Canterbury Bulldogs v Brisbane Broncos – 8.05pm (AEST), Thursday, March 30 @ ANZ Stadium
The Storyline: Desperation. All the talk over the past week has been how Canterbury’s solid forward pack has been muzzled. Playing at home against the steadily improving Broncos, who have two wins in four games, this is a must-win game for the Bulldogs to silence their own doubt – as well as the talk around their embattled coach Des Hasler.
The Stat: 54 points. The Bulldogs have the worst attacking record in the competition going into Round 5. Aside from posting a 24-10 win against the Warriors, James Graham’s men have struggled to cross the try-line.
It’s a big game for: Josh Reynolds. With Moses Mbye absent, the former New South Wales half has no choice but to lead his team around the pack.
Last time they met: Brisbane comfortably accounted for the Bulldogs 20-10 at Suncorp Stadium, with Jordan Kahu kicking four goals – though the match is perhaps best remembered for Sam Kasiano’s boot to Corey Parker’s chops.
The Verdict: Brisbane will be enamoured by some close wins this year plus their young forward pack’s performance. Canterbury doesn’t have the creativity at the moment to threaten a big pack like the Queenslanders’ possess. Broncos by 8.
Sydney Roosters v Manly Sea Eagles – 6.00pm (AEST), Friday 31 March @ Allianz Stadium
The Storyline: The Roosters are crowing at the top of the NRL ladder with four wins in a row. It’s a huge reversal of form for Trent Robinson’s side, as last year they started with five losses on the trot. Admittedly they’ve yet to face a Melbourne or a Brisbane so far – but winning breeds winning. Manly clicked into gear with Daly Cherry-Evans inspiring his side to a couple of good wins against North Queensland and Canterbury and sixth on the ladder.
The Stat: 12 tries. That’s how many Sydney’s back three of Michael Gordon, Daniel Tupou and Latrell Mitchell have scored this year. Manly will need to watch out for the Roosters’ kick returns and support play, as Mitchell in particular is in excellent form.
It’s a big game for: Daly Cherry-Evans. He’s managed to spark the Manly machine into life, but can he do it against Mitchell Pearce and a red-hot Roosters?
Last time they met: Manly won a close game 22-20. Jamie Lyon’s goal kicking was the difference – he kicked five from five – even though the Roosters score four tries to three.
The Verdict: A close one to call. The Chooks will get home on the back of Mitchell Pearce and their aforementioned backline being able to make up good yardage. Manly will stay in the contest but the Roosters to sneak home by 4.
North Queensland Cowboys v South Sydney Rabbitohs – 7.05pm (AEST), Friday 31 March @ 1300 SMILES STADIUM
The Storyline: It’s Rabbit hunting season in the O.K Corral – a.k.a. 1300 SMILES Stadium – and the Cowboys will want to continue their ‘winning is grinning’ start to the season with another easy scalp. The Bunnies have had a fluctuating start to their campaign, with their latest a 6-20 loss against the Roosters.
The Stat: 64 points. That’s how many the Cowboys have scored against the Rabbitohs in their last two games. North Queensland aren’t renowned for cricket scores in attack but they are fond of the try line against the Rabbitohs.
It’s a big game for: Thomas Burgess. The English international is returning from a stint in reserve grade and will be burning to prove he belongs in South’s starting side.
Last time they met: A 20-0 shut-out by North Queensland at Barlow Park in 2016.
The Verdict: The Cowboys at home are always a tough ask and the Rabbitohs aren’t in peak form. South Sydney are still struggling in attack and they will need more than Adam Reynolds to pull the strings in the backline. North Queensland will also feel like this is a golden chance to entrench themselves in the top four early in the season. Cowboys by 14.
Cronulla Sharks v Newcastle Knights – 3.00pm (AEST), Saturday 1 April @ Southern Cross Group Stadium
The Storyline: Cronulla are a wobbly 1-3, whereas the Knights aren’t even in the picture in 15th place. But the reining premiers have been solid even in their losses, with six and eight-point margins, plus blitzing Canberra with 42 points. Newcastle had a drought-breaking win but if they were looking to build on it, playing at Shark Park isn’t the ideal scenario.
The Stat: 116 points. The Knights have leaked almost twice as many points as Cronulla (64) – and we are only in Round 5. Ominous.
It’s a big game for: Danny Levi. The Wellington-born hooker has played every game this year and has been a steady, smart operator. If he overshadows young Jayden Brailey then it may help give back some dominance to his side.
Last time they met: The Sharks romped home 36-4 in Round 20 last year, with the back-five of Barba, Holmes, Bird, Beale and Feki scoring all eight tries.
