The NRL season is officially underway and we’re back to preview Sunday’s action. We have a battle between two top 8 sides in the afternoon at Campbelltown Stadium. Then, we head to the Central Coast with the Sea Eagles up against the Bulldogs.
We have an interesting top 8 battle taking place on Sunday with the Knights and Panthers both winning each of their 2 games in March. Starting with Penrith, they kicked off the season in great fashion by storming home against the reigning champs in a 20-14 result. While in Round 2, they outlasted the Dragons in a high scoring affair, 32-28. However, they've been hit with a big blow in the break as Nathan Cleary will miss the next few games after his lockdown antics. So Matt Burton will take the reins at halfback and will form an inexperienced combination with Luai. They've also made a few changes in the forward pack with Capewell entering the starting lineup, Fisher-Harris moving to prop and Yeo to the lock position.
The Knights were arguably the surprise of the competition in the early rounds as they smashed the Warriors 20-0 and dominated the Tigers 42-24 at Leichhardt Oval. Which sees them sitting in 2nd position on the ladder. So they'll be after their first 3-0 start to a season since 2015. However, their attack will likely struggle without the talent of Kalyn Ponga at fullback after he was suspended in Round 2 from a shoulder charge. So Tex Hoy will take his place in the #1 jersey. They'll also be without new recruit Jayden Brailey at hooker and Mitchell Barnett in the forward pack. But the key for the Knights is the experience of Mitchell Pearce and they still have a formidable forward pack that can trouble the Panthers.
With the Panthers missing Nathan Cleary, their halves combination looks very inexperienced and this should really impact their scoring ability. While the Knights will miss Ponga, they have the advantage of Mitchell Pearce steering them around the park and we believe that will be the major difference between the sides as Newcastle looks to shore up a top 4 position.
Round 3 concludes at Central Coast Stadium on Sunday night with another rivalry matchup as the Sea Eagles meet with the Bulldogs. The storyline off the field will be in the coaching department as Des Hasler coaches against his former side of 2012-2017. But on the field, the Sea Eagles will be looking for a second straight victory after upsetting the Roosters in Round 2 by a DCE field goal. The key for the Sea Eagles will be converting opportunities into points after scoring just 13 total points in their 2 games against the Storm/Roosters. They have plenty of talent around the park with the likes of Tom Trbojevic, DCE and a massive forward pack led by Marty Taupau/Fonua-Blake so there’s every chance they get back to their attacking best soon. In team news, Jack Gosiewski could return after missing the first 2 games and Corey Waddell/Taniela Paseka have been included on the bench.
It was a tough start to 2020 for the Bulldogs as they lost both games in Sydney and it could be a long season for Dogs fans. They were pretty sloppy in Round 1 as they scored just 2 points for the entire game. The same pattern followed in Round 2 as they allowed plenty of first-half points in an 8 point loss against the Cowboys. The key at the moment for the Dogs is focusing on their attack because their defence is the backbone of their gameplan. However, they just can't take a trick with injuries. New recruit Joe Stimson is already out for the season, Kieran Foran continues to struggle with his shoulder and Aiden Tolman is battling a hip injury.
In the end, Manly should easily win this matchup. They're 7-1 at this venue and have beaten the Bulldogs in 3 of the last 4 meetings. However, the head to head odds don't offer much value (ideal for a multi though). So we like the chances of a low scoring game. The Bulldogs will know they have to keep points off the board to be any chance of an unlikely win and we do have confidence in their defensive structure to get the job done. As mentioned, Manly has scored just 13 points this season so hopefully the offensive struggles continue.
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