Slowly but steadily, the cream is rising to the top. The Roosters are gelling more and more, the Dragons are forming some deadly combinations, and the Warriors have come from wooden spoon favourites to being 3-0 to start the year. It's a funny game, rugby league.
South Sydney shocked a Manly outfit high on a 54-0 win over Parramatta, slumping to a 34-6 defeat to the hands of the red and green. Parramatta and Canberra are winless, and that could be the same come the end of Round 4. But looking at the results over the first three rounds, it's anybody's guess.
North Queensland Cowboys vs. Penrith Panthers
1300SMILES Stadium, Thursday March 29, 8:05pm
Team News: North Queensland are unchanged following their loss to Melbourne, with Lachlan Coote a chance of returning after being named in the reserves. Tyrone Peachey moves into the halves to cover for Nathan Cleary, with young half Jarome Luai set to debut from the interchange.
Injury Watch: Nathan Cleary's Grade 3 MCL tear will see him spend 10 weeks on the sideline. Lachlan Coote is a chance of returning this weekend.
Prediction: North Queensland held their own against Melbourne until the last 15 minutes, while Penrith is still yet to concede a second-half point. With no Nathan Cleary and the Cowboys returning to their home turf, expect a strong bounce back from North Queensland. Cowboys by 14.
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
ANZ Stadium, Friday March 30, 4:10pm
Team News: Both teams are unchanged after claiming their maiden victories last round.
Injury Watch: Adam Reynolds is expected to return next week against St. George Illawarra.
Prediction: Both teams opened their account for the season last weekend, in different fashions. While the Bulldogs shot out of the blocks against Penrith, they did concede the final 18 points of the game. South Sydney's attack appeared more free-flowing than previous weeks, and their defence stuck solid for the entire 80. With Adam Douiehi looking more and more comfortable in the NRL, expect the Easter Bunnies to nab the chocolates. Souths by 8.
Cronulla Sharks vs. Melbourne Storm
Southern Cross Group Stadium, Friday March 30, 8:05pm
Team News: Matt Moylan and Luke Lewis return in place of Trent Hodkinson and Jason Bukuya, while Kenny Bromwich returns in place of Brandon Smith on the interchange for Melbourne.
Injury Watch: Jason Bukuya will miss the match after a minor groin strain, while Felise Kaufusi will spend another week on the sideline with a knee injury.
Prediction: The sides have built a strong rivalry in recent years, but Cronulla have looked clunky with Moylan in the halves so far. Expect Melbourne to come flying out of the blocks and keep a healthy lead throughout. Melbourne by 10.
Sydney Roosters vs. New Zealand Warriors
Allianz Stadium, Saturday March 31, 5:30pm
Team News: The Sydney Roosters have stuck with the same side that defeated Newcastle, while Tevita Satae replaces Sam Lisone on the bench and Agnatius Paasi and Adam Blair swap between prop and lock.
Injury Watch: Gerard Beale is still a few weeks away from returning to the park following a badly broken leg in the World Cup.
Prediction: New Zealand has been the surprise packet of the competition so far, their newfound fitness providing so much needed consistency to the side. However, the Roosters have gelled nicely since Luke Keary returned, expect the tricolours to send the Kiwi outfit crashing back to Earth. Roosters by 14.
Manly Sea Eagles vs. Canberra Raiders
Lottoland, Saturday March 31, 7:35pm
Team News: Matthew Wright replaces Jorge Taufua on the wing for Manly, while Canberra has dropped Blake Austin and Liam Knight in favour of Ata Hingano and Joe Tapine.
Injury Watch: Both teams are nearing full strength, bar Josh Hodgson's long-term knee injury.
Prediction: Manly came crashing back to Earth with a loss to the red-hot Rabbitohs, while Canberra is still searching for their first win after a heartbreaking loss to the Warriors. Not much will separate the sides, but a bounce back from Daly Cherry-Evans on home soil should see Manly narrowly take the points. Manly by 2.
