After another absorbing round of NRL are we witnessing a changing of the guard? Competition heavyweights the Storm, Broncos and Cowboys are struggling to cope with the rules crackdown while the Dragons and the Warriors continue to take down all comers. Off the field we got us a good ole feud goin on, yee haa! A classic pre-game snipe from the wily old fox Wayne Bennett ended with Nathan Brown giving Wayne’s third leg the middle finger. Browny quickly got on the blower and apologised before Clint went Gran Torino on him but Bennett should be gracious as the focus on his groin took everyone’s attention off the poor form of the Broncos. Before I gouge my eyes out let’s get to the footy and what a corker to begin round six!
Sydney Roosters v South Sydney Rabbitohs
The tradition continues, not the US Masters won by some arrogant porky Yank but the real tradition, the Roosters and the Rabbitohs. Hating each other since 1908, don’t expect anything but a fiery clash here. The Roosters are hard to get a grip on, ordinary one match then excellent their next as they showed in flying out of the Shire Bermuda Triangle with two points. If the Chooks pack led by Sio Siua Taukeiaho can replicate the Shark subduing aggression the backline blitzing off the class of Cooper Cronk and Luke Keary will be hard to stop. The Rabbitohs showed great heart to nearly steal the match against the Saints but they need to start fast as the Roosters are great front runners. No Sam Burgess again places pressure on the Burgess twins to lash the latte lovers and look to club stalwart Jason Clark in his 150th to play a blinder especially with their rivals across the paddock. If Souths can contain the Chooks flaky forwards then its game on especially if Adam Reynolds controls play. Expect a better showing from the proud Greg Inglis the embarrassment from being burned by Euan Aitken will fire him up no end, but I suspect GI’s doppelganger Latrell Mitchell will have the last word.
Roosters by 14
Melbourne Storm v Newcastle Knights
One thing you can bet on with this game is Nathan Brown will not take a pot shot at any part of Craig Bellamy’s upper thigh area or club and vice versa, Bellyache has more important things to worry about which is errors and adaptation. The Storm are in the unusual position of mid-table battlers and playing like pretenders not contenders. There is no rhythm to their game, which is giving Cameron Smith the screaming irrits and making life without Cooper Cronk and the under rated Tohu Harris harder than imagined. Young gun Brodie Croft is shooting blanks and has been dumped replaced by the dependable Ryley Jacks. Everyone wondered how Cronk would go without Smith and Slater, just fine is the answer, its Melbourne missing Coops. The Knights despatched the Broncos with another victory laid by true grit salt and peppered with sprinkles of brilliance from Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga. It is sensory overload taking in The Pong, he is almost untouchable when running and combining sensational silky ball skills with the immaculate timing of a Swiss watch he has defenders second guessing whether he’s going to run or pass. The Storm’s defence will need to be on high alert to keep Ponga and his marauding Knights at bay, maybe Bellamy needs to do a Ricky Stuart and go sideline, get in the trenches to inspire his troops? If he does and you’re seated in rows A-Z behind the Storm take earmuffs for your kids. Keep calm and don’t panic parents, at home and needing a win to get their season back on track, Bellamy will be all smiles (post-match) as the scales tip the Storms way.
Storm by 7
St George Illawarra Dragons v Cronulla Sharks
A second southern Sydney derby this season already, seriously who runs the NRL scheduling – Dory the forgetful fish from Finding Nemo? Some teams only play others once while others clash twice within weeks. The Sharks need to find their bite fast as they have been about as threatening as a wobbegong on wacky weed and run into the smoking hot Dragons outfit leading the competition in style. A derby against the Dragons should get the snarl back and expect the Sharks to go at the Saints hammer and tongs from the opening whistle. Andrew Fifita needs to lead the way, if he goes off the side normally follow and the Sharks desperately need to put the Dragons off their game and find a way to win. Good, bad, ugly or all three, just get in their face and get the job done. Josh Dugan times his return perfectly to face his former Red V teammates in the centres though as Matt Moylan retains the No1 job. The Dragons look flawless, flaying everyone with a lethal mix of punishing defence and backline brilliance all engineered by the wonderful halves Gareth Widdop and Ben Hunt.
