiliar with how to turn the knife and make the decisive tries needed to try and run down the Sea-Eagles. Kicking game is also quite limited. Also counting against Sione will be his decision to turn down the Kiwis jumper last year in a bid to play in the English Super League Finals series, and to get a full off-season under coach Ivan Cleary to hone his craft to play five eighth at the Warriors.Brent Webb ? Warriors: Plays a semi-fullback, semi-five eighth role at the Warriors as it is, often chiming into the line to try and create an opportunity or put a long kick in. Long kicks can be powerful, but inaccurate. Doubtful to be seriously considered as a halves option purely on the proviso that there seems no logical replacement at fullback, which as Nigel Vagana showed in his appearance there a short while ago as a substitute fullback that it can be a recipe for disaster. Particularly when going against the awesome kicking game of Andrew Johns.Also mentioned in some circles have been the names of Sonny-Bill Williams, Tevita Latu and David Faiumu, however these are probably not high percentage options at this stage. Faiumu will rotate at hooker, possibly with Latu, while Williams is a certainty to lock the scrum should he be available for the Kiwis.Whichever way Brian McClennan goes, there will be no doubt that they will be up against it facing off against the likely combination of Andrew Johns and Darren Lockyer. This will be John's last test match, and there is no doubt whatsoever the rest of the team will be looking to ensure his last test is a memorable one, as well as making sure Ricky Stuart's first test is successful. Johns is in unbelievable form currently, his club team the Knights are red hot with him in the pilots seat and there appears to be nothing surer that he will carry that club form into his final test match. There is however absolutely no doubt that whomever McClennan selects as his halves will be given a strong game plan, and a strong sense of belief. They will believe they are champions, and they will believe in the honour bestowed upon them to be wearing the Kiwis jumper. That is the makeshift of McClennan's coaching, which has served him well at Bartercard Cup level, and now, famously, test match level as well.In my opinion, the best combination out of that lot is Lance Hohaia at halfback and Jeremy Smith at five eighth. It is fraught with danger, given neither are currently in their club's top seventeen, but as Olsen Filipaina has shown, Kiwi pride can overcome those odds.
THIS Sunday afternoon the two best teams of 2006 will face off at Energy Australia Stadium bringing the two form halves in the competition face to face for the first time this year. Andrew Johns and Johnathan Thurston go up against each other in a game that should be an absolute cracker.
BRISBANE has suffered a further injury blow with in-form centre Justin Hodges a late withdrawal from tomorrow night's NRL clash with Sydney at Aussie Stadium.
WEST Tigers five-eighth Benji Marshall has decided to postpone shoulder surgery until the end of the season with a view to making his NRL return in four to six weeks.
TEST back Brent Tate has been forced to call off his NRL return for the Brisbane Broncos against the Sydney Roosters tomorrow night after breaking down with another injury.
DRAGONS Supporters, After a Round 5 flogging most of us would rather forget, this week the Dragons head to "Fortress" Brookvale to take on the Sea Eagles. The 2006 NRL premiership is as close as we have seen in many years, and this match will be another tough game against a Manly side who are starting to play their way into some good form. Manly have proven fairly hard to beat at Brookvale over the past few years and the Dragons will need to have a much higher level of commitment and a tougher mental attitude to take the points in this one. With Shaun Timmins and Wes "The Fijian Flyer" Naiqama both returning from injury the Dragons are nearing a full strength side and will give a good account of themselves. The MBDS screening this week will once again be at the Grosvenor Hotel at East St Kilda. The screening will be held in the Sports Bar at 5:30pm Saturday on Fox Sports. Hope to see a big crowd there to catch all the action live! What: Dragons v Sea EaglesWhen: Saturday 15th April, 5:30pmWhere: Grosvenor Hotel 10 Brighton Road East St Kilda ANZAC DAY Just to let you all know, we have also booked the Grosvenor for the annual Anzac Day clash between the Dragons and the Roosters. Further details will be coming in the following weeks but put it in your diary now as this will be a cracker of a game and we expect a good crowd at the Grosvenor for the match. Due to the importance of this match, our new sponsor OneStop Home Loans will be putting money on the bar which is a first for MBDS so come along and enjoy the day. Thanks to OneStop for their support!
I tend to be a pretty stubborn kind of guy and usually, there?s less chance of me admitting to a blunder than of John Howard walking into question time donning Peter Garrett?s ?sorry? T-shirt. But last weekend has forced me to change tack, particularly when selecting Premiers pre-season.
A sub-standard second half performance by the Newtown Jets put paid to any winning chance in Saturday evening?s VB Premier League fifth round match against Cronulla-Sutherland at Toyota Park. The Jets had trailed by 16-12 at half-time and were still hanging in at 28-18 down with fifteen minutes remaining. Three tries to the Sharks in the last eight minutes of the match blew Cronulla?s final winning margin out to 44-18.The lethal combination of a poor completion rate, dropped ball, missed tackles and penalty infringements proved to be Newtown?s undoing in the second half. The Jets had led by 12-10 with only two minutes left in the first half, but failure to find the line from a penalty kick gifted the Sharks vital possession which they turned into a converted try virtually on the half-time siren.Newtown?s front-rowers Glenn Hall and Steve Meredith showed the way by jointly topping the team tackle count as well as by their repeated fearless charges with the ball into the Sharks defence. Centre Vince Mellars, playing against his former Cronulla team-mates, turned in his strongest performance this season. A spate of injuries in the Roosters NRL team is sure to result in several call-ups from the Jets VB Premier League ranks for next weekend.Newtown?s affiliate club in Group 11, the Parkes Spacemen, had a runaway 58-20 win at home against neighbouring Manildra. The Spacemen began their season by defeating Forbes last weekend and now sit proudly on top of the Group 11 first grade premiership table.The Jets are back at Henson Park on Easter Saturday (April 15th) when they take on the Balmain Tigers in a traditional inner-western local derby. Given that the Jets and the Tigers are only drawn to meet once this year, the Trevor Ryan-Neil Pringle Shield contested by the two foundation clubs goes on the line this Saturday at Henson Park, with this VB Premier League match kicking off at 3.00pm. In the opening round of the 2006 Jim Beam Cup competition, Newtown travels to Erina on Good Friday (April 14th) with this match due to start at 2.30pm.Photo caption:Newtown Jets hooker Luke Gordon attempts to break through against the Sharks defence at Toyota Park on Saturday evening.Photo courtesy of Gary Sutherland Photography.
WESTS Tigers five-eighth Benji Marshall will visit a specialist today to determine whether he will play again this season.
CRONULLA halfback Brett Kimmorley remains confident of playing State of Origin football this year despite an ankle injury which will sideline him for six weeks.
WIGAN has sacked Australian coach Ian Millward after a wretched start to the English Super League season.
OUT of form halfback Brett Seymour was today dropped from the Ergon Energy Broncos? side in one of the three team changes for Friday night?s clash against the Sydney Roosters at Aussie Stadium.
REIGNING champions Bradford lost ground on the engage Super League leaders after crashing to their first home defeat for 10 months by 22-18 to Warrington in an error-strewn match at Odsal.
BRUNO Verges claimed a hat-trick as Catalans Dragons ran in nine tries to overpower Castleford by 51-14 for their third win in engage Super League.