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2021 NRL season: Round 6 preview

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Roar Guru
12th April, 2021
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We are a fifth into the season and several things are still very clear: the Panthers are the team to catch, the Storm, Rabbitohs and Roosters are still contenders, while another long season could loom large for the Broncos, Cowboys and Bulldogs.

In fact, what threatens to be the biggest mismatch of the season will kick off Round 6 of the NRL, with the undefeated Panthers flying north to face the reigning wooden spooners, the Broncos, at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night.

While at the end of the round, the Cowboys and Bulldogs, who have so far failed to fire a shot save for the northerners’ shock win against the Wests Tigers last Sunday, face off in what threatens to be anything beyond a mockbuster in Townsville.

In between, however, we’ll have a must-watch match between the Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters, who have won six of the last nine titles between them, at AAMI Park on Friday night, with a COVID-safe bumper crowd expected especially with no AFL in town that evening.

Also in this round, the Warriors and Eels will attempt to end long hoodoos against the Dragons and Raiders, having not won at Kogarah Oval or Canberra Stadium since 2003 and 2006 respectively.

Benji Marshall will also come up against his old side when the Rabbitohs host the Wests Tigers at the Olympic stadium, with Wayne Bennett’s side to start favourites to make it five straight wins on Saturday night.

Here is your preview to Round 6.

Broncos versus Panthers
The first match of Round 6 looms as a major mismatch, with the Penrith Panthers, the only team undefeated after five rounds and expected to be up there among the contenders for this year’s title, taking on the struggling Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night.

The mountain men made it five wins from five starts for the first time since 1997, conceding the first try in its match against the Canberra Raiders before going on to win 30-10, thus marking the 30th anniversary of their first premiership in style.

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They’ll start the hottest of favourites to make it six from six but they will be wary of a Broncos side that will be playing at home for the first time since Round 3, having spent a fortnight in Sydney following two COVID-19 outbreaks that leaked out of a Brisbane hospital.

The Broncos endured a tough fortnight on the road, copping two heavy defeats at the hands of the Storm (40-6) and Rabbitohs (35-6), again highlighting just how much Kevin Walters has on his hands before he can return the club to their glory days, which seem like a lifetime ago.

Five-eighth Anthony Milford has been dropped to reserve grade, with Brodie Croft and Tom Dearden to line up in the halves against their counterparts in Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary.

Try as the Broncos may, but the class of the mountain men should win out in the sunshine capital.

Prediction: Panthers by 24 points.

Jarome Luai of the Panthers passes the ball

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Knights versus Sharks
The twilight match on Friday night sees the Newcastle Knights attempt to breathe some life back into its stuttering season when they welcome the Cronulla Sharks to Macdonald Jones Stadium.

After winning their first two matches, poor form and a long-term injury to veteran halfback Mitchell Pearce has seen them drop their past three, the last of them a heavy 42-16 loss to the Gold Coast Titans on the holiday strip.

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Kalyn Ponga endured a quiet return from a shoulder injury which saw him sit out the first four matches of the season, and the Knights will want him back to his best against the Sharks in a match seen as winnable to either side.

Despite speculation surrounding the future of coach John Morris, who has done extremely well considering the circumstances, the Sharks threatened a major upset when they led the Sydney Roosters 18-4 with less than 20 minutes to go at the SCG last Saturday night.

But the side threw away a golden chance to register its first top-eight win since 2019, conceding the final 22 points to lose 26-18 and drop to a 2-3 record for the season, their only wins coming against the Dragons and Cowboys both at Kogarah Oval.

They now head up the highway looking to even their season ledger, returning to the scene of their 38-10 loss to the Knights from Round 17 last season in which halfback Chad Townsend was sent off for a shoulder charge on Ponga.

Though the Sharks may be in some better form having thrashed the Cowboys 48-10 prior to the loss to the Roosters, I think the home ground advantage should see the Knights take the points.

Prediction: Knights by six points.

Storm versus Roosters
With no AFL matches being played in town this Friday night, the Melbourne Storm will have the Victorian capital to themselves when they welcome the Sydney Roosters to AAMI Park in what’s expected to be another cracker between the two sides.

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Between them, the Storm and Roosters have won six of the last nine premierships, including the last four in a row (two wins apiece). Further, only six grand finals since the NRL’s inception in 1998 have not featured either side (1998, 2001, 2005, 2011, 2014 and 2015).

Of course we cannot forget that Round 8 epic at Suncorp Stadium last year where the Storm won in golden point thanks to a penalty goal from Ryan Papenhuyzen in what was described as one of the best games of the century.

