The Roosters have set up a mouthwatering Grand Final clash with the Storm after a gritty 12-4 win over the Rabbitohs.
Preview of NRL round-three matches (all times AEDT).
THURSDAY, March 22:
Melbourne v North Queensland at AAMI Park, 8:05pm
Head to Head: Storm 26 Cowboys 10
Last clash: Grand final 2017 – Storm 34 bt Cowboys 6 at ANZ Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Storm $1.60 Cowboys $2.40
FootyTAB: Cowboys +3.5
The Storm are wary of Cowboys star Michael Morgan’s return from an abdominal injury, either in the halves or at No.1, for the first time in 2018. But focus will be in-house after what coach Craig Bellamy described as a lazy effort in their last-start loss to the Wests Tigers. Morgan and playmaking partner Johnathan Thurston’s influence will be key, but the battle between Nelson Asofa-Solomona and former Storm enforcer Jordan McLean might take the cake.
Key: The Storm were sloppy last weekend in fullback Billy Slater’s 300th game and would love to clean things up and inflict a seventh-straight defeat on the side they comfortably toppled in last season’s decider.
FRIDAY, March 23:
Canterbury v Penrith at ANZ Stadium, 6:00pm
Head to Head: Bulldogs 51 Panthers 38 drawn 3
Last clash: Round 21 2017 – Panthers 16 bt Bulldogs 8 at Panthers Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Bulldogs $2.40 Panthers $1.60
FootyTAB: Bulldogs +4.5
Canterbury coach Dean Pay has swung the axe, sending Matt Frawley back to reserve grade and calling up rookie Jeremy Marshall-King to partner Kieran Foran in the halves. But it will take more than just that change for the Bulldogs to get their first win against a Penrith side who have made a habit of mounting comebacks in the past two weeks. The Panthers have recovered twice from 14-0 down to go undefeated over the opening fortnight, but have lost winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to a broken jaw.
Key: Canterbury need to find a way to go with Penrith in both halves. The Bulldogs had a good first half against Melbourne and strong second half against the Sydney Roosters, but Penrith will pounce on any poor period.
Wests Tigers v Brisbane at Campbelltown Sports Stadium, 8:05pm
Head to Head: Tigers 5 Broncos 20 drawn 1
Last clash: Round 11 2017 – Broncos 36 bt Tigers 0 at Suncorp Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Tigers $2.20 Broncos $1.70
FootyTAB: Tigers +3.5
No team has been gutsier than the Wests Tigers over the opening fortnight of the competition, but how long can it last? After knocking off the Sydney Roosters and Melbourne, the Tigers face a Brisbane team who proved the doubters wrong in last week’s defeat of North Queensland. Jack Bird is an outside chance to replace the injured Jordan Kahu in the centres for the Broncos, named on an extended bench on return from a shoulder injury.
Key: Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima showed why the Broncos didn’t feel the need to go to the market to replace Ben Hunt in the win over the Cowboys. But after a disappointing showing in round one, they’ll need to be at their best to crack the Tigers’ line.
SATURDAY, March 17:
Canberra v Warriors at GIO Stadium, 3:00pm
Head to Head: Raiders 21 Warriors 17
Last clash: Round 23 2017 – Raiders 36 bt Warriors 16 at Mt Smart Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Raiders 1.75 Warriors 2.08
FootyTAB: Warriors +2.5
The NRL’s heartbreak kids have been up to their old tricks, with the Raiders losing both their games 30-28 to start 2018. Ricky Stuart is adamant this isn’t the same brittle Canberra outfit of years gone by, though, and will have a chance to prove that against the 2-0 Warriors. Centre Joseph Leilua appears to have escaped serious injury and has been named to play in some good news for the Raiders, while Leivaha Pulu looks set for a starting debut in place of the injured Isaiah Papali’i for the on-song Warriors.
Key: The Warriors have done everything to show they are a more composed and resilient team this season, but can they continue that in a city where they have won just four times in 16 attempts?
South Sydney v Manly at ANZ Stadium, 5:30pm
Head to Head: Rabbitohs 64 Sea Eagles 76
Last clash: Round 9 2017 – Sea Eagles 46 bt Rabbitohs 8 at Allianz Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Rabbitohs $2.20 Sea Eagles $1.68
FootyTAB: Rabbitohs +2.5
The Sea Eagles have their tails up and look difficult to stop here. Fresh off a 54-0 shellacking of Parramatta, they have plenty of people reassessing their pre-season predictions that they would struggle. Daly Cherry-Evans is in supreme form and seemingly hellbent on earning back his Queensland Origin jersey. The Rabbitohs have lost their opening two for the first time since 2012. And with Adam Reynolds still out, a lot of pressure is being lumped on the young shoulders of Adam Doueihi.
Key: After a lacklustre and injury-affected start to the year, Greg Inglis must fire for Souths.
Tip: Sea Eagles
Parramatta v Cronulla at ANZ Stadium, 7:35pm
Head to Head: Eels 39 Sharks 44
Last clash: Round 4 2017 – Sharks 20 bt Eels 6 at ANZ Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Eels $1.90 Sharks $1.90
FootyTAB: Even money
Who would have thought one of these sides would be winless after three rounds? The Eels wilted in the heat against Manly on the weekend while the Sharks spluttered to yet another loss against the Dragons. Both coaches would have been scratching their heads after their sides put in uncharacteristic performances. The Eels get Beau Scott and Kenny Edwards back, two ins which should lead to their aggression going up a notch. After completing just six of 15 sets last week in the second half, it’s not hard to imagine what the Sharks have been working on.
Key: Valentine Holmes looked bored on the wing last week. The Sharks need to get him involved.
SUNDAY, March 25
Gold Coast v St George-Illawarra at Clive Berghofer Stadium, 4:10pm
Head to Head: Titans 7 Dragons 12
Last clash: Round 23 2017 – Dragons 42 bt Titans 16 at UOW Jubilee Oval
Tab Sportsbet: Titans $2.50 Dragons $1.53
FootyTAB: Titans +5.5
It’s hard to imagine, but the Dragons are aiming to win their opening three matches for the first time since becoming a joint venture in 1999. They’re the early pacesetters but they’ve been in this position before – only to fade out in the back half of the year. The test is to maintain what they’ve been doing so well. With star halfback Ash Taylor back from injury, the Titans are half a chance. For the past few years, he’s created something out of nothing and is crucial to their chances.
Key: The battle of the ex-Broncos halves – Ben Hunt v Ash Taylor.
Sydney Roosters v Newcastle at Allianz Stadium, 6:30pm
Head to Head: Roosters 29 Knights 19 drawn 2
Last clash: Round 20 2017 – Roosters 28 bt Knights 4 at Allianz Stadium
Tab Sportsbet: Roosters $1.33 Knights $3.30
FootyTAB: Knights +8.5
This is all about Mitchell Pearce. After being forced out the door by Cooper Cronk’s arrival, the ex-Roosters skipper comes up against his old side for the first time. Pearce will be one of five former Roosters running out for the Knights, meaning there will be a fair few players with a point to prove in Nathan Brown’s dressing room. After being pilloried for their first-up loss to the Wests Tigers, the Roosters came out and spanked Canterbury last weekend. The Roosters have a 70 per cent win record at home at Allianz under Trent Robinson.
Key: Pearce v Cronk. Ding ding.