|The Bunnies and Bulldogs come together on Friday night in what should be a heavy-hitting clash.|
Rugby League has been through some tumultuous times; the Super League war, the scandals, convictions, dramas, battering’s, and anything else that has put the code and game through a meat grinder. But there is one thing that makes the game of Rugby League special, its continued resilience to overcome these spectacles regardless of their enormity. Often when the game is in turmoil off the field and copping it from the media like it is playing a game of dodgeball, the displays and actions on the grounds around the country pull it out of the negative headlights. And this weekend the NRL is about to light-up heading into its most exciting time of the year, the finals. In what may be considered a time of the year where some teams have nothing to play for, round 24 has some tantalising match ups.
Kicking off the round to save Rugby League’s ass, is the St. George Illawarra Dragons up against the Penrith Panthers at the coastal home of the Dragons, Win Stadium. With Thursday night football set play apart in the next much-talked about television rights deal, it will be interesting to see the turn up to tonight’s game in Wollongong. With a stadium relatively close for those living on the South Coast and a finals’ spot on the line, there should predictably be a fair attendance. ‘Mary’ McGregor will be filthy at his halfback-experiment gone wrong in Brisbane last week and will have his team primed to make up for the embarrassing loss. Jamie Soward also returns to ‘the gong’ for the first time to play against his former club and with Benji Marshall returning to side for the Red-V, the halves game will exciting to watch. Marshall is in need of a big game to avoid a potential backlash from Dragons fans after his less than consistent efforts in recent times.
On Friday night South Sydney play host to the resurgent Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in what should be a heavy-hitting classic. The Bunnies have found form at the right time of the year with their belting of hyped premiership-favourites, North Queensland last weekend and with big George and Tommy Burgess charging on all cylinders, look-out. For the Dogs, they will remain without club-favourite Josh Reynolds who is yet to training return from a knee-injury. They have also lost regular hooker Michael Lichaa who is gone for the year. It is a must win game for Bulldogs who could drop out of the top eight altogether if they go-down.
Saturday will see Cronulla take on the Wests Tigers at Shark Park, which was the scene of their falling back to earth on Monday night when belted by the Storm. The Sharks will be out to turn-it-around and get back on the winner’s list, but a determined young Wests Tigers have shown they are willing to make gains this year despite being out of finals contention. Jason Taylor will be looking for further development in his young-side and ‘Teddy’ Tedesco has displayed being out of contention means nothing for his motivation to win. The Sharks are in an interesting position, they look to be out of the running for a top-four position, but coming 5th or 6th means relatively little, as they aren’t allowed to play finals games at their home ground. Regardless, this a big match for both sides and the Saturday afternoon timeslot of 3pm has been one to produce crazy-games this season.
The North Queensland Cowboys occupied one of the top-two spots on the ladder for most of the season, but now they find themselves sitting in third and potentially at risk of missing a week-one home final. Everyone knows the Warriors are going, but Auckland is a hard place to visit at the best of times, let alone at Saturday night after your confidence was sent kaput the week before. No easy game for the Thurston-led Townsville team.
The game-of-the-week caps off Super Saturday when the red-hot chooks welcome the might of Bennett’s Broncos. The Roosters are on a nine-game winning streak and they will be out to flex their muscle against the top-of-the-table Broncos. Wayne Bennet has navigated his way to finals more times than anyone outside Jimmy Barnes and Shannon Noll, but the Brisbane players can’t rely on his experience to see them through and they will have to beat the likes of Trent Robinson’s side if they want to go all the way in 2015. What an absolute showdown this will be; Sydney vs. Brisbane. Gus Gould has called for a big crowd and the game utterly deserves it.
Sunday afternoon, the league’s nicest-climate club, up against the league’s worst-climate club. In a case of polar opposites in both climates and directions their seasons have taken, the Gold Coast and Canberra game looks a dud, but it isn’t. The Titans will be looking to avoid their slide down the NRL ladder this year, and if they don’t win on Sunday, they will undoubtedly collect the wooden-spoon. Canberra, who booked their off-season holidays early after last week’s loss to Manly, will want to show they’re a side who were worth of a final’s spot. They were robbed of a win last week and Ricky Stuart would not be happy.
‘Must-win’ is the only two-words that can describe what Manly have to do on Sunday against Parramatta. The Sea Eagles are on a 2009-Parramatta-type run into the finals which has saw them go from wooden-spoon favourites to a chance of making the eight. They got away with highway-robbery last week down the Hume, and they cannot afford to drop a single game if they plan on being there in September. Brad Arthur returns to his previous club, and with the Eels no-chance of making the finals it’s hard to find what they will be playing for. Arthur is a man who values a performance more than a win, and he will want a big one from a team that will have some players playing for a spot next year.
Monday night football is in Melbourne this week with the Storm taking on the Knights who haven’t returned to AAMI Park since Alex McKinnon’s injury. That will in the back of their thoughts though as they look to secure another win for interim-coach and club-legend, Danny Buderus. Buderus has had made an influence on some of the Newcastle players who are literally playing for a contract with an incoming coach next season and they will put up a hearty-effort against the Storm. The Storm will look to build on their big win over Cronulla and Craig Bellamy has done a tremendous job keeping their season alive despite the loss of Billy Slater mid-season. Expect a big-clash in Australia’s trendiest city to cap out the round.