‘That’s the example of what we don’t want in the game… that’s shocking.’
After a breathtaking State of Origin opener on Wednesday night, attention now shifts back to Round 13 of the NRL season with seven games of football on an action packed weekend. South Sydney and Cronulla are both taking a bye this weekend.
Melbourne Storm versus Newcastle Knights
Friday, 2 June
Kick-off: 6:00pm at AAMI Park
The Melbourne Storm host the Newcastle Knights in the opening fixture of Round 13 in Melbourne. These sides met twice last season and fought out two closely contested matches with Melbourne victorious on both occasions. The availability of the Storm’s three Queensland players will surely come into question given their age and a less than two-day turnaround for this match.
Coach Craig Bellamy has named Will Chambers, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith, although I would be shocked if any of those three players were to run onto the field tomorrow night. Jesse Bromwich returns at prop after a two-game suspension. Nathan Ross, Josh Starling and Mitch Barnett all return to the Knights starting team, which is an enormous boost for coach Nathan Brown.
The Knights have been able to produce patches of great football this season, but patches only. They have been overrun in their last two second halves by the Titans and the Panthers. This is something I’m sure they have addressed during their bye weekend.
The Storm without their halfback and hooker are still a formidable side. I would expect Ryley Jacks to come into the halves and Tohu Harris to play hooker in the event that Cronk and Smith aren’t available. Either way I think Melbourne get the job done.
Prediction: Melbourne by 12 (if Smith and Cronk do play, Melbourne by 18).
Parramatta Eels versus New Zealand Warriors
Friday, 2 June
Kick-off: 7:50pm at ANZ Stadium
The New Zealand Warriors will be looking to end their five-game road losing streak this season when they travel to ANZ Stadium to take on the Parramatta Eels. Both sides are coming off wins last round, with the Eels very impressive against a flat Souths side and the Warriors outclassing an understrength Brisbane Broncos in Auckland.
Both sides are essentially unaffected by Origin, with only the Warriors Jacob Lillyman a participant. He has been named 18th man by Stephen Kearney and I would not expect him to feature in this fixture. For the Eels Nathan Brown, who was close to returning last week, is a certain start at lock this week. Suaia Matagi is the starting prop with Siosaia Vave and Beau Scott moving to the bench. Will Smith drops out of the side.
For the Warriors Solomone Kata returns at centre with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad making way. I would have liked to see Kearney show a bit more faith in Nicoll-Klokstad given the good start he has made to his NRL career, but he seems to favour the often underwhelming Ken Maumalo on the wing.
The Warriors will be hoping last week’s win might be something of a fire-starter for them as they look for consecutive wins for the first time since rounds five and six this season. The Eels were very slick in their first half hammering of the Rabbitohs last weekend but won the game by only six points.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, they have had a habit of letting teams slowly manoeuvre their way back into games. I think the Warriors will get a rare road win in Sydney tomorrow night and it will truly kick-start their season, albeit three months late.
Prediction: Warriors by four
St George Illawarra Dragons versus Wests Tigers
Saturday, 3 June
Kick-off: 3:00pm at ANZ Stadium
The Dragons will be looking to heap even more misery on the Wests Tigers when they clash on Saturday afternoon in Sydney. The Dragons were very impressive in their 30-10 victory over the Warriors in New Zealand in Round 11 and may welcome back not only captain Gareth Widdop for this match but also fullback Josh Dugan. Dugan and fellow NSW representative Tyson Frizell have been named in the reserves by coach Paul McGregor but may play on Saturday afternoon.
The Tigers’ season went from bad to awful in their last game as they were hammered 36-0. Origin players James Tedesco and Aaron Woods have both been named by Ivan Cleary as well as new recruit Tuimoala Lolohea, who has made the switch to the Tigers from New Zealand. He starts at five-eighth. Jordan Rankin and Michael Chee Kam are omitted, with Sauaso Sue suspended and Josh Aloiai suffering a knee injury against the Broncos.
This will be a tough fixture for the Tigers to win, even if Dugan and Frizell don’t play for the Dragons. St George have shown the ability to run hard set after set this season and put territorial pressure on their opponents. They are a patient team in attack, and if they bring that mindset on Saturday afternoon, they will be able to easily break the Tigers defensively.
The Tigers have had a habit of springing a surprise upset here and there this season, but the Dragons are a true top-four threat and any team with such aspirations should be beating the Tigers.
Prediction: Dragons by 14.