NRL Teams Round 17

NRL Teams and Squad Lineups for Round 17 of the Telstra National Rugby League Premiership, getting underway with the Broncos/Tigers and Sharks/Bulldogs on Friday Night Football.

FRIDAY

BRISBANE BRONCOS v WESTS TIGERS at Suncorp Stadium, 7.35pm

BRONCOS: Josh Hoffman, Antonio Winterstein, Matt Gillett, Ben Te’o, Jharal Yow Yeh, Corey Norman, Peter Wallace, Shane Tronc, Andrew McCullough, Nick Kenny, Ashton Sims, Lagi Setu, Corey Parker (capt). Interchange: Ben Hunt, Mitchell Dodds, Scott Anderson, Josh McGuire.

TIGERS: Wade McKinnon, Lote Tuqiri, Blake Ayshford, Chris Lawrence, Geoff Daniela, Benji Marshall, Daniel Fitzhenry, Bryce Gibbs, Robbie Farah (capt), Keith Galloway, Todd Payten, Gareth Ellis, Chris Heighington. Interchange: Andrew Fifita, Liam Fulton, Simon Dwyer, Mitch Brown, Nathan Waters (one to be omitted).

Referees: Ben Cummins and Matt Cecchin.

SATURDAY

CRONULLA SHARKS v CANTERBURY BULLDOGS at Bluetongue Stadium, 7.30pm

SHARKS: Nathan Gardner, Blake Ferguson, Dean Collis, Ben Pomeroy, Isaac Gordon, Scott Porter, Tim Smith, Josh Cordoba, John Morris, Luke Douglas (capt), Grant Millington, Broderick Wright, Anthony Tupou. Interchange: Luke Harlen, Taulima Tautai, Paul Aiton, Siosaia Vave.

BULLDOGS: Luke Patten, Steve Turner, Josh Morris, Shane Neumann, Bryson Goodwin, Ben Barba, Brett Kimmorley, Ben Hannant, Joel Romelo, Ryan Tandy, Jamal Idris, Andrew Ryan, David Stagg. Interchange: Mickey Paea, Michael Hodgson, Gary Warburton, Blake Green.

Referees: Jason Robinson and Alan Shortall.

SUNDAY

CANBERRA RAIDERS v SYDNEY ROOSTERS at Canberra Stadium, 2pm

RAIDERS: Josh Dugan, Joel Monaghan, Jarrod Croker, Joel Thompson, Daniel Vidot, Terry Campese (capt), Adam Mogg, Dane Tilse, Glen Buttriss, Troy Thompson, Joe Picker, Bronson Harrison, Shaun Fensom. Interchange: Travis Waddell, Trevor Thurling, Danny Galea, Josh Miller, Josh McCrone, Sam Mataora (two to be omitted).

ROOSTERS: Anthony Minichiello, Phil Graham, Kane Linnett, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Sam Perrett, Braith Anasta (capt), Todd Carney, Jason Ryles, Jake Friend, Mose Masoe, Joseph Leilua, Mitchell Aubusson, Frank Paul Nuuausala. Interchange: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Martin Kennedy, Tom Symonds, Nick Kouparitsas, Daniel Conn, Lopini Paea (two to be omitted).

Referees: Steve Lyons and Tony De Las Heras.

WARRIORS v PARRAMATTA EELS at Mt Smart Stadium, 2pm

WARRIORS: Lance Hohaia, Bill Tupou, Joel Moon, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei, James Maloney, Isaac John, Jeremy Latimore, Aaron Heremaia, Russell Packer, Simon Mannering (capt), Lewis Brown, Micheal Luck. Interchange: Ian Henderson, Ben Matulino, Jesse Royal, Sione Lousi, Ukuma Ta’ai (one to be omitted).

EELS: Tom Humble, Luke Burt, Joel Reddy, Jonathon Wright, Krisnan Inu, Jeff Robson, Daniel Mortimer, Nathan Cayless (capt), Matthew Keating, Fuifui Moimoi, Nathan Hindmarsh (capt), Brendan Oake, Feleti Mateo. Interchange: Kris Keating, Patrick O’Hanlon, Justin Horo, Pele Peletelese, Mitchell Allgood, Manase Manuokafoa (two to be omitted).

