Round 2 Preview
Fri – South Sydney v Manly at Bluetongue: Another heavyweight showdown as Souths attempt to conquer their preliminary final demons against a Manly side missing Brett Stewart. The Sea Eagles may struggle to match the Rabbitohs up front, but Cherry-Evans and Lyon could inspire an upset in Gosford.
TIP: Rabbitohs by 6
Fri – Brisbane v North Queensland at Suncorp: Both sides line up for the Queensland derby on the back of handy opening-round wins. The Broncos are still struggling in the halves department, however, and will be on red alert following the Round 1 displays of Thurston and Taumololo.
TIP: Cowboys by 8
Sat – Warriors v St George Illawarra at Eden Park: The Warriors were appalling last week, outmuscled by wooden spooners Parramatta and incompetent in every facet of attack and defence. They need to turn it around against a Gareth Widdop-inspired Saints outfit which racked up their highest score in five years against the Tigers – although that could be a misleading guide.
TIP: Warriors by 4
Sat – Melbourne v Penrith at AAMI Park: Melbourne’s comeback was one of the gutsiest of the NRL era, while Penrith blitzed an injury-ravaged Knights side with a 24-0 second half. A high-quality encounter looms, with the Storm buoyed by Cameron Smith’s re-signing but still sweating on the fitness of Cooper Cronk.
TIP: Storm by 10
Sat – Sydney Roosters v Parramatta at Allianz: The premiers were flat last week, but it should be remembered they led a switched-on Souths early in the second half. The commitment, enthusiasm, line speed and constructive attack that marked Parramatta’s big win over the Warriors were elements rarely seen from an Eels side in the last four seasons. This week will provide a better gauge of whether the club is headed for a bright new era under Brad Arthur.
TIP: Roosters by 16
Sun – Gold Coast v Wests Tigers at Skilled: There was some bright signs early from the Tigers last week – particularly from James Tedesco – but their defence was well below NRL standard. The Titans grinded out a tough win in the Shire, but this shapes as a danger game.
TIP: Titans by 2
Sun – Newcastle v Canberra at Hunter: The Knights’ injury plight continues to worsen, while the Raiders can take plenty out of last week’s performance despite coughing up a 16-0 lead. The hardest game to get a read on in Round 2.
TIP: Raiders by 6
Mon – Canterbury v Cronulla at ANZ: Canterbury is short-handed at present, but Cronulla’s injury situation is even more concerning and has been compounded by impending ASADA action against Sharks players, and Andrew Fifita’s suspension and decision to sign with the Bulldogs. Todd Carney has been named, and the Sharks desperately need him back on deck after No.7 fill-in Daniel Holdsworth’s ordinary Round 1 showing.
TIP: Bulldogs by 10
Round 2 Most at stake: The Warriors were easily the most disappointing side of Round 1 and the axe will be sharpening for Matt Elliott if they crumble against another bottom-three club. Elliott’s selection gambles backfired horribly, while their overall performance left supporters exasperated yet again after a bumper pre-season campaign.
The selection table: Elliott has dropped Carlos Tuimavave, but somehow found a way to leave Konrad Hurrell out again, instead calling up injury-prone veteran Jerome Ropati at right centre. Ben Henry has been named on a five-man bench in the only other change to the Warriors’ squad. Sam Williams and Bronson Harrison come into the Dragons’ squad for injured pair Michael Witt and Jack De Belin.
Peta Hiku is a familiar fullback replacement for Brett Stewart, while Jason King has been named to make a long-awaited return for Manly. Joel Reddy and Kyle Turner are on standby for Souths stars Chris McQueen and Dylan Walker; expect McQueen to pull out. Cooper Cronk has been named for Melbourne but is no certainty to play. Kurt Gidley will play fullback for Newcastle during Darius Boyd’s extended injury break, while Travis Waddell will start in the No.9.
Frenchman Remi Casty is in line for an NRL debut following Sonny Bill Williams’ suspension, while Kaysa Pritchard – younger brother of Frank – will line up at hooker for Parramatta in the place of club-suspended Nathan Peats. Todd Carney and Chris Heighington will be the replacements for Gallen and Fifita, with Wade Graham reverting to the backrow.
