PREVIEWS | ISP Rd 7
North Sydney Bears v Mounties
Central Coast Stadium
Saturday, 20 April 12.45pm
Broadcast live on FOX LEAGUE
A well-rested Mounties outfit comes up against a North Sydney side which has just hit form – but the two No.9s will be the focus when they clash on the Central Coast.
Mounties, coming off the bye, will look to make up for their Round 5 loss and potentially take top spot by the end of Round 7. The Bears, meanwhile, previously sitting at the bottom of the ladder, have begun to claw their way back with two impressive wins over the Knights and Western Suburbs Magpies in the past fortnight.
In those two victories, the Bears hooker played a vital role in ensuring victory; after Robbie Farah dominated at McDonald Jones Stadium to earn his side its first win of 2018, captain Billy Brittain returned to his starting role last week at North Sydney Oval, showing his class with a try and 46 tackles.
This week, Farah returns to the starting side for North Sydney and he faces a player who could also be considered the competition's form No.9: Craig Garvey. The former Bulldog has generally been one of Mounties' best and will hope to rise to the occasion on Saturday. The young Bears halves pairing of Connor Tracey and Round 6 match-winner Dean Hawkins will also need to overcome the relative experience of Mounties' Henry Raiwalui, partnered by the in-form Cooper Bambling.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Newtown Jets
Belmore Sports Ground
Saturday, 21 April 1pm
Broadcast live on Channel 9
The Newtown Jets might be down on player stocks this weekend – but after producing a 54-point thrashing in Round 6, they won't be short on confidence.
While Kurt Dillon has been recalled to the NRL after making his debut last week, fellow forwards Scott Sorensen, Jack Williams and Braden Uele are also in line for potential places in Shane Flanagan's first grade side. It leaves the Jets heavily depleted, with the youngest spine in the Intrust Super Premiership set to guide them around again; while Trent Hodkinson is unlikely to play for the Sharks in Round 7, he has also not been named at the lower level.
On the other side of the park will be the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, who will look to pounce back from a disappointing loss to the Panthers. With the prize of outright first position on the line, the Bulldogs produced their poorest showing since Round 1; they missed 57 tackles, which is second only to their Round 1 tally of 63 among all teams this season.
The Bulldogs will hope for an improved effort and as the NRL side has already played, Steve Georgallis should have all of his men at his disposal. That includes exciting halves Josh Cleeland and Matt Frawley, who will face the less experienced but similarly talented Jack Williams and Kyle Flanagan of the Jets.
Warriors v St George Illawarra Dragons
Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday, 21 April 3pm (NZST)
While they won't play out the same top-of-the-table clash as their NRL counterparts, the Warriors and Dragons are two teams running hot on recent form, leading to another highly-anticipated match at Mt Smart Stadium.
The Dragons, sitting on four consecutive wins and officially the form team in the competition, will like their chances on the Warriors' home turf – but Mat Head may face the prospect of a reduced playing group this week. Halfback and captain Darren Nicholls has already withdrawn with a throat injury, while more players may be rested as the NRL squad looks to maximise its turnaround before Wednesday's Anzac Day clash with the Roosters.
The Warriors, too, will be without their experienced No.7 – and recent history shows that is a significant loss. Mason Lino's absence was last felt a fortnight ago when the Warriors suffered a 32-0 loss to Western Suburbs, before the NRL-bound playmaker steered them to a 34-4 win over Blacktown last weekend. His elevation to the top grade will likely see Sam Cook come into the halves, while Queensland Under-20 representative Tristan Sailor makes his Intrust Super Premiership debut in the Dragons' No.6 jersey.
Wyong Roos v Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles
Berkeley Vale Oval
Saturday, 21 April 3pm
Berkeley Vale Oval plays host to its first game of Intrust Super Premiership of 2018, with all eyes on Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles halfback Jackson Hastings.
Hastings' recent off-field dramas have been well documented, with Manly Warringah Head Coach Trent Barrett confirming he will not be selected in the NRL side again this year. The 22-year-old is no stranger to the Intrust Super Premiership – he has played 13 games for Blacktown compared to 14 for Manly since joining the club last year – and has proven himself as a potent attacking weapon at that level on several occasions. On Saturday, he will face up against another threatening halfback in Mitch Cornish, with the winner of that battle likely to determine the result.
It will be another big challenge for Wyong, who have continued a steady decline down the competition ladder. They now sit in 11th place, with just two single-point victories keeping them off the bottom – meaning the time is now for the Roos to turn their form around.
Western Suburbs Magpies v Newcastle Knights
Campbelltown Sports Stadium
Saturday, 21 April 3pm
It's a battle of first versus last at Campbelltown Sports Stadium on Saturday, with the ladder-leading Western Suburbs Magpies hoping to put away the 12th-placed Newcastle Knights.
The Knights, with a gritty win and Round 1 draw giving them their only points this season, come up against a tough opposition in the Magpies, who would be undefeated if not for two one-point losses in the opening six rounds. In a worrying sign for coach Brett Hodgson, both of those losses came after the Magpies led by 18 points, so the battle will be a mental one if his men can get out to another good lead in Round 7. Likely the competition's form player, Josh Drinkwater, should also not take his opposition number lightly; Newcastle's Brock Lamb has been relegated from the NRL for just his second game in the Intrust Super Premiership.
Wentworthville Magpies v Penrith Panthers
Sunday, 22 April 11.45am
Broadcast live on FOX LEAGUE
The weekend wraps up at ANZ Stadium with a match which served up a big upset in Round 1: the Wentworthville Magpies versus the Penrith Panthers.
In the teams' season opener, the Magpies produced an unexpected 32-24 victory over the defending premiers, thanks largely to a Nathan Davis hat-trick. Wins have been hard to come by for Nathan Cayless's men since, however, with the side only breaking the losing streak in Round 5 before a bye in Round 6.
The Panthers were impressive in last-week's win over the Bulldogs and if Jarome Luai can produce a similar performance, he will trouble the Magpies – along with Wayde Egan, who is not yet named and remains an outside chance of coming back into Guy Missio's side.
Wentworthville will this week experiment with Brad Deitz at five-eighth, after the former North Sydney captain was adjusting to reduced minutes off the bench at his new club. It completes a spine of Deitz, Nathan Milone, Arana Taumata and Cameron King – four experienced men who are capable of causing what would be another upset.