Mounties v Manly: SEA EAGLES OUT TO SWOOP
(Aubrey Keech Reserve, Saturday 21 March, 3.00pm)
The Sea Eagles may have caused the upset of round two but coach Luke Williamson insists his side isn’t getting ahead of itself before the clash with high-flying Mounties on Saturday.
Manly are full of confidence after clawing their way back from 16 points down to claim their first victory of the season, however Williamson is aware of the tough task that lies ahead against an unbeaten outfit.
The Canberra Raiders’ feeder club has been impressive in their opening two matches, with victories against the Bulldogs and Wyong placing them at the top of the ladder alongside the Panthers and Tigers.
Despite losing former international David Shillington to a thumb injury, Mounties still boast a host of NRL players who Williamson believes can strike from anywhere on the park.
“They have a lot of players who train with the Canberra first grade side. I think it’s certainly going to be a huge task for us but one that we are really looking forward to,” Williamson said.
“Glen Buttriss at hooker is a quality player. They’ve got a host of players with first grade experience, so we will definitely have to be on our guard.”
But while the Mounties possess some quality talent, so do their opposition. Manly hooker Jayden Hodges emerges as the biggest threat on Saturday with his delivery and creativity out of dummy-half.
He enjoyed a stellar maiden season at Manly last year, where he took out the club’s VB NSW Cup Player of the Year award and has begun 2015 where he left off last season.
Sea Eagles cult hero and current VB NSW Cup captain David Williams has been exciting at the back since his return to the playing field. Williamson praised the fullback in his application and recent form.
“David has been playing really well. I think it’s a real test of character when you have to come back through reserve grade. He certainly brings a lot of experience and leadership, which has been quite valuable for us,” he said.
As for Manly’s recent form, Williamson said: “We’re a bit like chalk and cheese. We failed to fire in round one but we prepared well for the Cutters and I think that was evident in the result.”
Wests Tigers v Canterbury: IMPRESSIVE DOGS TO TEST WESTS TIGERS
(Leichhardt Oval, Saturday 21 March, 3.00pm)
Following an impressive start to the season from halfback Josh Drinkwater, Wests Tigers coach Paul Fletcher is hoping for more of the same from his no.7 ahead of Saturday’s clash with the Bulldogs.
Drinkwater has led his side to consecutive victories in the opening two rounds of the VB NSW Cup and his coach has been thrilled with his form.
“I’ve been really impressed with Josh. He’s been great for us in the halves and he’s doing a great job keeping the boys in our structure. His kicking game has been exceptional in the first two matches,” Fletcher said.
After a narrow first-round defeat at the hands of last year’s premiers, Penrith, Canterbury produced another solid display last weekend against the Warriors to claim their first win of the season.
The Bulldogs boast a host of NRL players in their side and Fletcher is fully aware of the dangers they possess right across the park.
“They were unlucky to get beaten by Penrith in round one and last week against the Warriors they were very good. They’ve got a strong team there with good go forward and some craftiness in their halves, so it’s not going to be an easy task,” he said.
Fletcher’s theory behind winning games in the early stages of the season is playing simple footy. For most of his side’s opening victories, the Tigers have been disciplined with ball in hand.
They’ve been impressive without being spectacular and it’s this formula that has the Tigers sitting atop the ladder alongside the Panthers and Mounties.
“I think the first six weeks is basically about who completes the best because everyone is trying to work out their timing and getting into the competition. I find that the first six weeks is all about having a low error rate and defending well,” Fletcher said.
Despite sitting at the top of the VB NSW Cup ladder, Fletcher admits there is still plenty of room for improvement ahead of Saturday’s clash at Leichhardt Oval.
“When we led 18-12 at half-time last week, the first 10-15 minutes of the second half we went away from our game plan and started dropping balls in our own half and ultimately paid the price,” he said.
“If you give any team in this competition back-to-back sets they are going to hurt you. Luckily it didn’t cost us the match.”
Wyong v Newcastle: M1 DERBY SET TO LIGHT UP CENTRAL COAST
(Morry Breen Oval, Saturday 21 March, 3.00pm)
Wyong coach Rip Taylor has urged his team not to allow Newcastle's explosive backline any time to weave their magic.
The Roos are coming off a last-start loss to Mounties, desperate to return to the winners’ circle in their local derby against Newcastle on Saturday afternoon.
Taylor has earmarked two Knights NRL players as the main danger men for the opposition, placing plenty of emphasis on his side's kick-chase.
"Watching their game last week against the Jets they were very good," Taylor said.
"We’ve got to watch out for their backs, in particular Jake Mamo and Chanel Mata’utia. It’s important to get to our kick chase and limit the back-three’s space, so our kicking game will need to be good."
Wyong won their opening game of the season 34-8 against Manly, in which former NRL player Yileen Gordon bagged a double.
But they were unable to pip Mounties last week, going down by three points.
"The Mounties boys were simply a lot tougher than we were," Taylor said.
"We failed to muscle-up and we paid the price on the scoreboard. They’ve got a lot of experience up front and I think they just had a little bit more punch than we did."
