2017 NRL season: Round 4 preview

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    The continuation of a long-standing rivalry between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Sydney Roosters will highlight and kick off Round 4 of the 2017 NRL season.

    Other matches will see the Raiders make the trip to Brisbane fresh off their first win for the season, while the Sharks return to the scene of their memorable grand final triumph.

    And due to the sacking of coach Jason Taylor after three rounds, it will remain to be seen how the Wests Tigers bounce back against the undefeated and top-of-the-ladder Melbourne Storm at Leichhardt Oval.

    Here is the preview to Round 4.

    Rabbitohs versus Roosters
    The Sydney Roosters’ resurgence faces its next test when they face the South Sydney Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium this Thursday night.

    The Chooks did just enough to edge out the Panthers 14-12 at Pepper Stadium, with fullback Michael Gordon coming back to haunt his old club with two tries and one goal for a personal haul of ten points.

    Trent Robinson’s men are on the road again, though this time they will make the shorter trip to Homebush where they will look to make it 4-0 for the first time since 1995.

    After losing their first match to the Wests Tigers, and losing captain Greg Inglis for the season, the Bunnies hit back with wins on the road against the Sea Eagles and Knights, climbing up the ladder in the process.

    But they will be without key players, including George Burgess and Hymel Hunt, following their spiteful 24-18 win over the Knights last week, to suspension.

    It now remains to be seen which team will continue on their winning ways. The two matches between the pair last year were split, with the Rabbitohs winning at Allianz Stadium and the Roosters returning the favour at ANZ.

    Prediction: Roosters by 10 points.

    luke-keary-sydney-roosters-nrl-rugby-league-2017

    Panthers versus Knights
    Friday night’s twilight match sees the Panthers play host to the Knights in a match Anthony Griffin’s men will be heavily favoured to win.

    After a disastrous opening round loss to the Dragons in Round 1, the mountain men made a meal of the Tigers at Campbelltown and were probably unlucky to have gone down to the Roosters at home last week.

    It was later revealed the match-winning try the Chooks scored came off a forward pass, leaving somewhat of a sour taste in the mouths of Panthers supporters.

    Now they have the chance to unleash their anger on the Knights this Friday night, though given the Novocastrians’ efforts so far in 2017, it will not come as easy as many expect it to.

    The Knights took it right up to the Rabbitohs at home last Saturday but lost the match in the final minutes after captain Trent Hodkinson was sin-binned for dissent towards the referee.

    That followed their drought-breaking win over the Titans at home the previous week as well as their courageous performance against the Warriors in New Zealand in the opening round.

    With both sides at 1-2 for the season, a win will be crucial for either side going forward.

    Prediction: Panthers by 14 points.

    Broncos versus Raiders
    Friday night’s prime time match sees Wayne Bennett and Ricky Stuart continue their coaching rivalry when the Broncos lock horns with the Raiders at Suncorp Stadium.

    Both teams are 1-2 for the season, making this match crucial to both teams’ hopes of making the top four by the end of Round 26.

    The Broncos have dropped their last two matches by a combined total of just three points after being on the wrong end of heartbreakers against the Cowboys and Storm, while the Raiders got on the board last week by thrashing the Wests Tigers 46-6.

    Still, the hosts’ percentage is in the green, while the same can be said for the Raiders after their win over the Tigers completed a 66-point turnaround, the Green Machine having been thrashed 42-16 by the Sharks in Round 2.

    The win came thanks to the heroics of skipper Jarrod Croker, who in his first game for the season scored a personal haul of 18 points, triple than what the entire Tigers team managed.

    It will be tough for the Raiders to back it up, though, especially with only a five-day break and a dismal record in Brisbane where they have not won since 2010.

    Further, the loser will drop to 1-3 and risk falling further behind the pack, even at this early stage in the new season.

    Prediction: Broncos by 12 points.

    Sea Eagles versus Bulldogs
    Under pressure after starting the season 0-2 for the second year in a row, a turning point may have emerged in the Sea Eagles’ season after they scored an upset victory over the Cowboys in Townsville last week.

    It was a typical backs-to-the-wall win against a side who are once again expected to be up there among the title contenders, though they were missing two of their star forwards in Matt Scott and Jason Taumalolo.

    Back at home this Saturday afternoon, the Sea Eagles welcome the Bulldogs who last week also scored their first win for the season on the road, doing so against the Warriors in Dunedin.

    Des Hasler’s men were tested in the first half but ran away with it to not only win 24-12, but also get their percentage in the black and also relieve the pressure off Hasler, whom the players want re-signed beyond this season.

    Like two of the matches listed above, this match will pit two teams with just one win each for the season, so therefore a win for either side will be crucial to their chances of featuring in September.

