Manly Sea Eagles vs Penrith Panthers – Thursday night – Lottoland
There is a saying in rugby league...and I say it all the time - there are no certainties in this game. The first game of round four may just test that theory. The Sea Eagles are yet to win, and yet to score more than 12 points through 80 minutes of football. During those same periods they conceded 46 to the Chooks, 28 to the Rabbits, and perhaps most tellingly of all, 38 points to the Dragons (whose chief playmaker stood on one leg for most of the contest). The Panthers are yet to lose, didn't concede a point to their first two opponents and held the defending premiers to just 10 in what is likely to be one of the best games of this season. That win over the Storm was without their best player (and they lost their very under-rated fullback for the second half). Cleary is back for this game, and while Edwards won't be available for a while, Stephen Crichton is a more than handy replacement. Des Hasler has stuck solid with the same seventeen as last week, but perhaps he doesn't have much choice. A Manly win isn't impossible (hence the saying I referenced earlier), but only the biggest Manly fans will be tipping them in this round.
Verdict – Panthers by 22
Result – Panthers 46 defeated Sea Eagles 6
Canterbury Bulldogs vs South Sydney Rabbitohs – Friday night – Stadium Australia
Much of my preview for the Thursday night game could be cut and pasted here. The Rabbitohs have scored exactly 26 points in their last two outings, which is exactly 26 points more than the Bulldogs have scored in their last two outings. That last Bulldogs duck egg, was against a team that hasn't won in a very long time. That last Rabbitohs outing was against a team that looked all but unbeatable through the first two rounds of the season. I think my work here is done.
Verdict – Rabbitohs 26 to Bulldogs 0
Result – Rabbitohs by slightly more than I thought defeated the Bulldogs by exactly what I thought
Melbourne Storm vs Brisbane Broncos – Friday night – AAMI Park
Over the course of the last decade, you could count the number of weeks the Storm have spent outside the top eight with your fingers...so that's noteworthy. While they lost last week, the quality of that game would be doubted by no-one, and Ryan Papenhuyzen returns as fullback and goal-kicker. As for the Broncos, a win is a win when you don't win a lot, so they'll take that one. The most pleasing aspect of the victory was keeping their opponent to zero - they were regularly letting teams run up a truckload of points on them last year during their lowest ebb. Still, the win was over the Bulldogs, which were the only team they defeated after round two last year, so it's not a strong form line. They do have Haas and Lodge back which will help against this mighty Storm pack, but this is hard.
Verdict – Storm by 8
Result – Storm 40 defeated Broncos 6
Cronulla Sharks vs North Queensland Cowboys – Saturday afternoon – Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
I'm willing to put a line through the Sharks performance last week, given the circumstances with injury. Prior to that they were strong over the Dragons and more than competitive against the Raiders. The relocation to Netstrata Jubilee Stadium doesn't hurt either - this will be their third game at the venue this year. As for the Cowboys, I'm just about ready to put a line through their whole season. The roster looks poor, and I can't see a quick fix. It hurts.
Verdict – Sharks by 10
Result – Sharks 48 defeated Cowboys 10
Gold Coast Titans vs Canberra Raiders – Saturday night – Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Surely the game of the round with two sides playing well and with a history of tight contests. Notably the Raiders have gotten the better of their glitter strip opponents in recent times, and moving the game away from the Gold Coast won't make this easier for the 'home' side. Ryan James will be keen to line up against his old team, but has concussion protocols to pass. Those that watched the Raiders gallant loss to the Warriors could only be impressed, and if they bring that spirit to this game they'll be hard to beat. The return of Lui and Young bolsters their pack.
Verdict – Raiders by 4
Result – Raiders 20 defeated Titans 4
Newcastle Knights vs St George Illawarra Dragons – Sunday afternoon – McDonald Jones Stadium
The Knights are a very warm favourite here, but I was pretty disappointed with their performance against the Tigers. Conversely, the Dragons were pretty good and have now won two in a row (admittedly against fairly weak opponents). The injury to Hunt is a blow as he really (finally) seemed to be finding his way under the new coach. Despite his absence, I'll take the Red V in what would be a genuine upset.
Verdict – Dragons by 1
Result – Dragons 22 defeated Knights 13
Sydney Roosters vs New Zealand Warriors – Sunday night – Sydney Cricket Ground
I've mentioned Sam Walker a few times already this season, and we finally get to see him on Sunday night. He joins Hutchison in the halves following the injuries to both Lam and Keary last week. With Lussick at hooker, the Roosters spine is almost entirely back-up players and kids, but there is plenty of experience in the rest of that backline. Radley returns and will add energy and vigour. I'm tipping them to bounce back at a venue where they generally play very well, but this isn't easy. The Warriors continue to impress but a lot went their way last weekend. As for Roger Tuivasa-Sheck...what a star. The All Blacks will be lucky to have him.
Verdict – Roosters by 2
Result – Roosters 32 defeated Warriors 12
Wests Tigers vs Parramatta Eels – Monday afternoon – Stadium Australia
Should be a good crowd (Covid permitting) out at Stadium Australia for the 'western derby'. The Tigers got their first win of the season with an upset victory over the Knights, while the Eels keep on keeping on at the top of the table. It's not unusual for the Eels to start a season well, and there's no indication that the wheels have dropped off...for now. On form and on paper they should win this too, unless the visit from the Prime Minister has jinxed them. Everything he touches turns to poo at the minute.
Verdict – Eels by 10
Result – Eels 36 defeated Tigers 22
Wally Lewis - round four selections (in bold)
Note: tips from Wally will be published on Wednesday night or Thursday morning
- Sea Eagles vs PANTHERS
- Bulldogs vs RABBITOHS
- STORM vs Broncos
- SHARKS vs Cowboys
- Titans vs RAIDERS
- KNIGHTS vs Dragons
- ROOSTERS vs Warriors
- Tigers vs EELS