A grudge match and two intriguing derbies punctuate Round 5 of the NRL, while Burgess, Moylan, Marshall, Gallen, Austin and Sezer make important returns from injury.
Thursday, 8.05pm: Manly Sea Eagles v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ Brookvale Oval
Manly’s resolve will be tested at home with Daly Cherry-Evans sidelined by an ankle injury. Can the Sea Eagles take down the Rabbitohs – who welcome Sam and Tom Burgess back – with a hooker and a centre in the halves? It’s a big ask for Apisai Koroisau and Dylan Walker, but the support of Brett Stewart and Jamie Lyon is the key. Meanwhile, the Bunnies need to bounce back quickly from their Good Friday shellacking. An upset’s on the cards here.
I can’t wait for… We haven’t seen the best of Nate Myles in maroon and white, but the Queensland hard-man will be pumped up for his clash with the Burgess boys.TIP: Sea Eagles by 2
Friday, 8.05pm: Gold Coast Titans v Brisbane Broncos @ Cbus Super Stadium
The fuse has been lit for a fiery south-east Queensland derby – and it all surrounds Brisbane’s controversial centre recruit James Roberts, who is quickly building a reputation as one of the NRL’s cockiest/dumbest stars with some absurd interview comments this week. Titans coach Neil Henry has taken a swipe at his recently departed charge to really spice things up. On the field, the Titans are overachieving and their gritty attitude could cause the star-laden Broncos some problems. Put pressure on Milford and Hunt, and the Titans are a chance of a boilover.
I can’t wait for… Greg Bird’s incessant niggling of James Roberts. TIP: Broncos by 4
— Todd Balym (@balym_GCB) March 27, 2016
Saturday, 3.00pm: Melbourne Storm v Newcastle Knights @ AAMI Park
Melbourne was the only 3-0 team after three slugfest wins, but the Storm couldn’t manage a fourth at Cronulla. The club’s outside-back injury toll is a concern and Slater’s absence deflating, but the Storm already seem like they can grind out enough wins for another top-four finish. The Knights, meanwhile, look a class below every other side in the competition – their plucky effort against Canberra in Round 3 doesn’t mask three woeful thrashings. This will be a training run for the clinical Storm.
I can’t wait for… Rising fullback star Cameron Munster to thrive in the extra room the Knights’ shoddy defence will afford him. TIP: Storm by 24
Saturday, 5.30pm: Wests Tigers v Cronulla Sharks @ Campbelltown Stadium
It was a bad coincidence that the Tigers’ disjointed 8-0 loss to Parramatta came in the same week as Robbie Farah’s return – the team will be much better for his inclusion, and the Campbelltown atmosphere should spark the Tigers back into action. The Sharks produced a trademark tough win over the Storm on Monday night, but they have been squandering too many scoring chances lately. Gallen is a big in for the visitors, but if the Tigers can muscle up, look for Tedesco, Moses and Farah to spearhead a mild upset.
I can’t wait for… James Tedesco to keep the NSW fullback debate aflame with another sizzling performance. TIP: Tigers by 7
Saturday, 7.30pm: North Queensland Cowboys v St George Illawarra Dragons @ 1300SMILES Stadium
The Cowboys have to dust themselves off after an unbelievable grand final rematch, but Thurston and co. are sure to be fired up to treat their fans on Saturday night. The Dragons, though, have reeled off consecutive two-point wins over Souths and Penrith, impressing with their composure. The Saints are still finding points hard to come by, and the Cowboys’ organised defence won’t make it easy for them – a factor that should see the home side salute in comfortable fashion.
I can’t wait for… Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote is being talked about as a St George Illawarra target for 2017 – possibly as a five-eighth. We’ll be watching his audition with interest. TIP: Cowboys by 12
Sunday, 2.00pm: Sydney Roosters v Warriors @ Central Coast Stadium
The NRL’s two most maligned outfits in 2016 square off in Gosford, although the Warriors relieved the pressure with a big win over Newcastle – despite producing an ordinary first-half performance. The Roosters were very good in a physical match against the Sea Eagles, robbed of a breakthrough win by the Bunker. Both sides are still struggling to gel, and it’s the game-breakers – Johnson, RTS and Luke for the Warriors, Nikorima, Ferguson and Mitchell for the Roosters – that hold the key on Sunday.
I can’t wait for… Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to show the Roosters exactly what they’re missing by scoring his first try in Warriors colours…and then another. TIP: Warriors by 8
This weekends game should be interesting! #VsRoosters
— Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (@Tuivasasheck) March 30, 2016
Sunday, 4.00pm: Parramatta Eels v Penrith Panthers @ Pirtek Stadium
It’s an important western Sydney derby with the Panthers desperate for a second win and the Eels keen to maintain their three-game roll. The Panthers proved they can compete with any team in the NRL by upsetting Brisbane in Round 3, before an honourable loss at Wollongong last Sunday. But the Eels have been a real surprise packet, their big buys coming up trumps in consecutive grinding wins over the Cowboys, Bulldogs and Tigers. The Panthers welcome back their new captain from injury, but it’s unlikely to be enough to penetrate the Parramatta wall.
