It’s time to start taking Wests Tigers, St. George Illawarra and New Zealand seriously. At first, it seemed like flukes. The Warriors and Tigers bustled for wooden spoon favouritism in the pre-season. And here we are, the Warriors are enjoying their best start to a season in history, and the Wests Tigers have defeated the Melbourne Storm. Twice.
Canterbury and Parramatta struggled, South Sydney were valiant, Newcastle are building a fortress at home and the likes of Manly, Gold Coast and Cronulla are too hard to read. We’re a quarter of the way into the season, it’s time to start tipping with our big heads.
Sydney Roosters vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs
Allianz Stadium, 7:50pm, Thursday April 12
Team News: The Sydney Roosters are unchanged. Richie Kennar returns for the Bunnies, moving Dane Gagai back to the centres and Hymel Hunt into the reserves.
Injury Watch: Both sides are without immediate injury concerns.
Prediction: The Sydney Roosters are heavy favourites, but expect the match to be closer than you’d expect after South Sydney’s valiant effort against the Dragons. If the Burgess twins can get the Bunnies rolling through the middle, than this will go down to the wire. But with Cooper Cronk and Luke Keary both in form, the Bondi boys will get the points on offer here. Sydney Roosters by 8.
Melbourne Storm vs. Newcastle Knights
AAMI Park, 6pm, Friday April 13
Team News: Craig Bellamy has dropped Brodie Croft to the reserves, naming Ryley Jacks at halfback. Mitch Barnett is suspended, moving Herman Ese’ese to lock, Daniel Saifiti to the starting side and Jacob Saifiti onto the bench.
Injury Watch: Mitch Barnett is set to miss the match through suspension.
Prediction: Newcastle are slowly starting to gel, it’s just bad timing that they run into a Melbourne outfit desperate not to claim a third straight loss. Bellamy’s dropping of Croft is surprising to say the least, and Jacks will grab the shot with both hands, Back on their home turf, this Melbourne’s game to lose. Melbourne by 13.
St. George Illawarra Dragons vs. Cronulla Sharks
WIN Stadium, 7:50pm, Friday April 13
Team News: Hame Sele replaces Luciano Leilua on the bench for the Dragons, while Josh Dugan returns in the centres for Cronulla, replacing Jesse Ramien. Sosaia Feki is out, replaced by Edrick Lee. James Segeyaro will miss the match with a bad concussion, opening the door for Kurt Dillon to make his debut from the bench.
Injury Watch: James Segeyaro and Sosaia Feki are both expected to return in Round 7.
Prediction: The Cronulla Sharks have been boring to watch at times this year, their penalty goal tactics turning the game into a snooze fest, but a success for them. The Dragons have only used 18 players this year, a big reason to why they’re firing. The Dragons will win, but Cronulla will push them right to the 80th minute. Dragons by 2.
New Zealand Warriors vs. Brisbane Broncos
Mt Smart Stadium, 3pm, Saturday April 14
Team News: New Zealand is unchanged, while Alex Glenn returns for Brisbane, pushing Jaydn Su’A to the bench and Tom Opacic to the reserves.
Injury Watch: No immediate issues.
Prediction: I’ll admit, I’ve tipped against the Warriors almost every week so far. Their consistently inconsistent form over the last few years has me, and many others, sceptical. So let’s hope I don’t jinx them this week, because they should wipe the floor with Brisbane, the Broncos’ halves having been dismal this year. And across the ditch, the Warriors will roll onto a 6-0 start. Warriors by 14.
North Queensland Cowboys vs. Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
1300SMILES Stadium, 5:30pm, Saturday April 14
Team News: Lachlan Coote returns at fullback with Ben Hampton moving to centre, replacing the injured Javid Bowen. The Bulldogs are unchanged given Josh Jackson successfully conested his suspension.
Injury Watch: Niether team has any real injury concerns.
Prediction: Lachlan Coote is a big in for North Queensland, and should really help with their playmaking issues. Meanwhile, Canterbury has been disappointing, their attack in particular looks directionless. Starting the season 1-4, expect a big bounce back from the Cowboys. Cowboys by 16.
