After a magnificent spectacle of near perfect football in what has to be one of the best opening State of Origin games in recent memory on Wednesday night you’d be forgiven for not wanting to spoil it with club rugby league this weekend, well almost. The second Bye round of the season only omits the Sharks and the Rabbitohs while for the other 14 teams its business as usual.
Melbourne Storm v Newcastle Knights AAMI Park Friday, 6.00pm AEST
Two teams on opposite sides of the competition spectrum clash in Friday’s first game. On one side of the coin, ladder leaders Melbourne come into this match full of confidence riding a 9-2 win/loss record and fresh from the bye. While not overly setting the world on fire in recent weeks they’ve gone about as the Storms do, winning games in the most “tradesmen” like manner. It remains to be seen if their Origin contingent will lace up their boots for this one with the club understandably happy to rest Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Will Chambers if need be.
On the flip side of said coin, the Knights come in fresh from the Bye week hoping for a change of fortunes and hoping to add to their 2-9 record for the season.
The Novocastrians have won many over with their willingness to turn up week-in, week-out with the accompanying wins to show for their efforts. They were outstanding in their Round 10 upset triumph over the Raiders but that may seem a fleeting memory after a lack lustre loss in Round 11 to the Panthers and now a daunting fixture with the Storm. Their lone Origin rep, Dane Gagai, has been named and will take the field barring a catastrophe of extreme proportions.
Tip: The Storm at home are notoriously tough to put away and given the fact the cellar dwellers are playing exciting, adlib footy there may not be enough experience and structure in them to beat Melbourne.
Even with in-form Gagai in the centres and the return of cult hero Nathan Ross on the flanks, it may be a tough ask.
There is no doubt Billy Slater will be a man on a mission given his Origin 1 snubbing, the Storm custodian will have a point to prove given there may be a backline opening after Queensland’s surprise capitulation. Add to that the return of suspended Prop Jesse ready to make up for lost time and of course the home ground advantage…let’s just say even if Smith, Cronk and Chambers lace up their boots or not, the Storm will win by 18 points.
Parramatta Eels v New Zealand Warriors ANZ Stadium Friday, 7.50pm
Kieran Foran plays his second game against the Eels as a Warrior this Friday after his not-so-happy split last year. Its safe to say the welcome mat will stay rolled up for this ANZ fixture.
Obviously the Eels will be concentrating on all 17 players from Auckland at kickoff but there is no denying there will be feeling in this one especially from fans whether its justified or not. Expect a whale of a game from the standoff and also from his half-back, who had found himself a purple patch of form last start, albeit against a Broncos outfit that lacks cohesion. That said, a confidence booster against any team may be just what the doctor ordered for Shaun Johnson.
For the Blue and Golds, recent recruit Mitchell Moses is slowly growing into his Parramatta Halfback boots with the ex-Tiger pivot’s long kicking games and flat running style starting to make an impression in the Eels attack. However if he keeps going on like this, the Eels will find more joy on the scoreboard. With a last round win over a full strength but a disappointing Rabbitohs team under their belts, the Eels will be looking to knock off the Warriors to gain a bit of respectability. Expect a big game from their mobile pack with hard running forwards in Tepai Moeroa and Manu Ma’u looking to feed off Moses’ running game.
Tip: This is close; both teams are finding their feet after lacklustre starts to their campaigns so it’s a coin toss for me. In recent games the Eels have raced out of the blocks but have almost been run down, point in case, last rounds second half fade against Souths. That coupled with the missing services of centre Michael Jennings and five-eighth Corey Norman and it makes it harder. As I mentioned before confidence is a game changer and we need not look further than the numbers 1, 7 and 9 of the Warriors. They no doubt played their best 2017 games last week and if they bring that form to ANZ and get some momentum of their forwards, then the game is theirs if they want it.
Warriors by 10 points.
– The 3rd Ref –