All team lineups here
A truncated round eleven awaits. Only five matches are being played with noteable sides including Melbourne and Brisbane getting a weekend off. For so few matches there are some really quality match ups. The Tigers-Warriors match should be a beauty, with neither side heavily affected by Origin duty. The Dragons-Rabbitohs match is always a fiery encounter whilst Manly taking on the Roosters should be a intriguing match. It’s a pity this match in particular is affected by some key players missing on Origin duty.
Wests Tigers vs New Zealand Warriors
Friday, 7:30 pm, Leichhardt Oval
Tigers $1.91, Warriors $1.91
Arguably the two most exciting teams in the comp from an attacking perspective, although neither has completely hit their stride this season. The Tigers will miss Robbie Farrah, away on Origin duty, whilst the Warriors last week lost Jerome Ropati to a knee injury. His replacement, Glenn Fisiiahi, has scored 18 tries in eight NSW Cup matches this season, so their attack will certainly remain dangerous.
The Tigers need a big performance from Benji Marshall this week. His form has been poor much of the season and, with no Farrah in the side, his role becomes even more crucial. Playing him at halfback isn’t generally the way to get the best football out of him, given he is generally better running wider with a bit more space. Nevertheless, on his day he can tear a game apart and the Warriors will need to be wary.
The Warriors own form has shown some improvement, with back to back wins over Brisbane and the Roosters. They’re still prone to a slow start and some poor lapses in defence and will want to be on their game against the Tigers. Johnson is playing some good football, whilst the return of Lillyman has seen the forward pack step up to similar levels to late last season.
This is an incredibly hard match to pick, as the odds suggest, and I cant predict a winner with any real confidence. Leichhardt Oval is generally an advantage for the Tigers and they’ve shown some signs of improvement lately, although that has largely been thanks to Farrah. I’ll tip them in what should be an awesome game. Tigers by 8
North Queensland Cowboys vs Penrith Panthers
Saturday, 7:30 pm, Dairy Farmers Stadium
Cowboys $1.55, Penrith $2.50
Penrith managed to grab a much needed win in a strong performance against the Dragons. It was by no means polished, and it was a pretty poor game overall, but the confidence gained from finally winning a match again can’t be underestimated. They have lost the hugely important Luke Lewis, however, who has been providing a near-lone hand for them this season. Jennings being in the Blues side is not a huge blow for them, considering he spent last week in NSW Cup.
Nth Qld are missing some quality in this game. No Matt Scott, no Thurston, no Tate, no Tamou. Tariq Sims is, surprisingly, still in the side, and he’ll have a point to prove to the NSW selectors. Likewise the dangerous Matt Bowen is the key to a big performance from the Cowboys, along with the dependable Ray Thompson.
Playing in North Queensland I feel that, despite missing some key players, the Cowboys have the ability to over come a pretty weak Penrith squad. Cowboys by 16
Manly Sea Eagles vs Sydney Roosters
Sunday, 2 pm, Brookvale Oval
Manly $1.50, Roosters $2.65
This is an intriguing match up here. Manly generally have an excellent record at Brookvale against the Roosters. Kieran Foran is finally back in their side and they’re coming off a good win in Brisbane. But they are missing the Stewart brothers, who are such a big part of their attack. The crucial option back up the middle, or link between the halves and Lyon, is not present. Tony Williams remains absent, whilst there has to be questions over the fitness of Anthony Watmough, given he was overlooked for Origin. It really puts the onus on the halves and Jamie Lyon to provide the impetus for this Manly side to win.
They won’t find it easy against the Roosters. This is a side going places. Maybe not this year, as they lack that bit of polish the better sides have, but it is a strong forward pack and a back five especially playing well. Minichiello’s performances in recent weeks have been of a player reborn. No Mitchell Pearce is a dent in their hopes but with the likes of Kennedy, Waerea-Hargreaves and Aubusson leading the way in the forward I can see this side getting over the veteran Manly pack. Roosters by 10
St George Illawarra Dragons vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
Sunday, 3 pm, Win Jubilee Oval
Dragons $1.91, Souths $1.91
This is the sort of season-defining match that, unfortunately, is slightly affected by Origin call ups. It’s a big match for each side. On one hand the Dragons. They’ve been far from convincing in recent weeks. After pulling a win out of nowhere against the Roosters they were comfortably beaten by the Cowboys and outplayed by Penrith on Monday night. After starting the season strongly they’ve won just two of their last six, having scored just 13 tries in that time. They’ve lost the strongly performing Michael Weyman for the season whilst Trent Merrin and Ben Creagh are in the NSW side. Fein and Scott, important players of recent seasons, are also missing, whilst Soward is expected to return. A win here sees a boost in their confidence that is badly needed, whilst a loss really puts them in deep trouble.
South Sydney, on the other hand, are playing some very impressive football. As any Souths fan could tell you, we’ve seen all this before. String a few wins together, build up expectations of a return to the glory days and then turn out a horrid performance in a winnable match. Two of the keys to their form this season in Dave Taylor and Greg Inglis are missing, but the return of Sam Burgess last round and the return this round of Luke Burgess helps ease the pressure on their forward stocks. A backline reshuffle sees Merritt at fullback, where he is very dangerous. Justin Hunt, who has been the leading NSW Cup player this year for North Sydney, albeit at 5/8, comes onto the wing. As a whole their forward pack has been playing well and, combined with a much better attitude in defence, it has seen them look stronger than they have in years. To win here would put them firmly in the top eight, to lose here would bring the doubters out yet again.
This should be a very good game of football between two long-term rivals. South Sydney is playing better football at present and I think are more than capable of beating this Dragons side. South Sydney by 14
Canterbury Bulldogs vs Cronulla Sharks
Monday, 7 pm, ANZ Stadium
Bulldogs $1.48, Cronulla $2.70
Well, despite all the hype, the Bulldogs are sitting on five wins and five losses. After winning their first three matches they’ve won just two of the last seven. Looks even worse you realise three of their wins have come against the Eels, Panthers and Titans. They managed to lose to the Gold Coast last week also. In short, it’s a very average backline, made worse when Josh Morris is missing. They’re well coached and their forwards are playing well enough, but it’s a very flat game style that doesn’t bring the backline into the game. With halves lacking in creativity and a badly out of form Ennis this leaves them very reliant on Barba at the back. They’ll keep playing their style, forwards taking it to the defence line before giving off short balls, but against a committed Cronulla defence I’m not sure it will be effective.
The Sharks pulled off a great win against the Storm last weekend. Missing inspirational skipper Paul Gallen they held Melbourne to just two tries and managed to beat them for the first time all season. They’re missing Todd Carney from that winning side, although Wade Graham has been in good form and Jeff Robson was arguably more important in that particular win. They have a forward pack that is playing such good football, with Jeremy Smith thriving at present. Even their maligned outside backs have been performing quite well, although they are still prone to some poor play. Provided they do a reasonable job I think this Cronulla side is more than capable of overcoming the Bulldogs, thanks to a stronger forward pack and a better performing halves pair. Cronulla by 8
Bye: Brisbane Broncos, Canberra Raiders, Gold Coast Titans, Melbourne Storm, Newcastle Knights, Parramatta Eels
The mighty North Sydney Bears will be fresh off the bye to take on Newcastle at glorious North Sydney Oval on Saturday. It’s a strong side, although the loss of Hunt will hurt them. Newcastle also has some NRL experience in its ranks with the likes of Wes Naiqama and Richie Fa’aoso playing for them. Should be a good match which Norths are more than capable of winning. Go Bears!