North Sydney Bears v Mounties: Auva’a to return for Bears
(North Sydney Oval, Saturday 4 July, 3:00pm)
North Sydney Bears will field a formidable lineup against Mounties, which includes the return of 2014 NRL premiership-winning centre Kirisome Auva’a.
This match will see two of the most dynamic halves pairings in the VB NSW Cup face off – with Cody Walker and Darren Nicholls for the Bears and Josh McCrone and Mitch Cornish for Mounties.
These two sides could not be split in round 14 when they played for a 26-all draw, and Bears coach Ben Gardiner says his side took a lot out of that game.
“We actually learned a fair bit from that game about ourselves and our defensive systems,” said Gardiner.
“We felt that we gave up a few too many metres in that game - so we’ve had a look at that this week to find some ways we can address that leading into this game.
“They have a really strong forward pack so we really need to be on our game.”
Auva’a – just like Paul Carter last week – is a welcome addition for the Bears.
Gardiner is happy to have someone like Auva’a playing for him this weekend, and is keen to get the best out of him as he progresses back onto the rugby league field.
“[Auva’a] has been training for about five or six weeks now full time after he had surgery in his time off,” said Gardiner.
“He’ll come back into the team, but he’s going to be rusty; so they key thing for him is that he just gets out there and gets some practice playing footy again.
“From our point of view we’re not going to put pressure on him or around him to do anything special.”
Gardiner stresses the importance of existing combinations at the Bears despite the addition or omission of key players, and Auva’a is no different.
“He’s just going to fall into the team, be part of the team and do his role in the team – that’s all we need from him.”
Mounties are in a form slump since their strong start to the season to sit in first place but have dropped to third position.
Nevertheless, the Bears should remain wary of a team who has the capability to bounce back.
Illawarra Cutters v Wentworthville Magpies: Cutters look to bounce back
(WIN Stadium, Saturday 4 July, 5:10pm)
The Illawarra Cutters will be aiming to move back into the top four when they take on the Wentworthville Magpies.
Cutters have proven in recent weeks that they are a worthy top four side, despite conceding 44 unanswered points last week and will be determined to rectify that unacceptable performance against the Magpies.
The Magpies are coming off an excellent defensive performance against the Newcastle Knights, and will carry that confidence against one of the competition’s largest forward packs.
The Cutters are the second-best defensive team in the competition, while the Magpies have the worst attack.
Cutters coach Scott Logan says they will concentrate on their own performance this week in order to get the victory.
“Again, we’ll be focusing on ourselves,” said Logan.
“We can look through video and pointing out all of their strengths and weaknesses, but that sometimes takes the focus away from what we want to do. There are a few areas like our [defence] that we’d like to clean up.”
A major threat that is facing the Magpies is Cutters prop forward Russell Packer.
The Cutters team performances have significantly improved since Packer’s mid-season debut against the Newtown Jets, and coach Logan is extremely satisfied with his addition.
“Russell is obviously very experienced, he’s played a fair bit of first grade.
“It’s more his talk and the way he conducts himself on the field. He’s been out of football for a long time, it’s more just his influence around the club that’s been good for us.”
The Magpies may be sitting in last position but are only two wins out of the top eight and three wins behind the Cutters.
The competition is extremely tight this season, and a win this Saturday will go a long way for the Magpies to reach the Finals.
For the Cutters, they will need to be prepared for a physical encounter with the Magpies, who are struggling for points but grind out games through their attitude and defence.
Newcastle Knights v Manly Sea Eagles: Must-win contest for Manly
(Newcastle Sports Ground No. 2, Sunday 5 July, 3:00pm)
The Newcastle Knights will welcome back some key players Danny Levi and Carlos Tuimavave at home against the Manly Sea Eagles.
Both teams will enter this match coming off a loss and can’t afford to keep dropping games if they want to be a part of the Finals.
The Knights are sitting in eighth position on 16 competition points with little breathing room in securing a top-eight spot.
The Sea Eagles are in 11th place with 12 points, and coach Luke Williamson says this game is a must win.
“Yes we do [consider this game a must win],” said Williamson.
“We’ve got to start now, we’ve got to make it happen. We’ve got to play the entire 80 minutes. There might be a couple of players back from injury that might help but ultimately it’s the team attitude.”
The Sea Eagles have extra attacking options through Jayden Hodges and their dangerous edge players, and Knights coach Matt Lantry is consequently focusing on defensive structures for this week.
“For us it’s about continually improving our defensive side of things,” said Lantry.
“In previous weeks we’ve leaked some really soft tries and I think we took a step in improving that [last week] as we had 16 points scored against us.”
For the Sea Eagles, it will be all about putting in an 80-minute performance, as they do not want to suffer another tight loss.
“I’ve said it a few times, we need to play the entire 80 minutes,” said Williamson.
“[Last week] we just let a couple of tries in which cost us the game so, it’s about that 80 minutes.”
Defence is certainly a key area for the Sea Eagles, who have leaked more points than every other side in the competition.
While the Knights defensive record is considerably better than the Sea Eagles, it is still not flattering – and both sides will need to sharpen this area of their game up this weekend in a bid to make a surge to the finals.
The result of this game will almost certainly have a huge influence on either teams season, considering they are currently both on the fringe of the top eight.