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NRL round 5 preview panel

Preview of NRL Round 5 matches (all times AEDT):
NRL round 5 preview panel
by AAP

By Ian McCullough and Joe Barton

SYDNEY, March 27 AAP - Preview of NRL Round 5 matches (all times AEDT):

FRIDAY, April 5

CANTERBURY v MANLY at ANZ Stadium 7.35pm

Head to Head: Sea Eagles 61 Bulldogs 50 Draw 5

Last clash: 2012 NRL qualifying final, Bulldogs 16 Sea Eagles 10 at ANZ Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Sea Eagles $1.88 Bulldogs $1.95

FootyTAB: Bulldogs +1.5

It's Manly versus Dessie's Dogs. This matchup produced three brilliant contests in 2012, with the Bulldogs triumphing twice. The hatred has simmered down considerably but this match is important for different reasons this time around. Canterbury will be desperate to avoid falling to a 1-4 record, while Manly are in no mood to surrender their hot start which has quietened some doubters. Canterbury are still without key forwards Sam Kasiano and James Graham, but Ben Barba and Frank Pritchard, who returned to action in last week's tough loss to Souths, will be better for the run.

Key: Barba was the difference in both Bulldogs victories last season, scoring a magnificent double in their win at Brookvale. With a game under his belt, watch him work back to the 2012 form that lit up the competition.

Tip: Canterbury

BRISBANE v GOLD COAST at Suncorp Stadium 7.35pm

Head to Head: Broncos 9 Titans 4

Last clash: Round 20 2012 - Titans 14 bt Broncos 10 at Skilled Park

Tab Sportsbet: Titans $1.48 Broncos $2.70

FootyTAB: Broncos +4.5

This looms as the game when Gold Coast leapfrog Brisbane into relevancy, and relegate the Broncos to the bottom of the Queensland food chain. With just one win to date, Brisbane are in danger of having their season slip away already - while the Titans emerge as the form team from up north. Injuries are decimating Brisbane's early season teams, and the needless one-game suspension of captain Sam Thaiday for grabbing the referee last round is a blow they certainly could do without - although key centre Justin Hodges (hamstring) returns. The Titans welcome back experienced back-rower Ashley Harrison from concussion.

Key: The pressure is mounting on Brisbane's veteran halves pairing of Scott Prince and Peter Wallace. Neither has covered themselves in glory over a disappointing opening month and both need to stand up to steer the injury-ravaged side around.

Tip: Gold Coast

SATURDAY APRIL 6

PARRAMATTA v CRONULLA at Parramatta Stadium 5.30pm

Head to Head: Sharks 40 Eels 36

Last clash: Round 13 2012 - Eels 29 bt Sharks 20 at Parramatta Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Sharks $1.55 Eels $2.53

FootyTAB: Eels +5.5

Eels coach Ricky Stuart reckons Cronulla captain Paul Gallen will walk nude through the shire if Parramatta can prevail on Saturday night. Based on current form, the good folk of southern Sydney have nothing to fear - Gal should be able to keep his kit on. The Eels were beyond woeful in Monday's 50-0 loss to the Sydney Roosters. They were bad enough to prompt club champion Nathan Hindmarsh, a bloke who could never be accused of not having a dig, into suggesting some players needed to have a good hard look at their meek performances. Chad Townsend will warm the five-eighth seat for the next fortnight while Todd Carney recovers from a foot strain.

Key: Parramatta were tormented under the high ball on Monday. An aerial raid from the Sharks halves would be wise.

Tip: Cronulla

NORTH QUEENSLAND v PENRITH at 1300 Smiles Stadium

Head to Head: Panthers 17 Sharks 12

Last clash: Round 11 2012 - Cowboys 30 bt Panthers 28 at 1300 Smiles Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Cowboys $1.20 Panthers $4.75

FootyTAB: Panthers +11.5

Somehow Penrith enter this game higher on the ladder than their highly fancied rivals. Despite an opening round win over Canterbury, the Cowboys have been the greatest disappointment of the season. Their most recent offering, a miserable loss across the Tasman to the out-of-sorts Warriors, can not be excused. By contrast the Panthers have shown determination in every contest. Despite this coach Ivan Cleary wielded the axe and demoted halfback Luke Walsh - putting his faith in the untried combination of Tom Humble and Blake Austin. Cowboys mentor Neil Henry has resisted the urge to give his team a shake-up - although he hasn't ruled out recalling troubled halfback Robert Lui to steady the ship.

