Mounties v Wentworthville Magpies
Aubrey Keech Reserve, Saturday 27 August
Broadcast LIVE on SteeleSports.com.au
They’ve suffered a blow to their premiership hopes with the likely loss of their captain, but it is impossible to write off a dominant Mounties side that is the favourite for the 2016 Intrust Super Premiership NSW title.
Mounties, who secured the minor premiership well ahead of time, were yesterday rocked by news that Raiders five-eighth Blake Austin will be sidelined for an indefinite period with a hand injury. Sam Williams, who has been a standout in the number seven jersey for Mounties, is a high chance of getting an NRL call-up – but coach Steve Antonelli knows that it is part and parcel of being an Intrust Super Premiership NSW coach.
“When you’re a reserve grade coach that’s what you’ve got to get used to,” Antonelli told NSWRL.com.au. “For me, I’ve never looked three or four weeks in advance – it’s week to week.”
Finding a new halves partner for Maurice Kennedy will be no easy task; Lachlan Croker was ruled out for up to a year after he tore his ACL back in Round 20. Antonelli has two things working in his favour, however: sufficient depth from lower grades and the luxury of this weekend’s no-pressure game against the Magpies. The former Penrith outside back was keeping his cards close to his chest.
“I’ve got a few options to use,” Antonelli said. “I’ve got a week to trial a couple of different options – we can’t get knocked out of first place so I’m lucky I’ve got that week to trial stuff.”
With this recent development, along with the high standards of their coach, the boys from Mount Pritchard will have no reason to be complacent leading into the finals series – something that could make them more dangerous than ever.
“We probably haven’t played our best footy,” Antonelli warned. “We haven’t put 80 together this year, so the last couple of weeks it’s all been about us and what we need to improve.
“We haven’t been complacent and it’ll be no different this week.”
Antonelli highlighted unforced errors and his players’ individual defensive efforts as the two key areas of improvement for his side. If they can build on these areas, Mounties could very well prove unbeatable on their way to the premiership. It all starts this week against a Wentworthville outfit yet to cement their place in the finals.
“It’ll be a bit of a battle and I think that’s the way they play,” Antonelli said. “We’re going to be in for a hard, physical slog so we’ve got to lift and take the challenge head-on.”
North Sydney Bears v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
North Sydney Oval, Saturday 27 August
For the Bears and Bulldogs, the equation is simple: win and likely progress to Week One of the finals, lose and start making plans for Mad Monday. The Bulldogs will be assured a finals berth if they are to win, while if the Bears are to come away with a victory they will be relying on a Panthers or Magpies loss.
To make this match-up even more intriguing, the last time these teams faced off just a Cody Walker field goal separated the two teams, handing the Bulldogs their sixth-straight defeat in Round 8. This shapes as the match of the round – and either side could prove to be a dark horse if they can sneak into the top eight.
The boys from Belmore have had a strong finish to the regular season, winning four of their past five matches and taking minor premiers Mounties all the way. North Sydney have been inconsistent at best in recent weeks, but looked extremely promising in a last-minute defeat to Newtown last Saturday. The teams look set for another close encounter, and the team that is more hungry for finals football is likely to come out on top at North Sydney Oval.
Newtown Jets v Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Henson Park, Saturday 27 August
Broadcast LIVE on SteeleSports.com.au
The Jets head into another important clash to finish the regular season, coming up against a rejuvenated Manly side with nothing to lose. The Sea Eagles, destined for an 11th-place finish in 2016, are focusing on enjoying their football and have demonstrated their attacking flair in recent weeks – even though defence has not been up to scratch.
Having got out of jail against North Sydney last weekend, Newtown will secure an all-important top four finish should they defeat Manly – but will have the Warriors breathing down their necks if they lose. The Jets’ destiny remains in their hands.
Most importantly, Saturday will see Newtown’s final game of 2016 and the Jets will mark the occasion with their traditional Club Reuinion Day. It will be a jam-packed afternoon at Henson Park with jumping castles, face painting, opportunities to play on the field at half and full-time and the chance to mingle with past and present Jets stars after the game. For the last time this year, supporters of all teams are welcome to take in one of the best fan experiences in Rugby League.
Wyong Roos v Illawarra Cutters
Morry Breen Oval, Saturday 27 August
Saturday afternoon at Morry Breen will see the only Round 25 match where both teams are assured a finals position and while the Cutters, certain to come second, may treat this as somewhat of a training run, the Roos can finish in any of three positions depending on the result.
The Cutters have done well for their top two finish, but have been inconsistent at best for the second half of the season. They have won three of their last six games, surrendering a 10-0 half-time lead to lose to the Magpies last week, and look a shadow of the Illawarra side that dominated throughout the Origin period. Working in their favour, however, the Cutters remain the best defensive side in the competition – a record they have exemplified despite some minor hiccups in Rounds 20 and 22.
For the Roos, they will be desperate to put in a good showing in their final home game, after a disappointing year at Morry Breen. Wyong have won just two from their eight games on their home patch, but with all finals to be played in Sydney they will leave Kanwal on a high. Two classy sides on their day should put forward a high-quality match to conclude the regular season.
New Zealand Warriors v Penrith Panthers
Mt Smart Stadium, Sunday 28 August
Broadcast LIVE on Fox Sports 501
The Warriors host the Panthers in the last game across the Tasman for 2016, in a televised match that will indicate whether the New Zealand side is a genuine contender. Penrith are currently a chance of finals football if results fall their way, but if Wentworthville and Canterbury-Bankstown both win their games on Saturday, that chance will have disappeared by Sunday morning.
Similarly, the Warriors will be reliant on other results, but to potentially nab a place in the top four. Posting 30 points against Mounties last week was no mean feat, but they failed to overcome the Minor Premiers. Should the Jets lose to the Sea Eagles, a rematch could be on the cards next week.
The big change for the Warriors has been the movement of Charnze Nicoll-Klokstadd into the centres, with usual winger Henare Wells shifted to fullback. The young gun has played in a variety of positions this year, but looked to have found his place at the back in recent weeks. The experienced Wells will do the job in the custodian role, as the Warriors look to snap a four-game losing streak.
The Panthers, meanwhile, will hope to put an end to a five-match losing streak of their own – in potentially their most crucial game of the season so far. Josh Hall returns to the side via the bench and could be a part of a late reshuffle in Auckland.
Newcastle Knights v Wests Tigers
Hunter Stadium, Sunday 28 August
It’s Old Boys Day in the Hunter and while the Knights will pick up the wooden spoon in both their senior grades, it’s the last chance for Newcastle faithful to show their support of Knights players past and present. It all kicks off with an Intrust Super Premiership NSW clash against the Wests Tigers, who will be extremely unlucky to miss out on the top four from this point.
For all their flaws – including being the worst defensive side in the competition – the Knights have looked far better in recent weeks. They led for the majority of the game against Newtown in Round 22, overcame Manly in a high-scoring Round 23 game and asked plenty of questions of Wyong last week. The Tigers, who have named Robbie Farah again this week, will want to put the Knights away however, in what could be a helpful confidence-boost after last week’s defeat to the Sea Eagles.
All signs point towards a Wests Tigers victory, but the Knights will leave nothing in the tank on an occasion the club traditionally lifts for.
Witness history this September at the 2016 NSWRL Grand Final Day. On Sunday, 25 September the Intrust Super Premiership NSW decider, along with the Ron Massey Cup and Sydney Shield Grand Finals, take place at Pirtek Stadium, with tickets just $10 for adults and kids under 12 free. Click here to secure your seat.