Referees: Gavin Badger and Ashley Klein.

MONDAY

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS v PENRITH PANTHERS at WIN Jubilee Stadium, 7pm

DRAGONS: Jason Nightingale, Michael Lett, Kyle Stanley, Matt Prior, Kalifa Fai-Fai Loa, Jamie Soward, Ben Hornby (capt), Jon Green, Luke Priddis, Ricky Thorby, Jeremy Smith, Ben Creagh, Dean Young. Interchange: Michael Greenfield, Trent Merrin, Nick Emmett, Jarrod Saffy, Jake Marketo, Mark Gasnier (two to be omitted).

PANTHERS: Lachlan Coote, David Simmons, Brad Tighe, Adrian Purtell, Sandor Earl, Travis Burns, Wade Graham, Tim Grant, Kevin Kingston, Matthew Bell, Trent Waterhouse (capt), Frank Pritchard, Nathan Smith. Interchange: Masada Iosefa, Gavin Cooper, Joseph Paulo, San McKendry, Frank Puletua (one to be omitted).

Referees: Jared Maxwell and Brett Suttor.

Eels in Good Shape says CEO

Despite  copping a string of losses on and off the field, Parramatta CEO Paul Osborne has released a statement to club members today suggesting despite the negative headlines the Eels remain in good spirits.

While outsiders point to the poor form, CEO shoplifting allegations and distractions such as the Tahu situation – Osborne believes its business as usual in Parramatta.

Osborne penned the following letter to club members today:

Dear Members

I wanted to send this note to reassure you that while the team and coaching staff are disappointed at our recent record, the spirit within the camp is very good despite publicity to the contrary this week.

There are certainly no ongoing issues between Coach Daniel Anderson and Dally M winning fullback Jarryd Hayne. The Coach felt Jarryd did not play well against the Broncos and said so in the media conference. Jarryd was not on his own in that regard and Daniel specifically mentioned that he was probably trying too hard to spark something for the team. Unfortunately we are not responsible for how media organisations may interpret such comments or the headlines they put on their stories.

It is often said that the spirit of a team can be gauged by the attitude of its defence. The fact is we have conceded just five tries in the past three matches, despite two losses. The morale, and the closeness, of the team is first class and everyone in the club is united in wanting to turn the season around with better results in the coming weeks. Things will come good and we certainly have a team capable of going all the way this year.

All of us at the club were so appreciative that nearly 16,000 turned out for the 5.30pm clash with the Broncos on Saturday night and we hope that support will continue when we play the Cowboys on Monday week – when we celebrate the milestone of 250 first grade games which will be achieved by co-captain Nathan Cayless this weekend in Auckland.

As always, thanks for your continued support.

PAUL OSBORNE
CEO PIRTEK PARRAMATTA EELS

While the solid defence of the Eels is a positive, perhaps the heat from the media might see them play with more energy when they undertake a tough roadtrip to New Zealand this weekend.

NRL Power Rankings Round 16

It’s proving to be a tipsters nightmare as always in the NRL, with Round 16 serving up some interesting results as really only the Dragons and Panthers raise their hands as serious contenders in 2010.

This is how the Power Rankings stand after Round 16 of the NRL:

1. Dragons – Almost impossible to find fault with these guys and with Mark Gasnier set to return – the sky is the limit. Boast an exceptional array of talent across the park, it’s a shame the Storm are out of the race – because these two teams would have certainly been in the Grand Final.

2. Panthers – Matt Elliott is in the running for coach of the year it seems, after whats been an amazing rebuilding job after some torrid years at Penrith. The coach has gone from the outhouse to the penthouse so far in 2010. This side look dangerous anytime they have the ball.

3. South Sydney – Sitting in an ideal position at the minute. They are off everyones radar, staying out of the headlines and certainly poised to challenge from the Top 4 come finals time. Barring injury, this side is a genuine chance.

4. Wests Tigers – The Tigers haven’t really beaten a top side as yet, but despite losing to the Dragons – they aren’t far away from their best. Doing enough to hang in there and could time their run perfectly for finals footy.