St. George Illawarra Dragons vs. Newcastle Knights
WIN Stadium, Sunday April 1, 4:10pm
Team News: St George Illawarra is unchanged following a big win in Toowoomba, while Brock Lamb replaces the injured Connor Watson at five-eighth. Chris Heinington rejoins the bench.
Injury Watch: Connor Watson's dislocated shoulder will see him spend three months on the sidelines.
Prediction: Newcastle were disappointing last week, and despite some strong attack, has conceded 84 points in three games to start the year. Watch for Ben Hunt and the Dragon's attack to continue to exploit the Knight's defensive weaknesses. Dragons by 12.
Brisbane Broncos vs. Gold Coast Titans
Suncorp Stadium, Sunday April 1, 6:30pm
Team News: Corey Oates and Tevita Pangai Jnr. are out, replaced by Jonas Pearson and Korbin Sims, with Jaydn Su'A joining the bench. Gold Coast have dropped Bryce Cartwright to the bench, shifting Will Matthews into the back-row, Jai Arrow to lock and Ryan James to prop. Max King joins the bench.
Injury Watch: Oates (hip) and Pangai Jnr. (hamstring) will both miss a fortnight.
Prediction: To put it simply, Gold Coast were awful last week. While Brisbane was scrappy, they found a way to win scrappy (along with a helping hand with a refereeing error). Back on Suncorp Stadium, expect Brisbane to secure a strong victory, including a double to recruit Jack Bird. Brisbane by 16.
Wests Tigers vs. Parramatta Eels
ANZ Stadium, Monday April 2, 4pm
Team News: Wests Tigers are unchanged, while Parramatta has made several changes following their third straight loss. Jarryd Hayne and Bevan French are injured, replaced by Will Smith and George Jennings. Cameron King and Kane Evans have been dropped, with Kaysa Pritchard, Peni Terepo and Tony Williams joining the side.
Injury Watch: Jarryd Hayne will miss 2-4 weeks with a hip injury, while Bevan French will only spend a few weeks on the sideline with an injured shoulder.
Prediction: Wests Tigers are yet to concede double digits in a game, while Parramatta has scored four points in the last 200 minutes of play. Yet, expect a form reversal this weekend, with Mitchell Moses to lead the Eels to a win against his former club. Parramatta by 10.
Point To Prove
Mitchell Moses. The former Tiger comes up against his former club in the annual Easter Monday clash as Parramatta look to claim their maiden victory in 2018. Squaring off against close mate Luke Brooks, Moses will look to not only get one over his mates and former club, but also push his rep chances after the injury to Nathan Cleary.
Valentine Holmes. The winger/fullback has been poor in comparison to his World Cup form and comes up against Josh Addo-Carr on the edge this weekend. With Kevin Walters confirming Greg Inglis will play State of Origin, it leaves one of either Will Chambers, Dane Gagai or Holmes out of the side. Holmes will have to step it up a few notches if he wants to retain his spot in the side.
Jarome Luai. The young half made his international debut for Samoa in the World Cup last year, and had flashes of potential. Playing alongside a steady half in the form of James Maloney when he enters the fray, expect some off-the-cuff attack from the young halfback.
Photo of the Week
This is what the @NRL is all about. pic.twitter.com/PjIuwthM8A
— Jack Blyth (@jblesfooty224) March 26, 2018
Quote of the Week
"Our salary cap is the main reason we have the closest competition in Australian sport and we will not tolerate any attempt to breach it" - Todd Greenberg, following the NRL's sanctions against Manly.
North Queensland 13+. Back on their home turf against a Penrith outfit lacking Nathan Cleary, the Cowboys should bounce back in a big way after back-to-back losses.
Rumour of the Week
Darcy Lussick won't be a Sea Eagle this time next week. The prop has been offered a long-term deal in the Super League, and Manly won't stand in the fiery front-rower's way.
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