Previews | VB NSW Cup Rd 20

Warriors v Manly Sea Eagles: Warriors Setting Pace
Mt Smart Stadium, Saturday 25 July, 12:40pm (AEST), 2:40pm (NZ time)
Live on Fox Sports on Channel 501 

The Manly Sea Eagles are determined to cause the almighty upset against the top-of-the-table Warriors in a desperate campaign for the playoffs.

“The goal is still to make the finals,” Sea Eagles coach Luke Williamson said. “There’s still a window open – it relies on our performance. If we can maintain a good performance and achieve a win, then it puts us in a good position to kick on for the rest of the season.”

The Warriors have lost just one match at home this season as the Sea Eagles’ finals window slowly closes on them with just six wins to their name this season.

“The timing is very good there,” Williamson said. “The challenge itself is enormous for the fact of how dominant the Warriors are in New Zealand but it’s tailor made for a great game. Hopefully we can do well.”

After earning a rare road win last weekend for back-to-back wins against the Illawarra Cutters, the Warriors leap frogged into pole position in the VB NSW Cup.

“The Warriors are at the top for a reason,” Williamson said. “They’re there because they play good football. They’re very hard and dominant across the park. It should be a great atmosphere with all three grades playing.”

The Sea Eagles can take confidence entering the match, scoring 410 points in attack –  the third highest in the competition – and go against the fifth-worst defensive team as the Warriors have conceded a staggering 406 points despite currently standing first.

On the other hand, the Sea Eagles hold the worst defensive record in conceding 483 points. Adding to the Sea Eagles’ difficult challenge in travelling across the Tasman is the loss of star playmaker Jayden Hodges who is fulfilling first-grade duties in the NRL.

However, Williamson is optimistic of earning the win with a solid 80-minute performance.

“I’ve mentioned it a few times with our own performance but it’s playing for the entire 80 minutes that is key,” Williamson said. “Most teams can sustain the Warriors for 50 to 60 minutes but then they power over the top of teams. We need to play and be on our game for the entire match. If we do that, then we give ourselves a great chance to win.”

One thing is certain – you can’t ever count out the Sea Eagles.

 

North Sydney Bears v Illawarra Cutters: Cutters embark on tough finals path
North Sydney Oval, Saturday 25 July, 3:00pm 
Listen Live on Radio Hub at radiohub.com.au  

It’s a tough road ahead to the finals for the Illawarra Cutters. In arguably the toughest finish to the season of any team, the Cutters face competition heavyweights, the Penrith Panthers, twice and also take on the Newcastle Knights away, Mounties and Canterbury Bulldogs at Belmore.

“We know we have a tough little period in front of us,” said Cutters coach Scott Logan. “We have to play a few teams above us in the table. The thing for us is to just keep improving on the things we’re getting wrong the week before.”

With a challenging schedule ahead of them, this week’s match against the North Sydney Bears is vital. For the Cutters, their sole focus is on the win.

“[There’s been] no talk of the finals because if we don’t win these six games there won’t be finals,” Logan said.

“We’re more about the processes of getting things right than looking that far ahead. If we start making goals for the finals or top four, it’s in the future and we can’t really control that. All we can control is how we prepare and things we can improve on during the week so the focus is there.”

What makes their task even tougher has been losing several key players fulfilling first-grade duties during the St. George-Illawarra Dragons’ injury crisis.

“We have more part-time guys than full-time guys at the moment,” Logan said. “We got an opportunity for a little more continuity this week with a few of those guys at training. The focus is on improving ourselves each week and trying to come up with a better performance going in to the next game.”

The Bears suffered a disappointing 27-20 loss against the Wentworthville Magpies last round and will be determined to make it up to their faithful home fans. Despite the loss, the Bears are a vastly-improved team recording three wins, two draws and two losses in their past seven matches. The last time the two teams met, the Cutters thrashed the Bears 50-12.

“The team is completely different from when we last played them,” Logan said.

“I’m expecting a completely different outfit. They’ve recruited Darren Nicholls, and Cody Walker is back to give them a lot more direction than they had earlier in the season. We’re expecting a tough game on the road. But if we concentrate too much on them, we take the focus off of what we need to improve.”

 

Wests Tigers V Penrith Panthers: Claws out in vital “Battle of the Cats”
Campbelltown Sports Ground, Saturday 25 July, 3:00pm
Listen Live on Hawkesbury Radio on 89.9FM or 
hawkesburyradio.com.au, or at Radio Hub at radiohub.com.au

Sitting one win outside the top eight in ninth place, Wests Tigers are desperate to hit top form going into the finals after dealing what has been disruptive VB NSW Cup schedule.

“We’re hopeful of making the eight and that’s what we’re working hard towards,” Wests Tigers coach Paul Fletcher said. “We still have a good chance of making the eight. It’s now up to us.”

Wests Tigers have won just one of their past five matches and take on the Penrith Panthers who were toppled from the top of the table after going down 24-10 against the Canterbury Bulldogs.

“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing at the moment – a win is very important for us,” Fletcher said. “It’s no different if it was Penrith or whoever. We just have to actually start winning games.”

With two byes coming in the past three weeks, Wests Tigers have been prevented from building momentum.

“We’ve gone game, bye, game, bye over the past month, Wests Tigers coach Paul Fletcher said. “The past bye, we had a training session on Saturday to compensate without the game. The boys are working hard.

“It’s been disruptive. We’ve had byes in Rounds 17 and 19, and we have another one following this round. It’s been a really tough period.”

