NRL ROUND 7 PREVIEW
DRAGONS v BRONCOS
Friday, 7.35pm AEST at Jubilee Oval
The storyline: Two lengthy winning streaks – and top spot on the ladder – go on the line is this unlikely Friday night blockbuster.
The form guide: The Saints have won four straight after dropping their first two, producing their most emphatic display yet in Round 6 against the under-strength Bulldogs – a bruising 31-6 win. The Broncos have won five in a row, including a pulsating 22-18 golden point victory over the Roosters last up.
The selection table: Justin Hodges returns at centre, with Dale Copley moving out to the wing and Corey Oates to the bench as Jarrod Wallace cools his heels on a one-week suspension. Will Matthews replaces the suspended Tyson Frizell in the only change to the Dragons’ line-up.
The match-up: Benji Marshall put on a ball-playing master-class last Sunday, while Ben Hunt came up with the stunning match-winner against the Roosters; their No.7 showdown will be a beauty.
The history: The Broncos hold a 19-13 advantage since 1999 – including the last eight in a row.
The last time they met: The Broncos prevailed 30-22 in the penultimate round despite the infamous sin-binning of Matt Gillett at a crucial stage.
The stat: Wayne Bennett has won just two of his last 14 coaching in Broncos-Dragons games.
The verdict: It’s a tantalising clash, but Frizell is a big out and the Broncos’ all-star pack should be too strong, laying the platform for Hunt, Milford and Hodges to slap on the polish in a close one. Broncos by 6
BULLDOGS v SEA EAGLES
Friday, 7.35pm AEST at ANZ Stadium
The storyline: A match that carries far greater implications than its traditional grudge match billing, with Manly anchored to the foot of the ladder and Canterbury battling an injury and suspension predicament.
The form guide: The undermanned Bulldogs crumbled to a 31-6 loss to the Dragons as the fallout from their explosive Good Friday defeat to Souths continued, while the Sea Eagles sunk to their fourth loss in a row, a tough 22-12 defeat to the Panthers after leading at halftime.
The selection table: Josh Reynolds will start in the No.6 with Moses Mbye dropping back to the Bulldogs’ bench; Josh Morris and Tim Browne are in doubt. Jamie Lyon returns for Manly, which sees Brayden Williame move to the wing for injured rookie Tom Trbojevic. James Hasson replaces Jesse Sene-Lefao on the bench.
The match-up: Origin reps Trent Hodkinson and Daly Cherry-Evans are struggling for form at present – if either can find it on Friday, it will give their side a massive leg up. The high-profile No.7s are both under pressure to retain their Origin spots.
The history: The Sea Eagles hold a 63-53-5 advantage, including 6-5 at ANZ Stadium.
The last time they met: The Bulldogs grinded out an ugly 16-12 win at an even uglier Brookvale Oval in Round 3.
The stat: Manly and Canterbury have produced two golden point games in their last four clashes.
The verdict: The Bulldogs’ long list of absentees is more crippling than the Sea Eagles’ crisis of confidence, and the class of Foran, Cherry-Evans and Lyon should get the maroon-and-whites home. Sea Eagles by 7
TITANS v PANTHERS
Saturday, 3pm AEST at Cbus Super Stadium
The storyline: The tables have turned since Penrith’s Round 2 mauling of Gold Coast, with the Panthers battling a shocking injury toll and the Titans hitting a rich vein of form.
The form guide: The Titans notched their second win in three outings last week, a stunning 38-16 away upset of Parramatta. The Panthers arrested a three-game losing streak by subduing Manly 22-12 in Round 6, but the result was overshadowed by the season-ending injury suffered by Jamal Idris.
The selection table: Beau Falloon returns from suspension at hooker, with Kierran Moseley going back to the Titans’ bench as suspended Eddy Pettybourne drops off. Robert Jennings has been named to debut for the Panthers in the place of injured centre Jamal Idris.
The match-up: James Segeyaro has been Penrith’s best this year and takes on far greater responsibility – in attack and in a leadership capacity – with both first-choice halves out. Beau Falloon’s return is a big plus for Gold Coast, and his rotation with Segeyaro’s former understudy, Moseley, will be central to the Titans’ hopes on Saturday.
The history: The Panthers have won eight and the Titans four of 12 clashes.
The last time they met: The Panthers pumped the embattled Titans 40-0 in Bathurst in Round 2.
The stat: The Titans have not scored more than 20 points in their last 15 home games.
