It’s the Representative Round and rugby league writer Daniel Boss provides predictions for all three internationals and the City-Country clash. Also found in this article are a response to the Parramatta Eels salary cap breach and an update on the future of the weekly predictions article.
NRL Predictions – Update
In my last article two weeks ago, I stated that it was my last NRL Predictions article for the foreseeable future. This is due to the fact that I will be starting a new day job next week and I want to devote all my effort and energy towards that. As a result, I will not be able to write articles to a certain level of quality that I would be happy with. Roman will continue to write weekly predictions articles next week and likely for quite a while. I will still provide my tips to the website, which will be available on the Blindside Sport homepage.
Parramatta Eels Salary Cap Response
My initial plan for this article was to provide a summary of the season to date. However, given the events of today, the Parramatta salary cap breach is a far more pressing issue. After taking the majority of the day to think about the penalty, I think that it is quite a fair penalty. There is a thought that it is lenient compared to the Canterbury and Melbourne breaches in 2002 and 2010 respectively. However, as this breach isn’t as severe in terms of the amount of the breach and the proportion of the breach to the cap, a similar penalty isn’t justified. Of course, it could be a similar penalty if the Eels refuse to adhere to the conditions imposed by the NRL. Given the poor management of the club for the better part of the past decade, there is a chance that this occurs.
There is no way that the Eels can compete for the premiership with their current squad. That is the one fact that cannot be disputed. However, there is a significant shift in the penalty imposed, as the Eels are not yet completely eliminated from competing for the premiership. Based on the amount of the breach, I think this is fair, as this is an achievable amount to remove from a salary cap right now. I can’t see how the Bulldogs or Storm would have been able to remove $1 million from their cap, had they been given a similar option.
The one consideration that the NRL needed to make when determining the penalty was to provide equality for all other sides that played the Eels this season. In years gone by, the model was to disallow teams to accrue points, so that for all games, each team had the chance to pick up two points against the same squad. However, there will be differing motivation for a side before the penalty is imposed and after it is imposed. Take the Melbourne Storm in 2010 for example. Their strongest performance of the season came at home against the Dragons prior to their penalty. The other major contender for the premiership that year (in my opinion) was the Wests Tigers. They only played the Storm once, in Round 25, well after the penalty was announced. To be honest, it wasn’t fair that the Dragons played the Storm while they thought that they could accrue points, while the Tigers didn’t.
In the Parramatta case, the determination made by the NRL was to provide equality through ensuring that the Eels were equally motivated throughout the entire season, by giving them a chance (albeit slight) of winning the premiership. The issue with this policy is that teams that have already played the Eels, were up against a squad that had an unfair advantage, while other sides that will play them will face a squad that does not have such an advantage. If the Eels do what most expect and get Anthony Watmough to retire due to his serious knee injury, which will get the Eels under the cap, then this will mean that the difference in squads will be negligible.
As a result, the NRL have got this penalty right in a roundabout way. If I was in charge of making the decision, I would have been more direct and stated that 12 points were stripped based on the level of the breach and that more points would be stripped if the Eels didn’t get under the cap and get their house in order.
Representative Round Predictions
Australia vs New Zealand
Tip: Australia 26 New Zealand 16
- Last 5 meetings: New Zealand 3 wins, Australia 2 wins
- Last meeting: May 2015 – New Zealand 26 Australia 12 at Suncorp Stadium
- Last meeting at Hunter Stadium: October 2011 – Australia 42 New Zealand 6
On the back of three consecutive victories over Australia, New Zealand are now the top ranked international Rugby League nation in the world. This match pits the two best nations against one another, despite the Kiwis loss to England in last year’s three-test series. The Kiwis have picked quite a strong side, especially in the forwards. If they are to win, then they will have to dominate in the forwards, as they are missing key position players Isaac Luke, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Kieran Foran. In their place are three players that don’t typically play in key positions, with Lewis Brown at hooker, Jordan Kahu at fullback and Tohu Harris at five-eight. I just don’t think NZ will have enough points in them to win. As for the Australian team, a few selections were surprising. The wing pairing of Semi Radradra and Blake Ferguson was surprising, as I thought that Corey Oates deserved a spot in the team. The forward pack has some age to it with Corey Parker and Paul Gallen, who might not be around for next year’s World Cup. The selection of both players suggests that the Kangaroos are focused on winning this game, instead of focusing on next year.