This came after Craig Bellamy’s side were forced to relocate to south-east Queensland after Victoria was smothered by a second wave of coronavirus cases, thus sending the garden state into a lockdown lasting over three-and-a-half months.

To the present now, and after two straight losses, the Storm have hit back in the past fortnight, thrashing strugglers the Brisbane Broncos (40-6) and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (52-18) with Papenhuyzen at the forefront of both victories.

Last year’s Clive Churchill Medallist has scored 46 points in his past two matches, including four tries against the Broncos and one try and eight conversions against the Bulldogs.

His battle with Chooks custodian James Tedesco will be one to keep an eye on, with the expectation that whichever player’s team wins will very likely assume the fullback position for New South Wales in the upcoming State of Origin series.

The Roosters trailed the Sharks 18-4 with less than 20 minutes remaining, but rookie halfback Sam Walker – thrust into the side Luke Keary suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Round 3 – masterminded their comeback as they scored 22 unanswered points to win 26-18.

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Trent Robinson’s men cannot afford another slow start against the Storm – especially in Melbourne – and if they are caught napping in the opening half, as they were last week, then the southerners will surely punish them when it hurts.

Prediction: Storm by six points.

Ryan Papenhuyzen

Ryan Papenhuyzen – is he better than Tedesco? (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Sea Eagles versus Titans
Footy heads to the countryside for the first time in season 2021 when the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles face the Gold Coast Titans in Mudgee in the first of three Saturday matches.

After a horror opening four rounds, which saw coach Des Hasler and several other players put on notice, the Silvertails produced an almighty effort to edge out the Warriors 13-12 and register their first win for the season, lifting them off the foot of the ladder for now.

Scores had been level at 12-all going into the final quarter of the match, and in the end it was captain Daly Cherry-Evans who proved cool as a cucumber as he slotted a field goal at the death to give his side a much needed two competition points.

They will need to bring their A-game when they face the Titans, who have won three of their past four matches to prove that they will continue to be one of the most improved sides this season.

Forward David Fifita feasted on an injury-ravaged Newcastle Knights side last week, becoming the first forward since Tariq Sims in 2018 to score a hat-trick of tries as the Titans ran riot at home, winning 42-16.

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A fortnight after racking up a club-record 44 points against the Cowboys in Round 3, the Titans could have again broken the record if not for three missed conversions from Jamal Fogarty.

Just when all seemed lost when the Titans finished last in 2019 and were seemingly heading nowhere, suddenly the future is bright once again at Robina and I think they can make it 4-2 on Saturday afternoon, which would make them the best-placed Queensland club on the ladder.

Prediction: Titans by 16 points.

David Fifita

David Fifita is a gun recruit for the Titans. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Rabbitohs versus Wests Tigers
The twilight match sees the South Sydney Rabbitohs start hot favourites to heap more misery on the Wests Tigers when the two teams clash at Stadium Australia.

The Bunnies have won their past four matches to move up to third on the ladder, having been unfortunate to have had to cop reigning premiers the Storm in Melbourne in the opening round.

Last week, another captain’s knock from Adam Reynolds saw them dominate the Brisbane Broncos, with the premiership-winning halfback kicking the first two-point field goal since the rule came into effect at the start of the season, followed by another at the death.

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In between, Wayne Bennett’s side were barely challenged against a side they could barely beat between 1990 and 2012 inclusive (in that period, the Bunnies only won against the Broncos three times) as they continued to show why they are the title favourites in 2021.

But if there’s one player who will be fired up for the clash against the Tigers, it is veteran utility Benji Marshall, who is the final remaining survivor from that club’s 2005 premiership side still playing in the NRL today.

A shocking first half from the Tigers – in which they trailed 28-6 – saw them booed off at halftime of their clash against the Cowboys before a valiant second-half fightback saw them fall just short, eventually losing 34-30.

The fact of the matter is that Michael Maguire’s men, who have not featured in September since 2011 and don’t look like ending the drought this season, remain on just one win for the season and any chances of a second won’t be forthcoming this Saturday night.

That being said, the Bunnies should make it five straight at home.

Prediction: Rabbitohs by 20 points.

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Raiders versus Eels
Chilly conditions will greet the Parramatta Eels when they trek down the Hume and Federal Highways for a Saturday night engagement against the Canberra Raiders in the nation’s capital.

After four straight wins to start the season, Brad Arthur’s side were brought crashing back down to earth at home last Sunday night, going down to the St George Illawarra Dragons by 26-12 to lose their place in the top four.