5. Gold Coast – Have been slipping of late and their loss at home to the Knights was costly. Obviously missing Scott Prince, but should still be winning given their roster. After a super start, they are at the cross-roads – despite sitting on 20 competition points, they could go either way from here.

6. Brisbane – Haven’t been playing champagne League, but are doing enough to win games. Certainly come through the Origin period better than usual. Have won 6 from their last 7 games in a stunning run.

7. Warriors – Another side staying off the media radar, but humming along OK. A last gasp win over the Roosters keeps them within striking distance on the ladder. A promising bunch of younsters in this outfit that could keep surprising. Play an ‘all or nothing’ style of footy that could be dangerous for any opponent.

8. Manly Sea Eagles – Probably lucky to sneak into the Power Rankings Top 8, they’ve been misfiring for little while now and need something special to respark their season. Injury is killing them and now confidence is a problem too.

9. Roosters – This NRL side has been an improver in recent weeks, were horribly unlucky to lose in New Zealand. Steve Noyce probably making the wrong move to shift a home game to Christchurch where League fans crave more big time matches. A huge crowd probably proving the difference in the end.

10. Newcastle – The Knights have surprised everyone with 2 victories in a row. A last ditch win over the Eels might have cost a punter $90,000 in a 5 leg multi – but that won’t worry Gidley and the boys who then went to the Gold Coast and knocked off the Titans. Hard to gauge this team. When their speedy Polynesian outside backs are on, they are down right unstoppable.

11. Parramatta – What a horrid few weeks for the Eels, they’ve lost 4 of the past 5 games, their CEO is accused of shoplifting, Tahu’s brainsnap and Haynes unhappiness. Forwards are doing their thing finally, but the structure and strike power of their backs is non-existent. Tough times ahead.

12. Cronulla Sharks – The Sharks have grown some teeth and pulled off some good wins, nabbing positive results in 3 of their last 5 matches. Their gutsy showing against the Cowboys proves they have the ability. Could prove a problem for other sides, given the Sharks really have nothing to lose this year.

13. Canberra – Their attack really let them down against the Dogs, they had every chance to win that game but couldn’t seal the deal. Still a chance to of making the finals, but need to start their run now.

14. Bulldogs – Their horror year had a glimmer of light last night. Their defence stood up and with Ben Barba at pivot, they looked a better side. Will be interesting to monitor them over the next few weeks. Have a good draw in coming weeks, with the struggling Sharks, nullified Storm and inconsistent Roosters to play all at neutral stadiums (Bluetongue, Adelaide and SFS).

15. Cowboys – Things can’t get worse for the Cowboys, fortunately the Storm are forced to take the Wooden Spoon this year otherwise they would have a mortgage on it. Lost the unlosable game against the Sharks after leading 18-0. More rumours of player unreset and yet another coach seems under the pump up North.

16. Storm – Proving more potent that most expected despite playing for no results. Their stars remain on the pitch and they were unlucky not to beat the Bunnies over in Western Australia. Good news is that League in Perth seems a chance to revive once more.

NSW Blues Will Never Learn

I don’t think the NSW Blues officials will ever learn. How many times have they been told by commentators, the media and astute fans that sticking by the same group of players might just bring improved results?

Haven’t seen the NSW Origin side lineup yet? Check the bottom of this article for the full team.

Queensland have been laughing at NSW for years now. They’ve known for decades that sticking by the same group of blokes brings trust, combinations and success.

Throwing a player an Origin jumper, hoping he will perform with a group of guys he hardly knows and then turfing him out to dry a few weeks later is stupidity. It not only breaks the spirit of the player, it removes all trust from the playing group – who think they are playing for their lives in one single match.

It effectively makes every single NSW Origin game a Grand Final – hence, extremely talented club footballers do silly, nervous things in NSW’s case.

NSW need to select the best team available and state to that team, “We will stick with you for this 3 Game series, injuries and suspension permitting.”

You immediately breed confidence, support and give yourself a chance of winning.

NSW have selected a good team for Origin 3. But, the Blues also had very capable teams in Game 1 and Game 2.

