State of Origin 2019 is just around the corner, and right now the question on every fan’s lips is: who is going to make the teams?
Preview of NRL Round 4 matches (all times AEDT):
FRIDAY, March 27
Parramatta Eels v South Sydney Rabbitohs at Pirtek Stadium, 7.35pm
Head to head: Eels 50 Souths 65 drawn 3
Last clash: Round 19, 2014 – Souths 32 bt Eels 12 at Pirtek Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Eels $3.40 Souths $1.33
FootyTAB: Eels +8.5
The Eels have lost their past seven games against the Rabbitohs, and recent performances from both sides indicate an eighth is imminent. That said, the Eels have won eight of their past nine clashes against the Rabbitohs at home. So, go figure. Despite going down to the Warriors 29-16 across the ditch last week, the injury-challenged Eels have named an unchanged side, while the undefeated Rabbitohs have Daryl Millard playing his first game in the NRL since 2009 due to a broken hand to Dylan Walker.
Key: Again, you just can’t go past Greg Inglis. He’s averaging 161m a game and will be on the hunt for his 50th try for the Rabbitohs this weekend.
Wests Tigers v Canterbury at ANZ Stadium, 7.35pm
Head to head: Tigers 10 Canterbury 17 drawn 1
Last clash: Round 24, 2014 – Canterbury 30 bt Tigers 10 at ANZ Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Tigers $3.10 Canterbury $1.40
FootyTAB: Tigers +7.5
Both sides enter this clash on the back of hard fought contests, with the Tigers putting up a respectable, albeit losing, fight against the Rabbitohs, while the Bulldogs scraped in for a win over Manly. The Doggies are unchanged, while Delouise Hoeter gets his debut on the wing for the Tigers following Pat Richards’ suspension. The Tigers have won just one of their past seven matches against the Bulldogs, but they’ll take heart from that solitary win, because it was a 46-18 thumping in round 19 last season, with Mitchell Moses starring.
Key: Bulldogs fullback Brett Morris has scored 11 tries in his past 10 matches, and nine from his last seven at ANZ Stadium. His will be a great battle against Tigers No.1 James Tedesco.
SATURDAY, March 28
Newcastle Knights v Penrith Panthers at Hunter Stadium, 3pm
Head to head: Knights 22 Panthers 15 drawn 3
Last clash: Round 9, 2014 – Panthers 32 bt Knights 10 at Hunter Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Knights $2.00 Panthers $1.85 Draw $1.00
FootyTAB: Knights +1.5
The undefeated Knights have surprised many this season by coming from behind every game. They’ll face their toughest challenge this week against a third-placed Penrith side that lost their first game of the season to the Roosters last week. Making it even tougher for the Knights will be the absence of Korban Sims (suspended), resulting in David Fa’alogo at prop and Paterika Vaivai added to the bench. The Panthers are unchanged. The Knights, always tough to beat at home, are chasing their seventh-straight win at Hunter Stadium.
Key: Dane Gagai has started the season in great form, scoring three tries, making three linebreaks, averaging 161m and busting 17 tackles. How he takes on Jamal Idris, though, will be pivotal.
Cronulla Sharks v Gold Coast Titans at Remondis Stadium, 5.30pm
Head to head: Sharks 6 Titans 5 drawn 1
Last clash: Round 1, 2014 – Titans 18 bt Sharks 12 at Remondis Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Sharks $1.48 Titans $2.70
FootyTAB: Titans +6
This really is a must-win clash for both sides, who are winless so far. Since the NRL began in 1998, only four of the 19 teams that have started the season at 0-4 have gone on to make the finals. Cronulla have been the season’s biggest disappointment, while the Titans have battled on admirably and unluckily despite their off-field dramas. The suspended Ben Barba makes way for Wade Graham at five-eighth, with Anthony Tupou moving to the back row. Cronulla have won 5/7 at Remondis Stadium against the Titans and home-ground advantage could swing things their way, even if the Titans’ recent record on the road is better than at home. Cronulla have lost nine games straight back to last season, and the Titans have won just 3/19, making this a real bottom-of-the-ladder clash.
Key: Boom rookie Kane Elgey makes his NRL debut in place of the injured Dan Mortimer. He shapes as the most dangerous player on the field.
