Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Newtown Jets: Dogs Aim to Go One Point Better
Belmore Sports Ground, Friday 8 April
The Bulldogs have only managed one competition point so far in 2016, which came from their 16-all draw with the Jets in Round 1. They led the game for the most part on that occasion before inviting Newtown back into the contest – but the boys from Belmore get the chance to go one point better this week.
While Canterbury-Bankstown suffered a similar fate last weekend – visibly tiring out in the final quarter to allow opponents Wyong to take the lead – Newtown ran away with the win in their scrappy Round 5 encounter with the Wests Tigers. With the likes of Mitch Brown, Jacob Gagan and returning prop David Fifita proving hard to handle at Henson Park and form playmaker Arana Taumata providing impact off the bench, Bulldogs coach Andy Patmore has emphasised the need to shut down the Jets’ attacking weapons.
“We’ll make sure we keep an eye on a couple of their good individual players, like Arana Taumata who hurt us last time,” Patmore told NSWRL.com.au. “It’s just making sure our defence holds fine and doing all the basic things; you don’t pinpoint them particularly, but certainly when they’re around the ball we have to be more alert at marker and when we’re defending on their shifts.”
The blue-and-whites are also at the centre of a highly-publicised player trade this week, with exciting second-rowers Shaun Lane and Raymond Faitala-Mariner switching between the Bulldogs and Warriors sides in time for Round 5. It means Patmore welcomes Faitala-Mariner to the playing ranks along with fellow new face Lamar Liolevave, who was a late inclusion last week. The coach is excited to see how the pair perform for their new team.
“That adds a bit of starch to us on the edges. The new boys will take a couple of weeks to settle in but it’s certainly a really good decision that we’ve got these two boys here, so we’re really looking forward to seeing what they can do.”
Compounded by the inclusion of workhorse Craig Garvey, who impressed in his three weeks at NRL level, hopes remain high that the Bulldogs can finally get two points this weekend.
“Garvey adds a bit of talent around the middle. He’s a quality player; he’s a first grader so very good out of dummy-half and set up a couple of tries for us. He’s a smart footballer, incredibly tough and his work rate’s really good.”
“We go into every game thinking we’re going to win and when we prepare really well – and there are certain aspects of the game we’re getting much better. We just need to finish things off.”
Wentworthville Magpies v Mounties: Fight for the Perch
Pirtek Stadium, Saturday 9 April
LIVE Broadcast on FOX Sports Channel 501
Saturday’s Fox Sports Match Of The Round sees a top-of-the-table clash between Wentworthville and Mounties at Pirtek Stadium, as a curtain-raiser for the Eels’ NRL clash with the Raiders. The home side, currently perched on top of the Intrust Super Premiership NSW ladder, faces strong opposition in the second-placed Mounties; just two for-and-against points separate the two sides, while Mounties have posted a massive 92 points from their two games on the road this year.
Mounties’ 50-nil thrashing of the injury-ravaged Cutters sent tremors across the rest of the Intrust Super Premiership NSW last week and Magpies coach Joe Grima believes they are deserved competition favourites in 2016.
“Mounties have been a good side over the last two or three seasons,” Grima told NSWRL.com.au. “They’re a really good side and with the halves that they’ve got and with the experience in the signings they’ve bought, they deserve to be favourites.”
Grima, however, was quick to point out that it’s his own team that will be the focus in the lead-up to the potentially season-defining match.
“I’m not too concerned with them at this stage; it’s just more about the processes that we’ve got to achieve to adhere to our goals and standards,” the Wentworthville mentor said. “I think it’s the ability to stay in the grind, I know it’s a cliché but completion rates and possession don’t really lie and if you can maintain the ball more than the opposition and complete high, you’re going to give yourself every opportunity.
“The big thing that we’re trying to impress on the whole club is that we’re consistent and the continuity from first grade to Intrust Super Premiership – and to a lesser point, the under-20s – is all the same, so whilst we’re working on our structures and coaching philosophies, completion rates and possession is the key for us.”
Most important to Grima is his responsibility to promote player development to the NRL – and while fill-ins Kaysa Pritchard and David Gower return to the Intrust Super Premiership NSW in Round 6, Daniel Alvaro earns a career-first NRL starting spot after some strong performances for the Magpies this year. Grima couldn’t be happier with his young prop.