Poor Brett Kimmorley was made a scapegoat in Game 1. Noddy is an experienced, icecool performer who hardley put a foot wrong in the first game.

He is told that NSW want fresh, younger legs and he wouldn’t be selected for Game 2. Thats fair enough, I’m sure even Noddy would cop that on the chin.

But then, the NSW selectors turn around and pick Trent Barrett in the halves? Again, Barrett is a fine player and doesn’t look out of place in Origin – but ummm, isn’t he a veteran around the same age as Noddy?

This screams of disrespect. Not only will Noddy feel cheated, but Barrett too would be concious of the selectors knifing him in the back too if things went bad.

The revolving door policy NSW have used seemingly forever – is now killing them.

I wish all the best to the 4 new debutants in the NSW Blues side. But please, someone take a stand and confirm the playing group and even elements of the coaching group can remain in place.

While it’s highly likely Craig Bellamy won’t be a part of the NSW Origin group moving forward, achieving some kind of familiarity within the group is critically important. This is where Queensland have leapt so far ahead, from the coach right down to the officials – they are a unit.

NSW throw in a varied group of talented people and hope within a few weeks – the whole unit can gel. The pressure has mounted with every series loss and it’s simply got too much for a new, raw group of individuals and officials to handle.

The one positive it seems is that NSW have stuck with the key men in positions, 1,6,7 and 9. Hayne, Barrett, Pearce and Ennis need to form the core of the Blues moving forward.

Barrett is the exception here, the veteran is of course moving towards the end of his career. However, injury permitting – he should be there until he walks away now.

By sticking with this group – NSW can build the spine of a team, who can help develop a style and gameplan with better understanding of each other. With every minute they play together, they’ll get better and better as a team.

The other ingredient is the ‘attacking’ element. In the past few years, NSW have always picked a side that favoured defence – attempting to thwart Inglis, Folau and Slater in the Queensland backline.

We need to start attacking. Be the hunter, instead of the hunted.

By picking Michael Jennings and Michael Gordon – the NSW outfit has the chance to put on some points. Ok, both guys might not be text book defenders – but given recent Blues performances, they can’t do much worse.

Jennings has to remain in the NSW outfit moving forward. The guy is a superstar and can score points at will. The same goes for Brett Morris, a natural flier – they both need to form the future of this NSW State of Origin outfit.

Form has demanded Michael Gordon be selected and he deserves a shot.

Now, what about the ‘enforcer’ component?

NSW fans screamed for some hardmen to come into the side and deal with bullies like Carl Webb and Sam Thaiday.

While Webb might be gone, there is no question that NSW need someone in their ranks to dish the dirt and deal with standover men like Thaiday.

While Luke O’Donnell and Paul Gallen copped flack for their heavy-handed tactics in Game 2, few people commented on the nasty role of Thaiday.

The big Queensland forward, who has probably been the best forward for 2010 – was at his aggressive, brutal best.

He threw several punches that connected with O’Donnell, albeit from a unsighted ‘sniping’ position – but he also got involved in every scuffle and was willing to ‘turn it on’ should he need to.

While Luke O’Donnell may have blown his chances, the selection of the bash brothers Paul Gallen and Greg Bird is mandatory.

While Gallen seemingly always gives up a bucketload of penalties, his tag as the ‘grubbiest man in League’ does suit the State of Origin style. Gallen is a tough, no nonsense forward who can handle the hits that come his way – along with standing by his teammates in a storm.

Bird too will go down fighting, and that’s what NSW need.

In the front row, NSW have two young guns that need to remain in the side for the future. Tom Learoyd and Tim Mannah are two seriously big boppers that know exactly what they are doing. Kade Snowden too looks highly likely.

Please give these guys a chance. Don’t throw them to the scrapheap.

If the NSW selectors and officials can remain strong and refuse to buckle, who knows one day we might actually win an Origin series.

NSW team for Origin III

Jarryd Hayne, Brett Morris, Michael Jennings, Beau Scott, Michael Gordon, Trent Barrett (c), Mitchell Pearce, Jason King, Michael Ennis, Kade Snowden, Luke Lewis, Paul Gallen, Greg Bird. Interchange: Kurt Gidley, Tom Learoyd- Lahrs, Tim Mannah, Anthony Watmough.