-The Warriors are on an eight-match losing streak against St George Illawarra, while they have won just one of the last 13 meetings between the sides.
-Jason Nightingale has scored seven tries in eight games against the Warriors, his best return against any NRL side. Manu Vatuvei has crossed just twice in nine games against the Dragons, his worst return against any club. The Kiwi Test teammates will line up opposite each other on Saturday.
-Manly has won all five Sea Eagles v Rabbitohs matches staged in March, dating back to 1952.
-Nathan Merritt has scored 17 tries in 18 games against the Sea Eagles.
-Penrith’s upset of Melbourne last year broke an 11-match losing streak against the Storm, but the Panthers are still winless in Melbourne since 2005.
-Ben Barba scored five tries in his last two outings against North Queensland for Canterbury.
-Parramatta has conceded an average of 32.5 points in its last six encounters with the Roosters.
-Canberra has won just one of its last seven in Newcastle.
-Cronulla has won only one of its last eight and three of its last 16 against Canterbury at all venues.
Round 2 best individual match-ups
-A window into the future of Origin with Daly Cherry-Evans and Adam Reynolds squaring off.
-Superstars v Makeshifts in the Queensland derby: Ben Barba against Michael Morgan and Johnathan Thurston opposite Josh Hoffman.
-Dynamic wingers Josh Mansour and Sisa Waqa are set for a ding-dong battle at AAMI Park.
-The centre showdown between Michael Jennings and Will Hopoate should give Blues coach Laurie Daley plenty of food for thought.
-Expect fireworks when Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Fuifui Moimoi come together at Allianz; Fui was superb against the Warriors.
-Cameron Smith will break Matt Geyer’s Melbourne appearances record when he runs out for his 263rd NRL match on Saturday. Smith also needs just five points to move past Keith Barnes into 13th on the list of the highest point-scorers in premiership history. Barring injury, Smith – who has scored 1,515 points – will move into the top 10 of all time during 2014.
-Billy Slater will make his 250th first grade appearance in the same game, just the third Storm player to achieve the feat. Slater’s next try – his 159th – will move him into equal-fifth in premiership history alongside Matt Sing and Hazem El Masri.
-Nathan Merritt’s next try will see him move past Benny Wearing’s long-standing South Sydney record of 144 tries, while it will also take him past another Rabbitohs legend, Harold Horder, into outright eighth in premiership history with 153 (Merritt scored eight tries for Cronulla, while Horder scored 50 for Norths).
Why won’t you talk to me?: Dave Smith will head a review into media protocol and access following the poor promotion of the opening round by several NRL clubs, cited as a factor in the premiership’s lowest Round 1 crowd figures in a decade. The reluctance to speak to the media and arrogance of some clubs and star players – particularly those from the Rabbitohs and Roosters – is a slap in the face to the fans and infuriating for media types, who clubs and players are still treating like the enemy. It seems they are eager to accept the extra cash and higher salaries the NRL’s record profits are providing, but they’re not willing to do anything extra for it.
Chip on the shoulder: The shoulder-charge suspensions meted out to Sonny Bill Williams and Andrew Fifita were unnecessarily harsh (imagine Williams missing a whole finals series for that incident) but it doesn’t change the fact that contact with the head from a shoulder-charge was illegal before the ban came in, and was punished accordingly. Suspensions surely acted as enough of a deterrent already. The overwhelmingly unpopular ban on shoulder-charges – regardless of point of contact – has once again proved to be pointless. If all shoulder-charges have been outlawed because they’re dangerous, why isn’t Ben Te’o sitting on the sidelines for the next fortnight after poleaxing Williams?
Kyle for miles at 1300SMILES: Boom North Queensland winger Kyle Feldt must be corking his boot, hammering a line dropout for 70 metres on the fly against the Raiders. Not only was it one of the longest ever seen, it went freakishly high. It was Dally Messenger-like, if the field goal tales about the pioneering legend are to be believed.
Townsville audio nasties: The ominous track pumping out of the PA at 1300SMILES Stadium any time the Cowboys were on attack (consisting mostly of a bass string being plucked at incessantly) was irritating enough on the television coverage – it must have been hell to have been there. The NRL has been plagued in the past by ground announcers trying to make it all about themselves. Unless you’ve got something as awesome as the Warriors’ drums or Penrith’s Panther growl, stick to cheesy pun-related songs – strictly during stoppages.
