Penrith Panthers v Mounties
Carrington Park, Saturday 30 April
LIVE coverage on Fox Sports channel 501
The Panthers and Mounties travel to Bathurst this weekend as part of an annual trip that has seen the NRL and Intrust Super Premiership NSW sides head over the Blue Mountains for the last two seasons.
The red-hot Mounties, who sit atop the Intrust Super Premiership NSW table and remain favourites for the title, are hard to look past as more likely winners on Saturday – although their self-destruction in the second-half against the Sea Eagles was a dangerous sign in Round 7. The competition’s golden boys let in six unanswered tries in the final 25 minutes – almost conceding a remarkable comeback at home – but have since had time to recuperate with a Round 8 bye. Meanwhile, Penrith were beaten by Wyong in difficult conditions at Morry Breen Oval but look to regain some of their experienced with players returning from a significant injury toll.
Ins and Outs:
The Panthers welcome back winger Zac McKay – who spent 80 minutes on the bench in Round 7 – as well as Ben Garcia and Wellington Albert on the bench. Rodney Coates and Jeremy Latimore are both out of the side for the clash with Mounties.
For the visitors, Sisa Waqa returns in the centres after being a late omission against Manly and Scott Sorensen is named on the bench, while the NRL-bound Clay Priest and Byron Fruean are both out of the team.
Mounties ooze with class across the park, but the Panthers’ strength this year has been in their back line – particularly on their left edge with Josh Hall and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak. They will have to shut down Waqa and leading tryscorer Kato Ottio to help their team to victory on Saturday; it’s a significant task, but one they are capable of.
Wests Tigers v North Sydney Bears
Moss Vale Oval, Saturday 30 April
LIVE commentary at Steele Sports
The Wests Tigers and Bears will be riding waves of confidence when they meet at Moss Vale.
The Bears were one-point last-start victors against the Bulldogs. Boosted by the return of Cody Walker – whose field goal proved pivotal – Norths ran in two tries at the back end of the first half, one a freakish effort scored by Samisoni Langi, plus an important one deep into the match. Cheyne Whitelaw was awarded man of the match, running the ball for 139 metres with his 47 tackles in an 80minute effort in at lock.
Josh Drinkwater, Michael Chee Kam and Josh Addo-Carr, meanwhile, inspired the Wests Tigers to break their two match-losing streak against the Wentworthville Magpies at Ringrose Park last weekend. Addo-Carr crossed for three tries, with Chee Kam bagging a double, while Drinkwater had a hand in all but one of the seven – including a try for himself.
“I thought we started really well, we completed most of our sets in that first half and that set it up for the game. We just got into a bit of habit [when] everything was working for us and that was never going to work for 80 minutes,” Drinkwater told NSWRL.com after the match.
“We spoke at halftime that we had a lot of possession in the first half and a lot of things went our way, [and] that it’s going to even up. Unfortunately didn’t react to it, but we still came away 40-18 against Wenty who are coming second on the ladder, it’s a good result.”
Ins and Outs:
Michael Chee Kam and Asipeli Fine were rewarded with late NRL call-ups last night in their dominant win over the Rabbitohs, meaning they won’t feature in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW competition this weekend. Nathan Milone slots into centre, while the replacement for Fine has not yet been determined.
Two in-form halves clash at Moss Vale this week, with Drinkwater coming up against Bears superstar Cody Walker. While Drinkwater’s statistics have already been highlighted, Walker returned to the Bears last week after some valuable NRL time, and his field goal proved to be the pivotal difference between the two teams in that game.
Wentworthville Magpies v Newtown Jets
Cessnock Sports Ground, Saturday 30 April
Wentworthville and Newtown will travel up to Cessnock, in a bid to bounce back from their respective defeats.
Neither team made the finals last year, but have been dramatic improvers in the opening two months of the 2016 Intrust Super Premiership NSW. The Jets have won four games this year, lost two and drew once, while the Magpies have a similar record without the draw.
Ins and Outs:
The Magpies welcome David Gower, Ryan Morgan, Adrian Ha’angana and Jack Madden into their 18-man squad for Saturday’s clash, losing Kaysa Pritchard, Kelepi Tanginoa and Nick Kassis.
The Jets, meanwhile, lose valuable form and experience with the omission of Mitch Brown, but Round 7 absentee Arana Taumata fills in at the back. Jesse Sene-Lefao also returns in the front row as he aims for his Cronulla Sharks debut, with Kurt Dillon being relegated to an extended bench.
