Does this prove that their defensive effort against the Dragons was just a blip?
A number of rivalries will highlight Round 5 of the NRL, with no less than four grand final rematches from yesteryear among the must-watch matches this weekend.
Friday sees rematches of the 1991 and 2011 grand finals, with the Penrith Panthers to mark the thirtieth anniversary of their first ever premiership win when they host the Raiders – the team they defeated to win that title in 1991 – at the newly-named Bluebet Stadium.
Manly, which won the 2011 premiership, will look to kick-start their struggling season against the team they defeated to win that title, the Warriors, on the Central Coast.
We will also see a reprisal of the 2012 decider when the Storm return to Stadium Australia for the first time since their premiership triumph last year to face the Bulldogs, while Sunday afternoon sees the Wests Tigers face the Cowboys, coached by the Tigers’ 2005 premiership forward Todd Payten.
There is also the grudge match between the Rabbitohs and Broncos to look forward to, in which veteran coach Wayne Bennett will come up against one of his premiership-winning captains in Kevin Walters, who captained the Broncos to the 2000 title and is now their coach.
Here is your preview to Round 5.
Rabbitohs versus Broncos
Round 5 kicks off with a grudge match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Brisbane Broncos in Sydney, with this to be the penultimate time Bunnies super-coach Wayne Bennett coaches against the side he led to six premierships between 1992 and 2006.
Both teams enter this match on the back of shutting out the Bulldogs in recent weeks, with the Broncos registering their first win under Kevin Walters with a 24-0 win at home in Round 3, while the Bunnies’ 38-0 win last week was their largest ever win against the Berries.
Captain Adam Reynolds, who appears certain to depart Redfern at season’s end, helped himself to a 18-point haul, scoring a try and landing six conversions as well as a penalty goal, while Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker also stood out against the Dogs.
Playing at Stadium Australia for a third straight week, the Bunnies will start hot favourites against the Brisbane Broncos, who after beating the Dogs at home were brought back down to earth last Friday night, going down to the Melbourne Storm 40-6.
The Broncos started impressively against the Storm, scoring after just five minutes through Xavier Coates, but that would be as good as it got for the northerners as they fell victim to an eleven-minute Ryan Papenhuyzen masterclass in the first half.
It is therefore painfully obvious that Kevin Walters has plenty of work to do before he can restore the club’s powerhouse status, as it is always going to take some time before the club is back where it belongs – in the upper part of the ladder.
In a major subplot to this match, Walters, the Broncos’ 2000 premiership-winning captain, will come up against Wayne Bennett in the coaching box for the first time, but even then, don’t expect Walters’ magic to work wonders in Sydney this Thursday night.
Prediction: Rabbitohs by 20 points.
Warriors versus Sea Eagles
This year marks a decade since we got the grand final that nobody had expected at the start of the 2011 season – between the New Zealand Warriors and Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles.
While we expected to see the Sea Eagles take their place in the decider after finishing second on the ladder, the Warriors got there the hard way, finishing sixth and then losing its qualifying final to the Broncos by 40-10 before conjuring a remarkable turnaround to reach their first grand final since 2002.
History will tell us that it was the Silvertails that prevailed, winning 24-10, with Glenn Stewart, on his return from a three-match suspension for his role in the Battle of Brookvale, claiming the Clive Churchill Medal.
A decade removed from their most recent premiership, the Sea Eagles sit in last place on the ladder after losing their first four games of the season, most by heavy margins.
They barely gave a yelp in a 46-6 loss to the Penrith Panthers at home, that coming off the back of uncompetitive efforts against the Roosters, Rabbitohs and Dragons in the opening three rounds.
It is hard to see when their next win may come, but they could give themselves an outside chance against the Warriors who have divided their first four games of the season to be sitting in 11th place on the ladder, with their points differential at -8.
Nathan Brown’s side threatened a major upset when they twice led the Roosters in the first half at the SCG, only to fail to score a try after halftime as they crashed to a 32-12 defeat, thus exposing the gulf between themselves and the powerhouse Chooks sans Luke Keary.
Despite facing the prospect of another season without a match on home soil, the Warriors have continued to show why they are everyone’s second team this year, having already scored two impressive wins over the Titans and Raiders on either side of a narrow loss to the Knights.
On the basis of their good form, the Kiwis should start favourites on the Central Coast.
Prediction: Warriors by 18 points.
Panthers versus Raiders
This year marks three decades since the Penrith Panthers won their first premiership, and it is fitting that they will mark the anniversary when they clash with the Canberra Raiders at home this Friday night.
The mountain men had lost the previous year’s decider to the Green Machine but in 1991 would turn the tables thanks mostly to their crop of locals, which included Brad Fittler, Greg Alexander, Royce Simmons and Mark Geyer, as well as coach Phil Gould.
Fast forward to today and the current crop of Panthers, fresh off a heartbreaking grand final loss to the Melbourne Storm last year, are among the contenders for this year’s title.
