NRL ROUND 8 PREVIEW
BULLDOGS v TIGERS
Friday, 7.35pm AEST @ ANZ Stadium
The storyline: The Bulldogs and Tigers clash for the second time in a month – an anomaly Tigers coach Jason Taylor bizarrely teed off about this week, labelling it ‘unfair’. Has he already conceded defeat?
The form guide: Hampered by a glut of injury and suspension absentees, the Bulldogs recovered from their shellacking at the hands of St George Illawarra by outlasting a woeful Manly outfit 28-16 five days later in Round 7. Under-fire halves Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds produced a much-improved display, but are still short of their best. The Tigers have lost two on the trot, going down 32-22 to the Warriors in Round 6 and inexplicably coughing up a 22-0 lead to lose 30-22 to Canberra at Leichhardt Oval last Sunday. The Bulldogs are fifth with a 4-3 record, but are ranked ninth in attack and defence. The 3-4 Tigers are sitting in ninth, with seventh-ranked attack and eighth-ranked defence.
The selection table: Josh Morris was named to return from injury to partner Chase Stanley in the centres but has again been forced to withdraw, while Tim Browne is back in the front-row and Sam Kasiano comes back from suspension on the bench. Matt Lodge joins the Tigers’ bench with Keith Galloway out injured; Ava Seumanufagai goes into the front-row.
The match-up :Five-eighths Josh Reynolds (Bulldogs) and Mitchell Moses (Tigers) have not produced anywhere near the football they are capable of in 2015, but both players are undeniable game-breakers. If either can impart their influence on the contest on Friday night it will give their side a massive boost.
The history: Canterbury holds an 18-10 advantage in 28 matches since 2000, including 10-6 at ANZ Stadium.
The last time they met: The Bulldogs overturned an 18-points deficit before Moses Mbye clinched a 25-24 golden point success in Round 4 this year.
The stat: James Tedesco has crossed for six tries in his last six outings at ANZ Stadium.
The verdict :The Bulldogs are still well short of full-strength – Graham, Klemmer, Lafai and Brett Morris are still to come back – but Galloway is a big out for the Tigers, leaving Aaron Woods as something of a one-man band in the pack. The Tigers hold an edge in the backline with Tedesco and Brooks in great form, but the key will be whether their forwards can lay a suitable platform. The Tigers have arguably shown more over the last fortnight than the Dogs, and they are worth taking – despite Taylor’s pessimism. Tigers by 2.
WARRIORS v TITANS
Saturday, 12.00pm AEST @ Mt Smart Stadium
The storyline: The five-match Anzac Day marathon kicks off with a vital encounter in Auckland, with the visiting in-form Titans looking to overcome a dismal recent record against the enigmatic Warriors.
The form guide: The Warriors came agonisingly close to pulling off an away upset over the Cowboys in Round 7, leading for 75 minutes before going down 28-24 in the dying stages. An inexcusable number of handling errors brought the Warriors undone once again. The 11th-placed side have the fourth-best attack and the 13th-ranked defence in the competition. The Titans are riding high after winning three of their last four – including commanding wins over Parramatta (38-16) and Penrith (32-6) in the last fortnight. Rookie halfback Kane Elgey has been a real find, while James Roberts sits atop the NRL’s tryscoring ladder. Currently in 12th, the Titans boast the premiership’s sixth-best attack and 12th-ranked defence.
The selection table: Warriors coach Andrew McFadden has sprung a surprise by bringing David Fusitu’a, who returned from a long injury layoff in NSW Cup a fortnight ago, in at centre at the expense of Konrad Hurrell. Sam Rapira also comes back into first grade after a long break for impressive rookie Albert Vete, and will be joined on the bench by debutant Raymond Faitala-Mariner, who replaces Dominique Peyroux. The Titans will be without forwards Agnatius Paasi, Ryan Simpkins and the suspended David Taylor, but Nate Myles returns at prop, Lachlan Burr replaces Taylor in the second-row and Matt Robinson comes onto the bench along with Eddy Pettybourne, who sat out last week with suspension.