They trailed 18-0 at halftime and scored the first of only two tries for the match when the Red V were reduced to twelve men after Tariq Sims was sin-binned for repeated infringements.

Arthur will surely have his side fired up for the Raiders, who are also coming off a disappointing loss, going down 30-10 to the Penrith Panthers at the foot of the mountains.

The Green Machine actually scored first, but eventually crashed to their second defeat of the season to be sitting just inside the top eight with a differential of just +13.

If you froze the ladder now and started the finals series this weekend, this would be the first elimination final, with the Eels sitting in fifth place on the ladder.

However, instead of it being at Bankwest Stadium, where the Eels won a golden point thriller in the corresponding match last season, it’ll be at GIO Stadium, which has been a graveyard for the blue and golds in recent years, with their last win in the nation’s capital coming in 2006.

The Raiders have historically been accustomed to playing in cold conditions (who could remember the game in the snow against the Wests Tigers in 2000?) and this Saturday night will be no different as the home ground advantage should see them take the points.

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Prediction: Raiders by four points.

Jordan Rapana of the Raiders scores a try, which was then disallowed by the video referee during the NRL Semi Final

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Dragons versus Warriors
The St George Illawarra Dragons will look to continue on their winning run when they welcome the New Zealand Warriors to Kogarah Oval this Sunday.

The Red V had every right to be written off at the start of the season after a humiliating loss to the Rabbitohs in the Charity Shield match, followed by a disappointing Round 1 loss to the Sharks at home in which they trailed 14-0 at halftime.

However, four straight wins, the latest of them an impressive 26-12 victory over the previously unbeaten Parramatta Eels at Bankwest Stadium last Sunday night, has them sitting in the top four, higher than anyone expected at this point of the season.

Andrew McCullough, who only arrived at the club on the eve of the season, proved his worth to the club with another impressive performance against the Eels, while Matt Dufty was also among their best as he pushes his case for a new contract with the club.

They’ll only get better following the news that Josh McGuire has joined the club, effective immediately, thus seeing some experience added to their squad as they push for a return to September for just the third time since 2011.

The Warriors will go into this clash on the back of a heartbreaking 13-12 loss to the Sea Eagles, but have otherwise done well in punching above their weight with a return home now not far away following last week’s announcement that Australians can cross the ditch without quarantining from next week.

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The Kiwi club, however, have committed to remaining in Australia until the end of June, with their first real home game against the Dragons set for Friday, July 2, in what’s sure to be an emotional homecoming for everyone’s second club (if we can still call them that).

Before all that, Nathan Brown will take his Warriors to the ground where his NRL coaching career began in 2003, with the club looking to end an 18-year hoodoo at Kogarah Oval where they have not won since that same year (in which Brown was in his first season as Dragons coach).

Back at Kogarah for the first time since Round 1, the Dragons should reward their fans with a victory and continue their early-season surge.

Prediction: Dragons by 16 points.

Cowboys versus Bulldogs
The final match of Round 6 is a mockbuster, with two of the bottom three sides – the North Queensland Cowboys and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs – going head to head in a rare Sunday afternoon match in Townsville.

After four disappointing losses to start the season, Todd Payten finally notched up his first win as Cowboys coach, doing it in style against the side with whom he was part of their 2005 premiership side, the Wests Tigers.

Despite losing Michael Morgan to retirement during the week, as well as losing Jason Taumalolo to injury before kick-off, the Cows notched up their best first half of football in a while, leading 28-6 at halftime and leaving the Tiger faithful at Leichhardt Oval stunned.

However, they failed to consolidate in the second half, and had to withstand a furious comeback by their 2005 premiership nemesis before holding on to win 34-30, though it was enough to alleviate some pressure off Payten for now.

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It marked their first win at Leichhardt Oval since 2000, the Tigers’ first season as a joint venture and also the most recent season in which the Cowboys won the wooden spoon.

Adam Elliott

Adam Elliott is one of the Bulldogs’ key men. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

The northerners will start favourites to make it two in a row when they face the Bulldogs, the only side without a win after five rounds.

After a hat-trick of donuts, the Berries managed to do what they couldn’t in three previous matches – score points – and while they scored 18 of their own, unfortunately it was the same old story as they coughed up a half-century against the Melbourne Storm.

It does not get any easier for the Dogs with the trip to Townsville this weekend and it will be hard seeing when their first win of the season will come.

That being said, the Cowboys should win at home as they attempt to continue a winning run which could (hopefully) start seeing them move back up the ladder and into September for the first time since 2017.

Prediction: Cowboys by 18 points.