Ivan Cleary’s side have started the season strongly, thrashing the Cowboys, Bulldogs and Sea Eagles – teams still without a premiership point between them this season – while also outlasting the Storm in the grand final rematch in Round 3.
They will face another serious test of their credentials when they face the Raiders, who go into this match having won three of their first four matches to be sitting in fifth place on the ladder.
Ricky Stuart’s side could also so easily have been undefeated to this point had they not allowed the Warriors to stage an epic second half comeback at GIO Stadium in Round 3.
Last week, they put behind the frustration of that defeat, as well as having a trip to the Gold Coast cancelled due to a COVID-19 outbreak in south-east Queensland, to defeat the Titans 20-4 thanks to a strong defensive display.
Now they get the chance to test themselves against the Panthers in their backyard, with the mountain men possessing the best defensive record in the competition having conceded just 16 points at an average of four per game.
It should be a close match as two of last year’s finalists face off in Friday night football, and I have the Panthers winning it by just.
Prediction: Panthers by six points.
Titans versus Knights
With the COVID-19 threat in south-east Queensland having subsided for now, the Gold Coast Titans have been given the all-clear to return home and prepare for a proper home game against the Newcastle Knights this Saturday afternoon.
Two separate outbreaks that leaked out of the same hospital in Brisbane forced the Titans to relocate south for their “home” game against the Canberra Raiders, with initial fears that they’d be forced to hub in Sydney if the situation in the sunshine state got worse.
Despite the scoreline suggesting otherwise, they were far from disgraced in losing 20-4 to the Canberra Raiders, but the matter of the fact is that Justin Holbrook’s side were unable to crack the very strong Green Machine defence, only managing a solitary try via Corey Thompson.
They will fancy their chances of bouncing back when they face an injury-ravaged Newcastle Knights, whose premiership hopes all but evaporated on an afternoon of carnage against the Dragons at home last Sunday.
Already without Kalyn Ponga, still sidelined due to injury, the Knights lost their most important player – Mitchell Pearce – to a serious pectoral injury for which he will need to undergo surgery, sidelining him for up to three months.
As if that wasn’t enough, Tex Hoy, Kurt Mann and David Klemmer also failed to see out the match, leaving the Knights to play the remaining minutes without an interchange bench as they crashed to a 22-13 defeat.
That followed on from a disappointing 24-20 loss to the Wests Tigers in which Hoy’s inaccuracy off the boot cost them what would’ve been a 3-0 start to the season.
Ponga’s return cannot come soon enough for the Knights, who after reaching the finals for the first time since 2013 last year will suddenly have to face a high mountain to climb if they are to return to the promised land once again this season.
Back at home after the coronavirus scare on the Gold Coast, the Titans should make it three wins from their last four games.
Prediction: Titans by 12 points.
Bulldogs versus Storm
Life will not get any easier for Trent Barrett and the Bulldogs when they welcome last year’s premiers, the Melbourne Storm, to Stadium Australia on Saturday evening.
The Dogs have endured their worst start to a season since 1971, and statistically the worst start to a season by any side since Glebe in 1928, losing their first four matches and failing to crack an egg in their past three.
They thus became the first side since the Sharks in mid-2014 to fail to score a single point in over four hours of football, highlighting the enormous task Barrett, a former Dragons legend, has in attempting to restore some competitiveness and spirit to the side.
Last week, they suffered their worst ever defeat against the Rabbitohs, being blanked 38-0 on Good Friday.
In stark contrast, after dropping their past two games to the Eels and Panthers, the Storm hit back against the Brisbane Broncos at home, also last Friday night, thrashing their 2006 premiership nemesis by 40-6.
The premiers started slowly, conceding the first try to the wooden spooners after just five minutes, but then Ryan Papenhuyzen would run riot in the first half, scoring four tries in eleven minutes as the Storm continued their dominance against the men from Red Hill.
For Craig Bellamy’s side this will be their first trip to the Olympic stadium since their grand final triumph last year, which came in the most testing of circumstances with the side having had to evacuate Victoria and set up camp on the Sunshine Coast at the height of the Victorian COVID-19 outbreak.
A return to the ground where they claimed arguably their toughest title yet will inspire the reigning premiers to a win this Saturday night, while also extending the Bulldogs’ early-season woes.
Prediction: Storm by 24 points.
Roosters versus Sharks
Later in the evening, the Roosters will look to make it four wins from five matches when they host the Cronulla Sharks at the SCG.
The Chooks have, for the moment, dismissed any fears that their premiership hopes might have gone up in smoke after defeating the Warriors by 32-12 last Sunday night at the SCG, with debutant half Sam Walker pulling the strings.
The 18-year-old was given his first grade debut after incumbent Luke Keary suffered a season-ending ACL injury on the Chooks’ night of carnage against the Rabbitohs at Stadium Australia in Round 3, which led many to suggest that they can’t win the premiership this year.
