NRL preview: Round 8
NZ Herald league writer Steve Deane previews the latest round of the NRL.
Broncos v Bulldogs
Suncorp Stadium, Tonight 9.35pm
Referees: Gavin Badger, Adam Devcich.
The Broncos may have won six straight but it hasn't made them any more recognisable. Wests Tigers coach Tim Sheens snubbed a handshake offer from Broncos counterpart Anthony Griffin at the completion of last week's match because he didn't know who he was, and not long after that a reporter asked Kiwis prospect Alex Glenn if he was Gerard Beale. Next up for the anonymous Broncos is the reshuffled Bulldogs. Junior star Michael Lett makes his Dogs debut in place of Bryson Goodwin (toe), while Michael Hodgson is out after fainting against the Rabbitohs. Corey Payne returns from a one-match suspension, while Dene Halatau is also included on the interchange bench.
Rabbitohs v Sharks
ANZ Stadium, 7.35pm
Referees: Tony Archer, Brett Suttor.
Tim Smith has done most of his loitering outside nightclubs this season, but tonight he gets his chance to hang around on a footy field for a while. Smith clearly wasn't wanted at a Sydney nightspot last week, copping a police fine after hanging around the door. Given that his coach Shane Flannagan this week said he needed a new halfback, it doesn't seem Smith is much wanted at his footy club either.
Even so, he replaces five-eighths Albert Kelly, who is out for eight weeks with a fractured leg. Rabbitohs coach John Lang has named Ben Ross to replace injured prop Sam Burgess (ankle). Jason Clark returns on the interchange bench.
Titans v Roosters
Skilled Park, Tomorrow 7.30pm
Referees: Matt Cecchin, Gavin Reynolds.
Having managed to snatch a defeat from a struggling Eels side in round seven, it's getting close to desperation time for the 2-5 Titans. Coach John Cartwright doesn't have any superheroes at his disposal, but he might just have Preston Campbell up his sleeve, which is pretty close. "We miss him when he is not there, basically," Cartwright said. "You tend to know when Preston is not on the field for us. He provides just something that has been lacking in our side." Ability, mainly. The also 2-5 Roosters aren't travelling great either, but they did at least turn in a solid effort in going down to the Dragons on Anzac day.
Storm v Knights
AAMI Park, Tomorrow 9.30pm
Referees: Jason Robinson, Chris James.
Having had their 10-match home winning run snapped by the Warriors - sounds good dunnit? - the Storm will look to start a new streak against a Knights side that continues to surprise. Storm coach Craig Bellamy has named an unchanged side, but that is standard practise for teams playing on Monday nights, so not much can be read into it. Having shelled Brett Seymour bombs to concede tries, wings Matt Duffie and Anthony Quinn will come under scrutiny. Billy Slater also spilled a crucial kick, but he could hide a shoebox full of poo in Bellamy's locker for a prank and still not get dropped.
Cowboys v Sea Eagles
Dairy Farmers Stadium, Tomorrow 9.30pm
Referees: Shane Hayne, Gavin Morris.
What about those Cowboys? No, really, what about them? They've won three in a row, sure, but the Titans, Raiders and Sharks hardly rate as major scalps. Then again, the Cowboys have also touched up Melbourne and inflicted the Broncos' only defeat. Manly should provide an answer as to whether the 5-2 Cowboys are the real deal, or have simply been the beneficiaries of a sweetheart draw. Both teams have made one change. Brett Stewart has been named at fullback for the Sea Eagles (again), while hooker James Segeyaro is on a five-man Cowboys bench.
Warriors v Panthers
Mt Smart Stadium, Sunday 2pm
Referees: Jared Maxwell, Alan Shortall.
Penrith will react in one of three ways to the news coach Matt Elliott is toast at the end of the season. They'll either man up in a show of support that he really could have done with three weeks ago; toss it off because they know the gaffer is a dead man walking; or bumble along rather hopelessly as they have done all season. Only one of those options spells trouble, but even then a Warriors side that will be massively boosted by its win in Melbourne will fancy its chances of notching what would be a fourth win in five matches. Is that a ray of light poking out of that tunnel I spy?
Raiders v Wests Tigers
Canberra Stadium, Sunday 4pm
Referees: Ashley Klein, Gerard Sutton.
It's six straight defeats for the Raiders now but don't panic you Green Machine fans, Matt Orford is back. That'll do the trick. In fairness it's hard not to feel a bit sorry for the pre-season fancies of many punters after they had a perfectly clean try ruled out against the Knights. They might not have won, but they would have liked their chances at 18-6 up. Shaun Fensom starts at lock with Josh Miller reverting to the bench. Wade McKinnon is due back at fullback for the also struggling Tigers. Tim Moltzen to the centres, Mitch Brown to the wing and Beau Ryan to the bench. Gareth Ellis is out, with Liam Fulton to start in the second row and Alan Schirnack returning to the bench.
Dragons v Eels
WIN Jubilee Oval, Sunday 5pm
Referees: Ben Cummins, Tony De Las Heras.
In a perfect world Stephen Kearney's final instructions to his Eels players will be "whatever you do, don't hurt Jason Nightingale". Alas, Kearney's troops will be out to bash seven bells out of the Kiwis star. Even so Kearney, who names his Kiwis side for next week's Anzac test a couple of hours after the match, will be hoping there is no repeat of last year's chaos when he lost a good half dozen players over the corresponding round. Ratu Peni Tagive will debut for the Dragons, slotting in for Nightingale, who moves to fullback to replace the injured Darius Boyd. Kearney has stuck with the same 17 for the last match before he briefly dons his Kiwis tracksuit. Next week, his Eels have the bye, which is kind of handy.