Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v North Sydney Bears
ANZ Stadium, Saturday 23rd April
12:40pm – LIVE on Fox Sports channel 501
The Bulldogs and Bears face off as last-start losers in Round 8, having enjoyed the bye last week but losing to the Jets and Warriors respectively in Round 6. They will each hope to have improved on certain areas for this matchup, in the first Intrust Super Premiership NSW game at ANZ Stadium this year.
For the home side, there has been a reshuffle in their pack since their 22-28 loss to Newtown; starting prop Ray Moujali makes way for Jake Kamire, Pat O’Hanlon is replaced by Renouf To’Omaga while Bronson Garlick regains Graig Garvey’s starting hooking position – although he is expected to be dropped off an extended NRL bench to play on Saturday. North Sydney are closer to the side that lost 30-12 to New Zealand in Round 6, as Jokatama Dokinavalu replaces Fred Junior Mauala at prop and Jordan Latham joins the bench for Brock Gray. Winger Dane Nielsen is also likely to be replaced come game day, having travelled with the Rabbitohs for their NRL clash in Brisbane.
Still winless in 2016, the men from Belmore have earned a reputation throughout the league of establishing early leads and inviting teams back into games; Bears coach Ben Gardiner, however, isn’t taking his opposition lightly.
“The Bulldogs have shown some really good glimpses of what they can do,” Gardiner told NSWRL.com.au. “They’ve been right in games and they’ve played really well in games, they’ve probably just been a little bit unlucky with calls and stuff like that, so we’re going to have to be right on our game. Most of our focus will be on us and what we can improve.”
The North Sydney mentor is excited to revisit Sydney Olympic Park this weekend and is hopeful of some strong support at ANZ Stadium.
“We’ve got a lot of Bears fans out there that we’d like to see get out to ANZ Stadium in the Red and Black and give us some support out at the game,” Gardiner said. “We look forward to seeing as many people as possible watch us, whether that’s on TV or out at the ground.”
Key match-up: The Bears are among the least experienced teams when it comes to NRL appearances and as such have flown under the radar to sit middle of the road (seventh) almost a third of the way through the regular season. Second-rowers Cheyne Whitelaw and Patrice Siolo, however, have impressed so far in the competition and face stiff opposition in Canterbury’s mid-season recruits Raymond Faitala-Mariner and Lamar Liolevave. The young Bulldogs will hope to be settled in for their second and third games at their new club and while their opposite numbers are yet to get a taste of the top grade, this will be an intriguing match-up and will heavily influence the outcome.
Where it will be won: It seems obvious what the Bulldogs need to do to win this contest – an 80-minute performance is essential to register their first win of the year. Gardiner, however, has been less-than-satisfied with his side’s consistency and will hope to have ironed out the creases in attack throughout the extended break.
Wentworthville Magpies v Wests Tigers
Ringrose Park, Sunday 24th April
Like the Bulldogs and Bears, Sunday’s combatants headed into last week’s bye after Round 6 defeats. The Wests Tigers couldn’t compete with the Cutters late in the game at WIN Stadium, while the Magpies gave the red-hot Mounties a solid early lead before doing well to regain a foothold in the second half. Wentworthville are still sitting pretty in second place and the Wests Tigers will face a substantial challenge to overcome them at Ringrose Park.
The Magpies have lost just twice this season – to both the first and last-placed teams in the competition – and are easily the best defensive team, but sit just one win ahead of the eighth-ranked Tigers. The men from Concord are hard to gauge, with two strong performances and two disappointing defeats featuring in their past four outings.
Wentworthville, whose NRL affiliate the Eels travel to Townsville this week, have been forced into a number of changes across the park: in-form utility Scott Schulte comes in for Ryan Morgan, while the skipper Cody Nelson returns to the second row, with Mitch Cornish moving to five-eighth and Michael Doolan filling in the number 7 jersey. James Hasson drops back to the bench, with Blake Cook also replacing Nick Kassis.
The Tigers, too, field a relatively different team; the outstanding NRL debut of speedster Josh Addo-Carr has earned him a second first grade appearance, which has forced fullback Watson Heleta to the wing and Justin Hunt into the custodian role. Nathan Milone has also been promoted, with usual second-rower Michael Chee-Kam coming into the centres, while Jordan Grant and Tyler Cassel both join the starting pack. Wesley Lolo and Matthew Eisenhuth come onto the bench.
With two new-look backlines, both sides will hope to have settled in throughout their week off and attack will come into question; despite showing less form this year, the Tigers have scored more points in 2016 than the Magpies. The season-ending injury to usual half Luke Kelly was telling in their last-start loss and while Nelson held his own in the halves, Michael Doolan will need to make the new role his own for the remainder of the season.
Key match-up: it will be up to the skippers – who face off with each other in the second row – to ensure a seamless transition for the reshuffled players this week. Nelson is an experienced campaigner and will muscle up for the home side this week, while Asipeli Fine will need to continue to provide go-forward for his halves to work off the back of. If Justin Hunt looks to get his hands on the ball as much as Watson Heleta, the Tigers are a strong chance of causing an upset.
Where it will be won: Fifth-tackle options will surely be a focus for both sides; Cornish and Doolan will hope their halves partnership can flourish instantly, while the established duo of Jack Littlejohn and Josh Drinkwater need to maximise the potential of their outside backs. The game shapes up as an intriguing battle to wrap up the competition’s second split-round.