But the Roosters still managed to notch their third win for the season; having twice trailed the Warriors in the first half, the men from Bondi Junction held them scoreless in the second half as the Morris twins and James Tedesco scored four tries between them.
While Trent Robinson’s side will start favourites on Saturday night, they’ll be mindful of a Cronulla Sharks side that made a mockery of their horrific injury toll by thrashing an inept North Queensland Cowboys side by 48-10 last Saturday night.
Doubles to Connor Tracey and William Kennedy saw the Sharks rack up the highest score by any side so far this season, just falling short of the half-century by full-time.
Originally, the Sharks were to have “hosted” the Cowboys on the Central Coast, however a COVID-19 outbreak in south-east Queensland saw the match returned to Kogarah Oval, and the Cronulla faithful which therefore did not have to travel north to see their side play.
Their second win of the season will ramp up the pressure on the club’s board to re-sign John Morris as head coach, the four-club player having taken the Sharks to September in each of his previous two seasons since taking over from Shane Flanagan in January 2019.
Having easily disposed of a likely non-finals side in the Cowboys, the Sharks should give the Chooks a run for their money but I think the home side will end up taking the points.
Prediction: Roosters by 12 points.
Wests Tigers versus Cowboys
The Wests Tigers will brace Leichhardt Oval for the first time this season when they welcome the North Queensland Cowboys to the iconic suburban ground on Sunday afternoon.
After edging the Newcastle Knights on the road for their first win of the season, the Tigers took the fight up to the Parramatta Eels at Stadium Australia on Monday, being within two points with five minutes remaining before coughing up two tries to lose 36-22.
They were far from disgraced in defeat and comes to show that the side may have the potential to perform beyond expectations, even if this means not making the finals for a tenth consecutive season, which would extend the club’s prolonged absence from September.
Michael Maguire’s side will fancy their chances of a second win for the season when they face the winless Cowboys, who are now coached by Tigers premiership forward Todd Payten, thus delivering a subplot to this match.
Fifteen-and-a-half years ago seems like a lifetime for Tigers fans, who have only seen their side qualify for finals football just two times since – in 2010 and 2011.
Payten, as well as the likes of Brett Hodgson, Benji Marshall, Pat Richards, Scott Prince and Robbie Farah, were key players in a side that claimed its maiden premiership in just its sixth season, having sat as low as 12th midway through the season.
Having had their match against the Sharks relocated from the Sunshine Coast to Kogarah Oval, the Cowboys’ horror start to the season continued when they were thrashed 48-10 by the men from the Shire, making them one of three teams yet to crack their season duck.
That followed on from a humiliating 44-8 loss to the Gold Coast Titans at home, in which McGuire blasted his side’s attitude, as well as a 25-18 loss to the Dragons, also at home, and a 24-0 shutout at the hands of the Penrith Panthers in Round 1.
As if being without Jason Taumalolo and captain Michael Morgan to injuries wasn’t enough, it has emerged that Josh McGuire is wanting out of the club, with St George Illawarra the front-runners to secure his signature.
It is therefore hard to see when the club’s first win of the season will come and it definitely won’t be this Sunday, with a capacity crowd to be permitted into Leichhardt Oval to cheer their side to a second win for 2021.
Prediction: Wests Tigers by 14 points.
Eels vs Dragons
The final match of the round sees the Parramatta Eels put their undefeated season record on the line when they host a much-improved St George Illawarra Dragons side at Bankwest Stadium on Sunday evening.
For the second year running, the Eels have started a season 4-0, but despite the scoreline suggesting otherwise the Eels were made to work hard for victory against the Wests Tigers, for a number of reasons.
After spilling the kick-off, the Eels shot out to a 16-0 lead and later led 24-10 in the second half before conceding two tries to have their lead reduced to 24-22 with five minutes left.
Tries to Clint Gutherson and Blake Ferguson at the death saw the Eels claim a well-deserved win but not before coach Brad Arthur lashed his side for their rather sloppy second half display in which they committed several errors and “lacked respect for the footy”.
They’ll have to be on their A-game for the visit by the St George Illawarra Dragons, who come into this match fresh off the back of a gutsy 22-13 win over the Knights in Newcastle.
Missing Cameron McInnes, Jack Bird and Ben Hunt among others, the Dragons took the physical fight right up to the Novocastrians, and after trailing early in the second half claimed their third straight win for the season with Tariq Sims claiming a double.
Despite the win, the Dragons dropped to sixth on the ladder (having started the round in fourth place), by virtue of bigger wins for the Rabbitohs and Raiders earlier in the round.
While their recent record against the Eels is nothing short of abysmal, they can take heart that they did win their most recent encounter, by 14-12 in Round 14 at Bankwest Stadium, the venue for this Sunday night’s clash, last year.
However, at home I think the Eels will take the points but not without an almighty challenge from Anthony Griffin’s side, which is playing much better than they were this time last season.
Prediction: Eels by eight points.