The NRL is back baby, oh how we missed you. It’s also NRL Indigenous round where social issues affecting indigenous people are highlighted as well as celebrating this amazing ancient culture. Unfortunately the only thing that has been highlighted leading up to this important round is how silly some of our leaguies are when they socialise. Give the lads some free time and they can sniff an opportunity to play up a mile off. Maybe they need to go back to the days when they had to keep fulltime jobs a la ‘Cement’ Gillespie doing the garbage run, they’ll be so knackered they won’t have the energy to party all night.
Canterbury Bulldogs v North Queensland Cowboys
The Bulldogs meet the Cowboys at a fortunate time. Jonathan Thurston has damaged his shoulder and the Cowboys will miss their genius and he’ll be shattered at missing this special Indigenous round. Lachlan Coote returns at fullback but no one can fill JT’s golden boots. Josh Reynolds is out for the Bulldogs for an extended period but all that’s done is brought Matt Frawley into the starting side –finally – and improved the Dogs kicking game. The Bulldogs are working their way nicely into this season and their team looks far too strong and balanced. The Cowboys look undermanned for this shootout, packing a water pistol while the Bulldogs brandish a bazooka.
Bulldogs by 10
St George Illawarra Dragons v Cronulla Sharks
This local derby has extra punch in it with second playing third on the table. It’s a big game for the Dragons as they’re about to find out how difficult life is without their two major attacking threats Gareth Widdop and Josh Dugan. Expect the Dragons to play it pretty tight, putting faith in their fiery forward pack to grind out a win. Good in theory but that won’t be enough to sink the Sharks. Cronulla are at full strength with Luke Lewis back in the side and hold strike power across the park, they should have too much class. The Dragons have been underestimated all season and will need to fire on all cylinders and hope to catch the Sharks basking in the water.
Sharks by 8
Wests Tigers v South Sydney Rabbitohs
A massive match in the context of both sides seasons. The winner clings to pipe dreams of finals bound glory, while the loser’s chances of making the finals just about go down the gurgler though they’ll talk about being mathematical chances unconvincingly. Aaron Woods is out and leaves the Tigers looking lightweight up front and it’s an area the Rabbitohs will look to dominate. Sam Burgess is in fine form, and was one of England’s best last week and he’ll again lead the stats and lead the way. Michael Maguire needs the rest of his men in cardinal and myrtle to emulate Burgess’s energy. The Tigers have flair but need to flatten opposition forward packs first before flirting with the fancy footy. This will be an entertaining game but it will be ‘Glory Glory to South Sydney’ bellowing from the Burrow.
Rabbitohs by 8
Penrith Panthers v New Zealand Warriors
Speaking of mathematical chances, get out your abacus Panthers fans if you lose this or use the fingers on your hands, all twelve of them. The week away was enjoyed by the Penrith rep players and all played well especially the City boys. James Tamou woke from his slumber in Mudgee and hopefully that form follows him to the foot of the mountains. If the Warriors want to play finals footy these are the tight games that you need to win to get you there. A key to that dream is Kieran Foran who announced he’s departing at year’s end so will be keen to farewell with fond memories. Shaun Johnson will be desperate to put last week’s Test behind him, his battle against youngster Nathan Cleary will be pivotal. Both sides tend to go sideways before they go forward and the winner of this war will be the one who works out first the direct route is the fastest way to the try line. Bryce Cartwright is starting to gain confidence and form, in a game full of X factor, he is the game breaker – the Carty party is about to start.
Panthers by 4
Melbourne Storm v Gold Coast Titans
Game one of the Suncorp doubleheader and both these games will be crackers. The good folk of Bris-Vegas love their league and will fill this magnificent stadium to the brim. The Storm are leading the way, playing with all the style of champions but there is a long way to go and many pot holes to dodge. The Gold Coast could be the trip wire the Storm stumble over. The Titans have won two on the trot and are a dangerous prospect. Tough and tenacious, they won’t go away. They have plenty of points in them, the issue is whether they can prevent the Storm running riot. Cameron Smith controls the ruck, waits for the right moment then timed to perfection Cooper Cronk calls and zips the ball out to the flashy flying finishers in a flicker. The Titans will be brave but won’t be able to go with the Storm for the full 80.
Storm by 14
Manly Sea Eagles v Brisbane Broncos
A Manly home game in Brisbane? The Sea Eagles are so embarrassed by Lottoland they’re avoiding it. Part Two of the double header and the Broncos not only have to use the away dressing room, they also have to play on a Saturday?!? I can picture Wayne Bennett tapping away furiously on his typewriter, ‘Dear Todd. Not happy. Regards, Wayne’ The Sea Eagles are in very good form and the Trbojevic brothers typify the spirit the side are playing with. They’re enjoying their footy and it shows. The Broncos are hard to break down though but Manly have the game to do it. Anthony Milford was disappointed with his performance against England last week look to him to rebound. With Origin coming and a spot in the halves possibly available with Jonathan Thurston in doubt, Milford’s head to head with Daly Cherry-Evans will be a peach. So many good players are on show this double header will end with a humdinger.
Broncos by 1
Newcastle Knights v Canberra Raiders
If I was coach of the Knights I’d have spent the week off playing against the local Under 15s side just so they could walk off the field with a winning feeling rushing through their veins, build up some confidence. Also hammering a few pimply teenagers might have been a good way to release some frustration. Instead they probably did some weights, followed by a video session, tai chi and a chat with the team psychologist, the Knight Whisperer, every side has one. The Canberra Raiders are visiting and having dropped out of the Top 8 need to win badly to get their season back on track. Strong everywhere, Canberra has power, skill and speed right through the squad, well above Newcastle’s ability. It should be a mismatch but the Knights troubled the Raiders last year in both games. The Green Machine hasn’t been running smoothly and the Raiders will view this match as a chance to get into top gear and ignite their season. Luckily, they’re playing the NRL’s Under 15th position side.
Raiders by 18
Sydney Roosters v Parramatta Eels
This should be high quality fare. The Chooks will welcome football to distract from the Shaun Kenny-Dowall downfall. Latrell Mitchell is the beneficiary of SKD being stood down and with this being NRL Indigenous round combined with his return from being rested, expect Mitchell to be primed to perform. Parramatta are beginning to rise and are playing with intensity and skill, a deadly combination. This game will be free flowing and a toss of the coin to call. The Chooks have Luke Keary and Mitchell Pearce ruling the roost on both sides of the ruck, while the Eels rely heavily on Corey Norman to call the shots. The Roosters defence has been scratchy at times but has tightened up the past couple of weeks, and it needs to be with the threats the Eels possess. A points fest is on offer to end the Indigenous Round with Latrell Mitchell showing pride in his culture with his try celebration that Roosters fans hope to see at least once.
Roosters by 6
Enjoy the footy and remember gamble responsibly. Being the Indigenous Round expect the players of indigenous heritage to be inspired to produce their very best and celebrate their culture. They are a very proud people and a huge part of the fabric that is our wonderful game, let’s recognise their contribution and marvel at their strength and skill.