NRL preview for round 11

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Preview of this weekend’s National Rugby League round 11 games (times AEST):

FRIDAY

MANLY SEA EAGLES v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS at Brookvale Oval, 7.30pm

Head to head: Sea Eagles 3, Dragons 8

Last Match: Sea Eagles 28 bt Dragons 24 at Brookvale (Rnd 25, 2007)

FootyTAB: Sea Eagles $1.36, Dragons $3.00

TAB Sportsbet: Dragons +8.5 points

The Dragons have injury concerns over one of their three NSW stars, but are yet to reveal which one is doubtful of playing. Here’s hoping it is not centre Mark Gasnier after his scintillating Origin performance for NSW. Gasnier is flying just in time for his re-match with Manly enforcer Steve Matai, the Kiwi who knocked him senseless with an illegal tackle in last year’s end of season Test. The Dragons easily beat a second-string Melbourne side last week, while Manly did likewise to a weakened North Queensland outfit. These two fought out two close contests in 2007 but Manly are playing the better football now and should extend their winning streak to five here.

Key: Patience. Manly know how to grind away to get a win but sustained pressure is not one of the Dragons’ strengths.

Tip: Sea Eagles

SATURDAY

SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS v MELBOURNE STORM at Bluetongue Stadium, 7.30pm

Head to head: Rabbitohs 2, Storm 10

Last Match: Storm 12 bt Rabbitohs 8 at Bluetongue Stadium (Rnd 17, 2007)

FootyTAB: Rabbitohs $4.00, Storm $1.22

TAB Sportsbet: Rabbitohs +11.5 points

Melbourne have nine players forced to back up from Origin, although lock Dallas Johnson (concussion) is in doubt. The question is, how will the Storm’s six Queenslanders respond to having their club coach Craig Bellamy dismantle their games as boss of NSW. Has Bellamy shown the NRL how to beat his own side? It’s highly unlikely to matter this week as South Sydney are the worst side in the comp and routinely fail to follow a game plan. They were woeful in last Monday’s loss to Canberra and in that form would struggle to beat the second-stringers Melbourne had to field last week in their defeat to the Dragons.

Key: Will Melbourne have an Origin hangover? They went 2-1 after Origin games last year, including the come-from-behind win over Souths when three key players pulled out.

Tip: Storm

SUNDAY

NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS v SYDNEY ROOSTERS at Mt Smart Stadium, 2pm

Head to head: Warriors 11, Roosters 9, Drawn 1

Last Match: Roosters 31 drew with Warriors 31 at SFS (Rnd 21, 2007)

FootyTAB: Warriors $2.10, Roosters $1.70

TAB Sportsbet: Warriors +2.5 points

Home sweet home for the Warriors. But can they continue their undefeated run in Auckland? If any side has defied expectation or odds in 2008 it has been the Roosters. Their annihilation of Parramatta last week typifies their new-found commitment and Braith Anasta is in career-best form. Roosters quartet Willie Mason, Craig Fitzgibbon, Anthony Tupou and Nate Myles should all back up from Origin, so too Warriors centre Brent Tate. Skipper Steve Price (hamstring) has resumed full training and it wouldn’t surprise if he made a shock comeback here. Last year’s clash between these two was an absolute belter and rightly ended in a 31-all draw. But the Roosters are much better now, and the Warriors considerably less consistent.

Key: Forward dominance. The Roosters run hard and straight often whereas the Warriors look sideways too frequently resulting in defeat.

Tip: Roosters

WESTS TIGERS v GOLD COAST TITANS at Leichhardt Oval, 3pm

Head to head: Tigers 0, Titans 2

Last Match: Titans 30 bt Tigers 14 at Carrara Stadium (Rnd 21, 2007)

FootyTAB: Tigers $1.55, Titans $2.35

TAB Sportsbet: Titans +4.5 points

If Mat Rogers thought Johnathan Thurston was a “speed-hump” in defence then what does that make Benji Marshall? The returning Titans pivot wouldn’t bite when asked this week so we will answer for him – perhaps a give way sign? Marshall’s defence was abominable last week with missed tackles leading directly to tries and the Titans will seek him out at every chance. Tigers players are still shaking after Tim Sheens almighty fulltime spray following last week’s win over Newcastle. The master coach didn’t hold back, but will it have the desired effect against the No.1 side in the NRL? Titans forward Anthony Laffranchi (shoulder) is doubtful of playing after his NSW heroics but halfback Scott Prince wants to keep demanding a Queensland recall in his return to Leichhardt where he once ruled for the Tigers.

Key: Intensity. Sheens has warned his men face a thrashing if they don’t lift in defence against the consistently red-hot Titans.

Tip: Titans

MONDAY

BULLDOGS v CRONULLA SHARKS at ANZ Stadium, 7pm

Head to head: Bulldogs 47, Sharks 29, Drawn 2

Last Match: Bulldogs 14 bt Sharks 12 at Toyota Park (Rnd 17, 2007)

FootyTAB: Bulldogs $2.05, Sharks $1.75

TAB Sportsbet: Bulldogs +2.5 points

The Bulldogs used to be the most feared pack in the NRL, now two men hold that mantle – Cronulla “bash brothers” Paul Gallen and Greg Bird. Bird was man of the match for NSW in Origin and Gallen certainly wasn’t far behind. Their return will help the Sharks as they chase their first hat-trick of wins since last year’s round 10, 30-20 win over the Dogs at the same venue. Cronulla’s Brett Kimmorley is another key player here, the maligned halfback facing his future club just a week after being told by the Sharks he can leave next year. The Dogs are in trouble and staring at their fourth straight loss.

Key: Kicking. Kimmorley is the best tactical kicker in the NRL but it has been a Bulldogs weak point for some time.

Tip: Sharks

Bye: Brisbane, North Queensland, Parramatta, Newcastle, Penrith, Canberra.

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