Three of the NRL’s most celebrated grudge matches headline Round 2, while several teams (Sea Eagles, Broncos, Warriors, Cowboys) and players (Barba, Milford, Johnson, O’Neill) are looking to wipe the slate clean after bitterly disappointing outings last weekend.
FRIDAY MARCH 13
Canterbury Bulldogs v Parramatta Eels @ ANZ Stadium, 7.35pm
The storyline: Grudge Match City as Parramatta aims to back up its thrashing of a fallen superpower with a victory over a genuine 2015 contender.
The form guide: The Eels were exciting with the ball and aggressive without it in a 42-12 win over Manly, while the Bulldogs only turned up to play in the final 20 minutes of a 24-18 loss to the Panthers – by which stage Josh Reynolds’ brain explosion-athon had already wrecked their chances.
The selection table: Moses Mbye comes in for the suspended Reynolds, while Junior Paulo – who has had his season cruelly wrecked by an incompetent judiciary – is set to be replaced by reformed jailbird Danny Wicks.
The match-up: NSW teammates Brett Morris and Will Hopoate made a fine fist of their first outings at fullback last week.
The history: Canterbury has won 73, Parramatta 58 and five have been drawn.
The last time they met: Canterbury edged out Parramatta 18-16 in a late-season thriller best remembered for the Ballboy-gate incident.
The stat:The Eels have won just 10 of their last 60 away games, and only one of 16 at ANZ Stadium.
The verdict: A cracking contest between two big packs and a truckload of game-breakers. Eels to break the hoodoo in a rollercoaster clash. Eels by 1
Cronulla Sharks v Brisbane Broncos @ Remondis Stadium, 7.35pm
The storyline: Two disappointing Round 1 losers strive to get on the board for 2015, while Ben Barba aims to prove Wayne Bennett pulled the wrong rein by setting him adrift. This is the 50th clash between the clubs.
The form guide: The disjointed, penalty-prone Broncos were taught a footballing lesson by clinical Souths; equally erratic, the Sharks were upset at home by the unfancied Raiders as their big-name buys played like strangers.
The selection table: Sam Thaiday has been dropped to the bench, sparking a ridiculous media meltdown predicting the Broncos will move him on; Mitchell Dodds and Aaron Whitchurch make way for debutants Joe Ofahengaue and Kodi Nikorima, while Corey Oates comes onto the wing for the injured Corey Oates. Sharks are unchanged – pending Shane Flanagan coming to his senses and dropping Mitch Brown for Valentine Holmes.
The match-up: Ben Barba v Anthony Milford – two specialist fullbacks trying to prove their five-eighth chops after Round 1 shockers.
The history: Broncos 30 wins, Cronulla 19 wins.
The last time they met: One of the most extraordinary comebacks of all time. Cronulla, who had not scored a solitary point in their previous three matches, came back from 22-0 down after 53 minutes to win 24-22. I was there, and I’m still shaking my head over it.
The stat: The Broncos are on a three-match losing streak against the Sharks, but haven’t lost at Remondis since 2009.
The verdict: There’s far more improvement in the Broncos – particularly from halves Milford and Ben Hunt – and that should be enough to get the visitors over the line, although Cronulla is always a grim road trip to make at night. Broncos by 6
SATURDAY MARCH 14
Penrith Panthers v Gold Coast Titans @ Carrington Park, Bathurst, 4.30pm
The storyline: Bathurst gets another taste of NRL action as the competition’s newest heavyweight takes on a Titans outfit that has coped remarkably well with a devastating upheaval.
The form guide: The Panthers were outstanding in establishing a 24-0 lead against the Bulldogs before clocking off for the final 20; the Titans were desperately unlucky to go down 19-18 to the Tigers – you’ll struggle to find a gutsier effort in 2015.
The selection table: Penrith is unchanged, while Kevin Gordon has been replaced on the wing by Anthony Don after having his nose broken at training. Possibly by Don.
The match-up: Sensational in Round 1, livewire hooker James Segeyaro lines up against his former understudy, impressive Titans recruit Kierran Moesley.
The history: The Panthers boast a 7-4 record against the Titans since 2007.
The last time they met: Penrith was far too strong in Round 13 last year, with Peachey, Soward and Moylan spearheading a 36-14 result at Robina.
The stat: Panthers winger George Jennings racked up 178 metres from 17 carries in his NRL debut last week.
The verdict: Penrith is a far tougher proposition for Gold Coast than the Tigers were, and the backs-to-the-wall siege mentality can only carry a team so far. The Panthers by plenty. Panthers by 26
Manly Sea Eagles v Melbourne Storm @ Brookvale Oval, 7.00pm
The storyline: Arguably the bitterest rivalry of the modern era, Manly and Melbourne are both scrambling to prove 2015 does not mark the end of their respective dynasties.
The form guide: Manly was dreadful against Parramatta; Melbourne was mind-numbingly boring against St George Illawarra but got the win, 12-4.
The selection table: For the Sea Eagles, Steve Matai returns for Clint Gutherson, Jack Littlejohn replaces Kieran Foran, and Ligi Sao and Justin Horo are in line to replace the suspended James Hasson. Melbourne will be without Felise Kaufusi due to suspension.
The match-up: The meticulous Cooper Cronk squares off against his Queensland and Australian teammate, the besieged Daly Cherry-Evans.
The history: Melbourne holds a 15-11-1 advantage over Manly.
The last time they met: Kurt Mann scored a late try to steal a 22-19 victory for the Storm at AAMI Park in Round 9.
The stat:The Storm have lost just one of their last six against the Sea Eagles since the infamous ‘Battle of Brookvale’.
