Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (11th) v Penrith Panthers (9th)
Belmore Sports Ground, Friday 20 May
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It was “a long time coming,” according to Bulldogs coach Andy Patmore, but having dominated the Magpies on Saturday the Belmore Boys finally earned their first win of the 2016 season. Thanks to a Round 1 draw with Newtown, the Bulldogs lifted themselves off the bottom of the ladder and finals footy remains some possibility this year – which could be helped with a second victory over the Panthers this weekend.
Patmore did not hide his relief in getting the first win last week, but knows there is plenty of room for improvement ahead of Round 11.
“It was like a Grand Final,” Patmore told NSWRL.com.au. “We’d done some good things but we’d finally finished the game off, which was nice.
“It was good last week but we’ve still got a fair bit of work still to do to be a good side. Defensively we’ve got to be very strong – (Penrith) can put a try on from anywhere.”
An important part of Canterbury’s maiden win was former VB Blues wrecking ball Tony Williams, who was damaging after being relegated from the NRL outfit. Surprisingly, he was not named in either side in Round 11 – with Patmore citing injury management.
“He pulled up well after the game, but he’s just got a couple of niggles,” Patmore said. “With Origin coming around shortly he’ll obviously be back in NRL shortly, so we’ve just got to be sure that he’s fine.”
There has also been whispers around Belmore that incumbent NSW representative Will Hopoate could line up in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW to maintain match fitness in coming weeks, while he sits out the NRL side’s Sunday games due to religious beliefs. Patmore, however, was insistent that while it would be a boost for his side, it hadn’t been spoken about and was ultimately head coach Des Hasler’s decision.
The Panthers, meanwhile, have slumped to ninth position – just three points ahead of the Bulldogs – after a three-game losing streak in recent weeks. Their last start was a 32-16 defeat at the hands of the Warriors in Penrith last week while they have also lost to class outfits Mounties and Wyong.
Wests Tigers (4th) v Newcastle Knights (12th)
Campbelltown Sports Stadium, Saturday 21 May
After the most exciting of finishes at Campbelltown Sports Stadium last week, the Wests Tigers return to the venue to face up to the struggling Knights in Round 11. It’s not a match-up that should be taken lightly, however, especially given the Tigers’ permanent loss of their star halfback this week.
Josh Drinkwater – who last month said he was open to offers from NRL clubs – has this week relocated to the North of England, where he will immediately start playing with the Leigh Centurions. Drinkwater had been one of the competition’s form players this year and will be a major loss for the Tigers, but in his place comes a man with the genes of a Tigers legend: Jeremy Marshall-King, the brother of Benji Marshall. The sky is the limit for the 20-year-old, but his combination with Jack Littlejohn this week will be telling for the result.
The Knights, on the other hand, conceded an unbelievable 110 points across the NRL and Intrust Super Premiership NSW last week, scoring just four. Neither win will do anything for the young group of players’ confidence and they face a tough ask to bounce back this week, but with experienced coach Matt Lantry at the helm should still be given some chance of causing what would be a monumental upset.
Mounties (1st) v Illawarra Cutters (3rd)
Aubrey Keech Reserve, Saturday 21 May
It was one of the more dominant performances seen in this year’s Intrust Super Premiership NSW: the Cutters took their home game to Newcastle and defeated the now last-placed Knights 48 points to four. The season’s largest winning margin to date is a pleasing notch on the belt of the Illawarra side, but they face a vastly different challenge this Saturday, taking on ladder-leaders Mounties at Aubrey Keech Reserve.
Cutters coach Jason Demetriou enjoyed the fashion in which his men responded to a heavy defeat before Representative Round, but is fully aware that they must lift another level to overcome the increasingly dominant force from Mount Pritchard.
“Obviously a disappointing result the week before that against Manly, so it’s good to see the boys bounce back with some energy,” Demetriou told NSWRL.com.au. “I thought we attacked really well and overall I was pretty happy.
“I think we’ve got to focus on being better than we were last week, that’s what we’re going to have to do to go up to Mounties. Their back five are playing as good as anyone in the competition at the moment and causing teams a lot of problems, along with their back rowers – I think (Mitch) Barnett is probably as good a back rower as there is in the competition.
