Mounties v Newtown Jets: Mounties look for fresh start
(GIO Stadium, Saturday 18 July, 12:40pm)
Live on Fox Sports on Channel 501
It’s been a difficult midseason for Mounties who won their first seven games of the year but have only claimed one victory since. For Mounties, last round’s bye couldn’t have come at a better time.
“At this time of the year, mentally, they’re getting fatigued and with their bodies getting bashed week-in, week-out, I think it’s a good time to have a break to freshen us up before the Finals,” Mounties coach Steve Antonelli said.
“We had a couple of niggling injuries with a few guys back this week including Kyle O’Donnell and Mitch Cronin which is good. The bye came at a good time.”
Mounties begin their campaign in the run to the Finals against the Newtown Jets for an eagerly anticipated clash in the curtain raiser to the NRL at GIO Stadium.
“It’s a big thing for the team - it’s a good lift,” said Antonelli. “It’s a big difference from playing park footy to a stadium with plenty of atmosphere and playing in front of your home team and the crowd. It definitely lifts them.
“We have a good record at GIO Stadium and hopefully we can uphold that record this week. We’ll be out there on show before the NRL game.”
In their two clashes at GIO Stadium this season, Mounties won in fashion with an emphatic 58-18 victory over the Canterbury Bulldogs in Round 9 and trounced the Wentworthville Magpies 52-22 for their last win in Round 15.
The eighth-placed Jets are a dangerous opponent for Mounties, posing a large arsenal of NRL-experienced attacking weapons such as Nathan Gardner, Blake Ayshford, Mitch Brown, Junior Roqica and Pat Politoni.
While Mounties are desperate to rekindle their early-season form that saw them sit atop the ladder, Antonelli says there is no focus on their record.
“We just look on where to improve and try to fix that part of our game in defence. Defensively, we need to improve. For me, I only look one week at a time and I think we’ve improved in the past two or three weeks. We’re getting back to that form that gave us a good start.
“In our past two or three games we’ve leaked a lot of points. It’s only our attacking ability that’s kept us in the game. It’s more our individual misses than anything. It’s not the team structure or any small individual misses that we need to fix.”
Don’t miss this riveting contest in the Fox Sports Match of the Round.
Canterbury Bulldogs v Penrith Panthers: Panthers aim to stop Dogs
(Belmore Sports Ground, Saturday 18 July, 3:00pm)
Listen Live on Hawkesbury Radio on 89.9FM or hawkesburyradio.com.au, or via Radiohub.com.au
The Penrith Panthers cling to the top of the VB NSW Cup table despite dealing with a multitude of weekly line-up changes as they prepare to take on the in-form Canterbury Bulldogs.
The Panthers suffered a heart-breaking last-minute 22-20 defeat against the Wyong Roos following another deflating 19-18 loss in Round 16 against the same team.
“We’re competing hard and Wyong’s a tough team to beat - that’s all I can ask for at the moment,” Panthers coach Garth Brennan said. “We’re really down on troops. The guys coming in are doing a great job.
“The Roos aren’t easy beats - they’re one of the top teams in the VB NSW Cup. To lose by one and two points - it’s a pleasing result with the amount of players out.”
The Panthers will be determined to keep their place atop the ladder but face a Bulldogs side that has won five of their seven past matches to climb into fifth place and threaten for a top-four finish to the season.
Brennan points out that the Bulldogs have benefitted from fielding a similar side each week after fulfilling first-grade duties. “It helps when you get some regular quality players back in the team to play week-in week-out,” Brennan said. “I’ve seen their side hasn’t changed a lot over the past few weeks so that helps. They’re a quality side featuring some really good players on the team with NRL experience.
“We’re under no illusion - it’s going to be very tough again this week with another bunch of young kids making their debuts. I’m sure they’ll hold the gloves up well and compete hard again.”
It’s the ideal opportunity for the Bulldogs to announce their premiership credentials as the Panthers reassert themselves as the competition’s team to beat.
Newcastle v Wyong: Local rivals in potential Finals preview
(Newcastle Sports Ground No. 2, Sunday 19 July, 3:00pm)
The Newcastle Knights can expect a much-tougher encounter against the fourth-placed Wyong Roos than their 40-18 win over the Manly Sea Eagles before the bye.