Since arriving from Queensland’s Intrust Super Cup last season, Josh Cleeland has been a welcome addition for Newtown, successfully steering his side around the park with Fa’amanu Brown to start 2016. He will come up against the ever-reliable Mitch Cornish, in what is set to be an explosive match up.
Newcastle Knights v Wyong Roos
Woy Woy Oval, Saturday 30 April
The Grand Final re-match will be played a long way from Pirtek Stadium, and both sides will field incredibly different sides from that day.
Honeti Tuha - the ex-Knights winger and Grand Final hero – has moved on to the Magpies, while players such as Eloni Vunakece have been promoted to the NRL side. It is much different scenario to that day as well, with last year’s premiers struggling this season, only recording the single victory and sitting in second last on the competition ladder. Wyong have had an up-and-down start to the year, and they are looking to avenge their Grand Final defeat with their fifth win of the season come Saturday.
Ins and Outs:
Newcastle winger Dean Kouka-Smith is replaced by Ken Tofilau, while the Knights also lose Micky Paea and Jamayne Taunoa-Brown. Josh King returns and Sam Cook is named 19th man.
The Roos farewell Ryan Matterson for NRL honours after his short stint in the team, who joins Joe Burgess at the Roosters. Chris Smith is also out, but Nathan Smith, Kauri Aupori and Kurt Warden all come into the side.
The battle of the hookers is on this Saturday under lights, as Wyong’s Mitch Williams will come up against Newcastle’s Kurt Aldridge. Williams has been the Roos’ inspirational leader for many years, while Aldridge is a new recruit and has been impressive in the number 9 jumper.
New Zealand Warriors v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Mt Smart Stadium, Sunday 1 May
LIVE coverage on Fox Sports channel 501 and Sky Sports (NZ)
With Andrew McFadden dropping six NRL players this week, the New Zealand Warriors Intrust Super Premiership NSW team could be very different to what was named last Tuesday. Stacey Jones’ men have been in fine form lately, winning their previous two encounters while now being refreshed having just had a bye. The Bulldogs on the other hand have had a poor start to 2016, unable to close out close matches and play for 80 minutes. It will be interesting to see how they react to the challenge across the ditch.
Ins and Outs:
The Warriors named a vastly different side to the one that overcame the Roos in Round 7, with the likes of Tomasi Aoke, James Gavet, Jazz Tevaga, Albert Vete and Shaun Lane all departing; only Aoke is not a part of the NRL squad to take on the Dragons. In their place comes Matt Allwood, Jeff Robson, Nathaniel Roache, Ligi Sao and Upu Poching. However, these are subject to change.
There are only two changes for the Bulldogs – Elias Sukkar drops off the bench and Raymond Faitala-Mariner is a chance of his club NRL debut. They are replaced by George Tsikrikis and Will Solway.
The Warriors and the Bulldogs possess two of the best and most exciting backlines in the competition. Ken Maumalo, Konrad Hurrell and Matthew Allwood are three big names in the Warriors lineup, while Brad Abbey, Tyrone Phillips and Reubenn Rennie are three up-and-coming youngsters in the Bulldogs. We don't know how these players go against each other, but we do know it will be exciting.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Illawarra Cutters
Nowra Showground, Sunday 1 May
Manly and Illawarra conclude Country Round at Nowra, with both sides refreshed after enjoying the bye. Illawarra currently sits in second position on the competition ladder, having dramatically improved under new coach Jason Demitriou. Manly on the other hand have had a rollar-coaster start to the year, and while they did not pick up the two points in their last clash with Mounties, the second half effort was certainly there and they will be hoping to translate that into 80 minutes at Nowra Showground.
Ins and Outs:
Manly’s Brayden Wiliame retained his spot in the NRL squad after picking up his first win in first grade last weekend, with Halafau Lavaka starting. It means Josh Martin comes onto the bench, along with Ezra Howe who replaces Tony Satini.
For the Cutters, Jacob Host, Adam Quinlan and Mitch Porter return at the expense of NRL-bound Taane Milne, Knights signing Peter Mata’utia and Corey Brown.
Both teams possess incredibly large and skilful starting front rowers. Luke Burgess and Fabian Goodall have been strong up-front for Manly, while Shannon Wakeman and Sebastine Ikahihifo are a huge part of the Cutters’ success this year. The match will most likely be won or lost through the middle third.