Three things The Thinker learned in round three
- There has been plenty of talk about the penalty counts...and you've needed all of your fingers and toes to keep track, but there were slightly less penalties in round 3 (averaging just less than 18 per game) than rounds 1 and 2. Hopefully this is because the players are learning to do the right thing.
- Luke Keary is getting talked up as an option for NSW in the Origin series. At the risk of starting another turf war, Keary was born in Ipswich, lived there until he was 10 and was part of an emerging QLD origin squad not so long ago.
- With the launch of the NRL womens competition in 2018 I expect the New Zealand Warriors will finally win their first Premiership trophy (and the Sharks are entitled to be filthy that they didn't get a slot).
North Queensland Cowboys vs Penrith Panthers – Thursday night – 1300SMILES Stadium
The Cowboys don't like Thursday night games at the best of times, but with three quarters of their territory underwater at the minute, pulling a decent crowd will be quite the challenge. Paul Green chose his words wisely with his criticism of the team at the post-match press conference a week ago – his words may have had a little more colour in the sheds. The Storm are very good at shutting down Taumalolo but most other teams can't. He's likely to produce an effort this week. The Panthers (and possibly NSW) are without Cleary for up to ten weeks. With Maloney and Peachey they aren't shy of playmaking options (or goalkickers) but I'm not telling you anything you don't know by saying the Panthers are a better side with Cleary holding the steering wheel. The potential return of Coote puts the Cowboys best spine on the paddock and they look the winner at home.
Verdict – Cowboys by 8
Result – Panthers 33 defeated Cowboys 14
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Canterbury Bulldogs – Friday afternoon – ANZ Stadium
It's become the traditional Good Friday clash and fans of both clubs will be pleased to see their teams score their first win of the season in round three. Reynolds is unlikely to return but you wouldn't rush him back anyway, given what this side did in round 3 to a team that won 54-0 in round 2. Did the Sea Eagles have a sense that salary cap news was looming and played accordingly? Better stuff from the Bulldogs too but their opponent did play out the game without their conductor (and he spent 20 minutes on one leg when he was out there). Given the convincing margin of victory for the Rabbits, versus the Bulldogs hanging on for two points (and one of their tries was dubious at best), I'm with the Easter bunnies on Good Friday. Rabbit season.
Verdict – Rabbitohs by 4
Result – Rabbitohs 20 defeated Bulldogs 16
Cronulla Sharks vs Melbourne Storm – Friday night – Southern Cross Group Stadium
In round 3 the Storm played the Cowboys in a replay of the 2017 grand final, and here we have a replay of the 2016 grand final. The Sharks scored their first win of the season last weekend, but it came at the expense of the Eels and there's some doubt on that form right now. The Storm accounted for the Cowboys in a convincing display and they'll be focussed on reducing their indiscretions (and penalties conceded). Rest assured that Paul Gallen will be reminding the referees at every opportunity just how much the Storm are doing wrong. There's expectations that Moylan will play but I wouldn't be locking that in just yet – Bukuya is definitely out, and that's one less big fit body for the purple machine to manage. Kaufusi looks set to return in purple and Kenny Bromwich could be back too. I foolishly took the Storm on last week but I doubt I'll be taking them on very often.
Verdict – Storm by 4
Result – Sharks 14 defeated Storm 4
Sydney Roosters vs New Zealand Warriors – Saturday afternoon – Allianz Stadium
It wouldn't have looked like the match of the round a month ago, but it sure does now. A resurgent Roosters takes on the undefeated Warriors. Note that if the Warriors win on Easter Saturday they will win their first four games of the season for the first time ever. I've always said that when the Warriors are playing well they are a joy to watch, and this season has been no exception, but there's a difference this season. This season we have seen a fortitude in defence that the Warriors haven't had for a very long time (if ever). They'll need a fortified defence though, as the tricolours have scored 68 points in their last two games while conceding just 20. Last week they put the previously undefeated Knights to the sword. This Warriors side doesn't look like a side that will get sworded, but these Chooks have points in them. Compulsory viewing...the chickens to keep their beaks in front.
Verdict – Roosters by 7
Result – Warriors 30 defeated Roosters 6
Manly Sea Eagles vs Canberra Raiders – Saturday night – Lottoland
The most peculiar thing about Manly cheating the salary cap is that they still paid their squad less than a lot of other teams were paid – they just paid them the wrong way. Still....rules are rules, and as much as some people may not like the salary cap there is no doubt it goes a long way toward giving us one of the most even sporting competitions on the planet. More positives than negatives I say. Manly may have some other issues soon too because the company that pays for the naming rights to Brookvale Oval may not have much reason to hang around in Australia for much longer...but I'll leave that discussion for another day. Ricky Stuart has already pulled out his annual post-match spray and it was pretty restrained by his standards – I do hope we get to see it again this season. If the Raiders keep losing games they are winning it's only a matter of time. Manly are about as predictable as a service station meat pie at the minute so I can't tip them with a shred of confidence, but they are back at Brookvale for the second time this season...and you can all remember what they did the first time.
Verdict – Sea Eagles by 8
Result – Sea Eagles 32 defeated Raiders 16
St George Illawarra Dragons vs Newcastle Knights – Sunday afternoon – WIN Stadium
The Dragons have flown the gates and sit atop the NRL ladder but they've had strong starts in the past and still fallen short. Just last season they were strong early and (just) missed the top eight. We might have a better read on how the good the Dragons are after this game. If the result is anything like the Roosters win over the Knights in round 3 the Dragons are the real deal. I think they are. Brock Lamb comes in for Connor Watson and Heighington returns on the bench. The Dragons are unchanged.
Verdict – Dragons by 18
Result – Dragons 30 defeated Knights 12
Brisbane Broncos vs Gold Coast Titans – Sunday night – Suncorp Stadium
It would make more sense if this game was played on the Gold Coast, because half of Brisbane leaves Brisbane for the coast on the Easter weekend anyway. In any case, there'll be more than enough locals avoiding the Commonwealth Games to keep the turnstiles ticking over. Not so long ago this local derby was one of the season highlights, but it's well and truly lost its crown to the other Queensland Derby in recent years. The injuries to Oates and Pangai Jnr are not insignificant, but Jonus Pearson is no slouch and the Broncos pack has enough starch in it. The Titans pack will find the Broncos forwards easier to manage than the Dragons, but it's hard to see them doing enough to win.
Verdict – Broncos by 10
Result – Titans 26 defeated Broncos 14
Wests Tigers vs Parramatta Eels – Monday afternoon – ANZ Stadium
If you're in Sydney for Easter and you're looking for something to do, then this is something you should do. The game itself will (hopefully) be entertaining enough, but more importantly this is Stay Kind day. There's plenty of good causes out there, but this is definitely one of them, and you can find out more here. Let's hope kindness prevails, and the Tigers in a thriller.
Verdict – Tigers by 4
Result – Tigers 30 defeated Eels 20
Wally Lewis - round four selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
- COWBOYS vs Panthers
- RABBITOHS vs Bulldogs
- Sharks vs STORM
- ROOSTERS vs Warriors
- SEA EAGLES vs Raiders
- DRAGONS vs Knights
- BRONCOS vs Titans
- TIGERS vs Eels