This year�s first State of Origin clash has a big impact upon proceedings at the weekend. With three teams having the bye and the rest left to piece together a side from what remains, round 11 looms as a tough task for tipsters.
With the squads in camp and ready to roll next Wednesday, plenty of fans tend to neglect the week prior to Origin as it slips conspicuously under the radar of importance. People start dying their hair blue or maroon and all of a sudden have a previously undisclosed passion for either NSW or Queensland, despite their apparent disinterest in league earlier in the season.
It�s not hard to understand though. Stage of Origin is widely accepted as the best football the world over. Unfortunately, fair-weather fans ignore the preceding round of club footy when their support is needed the most. With teams tested under the duress of representative commitments, this is perhaps one of the more important and telling rounds of the competition to be played out.
For some teams it is crucial - a round where they can take advantage of an under strength team and grab the two points from under their opponent�s nose. On the flip side, it gives younger players a chance to shine while the big boys are away. Having only six games to choose from this round it is also a big one for tipping, that all important perfect score can come into play and boost you up a rung or two. With 41 from 70, I�m not exactly shouting from the rooftops�
Eels v Sea Eagles
A tough first up match to pick, both teams have reps but aren�t heavily burdened. Menzies will play for Manly but they are missing Kennedy and Watmough who are key players. For Parra, Hindmarsh is out and Brian Smith has once again selected a large bench to cover all possibilities.
The Eels are coming off the bye and tore up the Cowboys the week before in an absolute shock result and you�d have to say their looking the goods in this one too. They�re playing at home and are in 7th position on the ladder. A win here could really push them ahead of the Cowboys and maybe even a top four spot?
The Sea Eagles could struggle a little bit here. They won away from home and at night last week for the first time in a while, but Parra Stadium isn�t an easy task for anyone. They look a little thin on the bench and the Eels will have plenty of hunger now that they smell blood. Dessie has re-signed for three years which is a boost and he deserves it, but I don�t think they�ll get the money on Friday night.
Storm v Bulldogs
The first instalment of Super Saturday sees the Storm and the Bulldogs lock horns in our southern capital.
Canterbury were gallant in defeat last week at the hands of Manly but it seems their injury crisis deepens with every game. The forward pack and backline are merely the skeletal remains of last year�s premiership winning team and they simply look to be running out of ideas. Sherwin and El Masri are still showing an incredible sixth sense and Anasta still has plenty to prove, but will it be enough?
Melbourne are without Slater, Smith and King who are three of their big performers each week. But new kid on the block Greg Inglis had a wow of a game last week when deputising for the suspended Slater at fullback. I think the home ground advantage will prove too tough for the Doggie�s to overcome and I�ll stick with the Storm here in a game that will be closer than some may think.
Knights v Dragons
This game is the most affected match I think I�ve ever seen. With Newcastle having a terrible injury run and two reps out of action the team that takes the field resembles more of a reserve grade side. The Dragons are also heavily affected but more by their NSW players than their minor injury count right now.
They might only get three blokes and a dog to this game which is a shame considering the newly constructed stadium up at Marathon. Most of the Knight�s backline aren�t what you�d call household names but the forwards have a few old heads there to guide them around.
The Dragons still have a very strong pack despite losing Ryles and Bailey but are presented with the ridiculous situation of having Shane Marteene walk from South Sydney reserve grade into their starting line-up.
Having said that, I think the red and whites will come away with victory and register their fifth win in a row.
Rabbitohs v Warriors
Can it get any worse for the Bunnies? Fletcher has just walked out to Wigan and they�ve been losing badly for weeks. Players must be getting unhappy about the situation and looking elsewhere with Harrison another likely departure.
The Warriors have been playing ok without setting the world on fire. They�re without regular captain Steve Price but Stacey Jones is back and will hopefully lift the team. They tried hard last week against the Roosters and at least showed a modicum of understanding about the game of rugby league.
That alone should be enough to get them across the line against Souths who appear to be digging a bigger hole for themselves each week. It really is a sad state of affairs out at Redfern and you get the feeling that things will get worse before they get better.
Warriors by a few methinks.
Tigers v Raiders
This could be game of the round the way things are going. Both teams are untouched by the representative fixture but I bet Scott Prince will be smarting with his exclusion from the Maroon squad. Look for a big game from the crafty halfback who starred for Queensland last year.
The Raiders can probably think themselves a little unlucky no one was picked given their position on the ladder, even when they get beaten they make it look close. Last week they went down to the Sharks but lead well early in the game. They were eventually pegged back but put in a decent show.
This is Campbelltown�s first game of the year in what is a pathetic allocation of home games to a ground which was built for the express purpose of rugby league. I hope they get a good crowd because the Tigers are specials here. They�ve been on the end of a few bad losses over the past few weeks but will rise to the occasion here and defeat the Green Machine. Jason Smith�s involvement will once again play a huge part in the game.
Panthers v Sharks
Penrith have Ben Ross and Luke Rooney missing from their team and the Sharkies have their ace Brett Kimmorley on the sidelines. It will be a tough game for both sides. Cronulla will be out to consolidate their lofty position on the table whilst Penrith are desperately seeking a victory after a string of defeats.
Dykes shifts into the halfback role with Greg Bird assuming the five-eighth position. For the Panthers, Howland joins the backline with Rogers onto the bench. Both teams are still formidable and may provide some spectacular entertainment for us.
After heavy consideration, and will all due respect for Cronulla, I think Penrith will get the money here. If they don�t, they can pretty much kiss the season goodbye and that will weigh on the Panther�s minds come Sunday arvo at Penrith Stadium.
The Broncos, Roosters and Cowboys have the bye this weekend. These three clubs have a collective total of 16 players featuring in Wednesday�s State of Origin clash at Suncorp Stadium. Their respective coaches will be very happy to have the bye and will be praying that none of their chargers get injured.