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NRL Round 9 preview panel

Preview of NRL Round 9 matches (all times AEST):
NRL Round 9 preview panel
by AAP

By Ian McCullough and Ben Horne

SYDNEY, May 9 AAP - Preview of NRL Round 9 matches (all times AEST):

FRIDAY, May 10

South Sydney Rabbitohs v North Queensland Cowboys at ANZ Stadium 7.35pm

Head to Head: Souths 12 Cowboys 9 drawn 1

Last clash: Round 8 2012 - Souths 20 bt Cowboys 16 at ANZ Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Souths $1.26 Cowboys $4.00

FootyTAB: Cowboys +9.5

The battle of two of the best and biggest packs in the NRL adds extra glitz to what should be an enthralling contest. Souths have worked out how to win when playing under-par this year and look genuine premiership contenders. The Cowboys are brimming with talent but are yet to fully hit their straps. They also travel as badly as Guinness outside of Dublin, but will be boosted by a rare win in Sydney against Parramatta last week.

Key: Australia Test front-rowers James Tamou and Matt Scott will come up against two of the best of British in the form of the giant Burgess brothers - not a battle for the faint-hearted.

Tip: Souths

Wests Tigers v Cronulla Sharks at Allianz Stadium 7.35pm

Head to Head: Tigers 15 Sharks 5 drawn 1

Last clash: Round 1 2012 - Tigers 17 bt Sharks 16 at Leichhardt Oval

Tab Sportsbet: Tigers $2.80 Sharks $1.45

FootyTAB: Tigers +5.5

The Tigers are in a rotten place at the moment - riddled by injuries and having lost five straight games as their young fill-ins struggle to cope with the rigours of the NRL. The joint-venture have more homes than an oil baron but don't seem to live comfortably at Allianz Stadium where they've lost five of their past six games. The Sharks, replete with three ex-Tigers, secured a morale-boosting golden-point win over Newcastle last week, to help put their ASADA woes behind them for now.

Key: Talismanic skipper Paul Gallen is unlikely to be fit to run out for the Sharks, but ex-Tiger Andrew Fifita has really stepped up in recent weeks and will be desperate to perform well against his former team.

Tip: Sharks

SATURDAY, May 11

Warriors v Canterbury at Westpac Stadium 5.30pm

Head to Head: Warriors 12 Bulldogs 15 drawn 2

Last clash: Round 3 2012 - Bulldogs 32 bt Warriors 18 at Mt Smart Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Warriors $2.60 Bulldogs $1.52

FootyTAB: Warriors +4.5

Canterbury have slowly started to rediscover their mojo and were ruthless in their dissection of an under-manned Wests Tigers side last week. The return of James Graham and Sam Kasiano was a huge factor in the 40-4 victory, their second successive win. The Warriors thrill and frustrate in equal measure and have opted to showcase their mercurial ways in Wellington this week. However, their record on home soil outside of Mt Smart Stadium stinks with just three wins from 16 games.

Key: Shaun Johnson is in great form for the Warriors and leads the NRL in 40-20s with four to his name this year. His side will need him at his best again in the Kiwi capital.

Tip: Warriors

Parramatta Eels v Brisbane Broncos at Parramatta Stadium 7.30pm

Head to Head: Eels 17 Broncos 27 drawn 1

Last clash: Round 21 2012 - Eels 42 bt Broncos 22 at Suncorp Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Eels $2.65 Broncos $1.50

FootyTAB: Eels +5.5

The struggling Eels were a dropped ball away from a last-second win over North Queensland last week and will fancy their chances of grabbing two points against a far-from vintage Brisbane side. The Broncos welcome back Justin Hodges from injury and his return is much-needed as they look toothless in attack without him. The Broncos have a superb record at Parramatta Stadium - winning 15 times from 20 appearances - but Ricky Stuart's side have been hard to beat at home this year.

Key: Chris Sandow had a stand-out game against the Broncos last year when the Eels won at Suncorp Stadium. His side need to see more of that from their expensive investment.