The match-up: Ben Matulino has been one of the NRL’s form forwards, ranked seventh in the NRL for runs and run metres, and equal-first for offloads. His marquee front-row battle with Titans co-captain Myles will set the tone for the afternoon.
The history: The Warriors hold a 10-6 advantage in matches against the Titans since 2007, including 5-2 at Mt Smart.
The last time they met: The Warriors whipped the Titans 42-0 in Auckland in Round 25 last year.
The stat: The Warriors have won eight straight in the rivalry, with the Titans’ last win coming during the 2010 finals.
The verdict: The Titans’ outstanding form over the last month can’t be ignored, but the Warriors have been building ever so slowly and have to be favoured at home. The hosts must contain James Roberts, but their plethora of game-breakers – Johnson, Lolohea, Townsend and Kata – gives them a significant edge. Warriors by 8
KNIGHTS v COWBOYS
Saturday, 2.00pm AEST @ Hunter Stadium
The storyline: Two clubs tied on the NRL ladder, but at opposite ends of the form spectrum, come together at Hunter Stadium on Anzac Day afternoon. The Cowboys are aiming for five straight, while the Knights are vying to end a three-match losing streak.
The form guide: The wheels have fallen off for Newcastle after their 4-0 start to the year, following up dismal losses to the Saints and Sharks with a 28-22 home defeat to the erratic Eels in Round 7. The forward dominance and clinical finishing that marked their early winning streak has been sorely lacking in recent weeks. The Cowboys got out of jail against the bumbling Warriors, with hooker Jake Granville diving over from dummy-half twice in the final 11 minutes to snatch a 28-24 win and extend their winning run to four games. Locked in a share of fourth, the Cowboys are ranked equal-fifth in attack and 14th in defence while the Knights have the 14th-best attacking stats and are sixth defensively.
The selection table: The out-of-sorts Knights are unchanged. After wearing the No.18 all season but taking his place on the bench in the first six rounds, Sione Mata’utia actually fulfilled 18th man duties last Sunday with Tyler Randell grabbing an interchange spot. The Cowboys have named the same side that accounted for the Warriors last weekend.
The match-up: Besides a couple of kick-off snafus, Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote was brilliant against the Warriors, scoring a try and threatening every time he touched the ball with his speed and playmaking instincts. Veteran Knights skipper Kurt Gidley is in the frame for a remarkable Test recall if he can produce a sound display this week.
The history: The Knights have won 19 and the Cowboys 14 of 33 clashes since 1995, including a 12-5 record at Hunter Stadium.
The last time they met: The Knights pulled off a 16-14 upset in Townsville in Round 2 after trailing 14-0 during the first half.
The stat: This will be just the Cowboys’ second daylight game since the start of 2014.
The verdict: It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what has gone wrong for the Knights, losing all form with a virtually unchanged line-up – and getting back on track against a Cowboys side that is firing on all cylinders will prove a tall order. The out-of-sorts hosts will struggle to contain the Cowboys with Thurston, Coote, Morgan, Granville and Taumololo all hitting their straps in recent weeks. Cowboys by 12
ROOSTERS v DRAGONS
Saturday, 4.00pm AEST @ Allianz Stadium
The storyline: The traditional Anzac Day encounter sees St George Illawarra as shock joint competition leaders on the back of a five-match winning streak, while the heavyweight Sydney Roosters have fallen in a hole over the last three weeks and are desperate to right their wobbly ship.
The form guide: After being shocked by Cronulla on Easter Sunday, the Roosters went down 22-18 to Brisbane in golden point and were edged out 17-16 by Melbourne in a quality encounter at AAMI Park. Despite sitting in eighth with a 3-4 record, the Roosters boast the best attack and third-best defence in the NRL. The Dragons’ five-match winning streak culminated in a courageous 12-10 defeat of the front-running Broncos; Englishman Mike Cooper stood up in Frizell’s absence and scored a stunning match-winner, while Benji Marshall and Josh Dugan have been in tremendous touch. The Saints have conceded 30 points less than any other club, while their attack is ranked 15th in the competition, scoring just two points more than last-placed Manly.
