Round 13 Preview
Fri: Manly Sea Eagles v Canterbury Bulldogs at Brookvale Oval: A top of the table blockbuster set to be played in the shadow of Origin injuries, with Cherry-Evans and Watmough still in doubt for Manly and Josh Morris sidelined for Canterbury. Buckle up for one of the slugfests of the season. TIP: Bulldogs by 4
Fri: Parramatta Eels v North Queensland Cowboys at Pirtek Stadium: Parramatta is reeling from Nathan Peats’ injury, while the Eels’ confidence has been dented by a heavy defeat to Penrith minus Jarryd Hayne. But the in-form Cowboys have been woeful away from home, which tips the scales back to level. A vital clash in the context of the top eight. TIP: Eels by 2
Sat: Gold Coast Titans v Penrith Panthers at Cbus Super Stadium: Penrith is riding high in second spot, but its three-match winning streak – the only time the Panthers have won consecutive games – has been against struggling Newcastle and Canberra, and a Hayne-less Eels side. Don’t get too excited. But the Titans have hit the skids after a shocking run with injury and have been less than inspiring at home this season. TIP: Panthers by 7
Sat: St George Illawarra Dragons v Cronulla Sharks at WIN Stadium: Another instalment of one of the NRL’s great local derbies … and the fortunes of both sides have rarely been lower. Shapes as a key match-up in the race to avoid the wooden spoon. TIP: Dragons by 8
Sat: South Sydney Rabbitohs v New Zealand Warriors at Patersons Stadium, Perth: Match of the round. Two confident sides with plenty of firepower in fine form, who waged two titanic battles last season. TIP: Warriors by 6
Sun: Newcastle Knights v Wests Tigers at Hunter Stadium: The Knights’ effort can’t be faulted, but results are not coming their way. Buoyed by the double-bonus of James Tedesco’s return from injury and his decision to renege on his deal with Canberra, the burgeoning Tigers should be too strong. TIP: Tigers by 10
Sun: Melbourne Storm v Sydney Roosters at AAMI Park: The Storm are treading water while tied to an enormous rock after injuries to Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater. The performance of Cameron Smith last week against the Cowboys was one of the bravest seen in years – but Melbourne still lost 22-0. The home side should be cannon fodder for a Roosters outfit running into some pretty good form. TIP: Roosters by 20
Mon: Canberra Raiders v Brisbane Broncos at GIO Stadium: An intriguing rivalry where results generally favour the home side, while the Anthony Milford factor adds a little extra spice. The Broncos were tremendous against Manly and have climbed out of a slump despite a looming salary cap catastrophe, while the Raiders just don’t seem to have the confidence or balance in their squad to upset a half-decent side at present. TIP: Broncos by 12
Round 13 Most at Stake
The plethora of Origin II contenders:
- Dylan Walker and Will Hopoate, and to a lesser extent Kane Linnett, Joseph Leilua and Jack Wighton, can all press their claims for the vacant NSW centre berth with a big game. Game one bench men Luke Lewis and Beau Scott appear to be the front-runners at this stage, which would allow Laurie Daley to retain all of his starting and interchange forwards when Greg Bird returns.
- Josh Mansour should already have the edge in the battle for Brett Morris’ spot on the right wing, but Hopoate, Jorge Taufua and steady veteran James McManus are all in the mix.
- Josh Papalii, Chris McQueen and Ben Te’o are all looking for quality performances to hold onto their Queensland spots. Sam Thaiday will be back for the Sydney encounter, and unless Mal Meninga opts to carry four forwards on the bench, one of the aforementioned trio will miss out – assuming Aidan Guerra did enough on debut.
- Jacob Lillyman, Josh McGuire and Brenton Lawrence will still be very much on the Maroons’ radar, with the series opener proving they desperately need another big body to add starch in the middle.
- If Meninga is keen to carry a utility on the bench, Ben Hunt needs only a solid display to clinch that jumper. He is experienced at dummy-half as well as being one of the NRL’s form playmakers. I was one of the doubters – even as recently as a few weeks ago – but his decision-making has improved immeasurably and he has learned how to close out a game.
The Selection Table
-Plenty of Origin returnees who missed Round 12, headlined by Daly Cherry-Evans, Anthony Watmough, Jarryd Hayne, Justin Hodges and Beau Scott.
-Some huge ins from the Tigers’ casualty ward, including James Tedesco and Curtis Sironen (18th man).
-Greg Bird returns from suspension for the Titans, along with recently injured Albert Kelly. Maurice Blair is retained at five-eighth, with Beau Henry dropping out.
