Canterbury Bulldogs V Wests Tigers: Bulldogs wary of dangerous Tigers
(Belmore Oval, Friday 28 August, 7pm)
Two of the most expansive teams in the VB NSW Cup meet for the final time in 2015, with the Canterbury Bulldogs’ finals spot guaranteed and the Wests Tigers having nothing to play for.
However, when a team has nothing to play for, that is when they can be at their most dangerous according to Bulldogs coach Andy Patmore.
“[The Wests Tigers] play very open and fast in all of their grades, they’re always dangerous when they’re allowed to run free and play a bit of ad-lib football,” Patmore says.
“They’ve got nothing to lose and certainly we’ll enjoy the occasion, our boys have just got to be up and ready for a good performance.”
Due to the finals position being guaranteed for the Bulldogs, the focus of the match will certainly be on the performance rather than the result.
“[We are looking for] consistency, we’ve been win, loss, win, loss, so we’ve got to make sure that we put in a good performance," Patmore says.
“The win would be great but it’s about the performance. We were very poor against Manly, we were good against Wyong, great against [Illawarra] last week, but we were poor the week before against Norths.”
Despite possessing many attacking weapons, scoring points has been an issue for the Wests Tigers in season 2015.
Defence is a huge factor in finals football, and the Bulldogs will need to be switched on if they are to win the game and take some confidence into the finals.
“Our defence is very good. We’ve worked hard at that so I’m more worried about [Wests Tigers] not scoring than winning the game, but hopefully those two come together.”
Tyrone Phillips has contributed to the Bulldogs’ impressive point-scoring tally this year as the competition’s leading try-scorer, and the Wests Tigers hope to deny him touching down for what is now a customary try.
Whichever team is switched on defensively will come away with the win, and the Bulldogs will definitely be wary of a side that has nothing to play for.
Wyong Roos v Wentworthville Magpies: Roos in the box seat for Minor Premiership
(Pirtek Stadium, Saturday 29 August, 12:40pm)
Currently sitting in second position, the 2015 surprise packets Wyong sit only seven points behind Mounties on for-and-against, and their coach Rip Taylor says his side has already exceeded expectation.
“I hadn’t really [spoken about the minor premiership], our first goal was to make the eight, then of course the boys put themselves in a position to finish in the top four,” explains Taylor.
“We’re really just concentrating on the top four. Don’t get me wrong, it would be a great achievement for the club if we could sneak into the minor premiership, but we haven’t really spoken about it.”
The Magpies will finish season 2015 with the wooden spoon regardless of the result this week – and an upset would most definitely deflate the confidence of the Roos heading into the finals.
“I obviously have a soft spot for Wenty, I know that they’ll turn up wanting to put in a good performance on their last day in front of their home crowd,” said Taylor.
“For us we need to put a good performance in, [particularly in] defence, with no injuries.”
It’s been a tough year for the Magpies, who have only managed six wins for the year and will be looking to go out on a high against a quality opposition.
They will be wary of Roos in-form halfback Tyler Cornish, as well as their attacking weapons at dummy half – Mitch Williams and Matt McIlwrick.
Wyong has the second-best defensive record in the competition, while the Magpies have scored the fewest points, which places the Roos in the box seat to overtake Mounties and clinch onto the minor premiership.
Newtown Jets v North Sydney Bears: Battle for the Frank Hyde Shield
(Henson Park, Saturday 29 August, 3pm)
The Frank Hyde Shield is up for grabs this weekend when the Newtown Jets host the North Sydney Bears at Henson Park.
The Jets are in the box seat to retain the shield, as they demolished the Bears by 22 points in the first leg back in round six.
Bears coach Ben Gardiner was not in charge at the time, and with a finals spot in the bag, he believes this match will be a chance to build confidence and strengthen combinations.
“It’s an important match for confidence, it’s a really good opportunity for us to get out there and play together,” says Gardiner.
“It’s hard at this level of footy to create combinations, so we’re hoping to get our side back on the field so we can work on combinations, particularly around our halves, hooker and fullback.
“We haven’t had much consistency with that over the last five or six weeks.”
The Jets have drastically underachieved this season, and will be hoping to go out on a high in front of their loyal crowd at Henson Park.
Despite sitting in 10th spot, the Jets are certainly no easy-beats, and Gardiner just wants his side to play as a team on the eve of the finals.
“The focus is going to be making sure we play good footy, and that we play as a team,” Gardiner says.
“Every week brings different teams together, and the team we put on the paddock haven’t played together before. So there’s an opportunity for us to put a real big focus on our team and our togetherness and working hard for each other.”
The red-hot form of the Bears last week was only stopped in a two-point thriller last week against Wyong, and Gardiner said that game certainly built the character of his players heading into this week.
“We took a lot out of that game, we were able to take a step back and learn a few things,” explains Gardiner.
“It was good for our younger players to come up against some really experienced players, and trying to get on top of themselves for next time.”