Fiji vs Papua New Guinea
Tip: Fiji 32 PNG 18
- Last 5 meetings: PNG 3 wins, Fiji 2 wins
- Last meeting: May 2015 – Fiji 22 PNG 10 at CBUS Super Stadium
- First meeting at Pirtek Stadium
Despite the fact that Fiji have made the semi-finals in the past two World Cups, they never are quite as strong in other Test matches. When looking through their squad, about eight are considered regular first grade players. While it doesn’t help that two previous players are now playing for Australia, this is somewhat surprising given their success at the World Cup. In last year’s Test match, Fiji withstood a comeback attempt from the Kumuls to claim victory. PNG will be keen to reverse the outcome of last year’s game and have named a few NRL players in their squad to assist their cause. There are a couple of players from each team that I will be looking for. For Fiji, it is Eloni Vunakece, who has been a revelation on the wing for Melbourne in recent weeks. For PNG, this player is Kurt Baptiste, as he is the only player in the halves or hooker to have NRL experience and should provide a lot of impact on the bench. I like Fiji, as I think they will have the edge in the backline with player like Vunakece, Akuila Uate and Kevin Naiqama.
Tonga vs Samoa
Tip: Samoa 20 Tonga 12
- Last 5 meetings: Samoa 3 wins, Tonga 2 wins
- Last meeting: May 2015 – Samoa 18 Tonga 10 at CBUS Super Stadium
- Last meeting at Pirtek Stadium: October 2010 – Samoa 22 Tonga 6
Games played between these two nations are always very physical encounters, where finesse is quite often an afterthought. In recent years, Samoa has had the edge over Tonga, especially in the World Cup. Samoa were a quarter-finalist in 2013 and defeated Tonga in 2008. On paper, based on the difference in NRL experience in the two squads, Samoa go into this game as the favourite. Tonga also have quite a strong squad, especially in the forwards. The battle of the forwards should be very exciting, as both sides have very big packs, with Sam Kasiano, Junior Paulo and Frank Pritchard for Samoa and Peni Terepo, Tony Williams and Sika Manu for Tonga. In a match where both sides are strong in the forwards, I pick the side that I think can score the most points. In this case, I like Samoa, as I think their halves combination of Fa’amanu Brown and Pita Godinet, as well as their fullback Tim Simona. On a side note, Simona re-signed with the Tigers today, which makes this Tigers supporter quite happy.
Country vs City
Tip: Country 40 City 6
- Last 5 meetings: Country 3 wins, City 1 win, 1 draw
- Last meeting: May 2015 – Country 34 City 22 at McDonald’s Park, Wagga Wagga
- First meeting at Scully Park, Tamworth
As someone who grew up in country NSW, I really want this game to be a strong fixture. Sadly, I just don’t think that this will ever happen again, given the reluctance of NRL teams to release their players for this game. As a result, quite a few members of the City team would have less than 20 NRL games of experience and they should be comfortably beaten by a quite strong Country side. The one interesting battle in this game features the halves for both sides, with Aidan Sezer and Chad Townsend for City and James Maloney and Jack Bird for Country. I am really hoping that James Maloney has a great game, as I think he is the best option for NSW in either halves spot. Two other players that I will look for are Tyson Frizell and Josh Mansour, who have both had good starts to the 2016 NRL season and were close to NSW selection last year. With spots open in the back row and wing, strong games from both could see them with sky blue jerseys in a month from now.
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