2014 NRL season: Round 7 preview

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Despite the Eels and Tigers' improved seasons, Sydney fans are still staying away from the NRL. AAP Image/Action Photographics, Grant Trouville

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The Gold Coast Titans still lead the NRL, despite a negative points differential of -5, while last year’s bottom two teams, the Wests Tigers and Parramatta, sit third and fifth respectively ahead of their Easter Monday showdown.

Wests Tigers versus Eels
Who would have thought the worst two teams last year would both be in the eight entering Round 7?

The Tigers have surprised many with their resurgence this season, winning four of their six matches with the only blots being big losses to the Dragons and Warriors in Rounds 1 and 4 respectively.

After a shocker against the Dragons to start the season, young halfback Luke Brooks is getting better and better every match, as is fullback James Tedesco. The two combined for victories over the Titans, Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles, before Tedesco’s injury forced him to miss last week’s win over the Cowboys.

Also missing last week was veteran Braith Anasta, who served the first suspension of his 14-year NRL career owing to a shoulder charge during the Manly match. His return will offset the loss of captain Robbie Farah, who sustained an elbow injury which will sideline him for up to six weeks.

So far, so good for the Tigers, who last year endured their worst-ever season since the Balmain Tigers and Western Suburbs Magpies merged at the end of 1999.

After opening their season with a big victory over the Warriors in Round 1, fans once again feared the worst when the Eels copped a record 56-4 thrashing from the Sydney Roosters in Round 2. It appeared Parramatta would not make any improvement in 2014 under new coach Brad Arthur.

But in the four matches that have followed, the Eels have suffered a last-minute loss to Manly, defeated the Panthers and Broncos and exacted revenge on the Roosters last week with a 14-12 victory at home. Chris Sandow made a successful return to the top-grade side and was instrumental in all three of those victories, and his showdown with Brooks will be the key on Monday.

Fans can also expect to see a flying exhibition between two of the game’s most exciting new wingers – Eels sensation Semi Radradra and Tigers flyer David Nofoaluma, who scored one of the tries of last season against the Sea Eagles.

Rabbitohs versus Bulldogs
After three straight losses, the Rabbitohs appear to have revived their premiership hopes with wins over the Dragons and Panthers, but their biggest test will come this Good Friday afternoon in the form of the Bulldogs, who have started their season winning four of their six matches.

Des Hasler’s men were lucky to get out of jail against the Warriors at Eden Park last week and they cannot afford to get off to another slow start against the Rabbitohs.

Souths’ key forwards Ben Te’o and George Burgess could be out suspended, owing to offences involving Penrith fullback Matt Moylan.

Fans going to the Easter Show can wrap up their day by attending the footy, and they will be in for an entertaining match between the Rabbitohs and Bulldogs.

Prediction: Bulldogs by six.

Sea Eagles versus Cowboys
The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles are the only team most experts would expect to be in the top half of the ladder at this stage of the season. After a shocking performance against the Tigers in Round 5, the Sea Eagles returned home to Brookvale Oval and heaped more misery on the Sharks, in the process maintaining fourth place on the ladder.

Up next for the Silvertails are the notoriously inconsistent Cowboys, who must travel south for the second consecutive week after losing to the Wests Tigers in Campbelltown last start.

Given the form of both sides, the Sea Eagles should win this one easily.

Prediction: Sea Eagles by 16.

Knights versus Broncos
The emotion surrounding Alex McKinnon’s tragic career-ending neck injury has died down, and the Knights have won two of their three subsequent matches to get their campaign back on track. Wayne Bennett’s men were impressive winners against the Raiders in Canberra last week and on Friday night they will host Ben Barba’s Brisbane Broncos.

The Broncos have lost three of their last four matches, all by single-figure margins, and Barba has yet to make an impact at the club. The 2012 Dally M Medallist needs to start lifting, otherwise the Broncos will be further exposed as finals pretenders and Anthony Griffin will find himself again under the pump for not extracting the potential out of his squad.

Prediction: Knights by 10.

Dragons versus Warriors
Both clubs enter this match on the back of heartbreaking losses. The Warriors were unlucky to be run down by the Bulldogs in the final minute of Andrew McFadden’s first match as interim head coach, while the Dragons were controversially pipped after the siren by the Storm in Melbourne, extending their long hoodoo in the Victorian capital by at least another season.

After three straight losses, the Dragons are due some good luck. They haven’t lost to the Warriors anywhere since 2007 but the Kiwis’ last trip to Kogarah was a victory in late 2003.

Hopefully the Dragons’ good record against the Warriors will play them back into form ahead of their ANZAC Day showdown against the Roosters in Round 8.

Prediction: Dragons by 14.

Sharks versus Roosters
The Sharks are coming off a 24-4 loss to the Sea Eagles and this week face a Roosters side which are also struggling. Unlike the Sharks however, the Chooks have actually shown competitiveness in each match since going down to the Rabbitohs in Round 1, losing their last three matches by single-figure margins.

The Roosters’ class will prevail here.

Prediction: Roosters by 20.

Raiders versus Storm
In Round 21 last season, the Storm inflicted a record defeat on the Canberra Raiders in the nation’s capital, winning by the astonishing scoreline of 68-4.

Since then the Raiders have not won a match at home, sacked David Furner and appointed Ricky Stuart as head coach to try rebuild the side and return Canberra Stadium to the fortress it once was. But so far the Green Machine is struggling, losing four of their six matches and still without a win at home this season.

Despite last week’s victory, the Storm aren’t fully back to their best yet. Still, Melbourne should be favoured to win here.

Prediction: Storm by 14.

Panthers versus Titans
The Panthers’ inconsistent start to season 2014 continued when they were held tryless in last Friday night’s loss to the Rabbitohs. If the win-loss pattern is to continue, the mountain men are due for victory this week. However, they welcome the ladder-leading Gold Coast Titans, who held off the Brisbane Broncos to win the south Queensland derby, also last Friday night.

Again, it’s hard to judge whether the Titans are making any real progress or not, the club’s largest winning margin so far this season being 12 points against the Raiders in Round 3.

Prediction: Titans by 10.

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