    But while the Bulldogs’ recent record against the Sea Eagles is impressive, the Silvertails will be desperate to break their home duck for the season and give their fans more reason to cheer on their team in 2017.

    Prediction: Sea Eagles by 12 points.

    Eels versus Sharks
    This Saturday night sees the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks return to ANZ Stadium for their first time since defeating the Melbourne Storm in last October’s grand final to win their first premiership title.

    As they did last year, Shane Flanagan’s men have started the season with just one win from three matches, but if last year was anything to go by then fans need not panic yet.

    The coach, however, declared their 16-10 loss to the Dragons to be their worst performance in twelve months; it was a far cry from their impressive 42-16 win over the Raiders in Canberra the previous round.

    Now they face a Parramatta Eels side who are also coming off a loss, by 26-14 to the Gold Coast Titans.

    With the old Parramatta Stadium having been demolished, the Eels have adopted ANZ Stadium as their “home away from home” for this season and the next as their new home ground, Western Sydney Stadium, is built.

    It will remain to be seen how the Eels perform at their temporary home, with the A-League’s Western Sydney Wanderers, who were the other main tenants at Parramatta Stadium, performing poorly at Spotless Stadium which is a five-minute walk from ANZ Stadium.

    While the Eels would love to bounce back from its defeat to the Titans, the Sharks would also love to mark their return to the Olympic stadium with a victory to get their season back on track.

    Prediction: Sharks by 16 points.

    Titans versus Cowboys
    The final match on Saturday night will see the Titans welcome the Cowboys to the Gold Coast for the first time since 2014.

    After two losses to start the season, and the loss of Jarryd Hayne to injury, Neil Henry’s men notched up their first win for the year by upsetting the highly-fancied Eels 26-14 at home last Friday night.

    They’ll be hoping to carry on that momentum when they face the Cowboys, whose depth in the forwards was tested in their 30-8 loss to the Sea Eagles at home last Saturday night.

    The absences of Matt Scott (ACL injury) and reigning co-Dally M Medallist Jason Taumalolo (suspended) were sorely felt as the Cowboys crashed to their first loss of the season and had their percentage fall into the red.

    Cowboys' Matt Scott

    One stat that favours the Titans is that they haven’t lost to the Cowboys at home since 2011, and a win would also square their head-to-head at 9-all, with Saturday night’s match being their 18th meeting overall.

    But as much as the Titans would love to build on last week’s win, even without their star forwards the Cowboys should bank the points here.

    Prediction: Cowboys by eight points.

    Wests Tigers versus Storm
    A major mismatch looms when the last-placed and under siege Wests Tigers welcome the undefeated and ladder-leading Melbourne Storm to Leichhardt Oval this Sunday afternoon.

    Following embarrassing defeats against the Panthers and Raiders in the past fortnight, the board decided enough was enough and as a result Jason Taylor has become the first coach to be dismissed in 2017.

    Assistant coach Andrew Webster has taken over duties on an interim basis and his first task will be attempting to get the club up for its showdown against the Storm at Leichhardt Oval this weekend.

    The Tigers have been outscored 82-8 in their last two matches and currently have the worst offence and defence after three rounds, and if that is anything to go by then a long afternoon could loom in the office.

    On the other hand, the Storm have gone about their business quietly, notching wins over the Bulldogs, Warriors and Broncos to be one of two undefeated teams (the other being the Roosters) to this point of the season.

    One major positive to come out of their 14-12 win over the Broncos was the quiet but otherwise successful return from injury of Billy Slater in what was his first game for over twelve months.

    This will have the Tigers on red alert and it’s hard seeing the Storm let up here.

    Prediction: Storm by 28 points.

    Dragons versus Warriors
    For the third consecutive weekend, the Dragons have been given the ignominy of playing last in the round, and this Sunday night sees them take on the Warriors at Kogarah Oval.

    A week after leaking 34 points against the Parramatta Eels in Wollongong, the Dragons bounced back with a more committed effort against the Sharks, winning 16-10 to claim their second scalp of the season.

    Now it remains to be seen whether they can back it up against the Warriors, who since defeating the Knights in Round 1 have lost their last two matches to be 1-2 for the season.

    They kept the Bulldogs honest for the first half before Des Hasler’s men ran away with it in the second half, winning 24-12 and leaving plenty of questions to be asked of the Warriors’ credentials in 2017.

    After three straight games in their country to start the season, they now cross the ditch for the first time this year to face the unpredictable Dragons.

    While the Warriors’ overall record against the Dragons is nothing short of dismal, they did win their previous meeting at Mount Smart Stadium in Round 9 last year.

    However, they have not won at Kogarah Oval since 2003, and their performances so far in 2017 will do little to suggest that hoodoo will end.

    Prediction: Dragons by 16 points.