Wyong will field five players with NRL experience at their disposal this weekend, including Nene McDonald, Lagi Setu, Willie Manu, Samisoni Langi and Gordon.
Taylor said the experience those players provide is invaluable to the side.
"It’s a massive advantage," he said.
"We missed some guys last week and you can definitely notice a difference. Last week the Mounties had a heap of NRL players and we weren’t good enough to match them."
Illawarra v North Sydney: CUTTERS ON VICTORY HUNT
(WIN Stadium, Saturday 21 March, 3.00pm)
The Illawarra Cutters will be hoping to register their first win of the VB NSW Cup season when they take on the North Sydney Bears at WIN Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Cutters surrendered a 16-point lead against Manly last weekend, frustrating coach Scott Logan.
While Illawarra are winless to open the new year, Logan insists the defeat against Manly on the weekend was far more difficult to swallow than their first-up loss to Mounties.
"We were very competitive in round one," Logan said.
"But on the weekend we basically conceded too many penalties and had to do too much defence and consequently became tired and gave the opposition good field position.
"Most losses are disappointing. The one against the Mounties in round one I wasn’t too disappointed with because the boys were up against a huge forward pack and they showed a lot of character. But against Manly, to jump out of the blocks like we did and to lose the way we did was very disappointing."
The Bears struggled against last year's premiers Penrith in Bathurst on Saturday. They'll be hoping to bounce back against the Cutters, who are well aware of the weapons they possess in attack.
"They had a good win in round one and they aren’t going to be easy that’s for sure," Logan said.
"The Bears are well structured and they have strike power all across the park, so we will need to be at our best to get the two points on Saturday.
"They have a quality spine and we’ve got to be watchful of that. Their forwards also pack plenty of punch."
Penrith v Newtown: PANTHERS OUT TO CONTINUE UNBEATEN START
(Pepper Stadium, Saturday 21 March, 3.00pm)
The Penrith Panthers will be out to maintain their ascendency at the top of the VB NSW Cup ladder when they take on the Newtown Jets at Pepper Stadium on Saturday.
Last year’s Premiers have won two games in as many starts to commence the season, while the Jets are yet to get the ball rolling in 2015.
Penrith coach Garth Brennan insists recent form will count for nothing in what he believes is the toughest NSW Cup competition in years.
“Whoever you play in the NSW Cup you’ve got to be on your game, otherwise you’ll get knocked off,” Brennan said.
“If you don’t turn up to play you can be beaten by any team in this competition. It’s the strongest NSW Cup competition I’ve seen in a long time.”
Penrith’s defensive determination proved the catalyst behind last year’s premiership glory, and after conceding just four points in their last start against the Bears, it is again Brennan's number one priority.
“Defence has been my focus every year. If you’re defensively very strong then you’re going to be thereabouts at the back end of the year. I’m expecting a really tough game against the Jets,” he said.
Brennan believes complacency will not get the better of his side on Saturday against a Jets outfit searching for their first victory after back-to-back losses to begin the season.
“The Jets are very competitive. They’ve got some real quality players in their team. They’ve got some big forwards with plenty of experience, so they aren’t going to be an easy task, that’s for sure,” he said.
Penrith boast a host of emerging talent waiting in the wings for their opportunity in the top grade. Fledgling prospects in George Jennings and Waqa Blake are just two of several members of the Panthers side who he believes will keep the NRL backs on guard across 2015.
“I’ve been working with these kids in the NYC for the last couple of years and I know what they can do, so I was pretty excited about these boys developing in NSW Cup and hopefully into NRL players this year."
Isaac John turned-on a VB hard-earned man-of-the-match display in Bathurst last weekend and Brennan is looking for more of the same from his five-eighth against the Jets.
“His game last weekend was first-class. We’re fortunate, we’ve got Will Smith there and Adrian Davis, but I was very happy with Isaac’s performance last weekend,” he said.
“He will definitely keep [Jamie] Soward and [Peter] Wallace on their toes this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s back in the top-grade soon.”
Warriors v Wentworthville: MAGPIES’ TOUGH TRANS-TASMAN TUSSLE
(Mt Smart Stadium, Saturday 21 March, 2.45pm NZ Time [12.45pm AEDT])
The Wentworthville Magpies are desperate to right their VB NSW Cup premiership campaign after a horror start to the year – but this week face arguably the toughest road trip in the competition.
The Magpies are anchored to the bottom of the table after losing their opening two matches, while the Kiwi-based side are one from two.
The Stacey Jones-coached Warriors host Brett Cook’s Magpies on Saturday, a clash that promises to be an entertaining one for those in the attendance at Mt Smart and watching on TV via Sky and Fox Sports.
These two teams possess some of the competition’s most entertaining and electric players, including the likes of Viliami Kaveinga, Dominique Peyroux, Siliva Havili, Bureta Faraimo and Luke Kelly.
Two particular danger men for the visitors are two of the greatest stories in the game – jail-cell-to-NRL power-forward Suaia Matagi (pictured) and assistant-coach-turned-starting-centre George Carmont.
If there’s one game you catch this weekend, make sure it’s this one – it should be a cracker.
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