It’s Retro Round of the NRL where we celebrate the good old days of the 1980s before rugby league went fully professional and became a business and teams became a brand. It was a simpler time where players trained twice a week, then smashed beers at the pub afterwards. Hard men belted the living daylights out of each other for the first ten minutes called the softening up period before, unsurprisingly running out of puff, letting the little fast men take over! It was a game for people of all shapes and sizes not the athletes of today who are all 6 foot 2, 110kg and can run 100m in a tick over 12 seconds – Sam Kasiano being the exception, that is until Craig Bellamy gets hold of him at Storm preseason training this Summer!
Canterbury Bulldogs v Parramatta Eels
Retro Round launches with the classic rivalry of the era. The legendary names of the 80s roll off the tongue: Turvey, Sterlo, Guru, Zip Zip Man, Bert and Baa Baa. Mr Perpetual Motion Ray Price’s body arched like a hunchback facing the cross bar as the Bulldogs take a penalty shot at goal. Ray is still waiting for that rebound. By the way, what’s happened to nick names? Think they went out the window when the PC Fun Police took power. The 2017 Bulldogs year of living miserably is nearly over. Everyone at Bulldogs HQ need to be let off the leash and taken for a run in the fresh air. Dumping in a nearby park instead of on each other would be a good idea too. The Eels brilliant win last week and favourable draw has them primed to make a huge run at the Top 4. They need to beat the Bulldogs to prove to themselves they deserve to be in that rare atmosphere. The Eels forwards led by the super impressive Nathan Brown busted the Broncos and if they bring the same attitude they’ll belt the Bulldogs. Mitchell Moses and Corey Norman are a class above the Dogs halves and should control this one and bring it home. A good win will also get the Eels for and against into the black, an important issue if a spot in the Top 4 safety net spot comes down to it. The blue and gold army are starting to smell finals footy and I’m sniffing a caning for the Bulldogs.
Eels by 16
St George-Illawarra Dragons v South Sydney Rabbitohs
Retro Round returns rugby league to its spiritual home of the SCG! League’s greatest names graced this famous ground and these team’s colours. I’m not sure what they’d have thought of Jack De Belin’s man bun. Thank God he got rid of it. His current beard is much more retro, though more 1970s than the clean-cut blow dried 80s. The Dragons slipped up controversially against the Knights but that happens over the course of a season, it’s how you rebound that seals your fate. Mary McGregor will look to his forwards to set the tone and the platform for Gareth Widdop to work off. The Rabbitohs are playing for pride and the glory of the cardinal and myrtle jersey. Just seeing the red V from ten yards will bring these Bunnies to the boil. Despite being out of contention Sam Burgess is playing wounded which shows his passion for the club. The Rabbitohs would love nothing better than sending the Saints marching out of the Top 8 but their soft display up the middle against the Raiders was not a good sign for the rest of their season. The Dragons have more to play for and that motivation alone will have the Saints famous song blaring out of the speakers at full time, as it was heard for so many years at the SCG.
Dragons by 8
North Queensland Cowboys v Melbourne Storm
A huge game this match will have 1300SMILES Stadium bursting at the seams. The Storm are coming and Billy the Kid is back! Billy Slater returns with head attached and marbles all accounted for but negating that, Cameron Munster is out due to an ankle injury. Munster is a big loss as he has been in immaculate form and monstered Daly Cherry-Evans last start. The Cowboys may have lost against the Roosters but forced the Chooks to raise their game to an extremely high level to get over the top of them. It was top quality, finals intensity stuff. The Cowboys are in a spot of bother though as a loss here and they could lose touch with the Top 4. The Storm were sensational in demolishing Manly and they’ll love the fast, dry track of Townsville. Expect fast shifts out to their flashing flankers. Cameron Smith starred in his milestone match and he’ll play game 351 in the same fashion. Smith is in incredible form getting better with age and showing no Origin hangover at all mentally or physically. Jason Taumalolo is, once again, the man the Cowboys will bank on cracking the Storm’s safe as a bank vault defence. Melbourne choke the life out of sides with their work on the ground and well-drilled systems are like a lasso around your neck. The Cowboys led by Michael Morgan will give the Storm a run for their money, but if I was a gambler I’d plump it all on Melbourne. The Storm will get out of Dodge with the cash.
Storm by 7
Newcastle Knights v New Zealand Warriors
Now they have a taste for it, can the Knights manage back to back wins?!? It was unthinkable a week ago but the Knights have been playing well this past month and it is now a reality. Both these sides are not only playing for personal pride but World Cup spots are up for grabs. Danny Levi will look to impress NZ selectors and win his personal duel with incumbent Kiwi hooker Issac Luke. Daniel Saifiti has been tremendous and getting better each week, he has a huge future and could develop into one of the NRL’s best front row forwards. The Warriors usually wilt this time of year, and in bad news Bodene Thompson has been ruled out for the season with a pec injury. Stephen Kearney has laid the law down this week and threatened to march players out the front gate if they don’t put in. Kearney is about as slow as a wet week in Whakatane as this statement should have been delivered to the Warriors about three months ago. Will Kearney’s rant bring a belter out of them or will they go into their usual early hibernation? Kearney’s grizzling will be met with barely a grumble. Get set for some fun Knights fans I hope you haven’t lost your voice from cheering last week.
