Round three of the NRL looks set to be a beauty with four of the premiership contenders to do battle. Here are five reasons to watch the league this weekend.
1. Grand Final rematch
The Grand Final rematch is always a highly anticipated clash and Thursday night’s blockbuster between the Panthers and Storm is no different.
There will be a couple of instrumental players missing from last year’s decider with Cameron Smith retiring and the Panthers resting Nathan Cleary after a head knock last weekend.
Cleary’s absence means Bulldogs-bound Matt Burton will partner Jarome Luai in the halves and he will be keen to show his ability on the big stage.
2020 Clive Churchill Medalist Ryan Papenhuyzen will also be missing for the Storm while the Panthers are without gun hooker Api Koroisau.
The Storm have endured a tricky schedule so far, playing two finals contenders in the Rabbitohs and Eels for one win and one loss.
Conversely, the Panthers have easily taken care of two bottom four teams in the Cowboys and Bulldogs and are yet to concede a point.
While the Panthers can’t make up for the hurt of losing the Grand Final last year, a win here will at least give them some satisfaction and put a little bit of pressure on the Storm.
2. The oldest rivalry in the game
The Rabbitohs and Roosters rivalry is often regarded as the fiercest in the game and dates back to 1908.
The latest incident between the clubs was young gun Joseph Suaalii defecting from the Bunnies to the Chooks which clearly upset Russell Crowe.
Both teams been pretty evenly matched in recent years however, their last matchup was as one sided as you’ll ever see.
In one of the more remarkable score lines in recent memory, the Rabbitohs thumped the Roosters 60-8 in the final round of the 2020 home and away season.
They scored 10 tries to 2 in the rout and while you wouldn’t expect something similar, perhaps the Rabbitohs may have found a weakness that night.
Both teams are 2 from 2 this year and with stars all over the park, this Friday night blockbuster is must watch for any NRL fan.
3. Potential early season Spoonbowl
The 2020 season has already seen several teams make their case as potential wooden spooners.
Two of those are the teams that finished 15th and 16th last year in the Bulldogs and Broncos who do battle this Saturday evening at Suncorp Stadium.
After yet another poor showing from their halves Anthony Milford and Brodie Croft, many were expecting the Broncos to make a change. Especially after back up half Tom Dearden was named man of the match in the reserves.
However, Kevin Walters has surprisingly kept the faith and named Milford and Croft again. This just has to be the last chance for the underperforming pair before Walters wields the axe.
The Bulldogs have played two tough teams in the Knights and Panthers and have fallen well short of the mark.
There hasn’t looked to be much improvement under Trent Barrett with their forward pack a big issue.
They have been dominated in the middle of the field and are a clear 16th in the NRL for all run metres.
Unless either team can turn it around quickly, they look destined to fight out a bottom four finish once again in 2021.
4. Big names returning
Injuries are an ugly part of the game that no fan wants to see however, it is always exciting when the stars return from a lay off.
Victor Radley was fast becoming the best lock in the game last year before an ACL injury cut his season short.
In exciting news for NRL fans, he has been named on the Roosters bench and will play his first game in 2021 against the Rabbitohs.
His versatility is one of his greatest strength so starting on the bench will suit and gives him the chance to ease back into the contest.
Another named to return for their first game of the year is Raiders captain Jarrod Croker.
Croker underwent shoulder surgery during the off season and has finally been declared fit to play.
He has been such a mainstay of the Raiders line up since his debut in 2009 and will surely get a huge reception from the Canberra fans at GIO Stadium.
5. Mitchell Pearce playing game 300
While Pearce has often been maligned on and off the field, to play 300 NRL games is a huge achievement that deserves to be celebrated.
Son of Balmain Tigers legend Wayne Pearce, Mitchell has managed to carve his own path in the NRL.
The 31-year-old played 239 games for the Roosters before joining the Knights and will become just the 42nd player to play 300 NRL games when he runs out against the Wests Tigers on Sunday afternoon at McDonald Jones Stadium.
The other exciting thing for Pearce and the Knights is that they are a huge chance to go 3-0 to start the season.
They’ve recorded wins against the Bulldogs and Warriors and would have to fancy their chances against a Tigers side that has conceded 70 points over the first two rounds.
With Kalyn Ponga and Blake Green still to come back, Pearce and the Knights have the opportunity to put themselves in a very strong position with another win.
Full NRL round three schedule
|Penrith Panthers||vs||Melbourne Storm||Thursday 25 March 8.05pm||BlueBet Stadium|
|St George Illawarra Dragons||vs||Manly Sea Eagles||Friday 26 March 6pm||WIN Stadium|
|South Sydney Rabbitohs||vs||Sydney Roosters||Friday 26 March 8.05pm||Stadium Australia|
|Canberra Raiders||vs||New Zealand Warriors||Saturday 27 March 3pm||GIO Stadium|
|Brisbane Broncos||vs||Canterbury Bulldogs||Saturday 27 March 5.30pm||Suncorp Stadium|
|Parramatta Eels||vs||Cronulla Sharks||Saturday 27 March 7.35pm||Bankwest Stadium|
|Newcastle Knights||vs||Wetsts Tigers||Sunday 28 March 4.05pm||McDonald Jones Stadium|
|North Queensland Cowboys||vs||Gold Coast Titans||Sunday 28 March 6.15pm||Queensland Country Bank Stadium|
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