“It’s a big ask for us, but we’re looking forward to it.”
With the Origin period approaching and Josh Dugan considered highly likely to be selected for the VB Blues, Demetriou left the door open for any of Taane Milne, previous Dragons fullback Kurt Mann or last week’s Man Of The Match Adam Quinlan to earn a place in the NRL side.
“Tane Milne made his debut against the Roosters a few weeks ago and more than held his own, ‘Quinny’ is obviously playing outstanding footy for us at the moment and Kurt, after a tough start to the year, I thought had his best game of the season. All three players are going to be vying for opportunities to play over the Origin period.”
Mounties, meanwhile, continue to boast a roster that is consistent in both its team list and on-field performances. Another win this weekend could potentially see the team extend their lead over the rest of the competition to an incredible six points.
New Zealand Warriors (2nd) v Manly Warringah Sea Eagles (10th)
Mt Smart Stadium #2, Sunday 22 May
They were displaying the consistency (or lack thereof) that is synonymous with the New Zealand Warriors earlier in the year, but recently appear to have clicked and can now be considered the closest side to the world-beater Mounties. The team from across the ditch have now won four straight and most importantly, two of the victories have been in Sydney.
Mason Lino starts in the number 7 jersey once again, with Jeff Robson absent from both the NRL and Intrust Super Premiership NSW sides. The 22-year-old was outstanding in the Warriors’ last-start win over the Panthers and the side looks to be in safe hands again as they take on the Sea Eagles.
The Manly side, meanwhile, will look to put last week’s game behind them, in which they lost to North Sydney 23-22 thanks to an Eli Levido field goal on the buzzer. They possess the strike power to bounce back in Round 11 and will look for a reshuffled back line to settle in as soon as possible.
North Sydney Bears (7th) v Wentworthville Magpies (8th)
North Sydney Oval, Sunday 22 May
One team came away with a fairytale ending at a picturesque North Sydney Oval, while the other was demolished by the cellar-dwellers at Belmore; the game between 7th and 8th position shapes as an unpredictable affair on Sunday afternoon.
The Bears will be boosted by the inclusion of explosive dummy-half Damien Cook, who didn’t play in either grade last week. The hooker, however, has proven to many that he is NRL-worthy and his experience will be clear should he run out as named against the Magpies.
While North Sydney have displayed unconvincing form in recent weeks – which has included two one-point victories in their last three starts – Wentworthville remain in the midst of a crushing mid-season slump. The black-and-whites now haven’t tasted victory since Round 5 and with the effects of Parramatta’s salary cap crisis flowing through the grades, they have faced significant difficulties on and off the field. Given the Magpies’ strong start to the year, of course, the two teams still remain neck-and-neck on the ladder and a win could see the Magpies leapfrog the Bears in Round 11.
Wyong Roos (6th) v Newtown Jets (5th)
Morry Breen Oval, Sunday 22 May
A big Henson Park crowd were treated to one of the games of the year last Saturday afternoon, with the top-of-the-table clash between the Jets and Mounties living up to all expectations. The Bluebaggers ultimately fell short on that occasion and slip three spots to fifth position, but are determined to build on the experience this week against the Roos.
Like any good coach, Newtown mentor Greg Matterson was pleased with his side’s Round 10 efforts – but cited a failure to finish opportunities as the most obvious area of improvement.
“To be honest, I thought the better team lost,” Matterson told NSWRL.com.au. “In saying that, Mounties found a way to win and we found a way to lose. Disappointed, but we’ll pull our socks up – we’re competing with the better teams.
“We made four or five breaks against Mounties and didn’t come up with the try on any of them; they didn’t make a break against us except for an intercept. We did the groundwork, but we didn’t finish it off and we need to make sure that when we get opportunities we turn it into points.
“It’s one we let slip and we’ve got a tough game this week against Wyong.”
The Roos are coming off a similar defeat last week to the red-hot Tigers in Campbelltown but unlike the Jets, it was a late charge that almost delivered them the win. As both sides have proven their ability to score points across the field, we should be set for another entertaining clash at Morry Breen Oval.