Source: Australian Newspaper – The Daily Telegraph
The first bye round is upon us with State of Origin 1 just around the corner. Surprisingly two teams, the Rabbitohs and Eels are unaffected by the annual interstate cull and it is fitting that they go head to head.
The baby Broncos head over to the City of Sails to face a desperate Warriors team in need of a moral boosting win. The Sharks play host to the Bulldogs, both teams without several origin stars and a near full strength Canberra squad take on Sydney City minus their origin contingent.
It may seem cut and dry but I’m suspecting this week’s games may be closer than they otherwise look on paper.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Parramatta Eels
Friday night football pits two squads unhampered by Origin selection with only injuries to first choice players prompting changes to their respective line-ups. For the Rabbitohs, experienced centre Bryson Goodwin has been replaced by rookie Tyrell Fuimaono. They also welcome back George Burgess from suspension on the bench.
The Eels will be missing in form backrower,Nathan Brow, who has succumb to a rib cartilage injury and will be replaced at Lock by veteran Beau Scott. They will also be without flyer Michael Jennings though this has been offset by the return of playmaking centre Brad Takairangi.
Both teams are coming off loses from the previous round where the Bunnies were very brave in their 8-point defeat at the hands of table toppers Melbourne.
The Eels were also very close to a win against the Raiders in a very tight affair, going down by 6 points in the dying stages of that game.
Tip: This is a close one to call. The forwards are evenly matched though the Eels have the more experienced backs. Mitch Moses will be hoping for a better hit out after last week’s “rocks and diamonds” effort, the Blue and Golds needing a more polished performance from him especially after losing a key strike weapon in Michael Jennings. This one’s a lottery but with a steadier spine of Cody Walker, John Sutton, Adam Reynolds and Robbie Farah. I’ll go with the Bunnies by 8.
Warriors v Brisbane Broncos
Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday, 7.30pm (NZT), 5.30pm (AEST)
The Broncos travel to Auckland to face the Warriors on Saturday minus 7 of their starting 13, Hooker Andrew McCollough to injury and the rest to Queensland’s State of Origin team.
They do welcome back Ben Hunt from a long term injury to steady the ship. They have also called on former superstar Benji Marshall to fill the void left by Anthony Milford at Five Eighth, the former Kiwi test captain’s game experience a much needed boost for the Red Hill mob.
For the Warriors this weekend’s game is a must win. Besides playing a very young team with lesser known names and former first graders in Marshall and ring in Hooker Travis Waddell, they are at the crossroads of their season meaning a loss here could be disastrous for their 2017 campaign. As I’ve written before the much hyped “test” Spine of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson and Isaac Luke need to step up!! Fans expect more from a supporting cast including the likes of veterans Simon Mannering, Ryan Hoffman and 200 gamer Ben Matulino and to put it nicely, their start to the season has been extremely underwhelming given the amount of talent they’ve got running around the paddock.
Tip: This is a heart versus head call; sentimentally I’ve got the “underdogs” Brisbane pulling of a win for the ages but common sense has me backing the Mt Smart boys for the win. Without Sam Thaiday, Matt Gillet, Josh McGuire and Andrew McCollough the Broncos young forwards may be in for a long night.
If the Warriors lose this one I’m never tipping them again.
The Auckland based side by 12.
Cronulla Sharks v Canterbury Bulldogs
Southern Cross Group Stadium
Like the Friday match up, Saturday night’s game between the Sharks and Bulldogs will pit two evenly matched teams against each other. The difference here being both squads will have key men out on state representative duties.
The men from the shire will be minus James Maloney, Wade Graham, Jack Bird and Andrew Fifita while the Belmore team will be without the services of Josh Jackson, Brett Morris and David Klemmer.
Both teams have been guilty of late starts recently and will need to come out firing. The Sharks are in better form with the football in hand, having been able to win from behind in the last fortnight.
However, the Dogs will be quietly confident with their two centres Josh Morris and Brenko Lee firing in attack all season. Amazingly Lee leads the try assists for Canterbury with a total of 9 and Morris has crossed over for 6 meat pies so far.
Tip: Defensively the Sharks are a better unit and have won games on the back of tenaciously repelling attacks on their line but will have to reduce the amount of penalties conceded in this perceived tight contest if they want to walk away with the lollies.
Sharks by 12.
Raiders v Roosters
The hot and cold Raiders play host to a Roosters team missing several of big names; Blake Ferguson, Mitchell Pearce, Boyd Cordner, Aidan Guerra and Dylan Napa all out on Origin duty. Though this seems like a mismatch in favour of Canberra who are only without Josh Papalii, the Bondi firm are far from underdogs. They are currently sitting 4th on the ladder and boast the services of talented pivot Luke Kreary, Mr. Reliable Michael “Flash” Gordon, a revitalised Daniel Tupou, young guns Latrell Mitchell and Joseph Manu and the ever scheming number 9 Jake Friend, who also celebrates 200 games for Sydney City on Sunday. The Roosters will want to give him a win to remember.
With a chance to consolidate a top 8 spot this weekend ,and also give their fans something to cheer about after a few under par performances, expect a fired up home side to come out of the blocks fast.
Jordan Rapana and Joey Leilua have been way below their 2016 form and will be out to prove they’re no one hit wonders. Their left counterparts in captain Jarrod Croker and rookie of the year contender, Nick Cotric have strung together some good performances and will also be a threat all afternoon.
Prop Shannon Boyd will be primed for a big game after being overlooked for Blues selection this year, sending a reminder to the NSW selectors should their prop rotation fall short in game 1.
Tip: The Roosters will come to play and I have no doubt they’ll give the Green Machine a run for their money, with the added motivation of giving their captain a double century to remember they’ll play all out for Jake Friend.
Having said that I can’t see them going past the Raiders at home and without five representative players to call on it may be a mountain too high for the Tri-Colours.
Look at fullback Jack Wighton, halves Aidan Sezer, Blake Austin and hooker Hodgson to play a large role for Canberra.
Raiders by 18
– The 3rd Ref. –