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2021 NRL season: Round 9 preview

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Roar Guru
3rd May, 2021
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We have a blockbuster slate of matches to look forward to this weekend, with two top-five showdowns, a Queensland derby and the continuation of the suburban rivalry between the Dragons and Bulldogs at Kogarah Oval.

The Rabbitohs will be keen to settle a score after losing to the Storm in Round 1, having since won seven straight matches, while the Eels have the chance to further prove themselves as premiership contenders when they host a wounded Roosters side on Friday night.

Elsewhere, the Raiders and Knights will attempt to revive their seasons when they clash in the country, while the Cowboys versus Broncos match on Saturday night will be the first not to be televised by Channel Nine since 2006.

Here is your full preview to Round 9.

Rabbitohs versus Storm
The round kicks off with what promises to be a potential finals preview when the third-placed South Sydney Rabbitohs welcome the fifth-placed Melbourne Storm to Stadium Australia on Thursday night.

It will be the second time this season the two teams have met, after the Storm burst out of the blocks in the first half en route to beating the Bunnies by 26-18 at AAMI Park in Round 1.

Since then, however, Wayne Bennett’s side have won their past seven matches and are firming as the premiership favourites, in part due to the resurgence of reborn veteran Benji Marshall, who has vindicated the lifeline given to him by the super coach.

Benji Marshall

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Last week, the Bunnies held off the Raiders to win by 34-20, but not before the Green Machine were denied two tries that could have set up a grandstand finish in the nation’s capital.

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But as good as they have been in the past seven weeks, the ‘Pride of the League’ will have to raise their game a notch against the Storm, the club that has given them more hell than you could ever imagine.

Craig Bellamy’s side have won their past five matches, after losing in consecutive road trips against the Eels and Panthers in Rounds 2 and 3 respectively, and last week ran riot after halftime to thrash the Sharks by 40-14 at AAMI Park.

It marked their 100th win at the venue, which opened just short of 11 years ago and has since replaced Olympic Park as a graveyard for opposition teams.

However, their reigning Clive Churchill Medallist, Ryan Papenhuyzen, is set to miss another week as he recovers from the shoulder injury he picked up against the Roosters in Round 7.

A major subplot will be that this could be the final time Wayne Bennett and Craig Bellamy go head to head as coaches, though it is widely expected both the Rabbitohs and Storm will cross paths in September, should both teams get there of course.

Although the Bunnies may be the form team, I think the Storm have that something extra that could prove to be the difference come Thursday night.

Prediction: Storm by four points.

Panthers versus Sharks
Another tough assignment awaits the struggling Sharks when they make the long trip from one corner of greater Sydney to the other to face the undefeated Penrith Panthers at BlueBet Stadium in the early Friday game.

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Dramas both on and off the field have conspired against the men from the Shire, who have only won two matches this season and currently sit in 13th place on the ladder, leaving them at risk of missing finals for just the second time since 2011.

Last week, they took the fight up to the Storm in Melbourne in the first half, but capitulated after halftime to lose 40-14 and effectively leave their season on life support.

There will be no respite when they face the Panthers, who have only lost two matches since the start of last season and last week made it eight wins from as many starts when they held off an improved Sea Eagles side to win 28-16 in Bathurst.

Brian To'o

(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Halfback, co-captain and incumbent Blues number seven Nathan Cleary took the points in his second individual battle against Daly Cherry-Evans, who is hoping to lead his Maroons to State of Origin glory later this year.

Despite the win, coach Ivan Cleary says he wasn’t happy with how his side approached the Silvertails, whom they had thrashed 46-6 on April 1, though acknowledged pre-match that they had improved since then.

Back on their home deck after a successful road trip to Bathurst, the mountain men should make it nine straight wins, and by extension 24 straight regular-season victories.

Prediction: Panthers by 18 points.

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Eels versus Roosters
The second match on Friday night sees a blockbuster between two teams sitting in second and fourth place on the ladder – the Parramatta Eels up against the Sydney Roosters at Bankwest Stadium.

Last Saturday night, the Eels made light work of the Bulldogs, winning 32-10, making it seven wins from eight matches so far with their only loss being against the Dragons in Round 5.

Another double to Maika Sivo saw him move to nine tries for the season, with the expectation he will eventually overtake Brett Morris on the try-scoring leaderboard in the coming weeks.

