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Friday, January 22, 2021

NRL Round 3 preview: ‘Rugba League’ is back

It’s been a long time coming, 67 days to be exact, but, as Peter V’landys would say, “rugba league” is finally back! V’landys’ determination for an early return is set to pay off this weekend with eight matches for fans to rejoice in, including some mouthwatering clashes. So, let’s get into it.

Melbourne Storm (4th) vs Canberra Raiders (3rd) – Saturday 30 May 7.35pm @ AAMI Park

The match of the round. Both games between these sides last year were decided by a try in the dying minutes, with the Raiders coming out on top each time.

In the first two rounds of this year, Canberra had comfortable wins over the Titans and Warriors with Jack Wighton a standout, continuing his form from last year. They look ready to go with a fit list to choose from apart from John Bateman – although that might be for the best after the controversial week he’s had – and will be heading to Melbourne full of confidence.

The Storm showed they’re still one of the teams to beat after an impressive win at Brookvale in round one before a dour 12-10 victory over the Sharks the following week. 36-year-old Cameron Smith continues to show no signs of slowing down and the Raiders will have to limit his influence to win the game.

For the full Raiders preview click here.

Brisbane Broncos (5th) vs Parramatta Eels (1st) – Thursday 28 May 7.50pm @ Suncorp Stadium

The NRL and Channel 9 have picked a blockbuster to restart the competition with two undefeated sides to do battle at Suncorp.

The Broncos impressed in the first two rounds with wins over the Cowboys and Rabbitohs, but will be without young gun David Fifita as they look for redemption after a humiliating 58-0 loss to the Eels in the finals last year. Matthew Lodge comes onto an extended bench so it wouldn’t surprise to see him run out on game day.

The Eels started the year with a scrappy victory over the Bulldogs before dismantling the Titans 46-6 at the Gold Coast. Many expect the Eels to be competing for the premiership this season and a win at Suncorp against the Broncos will solidify their credentials.

Maika Sivo scoring a try during the 58-0 drubbing of the Broncos in last years finals. Getty

North Queensland Cowboys (7th) vs Gold Coast Titans (16th) – Friday 29 May 6 pm @ Queensland Country Bank Stadium

Both teams are coming off disappointing 2019 seasons where they finished in the bottom four and the first two rounds haven’t done much to suggest this year will be any different.

Led by Jason Taumalolo, the Cowboys have enough talent in their forward back to match it with the best, but their backline has let them down at times. There will be plenty of pressure on Valentine Holmes and their new-look halves pairing to perform this week, especially without skipper Michael Morgan.

Despite a new coach, the Titans started the year just how they finished last season with two heavy losses. Hopefully, the break has given Justin Holbrook more time to mould his squad and they will come out with more fire than before. They will need more production from their experienced players like Ash Taylor, Jarrod Wallace and Tyrone Roberts if they want to leave Townsville with a win.

Sydney Roosters (12th) vs South Sydney Rabbitohs (8th) – Friday 29 May 7.55pm Bankwest Stadium

With the NRL looking to create big matchups in primetime slots, it was no surprise to see the first Friday Night Footy match is between these two old rivals.

The Roosters will be looking to bounce back after their slow start to the season. Close losses against Penrith and Manly have left them in the unfamiliar position of 12th place on the ladder but with so much talent on their roster, it’s hard to see them staying there. The new halves combination of Keary and Flanagan will have to gel quickly with a shortened season and the Bunnies are a real test first up.

The Rabbitohs split their opening games with a win against the Sharks followed by a loss to the Broncos. When the Rabbits have strong go forward and quick play the balls, Damien Cook becomes extremely dangerous, but the departure of Sam Burgess has left a noticeable hole in their forward pack. Against a strong Roosters defence, they’re going to need their forwards to win their battle to allow Cook and co the chance to wreak havoc.

These old foes will renew the rivalry once again for Friday Night Footy. Getty

New Zealand Warriors (15th) vs St George Illawarra Dragons (13th) – Saturday 30 May 3pm Central Coast Stadium

One of these teams is set to get off the mark this year after they both failed to win a match in first two rounds of the season.

Credit to the Warriors’ players and staff for sacrificing time with their families to come across the ditch to help get this season underway. Now to the playing side of things, they only managed 6 points total over their first two matches while conceding 40. Being away will be tough for the Warriors but hopefully it can help them bond and play some good footy.

The Dragons blew a golden opportunity against the Panthers in round two so desperately need a win here to kickstart their season. They showed they are capable in attack by scoring 28 points in that contest but the concern is defensively, they have leaked 56 points across the first two matches and will need to fix that up to challenge for finals this season.

Cronulla Sharks (11th) vs Wests Tigers (9th) – Saturday 30 May 5.30pm Bankwest Stadium

This one shapes as an even contest and one that both teams will be eager to win as they should be around the same mark challenging for finals like last year.

The Sharks have been the most impressive of the winless sides this year, going down narrowly to the more fancied Rabbitohs and Storm. They beat the Tigers in the final round last year to secure a spot in the finals so should be confident heading into this matchup.

However, Cronulla has been rocked by news that young gun Bronson Xerri tested positive to performance enhancing drugs last November. ASADA only released the findings on Tuesday 26 May and comes just days out from their first match back. We will have to wait and see just how it affects the team.

The Tigers again showed they’re a mixed bag over the first two rounds with a good win against the Dragons followed by a dismal defensive effort against the Knights, conceding 42 points. Young Harry Grant comes over from the Storm and slots straight into the hooker position. The new-look spine with Adam Doueihi moving to full back could prove fruitful in attack but they will need to improve defensively to beat the Sharks.

The Sharks defeated the Tigers in the final round last year to book a spot in the finals series. Getty

Penrith Panthers (6th) vs Newcastle Knights (2nd) – Sunday 31 May 4.05pm Campbelltown Stadium

Another beauty for the first weekend back with two undefeated sides to face off on Sunday afternoon with both sides missing a star player.

The Panthers surprised many with a come-from-behind win against the Roosters in round one before getting out of jail against the Dragons the week after. They will be without star halfback Nathan Cleary after he copped a two-game suspension for his ‘Tik Tok’ social distancing breach. Api Koroisau was a great buy over the off season and they will need him and Viliame Kikau to be at their best to win this one.

The Knights impressed over the first two rounds with comfortable wins over the Warriors and Tigers. However, they will be without star fullback Kalyn Ponga due to suspension so will need others to step up. New recruit Andrew McCullogh will provide some experience at hooker but lacks the flair to make up for the absence of Ponga. A commanding performance from their Origin halfback Mitchell Pearce looks like the key for the Knights to win this one.

Manly Sea Eagles (10th) vs Canterbury Bulldogs (14th) – Sunday 31 May 6.30pm Central Coast Stadium

The Des Hasler Cup will be up for grabs with his current club Manly the strong favourites after an impressive 2019 campaign.

The Sea Eagles were outclassed in round one against the Storm but bounced back with a gritty one-point victory against the Roosters. The Trbojevic brothers are so important for this side with Tom one of the best attacking players in the game and his brother Jake one the best defensively. No doubt Des Hasler will have his team fired up and ready to go for this one.

The Bulldogs were dealt a massive blow on the eve of the season with the school-girl scandal rocking the club. Despite that, they showed plenty of heart in the first two games of the season but were ultimately outgunned by the Eels and Cowboys. The return of Kieran Foran provides a bit of hope for the Dogs, but they will need him at his best to have a shot in this one.

Des Hasler seems happy to be back in Brookvale after leading them to the finals last year. Getty