“The results look after themselves and as I’ve always said it’s my job to create an enjoyable and competitive environment in the Intrust Super Premiership. If they’re playing well enough and consistent enough, it’s going to put pressure on players that are above them,” Grima said. “I’m really stoked that he (Alvaro) has been elevated to NRL and I’m sure that in the not-too-distant future there’s a couple of other guys putting their hands up for positions given any injuries, illnesses or suspensions.”
Wyong Roos v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles: Wyong on Song
Morry Breen Oval, Saturday 9 April
The Roos return to Morry Breen Oval after their last-minute victory over the Bulldogs, taking on the lowly-placed Sea Eagles on Saturday. Wyong’s win appeared to be a taxing one on both sides, but rather than emphasise their determination to come from behind against a tiring Canterbury defence, Roos coach Rip Taylor insists that vast improvement is needed for this week.
“The disappointing part was at least three very soft tries and we’re certainly going to have to tighten our middle up there,” Taylor told NSWRL.com.au. “We knew the ‘Dogs were going to come through the middle and they did that quite easily.
“We were a little bit disappointed it took us 50 minutes to get on there but it’s good to see that we hung in there and were good enough to get the competition points – it’s pretty important.”
Manly, the worst attacking and defensive side in the competition, sit in second-last thanks to their own comeback win over Canterbury in Round 3. Despite the Sea Eagles’ unimpressive record of just 74 points scored, however, Taylor maintains a defensive focus and believes his men will face a side that are capable with and without the football.
“There’s certainly an expectation on the defence – Manly had a tough week last week but they’ve got a fair roster put together this week and the week before they were only just nutted by the Jets in the last part of the game,” Taylor said. “They’ll come ready to play and I’m hoping we do.
“We’re certainly going to have to shut Feleti Mateo’s offloads down if he plays and they’ve got two quality centres in (Ben) Fritz and Brayden Williame – young (Pita) Godinet’s a very handy player – so if we give these guys too much room we’ll get our bottoms smacked.”
By contrast, the Roos attack has been not only effective but exciting; usual fullback Omar Slaimankhel has starred since switching to the unfamiliar five-eighth position in Round 4. Despite having very little experience in the halves, Slaimankhel has impressed the coach, who has also been happy to give Alex Langbridge a chance in the number 1 jersey.
“Omar’s a footballer; he likes to have the football in his hands, playing at six gives him that opportunity and he’s been going quite well there so far,” Taylor explained. “The young guy at fullback (Langbridge) plays a different game to what Omar does but it probably picks up and makes a little bit of indecision to the opposition.”
Wests Tigers v Illawarra Cutters: Illawarra Not Cut-up About Injury Toll
Campbelltown Stadium, Saturday 9 April
Listen LIVE via Steele Sports Radio at www.steelesports.com.au
It was possibly the worst day out for an Intrust Super Premiership NSW side this season: while the Illawarra Cutters weren’t the only side to concede a half century of points this year – or even that day – they also suffered four key injuries to leave them with no bench for most of the second half.
The loss of Kurt Mann, Chris Lewis, Sebastian Ikahihifo and Blake Wallace, along with three players who travelled to Townsville with the Dragons NRL Squad, spelled a recipe for disaster last Saturday – but coach Jason Demetriou isn’t making any excuses.
“There’s plenty of reasons why it went pear-shaped, but I suppose we need to learn how to deal with that,” Demetriou told NSWRL.com.au. “Chris (Lewis) will be out for six weeks, Seb (Ikahihifo) hopefully only a couple of weeks, same with Kurt Mann – he’ll be two to three weeks.
“I just didn’t really think we handled adversity too well and there’s a lot of young blokes; I suppose it’s a good learning curve for us.”
On Saturday the Cutters have a good chance to bounce back against the Wests Tigers, who sit middle of the table with a neutral points differential and will also be coming off a Round 5 loss. Despite the overflowing casualty ward, however, coach Jason Demetriou believes the Cutters will field a side capable of taking two points from the men from Concord.
“We’ve got plenty of depth in the squad, we had a few players who went up with the NRL side,” Demetriou said. “Kalifa FaiFai Loa will come back into the side and Josh McCrone as well as Jacob Host, who were all away in Townsville. Those guys will come back into the team and give us some experience and help us bounce back.
