Round 6 is in the books. Here is the full preview of each match-up that takes place.
Can you believe it? A fifth of the season has already passed and, while the Sydney Roosters are still up there among the premiership contenders, it is the Melbourne Storm who are setting the pace, being the only undefeated side after five rounds.
This sets the scene for what promises to be a blockbuster of a grand final rematch at AAMI Park on Friday night. This will also double as the return to the AFL capital for ex-Storm halfback Cooper Cronk, who helped his Chooks to glory at ANZ Stadium last September.
It will be the second match of a huge Good Friday doubleheader, with the earlier match seeing the Bulldogs host the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium.
In other select matches, the Cowboys will attempt to rediscover their form when they cross the ditch to face the Warriors, while the Dragons will look to make it four in a row against the Sea Eagles in Wollongong.
The round concludes with the Parramatta Eels returning to their spiritual home after two years on the road, with a brand new exciting stadium awaiting them and their fans when they take on the Wests Tigers in the annual Easter Monday showdown.
Here is your preview to Round 6.
Sharks vs Panthers
Round 6 kicks off on Thursday night with a clash between two sides coming off disappointing defeats.
Despite having the support of the home crowd last Saturday night, the Sharks proved to be no match for the Roosters, failing to score a point for over a half and only getting started when the damage had already been done.
What didn’t help was the absence of both co-captains in Paul Gallen and Wade Graham, as well as fullback Matt Moylan, due to injuries.
None of that trip are certain to return against the Panthers, who are smarting from being the first team to be beaten by the Gold Coast Titans this season.
Ivan Cleary’s men had led 24-18 and were on track to record consecutive victories for the first time in 2019, only to concede two late tries and crash to their third loss in five games – leaving questions about their premiership credentials.
History is against the mountain men, who have lost 11 of their last 13 matches against the men from the Shire dating back to 2011, including last September’s season-ending 21-10 loss at Allianz Stadium.
At home, the Sharks should bounce back.
Prediction: Sharks by ten points.
Bulldogs vs Rabbitohs
The first match of the Good Friday doubleheader will see the Bulldogs attempt to bounce back from a poor showing against the Dragons when they host the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium.
Returning to Kogarah Oval, the scene of their 38-0 triumph last August, it was nearly the exact opposite as the Dogs failed to counter a strong Dragons side, trailing 18-0 at half-time and at one stage being down 34-0 before Reimis Smith pegged back a late try to avoid an even more embarrassing scoreline.
The return home to ANZ Stadium after three consecutive matches on the road might be what they need when they face the Rabbitohs.
Led by four tries by Cody Walker, Wayne Bennett’s men came from behind to beat the New Zealand Warriors 24-20 and prove themselves as genuine premiership contenders this season.
This was preceded by the news that fullback and captain Greg Inglis would retire with immediate effect, believing the time is right.
While they will start favourites against the Bulldogs on Friday, they will not want to underestimate an opposition keen to bounce back from such a heavy defeat and prove the doubters wrong.
However, I cannot see the Bunnies being beaten here.
Prediction: Rabbitohs by 18 points.
Storm vs Roosters
The second match of the Good Friday doubleheader brings the Storm and Roosters together for the first time since last year’s grand final, which was won by the Chooks 21-6.
The Storm will be out to avenge that defeat, which was clearly their worst performance of the year. Their chances will be boosted by having home ground advantage against the Roosters for the first time since 2016.
After five rounds, Craig Bellamy’s men remain the only unbeaten team, winning their first five matches to prove that there is indeed life after Billy Slater.
Last week they survived an almighty scare from the North Queensland Cowboys, emerging with an 18-12 win in Townsville.
While the Storm may be unbeaten, it’s the Roosters who continue to set the standard, as evident in their win over the Sharks last Saturday night.
They led by 12-0 after a first half which ended with a perfectly executed kick from Luke Keary to set up a 60-metre try on the run for Latrell Mitchell, who is strongly favoured to retain his Blues guernsey for the upcoming State of Origin series.
Trent Robinson’s men then claimed a 30-0 lead on the hour mark before allowing the Sharks to score 16 points and make the score look more respectable.
However, I don’t think he would’ve been too happy about that and a similar lapse will be heavily punished by the Storm, who will start favourites on their home turf this Friday night.
Prediction: Storm by 12 points.
Warriors vs Cowboys
The first of two matches on Saturday night sees the Cowboys leave Queensland for the first time this season, crossing the ditch to face the New Zealand Warriors.
Life after Johnathan Thurston appeared to get off to a good start when they defeated the Dragons by 24-12 in the opening round. Unfortunately, they have since lost another JT in Jason Taumalolo as well as Nene Macdonald to injury.
They have also lost their last four matches, the worst of them a 42-16 spanking by the Cronulla Sharks at home.
It will not get any easier when they face the New Zealand Warriors, who are two from two at Mt Smart Stadium so far.
That said, both of the Warriors’ wins came against likely strugglers in the Bulldogs and Titans and they have otherwise been poor against quality teams, losing to the Tigers, Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs – who are all in the eight.
They did lead the Bunnies 24-12 in the second half before coughing up 16 points in the final quarter to go down 28-24.
Back at home this Saturday night, they will not want to take the wounded Cowboys lightly in what will be their only meeting this season.
Prediction: Warriors by ten points.
