Kevin Walters has reportedly told Queensland State of Origin players he’s quit as the Maroons coach after signing a two-year NRL deal with Brisbane.
The NRL took a pause between Rounds 9 and 10 to play what was an underwhelming representative round.
Lots of familiar NRL faces took the field but for mine, the matches failed to live up to the hype. Australia outclassed New Zealand and Samoa were two steps behind England all night in the two marquee fixtures.
Attention now refocuses on the home-and-away season as round 10 commences on Thursday night.
Canterbury Bulldogs versus North Queensland Cowboys
Thursday, 11 May
Kick-off: 7:50pm at ANZ Stadium
The Cowboys would have been hoping captain Johnathan Thurston would be making a return to club football in this fixture, but a shoulder injury has ruled him out for the next few weeks at least. The Cowboys have struggled without Thurston and face a stern test against a resurgent Canterbury.
The Dogs shocked the Raiders in their last start but it came at a cost, with five-eighth Josh Reynolds sidelined with a hamstring injury. Matt Frawley gets the start as his replacement.
Lachlan Coote returns for the Cowboys, as does hooker Jake Granville. Both players will be welcome additions to the Cowboys spine which has been decimated in recent weeks. Canterbury are starting to get their season together after a rocky star.
The Bulldogs second half against the Raiders was the best football they have produced all season in attack and in defence. Conversely, the Cowboys played as poorly as they have all season against the Eels.
They looked lost in attack, could not hold onto the ball long enough to mount any pressure on the Eels and defended poorly. They will need a vastly improved performance to topple the Dogs.
The inclusions of Coote and Granville will certainly bolster the Cowboys who were rocking without their captain and playmaker in Thurston. Matches against the Bulldogs are always tough, but I get the feeling that the Cowboys will spring the surprise on Thursday night.
Michael Morgan will lead a rejuvenated Cowboys team over the line by the skin of their teeth against a gritty Bulldogs. Prediction: Cowboys by 2.
St George Illawarra Dragons versus Cronulla Sharks
Friday, 12 May
Kick-off: 6:00pm at UOW Jubilee Oval
It may only be Round 10, but we have the second local derby between Saints and the Sharks. The Dragons shocked the reigning premiers in round 3 and will be looking to do the same when they host Cronulla on Friday night.
The Dragons will be without half back Gareth Widdop thanks to a knee injury he suffered on Anzac Day. His absence showed in the Dragons last start loss to the Melbourne Storm. The Dragons will also be without Josh Dugan who suffered a fractured cheekbone when playing for Australia on the weekend.
Arguably the Dragons two most influential players will miss a significant period of time in the coming weeks. This certainly threatens to derail their exceptional start to their 2017 campaign.
Cronulla limped over the line against the Wests Tigers who were down to only one interchange and lost their two best players in the second half of their game in round 9.
Cronulla have tended to play down to their opposition this season. They have lifted for games against Melbourne but then lost to the Gold Coast at home. It is perplexing but I can only put it down to complacency at this stage of the season.
Jason Nightingale moves to fullback as part of a backline re-shuffle that sees Taane Milne named on the wing. The Sharks have lost Tony Williams for the remainder of the season to an ACL injury, but welcome back Luke Lewis to the run on team for this fixture.
It is difficult to predict the Sharks with confidence, but this is a wounded Dragons team and the Sharks will want revenge for their round 3 loss. Without Dugan and Widdop, too much falls on too few.
The Sharks, if they are switched on, should win this by 14. The Sharks of 2017 haven’t blown anyone away though, so a scrappy performance wouldn’t surprise me. Prediction: Sharks by 8.
Wests Tigers versus South Sydney Rabbitohs
Friday, 12 May
Kick-off: 7:50pm at ANZ Stadium
Wests Tigers take another home game to an ANZ Stadium tenant when they face the Rabbitohs at the Olympic Stadium on Friday night. The Tigers should take confidence from their performance against the Sharks in Round 9 and will fancy their chances against Souths.
The Bunnies were abysmal against the Sea Eagles last start and were duly thumped. Such is the lack of depth on the Souths roster, something which I have touched on in previous posts, they have only made one change, with Robert Jennings replaced by Braidon Burns.
For the Tigers, captain Aaron Woods gets a break from the boos of his own faces as he is out with a hamstring injury. Sauaso Sue starts as his replacement. I don’t like much of what South Sydney have done this season.
I had them peppering away for those final few positions in the top 8 or potentially just missing the 8. They were uncompetitive against Manly, a team who are not miles ahead of them on paper.
The Wests Tigers have started to show glimpses, even in their losses that they are starting to build under Ivan Cleary. They have a good recent record against the Rabbitohs, defeating them in Round 1 comfortably.
I like the Tigers again, as Souths still struggle to score and can’t defend with any urgency. Prediction: Wests Tigers by 8.
Penrith Panthers versus New Zealand Warriors
Saturday, 13 May
Kick-off: 3:00pm at Pepper Stadium
Well what do we have here…An underperforming, over-rated Penrith side against the perennial underperforming and over-rated side which is the New Zealand Warriors. I am going to preface this preview by mentioning that I have tipped the Panthers to win for the last three weeks now and they have lost comfortably in each of those games.
I’m going to give my prediction away early and say that I won’t be falling into that trap again in Round 10.
James Fisher Harris returns for the Panthers and starts in place of Corey Harawira-Naera. For the Warriors, Solomone Kata returns for Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad who played exceptionally on debut against the Roosters in round 9.
Penrith can’t cry bad luck after their first try was ruled a no try against the Broncos in the fourth minute because thereafter they were shocking yet again. Their final 15-minute flurry did nothing to convince me that they have turned a corner. They did the same against the Eels the week prior.
Dare I say it, but the Warriors are actually playing some consistent football for a change. Their all New Zealand spine is starting to show good cohesion and they are playing a more consistent and defensively accountable style of rugby league.
They were under a barrage of pressure against the Roosters at one point in the second half in their last match and withstood repeated goal-line sets from the Chooks. The Warriors of old would have folded after the first repeat set.
I won’t be tipping Penrith to win until they can show me an 80-minute performance against a team that isn’t Newcastle. I like the Warriors spine to bounce back after a bad game against the Australians last weekend.
This is as close as both teams will get to full strength this season. Penrith will probably prove me wrong because I haven’t been able to pick them all season. Prediction: Warriors by 4.