Key: After becoming the first big name to ink a $1 million deal, Johnathan Thurston has failed to lead his side to a win. JT needs to stand up and steer his side out of this slump or their premiership hopes will quickly tumble.

Tip: North Queensland

SUNDAY, MARCH 7

WARRIORS v SOUTH SYDNEY at Mt Smart Stadium 2.00pm

Head to Head: Warriors 18 Souths 5

Last clash: Round 7 2012 - Warriors 44 bt Souths 22 at Mt Smart Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Souths $1.35 Warriors $3.25

FootyTAB: Warriors +8.5

The Warriors finally chalked up a win for the first time since round 19 last season when they came from behind to beat North Queensland on Easter Monday. Shaun Johnson pulled a fine performance out of the bag to help see off the star-studded Cowboys and he'll need another one against the in-form Rabbitohs. Souths were outstanding against the Bulldogs, but have lost their past three to the Warriors and not tasted victory in Auckland since 2009.

Key: The Beast that is Manu Vatuvei makes a welcome return from injury for the Warriors and he'll need to be as strong in defence as he is in attack to prevent Nathan Merritt from scoring a third hat-trick away this season.

Tip: Souths

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA v NEWCASTLE at WIN Jubilee Oval 3pm

Head to Head: Dragons 17 Knights 9

Last clash: Round 7 2012 - Dragons 12 bt Knights 4 at WIN Jubilee Oval

Tab Sportsbet: Knights $1.63 Dragons $2.30

FootyTAB: Dragons +3.5

The Dragons surprised everyone last week, not just by beating Cronulla, but also the manner of their victory. Turgid in attack for most of this season, it took a local derby to bring out a bit of flair and they were worthy winners against the Sharks. Wayne Bennett returns to his old stomping ground with a Knights side that have been swashbuckling in their three wins at home. But in their only trip away this year they were battered 32-0 by Manly. A win here against his old boss would ease the pressure further on Dragons coach Steve Price.

Key: Ben Hornby and Jamie Soward were greatly improved as a halves combination last week and will need to be again if they are to eclipse the promising Tyrone Roberts and Jarrod Mullen partnership.

Tip: Knights

CANBERRA v SYDNEY ROOSTERS at Canberra Stadium 6.30pm

Head to Head: Roosters 29 Raiders 24

Last clash: Round 24 2012 - Raiders 24 bt Roosters 20 at Canberra Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Roosters $1.45 Raiders $2.85

FootyTAB: Raiders +5.5

Trent Robinson's Roosters are aiming to emulate the achievements of the 1919 Eastern Suburbs side by holding a team scoreless for three successive matches when they visit the nation's capital. The transformation of the Roosters has been helped by Sonny Bill Williams and Co, but the improvement in defence by much of the side that let in more than 600 points last year is testament to the new coach's attention to detail. The Raiders have won their past five at home and could hand a debut to promising five-eighth Anthony Milford after coach David Furner voiced his frustration at the side's poor kicking against Newcastle last week.

Key: The Raiders' home form has served them well over the years and they must ensure they take their chances when they can against a Roosters side with a lot of strikepower and a stingy defence.

Tip: Roosters

MONDAY, April 7

MELBOURNE v WESTS TIGERS at AAMI Park 7.00pm

Head to Head: Storm 14 Tigers 8

Last clash: Round 26 2012 - Storm 26 bt Tigers 6 at Leichhardt Oval

Tab Sportsbet: Storm $1.14 Tigers $6.00

FootyTAB: Tigers +14.5

Tigers coach Mick Potter has rolled the dice by naming Braith Anasta at halfback in place of the struggling Jacob Miller ahead of a daunting trip to the Victorian capital to face the reigning premiers. Anasta has the experience to be unfazed by the role, but the chance to move James Tedesco to fullback and Tim Moltzen to No.7 would have been a bolder move. Tesdesco didn't look at home on the wing against Manly but is a class act with a big future. The Storm are pretty formidable at home but lost the last time these sides met at AAMI Park in 2011 when Melbourne's stars were missing on State of Origin duty.

Key: The battle between the best two hookers in the game in Cameron Smith and Robbie Farah gives this game a real edge, and the Tigers skipper must produce an Origin performance if he is to give his side a chance of a shock win.

Tip: Storm


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