Knights by 6
Gold Coast Titans v Brisbane Broncos
The M1 derby is always a big game but with the Top 4 pack tight the Broncos need the win big time. Trouble has hit them with the season ending injury to Andrew McCullough after he was taken out in friendly fire by Adam Blair’s ridiculous late body check on a kick chaser. Karma is a bitch Adam I hope you’ve learnt your lesson as you’ve seriously dented your sides premiership hopes. Ben Hunt has been selected to play hooker with the Broncos Mr Fix-It Kodi Nikorima named at halfback, expect role sharing. James Roberts will look to burn his former team mates with his blistering speed. Jimmy the Jet has been on fire. Wayne Bennett’s greatest strength is making men better players and people and the old master seems to have done the job with Roberts. The Titans were poor last week, the effort to drag themselves off the canvas week after week looks to have taken its toll. Jarryd Hayne was ordinary last week and Mal Meninga has thrown out the challenge to him to improve his game if he wants to make the Kangaroos squad for the World Cup. The form Hayne is in he’ll be watching from the bleachers. Hayne is a renowned big game player and named in his favoured position of fullback. It’s time to stand up Jarryd! Anthony Milford was quieter than Bennett’s post-match presser last week, he won’t be again.
Broncos by 20
Cronulla Sharks v Canberra Raiders
This will be a bottler, the match of the round, not due to the style expected but the desperation on show. The Raiders are locked in the Hunger Games dodging bullets to stay alive, one slip and they’re gone. They showed flashes of form against the Bunnies but the Sharks at home are a step up. The Green Machine welcomes back Jordan Rapana and Josh Papalii who can reinvigorate his fellow forwards and renew acquaintances with his old sparring partner Paul Gallen. The Sharks are tougher than an old leather boot and will revel in the pumped-up atmosphere and the Raiders battle cry. This will be rough, tough and take no prisoners football. Jack Bird returns and the clash of the centres will be a highlight. Jarrod Croker and Joey Leilua blasted through the Bunnies and will want to batter the Sharks. Being Retro Round Ricky Stuart will spend the whole bus trip to the Shire winding his men up showing them Rocky movies, though the way players mentally prepare these days, Blake Austin will be listening to whale noises on his MP4 player balancing his chakras and finding his Zen. The Sharks have been winning with substance but not style. This will be a close one and I think the Raiders can keep their season hanging by a thread.
Raiders by 2
Manly Sea Eagles v Sydney Roosters
The battle of the birds takes on huge importance for the Sea Eagles who have had their wings clipped and beak taped shut the past couple of weeks. All of sudden the high flying Eagles have been hit by a jumbo jet! In a tailspin they’ve now dropped into the battle to make the playoffs. Manly need to get back that winning feeling. Lose and the Sea Eagles could be out of the eight! They meet the Roosters on a roll. The Chooks ran all over the Cowboys in a great second stanza last start and are playing stylish footy off the back of brutal defence. Luke Keary and Mitchell Pearce are in sensational form and the matchup against Daly Cherry-Evans and Blake Green is pivotal to their sides success. It all starts with the forwards though and the Roosters line speed and hitting in defence was devastating. A repeat of that and it will be the Roosters crowing. Jake Friend has been named on an extended bench and the feeling in my waters is he’ll play. Lottoland has never been a happy hunting ground for the Roosters and after the past fortnight of embarrassment, Manly will no doubt bounce out of the blocks. If the Roosters can hold out the Sea Eagles early onslaught I think they can continue their march towards the top.
Roosters by 4
Penrith Panthers v Wests Tigers
Father versus son as Ivan Cleary takes his Tigers to Penrith hoping to run his bus back and forth over his son Nathan’s side and hopefully leave the foot of the mountains with all four wheels still attached. The Panthers are on a roll having won four on the trot and must continue winning to keep the pressure on the sides above them. Skipper Matt Moylan returns named on an extended bench and while his combination with Nathan Cleary still needs work, when they click they are dangerous. Bryce Cartwright is another game under his belt into his comeback and will be a major threat. The Tigers have improved out of sight under Ivan Cleary’s reign and last week’s win over the Titans was their best under the Cleary regime. Luke Brooks and Tui Lolohea are starting to gel but this match will be won up front. Reagan Campbell-Gillard and James Tamou must fire up and take it to the Tigers. A soft underbelly in the forwards is still the Tigers weakness and they will struggle to match it with the pumped up Panthers. The post-match conversation in the Cleary household around the dinner table will be muted as Nathan will be helping himself to a second serving of dessert after sending Dad to his room.
Panthers by 10
Enjoy the footy and remember gamble responsibly.
Being Retro Round let’s go the whole hog and play a round using leather balls! See how many players run around holding that in one hand like an apple without it slipping from their grip like a bar of soap. Players must adhere to 1980s themes and rules: mullets at ten paces, wearing shoulder pads that seem borrowed from Talking Heads David Byrne’s big suit collection (look it up kids), and the obligatory jock strap under the shorts of course. Scrums fed with the ball going somewhere near the centre, hookers allowed to strike for the ball.
For the kids, let’s reintroduce the sand boy, okay sorry it’s not 1980 – sand person. No kicking tees gentlemen. Tip the bucket out, squirt some water in it and start building a sandcastle. Balance that ball like a marble on a chopstick and toe poke it! Good luck as you aim for that 5 per cent zone of the ball to strike that will send it straight over the black dot. Bugger the HIA we’re going back to the tried and tested magic sponge, the water in that bucket must have been sourced from Lourdes or the mix of 13 players sweat and blood gave it life-saving injury-curing redeeming qualities.
Leaving the best until last: one referee and no Bunker!! Okay I’m off for a perm, crack open a can of TAB cola and slap on my VHS of Miami Vice.