Cracks Appear at Parra Eels

The poor recent form of the Parramatta Eels has been compounded by news this morning that head coach Daniel Anderson and the clubs highest paid player Jarryd Hayne aren’t seeing eye-to-eye.

There was an inkling of the trouble at the press conference after the Broncos game, with the coach letting his feelings known – that Jarryd wasn’t at his best and still has a few lessons to learn.

It sounds a little like World Cup Soccer syndrome, a case of players becoming unhappy when criticized by the coach.

Whether wrong or right, the coaches word should always be the final say – as he is ultimately the person who lives or dies by the sword.

But the timing of this blow-up isn’t ideal for the Eels, given their poor recent form on and off the field.

They’ve had Timana Tahu unable to cope with the Origin fall-out, the talented centre taking his frustrations out on opposing Knights players and copping a 4 week ban.

Paul Osborne the Parramatta CEO was fined by Police for allegedly shoplifting.

It certainly doesn’t ready like a harmonious club.

The only person laughing would be former club boss Denis Fitzgerald who after being booted out by the 3P ticket would be happy the club is on shaky ground.

But back to the coach and player fallout.

People have suggested that coach Daniel Anderson’s man-management might be too ‘heavy handed’ hence unsettling the likes of Hayne. Some media outlets were quick to point out Andersons struggle with Polynesian players – a label dating back to his Warriors days.

However – the Eels absolutely need a coach in the Anderson style.

In the same mould as Brian Smith, Anderson certainly isn’t a pushover. The Eels players were guilty of turning ‘soft’ under the quietly-spoken management of Michael Hagan. The club seemingly like a holiday camp with players taking advantage of the friendly coach.

All these men are talented coaches, as is Jason Taylor who controlled the Eels for a period also.

However, certain styles of coaches suit playing groups or club cultures better.

Anderson and Smith, love them or hate them – suit the current squad and culture at the Parramatta Eels. When their strict management policy was in place – the club hummed along better.

The Eels despite this years results, still boast an impressive roster. The likes of Feleti Mateo, Kris Inu and Jarryd Hayne can do astounding things on a Rugby League field.

But getting these guys mentally ‘up’ for a game on a weekly basis is the key to unlocking the consistency machine.

Some have suggested that John Lang has an ability to get the best out of Polynesian players. Lang certainly had the Panthers firing on all cylinders in 2003 with their large Islander contingent.

You saw a swift change when Matt Elliott came into play, quite the opposite of Lang – Elliott’s style obviously didn’t suit Polynesian and senior players, with key men unhappy, results dipping and the revolving door policy following.

Puletua left, Pritchard was set to walk and Priddis checked out of the Panthers too.

It seems to be a similar situation at the Eels.

Daniel Anderson is a good coach. He’s achieved success at an early age and has coached around the world.

Jarryd Hayne is a supremely talented player. However, Hayne along with a bunch of other big name players in the NRL need to remember who’s running the show.

The sooner Hayne realises that game plans must be followed and any problems with the coach need to be sorted out directly with the clipboard man as opposed to via a player manager – things will return back to normal.

The Eels have a bunch of issues to work through, but despite an average year so far – they have more runs on the board than they did last year, so they have ample time to turn it around.

NRL Super Saturday Review

Broncos 10 d Eels 6

Super Saturday NRL got underway last night with the Eels hosting the Broncos, with veteran Darren Lockyer celebrating the most games for one Rugby League club.

Certainly not a spectacle, the Brisbane side managed to do enough to win 10-6 over a rudderless Parramatta side that now slip to one win from their last 5 starts.

With both sides sitting middle of the ladder, a loss was always going to hurt that little bit more. For the Eels, it stung big time – coming on the back of a heartbreaking last minute loss to the Knights, the double whammy now leaves them stalled in a mid-season slump.

Brisbane might not be turning it on in attack, but they did enough to win – only scrambling Parramatta defence stopping more points. They’ve jagged 5 from their last 7 games which is breathing new life into them after a horror season start.

