Brisbane Broncos vs Parramatta Eels – Thursday night – Suncorp Stadium
The extended break has given a number of key Broncos players the opportunity to overcome injuries, with Brodie Croft, Corey Oates and newly minted captain Alex Glenn almost certain starters. Matt Lodge is recovering from a knee injury more quickly than anyone imagined, but I'd call him an unlikely inclusion. If he does it's a big help, with Fifita and Pengai Junior unavailable. The Eels are hoping Reed Mahoney can be passed fit to play, but I'd suggest he's unlikely to play too. Rhys Davies flies north with the squad as his replacement in that all-important number nine jersey. I've had plenty of opportunities to watch the Broncos train recently (what else am I going to do?), and they seem sharp and fit. The Eels could be sharp and fit too, but I can't get across the border to find out. Two undefeated teams to restart the season, and while the Broncos will tell you they aren't thinking about that historic 58-0 loss to the Eels in the finals last season, they are. The barbs from that loss still sting, and with redemption on their mind they'll be out to prove they care.
Verdict – Broncos by 4
Result – Eels 34 defeated Broncos 6
North Queensland Cowboys vs Gold Coast Titans – Friday night – Queensland Country Bank Stadium
Michael Morgan is recovering from shoulder surgery, but otherwise it's been plain sailing for the home side leading into this game. Clifford joins Drinkwater in the halves in the interim. Slightly more chaos on the Gold Coast, with the back injury to Brimson a major blow, and Kallum Watkins granted a release and returning to the UK while his Dad battles coronavirus. Note that he's already signed up with the Toronto Wolfpack which is slightly unusual. The Titans are one of many teams yet to win a game this season, and I can't imagine them winning this either.
Verdict – Cowboys by 20
Result – Cowboys 36 defeated Titans 6
Sydney Roosters vs South Sydney Rabbitohs – Friday night – Bankwest Stadium
The oldest rivalry in the game is back on the box on Friday night, and while the venue is unusual and the crowd is absent, there will be plenty of feeling on the paddock. The Rabbitohs have had a few issues along the way. James Roberts has taken time out to gather his thoughts and silence his demons. He's been training this week - I'm a lousy therapist but I suspect he's better off playing than not playing. Cody Walker definitely won't play again until round five - you just can't kick people in the street like we could in the 'good old days'. You'd think those two would be making the headlines, but most of the talk is centred around Latrell Mitchell squaring off against his former club. There's talk he'll play at fullback and I still have some doubts about that, but Wayne Bennett knows slightly more about the game (and Mitchell) than I do. If he's focused and engaged he'll be bloody fantastic, but he does have a history of drifting in and out of games. The Chooks haven't won a game this year, and with a shortened draw their climb back into the top eight has become more difficult. That said, I think they'll start that ascent with a win here.
Verdict – Roosters by 2
Result – Roosters 28 defeated Rabbitohs 12
New Zealand Warriors vs St George Illawarra Dragons – Saturday afternoon – Central Coast Stadium
If the Warriors aren't your favourite NRL team, this is the season to make them your second favourite NRL team, because without them we may not have a season at all. The whole squad have agreed to up stumps and live in a Tamworth bubble for as long as it takes. Despite the sacrifice, the relocation has proven to be something of a curse thus far. Tevaga, Keighran and Au Mau have all been injured at training and won't be available for quite some time. Roache was waylaid in New Zealand until he passed a Covid-19 test, but he has arrived with just enough time to lace on the boots. Fusitu'a is still in New Zealand. While all this has been happening, the Dragons have had time to get some injured players fit again, with McInnes and Sims (Tariq and Korbin) all named to play. I'm feeling for the injured Jazz Tevaga - with a name like that I'm not sure how welcome he'll feel in the country music capital of Australia.
Verdict – Dragons by 10
Result – Warriors 18 defeated Dragons 0
Cronulla Sharks vs Wests Tigers – Saturday afternoon – Bankwest Stadium
Cronulla haven't won a game this season but Scomo and the rest of the Sharkies enthusiasts are getting all giddy because they've jagged an easy draw for the rest of the season, and the break has allowed a number of players to overcome injuries. Dugan, Xerri and Nikora will all play on Saturday. There are reports that Moylan will play but I doubt it - history tells us that both Dugan and Moylan can't be fit and ready to play at the same time. The Sharks have also lost a Morris brother to the Roosters. There's been much less chatter about the Tigers, but the break allowed Mbye and Brooks to get fit for round three, and Harry Grant is likely to start after his much-discussed player switch-a-roo with Momirovski. With Grant coming through one of the best systems in the game, and learning under the wing of Cameron Smith, I expect he'll have a positive impact on the Tigers in that all important dummy-half role. The Sharks look stronger in the forwards, and that's usually where games are run and won, but I'm picking the Tigers in what would be something of an upset result.
Update: Xerri has been stood down for impersonating Ben Johnson. I guess that explains all the land speed records he's been breaking on the track.
Verdict – Tigers by 4
Result – Tigers 28 defeated Sharks 16
Melbourne Storm vs Canberra Raiders – Saturday night – AAMI Park
Because the NRL are getting cleverer, every undefeated team this season has to play another undefeated team in round three. The Storm get an opportunity to let Victorians know they exist while the AFL try and get their schmoo in order (a special shout out to AFL legend Tim Watson* for not even realising there is a Victorian team in the NRL). One of the reasons the Storm never lose in round one is because they want to perform while the AFL isn't around to suck all the air out of the room. I expect they'll be primed for another big one. Note that Brandon Smith (aka the Chuck Norris of the NRL) is ready to play even though he broke his actual face not that long ago. He's a besser block in a purple jersey that bloke. Potentially the game of the round.
* Tim gets legend status for being an above average competitor in a sport played in Victoria and the three least populous states of Australia (one of the lowest populated countries on Earth). I can't believe this Tim Watson doesn't have a planet named after him.
Verdict – Storm by 1
Result – Raiders 22 defeated Storm 6
Penrith Panthers vs Newcastle Knights – Sunday afternoon – Campbelltown Stadium
Oh the city's cold and empty. No-one's around to judge me. I can't see Cleary when you're gone.
The Panthers are without Nathan Cleary who was blinded by the lights and won't be back until round five. A quick lesson for the kids - mobile phones truly suck. He's a huge out, but I'm excited to see Matt Burton get a chance because this bloke is a deadset footballer. Put that name in your black book...and don't let him have a mobile phone. The other key omission is for the Knights, with Kalyn Ponga also suspended for two weeks for a shoulder charge - probably more dangerous than a Tik Tok dancing challenge...or is it?
Verdict – Panthers by 4
Result – Panthers 14 drew with Knights 14
Manly Sea Eagles vs Canterbury Bulldogs – Sunday night – Central Coast Stadium
While the Panthers lost Cleary for two weeks for dancing with young girls, the Bulldogs lost two players for something much worse. A quick lesson for the kids - don't be a bl00dy tool. As is generally the case, the Bulldogs defence has been great but they continue to struggle in attack. Foran may return against his former club which helps, but I can't see them outscoring that Manly backline. That said, Manly could be rusty in attack after the extended break, so a tight low-scoring contest wouldn't surprise.
Verdict – Sea Eagles by 4
Result – Sea Eagles 32 defeated Bulldogs 6
Wally Lewis - round three selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- BRONCOS vs Eels
- COWBOYS vs Titans
- ROOSTERS vs Rabbitohs
- Warriors vs DRAGONS
- SHARKS vs Tigers
- STORM vs Raiders
- Panthers vs KNIGHTS
- SEA EAGLES vs Bulldogs