Taking on their local rivals might be the season injection the seventh-placed Knights need for an end-of-season drive to the Finals.
“I think we can have a late-season surge,” said Knights coach Matt Lantry. “It just comes down to how healthy you are as well. It’s no secret you need your best players on the park to consistently perform well and that’s one thing we’ve struggled with during the mid-season with injuries in first grade and our team.
“If both sides can stay healthy for the rest of the year, then we’ll give ourselves every chance of having a decent crack at the competition.”
The Roos have won six of their past seven matches including consecutive victories against league-leading Panthers. The Knights enter the local derby fresh off the bye and an opportunity to assess their run to the Finals.
“We know the situation we’re currently in,” Lantry said. “We know what we need to do. We didn’t have any real momentum before the bye- that’s for sure. We had a few losses and a good win against Manly to bounce back before freshening up with the bye.”
According to Lantry, the key is their defence against a threatening Wyong side.
“I want to see us improve defensively.
“I’d look to improve in that area as well with our ruck speed. That’s really important this week. If you don’t control the ruck, then Mitch Williams will pick you off consistently in the middle third of the field.”
The Knights will need to be at their best against the Roos and Mitch Williams who has been one of the very best performers this season.
It’s set to be a memorable meeting in a potential Finals preview.
Illawarra V New Zealand: Opponents reunite in back-to-back matches
(WIN Stadium, Saturday 18 July, 3:00pm)
In a rare occurrence, the Illawarra Cutters take on the Warriors for the second consecutive week.
The second-placed Warriors enjoyed a 38-22 comeback win at home last weekend after trailing 18-nil after 17 minutes.
The Cutters have their chance for swift revenge with the home-ground advantage this time around.
Remarkably for a team coming second, the Warriors have a point differential of zero due to their poor road record and it will certainly be a great challenge for them to defeat the Cutters at WIN Stadium.
The Warriors have a golden opportunity to jump into first place on the ladder if the Panthers fall to the Bulldogs, while the Cutters are determined to grab a valuable top-four position in the run to the Finals.
It’s an intriguing contest between two teams destined for the Finals.
North Sydney v Wentworthville: Sunday afternoon “Fill the Hill” blockbuster
(North Sydney Oval, Sunday 19 July, 3:00pm)
Listen Live on Sunday at 3:00pm via 100.1FM or triplehfm.com.au
The North Sydney Bears and Wentworthville Magpies meet for a classic Sunday afternoon of football – dubbed “Fill the Hill” – at North Sydney Oval.
Both teams have vastly improved in the past month, with the Bears recording just one loss since Round nine, going for three wins and two thrilling draws against Mounties in that period.
“I expect a side that will fight as hard as they can as they have the past six weeks,” Bears coach Ben Gardiner said. “Wentworthville have done a great job at keeping in the game and fighting. They’re a side that’s struggled with close games like us.
“Against Mounties, we were in position to win but we allowed them back into the game because we didn’t take the bull by the horns. If we go in with the same approach against Wenty, you have to be careful because they bounce back and stay in the game for the whole 80 minutes.”
Gardiner states the team has greatly benefited from bonding together.
“We’ve been working hard as a team and spending more time together,” Gardiner said. “When you work together as group, you start to get better performances because people are on the same page. I thought that would be difficult because like every club at the NSW Cup level, you’re dealing with people coming in and out of the NRL and Under 20s.
“That’s one of the challenges for the NSW Cup- you don’t always have everyone train with you. But we’ve been lucky to have everyone training for one or two sessions each week, which is obviously more effective because people have more cohesion in their roles.”
Gardiner is calling on a big show of support from the North Sydney faithful to get behind them against the Magpies.
“We’re trying to get as many people there as we possibly can whether they’re new or old fans or just fans who want to get out on a Sunday to enjoy themselves on the hill.
“It’s like in the NRL, where the more people you get at the ground with the more noise and support, whether it’s heckling or yelling or people barracking for you, it just gives you a rise because you know there are people there rooting for the same game as you are.”