The upcoming weekend of footy looks as though it will be a beauty. We have a series of salivating contests and of course the super importance of it being the Anzac Day round.
Most of the attention this week has come off the field. We’ve had two big-headline suspensions, an equally headline-grabbing non-suspension, two embarrassing scandals for young players and a premiership winning half heading north.
I’m going to shift the focus back to the on-field action, more specifically three interesting/fun storylines this weekend which may have slipped under the radar.
1. Newcastle aiming to end Panthers’ run after 2020 heroics
Trivia Question: Who is the only side that the Penrith Panthers failed to defeat in 2020?
The Answer: The Newcastle Knights.
You can be forgiven if you had forgotten the Round 3 contest last season. COVID had ground the competition to a halt and Penrith were yet to go on their record-breaking winning streak.
The game, although no one at the time could possibly have known it, will go down in history after Penrith went and destroyed all before them enroute to the Grand Final. It would also be the only draw in the 2020 season.
It was a fun Sunday afternoon. Two undefeated teams expected to be in the eight – or thereabouts – yet neither sitting amongst the competition’s elite at the time.
Newcastle would fight back despite tremendous odds and hold on to secure a 14-all draw. The field goal attempts would fly during Golden Point however the deadlock would not be broken.
It was a brilliant game by a hugely disadvantaged Newcastle side, who everyone other than Panthers fans were riding home to victory.
The Panthers are undefeated and largely untested so far in 2021. Newcastle are sitting three and three and enter the contest without Mitchell Pearce.
Can Newcastle do it again? Can they stop the Panthers? Can they go one better and beat them this time?
I just can’t see it happening, but nor did I see anything other than a big Panthers win at 14-0 after 25 minutes in the previous contest.
Watch ZT’s own Dan Nichols preview the Round via Rugby League Outlaws
2. Former players return to old stomping grounds
Jai Arrow was quoted earlier as saying he expected the Titans to be “out for blood” in his return to CBUS Stadium. His move to the Bunnies wasn’t well received but the addition of David Fifita really softened the blow.
They will clash for the first time, at their new sides, in tomorrow evening’s early game.
These two forward packs are elite right now and I can’t wait to see what the Titans players and fans have planned for their former star.
No matter how hostile the reception, I believe the Origin regular will be more than up for the challenge. After all he overcame a red hot, aggressive Roosters back who were supposedly out to settle a score.
Less popularised is the return of young Kyle Flanagan to the Sharks. The club who ushered him through a record breaking run in the Under 20’s competition and presented him with his NRL debut.
The youngster was marked as the future of the club’s number seven jersey but demanded a trade when his father left the club. Sharks fans haven’t forgotten and were sour on their youngster when he chased glory at the Roosters.
Now at the Bulldogs, Flanagan has enjoyed a decent start to the season but hasn’t yet delivered on the incredible talent he has shown in glimpses.
He will be keen to drag his side to their first win of 2021 against the Sharks. Meanwhile on the hill I doubt the reception will be overly welcoming.
Neither player will be the main storyline heading into the contest but I’m looking forward to Arrow’s first hit up on Friday and Flanagan’s first touch on Saturday.
3. Eels vs Broncos Rematch
Eels vs Broncos … again? That feels familiar, does it not?
Just over a month ago, the Broncos and Eels featured in Round 1’s Friday night football showcase game. The Broncos lead 16-0 at half-time before allowing the visiting Eels to score 24 unanswered points.
The Eels took that momentum and now sit third, having dropped just the one game all season. How different it may have been should the Broncos have been able to hold on in their opener.
Meanwhile Brisbane have jus the one win across seven rounds. They should be sitting on four competition points as they had Parra dead to rights.
Can the Broncos right the wrong on Friday evening? Surely the Eels won’t start to slowly. Surely the Broncos, if in a similar position, won’t let that lead slip?
It looks like an open and shut game in terms of a result, however the game being in Darwin and the disrupted week off-field for the Eels perhaps adds some variables.
There are storylines everywhere across a potentially brilliant week of footy but the three above are the three I’m most looking forward to.