Canberra Raiders vs. Parramatta Eels
GIO Stadium, 7:35pm, Saturday April 14
Team News: Jack Wighton returns at fullback, Nick Cotric moves back to the wing and pushes Michael Oldfield out of the side. Blake Austin replaces Sam Williams in the halves, while Josh Papalii replaces Liam Knight on the bench. Clint Gutherson returns at fullback for Parramatta, moving Will Smith to the reserves. Bevan French replaces Josh Hoffman on the wing, while Nathan Brown has succumbed to an ankle injury, meaning Tepai Moeroa will start at lock and Kane Evans returns on the bench.
Injury Watch: Sam Williams will miss 4-6 weeks with a knee injury. Nathan Brown will miss this week with an ankle injury.
Prediction: Canberra were courageous in their maiden win of 2018, while Parramatta are still searching for their first win. Despite the impressive victory, the loss of Williams coupled with the return of Gutherson and French for Parramatta will see the Eels claim their first win of the season, over their former coach. Eels by 6.
Penrith Panthers vs. Gold Coast Titans
Panthers Stadium, 2pm, Sunday April 15
Team News: Isaah Yeo moves from the back-row to centre to cover for Waqa Blake. Corey Harawira-Naera moves to the starting side, meaning Kaide Ellis will debut from the bench. Max King replaces the suspended Ryan James, with Wil Matthews joining the interchange. Jack Stockwell replaces Keegan Hipgrave on the bench.
Injury Watch: Waqa Blake is set to spend 4-6 weeks on the sidelines with a syndesmosis injury.
Prediction: Sunday afternoon in Penrith. This has the potential to be the match of the round. Expect plenty of points to be scored, with the in-form Titans offence a particular highlight of the side. Bryce Cartwright will be out to impress against his former side, but it’ll be James Maloney with the big plays when the game matters. Penrith by 4.
Manly Sea Eagles vs. Wests Tigers
Lottoland, 4:10pm, Sunday April 15
Team News: Tom Trbojevic and Brad Parker return, displacing Matthew and Jonathan Wright. Jack Gosiewski and Frank Winterstein swap between the bench and a starting role. Jacob Liddle starts, with Josh Reynolds joining the bench. Tui Lolohea has been dropped, with Corey Thompson moving to fullback and David Nofoaluma returning on the wing. Alex Twal starts with Sauaso Sue joining the bench to cover for Russell Packer.
Injury Watch: Russell Packer will miss a month of footy with a knee injury.
Prediction: Josh Reynolds is back and the Wests Tigers shouldn’t be doubted any longer. But Manly playing at home is a juggernaut in comparison to their away form. After falling to the Titans last week, expect Cherry-Evans and Walker to lead the Sea Eagles to victory. Manly by 10.
Point To Prove
Angus Crichton. He played a year of junior footy with the Roosters SG Ball side, and then South Sydney signed him and gave him his opportunity. Now, having already signed to return to Bondi in 2019, Crichton will come up opposite against his future teammate, Boyd Cordner. Expect a big game from the edge back-rower, especially if he is to push his Origin chances.
Brisbane’s halves. We’re five weeks into the competition, and neither half has registered a single try-assist yet. The Broncos halves have struggled big time without Ben Hunt, leaving Bennett with no option but to team two ball-running halves together, and the closest thing to an organisational half they have is Darius Boyd, who’s struggling with a bung hamstring. Both Anthony Milford and Jayden Nikorima need to step up this week.
Kaide Ellis. The young lock picked up the man of the match honours in the Interstate Premiership against PNG last year and will look to cement a first-grade spot against a weaker Gold Coast forward pack. Strong with the ball in hand and a high work rate, Ellis is set to impress on debut.
Photo of the Week
Beating Greg Inglis one-on-one isn't something that happens every day. Euan Aitken will be talking about this one for a long time. pic.twitter.com/Hv4apWB3AP
— Jack Blyth (@jblesfooty224) April 10, 2018
Quote of the Week
“The reality is when Wayne came to town if he thought with his big head rather than his little head … I wouldn’t have had to rebuild the joint.” – Newcastle coach Nathan Brown. This one could be the quote of the year!
All home sides to get up. An eight-leg multi is always a risky one, especially with all the upsets already having happened this year. But with all home sides entering this week as favourites, it’s certainly an opportunity worth keeping an eye on.
Rumour of the Week
Corey Norman is being shopped around, and Ricky Stuart’s Raiders want the former Bronco – now. Mid-season transfer rumours have been flying around for weeks, and it’s going to take one player to set it off. Corey Norman to Canberra would see Aidan Sezer to Canterbury, and Aiden Tolman to Cronulla. It’s a funny game.