PREVIEWS | ISP Rd 9
Mounties v Warriors
Saturday, 5 May 12.45pm
Broadcast LIVE on Fox League
They sit on five wins apiece, but five positions separate Mounties and the Warriors, leaving the hosts in a favourable position ahead of their Round 9 meeting.
The ladder-leading Mounties, who sit two competition points ahead of their opponents thanks to a Round 6 bye, return to a happy hunting ground in GIO Stadium. The nation's capital has proven fruitful for the Raiders' feeder side, with 10 wins to show for their past 13 appearances - which included a 34-22 defeat to the Bulldogs in Round 3. Also filling the side with confidence will be a 44-4 victory over Wyong last week, in which Sitiveni Moceidreke scored 24 points.
The Warriors' ability to win away from home is always going to be a point of discussion, and they've managed just one win in Australia from three attempts this season: a one-point victory over the 11th-placed Roos. By contrast, John Teina's men have enjoyed three consecutive weeks at home, when they've taken three wins and gathered momentum. Led by fullback Hayze Perham, five-eighth Chanel Harris-Tavita and an in-form forward pack, the Warriors are in their best possible position to cause an upset.
After his side enjoyed the 40-point victory, Ryan Carr has taken the surprising step of reshuffling his spine; Tyler Cornish and Brad Abbey swap positions, with Abbey to wear the unfamiliar No.6 jersey and Cornish to return to fullback. Whether that change signals a long-term solution remains to be seen, but the players' performance in their new positions will be key for Mounties.
Newtown Jets v North Sydney Bears
Saturday, 5 May 1pm
Broadcast LIVE on Channel 9 and 9Now
As one of the Intrust Super Premiership's most anticipated annual clashes, the first leg of the 2018 Frank Hyde Shield carries with it a weight of expectation - not least due to its bearing on the top eight.
The Newtown Jets and North Sydney Bears have taken different paths through the first eight rounds, but now sit in seventh and eighth place respectively. Points for and against, however, paint a different picture; the Jets and Bears are the third and fourth-best defensive outfits, but Newtown's 208 points scored is the second most in the competition - and 57 more than their foundation rivals. The Jets have played out three games decided by two points or less, but have stated an intent to grind out wins this season.
While the Bears will carry their full host of NRL reserves - including the experienced Robbie Farah and Kyle Turner - the Jets may be slightly understrength with the Sharks playing later on Saturday night. A more experienced North Sydney side will fancy its chances to draw first blood in the dual-legged competition.
To be broadcast live on Channel 9 and 9Now, the match will also be the first televised on free-to-air since 1987 - and commentary will feature one of Rugby League's greatest minds, Phil Gould.
Wyong Roos v Newcastle Knights
Morry Breen Oval
Saturday, 5 May 3pm
The first F3 Derby of 2018 will be played out at the bottom of the table, where the result is anyone's guess.
The 11th-placed Roos and 12th-placed Knights have just three wins between them in 2018, in a disappointing turn from two relatively successful 2017 outfits. Their position is no coincidence, given the pair's record as the worst two defensive sides and bottom three in attack, with almost identical tallys in both categories.
Several key players from Wyong's 2017 grand final side remain, leaving little doubt about their potential this season, while Newcastle will field less experience on Saturday. Jack Johns and Hayden Loughrey form a new-look halves pairing, while Danny Levi once again looks to stamp his influence on the second-tier team.
Newcastle, however, will have more adversity to overcome given the surprising events of the previous week; coach Simon Woolford will soon depart for England to take over the Huddersfield Giants. It is understood Woolford will remain in Newcastle until early next week, with fellow former hooker Rory Kostjaysn expected to take over, but the move is sure to have some effect on the mindset of the Knights players. If they can respond positively, it will fill them with optimism for the rest of the season.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Wentworthville Magpies
Belmore Sports Ground
Saturday, 5 May 6.30pm
The high-flying Magpies have overcome two of the competition's top four sides in the past fortnight - and they now get to test themselves against a third.
Wentworthville's resurgence has been emphatic as they've defeated Blacktown, Penrith and Western Suburbs in recent weeks, boosted by a number of returning NRL stars. The high-profile inclusions will continue for the Magpies in Round 9, but they won't be alone; the Bulldogs will welcome back the experienced Greg Eastwood and Michael Lichaa, who will be desperate to put forward strong performances. How Lichaa's relegation affects regular hooker Fa'amanu Brown will also be vital, with Brown topping the competition's try-scorers list after eight rounds.
The Bulldogs have shown far more promise in attack than their Round 9 opponents, but Wentworthville's impressive 26-6 victory last weekend gave an indication that they may have clicked into gear. That fascet of their game will be impacted by the inclusion of NSW Under-18 representative Jaeman Salmon, who will make his Intrust Super Premiership debut on Saturday night.
St George Illawarra Dragons v Western Suburbs Magpies
Sunday, 6 May 11.45am
If the Dragons' clash with the Melbourne Storm at NRL level is billed as a grand final preview, this could yet prove itself as an Intrust Super Premiership equivalent.
Prior to the season's commencement, the Dragons were among the favourites to take out the 2018 Intrust Super Premiership, and after a slow start, they had looked to be performing at their potential. An untimely injury to captain Darren Nicholls has coincided with two consecutive losses, but Mat Head's men sit in ninth with an expected ability to show improvement.
The Magpies, meanwhile, surprised some fans en route to top spot on the Intrust Super Premiership ladder - but will now have to contend with the absence of their own halfback. Josh Drinkwater's departure to France was felt at the club last weekend, as they suffered their third loss and dropped to second place.
The situation at each club puts two rookie halves - the Dragons' Tristan Sailor and the Magpies' Gus Garzaniti - at the centre of attention on Sunday, when each side will look to prove itself as a premiership force. Both outfits appear evenly matched, but only one team will be able to bounce back from a convincing Round 8 defeat.