Presser Gold: Warriors coach Matt Elliott: “There were some solid performances tonight from our guys.”
Try of the Year contender: Johnathan Thurston’s mesmerising 65-metre quick-tap try will take some beating as the individual effort of 2014. His dummy to fool the Raiders’ cover defence and finish off the try was brilliant.
Blunder City, population …
Luke Burgess – The Souths prop was pinged for one of the most blatant double-movements of all time, and compounded the infringement minutes later by prematurely reaching out to score and coughing up possession.
Luke Kelly – The steady Parramatta half went for the old make-the-kickoff-dead-by-putting-a-foot-over-the-deadball-line trick, but did it in reverse, catching the ball first and then stepping over the deadball line. Instead of receiving a penalty of halfway, the Eels were forced into a line dropout.
Form Origin Teams
Each week, the below line-ups will be updated for NSW and Queensland State of Origin sides if NRL form was the only selection factor. Both sides are stacked with bolters after Round 1 in the wake of injuries to incumbents and a few breakout performances.
1. Jarryd Hayne
2. Josh Mansour
3. Will Hopoate
4. Josh Morris
5. Semi Radradra
6. Albert Kelly
7. Adam Reynolds
8. James Tamou
9. Nathan Peats
10. Tim Mannah
11. Anthony Watmough
12. Tyson Frizell
13. Trent Merrin
14. Josh Reynolds
15. Tyrone Peachey
16. Greg Bird
17. Aiden Tolman
1. Billy Slater
2. Edrick Lee
3. Greg Inglis
4. Dale Copley
5. Daniel Vidot
6. Johnathan Thurston
7. Robert Lui
8. Matthew Scott
9. Cameron Smith
10. Nate Myles
11. Gavin Cooper
12. Josh Papalii
13. Corey Parker
14. Ben Barba
15. Chris McQueen
16. Ben Te’o
17. Josh Starling
I am Iron Man: Gold Coast’s Luke Douglas took sole ownership of the premiership record for consecutive first grade appearances, a remarkable achievement for a wholehearted, unassuming player who performs at the NRL’s front-row coalface every week. The Titans should honour Douglas’ feat by having him lead the team onto Skilled Park against the Tigers to the tune of Black Sabbath’s heavy metal classic ‘Iron Man’. Ironically (or iron-ically), Douglas is reportedly in doubt for the Gold Coast’s match against the Tigers with a hand injury
MOST CONSECUTIVE FIRST GRADE APPEARANCES
195* – Luke Douglas (Cronulla, Gold Coast) 2006-14
194 – Jason Taylor (Western Suburbs, North Sydney, Northern Eagles) 1993-2000
174 – Hazem El Masri (Canterbury) 1999-2005
164* – Matt Ballin (Manly) 2008-14
147 – Brett Kimmorley (Hunter, Melbourne, Northern Eagles, Cronulla) 1997-2003
147 – Richard Swain (Hunter, Melbourne, Brisbane) 1997-2003
143 – Roy Fisher (Parramatta) 1954-62
139 – Michael Robertson (Manly) 2006-11
*Streak still active
A special mention also for Penrith recruit Brent Kite, who in 2014 aims to become the first player in the code’s history to make 20-plus first grade appearances in 13 straight seasons. Kite currently co-holds the record of 12 seasons with Steve Menzies and Andrew Ryan. Cameron Smith has played in 20 or more games for the past 11 seasons.
This week in history:
1990 – Defending premiers Canberra christened their new home Bruce Stadium with a commanding 26-10 defeat of St George.
2006 – Newcastle downed the Raiders 70-32 at Canberra Stadium in the highest-scoring first grade match in history.
2011 – Parramatta upset the Warriors 24-18 in the first Rugby League match played at iconic Auckland Rugby Union venue Eden Park since the 1988 World Cup final.
The Punters Guide to the 2014 NRL Season: If you haven’t picked up your copy of Nick Tedeschi’s all-encompassing, fascinating bible for NRL consumption in 2014, what are you waiting for? Anyone who has a punt, makes a fantasy trade or even sits down to watch a game is selling themselves short by not consulting this super-affordable tome first. Get it at newsagencies or on the iTunes store.