The verdict: The tumult surrounding DCE and Foran is distracting from the Sea Eagles’ ineffective Mason- and Mateo-led pack, which will again be thoroughly outplayed by their Storm counterparts; Cronk, Slater and co. will have a field day on the back of that platform. Storm by 10
North Queensland Cowboys v Newcastle Knights @ 1300SMILES Stadium, 9.00pm (AEDT)
The storyline: The embarrassed Cowboys will be hell-bent on getting their campaign on track against a Knights side that pulled off a courageous come-from-behind win in Round 1.
The form guide: The Cowboys were totally outplayed by the red-hot Roosters in a 28-4 drubbing in Townsville, while the Knights overcame an eight-point halftime deficit and a sin-binning to score a rousing 24-14 victory over the Warriors.
The selection table: Kelepi Tanginoa has replaced Glenn Hall on the Cowboys’ bench, while Antonio Winterstein is unlikely to play following the tragic death of his brother; Kyle Feldt and Tautau Moga are the logical ring-ins. Kurt Gidley – for reasons known only to Rick Stone – returns at fullback for the Knights and Sione Mata’utia takes up 18th man duties.
The match-up: The young Kiwi bull Jason Taumololo versus the old Kiwi bull Jeremy Smith in the No.13 jumpers.
The history: Newcastle boasts 18 wins to North Queensland’s 14, although the Cowboys are 9-6 against the Knights at home.
The last time they met: A remarkable 36-28 boilover to the embattled Knights, ending a seven-week losing streak.
The stat: The Cowboys won the penalty count 10-2 against the Roosters last week.
The verdict: Expect Thurston and co. to come out firing after a dismal opening-round showing, but the Knights proved they won’t be a walkover in 2015. Cowboys by 7
SUNDAY MARCH 15
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Sydney Roosters @ ANZ Stadium, 4.00pm
The storyline: The premiership’s greatest rivalry is set for another thrilling instalment as the two most impressive sides of Round 1 – and the champions of the last two seasons – come together for a Sunday afternoon blockbuster, with no ads!
The form guide: The Rabbitohs dismantled the Broncos 36-6, and the Roosters were similarly authoritative in disposing of the Cowboys 28-4.
The selection table: Both sides are unchanged.
The match-up: There’s too many to name just one: Inglis v RTS, Keary v Maloney, Reynolds v Pearce, Burgess v JWH, Walker v Jennings. Mouth-watering match-ups all, with several representative spots potentially on the line.
The history: The only remaining foundation clubs have played 210 times, with Souths winning 110 to the Roosters’ 95 and five games drawn.
The last time they met: The 2014 preliminary final, where the Roosters shot out to an early lead before being steamrolled by the Rabbitohs 32-22 in a ferocious, dramatic clash befitting of the occasion and the clubs’ history.
The stat: The Rabbitohs have won six of the last nine derbies with the Roosters; this season marks the first time since 2003 the clubs did not meet in Round 1.
The verdict: An absolute classic is brewing out at Homebush with nothing between two sides that are both in imperious form. Each line-up is missing key figures from last season, but both appear to be coping remarkably well. Already shapes as a Grand Final preview. Roosters by 2
Canberra Raiders v New Zealand Warriors @ GIO Stadium, 6.30pm
The storyline: ‘Same old Warriors’ screamed the headlines as the inscrutable Auckland-based club and its Golden Boot wonderboy went down to the Knights – and the Raiders, shock Round 1 victors, are aiming to withstand the backlash.
The form guide: The unfancied Raiders pulled off a stirring 24-20 away win at Cronulla, while the Warriors inexplicably gave up a halftime lead and were held scoreless during the second half at Newcastle to go down 24-14.
The selection table: The Raiders are unchanged. Sam Tomkins returns for the Warriors, Tuimoala Lolohea and Solomone Kata move to the centres with Konrad Hurrell out, and Jonathan Wright comes onto the wing.
The match-up:Y oung gun centres with a 20cm height difference – Raiders beanpole Edrick Lee and Warriors nugget Solomone Kata.
The history: Canberra holds a narrow 17-15 advantage over the Warriors.
The last time they met: The Johnson-less Warriors spanked the Raiders 54-18, the club’s first win at Canberra Stadium since 1997.
The stat: Manu Vatuvei has scored 14 tries in 11 outings against the Raiders – including 12 in his last five.
The verdict: If Johnson fires – and he should – the Warriors will be hard to stop, despite their line-up disruptions. The return of Tomkins will prove just as crucial against a new-look Raiders side still finding their feet. Warriors by 14
Wests Tigers v St George Illawarra Dragons @ Campbelltown Stadium, 7.00pm
The storyline: Another chapter will be added to the rich joint venture rivalry as Benji Marshall returns to Campbelltown Stadium for the first time in the Red V.
The form guide: Pat Richards stole a late win for the scratchy Tigers against the Titans, while the Dragons couldn’t capitalise on a mountain of first half possession as they went down to the Storm in a Monday night snooze-fest.
The selection table: Both sides are unchanged, although Josh Dugan is racing the clock to be fit after limping off against the Storm.
The match-up: Luke Brooks made a memorable NRL debut alongside Benji Marshall at the SCG late in 2013. The playmakers – at opposite ends of the experience spectrum – lock horns in the No.7 jumpers on Monday.
The history: The Saints hold a 16-13 advantage.
The last time they met: Gareth Widdop starred as the Dragons cruised to a 28-12 win, with the Tigers embroiled in the Mick Potter-Robbie Farah controversy.
The stat: This Monday represents the Dragons’ first visit to Campbelltown since 2002.
The verdict: Tough game to get a read on after last weekend’s performances, but the Tigers offer more creativity and punch in attack, while the likely absence of Dugan and the baffling continued presence of Dane Nielsen tips the scales towards the home side. Tigers by 4