The selection table: The Roosters have been dealt a blow with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves ruled out for six weeks; Sam Moa returns from suspension to partner Dylan Napa in the front-row, while Lagi Setu and Willie Manu retain their bench spots. The Dragons go in with an unchanged line-up, in-form forward Tyson Frizell still with a week to serve on a high-tackle suspension.
The match-up: Benji Marshall is on the cusp of a New Zealand Test re-call, while Mitchell Pearce is gunning to reclaim his NSW Origin spot. The No.7s have started the season strongly, although Pearce’s form has tapered off in recent weeks while Marshall has steered the surprise packet Dragons around brilliantly.
The history: The Saints hold a 17-14-1 lead in the all-time tally against the Roosters since 1999, but the Roosters are 12-9 against the Dragons at Allianz.
The last time they met: The Roosters prevailed 30-22 in Round 21 last year, while they chalked up an emphatic 34-14 scoreline on Anzac Day 12 months ago.
The stat: The Roosters are on a five-match winning streak at the Dragons’ expense.
The verdict: The Tricolours have been strong in being pipped at the post by quality sides Brisbane and Melbourne, and they should have the forward power and game-breakers out wide to break down the Dragons’ ironclad defence. Expect the Roosters to continue their run of wins against the Saints in the tightest Anzac Day showdown in years. Roosters by 2
STORM v SEA EAGLES
Saturday, 6.15pm AEST @ AAMI Park
The storyline: It’s one of the NRL’s traditional heavyweight grudge matches with a difference as Melbourne unexpectedly sail along on top of the ladder and Manly remains anchored to the bottom.
The form guide: The Storm have gone about their business in trademark clinical, unassuming fashion, winning their last three despite being without Slater for the last fortnight. After a gritty 14-10 away win over the Raiders, they pipped the Roosters 17-16 in a high-quality thriller in Round 7. Melbourne boast the third-best attack and second-best defence in the NRL. The Sea Eagles have lost five straight, culminating in a listless 28-16 loss to a vastly under-strength Bulldogs side after leading early in the second stanza. The embattled club has the worst attack and equal-worst defence in the competition.
The selection table: Cooper Cronk and potential halfback replacement Ben Hampton are in serious doubt, but Billy Slater could make a surprise return. Brett Stewart is also in line to come back from injury despite not being named, while Kieran Foran has been described as a ‘touch and go’ proposition. Jamie Lyon is also out for the Sea Eagles.
The match-up: Makeshift fullbacks Cameron Munster (Melbourne) and Peta Hiku (Manly) can have a major say on the outcome of Saturday evening’s clash. The 20-year-old Munster, who had played just one NRL game before this season, has impressed after stepping into Slater’s shoes, while incumbent Kiwis fullback can stake a claim for Test retention with a big game at AAMI Park. However, if the mail is correct, it may instead be a showdown between two old rivals, Slater and Stewart, who also both have representative footy in their sights.
The history: Melbourne leads the all-time match tally between the bitter rivals 15-12-1 – including a 3-0-1 record at AAMI Park.
The last time they met: The strife-torn Sea Eagles held off the fast-finishing Storm 24-22 in a courageous Round 2 win at Brookvale.
The stat: The Storm have never surrendered a halftime lead against the Sea Eagles, but they have won six times after trailing at the break.
The verdict: A patched-up, low-on-confidence Manly side will find it extremely difficult to dig their way out of their rut in Melbourne. Unless the under-pressure Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran (if fit) fire for the visitors, they are in for a long night courtesy of the relentless Storm machine, and it’s in the forwards where the home side boasts an enormous advantage. The outstanding form of Kiwi trio Bromwich, Harris and Proctor will be too much for the Sea Eagles’ under-strength pack to handle. Storm by 14
BRONCOS v EELS
Saturday, 8.00pm AEST @ Suncorp Stadium
The storyline: The Anzac Day marathon concludes with an intriguing showdown between the high-flying Brisbane Broncos and the up-and-down Parramatta Eels, who are looking to continue a strong recent record at Suncorp Stadium.
