It’s a bumper Easter schedule in Round 4 of the NRL, with the grand finalists of the last two years going head-to-head on Good Friday, and the 2013 decider combatants squaring off in a key match on Saturday. Buckle up for a tri-city marathon on Easter Monday, with the traditional Tigers-Eels encounter in front of a packed Homebush crowd the pick of the bunch.
Friday, 4.00pm: South Sydney Rabbitohs v Canterbury Bulldogs @ ANZ Stadium
It’s impossible to avoid the memories of 2015’s ‘Bad Friday’ clash, and while it’s unlikely we’ll see anything as dramatic as that, it shapes as a massive showdown – although Sam Burgess’ absence has taken the sting out of it somewhat. Still, there should be a crowd in excess of 40,000 at Homebush, and the victor will really solidify their position in the top four.
I can’t wait for… livewire halves Cody Walker, Luke Keary, Josh Reynolds and Moses Mbye to come to the fore after the ferocious forward battle settles down.TIP: Bulldogs by 6
Friday, 8.05pm: Brisbane Broncos v North Queensland Cowboys @ Suncorp Stadium
Neither side wants to acknowledge it, but the epic 2015 grand final looms large over this Queensland derby. There’s storylines, subplots and match-ups laced throughout this clash – not least of all the fact that these two teams are unequivocally the standout title favourites this season. The Broncos are smarting from a poor loss at Penrith last week, while the Cowboys are coming off an authoritative 40-0 spanking of the Roosters.
I can’t wait for… Ben Hunt to stand up. He’s had a slow start to the year, but he will be fired up after last year’s grand final shocker.TIP: Broncos by 2
Saturday, 5.30pm: Canberra Raiders v Gold Coast Titans @ GIO Stadium
Two surprise packets who can really push their top-eight claims by ending March near the pointy end of the ladder. The Raiders are one of only two unbeaten teams, but would be disappointed with their draw at Newcastle after jumping out to a big lead. The Titans have won two from three and continue to show character that far outstrips the quality of their roster.
I can’t wait for… another bout of golden point – this clash has extra-time written all over it.TIP: Raiders by 1
Saturday, 7.30pm: Sydney Roosters v Manly Sea Eagles @ Allianz Stadium
The Roosters are in a funk and are odds-on to be left alone in last place on the table at the end of Round 4. They’re lacking direction, aggression and confidence – the Tricolours are a shadow of the side of recent years, in attack and defence. The Sea Eagles were far from perfect on Monday, but they toughed their way back into form to get off the mark at the Sharks’ expense. Expect the Roosters to come ready to play after being embarrassed in Townsville, but the guile of Cherry-Evans and Stewart will steer Manly to back-to-back wins.
I can’t wait for… old hard-head Nate Myles trying to stamp his authority up against young bucks Dylan Napa and Kane Evans.TIP: Sea Eagles by 8
Sunday, 4.00pm: St George Illawarra Dragons v Penrith Panthers @ WIN Stadium
Both sides pulled off a heavyweight upset last weekend, showing off their own finals aspirations with character-filled performances. The Saints will be primed for their first match in Wollongong this year, while the Panthers need to work on a 80-minute effort after fading late against the Bulldogs and letting the Broncos get out to a big lead.
I can’t wait for… Te Maire Martin’s follow-up appearance – I’m so excited about this kid.TIP: Panthers by 8
Monday, 2.00pm: Warriors v Newcastle Knights @ Mt Smart Stadium
The winless Warriors can’t get the critics off their backs, despite a vastly improved display last weekend. Plagued by Henry Perenara’s dreadful officiating, they still came within an ace of toppling the Storm. The punters know what’s coming from the frustrated Auckland-based side, installing them as the biggest favourites of the weekend, although the Knights were super-gutsy in grabbing a draw with in-form Canberra after two horrid outings in the opening fortnight of the premiership. The Warriors should have too much firepower and too much desire.
I can’t wait for… Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to take advantage of an unsettled Knights line-up.TIP: Warriors by 20
Monday, 4.00pm: Wests Tigers v Parramatta Eels @ ANZ Stadium
We’ve been in this position several times in recent seasons – the Tigers and Eels facing off in an Easter Monday blockbuster after encouraging starts to the year. Neither side has gone on to make the finals in the past four campaigns, but both have again shown early-season signs of being able to break the drought. There’s so much attacking class on show here, so the better defensive unit will win the day…which means an Eels victory over the leaky Tigers.
