Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Vs Cronulla Sharks
Belmore Sports Ground, Saturday, March 8
Referee: Adam Cassidy
Broadcast: Radio coverage courtesy of Steele Sports Radio (Link available via www.steelesports.com.au) and 2GLF FM 89.3 (Link available via 893fm.com.au)
Summary: Last year’s premiers begin their title defence with a trip to Belmore to face a young and exciting Bulldogs squad. The Bulldogs are another one of those sides that are currently feeling the cost of injuries to their top squad, with four almost guaranteed NRL starters in Inu, Eastwood, Kasiano and Lafai all missing at present. While this has given players such as Corey Thompson, Pat O’Hanlon and David Klemmer a chance to impress Des Hasler in first grade, it has probably left Barry Ward and his staff a little light on at this level. There are no such worries for the visiting Sharks, who appear to have picked up where they left off last year, naming an all-star back line that includes former Blues and Kangaroos representative Eric Grothe Jnr as well as Nathan Gardner, Ricky Leutele and Nathan Stapleton. A few young guys worth keeping an eye on for the Bulldogs throughout the season will be Pat Templeman, John Sila and Moses Mbye. All have already tasted a bit of footy at this level but now get the opportunity to really stamp their brand on this side. All three have wonderful attacking pedigree, and Sila in particular knows his way to the try line. Win or lose, the Bulldogs will definitely be one of the more interesting sides in this year’s competition.
Back to back attack: Much like the Roosters in the NRL, many people who know a bit about this competition are expecting the Sharks to be the team to beat once again. If you look at this week’s line up it is hard to argue against them being one of the early-season favourites. No less than eight of the Sharks named this week have NRL experience, but it will be interesting to see what effect the departure of Chad Townsend has on the side. Penani Manumalealii was a wonderful foil to Townsend in 2013 but will now have to step up and handle a lot more responsibility throughout the match. His halves partner Kurt Mann is still quite young despite having wonderful potential and even when Holdsworth likely re-joins the side upon Robson’s return from injury, it perhaps will be Penani who ultimately has the biggest say on the Sharks’ title defence.