The verdict: The Titans’ home record is woeful, but they have key players – Sezer, Roberts, Bird and Myles – in great form, and the Panthers’ inexperience in the halves and in the centres will be telling. Titans by 8
COWBOYS v WARRIORS
Saturday, 5.30pm AEST at 1300Smiles Stadium
The storyline: Johnathan Thurston is aiming to keep his blistering form streak going in his 250th NRL game against the brilliant-but-erratic Shaun Johnson and the equally inscrutable Warriors.
The form guide: The Cowboys have won three straight, culminating in a superb 30-12 away victory over Souths after trailing 12-4. The Warriors ended a dismal fortnight with a promising, yet scratchy, 32-22 defeat of Wests Tigers.
The selection table: Both sides are unchanged, although Raymond Faitala-Mariner will be the Warriors’ 18th man for the first time.
The match-up: Shaun Johnson has improved over the last three weeks, culminating in his first try and a confident running game against the Tigers. He is building back toward his Golden Boot-winning form, albeit slowly. Johnathan Thurston, meanwhile, produced his third straight man-of-the-match performance against the Rabbitohs, a spell-binding display that reignited the debate as to whether he is the best ever.
The history: The Warriors are 18-15 ahead in the all-time tally, but the Cowboys have won 10 of 15 in Townsville.
The last time they met: The Warriors sprung a Konrad Hurrell-inspired 20-16 upset at 1300SMILES Stadium in Round 3 last year.
The stat: Ominous signs for the Warriors as 13 of the teams’ last 15 clashes have been won by the home side, while the Cowboys have won 12 of their last 14 home games; last season’s upset was an anomaly on two fronts.
The verdict: As always, it depends what Warriors side turns up – and the Cowboys will be wary of Johnson, Hurrell, Lolohea and co. catching them on the hop. But Thurston’s devastating form, heading into a milestone game, is enough to deserve favouritism on its own, while Matt Scott and Jason Taumololo will lead the way up front. Strap yourself in for a thriller. Cowboys by 2
STORM v ROOSTERS
Saturday, 7.30pm AEST at AAMI Park
The storyline: Melbourne continues to defy the critics while the heavyweight Sydney Roosters are on a two-game losing run; this blockbuster could be a turning point in both clubs’ campaigns.
The form guide: The Storm backed up an Easter Monday drubbing of the Warriors with a stoic 14-10 away win over Canberra. The Roosters were trumped by the Broncos in golden point, compounding their upset loss to the Sharks in Round 5.
The selection table: The Storm are unchanged but have named an eight-man bench. Jake Friend makes his first start of the year with Matt McIlwrick slipping back to the Roosters’ bench, while Dylan Napa starts for the suspended Sam Moa and Lagi Setu joins the interchange.
The match-up: An Origin preview? Mitchell Pearce is gunning for a NSW recall and he can take a giant step towards that by outplaying Queensland halfback Cooper Cronk. The Roosters No.7 will not have enjoyed being overshadowed by Broncos linchpin Ben Hunt last Friday.
The history: The Roosters are 14-13 in front in the tally, while four previous games at AAMI Park have been shared two-all.
The last time they met: The Roosters overcame the Storm 24-12 in a high-quality encounter in Sydney in Round 25 last season.
The stat: The Roosters are one of only two current clubs with a winning record against Melbourne, the other being Canterbury.
The verdict: This is a crunch game for the Roosters and they badly need a complete performance from their halves. As impressive as the Storm have been, the continued absence of Billy Slater is a setback – particularly with in-form Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in the Tricolours’ No.1 jumper. Jesse Bromwich’s battle with the vaunted Roosters pack will be crucial. Expect the Roosters to get over the line late in a tight and tough one. Roosters by 6
WESTS TIGERS v RAIDERS
Sunday, 2pm AEST at Leichhardt Oval
The storyline: Two improving clubs desperately seeking a victory to stay in touch with the premiership pace-setters after honourable Round 6 losses.
The form guide: The Tigers fought back on multiple occasions but ultimately couldn’t land the go-ahead blow in a 32-22 loss to the Warriors, leaving them with a 3-3 record. The 2-4 Raiders were gritty last week against the Storm, but they will view their 14-10 loss – after which coach Ricky Stuart said his team were the better side on the day – as a lost opportunity.
The selection table: The Tigers are unchanged. Shaun Fensom has been named for the Raiders despite leaving the field with what looked like a serious ankle injury last week, while hooker Josh Hodgson is also in doubt.
The match-up: These relatively inexperienced line-ups need a strong platform to work off the back of, which makes the front-row showdown between Tigers bookend Aaron Woods and Raiders enforcer Josh Papalii – the incumbent Kangaroos starting props – extra important. It is also a tremendous opportunity to push their case for retention when the Anzac Test squad is read out a week later.