Tip: Eels

SUNDAY, May 12

Canberra v Newcastle Knights at Canberra Stadium 2.00pm

Head to Head: Raiders 20 Knights 17 drawn 1

Last clash: Round 4 2013 - Knights 28 bt Raiders 12 at Hunter Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Raiders $1.55 Knights $2.50

FootyTAB: Knights +4.5

Canberra proved last week they're capable of beating the best. But the more important challenge comes this Sunday when they must show they're capable of being consistent. The enigmatic Raiders have toppled heavyweights Melbourne and the Roosters this year, but have otherwise struggled. It's time for the likes of Blake Ferguson, Terry Campese and Reece Robinson to stamp their authority. Newcastle dropped their first match of the year at home last week, and also need to bounce back to remain in the top-four hunt.

Key: Jarrod Mullen's absence with a knee injury will hurt the Knights' playmaking options. It's a key area that should be a strength for the Raiders, with skipper Campese going from strength to strength.

Tip: Raiders

Gold Coast Titans v St George-Illawarra Dragons at Skilled Park 3.00pm

Head to Head: Titans 3 Dragons 8

Last clash: Round 16 2012 - Dragons 8 bt Titans 6 at WIN Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Titans $1.50 Dragons $2.65

FootyTAB: Dragons +5.5

Both teams desperately need a win. For the Titans it's not so obvious - they're sixth on the ladder with four wins and four losses. But losing a match like this could set them back a long way. Injuries have caused them to lose their momentum and Gold Coast can't afford to give up too much ground to their top eight rivals, especially with State of Origin nearly upon us. St George Illawarra are playing tough football, but the polish isn't there. There's no use waiting for Josh Dugan - the Dragons need to find a way to convert opportunities into victory now.

Key: Gold Coast welcome back key players Kevin Gordon and David Mead this week and the added strike power out wide should prove the difference against a Dragons side missing Brett Morris.

Tip: Titans

Penrith Panthers v Melbourne Storm at Centrebet Stadium 6.30pm

Head to Head: Panthers 6 Storm 19 Last clash: Round 22 2012 - Storm 46 bt Panthers 6 at AAMI Park

Tab Sportsbet: Panthers $6.50 Storm $1.12

FootyTAB: Panthers +15.5

So the mighty have finally fallen. Melbourne's 15-game winning streak was ended by a plucky Raiders outfit, giving hope to teams throughout the competition. Whether Penrith can back that up to start a losing streak for Craig Bellamy's men is another matter. The Panthers have lost five-eighth Tom Humble to an ankle injury, forcing Ivan Cleary to use his fourth halves combination of the year. They showed more resistance than the 30-6 scoreline suggested in last round's loss to the Roosters but still lack the next gear to take it to the NRL's best teams.

Key: Canberra had success exploiting some defensive frailties on Melbourne's fringes, with centre Blake Ferguson scoring a double. Craig Bellamy would want that sorted out ASAP, but can Dean Whare and Lewis Brown take advantage as well?

Tip: Storm

MONDAY, May 13

Manly Sea Eagles v Sydney Roosters at Brookvale Oval 7.00pm

Head to Head: Sea Eagles 79 Roosters 39 drawn 2

Last clash: Round 16 2012 - Sea Eagles 52 bt Roosters 14 at Allianz Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Sea Eagles $2.10 Roosters $1.75

FootyTAB: Sea Eagles +2.5

The Roosters lead the competition in both attack and defence, and have certainly cemented themselves as one of the premiership favourites. But the fact remains that only one of their six victories has come against a top eight opponent. Manly present a great opportunity to test themselves against a team that knows how to win big games, and are a good example of the level they'll need to be at in the coming weeks when they also take on North Queensland and Melbourne. Manly suffered a major blow this week with key fullback Brett Stewart ruled out for a month with a back injury, but hitman Steve Matai returns from suspension.

Key: Sonny Bill Williams hasn't put a foot wrong in his return to rugby league so far. Manly's in-your-face pack presents a new problem, but he has shown a willingness to embrace the tough stuff.

Tip: Roosters


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