New Zealand Warriors v Newcastle Knights
Mt Smart Stadium #2, Saturday 16 April
In Auckland on Saturday, the sixth-placed Warriors and 11th-placed Knights will face off in what could be expected to be a tough ask for the visitors. There is, however, the risk of complacency for the Warriors, who have been hot and cold for their three wins to start the season.
The Warriors’ NRL outfit, due to play in Wellington later that day, has had the major shake-up of replacing experienced half Jeff Robson with the flair of Tuimoala Lolohea. It remains to be seen if Robson will have the chance to play in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW and boost their side’s hopes, while prop Albert Vete has been named to return. Recent signing Shaun Lane, who was solid in his club debut in Round 6, will have his first opportunity to impress the home fans in New Zealand.
The Knights, meanwhile, have continued to demonstrate an ability of delivering talent to the top grade; five-eighth Will Pearsall earns his NRL debut from the bench, while the return of Sione Mata’utia to first grade sees Jaelen Feeney return to the Intrust Super Premiership NSW in the less familiar no.6 jersey.
Through their one come-from-behind win over Wentworthville in Round 4, Newcastle demonstrated glimpses of recapturing their 2015 form – but as the only team yet to post 100 points in 2016, they will have to improve significantly to post more than New Zealand on Saturday.
Key match-up: There is plenty of experience in the front row for each of these teams and the go-forward provided on Saturday will play a big part in the eventual result. The inclusion of Albert Vete, who played 21 of the Warriors’ 24 NRL games last season, means that the home side’s starting NRL front row from Round 1 will line up against the Knights; James Gavet has played three NRL games this year.
Lining up for Newcastle is 21 year-old Josh King, who is yet to make his NRL debut, alongside the much more experienced Mickey Paea. The 30-year-old has been impressive this year and needs to lead from the front if the Knights are to limit the Warriors’ metres through the middle.
Where it will be won: Given the key match-up, this contest will be won in the middle of the park. Any sort of progress to their big forward pack should see the Warriors win this contest – providing their execution inside the Knights’ 20-metre line is of a high standard.
Illawarra Cutters v Newtown Jets
WIN Stadium, Saturday 16 April
LIVE commentary at Steele Sports - www.steelesports.com.au
The fourth-placed Cutters host the second-placed Jets this Saturday at WIN Stadium, in what promises to be a thrilling and high-scoring contest. While Newtown are the second-best defensive team in the competition, they leaked 18 first-half points before coming back to beat Canterbury-Bankstown last Friday night; Illawarra, meanwhile, bounced back from a heavy defeat to Mounties to beat the Wests Tigers in Round 6. Jets coach Greg Matterson was disappointed in his side’s poor defensive effort to start the game last week, rather than their ability to come back.
“It’s never a positive to let 18 points in,” Matterson told NSWRL.com.au. “We need to be better; we didn’t match their intensity at the start of the game, they were running hard attack and we needed to match that.”
“We saw at half-time we came out, we did exactly that and got ourselves back into the game.”
Despite Matterson’s criticism, both clubs will field very strong sides come Saturday afternoon. The Cutters have been ravaged by injury and players travelling with the Dragons’ NRL side to their recent fixtures in Queensland, although this week welcome back Peter Mata’utia, who replaces the NRL-bound Kalifa Faifai Loa, and Sebastine Ikahihifo who returns from injury. On the other side of the field, the Jets lose David Fifita to the Sharks’ NRL side but still hold Arana Taumata and Jaline Graham on an extended bench; Taumata is expected to get the nod at fullback once again, with another reshuffle in the backline.
Key match-up: While both sides are packed with talent, it’s hard to look past the opposite halves pairings as obvious strengths for both the Cutters and Jets. Cutters five-eighth Shaun Nona has had to take the reins with the NRL requirements of Josh McCrone, stepping up in a major way last week to lay on three of his side’s five tries against the Tigers. For the Newtown outfit, Josh Cleeland has been outstanding in recent weeks, scoring two himself and busting seven tackles to see the Jets home in Round 6 – and to find himself in our Team Of The Week.
It goes without saying that whichever of these class players is afforded more time and space with the football is likely to win this contest; shutting them down will be a priority for both teams.
Where it will be won: With the best attacking team (the Cutters) and the second-best defensive team (the Jets) of 2016 facing off with each other, it’s difficult to say where the technical focus will lie for each side. Matterson, however, puts Newtown’s chances entirely down to their attitude on the day.