I can’t wait for… Matt Moylan’s comeback – it could make or break the Panthers’ season. TIP: Eels by 10
Monday, 7.00pm: Canterbury Bulldogs v Canberra Raiders @ Belmore Sports Ground
Belmore baby! The Bulldogs’ return to their spiritual home was a massive success in 2015 and another bumper crowd should turn out there again on Monday to see their in-form team. The Raiders threw one away last week against the Titans and can’t afford to get too far behind the front-runners in a tight competition, but star halves Austin and Sezer are back this week. The Green Machine’s rugged pack needs to replicate what the Panthers and Eels did against the big Bulldogs, but the Belmore factor should get the blue-and-whites over the line.
I can’t wait for… Reynolds and Mbye going up against Austin and Sezer – three genuine Blues halves candidates, and another Laurie Daley probably wishes was a New South Welshman. TIP: Bulldogs by 4
ROUND 5 MOST AT STAKE
A bad start is certainly not insurmountable given the NRL’s remarkable parity, but you get the feeling the Roosters’ finals chances are cooked if they go 0-5.
THE SELECTION TABLE
- Apisai Koroisau is Daly Cherry-Evans’ replacement in the Manly No.7.
- Sam and Tom Burgess return for Souths.
- Broncos three-quarters Jack Reed and Corey Oates return at the expense of Lachlan Maranta and Greg Eden.
- Ben Hampton replaces injured rookie Curtis Scott in the Melbourne centres.
- Paul Gallen comes back from injury for Cronulla, with Gerard Beale dropping out of the 17.
- Javid Bowen will debut in the place of the injured Kane Linnett – the first change to the Cowboys’ 17 in eight matches.
- Benji Marshall will be back in the No.6 for St George Illawarra.
- Matt Moylan comes back at the expense of Will Smith as Penrith’s fullback.
- Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer return for the Raiders, with Sam Williams and Brenko Lee heading to NSW Cup.
Matt Moylan is back! pic.twitter.com/zHrHC5nHXO
— The81stMinute (@The81stMinute) March 29, 2016
- Souths have won just two of their last 10 at Brookvale.
- The Titans have won just two of their last 13 against the Broncos.
- Newcastle has won three of its last four against Melbourne, including two of the last three at AAMI Park.
- Cronulla’s last win at Campbelltown was in 2002.
- St George Illawarra’s last win in Townsville was in 2005.
- The Warriors are chasing their first win outside Auckland since Round 15 last year.
- The Raiders lost their last four matches at Belmore, last tasting victory over the Bulldogs there in 1990.
- Two of the game’s most exciting young hookers, Matt Parcell and Cameron McInnes.
- Former Bronco Josh Hoffman and former Titan James Roberts will have a feisty centre battle.
- State of Origin replay (or preview?): Cronk v Hodkinson.
- Likely NSW teammates Aaron Woods and Andrew Fifita have both been in magnificent form.
- Combatants in the 2005 grand final and numerous Tests, JT v Benji is always entertaining.
- RTS versus his promising replacement, Latrell Mitchell.
- Impact backrowers Kenny Edwards and Tyrone Peachey have key roles to play off the bench.
- Greg Eastwood and Shaun Fensom have both been in great touch in the No.13.
— Big League (@bigleaguemag) March 28, 2016
Tony Williams makes his 150th NRL appearance, while injury-prone teammate Chase Stanley makes his 100th – in his 10th season in the top flight.
@Middleton_David hey mate, is there anyway of telling if Chase Stanley’s 10 year run to 100 games is the longest for that milestone? Thanks!
— Jack Brady (@JackBraydes) March 31, 2016
Jacob Lillyman the 11th player – and the second Australian after Micheal Luck – to bring up 150 first-grade appearances for the Warriors.
.@Jlillyman will play his 150th for the club against the Roosters
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) March 29, 2016
Manu Vatuvei is just three tries away from becoming the 11th player in history to post 150 first-grade tries, after joining Bob Fulton on 147 touchdowns last weekend. Brett Stewart is only one try away from equalling Terry Lamb’s total of 164 career tries in fifth spot on the all-time list.
THIS WEEK IN HISTORY
2009: Wayne Bennett enjoyed a triumphant return to Suncorp Stadium as his Dragons scored a 25-12 win over the Broncos, with Wendell Sailor scoring a try for the Saints.
1999: Warriors stars Matthew Ridge and Nigel Vagana were suspended for three matches after manhandling referee Paul Simpkins in a 17-8 loss to Balmain at Leichhardt Oval.
1995: News Ltd changed the face of rugby league on April Fool’s Day by announcing its plans to form a breakaway competition under the Super League banner. On the field, Norths pummelled Auckland 48-10, the Broncos whipped the Crushers in the first-ever Brisbane derby, and the Dragons outlasted the Bulldogs 22-18.