Previews | VB NSW Cup Rd 21

North Sydney Bears v Canterbury Bulldogs: Bears Take Finals Stand
Leichhardt Oval, Saturday 1 August, 10:40am
Live on Fox Sports on Channel 501 

The North Sydney Bears are riding a mid-season surge to sit in ninth spot on the ladder with only points differential keeping them outside the top eight.

The Bears earned an impressive 44-32 win over the Illawarra Cutters last weekend to continue their strong campaign for the Finals.

It’s a great test for the Bears this week as they take on the fifth-placed Canterbury Bulldogs who will be desperate to bounce back after their demoralising 35-34 loss against the Newcastle Knights. The Bulldogs led 34-12 with 12 minutes remaining before the Knights scored four tries and kicked the last-minute field goal to claim an incredible win.

“The Bulldogs will be out to play, I have no doubt in the world,” Bears coach Ben Gardiner said. “Absolutely no doubt in the world. They’ve been going really well. They’re probably the form team in the competition. The Bulldogs had won six of their past seven games before last week. We know that we will be in for a tough game.”

It’s a challenge the Bears are looking forward to, and one they know they must be ready for if they are serious about making a strong Finals push.

“We don’t change our preparation no matter who we’re playing but we’re aware of how well they’re going,” Gardiner said. “We will be leaving no stone unturned in our preparation this week.”

Gardiner is full of optimism for his side, who have turned their season around to stand as a competitive force. It’s been a welcome blend of young enthusiasm with experienced wisdom.

“We’ve got some young guys who have come and really brought some energy to our team,” Gardiner said. “I put our improvement down mostly to the energy that’s provided by those that have come into the side. Obviously, you get guys back from the NRL but we’re also thriving with those guys coming up from NYC because they’re getting an opportunity to move forward and take one step closer to the NRL. Our senior players with first-grade experience are providing great lessons and experience for those young guys to learn too.”

The Bears will need all hands on deck to stand up against the Bulldogs.

 

Newtown Jets v Warriors: Finals Call for Road Warriors
Henson Park, Saturday 1 August, 3:00pm
Listen Live at Radio Hub at radiohub.com.au

It’s not panic stations by any means for the top-of-the-table Warriors who were stunned for just their second home defeat against the Manly Sea Eagles last weekend.

“We’re not in desperate measures,” Warriors coach Stacey Jones said. “It wasn’t hugely disappointing. Credit to Manly, they came to play and deserved the win. We’ll travel to Newtown this week and look to get to get back to basics for a good performance.”

While they beat the Illawarra Cutters 24-22 at WIN Stadium in Round 19, the Warriors’ mediocre road record – with three wins out of their seven matches away – is a concerning issue they must address before the Finals.

“To tell you the truth, with our schedule, it was the first away game we had in a while against the Cutters,” said Jones. “It was the first road game in 9 weeks (since May 16 against Wentowrthville at Pirtek Stadium). It was very pleasing to get the win – it’s a tough place to go.

“If I can look into a crystal ball for the Finals, the key would be on the road and playing well. We need to make sure we’re prepared as well as possible.”

The Newtown Jets cling to eighth spot and are desperate to keep their place in the top eight. The Jets have dropped five of their past six matches after last week’s deflating 52-14 loss against the Wyong Roos.

The scenario is simple: if the Jets lose against the Warriors, they drop out of the top eight and face an uphill battle to reach the Finals.

It’s all on the line with both sides set for an explosive contest at Henson Park.

 

Illawarra Cutters v Penrith Panthers: Mouth-watering Forwards Clash
WIN Stadium, Saturday 1 August, 3:00pm

After bouncing back for a 34-20 win against Wests Tigers, the Penrith Panthers are deadlocked in a four-way tie for first place with the Warriors, Wyong Roos and Mounties.

The Panthers aren’t taking any notice of their opponents.

“I’m more focused on what we’re doing,” Panthers coach Garth Brennan said. “I know it’s a cliché but it’s really true this week. We got a win on the weekend but we are far from where I’m happy with.

“We’ve got a lot of work to improve on and hopefully this week we can improve that little bit more and keep building towards the end of the season. It’s only two points – it’s not crucial for us. What is crucial is that we start playing well.“

The Panthers are in for a physical contest in the forwards with the Illawarra Cutters who are determined to remain in the top eight following three-straight losses.

The Cutters forward pack features season standouts Russell Packer, Luke Page and Shannon Wakeman as well as NRL First-graders Heath L’estrange and Eto Nabuli.

The Panthers welcome back several key players who return from injury – including VB NSW Cup Representative player Sam Anderson – for a major boost to the side before the Finals.

“It is a big boost,” Brennan said. “Sammy (Anderson) got a game under his belt last week. He’s still fairly undone and needs a few more games under his belt. He’s a season campaigner, so he’s good to have back in the team.

“We’ve got some young kids there that will get a taste of some physicality with the Cutters. But we’ve got Ben Murdoch-Masila and Tupou Sopoaga in the pack as well to give us some experience.”

Despite all the line-up changes and injuries, the Panthers are in a strong position to finish the season as Minor Premiers. Brennan gives a lot of credit to consistent performers Matt Eisenhuth and Brendan Attwood.

“Unsung heros – like Matt Eisenhuth and Brendan Attwood who are part time players – have really stood up and delivered in the tough times, Brennan said. “They really work hard, train hard and play hard. They’re characteristics I look for in a footy team and those two have been good in that area.”

The Panthers will need those characteristics to be at their best this week against a hungry Cutters outfit.