Maika Sivo gives the thumbs up

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Morris sadly suffered the dreaded ACL injury in the Roosters’ 38-4 thrashing of the Knights in Newcastle, also last Saturday night, with the injury all but ending an illustrious career, which began at St George Illawarra in 2006.

Teammate Lindsay Collins also suffered the same injury, which will see him sidelined until the start of the 2022 season, already adding to a horror injury toll at Bondi Junction, which also includes halfback Luke Keary and the now-retired hooker Jake Friend.

Despite all that, Trent Robinson’s side continue to find a way, with Sam Walker again impressing at number seven and showing that he will be a long-term proposition in the jersey, at least until Keary returns from his ACL injury next season.

In better news for the Chooks, James Tedesco will return after being knocked out against the Dragons on Anzac Day, and his individual battle with Eels counterpart Clint Gutherson will go a long way towards deciding this heavyweight showdown.

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At home, I think the Eels will win – but only just.

Prediction: Eels by two points.

Raiders versus Knights
Both the Raiders and Knights started this season with high expectations but for one of them, come this Saturday afternoon, their season could be on life support.

From a 3-1 start to the season, the Raiders have lost their past four matches to drop out of the eight, and could consider themselves very unlucky that they had two tries disallowed against the Rabbitohs in the second half due to obstruction offences in the lead-up to both.

Their cause was not helped by the late withdrawal of halfback George Williams, but they still managed to claim an early lead before they fell victim to not only a Bunnies masterclass, but also the referees, who twice denied Jack Wighton tries in the final quarter.

The onus will be on Ricky Stuart’s side to hit back when they face a Newcastle Knights side that is not only struggling with injuries but are also bereft of any confidence.

Ricky Stuart

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

After winning their first two matches, the Knights’ season is threatening to unravel and last Saturday night they copped another defeat, this time going down to the Sydney Roosters by 38-4.

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It was a far cry from the good effort they put up against the Panthers the previous round, when they lost only 24-6 after they had been within arm’s reach for most of the second half.

If the Knights need any inspiration ahead of this weekend’s trip to Wagga Wagga, it’s that they beat the Raiders convincingly in the corresponding match last season, after which Raiders coach Stuart blasted the attitude of his side.

But this time around, I think the Green Machine will win.

Prediction: Raiders by 14 points.

Wests Tigers versus Titans
The Wests Tigers will hit Campbelltown Stadium for the second time this season when they take on the Gold Coast Titans in the twilight match.

After a week of stinging criticism following their 40-6 loss to the Manly Sea Eagles, which also included speculation surrounding the future of coach Michael Maguire, the Tigers got back to what they love doing best: playing rugby league.

They conceded the first try against the Dragons just a few minutes into the match, sparking fears of another long afternoon in the office, however the Tigers would grind out a surprise 16-8 victory to add to the win they enjoyed against the Knights back in Round 3.

A major highlight of the victory was the performance of Zac Cini, who scored on debut with family and friends watching on from the grandstand of WIN Stadium, a venue where the Tigers have now not lost for nearly two decades having played only five games there since 2000.

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The challenge will be to back it up against the Titans, who blew their chance of a second consecutive clean-sweep of the Broncos when they threw away a quick-fire 22-0 lead to lose 36-28 in what’s already been dubbed one of the matches of the season.

Jamal Fogarty of the Titans runs with the ball

(Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

It leaves them at a precarious position, with three wins from eight matches, though they do sit in eighth position because the other four teams that also have three wins have poorer points differentials.

The Titans will have some good memories of the corresponding match last year, where a try at the death saw them score a famous 28-23 victory at Suncorp Stadium and all but end the Tigers’ season a fifth into what was a shortened 2020 season due to the pandemic.

However, in the face of some off-field crises, I think the Tigers can make it back-to-back wins at home on Saturday night.

Prediction: Wests Tigers by eight points.

Cowboys versus Broncos
For the first time since Round 20, 2006, a regular season Queensland Derby will be played on a Saturday night. What that also means is that it won’t be televised by Channel Nine, even in Queensland.

In that match, second-year Cowboy Johnathan Thurston suffered a serious knee injury inside the first five minutes, but his side still managed to get up for a famous 26-10 victory over their bigger brothers, adding to the 36-4 thrashing they handed out at Suncorp Stadium in Round 1.

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Despite suffering the two losses to their northern cousins that year, the Broncos went on to win the premiership, which to their large legion of fans now seems like a lifetime ago.

Last round, the Broncos staged a huge comeback to upset the Gold Coast Titans 36-28, after they had conceded the first 22 points of the match in the first quarter and were heading for another potentially humiliating defeat.

