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New Zealand Warriors v Mounties: Mounties concentrating on defence

(Mt Smart Stadium, Saturday 27 June, 12:40pm)

Mounties face the ultimate challenge in the VB NSW Cup this weekend by making the trip to New Zealand to play the Warriors.

The Warriors have only dropped one game at home this season, with their last win being a 28-0 shutout of Wyong Roos.

Mounties coach Steve Antonelli understands the difficulty of playing over in New Zealand.

“It’s a big test going over there,” says Antonelli.

“I reckon you’re doing well attitude wise [if you win in New Zealand]– it’s a hard gig going over there and getting ready and then coming straight back. It’s a tough road trip.”

Warriors are one of the most unpredictable teams in the competition and have plenty of attacking prowess.

For this reason, Antonelli says Mounties’ focus this weekend will be on defence.

“Our main focus this week is our defence. Our big thing is defending errors and defending penalties, which we haven’t been good at over the last month. If we can defend repeat sets and errors, [then] I have full confidence in our attack. We just need to be 40-50% better in our defence.”

This match is second position playing third, and if the Warriors win, Mounties will be in danger of dropping out of the top two for the first time this season.

Mounties’ early season form has kept them in the hunt at the top of the table, but their recent form has been scratchy and another loss could have serious consequences as teams below them start to catch up.

For the Warriors, this is their chance to jump higher on the table.

This game is vital for the home team who hold a poor away record and cannot afford to drop many home games if they want remain in the top four at the end of the season.



Newtown Jets v Manly Sea Eagles: Sea Eagles searching for 80-minute performance

(Henson Park, Saturday 27 June, 3:00pm)

These two teams will be desperate for victory in hopes of kick-starting a late-season surge to the Finals this Saturday at Henson Park.

While both teams possess plenty of talent, neither team have had the success that many predicted this season, as the Newtown Jets sit in eighth position with the Manly Sea Eagles in eleventh.

Sea Eagles coach Luke Williamson remains optimistic with his team performing better than the results show, and says they need to put in a full 80-minute performance to down the Jets this week.

“We’ve matched it with the best teams in the comp,” said Williamson.

“[Newtown] have a huge forward pack- they’re very powerful. They make some great in-roads when they run the ball and they’re very effective out wide, so we’ll have our hands full. [However] a lot of the focus is on us; if we complete and play the 80 minutes we give ourselves a good chance.”

Williamson went on to reflect last week’s loss to Wyong and pinpoints what his team has to fix in order to pick up a win against Newtown.

“We’ve got to stay with [Newtown],” said Williamson.

“We started probably a little bit poorly last week, if you look at this week we need to focus on a good start and playing for the entire 80 minutes.”

Both sides have individuals who add an extra element to their respective teams attack, and Jayden Hodges is one of those players for the Sea Eagles.

“[Hodges] is exceptional, he’s very important,” said Williamson.

“He’s that third or fourth attacking option and he’s just great out of dummy half. I know the other players get a lot of confidence [out of] playing with Jayden. We’re very happy to have him on board.”
The Jets will need a win to steer clear from dropping out of the top eight, while the Sea Eagles cannot afford to drop many more games if they want to make a dent into the competition.


Illawarra Cutters v Canterbury Bulldogs: Top-four position looming

(WIN Stadium, Saturday 27 June, 3:00pm)

Only two competition points separate the Illawarra Cutters and the Canterbury Bulldogs as they enter their clash this weekend, with a top-four spot up for grabs.

The Cutters currently sit in fourth, but are likely to drop out with a loss, while the Bulldogs could find themselves in the top four with a win depending on other results.

The Cutters have one of the biggest forward packs in the competition. Bulldogs coach Andy Patmore believes shutting them down will go a long way to winning the game.

“They’re the worlds’ biggest football team,” said Patmore.

“We’ve got to make sure that we control their roll on, [that] we try and take momentum off them as often as possible. But as I said they’re a massive team.”

There are many teams in contention for a top-four position, so this game is vital for both sides looking to pick up as many wins as they can at the business end of the season.

“Obviously at this time of year you want to get as many wins as possible, but as I said they’re a very big and a very good football team, so it’s a massive challenge again for us this week.”

Both teams are coming off a bye, however the Cutters entered the bye week with a win, while the Bulldogs carried a loss.

Patmore believes that due to the loss to the Wentworthville Magpies before the week off, the bye came for his team at a good time.

“[The bye came at a good time] due to Origin commitments and obviously coming off a loss against Wenty the week before, it was probably good for us to have a week off.”

The Cutters are the second-best defensive team in the VB NSW Cup, whilst the Bulldogs are ranked third in attack.

With plenty on the line for both teams, this match has all the makings to be an absolute thriller.


North Sydney Bears v Wests Tigers: Both teams eyeing off top-eight spot

(North Sydney Oval, Sunday 28 June, 3:00pm)

Wests Tigers and North Sydney Bears are sitting in ninth and tenth position on the ladder respectively, which makes the two competition points even more pivotal in reaching the top eight.

