Wyong Roos v Canterbury Bulldogs: Roosters and Bulldogs rivalry extends to VB NSW Cup
(Leichhardt Oval, Sunday 20th September, 1pm)

The Bulldogs and Roosters not only meet in an eagerly-anticipated clash in the NRL Finals this week, but also in the VB NSW Cup Preliminary Final on Sunday at Leichhardt Oval.

Roosters affiliate feeder side, the Wyong Roos, and Canterbury Bulldogs battle it out this Sunday in a bid to book a spot in the most important game of the season, the 2015 VB NSW Cup Grand Final.

Both sides play an exciting brand of football with a very open style, but have proven they have the defensive capabilities and structures in place to restrict the opposition and win important games.

The Bulldogs head into the match on a four-match winning streak and consequently are carrying strong momentum, while the Roos are ready to rip into the Grand Final qualifier after having a well-earned week off.

Roos coach Rip Taylor hopes the week off benefited his players, as they are coming up against one of the biggest forward packs in the competition.

“I certainly hope [the week of is a benefit],” said Taylor.

“The boys are fresh and keen, everyone’s got a spring in their step. Mainly we just [want to focus] our own game and making sure we get to our points, and play the game we want to play.”

The Bulldogs possess a range of attacking weapons within their team, but nobody has hit such sublime form at the right time than their halfback Jaline Graham.

“We’ve obviously got to attack the football and limit their offloads, and not give Graham any space,” said Taylor.

Graham has four tries already this finals series, and Bulldogs coach Andy Patmore is delighted with the way he is playing.

“He’s been fullback for most of the year, but with Corey Thompson being back there doing a great job, it’s just allowed him to go back in the halves, which is where he played during the [Under] 20’s,” said Patmore.

“He’s exceptionally quick and he’s defending really well. He’s hit a bit of form and he’s in a happy place too. He’s really enjoying his footy at the moment.”

While the Bulldogs are an extremely expansive football team that thrives on second-phase play, the Roos are one of the few teams in the competition that can match their open style of football.

The Bulldogs defeated the Roos 29-22 the last time they played, and as a result, Patmore will focus his side on defence in a bid to combat players such as Tyler Cornish, Mitch Williams and Omar Slaimankhel.

“[The Roos] are very similar to us, they play some really good open football so defence is going to be really important,” explained Patmore.

“They’ve got some key players, so again trying to defend a side that moves the ball around {is the focus}. We’ve really got to work hard in defence and see what happens.”

Frank Pritchard being cleared at the NRL judiciary on Tuesday night means the Bulldogs will not have to relinquish a forward to first grade, which is satisfying for Patmore.

“The result helps us with Frank being cleared. It allows us to play another player, which we wouldn’t have had before. So that’s a real bonus during the week that we thought we were going to miss out on,” said Patmore.

“So some things are falling into place, that always helps. There’s a really good feel with most of the boys, they’re working hard for each other and they’re in a pretty good place.”

The Roos have been a heavyweight side in the competition for the entire season, while the Bulldogs are an exciting and talented side backed with momentum.

Make sure to be at Leichardt Oval this Sunday at 1pm to be part of a classic VB NSW Cup Preliminary Final between two thrilling teams.

 

Mounties v Newcastle Knights: Knights' season redemption on the line against minor premiers
(Leichhardt Oval, Sunday 20th September, 3:10pm)

Fans are counting down to one of the most exciting matches in VB NSW Cup history as the star-studded Newcastle Knights take on minor premiers, Mounties.

While Mounties enter the match as firm favourites to earn a Grand Final appearance next Sunday at Pirtek Stadium, last year’s grand finalists are determined to keep their season redemption alive.

An explosive flourish of points defines the Newcastle Knights and Mounties finals series thus far, and they will collide this week heading into the match with a combined average of 44-points scored since week one.

Mounties enter the match after enjoying the week break as the Knights are rolling with electric form in the first two weeks of the finals, thrashing both Manly and last year’s premiers, Penrith Panthers.  

The Knights convincingly overcame the Sea Eagles 45-6 in week one of the finals, before smashing the defending premiers 44-12 in what was the 2014 Grand Final rematch. Mounties earned a week off with a 43-10 victory over the Warriors, and are ready to rip into the Knights this Sunday.

The Knights are boosted by the return of Jaelen Feeney, while Jake Mamo has hit explosive form on the eve of the Preliminary Finals. Mitch Cornish returns for Mounties, which is a significant inclusion for the minor premiers as he provides a wide range of attacking opportunities at halfback.

Mounties coach Steve Antonelli believes the rest benefited his side, and has prepared a fresh playing group no different to any other week.

“Yeah [the week off] freshened us up a bit actually which was good. We had a couple of niggling injuries so it helped us out there,” said Antonelli.

“[We are] preparing no different than any other week, making sure our one-on-one defence is good. I’m not treating it no different to any other game - same preparation that I do week in week out. We’re looking forward to the challenge actually.”

The points flourish from both sides recently is a major talking point, however Knights coach Matt Lantry is more satisfied with his team’s defensive effort so far this finals series.

“I suppose people are going to say we scored 89 points in the last two games. And that’s nice, but the pleasing thing for me as a coach, and the team’s recognised it as well - is the 18 points in the last fortnight that have been scored against us,” said Lantry.

“Just driving that defensive beam as most teams would be, that’s what wins big games. We’ve spoken a lot about if you’re defending well you generally earn the right to have the opportunity to play attacking footy so we’ll keep driving that defensive theme.”

While both teams experienced different journeys heading into the preliminary final, Lantry believes the do-or-die scenario is helping them get over the line, and is also the reason there is no talk of the Grand Final.

“We’re not talking about the Grand Final, and I think that’s one thing we have had a crack at because it’s been elimination semi-final footy all the way through, which is just week at a time,” explained Lantry.

“We don’t get too far ahead of ourselves, it’s a nice relaxing environment. Everyone’s enjoying each others company and there’s a good feel and a good belief within the group, so we know if we play to our ability we’ll give ourselves every chance.”

As for not talking about the Grand Final, Antonelli has his team steering in a similar direction.

“No [Grand Final talk] at this stage. Trying to get through this week more than anything,” said Antonelli.

These two sides are both in-form and have plenty of points in them, but are coming into the match with a defensive focus – which makes for a terrific contest.

Which team will get a shot at a Grand Final appearance? Find out at Leichhardt Oval this Sunday at 3:10pm.

The NSWRL Grand Final day, held at Pirtek Stadium on Sunday, September 27, is the biggest day on the VB NSW Cup, Ron Massey Cup and Sydney Shield calendars and the only live rugby league in Sydney that weekend – and adult tickets are just $10, with kids under 12 free! With face painting, live music and a carnival-like atmosphere, it’s the perfect day out for young and old. Get your tickets here.