The form guide: Brisbane’s outstanding five-match winning streak – which culminated in a 22-18 golden point defeat of the Roosters in Round 6 – came to an end via a tough 12-10 loss to St George Illawarra. In a three-way tie for top spot, the Broncos are ranked equal-eighth in attack and equal-fourth in defence. The Eels’ topsy-turvy form continues, recovering from convincing losses to the Tigers and Titans with a character-filled 28-22 away win over the Knights. The blue-and-golds have the second-best attacking figures in the NRL, but have conceded the equal-most points along with last-placed Manly, which currently sees them sitting in 15th despite their 3-4 record.
The selection table: The Broncos have not named Justin Hodges, which sees Dale Copley chosen at centre, Corey Oates and Daniel Vidot (who is under an injury cloud, with Aaron Whitchurch on standby) on the wings and Lachlan Maranta at fullback. Sam Thaiday returns to the starting backrow for the injured Alex Glenn, Adam Blair goes in at prop and Jarrod Wallace returns from suspension on the bench. Mitch Garbutt has been replaced in the interchange contingent by Francis Molo. Reece Robinson has been named in the Eels’ No.1 jumper and Will Hopoate at centre and John Folau on the wing, reflecting the late shuffle for the Knights clash. Darcy Lussick returns at the expense of Richie Fa’aoso as Danny Wicks moves back to the bench.
The match-up: Chris Sandow provides much of the Eels’ spark, but in-form five-eighth Corey Norman has been the steady hand holding the erratic blue-and-golds together. An elusive ball-runner with a great pass and a big boot, Norman has come of age since joining the club last year. Anthony Milford has started hitting his straps in the Broncos’ No.6 jumper, but was well-contained last week by the Dragons and can be bustled.
The history: Brisbane has won 28 and Parramatta 19, with one match drawn in 48 meetings of the clubs since 1988.
The last time they met: Chris Sandow and Semi Radradra inspired a 25-18 upset in Brisbane in Round 5 last season.
The stat: The Eels have won three of the last four overall and at Suncorp Stadium.
The verdict: Brisbane’s form sees them go in as deserving comfortable favourites, but Parramatta have proved to be an inscrutable proposition capable of beating any team on their day. Their shocking away record is tempered by a handy recent run in Brisbane – not to mention a stirring win in Newcastle last week; an upset could be in the offing against the home side with Hodges and Glenn on the sidelines. Eels by 1
PANTHERS v SHARKS
Sunday, 2.00pm AEST @ Pepper Stadium
The storyline: In the battle of the 1967 premiership entrants, Penrith and Cronulla head into Round 8 level with 3-4 records – but the injury-hit Panthers are struggling with just one win from their last five outings, while the gritty Sharks have recovered from a terrible start to the year to win three straight.
The form guide: Penrith was overwhelmed 32-6 on the Gold Coast last weekend, clearly still struggling without the direction of Peter Wallace and Jamie Soward. It was the club’s worst loss since Round 21, 2013. The Panthers are sitting in 13th with the 11th-ranked attack and 10th-best defence in the NRL. Cronulla produced a courageous 18-10 victory over South Sydney in abhorrent conditions on Monday night, following on from superb wins over the Roosters and Knights. The 10th-placed Sharks are ranked 13th in attack and equal-fourth in defence.