If you were picking a NSW Origin side on form you couldn’t go wrong selecting most of the St George pack and Scottish international Euan Aitken is throwing his tartan flap cap in the ring via career best form. A Scot playing for NSW sounds strange and I don’t know how Aitken escaped QLD’s bendy boundaries but either way welcome to the weird and wonderful world of league eligibility. Form shouts out Dragons all the way but being a derby and applying NRL logic don’t be surprised if the Sharks spring an upset.
Dragons by 4
New Zealand Warriors v Brisbane Broncos
The Warriors are in uncharted territory, still undefeated and playing calm structured yet exciting footy. Five straight, this is a roll never seen before in the land of the long white cloud. Alex Corvo the Warriors trainer has been hitting the headlines this week getting kudos for his preseason drills that have licked the lapses that saw the old Warriors wilt. Talented, tough as teak and trim, the Warriors are the complete package and guided by assured offseason acquisitions Blake Green and Tohu Harris are a formidable foe. Favourite son Shaun Johnson returned without skipping a beat or unsettling the side and fed the dangerous David Fusitua some beautiful balls. Johnson’s match up with Anthony Milford will be captivating. The under-siege Broncos will be a great test for the Kiwis. The proud Brisbane club are copping it from all quarters, media talk of unhappy campers, opposition coaches taking pot shots, in retaliation mind you, stars form in question, these are the types of situations the Broncos usually stand tallest. Wayne Bennett will galvanise his men, they’ll be prepared for battle and look to Tevita Pangai Jr and Josh McGuire to wage war on the Warriors big men. Adam Blair will respond in kind taking on his old club with fervour and target the halves, the Milf better pack his dancing shoes to avoid getting clubbed. In current form the halves head to head looks a monumental mismatch and the decisive advantage held by the Kiwis. This will be an emotion charged belter, using my big head not my little one to choose a winner the Warriors to scrape home in a tight one.
Warriors by 1
North Queensland Cowboys v Canterbury Bulldogs
1300SMILES Stadium welcomes two sides hoping to turn their frowns upside down. The Cowboys have gone from favourites to flops in the opening month, while the Bulldogs are battling with both at 1 and 4. Prince Chuck and Clydesdale Parker-Bowles have had a frolic in the tropics this past week but real royalty graces the field in the under-fire Jonathan Thurston. The critics are circling the Cowboys wagon, JT is an old codger who has gone one year too many, the game plan is jaded, Taumalolo’s star has faded. Fox League’s Greg Alexander hasn’t had one brandy too many he just called Thurston’s form recovering from a major shoulder injury as it is and we all wait for the champion’s response, which will be swift. Paul Green must be licking his lips, he doesn’t need to motivate his men for this match just keep the lid on until Saturday afternoon then watch the Cowboys go to town. Lachlan Coote is back and his playmaking adds that extra spice to the bland offerings the Cowboys have been serving up. Canterbury had enough ball to win two games in Canberra last Thursday and it is a concern that needs more than the odd Moses Mbye bust to overcome. Kieran Foran cannot carry the sides fortunes on his own and Jeremy Marshall-King looks likely as the half the Dogs need to stick with to help Foran get the Bulldogs barking which so far has had all the ferocity of a corgi calling for cucumber sandwiches. Influential clashes feature in the furnace with Kangaroo props David Klemmer and Aaron Woods taking on Matt Scott and the boulder with shoulders Jason Taumalolo, whoever trumps this could see their opponents season flush down the toilet. The signs are all pointing to a Cowboys backlash. Bulldogs beware, enter the field at your own risk.
Cowboys by 18
Canberra Raiders v Parramatta Eels
The Raiders take on the winless Eels and will never have a better chance to start getting on a streak that can vault them up the ladder, while the Eels can’t slip any lower their confidence can slide to new depths if they suffer a sixth straight loss. Jack Wighton has been named and Ricky Stuart has shown faith in him to forget about his charges and escape the drama at least for 80 minutes, either that or the Raiders want to get as many games out of him before Wighton gets wiped. Sam Williams is gone for at least a month bringing Blake Austin back in to partner Aidan Sezer in the halves.