The Bears’ last four fixtures have resulted in a win, loss, draw and bye. Their coach Ben Gardiner will be hoping to eradicate some flaws in their game in this week’s contest with Wests Tigers.

“We’ve had some issues with handling the ball,” says Gardiner.

“Our possession and our completions has been a focus for us for about six or seven weeks now and improving that.

“We’ve been working really hard on improving [our discipline], and coming up with plans that look after holding onto the ball.”

The Bears are coming off a bye, whilst Wests Tigers are yet to enjoy the week off which means they have played 15 games in a row coming into this clash.

Gardiner however does not see this as any advantage.

“Teams are changing week in week out,” Gardiner said. “Even watching Wests Tigers their team changes most weeks, so I don’t think it’s an advantage or a disadvantage.”

In regards to team changes, the Bears will welcome new recruit Paul Carter into their starting lineup, as well as John Olive who returns from first grade and young back-rower Cheyne Whitelaw who is returning from injury.

Gardiner is happy to bring such players into his lineup but stresses that due to the ever-changing team list, the Bears will rely on their combinations to conquer Wests Tigers.

“[Those new additions] are important, but no more important than the guys that are there week in, week out,” said Gardiner.

“Obviously having guys coming back from first grade, or those with first grade experience, is a great benefit to us, but I really think it’s more around the regular combinations.”

Coming into the back end of the season, every win is vital, particularly for two sides that are knocking on the door of a Finals appearance.


Wentworthville Magpies v Newcastle Knights: Knights look to bounce back

(Ringrose Park, Sunday 28 June, 3:00pm

Both the Wentworthville Magpies and the Newcastle Knights come into this week’s clash after conceding a half-time lead in the past round.

The Knights are in danger of slipping out of the top eight, while the Magpies are sitting in last place.

Knights coach Matt Lantry is aware that there is a lot on the line for both sides this weekend.

“You can win a game and come back into the top four, or [you lose the game] and you’re bottom of the top eight. Or worst case for us, possibly out of the top eight,” said Lantry.

“Wenty are just a win or two out of the top eight. We’re desperate to be in the top eight, so it should be a good battle.”

The Knights are coming off a 36-16 point loss and consequently, will be focusing on defence this week against the Magpies.

“We gave up too many points last week – 36 points I think that’s our biggest loss of the year,” said Lantry. “It was very uncharacteristic from our team, so that’s the area of the game we’ll be focusing on this week – to be good defensively across the park.”

“I’m hoping we can execute enough with the footy, but you can’t leak 36 points and win a game; not as this level.”

Within the top eight, the Knights have the second-poorest defensive record, while the Magpies are the worst attacking team in the competition.

Such statistics make for an interesting battle, and it will come down to what team can put in a full 80-minute performance – both defensively and with the ball.

“It’s about the 80 [minutes] in front of us this weekend against Wenty,” said Lantry. “It’s also an opportunity for some players to redeem themselves.”

The two sides combined to concede 66 points while failing to score a point in their second half last weekend.

Both teams will be hungry to make a point to bounce back and get a vital two points on the board. 


Wyong Roos v Penrith Panthers: Roos look to match the Panthers in defence

(Central Coast Stadium, Saturday 28 June, 4:30pm)

In what will be one of the matchups of the week, the fifth-placed Wyong Roos will host the defending premiers and current competition leaders Penrith Panthers this Sunday.

The Panthers have proven they are the team to beat in this years’ VB NSW Cup, setting the bar with their outstanding defensive structures.

Roos coach Rip Taylor says in order to beat the defending premiers, they simply need to stay in the game for the entire 80 minutes.

“You’ve just got to stay in the game with [the Panthers],” says Taylor. “They’re the top of the table with their defensive program, so obviously completions and staying in the game with Penrith [will be key].

“The footage I’ve watched of them; they play a little bit of structure and a little bit of ad-lib footy, so they’ll come at you from all parts of the park.”

When asked what area of the game the Roos are going to focus on in order to beat the Panthers, Taylor simply stated defence.

If the Roos can match it with Penrith in defence, they will have the best opportunity to win the game despite the defending premiers’ ability to defend their line.

A key attacking player to combat the Panthers defence for the Roos is Abraham Papalii, who last week was shifted to the wing and proved to be a powerful asset out wide.

It is unknown where he will play this week, as he has been named on an extended bench but Taylor believes no matter where Papalii plays will be of great value to the team.

“[Papalii] is very important to the side,” said Taylor. “The impact that he brings to positions; it’s about consistency for [Papalii] and hopefully we’ll find him the right position.”

The Panthers will be looking to solidify their lead on the VB NSW Cup ladder, and Sunday’s match against the Roos will be a welcome challenge for them.

The Roos have proven they are a force in this competition, and will be determined to test their premiership credentials against the Panthers.