The Verdict: The Sharks will eat the Knights for afternoon tea. It could be viewed as a potential banana-skin game for the home side. But fish don’t go for too much fruit. Andrew Fifita, Matt Prior and Paul Gallen have led the way for the Sharks, with James Maloney and Chad Townsend continuing their smooth partnership. The Knights have shown spirit at times but the Sharks will be too strong across the park. Sharks by 16.
Canberra Raiders v Parramatta Eels – 5.30pm (AEST), Saturday 1 April @ GIO Stadium
The Storyline: Would you have picked the Eels to be ahead of the Raiders after a few rounds? I thought not. Parramatta started the season with two wins and sit in ninth place. Conversely, Canberra have had a big win, a big loss and mixed performances in at eleventh on the ladder. It hurts my head just to think about both teams’ form.
The Stat: 74. Parramatta have scored exactly the same amount of points in attack than the have conceded. They can’t go through the year with that kind of differential – they need to score points.
It’s a big game for: Dave Taylor. The big forward provided impact in his only match so far for the Green Machine. Can he continue his pleasing form off the bench?
Last time they met: Canberra prevailed 28-18 with winger Brenko Lee scoring four tries. Lee is now with the Bulldogs.
The Verdict: Buoyed by their 46-6 rout of the Tigers – yes the Wests were awful that day – I think Canberra will be too strong at home. Coach Ricky Stuart will be mindful of the Eels’ erratic start to the season too. Canberra are going ok – but aren’t yet the blistering team of 2016. Raiders by 8.
Melbourne Storm v Penrith Panthers – 7.30pm (AEST), Saturday 1 April @ AAMI Park
The Storyline: this could be intriguing. Melbourne have started off like they doing most seasons – winning tough and winning early – to sit 2nd on the ladder. They face a Penrith side that have showed a thirst for points as well as a steely defensive resolve. Billy Slater continues his comeback at home, much to the delight of their vocal supporters.
The Stat: 6 wins. That’s right – the Melbourne Storm have won six of their past seven matches stretching back to last year (they lost the Grand Final). They have the momentum.
It’s a big game for: Ryley Jacks. The young Storm five-eighth has impressed in the early rounds and needs to continue this form.
Last time they met: Melbourne recorded a simple 24-6 win against the Panthers in Round 13 last year at AAMI Park.
The Verdict: not many teams can stop the Storm in this type of form. Barring their own mistakes, the Storm should easily account for the Panthers and keep their perfect record in tact this year. Storm by 10.
New Zealand Warriors v Gold Coast Titans – 2.00pm (AEST), Sunday 2 April @ Mt Smart Stadium
The Storyline: have you heard the one about the two struggling teams who, after facing each other in Round 5, managed to turn their season around with a convincing win? This story arc could apply to both the Warriors and the Titans. Both have recorded one win from four games and languish down in 14th and 12th on the ladder. It can only get better for two.
The Stat: 30 points. That’s how many more points the Titans have scored compared with the Warriors. The Gold Coast have managed 90 points to the Auckland-based side’s 60. In saying that, the Titans have conceded 14 more than their opposition on the Sunday.
It’s a big game for: Kieran Foran. Touch wood, the Kiwis five-eighth will make his long-awaited debut for the Warriors. Rather than an easy transition, he will be thrown into a furnace of low confidence and a gun-shy attack. Foran needs to lead quickly. A crucial game.
Last time they met: the Warriors nabbed a solid 24-14 win at Robina, scoring five tries to three. Solomone Kata scored a double.
The Verdict: the Warriors can only get better and another game at home should help. Foran’s presence alone will take the side up a couple of levels. Warriors by 2.
Wests Tigers v St George Illawarra Dragons – 4.00pm (AEST), Sunday 2 April @ ANZ Stadium
The Storyline: the embattled Tigers go into Round 5 last on the ladder with a new (interim) coach and injuries (halfback Luke Brooks is unavailable this week with a hamstring injury). St George has started the season well, with three wins from four games and a chance to solidify themselves in the top four. Even though the Dragons’ attack has stuttered, they will be out to pour points – and lots of misery – on a Tigers side who need something to spark them.
The Stat: after their 34-18 win against Souths in Round 1, the Tigers have only scored 22 points in three games. It won’t be enough against the Dragon’s clinical backline, let alone their dominating forward pack.
It’s a big game for: Mitchell Moses. With no Brooks, he will need to control the plays. Moses is off contract next season and is playing for is future. A game against the Dragons – who the Tigers have had fairly consistent success against (around one win every two games) – could give him the opportunities to show his all round game.
Last time they met: the Tigers prevailed 25-12 in a professional performance at Stadium Australia, outscoring the Dragons six tries to three.
The Verdict: the Tigers played well against the Storm and will need to do the same against the Dragons. Yet St George will feel there is more at stake with a big win to keep them in the four. Dragons by 12.