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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

NRL Round 4 preview: The rugby league furnace

Well, the first weekend back reminded us how quickly the rugby league furnace can be set alight with fans and the media quick to react to the first round since shutdown.

A different team seemed to be premiership favourites every night and we already have coaches fighting for their jobs. You have to love rugby league.

Hopefully, the second week back can provide a bit more evidence of the teams that will make it deep into the finals and those that will be fighting for the wooden spoon.

Canberra Raiders (2nd) vs Newcastle Knights (3rd) | Sunday 7 June 4.05pm @Campbelltown Stadium

After a successful trip to Melbourne, it doesn’t get easier for the Raiders with their first ‘home’ match at Campbelltown against the Knights on Sunday afternoon.

The Raiders were super impressive in their 22-6 win against the Storm with English halfback George Williams the star of the show.

The Knights were equally impressive in their 14-14 draw against the Panthers after losing playmakers Mitchell Pearce and Connor Watson early on.

Click here for the full preview of this match.

Brisbane Broncos (9th) vs Sydney Roosters (10th) | Thursday 4 June 7.50pm @Suncorp Stadium

These teams sit 9th and 10th on the ladder but the Roosters look the much better side, both on the field last week and on paper.

The Broncos team has been rocked with injury and suspension. Already without Tevita Pangai Junior and David Fifita, they lost Kotoni Staggs, Alex Glenn and Jake Turpin after last week’s loss to the Parramatta Eels. Ouch.

When players are out, it opens the door for others to shine and there are big wraps on Tesi Niu for the Broncos, with comparisons to the great Darren Lockyer. No pressure.

The Roosters looked back to their best last week after losing their first two matches, with James Tedesco and Victor Radley the best performers.

With a full-strength squad to choose from, it would seem unlikely they’ll let this one slip.

The Broncos watched the ball sail over their heads and through the uprights a few too many times last week.

Penrith Panthers (4th) vs New Zealand Warriors (12th) | Friday 5 June 6pm @Campbelltown Stadium

The Panthers would be bitterly disappointed they didn’t go on with it last week after being up 14-0 against an undermanned Knights side.

Nathan Cleary was a big omission last week and remains out for this one, so again the Panthers will rely on Jarome Luai and Matt Burton in the halves.

The Warriors should be full of confidence coming into this match after an impressive victory against the Dragons.

They completed a ridiculous 46 of 48 sets and looked far more determined to control the ball than they have in previous seasons.

The only question mark from that performance is their competition was pretty poor from the Dragons. They’ll need to improve on that effort again to beat the Panthers.

Melbourne Storm (8th) vs South Sydney Rabbitohs (11th) | Friday 5 June @AAMI Park

This game is crucial for both sides after coming off comprehensive defeats last week. The Rabbitohs could drop to one win/three losses while the Storm rarely lose back-to-back matches.

Craig Bellamy admitted he was “embarrassed” by the Storm’s loss to the Raiders last week so no doubt he’ll have his team ready to go for this one.

The Storm created several chances last week against the Raiders but uncharacteristically failed to capitalise.

They will be without Nelson Asofa-Solomona after he copped a suspension but if the rest of their forwards can create enough forward momentum, the Storm should be able to score enough points in this one.

The Rabbitohs don’t look like the same side as last year and have really struggled to get Damien Cook into the game.

With Cam Murray moving back into the middle, it should give them the punch they need for Cook to have space to create chances. Still, it’s a tall order heading to Melbourne after they’ve lost the week before.

Parramatta Eels (1st) vs Manly Sea Eagles (6th) | Saturday 6 June 5.30pm @Bankwest Stadium

The match of the round. With both teams coming off big wins last weekend, this shapes as a beauty!

The Eels proved why they’re premiership fancies after a dominant victory against the Broncos last week.

Junior Paulo was outstanding early on and Mitchell Moses and the backline worked well off the platform set by their forwards.

This will be the Eels’ biggest test after a few soft wins, facing a Manly side boasting several superstars, none bigger than Tom Trbojevic who was at his brilliant best last week against the Bulldogs.

Along with Tom’s brother Jake, Martin Tapau, Addin Fonua-Blake and Daly Cherry-Evans, Manly have the nucleus of a premiership winning team.

This will be a big step up from last week and they’ll need those stars to be at their best to beat the Eels.

Tom Trbojevic was at his best against the Bulldogs.

North Queensland Cowboys (5th) vs Cronulla Sharks (13th) | Saturday 6 June 7.35pm @Queensland Country Bank Stadium

The Cowboys will be without Jason Taumololo for this one after bruising his knee while running for 290 metres last week.

He’s a big loss but the Cowboys have enough firepower to still win the battle of the forwards.

Valentine Holmes and Scott Drinkwater linked up wonderfully well last week and will need to repeat the dose this week with Michael Morgan still on the sidelines.

The Sharks are winless from their three matches after fading in the last 20 minutes to lose to the Tigers last week.

If they got tired playing in Sydney, the extra heat and humidity of Townsville might be too much for the Sharks.

Gold Coast Titans (16th) vs Wests Tigers (7th) |Sunday 7 June 6.30pm @Suncorp Stadium

The Titans have reshuffled the side after last week’s heavy defeat to the Cowboys with some big names being dropped.

Jarrod Wallace and Shannon Boyd have been dropped after poor starts to the season while Tyrone Roberts comes in at fullback.

The heat is on Ash Taylor after another poor performance and if he doesn’t turn it around soon, he may be the next Titan to cop the axe.

The Tigers were good late against the Sharks, running over the top of them in the dying minutes.

The new fast-paced game suited their style with hookers Harry Grant and Billy Walters playing pivotal roles in their win.

The Tigers have been an inconsistent side over the last few years but if they play anywhere near like they did last week, they should be far too strong for the Titans.

Canterbury Bulldogs (15th) vs St George Illawarra Dragons (14th) | Monday 8 June 4.05pm @Bankwest Stadium

Well, you wouldn’t want to coach the losing side of this one. Both teams are under enormous pressure after winless starts, particularly Dragons coach Paul McGregor.

McGregor has a side with numerous Origin stars yet his team lacked any sort of aggression in defence or cohesion in attack.

After such a poor performance, the Dragons have made changes to their spine bringing in Adam Clune at halfback for his first NRL game, moving Ben Hunt to five-eighth and Corey Norman to fullback.

The Bulldogs were completely outclassed by Manly last week but the inclusion of Kieran Foran to five-eighth should help their spluttering attack.

It’s a real toss of the coin game but you know the media furnace will be scorching for the losing team.

The Dragons were mauled by the media this week after failing to score a point against the Warriors.

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Ian Cubitts
Ian Cubitts