The Eels are looking more like Cronulla every week, a side unable to score points and suffocating the life out of games – where few points are scored and it certainly isn’t a spectacle.

Sharks 30 d Cowboys 19

The battle of the strugglers turned out better than ever hoped, with the misfiring Cowboys and Sharks trading barbs in two very different halves of footy.

It was all the Cows early, with Neil Henry’s side seemingly turning the corner in the first 40 minutes. They went 18-0 up at halftime, with three tries to forwards.

Mason, Scott and Webb all bullocking over to get their side up.

Given Cronullas style, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were long gone. But Ricky Stuarts men came out a changed team, inside the first 13 minutes of the second half they had raced in 3 tries and it was game on.

The raids were coming from some great Anthony Tupou offloads, the former Rooster generating great second phase options for his team to notch up points.

If North Queensland had any hope of making the finals, you could see it slipping away with every Sharks touchdown – they had simply gone into their shells in the second term.

Only poor goal kicking from the Sharks had stopped them from closing this game out – with the scores locked at 18 all, it was a Thurston field goal with a minute to go that looked to have sealed the game.

But the game through another curve ball, with veteran John Morris slotting a field goal for the Cronulla side to give them a shot at extra time.

Golden point was again a mixed bag, with field goal shots traded and a missed conversion in front by JT – but eventually a Barrett 1 pointer closed it out and amazingly the Sharks remain in the hunt for the finals despite a rollercoaster year.

Souths 16 d Storm 14

The Perth experiment was positive, with over 13,000 fans on hand to witness a solid battle between Melbourne and South Sydney.

Despite a slippery start, where both sides struggled on the slippery deck – once they adjusted it was game on.

The Storm at full strength looked the goods, leading 10-4 with less than half an hour to go. But it was a fighting Bunnies outfit that did enough late in the piece to cling to a handy win.

Melbourne had several chances to close this one out, but a missed chance and a poor conversion attempt from Cam Smith put paid to any Houdini act.

Even a late chance to Billy Slater streaking away with minutes to go was thwarted by the Rabbitohs – who now jump ahead of the Eels and Warriors on the table.

With Russell Crowe on hand to witness the win and a happy John Lang after a fighting win – it was all smiles for the Bunnies who are getting it done in 2010.

Panthers Pump Manly

It was back to the future at CUA Stadium last night, their were some eery similarities to many a cold night way back in 2003. It was the Panthers playing at their best, still true to their touch footy style – this time they were punishing Manly 40-22.

After much talk of their tries from kicks, the Panthers shrugged it off and showed they will simply score points any way they want.

Their punch coming from the one-man strike force that is Michael Jennings. The elusive centre turning up the pace and bagged 3 tries in a scoring fest at the foot of the mountains.

It had the crowd of 15,000 beaming at Penrith, with their men ‘glowing’ in Pink colours for the McGrath Foundation – it was a very handy win for the Panthers – keeping them clearly in second spot and extended the distance from nearest rivals by 4 points on the ladder.

On current form, the Dragons and Panthers are edging away from the rest of the pack – going a long way to securing a Top 2 position each.

While Jennings bagged a bunch of points, coach Matt Elliott knows that the key to his sides success is the ability across the board.

Brad Tighe has begun to return to his best, Flash Gordon has been unstoppable as has livewire Lachlan Coote at the back. All this behind a well-balanced forward pack – a pack that boasts experience, rep-honours and youth all mixed in.

The recipe is coming together extremely well.

For the other mob, it isn’t so rosy. The injury riddled Manly Sea Eagles look a shadow of their former early-season selves. The value of Jamie Lyon to this side is blatantly obvious and it seems other players are carrying niggling injuries.

Steve Matai is consistently a hospital ward, but he is playing like an emergency room at the moment. At any time it seems like the Westpac Rescue chopper will be needed to scrape him off the turf.

While the Sea Eagles were able to notch up 20 or so points, Des Hasler was quick to point out the 40 points scored against them.

Hasler confirming it certainly is ‘panic stations’ on the Northern Beaches.

Manly can take some heart from the fact their for and against remains in good stead at positive 28, along with the BYE in hand which is a guaranteed 2 points for them.