The history: The Tigers have won 17 and the Raiders 11 of 28 clashes.
The last time they met: The Raiders scored a commanding 27-12 win in Canberra in Round 25 last year.
The stat: Canberra has not won at Leichhardt Oval since 2003.
The verdict: Both sides haves shown plenty of promise after finishing in the bottom-four last season, but both have grappled with an inability to close out tight matches. The cloud hanging over Fensom and Hodgson is a concern for Raiders backers, and the home-ground advantage is a strong factor in the relatively settled Tigers’ favour. Tigers by 8
KNIGHTS v EELS
Sunday, 4pm AEST at Hunter Stadium
The storyline: The wheels have fallen off for both teams over the last fortnight after strong starts to the season respectively – the Knights and Eels have reached an early crossroads.
The form guide: The Knights have been embarrassed by the Dragons (13-0) and Sharks (22-6) in their last two outings, while the Eels’ efforts in defeats to the Tigers (22-6) and Titans (38-16) have been equally unimpressive.
The selection table: Another week of Newcastle coach Rick Stone pointlessly naming Sione Mata’utia as 18th man, with No.14 Tyler Randell inevitably the player to miss out again. Tariq Sims and Jarrod Mullen are under a cloud. The Eels are unchanged, but Richie Fa’aoso has been included as 18th man.
The match-up: Newcastle’s fullback double-act of Kurt Gidley and Sione Mata’utia has exceeded its use-by date, with the Knights’ winning run glossing over its ineffectiveness. Mata’utia is struggling to get a genuine feel for the game by being brought on late. The teenage international goes head-to-head with Will Hopoate, who has been solid in Jarryd Hayne’s shoes but probably needs to be offering the Eels more in attack. Both started the season as strong NSW hopefuls but require some big performances in coming weeks to add to their rep tallies.
The history: Newcastle 26 wins, Parramatta 19, draws 1. The Knights hold a 17-6 lead in matches at Hunter Stadium.
The last time they met: The Knights spoiled the Eels’ finals hopes with a 42-12 victory in Newcastle in Round 25 last season.
The stat: The Knights are on a seven-match winning streak against the Eels and have scored 96 points in the clubs’ last two meetings at Hunter Stadium.
The verdict: Neither side has shown anything like competent form over the last two weeks, which makes this a difficult clash to get a handle on. But Parramatta’s humiliating record on the road is way too ugly to get on board with. Newcastle has a greater capacity for quick improvement, and their strong home record should carry them over the line on Sunday. Knights by 12
SHARKS v RABBITOHS
Monday, 7pm AEDT at Remondis Stadium
The storyline: The Rabbitohs soldier on without injured linchpin Adam Reynolds and attempt to get back on track against a resurgent Sharks outfit that has claimed two big scalps.
The form guide: The Sharks followed up a stirring Easter Sunday upset of the Roosters with a dominant 22-6 defeat of the Knights. The Rabbitohs were overrun 30-12 by the Cowboys as they battle to come to grips with the temporary loss of Reynolds.
The selection table: Sam Tagatese comes in for the suspended Andrew Fifita, while Jayson Bukuya and Tinirau Arona have been named on an extended bench with one of them to replace the injured David Fifita. Glenn Stewart has been named as Souths’ five-eighth again. Dylan Walker has been rumoured as possible returnee from a broken hand, while John Sutton could also make a surprise return.
The match-up: Versatile rookie Jack Bird has come up trumps for Cronulla two weeks in a row at five-eighth, scoring three tries and causing headaches for opposition defences with his robust running and ball-playing class. Glenn Stewart was thrust into the pivot role for Souths on Monday but was not as effectiveness as he has been in the backrow; he gets the chance to atone this weekend.
The history: The Sharks boast a 42-37-3 record against the Rabbitohs, including a 28-12-1 record at home.
The last time they met: The Rabbitohs surged to an 18-0 shutout at Remondis Stadium in Round 11, 2014.
The stat: The Sharks have lost five straight Monday night games.
The verdict: Cronulla’s effort to turn their season around after four straight losses is admirable, but the Fifita brothers are a big loss – despite the club’s excellent forward depth. Expect the premiers to exhibit a steely resolve this Monday, while they have had an extra week of training to adapt without linchpin Adam Reynolds and the Stewart-Keary combination should run far smoother than it did against the Cowboys. Greg Inglis will be fired up for a big game after being outshone by Johnathan Thurston in last Monday’s battle of the superstars. The plucky Sharks are set to bear the brunt of a Rabbitohs backlash. Rabbitohs by 10