There’s no better way for Wests Tigers to relaunch their season with a victory over the premiership contenders.

 

Canterbury Bulldogs v Newcastle Knights: Bulldogs aim for landmark Belmore win
Belmore Sports Ground, Sunday 26 July, 11:45am 

The Canterbury Bulldogs are gaining a lot of attention for their recent impressive form, winning six of their past seven games – their one loss was a 16-4 defeat against the Wentworthville Magpies. In those wins, the Bulldogs beat the Warriors 52-8 for their only loss at home, Mounties, the Cutters and also toppled the top-of-the-table Penrith Panthers 24-10 last round.

“We’re going well,” said Bulldogs coach Andy Patmore. “It’s a strange comp. It’s very tight. I think we’re one of the top four teams to beat. We’re certainly competing with the top teams, especially last weekend against the Panthers, which is a good sign.”

With many predicting the in-form Bulldogs as the competition’s team to beat, Patmore isn’t getting swept up in the excitement, instead focusing on their match against the seventh-placed Newcastle Knights in the “Back to Belmore” clash this Sunday.

“We just play a week at a time,” Patmore said. “Again, it depends on the players you get. We focus on the process each week and whom we get back from first grade. But it’s one step at a time.

“We’ve had basically the same group for a few weeks which is good. We’re also working pretty hard on our goal line defence. We’ve defended our line pretty well most weeks.”

Their defence will have to be on point to defeat the Knights and their speedy backline featuring Nathan Ross, Kerrod Holland, Pat and Chanel Mata’utia, as well as Honeti Tuha who bagged a hat-trick of tries last round.

“We certainly will have a good look at the Knights,” Patmore said. “They’ve got some very talented outside backs and a couple of big forwards too. They’re certainly desperate for a win as well. They’ll turn up ready to play. Their outside backs, like Jaelen Feeney who was with us a couple of years ago, have been very impressive for them.”

The Bulldogs possess plenty of attacking prowess as well, with a stacked backline including Jaline Graham, Chase Stanley, Jacob Loko, Corey Thompson and the VB NSW Cup’s leading try-scorer Tyrone Phillips with 18 tries – which is five more than the second-placed Ben Fritz of the Manly Sea Eagles.

A big day is planned in celebration of the Bulldogs’ 80-year anniversary with all three grades playing in the NRL club’s first Sunday afternoon clash at Belmore since 1998.

“It’s a really special day for us and the whole club,” Patmore said. “We play here every week but for the whole club, it’s a fantastic day. The Monday night (20-4 win against the Melbourne Storm in Round 16) was big but this will be bigger.”

 

Wentworthville Magpies v Mounties: Wenty to rise at Ringrose
Ringrose Park, Sunday 26 July,
3:00pm  

The Wentworthville Magpies bounced back into the winners' column with a classic 27-20 victory over the North Sydney Bears. For Magpies coach Steve Hales, there is a lot more to enjoy than just the win.

“We were very pleased with the win but it was just as pleasing to see a couple of boys who played for us last week get an opportunity in first grade this week,” Hales said. “For us, it’s about taking each day, each training session and each game as it comes.”

The Magpies take on a more formidable opponent this week in the second-placed Mounties who returned to form with a 30-24 win against the Newtown Jets. Mounties led 30-4 with 10 minutes remaining before the Jets raced in four consolation tries. Hales knows the key to the contest will come before kickoff.

“Preparation, it was spot on last week,” Hales said. “We gained a lot of confidence through our training sessions during the week. If we can emulate that again this week and take a lot of confidence, then we will give ourselves the best chance to win.”

Playing in front of their home crowd is sure to fire up the team for a big showing against one of the VB NSW Cup’s heavyweights, Mounties.

“We’re really looking forward to it,” Hales said. “It’s “Back to Wenty” Family Day with all three grades playing at Ringrose Park and we’re hoping to draw a big crowd. In the past five games, we’ve only had one at home. We’re looking forward to getting back to Ringrose in front of the home supporters and playing the best we can for them and ourselves.”

 

Wyong Roos v Newtown Jets: All on the line
Morry Breen Oval, Sunday 26 July, 3:00pm 

It’s a pivotal contest between the fourth-placed Wyong Roos and Newtown Jets who cling to eighth place.

“Obviously we need to start winning a few of the tight games,” said Jets coach Greg Matterson. “We haven’t been playing our best footy. We’ve played in patches but we need to put in an 80-minute performance – that’s our goal for the next few rounds.”

The Jets have won just one of their past five matches to slide down the ladder.

“It’s disappointing,” Matterson said. “We’re disappointed about some of the patches of play and how we’re playing. We know we need to improve and there’s no excuse for conceding that many tries. We’re disappointed in our own performance and we’re working hard to fix it.”

The Roos have won six of their past seven matches and are riding a three-game win streak to climb into the top four. The last time the two sides met, the Roos ran away with a 28-12 victory in Country Round 13.

The Jets’ chance of the upset victory is greater without Roos skipper Mitch Williams set to take the field. However, the Jets remain focused on improving their own performance.

“It’s about us,” Matterson said. “We played Wyong at Muswellbrook and there wasn’t much in the game until the end. We feel we can compete with anyone when we’re at our best but we have to get our house in order. If we look after ourselves, the wins will come.

“Attack and defence – they spring board off each other. We need to be better in defence and execute better in attack.”

If the Jets are to make a serious finals charge, they must start their campaign on Sunday.