St George-Illawarra Dragons v Manly Sea Eagles at WIN Stadium, 7.30pm
Head to head: Dragons 14 Sea Eagles 8
Last clash: Round 19, 2014 – Sea Eagles 21 bt Dragons 12 at Jubilee Oval
Tab Sportsbet: Dragons $2.40 Sea Eagles $1.60
FootyTAB: Dragons +4
The Dragons have the worst attack in the competition and it is hard to see them keeping pace with Manly, who have Kieran Foran and Jamie Lyon back, even if Steve Matai is in doubt. The Dragons secured a morale boosting win over Canberra last week, while Manly mixed it with the Dogs despite missing a host of stars. The Sea Eagles rarely lose two in a row but have won their past five away from Brookie. St George Illawarra have won 4/10 in Wollongong.
Key: Trent Merrin. Starts his first game of the year and will need to have a thumper upfront if the Dragons are to upset the Sea Eagles.
Tip: Sea Eagles
SUNDAY, March 29
NZ Warriors v Brisbane Broncos at Mt Smart Stadium, noon
Head to head: NZ Warriors 15 Broncos 20
Last clash: Round 19, 2014 – Broncos 28 bt NZ Warriors 22 at Suncorp Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: NZ Warriors $1.72 Broncos $2.15
FootyTAB: Broncos +2.5
Surely only hard-marking coach Wayne Bennett could have complained about the Broncos’ eight-try, last-round thumping of the Cowboys. Bennett reckoned it did not provide an accurate gauge because the Cowboys “didn’t turn up”. Still, it’s hard to argue with Brisbane’s stats – they registered eight line breaks and ran more than 1800 total metres in the rout. Staggering stuff. They look set to receive a sterner test from a Warriors outfit that will have another stat in mind. The game marks the 20th anniversary of their first clash. The Warriors – on the same 2-1 record as Brisbane – will be out to ensure a happy celebration despite a packed casualty ward that recently claimed star fullback Sam Tomkins, handing the No.1 jersey to youngster Tuimoala Lolohea.
Key: Sam Thaiday. The besieged Brisbane backrower has responded well since being benched in round two, but will need to lift again in a star-studded forwards battle to make speculation about his club future go away.
Tip: NZ Warriors
Sydney Roosters v Canberra at Allianz Stadium, 2pm
Head to head: Roosters 31 Raiders 25
Last clash: Round 12, 2014 – Roosters 26 bt Raiders 12 at Allianz Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Roosters $1.16 Raiders $5.50
FootyTAB: Raiders +15.5
Blake Ferguson enjoyed his best game yet on his return to the NRL last week and has his former club that sacked him two years ago in the crosshairs here. He could almost beat the Raiders on his own – they capitulated so badly in last round’s loss to the struggling Dragons. Jack Wighton is a big in for the visitors who have won just one of their last 16 at Allianz Stadium. The Roosters were held close by a gritty Penrith last week, but if the Dragons can put on 22 points against Canberra, what will the Tricolours pile up? This could get ugly for Raiders’ coach Ricky Stuart against the club he won the 2002 premiership with.
Key: Ferguson. How he goes will likely determine if the Roosters win by two tries, four tries or more.
MONDAY, March 30
North Queensland Cowboys v Melbourne Storm at 1300SMILES Stadium, 7pm
Head to head: Cowboys 8 Storm 19
Last clash: Round 12, 2014 – Cowboys 22 bt Storm 0 at 1300SMILES Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Cowboys $1.92 Storm $1.92
FootyTAB: Storm +1.5
Only “welcome selection headaches” faced a quietly confident Cowboys coach Paul Green after they were dubbed pre-season title favourites. These days Green must be suffering full-blown migraines after the dead-last Cowboys slumped to a 0-3 record following a 44-22 rout in Brisbane. Cowboys co-captain Johnathan Thurston slammed his side for their “turnstile” defence, but that is just scratching the surface. They have no confidence, no go-forward and as a result no scoring threats in what must be a worst case for the usually stoical Green. And Melbourne? The Storm (2-1) are rumbling along nicely and looking forward to playing at a Townsville venue where they have an 11-5 record.
Key: James Tamou. The Test prop must start repaying Green’s faith after being elevated to the starting front row despite an underwhelming return from neck surgery.