They’ve gotta think glass half full, although after the horror show last night – it might be tricky to do.

Penrith 40 (M Jennings 3, B Tighe, T Waterhouse, M Gordon, G Cooper tries; M Gordon 6 goals) Manly 22 (T Williams 2, K Foran, G Stewart tries; S Rodney 2 goals, S Matai goal). Referees: T Archer, T De Las Heras. Crowd: 14,978.

Dragons Do it Again

It wasn’t quite the ‘perfect’ Dragons, but St George Illawarra still had way too much for the Wests Tigers at Kogarah last night. The home side winning 34-10 in front of nearly 17,000 Saints faithful.

It was billed as the attackers vs the defenders, with many feeling that the electric play of the Tigers with the ball could really test the well drilled Dragons outfit.

But as they have done all year, Wayne Bennetts men held strong. Despite St George Illawarra looking the better for the most part, the game was still in the balance until the hour mark – when a Saints touchdown put it beyond doubt.

Is it all good news for the Saints? Is this going to be the year?

Well, they are going beautifully – and with Mark Gasnier poised to come back, they have outstanding depth and will scare the hell out of every single other team.

But.

Things are going so good, you just wonder if they will have some kind of form drop prior to during the NRL finals? Most believe that every NRL side experiences a dip in form, either through desire, luck, injuries or drama.

Do the Dragons need to get this out of the way now? The good news for them, is that at least they are virtually assured of a Top 2 finish. They’ll get their second bite at the cherry which is always handy. (Not to mention a week off in the finals if they win!)

The only hiccup was a citing of big bopper Michael Weyman, the NSW prop set to face the judiciary this week.

For the Tigers, while it was a loss – it gives them an indication of exactly where they are.

After 4 consecutive wins, they were flying high. But the gap between the ‘good’ sides and the ‘top’ sides is certainly there.

Wests are a talented football side, they have plenty going for them. But as coach Tim Sheens told his men last night – if you want to win the NRL Premiership you need to mix it up with teams like the Dragons.

Sheens described the Dragons as well drilled and physical. A fair description, the Dragons seem to play a ‘controlled’ physical match. They, unlike other teams can channel their aggression without overstepping the mark.

It’s not quite back to the drawing board for the Wests outfit, but they certainly need more work. (As do a bunch of other teams chasing the likes of the Dragons and Panthers.)

St George Illawarra 34 (D Boyd, B Creagh, B Morris, J Soward, K Stanley tries; J Soward 7 goals) Wests Tigers 10 (C Lawrence, L Tuqiri tries; B Marshall goal). Referees: S Hayne, J Robinson. Crowd: 16,574.

NRL Round 16 Preview

Round 16 of the NRL kicks off on Friday night with two huge matches.

Things should get exciting with the St George Illawarra Dragons at home to the Wests Tigers and while Wests have been successful in their last 4 matches – the bookies don’t give them a chance against the well drilled and defensive Dragons.

Despite Saints being the pace-setters, the Tigers style could upset them here. If Wests get a positive early start, anything could happen.

Despite being perched high on the NRL Ladder, plenty of critics refuse to believe the Penrith Panthers are the real deal. With a Top 8 spot all but confirmed for them – they get a chance to put on a show at home against the Sea Eagles.

Playing at CUA Stadium and the loss of Jamie Lyon for Manly gives Penrith all the ace cards here.

On Saturday the Eels do battle with the Broncos in the battle for a position in the eight – with both sides having indifferent form in 2010. The Broncos had a horror early run but came good, only to get patchy around Origin time.

The Eels have shown they have the ability, turning in good performances when they are ‘motivated’ such as their outing against the Storm – but at times they look disinterested.

This game is crucial for both sides who are slipping out of the range of Top 4 spots.

The battle of the strugglers also takes place Saturday night, with the Cowboys and Sharks doing battle. While plenty of folks might choose to wash their hair during this match – the reality is, that with some luck these sides might flook 8th spot if they start their run now.

A good matchup on Saturday night is the Rabbitohs and the Storm who will do battle in Perth, Western Australia. This is a great test for the ‘Bunnies’ and a strong win here consolidates their ladder positions.