-Luke Kelly will attempt to fill the massive hole left by Nathan Peats’ devastating ACL injury.
-Farcically, Josh Reynolds will line up for the Bulldogs, while Eels prop Mitch Allgood and Dragons hooker Mitch Rein will sit the weekend out for comparatively innocuous dangerous tackles, replaced by Lee Mossop and Shane Pumipi respectively.
-The experiment with Josh Dugan at centre will continue for some reason. And ironically, he will line up against another specialist fullback in Michael Gordon. The Sharks’ backline is barely recognisable after dangerous left-side pairing Ricky Leutele and Sosaia Feki were ruled out: Nathan Gardner comes in at fullback, Nathan Stapleton returns on the wing, Jacob Gagan debuts on the other flank and another first-gamer, Fa’amanu Brown, has been named at five-eighth.
-Backrower Tohu Harris will partner Ben Roberts in the Melbourne halves.
-Canterbury has emerged victorious in seven of its last 11 visits to Brookvale Oval.
-The Cowboys are winless away from home in 2014.
-The Roosters have won only two of their last eight games against the Storm, and have won just one of their last eight games in Melbourne.
-Thirteen of the last 15 Raiders-Broncos clashes have been won by the home team.
Round 13 Best Individual Match-ups
-The Bulldogs’ young powerhouse centre Tim Lafai will face off against Manly enforcer Steve Matai.
-NSW centre contenders Will Hopoate and Kane Linnett go head-to-head on Friday night.
-In-form Panther Tyrone Peachey has another chance to impress opposite returning Titans co-captain Greg Bird.
-Makeshift centres Josh Dugan and Michael Gordon will line up opposite each other at Wollongong.
-Boom Souths winger Alex Johnston faces one of the biggest challenges of his fledgling career up against Manu Vatuvei.
-Cameron Smith and his Queensland heir apparent Jake Friend will engage in a dummy-half duel at AAMI Park.
-Teammates next season, the battle between fullback whippets Ben Barba and Anthony Milford could give Anthony Griffin (or his replacement) food for thought ahead of 2015.
-Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei needs just one try to join the legendary Ken Irvine as the only players in premiership history to score 10 tries or more in nine consecutive seasons. Nathan Merritt can also join that illustrious group this year, but he is stranded on one try and is struggling to get a run in first grade.
-If Brent Kite plays in at least 11 Penrith’s 12 remaining matches (or finals games) he will become the first player in premiership history to make 20-plus appearances in 13 consecutive seasons. In crafting this ironman-esque feat, Kite has played at least 21 games in every campaign since making his debut for the Dragons in 2002.
Try of the Year contender: Tyrone Peachey’s second try for Penrith last Friday night was brilliant. The 60-metre individual effort showcased the backrower’s rare blend of speed, footwork and power, while his swerve to get around Parramatta’s Ken Sio was the icing on the cake. Peachey is one of the NRL’s genuine natural talents and is destined for higher honours in the near future.
Blunder city, population … Again, there were too many incomprehensible decisions by the video referees in Round 12 to single one out. Overturning the on-field official’s call despite dubious evidence and failing to overturn it when commonsense – and the replays – strongly suggest they should, the men in the box have no idea and are regularly flaunting the guidelines put in place. It would come as no surprise to learn there was a gas leak in the video ref rooms at 1300SMILES Stadium and ANZ Stadium last weekend, such was the extent of their peculiar calls.
Top try-scorers among current NRL players
163 – Billy Slater: from 258 games; strike-rate 0.63 tries per game; overall rank 5th
153 – Nathan Merritt: from 234 games; strike-rate 0.65 tries per game; overall rank 8th
138 – Brett Stewart: from 186 games; strike-rate 0.74 tries per game; overall rank equal-16th
129 – Anthony Minichiello: from 287 games; strike-rate 0.44 tries per game; overall rank equal-20th
127 – Manu Vatuvei: from 182 games; strike-rate 0.70 tries per game; overall rank equal-23rd
117 – Greg Inglis: from 188 games; strike-rate 0.62 tries per game; overall rank equal-38th
110 – Jamie Lyon: from 245 games; strike-rate 0.45 tries per game; overall rank equal-46th
104 – Brett Morris: from 161 games; strike-rate 0.65 tries per game; overall rank equal-54th
96 – Michael Jennings: from 159 games; strike-rate 0.60 tries per game; overall rank equal-62nd
94 – David Simmons: from 184 games; strike-rate 0.51 tries per game; overall rank equal-66th
94 – Justin Hodges: from 220 games; strike-rate 0.43 tries per game; overall rank equal-66th