Sezer played his best game responding to criticism in style last start, now to deliver consistently. Sia Soliola inspired the Raiders last week and he’ll again be required to don his lime green cape and swing from the chandeliers as Brad Arthur will have the Eels fired up to scrape and scuffle a win any way they can. Speaking of firing up, let’s keep the coaches on the sideline a la Ricky Stuart. Fans love the raw emotion, get the folder holders out of their Perspex prism of profanity and down on the ground riding every play, blowing up deluxe! Imagine the theatre if they all did it, who wouldn’t want to see Nathan Brown and Wayne Bennett going at it ringside EPL style! This is a tough road trip for the Eels but the cult King of the West Clint Gutherson makes his long-awaited return and man do they need his freakish talents. Parramatta discovered they have a heart as they showed spirit against the Panthers but unless they can find their way across the stripe the yellow brick road down the Hume Highway will be coated in fool’s gold.
Raiders by 10
Penrith Panthers v Gold Coast Titans
Injuries are testing Penrith’s depth, Waqa Blake joins a host of Panthers on the sidelines. Luckily the talent pit out west seems bottomless and the always excellent Isaah Yeo, one of Dubbo’s finest moves out one spot to the centres, with another Dubbo product Kaide Ellis joining the bench. The Panthers bush connections are strong, another gem from the state’s central west James Maloney is leading from the front thriving on the responsibility handed to him in Nathan Cleary’s absence. A shoe in for Origin selection Maloney will urge his mighty pack to lay the platform to take down the resilient Titans. Reagan Campbell-Gillard has turned into the leader of the Panther pack and RCG in tandem with Viliame Kikau will look to make inroads for the classy backline to benefit from. The Gold Coast have gone back to back and surprisingly are the top ranked team in Queensland! Garth Brennan has transformed this side into a bunch of hard workers with belief, who have the talent spread across the park to score tries from anywhere in any fashion and in Ash Taylor an outstanding young match winner who makes the Goldie glitter. Ryan James may be missing due to suspension but in Jai Arrow the Titans have one of the form backrowers in the NRL and he’ll spearhead the Titans hat-trick attempt. There are a multitude of ex-Panthers in this Titans side who will be pumped to puncture the Panthers. Bryce Cartwright can be rocks or diamonds but shone brightly in Gladstone last Sunday and if the Titans are to cause an upset he’s the man who’ll be at the pointy end of proceedings. This has upset written all over it but will the Titans follow the script?
Panthers by 8
Manly Sea Eagles v Wests Tigers
Unfortunately for the Tigers they don’t play the Storm again this year, Bellamy’s boys have quickly become the Tigers Bunnies. Everyone keeps waiting for the wheels to fall off the Cleary bus but the nuts must have been screwed on by the Hulk as the Tigers are playing great footy leaving their opponents in tatters and rival coaches feeling green. The Benji Marshall rejuvenation is a wonderful story but Benji has been around long enough to know the Tigers can’t keep scraping home but if they continue to compete and stay in the contest they are always a chance. Luke Brooks is finally realising his immense potential and his clash against Daly Cherry-Evans should be a bottler. DCE and his Sea Eagle cohorts have made a habit of blasting out of the blocks at Lottoland and the Tigers better be prepared. In bad news for the Tigers, Russell Packer is out for a month and makes Wests job in containing Marty Taupau and Addin Fonua-Blake a whole lot harder. The Tigers will attempt to turn this into trench warfare and while playing away doesn’t faze Ivan Cleary’s men in the slightest, no Packer could be fatal, though Josh Reynolds finally makes his club debut and an injection of his enthusiasm won’t go astray. Manly missed fullback Tom Trbojevic tremendously last week, brother Jake just wasn’t the same player without his other half. Tommy Turbo is becoming so influential it becomes a simple equation to me, he plays the Sea Eagles soar. Back in the comfortable surrounds of Brookvale should see the Sea Eagles return to the winner’s stall but with a warning attached: underestimate the Tigers at your peril.
Sea Eagles by 13
NRL Round 5 Results
Raiders 26 Bulldogs 10; Roosters 28 Sharks 10; Dragons 16 Rabbitohs 12; Tigers 11 Storm 10; Warriors 22 Cowboys 12; Knights 15 Broncos 10; Titans 32 Sea Eagles 20; Panthers 12 Eels 6
1. Dragons 10
2. Warriors 10
3. Panthers 8
4. Tigers 8
5. Roosters 6
6. Titans 6
7. Knights 6
8. Sea Eagles 4