Who will take out the Frank Hyde Shield? Get down to Henson Park this Saturday at 3pm to find out.
Mounties v New Zealand Warriors: Competition heavyweights clash
(St Marys Leagues Stadium, Saturday 29 August, 3pm)
In a thrilling 2015 VB NSW Cup finals preview, Mounties host the Warriors in what certainly is the most anticipated match of the round.
The Wyong v Wentworthville match will finish just minutes before kickoff, and the score line of that game will determine how much Mounties will have to win by if they are any chance of taking out the minor premiership.
However, with a top-four spot secured, Mounties coach Steve Antonelli insists that the number-one position on the ladder is not their major focus.
“We haven’t spoken about [the minor premiership] too much,” says Antonelli.
“We’re in the top four, so we haven’t spoken much on where we will end up on the table.”
Mounties have an incredibly impressive attacking record, topping the league with a whopping average of 29 points per game.
Defence is where they let themselves down in the middle of the year, but it has improved in recent times for the team that has only lost one match since round 17.
Antonelli made it clear that defence will be the primary focus heading into the game against the Warriors.
“The last three weeks we’ve set ourselves goals defensively, our focus [this week] is on defence,” says Antonelli.
“If you can defend you’re halfway there to winning the game. In the last six weeks, our individual defence has improved 50 per cent, we’re doing a lot of work on it.”
The Warriors are still mathematically a chance of winning the minor premiership, but it is highly unlikely, as they would have to win by a significant margin and hope other results go their way.
Remarkably, the Warriors are in fourth position and have a -16 for-and-against record, which highlights their inconsistency and means they will want to put in a solid performance this week to build confidence for the finals.
Manly Sea Eagles v Newcastle Knights: Potential finals preview
(Brookvale Oval, Saturday 29 August, 3pm)
The Knights look to overcome recent inconsistencies and put in a good performance on the eve of the finals this weekend against the Manly Sea Eagles.
In the past two weeks against North Sydney and Newtown, the Knights have conceded 78 points, and their coach Matt Lantry put an emphasis on defence this weekend against Manly.
“That defensive focus, that’s what you need in big games. If you can get your defence right, generally everything takes care of itself,” says Lantry.
“I don’t think scoring points is our issue, even against Norths we scored 20 points. It’s a pure defensive focus for us this week and will be for the rest of the year that’s for sure.”
Due to the Knights’ recent inconsistent performances, it is extremely important for them to build momentum heading into the finals with a strong showing against the Sea Eagles.
“[Building confidence is] certainly important, no doubting that. Obviously momentum is a big thing in the first week of the finals, particularly that of an elimination,” Lantry says.
“The hiccup against North Sydney where they put 52 points on us, we were really poor that day. It was important how we responded last week.”
The Sea Eagles’ confidence is high at the moment, following the 58 points they put on Wentworthville last week at Brookvale Oval.
They overcame a slow start to the year to secure a spot in the finals too, and there is a strong possibility that these sides could face each other in the finals.
The Knights began the year strong while the Sea Eagles have finished well, and both teams have quality line-ups making for an interesting battle.
The result of the game will be second in emphasis compared to the performance of both teams, as they try and build momentum heading into the 2015 VB NSW Cup finals campaign.
Penrith Panthers v Illawarra Cutters: Panthers look for revenge over Cutters
(Pepper Stadium, Saturday 29 August, 3pm)
The Penrith Panthers set the defensive benchmark in 2015, and still remain an outside chance of securing the minor premiership with a victory over the Illawarra Cutters this weekend.
They are currently in a three-way race to the top with Mounties and Wyong, however the defending premiers coach Garth Brennan says the on-field performance is the focus of the game this week, and there has been little spoken about the chance of securing back-to-back minor premierships.
“At the start of the year we set ourselves the goal of making the top four which we’ve achieved,” says Brennan.
“Now we’re just worried [about] playing some consistent footy and hopefully to keep some confidence in the camp by a good result this weekend.”
The Panthers are on a three-match winning streak, and their most recent loss came at the hands of their opponents this weekend.
Brennan believes his side took a lot out of that loss, and is prepared for a tough match against a side that has underachieved this season.
“[The Cutters] are a quality footy side, it’s quite a surprise that they have finished where they have in relation to the competition,” Brennan says.
“You look at their team on paper and they’re a very strong football side, we’re expecting a really tough challenge this weekend.”
The Panthers have been decimated by injuries in season 2015, and will certainly use this match to further build on various combinations that have been interrupted throughout the year.
“[We will be] trying to get some continuity with our spine; our hooker, our two halves and our fullback,” Brennan says.
“We’ve had a lot of changes, we’ve got some more changes this year as well. It’ll give some guys some opportunities this weekend to have a run, so they might come into consideration over the semi-final period.”
If either one of the Wyong Roos or Mounties win this weekend, the Panthers would have to win by a significant margin to be any chance of securing the minor premiership.