The selection table: James Segeyaro is rumoured to be out for a month with an elbow injury, but the Panthers are denying it. If he doesn’t play, Will Smith will come in at five-eighth and Souths’ Grand Final hooker Apisai Koroisau will take on dummy-half duties. George Jennings comes onto the wing for the injured Josh Mansour, but Robert Jennings makes way for the returning Dean Whare after running out for his first grade debut last week. Brent Kite has been ruled out, which brings Sam McKendry into the starting front-row and Sam Anderson onto the bench. Paul Gallen was named to return at lock, which saw Jayson Bukuya move back to the bench and Sam Tagatese relegated to 18th man, but the skipper is strongly tipped to be ruled out again.
The match-up: Panthers fullback Matt Moylan leads the NRL in try assists, but the player who has regularly been compared to Darren Lockyer needs to have more of a Lockyer-like influence and control the injury-ravaged side’s attack from his role as floating custodian. Sharks teenager Valentine Holmes is warming into the Sharks’ fullback spot nicely and this weekend represents a showdown between two of the NRL’s brightest backline prospects and budding representative stars.
The history: Cronulla holds a 44-37-3 advantage since the clubs entered the competition together 48 years ago, but Penrith is 22-16 at home.
The last time they met: The Sharks shocked the Panthers 18-16 in Bathurst.
The stat: The Sharks have won five of their last six against the Panthers, including the last two at Penrith.
The verdict: The home-ground advantage is keeping Penrith’s nose just in front in the favouritism stakes, but Cronulla are the horse to bet on if form is the main barometer. The Sharks’ defensive toughness, combined with their attacking enterprise since Jack Bird’s injection at five-eighth, should be too much for a Panthers side that is missing so many gun players. The Sharks appear primed to make it four straight while the Panthers are treading water until the cavalry returns. Sharks by 6.
RABBITOHS v RAIDERS
Sunday, 4.00pm AEST @ Barlow Park, Cairns
The storyline: Defending champs South Sydney have endured a rocky fortnight without injured linchpin Adam Reynolds, while Canberra continue to surprise with their renewed spirit and toughness. Sunday’s showdown – a rare free-to-air game for the Raiders – shapes as a tricky assignment for the Rabbitohs as they take their home game to Cairns.
The form guide: After being overrun 30-12 by the Cowboys, the Rabbitohs went down 18-10 to the Sharks in treacherous conditions at Remondis Stadium. Trailing just 10-4 at the break after running into a howling gale, Souths were unable to mount a decent comeback, struggling for direction and poise without Reynolds. The Raiders staged a club record comeback at a windy Leichhardt Oval last Sunday, prevailing 30-22 after trailing the Tigers 22-0 midway through the first half. The Rabbitohs are sitting in fourth with the fifth-best attack and seventh-ranked defence, while the Raiders are in 14th with the 12th-best attacking stats and 11th-best defence in the NRL.
The selection table: Souths have named Cameron McInnes at five-eighth and Glenn Stewart in the second-row, which is where both players featured in Monday night’s loss in a late switch. Dane Tilse has played his last game for the Raiders, which sees Paul Vaughan move into the front-row and Shaun Fensom return at lock. Mark Nicholls comes back onto the bench for Luke Bateman.
The match-up: Greg Inglis started the season in blistering form, but has come back to the field somewhat in recent weeks. The Rabbitohs need their skipper at his blockbusting best to compensate for the absence of chief playmaker Reynolds. The versatile Jack Wighton continues to impress in the fullback role and remains arguably the Raiders’ most dangerous attacking weapon, lacking nothing in the confidence and excitement stakes.
The history: The Raiders lead the count 28 wins to the Rabbitohs’ 21.
The last time they met: The Rabbitohs notched a 34-18 result in Canberra in Round 20 last year to gain revenge for a 30-18 boilover loss at ANZ Stadium four months earlier.
The stat: The Rabbitohs have won six of their last seven against the Raiders.
The verdict: South Sydney are on the ropes without Adam Reynolds and will have to be content to grind out any victories they may be able to achieve; the No.7’s absence has had a more marked effect than most would have anticipated. Meanwhile, Canberra has shown genuine promise recently and can’t be counted out of this one – particularly at a neutral venue. Rabbitohs by 4