“The key focus is that if you don’t come to play, it doesn’t matter who you play – you’ll be vulnerable,” Matterson said. “You never know who you’re going to play but you’ve got to turn up ready to go and you’ve got to match them.
“There’s plenty of decent sides in it, if you’re a little bit off your game, they’ll hurt you.”
Mounties v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
GIO Stadium, Sunday 17 April
LIVE broadcast on Fox Sports 501 from 11:30am
It’s one of the most daunting possible tasks for the Sea Eagles this Sunday afternoon: take on the ladder-leading Mounties – who are coming off a convincing win over third-place Wentworthville – down the Hume Highway at GIO Stadium. The Manly side aren’t shying away from the challenge, however, and they themselves are coming off a high-scoring win over Wyong.
There are positives and negatives to take from that 40-30 victory at Morry Breen Oval, but Sea Eagles coach Luke Williamson is under no illusions about the mountain his side must climb if they are to return to Sydney’s Northern Beaches with two more competition points:
“It was good that we played some good football,” Williamson told NSWRL.com.au. “I think our defence still needs to have some work obviously, but our attack certainly progressed which was good.
“They’re coming first for a reason; they’ve got great depth at the Canberra Raiders and they’re playing very good football as a side. Everything’s in their favour, so if we can set up and do some little things right we might give ourselves a chance.”
Key match-up: This match will feature the two halves from our Round 6 Team Of The Week; Sam Williams was chosen our Man Of The Round, while the experienced Feleti Mateo was named as captain after an outstanding performance.
Mateo combined well with Pita Godinet last week, making 170 metres, offloading and breaking the defence several times in the win. The 30-year-old is more known for his time in the second row, but has also played plenty of games in the halves – and Williamson is confident in his ability to fill in while the side is missing some key personnel.
“Api’s in first grade, obviously Issac John’s now gone for a long time so Feleti can certainly fill that gap for us and do a job. We’re very comfortable,” the coach said.
While Mateo is five years Williams’ senior, both can be considered experienced first graders and the inclusion of either to their respective sides will be a boost. With the two likely to face off on the same side, their individual successes will prove vital to the outcome of the match.
Where it will be won: Having conceded 30 points on Saturday, it’s clear that defence in general needs to be a focus for the Sea Eagles – but their opposition will also be disappointed that they took 71 minutes to secure their victory over the Magpies. Mounties have dominated running metres through the middle of the park this year and Manly’s best chance will be to limit their time with the ball; Williamson says it is a case of reducing errors and hoping they’re good enough to stay within reach.
“I think it’s just a matter of us maintaining a bit of possession,” Williamson said. “It’s getting our fair share of the ball, because if they get too much of it they’re going to be too hard to stop.”
Wyong Roos v Penrith Panthers
Morry Breen Oval, Sunday 17th April
LIVE commentary at Hawkesbury Radio 89.9 FM
The Panthers will be aiming for a third-straight victory on Sunday afternoon when they take on the Roos in Kanwal. Increasingly firming as genuine premiership contenders, Penrith made light work of Newcastle last week and Manly in Round 5 to post the third-best attacking tally in the competition. Wyong, meanwhile, had the unfortunate and rare Rugby League experience of posting 30 points and still losing the match against Manly last week – despite sitting in ninth place, their defence is now the worst of the 12 clubs.
Making things harder for the home side is the loss of Tyler Cornish through injury, meaning Warriors Holden Cup star Kauri Aupouri earns his first Intrust Super Premiership call-up. The Panthers enjoyed the services of Tyrone Peachey in Round 6, who along with Elijah Taylor has once again been named on an extended bench in the NRL – either could return to take on Wyong if necessary.
Key match-up: If there is anything especially impressive of both these sides, it is their respective back lines. In particular, the Roos’ left-side attack of Joe Burgess and Chris Centrone have been potent, while the Panthers left edge of Malakai Watene-Zelezniak and George Jennings was unstoppable last week. It is a mouth-watering match-up; while the Panthers youngsters will hope to emulate the NRL try-scoring feats of their brothers, the pace of Burgess has been something to behold for Wyong in 2016. Of course, how the four players muscle up in defence will be equally telling in a high-quality match-up this week.
Where it will be won: As with the key match-up, the Panthers’ left edge simply must be contained if the Roos are to take two points from Morry Breen Oval on Sunday. Despite a huge statistical advantage – Penrith’s huge tally of points scored compared with Wyong’s huge tally of points conceded – the Roos need to believe they can hold out the potent Panthers backs. Having conceded at least 18 points in every game this year, this has become an attitude issue for the Wyong side and should look to make an impression in defence early to prove themselves against their opposition.