I can’t wait for… Radradra and Tedesco to continue their blistering tryscoring form.TIP: Eels by 7
Monday, 7.00pm: Cronulla Sharks v Melbourne Storm @ Shark Park
Following yet another loss Brookvale, the Sharks confront another big bogey – the boys from the Shire just haven’t had an answer for the Storm in recent years. Their combinations are still taking time to gel, and question marks are still hovering over whether Shane Flanagan has his positional selections right. Meanwhile, Melbourne continues to hum along like the well-oiled machine it is, taking the only 3-0 record in the NRL into Round 4.
I can’t wait for… the wily old rakes, Ennis and Smith, pulling the wool over the refs’ eyes and trying to get one over the other.TIP: Storm by 8
ROUND 4 MOST AT STAKE
The only two winless clubs remaining in the NRL, the Warriors and Roosters, simply must come away with a win this weekend.
THE SELECTION TABLE
-Nathan Brown will start at lock for Souths after the neck injury suffered by Sam Burgess.
-Greg Eastwood is back in the No.13 for the Bulldogs.
-An eye injury to Jack Reed sees Jordan Kahu move to centre and Lachlan Maranta play his first game for the Broncos on the wing.
-Brendan Elliot replaces the injured Dale Copley in the Roosters’ centres.
-Trent Merrin and Waqa Blake return for the Panthers, with Tyrone Peachey and Elijah Taylor dropping back to the bench.
-Konrad Hurrell and Sam Lisone have been named on the Warriors’ bench, with James Gavet and Nathaniel Roache making way.
-Robbie Farah makes his first appearance of 2016 for the Tigers.
Hurrell named for #EasterMonday clash at Mount Smart.
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) March 22, 2016
-The Cowboys have lost their last four against the Broncos at Suncorp.
-The Roosters are aiming to avoid becoming just the second reigning minor premiers (after Brisbane in 1999) to go 0-4 to start the following season.
-The Warriors are hoping to avoid a club-record 12-match losing streak.
-Cronulla has lost its last five – and 10 of its last 11 – against Melbourne. The last four matches have featured margins between 18 and 42 points.
That is a club record 11 straight losses for the Warriors #NRLWarMel
— 1895 (@1895blog) March 20, 2016
-The English front-rowers, George Burgess and James Graham.
-A grand final rematch within a grand final rematch, Thurston v Hunt.
-Locks Greg Bird and Shaun Fensom are the beating heart of their respective teams.
-Blake Ferguson and Steve Matai will engage in a fascinating centre duel.
-Penrith sensation Te Maire Martin goes up against Saints captain Gareth Widdop.
-A couple of enigmas in the No.6, Shaun Johnson and Jarrod Mullen.
-Mitchell Moses and Corey Norman have been on fire in 2016.
-Andrew Fifita and Jesse Bromwich will lead the way for their respective packs.
— NRL (@NRL) March 19, 2016
-Josh Morris lines up for his 200th NRL game, while Bulldogs teammate Josh Reynolds reaches the 100-game mark. Morris boasts a career winning percentage of 56%; Reynolds is sitting on an impressive 60% win rate.
— NRL Bulldogs (@NRL_Bulldogs) March 23, 2016
Shaun Kenny-Dowall will become just the seventh player to bring up 200 first-grade appearances for the Roosters. The Kiwi stalwart has scored 112 NRL tries – second in Roosters history and equal-47th all-time.
— Sydney Roosters (@sydneyroosters) March 23, 2016
THIS WEEK IN HISTORY
2010: The Warriors pummelled the Broncos 48-16 at Suncorp Stadium, with unheralded half James Maloney bagging a club record-equalling 28 from three tries and eight goals.
2003: In a preview of that year’s grand final, unfancied Penrith scored a rousing 23-22 win over defending champs Sydney Roosters.
1995: Phil Blake scored four tries as the Warriors notched their first-ever win, 46-12 over Western Suburbs, but they later had the competition points stripped for fielding an illegal fifth interchange player.
1979: St George hammered defending premiers Manly 34-9 in the opening round of the ’79 competition, with the likes of Graeme Wynn, Mitch Brennan and Robert Finch bagging tries, and George Grant slotting eight goals for the victorious Dragons.