Melbourne understandably are struggling for motivation, still playing for nothing – its hard to tell what kind of performance they’ll turn in.

On Sunday the Roosters have a chance to upset the Warriors at home and certainly need to get a win here to show some sort of consistency. Brian Smith has touched on the fitness of Todd Carney, suggesting the key man is back to his best and Smith expects some quality touches.

The Warriors have been hard to pick all season, the bookies don’t like their chances this week – but it’s a lottery with NZ it seems. They could pull off an upset here, despite it being away from home.

The Titans face the plucky Knights and will be nervous without Scott Prince. After a dramatic win last week, Newcastle could get back into the thick of it with another victory over the Gold Coast.

A win for the Titans without Price would do wonders for their confidence and would be ideal, cementing their Top Ladder position.

Monday night Football sees the Raiders do battle with the Bulldogs and despite being inconsistent they should put paid to the Dogs who have been on a horror slide in 2010.

The Canberra outfit are often forgotten, but for them – this is an ideal chance to jump an out of form team and get themselves a chance of making the NRL finals.

Ricardo: NRL Team of Round 15

Ricky Ricardo’s picks for the best players coming from all the NRL action in last weekends Round 15 clashes:

Fullback: Billy Slater – Billy the Kid is at it again with another sublime performance over the weekend, once again showing his strong combinations with Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk.

Winger: Beau Ryan – The often under-rated Tigers back showed his metal with a two- try haul in the Tigers win. He is often regarded as the heart of the Tigers club as he gives 100% regardless of the scoresheet.

Centre: Steve Matai – Whilst at times, he may be seen as a serial injury faker, there’s no denying the skill that this man has at his disposal. He scored two tries despite suffering an injury earlier in the game. Showed great resolve to keep on going.

Centre: Kyle Stanley – This young man continues to come up with the goods. Initially thrust in by Bennett during the first Origin period, he grabbed the opportunity with two hands and is showing why Bennett showed faith in him to begin with. Possible bolter for Rookie of the Year.

Winger: Justin O’ Neill – The unheard of Melbourne Winger scored three tries in the Storms demolition of the Cowboys. Whether or not he can maintain his form remains to be seen, but both he and Duffie are wreaking havoc on the wings for Melbourne.

Five-Eighth: Trent Hodkinson – Headed to the Dogs next year, you would have thought his game would diminish right? Far from it! Kicked two field goals in the space of five minutes to tie and then win the game for the Sea Eagles. It’s almost unheard of, but a very gutsy move that paid off for the Sea Eagles.

Halfback: Ben Barba – Coming off the bench, the utility has been rewarded with a starting spot this week following a two try effort in the Bulldogs narrow loss to the Titans. He is a player for the future, and the Bulldogs will want to hold onto him to form a strong combination with new recruit Trent Hodkinson for 2011.

Prop: Tim Grant – Often in the shadow of Petero, the young Panthers prop has proved this year that he is star of the future. A fantastic player who can make metres and tackles, and could be a bolter to start in Origin 3.

Hooker: Isaac Luke – Behind Cameron Smith, Luke is perhaps the best hooker in the game right now. He scored two tries in the Bunnies narrow loss to the Sea Eagles, and would have scored at least 2 points in the Dally M Charts despite the loss. If only he was a NSWelshman hey? 😛

Prop: Trent Merrin – Another unheralded player given a shot by Bennett has taken it with two hands. Was definitely the Dragons best forward on the night, and will be looking to emulate those performances for the rest of the year.

Second Row: Mark Minichello – The lesser known Mini brother, but equal in talent, had a stellar performance in the Titans win. Scored a try, made the metres and tackles as usual, and is an outside chance for Origin.

Second Row: Justin Horo – This man is the future of the Eels second row and is almost guaranteed a starting spot at Lock in 2011 once Mateo departs. Scored the Eels only try, and is very creative for a second rower. Similar to Mateo in many ways.

Lock: Paul Gallen – At club level, there is perhaps no better player at club level. He makes the metres and makes the tackles, and is the heart and soul of the club. Origin level though is a different ball game with the penalties and poor judgment often his downfall and the reason for constant criticism.

Player of the Week: Justin O’Neill.