Dragons vs Sea Eagles
The second match on Saturday night sees two in-form teams come together when the Dragons play host to the Sea Eagles in Wollongong.
After losing their opening two matches, the Dragons have clicked into gear in recent weeks, the boot of Corey Norman getting them home against the Broncos and Knights before they produced easily their best performance since round one last year, thrashing the Bulldogs 40-4 at Kogarah Oval.
Halfback Ben Hunt played easily his best game for the club, setting up several tries and scoring two of his own to stake his claim for the Maroons’ number seven guernsey ahead of Origin.
The result went a long way towards erasing the demons of last August’s 38-0 humiliation at the same venue, after which their own fans jeered them off the field and police had to intervene.
The recruitment of Norman, who kicked the match-winning field goals against the Broncos and the Knights on the road, has come at a good time for the Dragons, whose captain Gareth Widdop isn’t due back until mid-August at the earliest due to a shoulder injury.
It has allowed coach Paul McGregor to finally settle on a spine which came under heavy criticism in the opening fortnight of the season.
Like the Dragons, the Sea Eagles also lost their first two matches of the season, but subsequent wins over the Warriors, Rabbitohs and Knights have catapulted them into the eight.
The win over the Knights on the road, in what was captain Daly Cherry-Evans’ 200th NRL game, was made all the more impressive given they were without backman Tom Trbojevic due to a hamstring injury which will keep him sidelined for at least a month.
It is also proof the Sea Eagles are starting to track well under Des Hasler who, in his first stint at the club, delivered premierships in 2008 and 2011.
They will face a far sterner test of their credentials when they face the Dragons in Wollongong, where they have not won since 2003.
At home, the Dragons should continue on their red hot form and continue their surge up the ladder.
Prediction: Dragons by 18 points.
Titans vs Knights
Crunch time arrives for the Gold Coast Titans and Newcastle Knights this Sunday, with both teams on just one win so far for the season.
Last Friday night, the Titans opened their 2019 account with a stirring come-from-behind win over the Panthers, which lifted them off the bottom of the table after a rough opening four rounds, which included spending three consecutive weeks on the road.
Garth Brennan’s side will again enjoy the comforts of home for another week when they host the Knights who, despite being touted as potential improvers this season, have lost their last four matches after beating the Sharks in Round 1.
Three of those losses have been at home, including by one point to the Dragons and last week’s inept display against the Sea Eagles, in which they trailed 18-0 after 20 minutes and never got back into the match.
Perhaps getting away from the Steel City is what they need as they attempt to revive their season. If they are to do so they’ll need the likes of Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce firing on all cylinders.
Prediction: Knights by four points.
Raiders vs Broncos
After four losses in their first five matches, the last thing Brisbane would want is what’s starting to become the NRL’s toughest road trip – facing the Raiders in the nation’s capital.
Anthony Seibold’s tough coaching initiation at Red Hill continued when his side crashed to a 22-16 defeat against the Tigers at home last Thursday night, with poor decision making under pressure from maligned halves Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima again proving fatal.
Prop Tevita Pangai Jr must wait another week to make his comeback, with this being the last of a two-match suspension he must serve for flooring the Roosters’ Cooper Cronk in Round 4.
By contrast, the Raiders have enjoyed their best start to a season for 15 years, being 4-1 after five rounds and their defence being the best it has been for nearly three decades.
Ricky Stuart’s side recorded the second shutout of the season when they defeated the Eels 19-0 and, even after the match, he was throwing caution to the wind, saying that the Broncos would come to Canberra on a mission after their dismal start to the season.
They’ll also want to ensure history does not repeat – the last time they started a season so impressively, they would only win five more matches to finish second-last with nine wins and a points differential of -141.
Their match against the Broncos will mark a decade since they recorded a 56-0 win at Canberra Stadium, which remains the Broncos’ worst ever defeat.
At home, the current crop of Raiders will start favourites to extend their impressive start to the season, and that of Brisbane’s woes.
Prediction: Raiders by 20 points.
Eels vs Tigers
Easter Monday will see a homecoming for the Parramatta Eels who, after two years of playing at ANZ Stadium, will return home to the brand new BankWest Stadium.
During their time away from home, the Eels managed to finish fourth in 2017, but would crash out of the finals in straight sets before plummeting down to the bottom of the ladder last season.
While the finishing touches to the new stadium were being applied, they’ve had to play their first five matches away from home, during which they won three and lost two, the losses being against the Roosters and Raiders.
In the latter match, where they were kept scoreless, winger Blake Ferguson copped two separate injuries to his nose, which was partially dislocated, as well to his ribs, which is all but certain to see him sidelined for some time.
On the other hand, Wests Tigers rebounded from two defeats to the Bulldogs and Panthers to upset the Broncos in Brisbane, with Michael Chee Kam scoring the match-winning try at the death.
The reaction from coach Michael Maguire was one for the books, as he exacted some revenge on Anthony Seibold – the man who replaced him as Rabbitohs boss at the end of the 2017 season.
While the Eels expect to play most (if not all) of their home games at BankWest Stadium going forward, the Tigers will use the ground intermittently in the years to come, including while ANZ Stadium undergoes a refurbishment between 2019-21.
That means the Tigers will also host the return fixture at BankWest Stadium in Round 17, while they will also play the Rabbitohs and Raiders at the venue later this season.
So, will it be a case of home sweet home for Parramatta, or will the Tigers crash the party?
Prediction: Eels by two points.