Jamayne Isaako of the Broncos celebrates with Xavier Coates

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

It will do wonders for the club’s confidence, which has taken a battering in the past 12 months, and for coach Kevin Walters, who remains determined as ever to lift the club back into the top half of the ladder.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys were made to pay the price for a dismal first half against the Warriors on the Central Coast, trailing 24-4 at halftime.

But to their credit, they would peg back three tries in the second half, one of them to Scott Drinkwater, who will be joined in the halves by Chad Townsend next season. But they fell short at the death to lose their first match since Round 4.

Again, Jason Taumalolo played limited minutes as he was eased back from injury, and with the Queensland derby coming up, he and the Cowboys will be primed for a huge performance against the Broncos in Townsville this Saturday night.

Prediction: Cowboys by 12 points.

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Sea Eagles versus Warriors
The first match on Sunday afternoon sees the Warriors make the short trip south from their Central Coast hub to Brookvale Oval to face the Sea Eagles in a match that will mark a decade since the Silvertails’ most recent premiership win.

Manly fans will still remember the 2011 season fondly as their team, led by a rookie pair of halves in Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans, delivered the club their eighth premiership and second in four years.

In the grand final that year, the Sea Eagles defeated the Warriors 24-10, though the Kiwi club had support that day as they unsuccessfully attempted to bring the holy grail across the ditch for the first time.

For both sides the clash at Brookvale Oval on Sunday looms as an important match in the context of the season, with the Sea Eagles sitting in tenth place on the ladder with three wins and the Warriors in seventh with four wins.

Des Hasler’s side put up a good fight against the Panthers in Bathurst last weekend, but still went down 28-16. It was otherwise a huge improvement from the Round 4 clash, which saw the Sea Eagles humiliated by 46-6.

Tom Trbojevic

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

They had won their previous three matches to breathe some life back into their campaign, and to make it four from their last five they will need to bring their A-game against the Warriors, for whom a return home isn’t too far off.

Nathan Brown’s side bounced back from their Anzac night loss to the Storm with a strong first half against the Cowboys, with whiz kid Reece Walsh the star of the show as they scooted to a 24-4 halftime lead.

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The 18-year-old showed the Brisbane Broncos, who released him back in March, exactly what they were missing as he led the Warriors from the front against a shellshocked Cowboys side, who were being coached by ex-Warriors caretaker coach Todd Payten.

The Kiwi club failed to score in the second half but the first-half damage they inflicted on the northerners proved to be enough as they held on for a 24-20 win, their fourth of the season.

This will be the second meeting of the two clubs within five rounds, after the Sea Eagles registered a 13-12 win back in Round 5. Back at home, I think the Silvertails can make it a double and join the Warriors on four wins for the year.

Prediction: Sea Eagles by six points.

Dragons versus Bulldogs
To conclude Round 9 of the NRL, St George Illawarra will want to hit back when they welcome the Bulldogs to Kogarah Oval on Sunday afternoon.

Four straight wins after a Round 1 loss to the Sharks had many talking up the Dragons as finals contenders, but injuries to key players and suspensions to both their starting wingers have seen them lose their last three on the bounce.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, they could be without goal-kicking machine Zac Lomax for up to a month after he suffered a fractured thumb in last Sunday’s loss to the Wests Tigers in Wollongong, their fourth in five games against their joint-venture rivals.

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Now with an even 4-4 record for the season, they face a Bulldogs side that currently sit last on the ladder but appear to be punching above their weight.

They managed an upset 18-12 victory over the Sharks in Round 7, but could not back it up against the Eels at Stadium Australia last Saturday night, losing 32-10.

A horror first half saw them miss 20 tackles every two minutes, but they did put in an improved second half, scoring two tries within a ten-minute period and not allowing the Eels to run away with the win as expected.

The Dogs now make their second trip to Kogarah in three weeks and will fancy their chances against the Dragons, a side they have dominated over the past decade. But they will want to erase the memory of their most recent clash against the Red V from Round 10 last year.

In that match, the blue-and-whites led 22-10 with a quarter of the match to play, only to concede the final three tries including the final one at the death when a dropped ball from Marcelo Montoya resulted in Corey Norman scoring the winner for the Saints.

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However, despite being undermanned, the Dragons should put an end to their three-match winning streak and get things back on track this Sunday.

Prediction: Dragons by 12 points.