“It’s about us being honest with a few things that went wrong last week and learning from that and being better this week. No one wants to get beat by 50 points, but like I said I think it’ll be a good learning curve for us.”
Newcastle Knights v Penrith Panthers: Knights to Show Fight
Hunter Stadium, Sunday 10 April
In a rematch of last year’s second-week finals clash, the Knights and Panthers meet again in very different circumstances; while Penrith have been the more impressive of the two sides, they still only have two wins to their name thus far – and defending premiers Newcastle have only one victory to show for their first five games.
While conceding that it’s been a sub-par start to the 2016 season, Knights coach Matt Lantry maintains belief in his men and, more importantly, in his development strategies that have been consistently delivering raw talent to the top grade.
“If we’re talking about a pathway to the NRL, clearly that’s been established within our club from the Intrust Super Premiership through to the NRL – with a number of players making their debuts this year,” Lantry told NSWRL.com.au. “The two Saifiti boys (Daniel and Jacob) have come through our pathway, Dani Levi, Jaelen Feeney, Pat Mata’utia, Sam Mataora – that’s a big portion of your Intrust Super Premiership squad from last year that’s now playing NRL.
“On top of then losing someone that provides the quality of experience such as Clint Newton and George Ndaira, there are significant factors in relation to the depth that we’ve lost this year – but with that comes the opportunity for the new group.”
Despite the Knights’ lowly form, Lantry is not about to make any drastic changes and is confident that the Knights can still be a force to be reckoned with this season.
“You’ve got to believe in your systems and that’s certainly something we’re doing – the last thing the team wants to see is a coach that panicks and overhauls and tries to restructure everything,” Lantry said. “The system’s not the issue, it’s how individuals have performed on a consistent basis.”
The Panthers are still favourites for the Round 6 encounter, but Lantry believes his men will aim up and bounce back from their poor start to the year.
“For us this week we need to really look after our own backyard – we don’t need to worry too much about our opposition,” Lantry said. “Our attention to detail areas are vitally important, our catch, our carry, our play the ball, our ruck defence. We need to execute it consistently across the 80 minutes this week to give ourselves a chance.”
North Sydney Bears v New Zealand Warriors: Back to Bear Park
North Sydney Oval, Sunday 10 April
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North Sydney Oval is all set for a homecoming on Sunday afternoon, when the Bears return to their traditional playing surface for the first time this year to take on the Warriors. With big plans for the Bears’ home fixtures in season 2016, it is sure to be a fun-filled atmosphere – and there will be pressure on the home side to deliver come kick-off time at 1pm.
The fifth-placed Bears have been neither here nor there this season, but a big focus on closing out games paid dividends in their Round 5 match against the Knights; with 10 points apiece at the half-time break, the North Sydney side managed to grind out a victory in what coach Ben Gardiner admits was a messy affair at T G Millner Field.
“It wasn’t a pretty win, it wasn’t a pretty game, either,” Gardiner told NSWRL.com.au. “There were a lot of errors in it and all of that sort of stuff, but sometimes if you can win ugly that’s a boost for the team.”
“We’ve had some problems finishing second halves and closing out games in the first four rounds. It’s not so much that we ran away with it or anything like that, it was more that we were able to grind away with our style of footy and just get the win.”
While the ladder shows North Sydney to be the third-best defensive side in the competition, it also shows that their Round 6 opponents have scored 18 more points than them to date – and Gardiner maintains that his side’s defensive efforts will be key to taking out this game.
“We’re going to have to focus on getting our defensive game right,” Gardiner put simply. “I think last week we did a step in the right direction with our defensive game – particularly considering some of the poorer efforts we’ve had with defence earlier in the year – but I think that this is going to be one of our biggest challenges.
“Not only is this side a side that can move the ball around, they’ve got the power to run hard through the middle, they’ve also got some great offloading players as well. They have some real attacking brilliance that we’re going to need to do a really good job at defensively together as a team.”
Named as 18th man in the Rabbitohs’ NRL squad, there is also the chance that the Bears will welcome back second-rower Paul Carter – who has made the fourth-most tackles for South Sydney from just four appearances and who was vital to North Sydney’s victory last week. Carter’s possible inclusion could also provide a significant boost to the Bears’ defence against the Warriors on Sunday.