Cats and Dogs: Your NRL Sunday Forecast

Segeyaro_2

When the Bulldogs and Panthers scrap on the NRL’s opening Sunday, there’s sure to be flailing limbs amid a cloud of dust – the type you see in Warner Bros cartoons. Who’ll be left waving the white flag like the downtrodden Coyote is anyone’s guess, but it’ll be hard to tip against the home side, Penrith.

If you’re heading out to the game, which is now being played at arena called Pepper Stadium – presumably the same place the Panthers played last year – it’s probably best to barrack for Penrith anyway. There are just some home grounds that know nothing of neutrality. “Switzerland?” people at the foot of the mountains are typically overheard asking. This is also weird given that their boys used to be called Chocolate Soldiers.

What’s my team?

Out west, it doesn’t matter if the crowd is low in number, as tends to happen in the cooler months, they love their Panthers. Penrith Pride, I think they call it.

And don’t forget, this is a fanbase that’s endured more identity changes than Frank Abignale Jr: from the aforementioned chocolate men, to the Licorice All-Sorts, to the Black-and-Blue-Cats-That-Drink-Oak-Milk, or something. The point is, if you own a Panthers flag, chances are it doubles as supporter item for any number of other sporting teams.

Cool cats

Appearances aside, Penrith looks the part of a champion. Not only do the Panthers have a speedy back line attack, led by the headiest man in headgear, Jamie Soward, and one of the craftiest in a No.7 jersey, Peter Wallace, but their forwards bust through lines behind little locomotive, James Segeyaro.

Segeyaro led the NRL in line breaks by a forward, according to Fox Sports, but also topped the pops among fans as the best name to say in a Ray Warren voice.

SEGEEEYAAAAAROOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Penrith’s general manager (for now) Phil Gould says this team’s almost there. And he’s not only talking about their ability to win it all but their off-field impact. Gus doesn’t just drink the mocha flavoured Kool-Aid, he quite possibly mixed it. So overhauling Penrith simply isn’t enough: he wants something akin to cultural domination. Why the hell not?

Battle of two – make that four halves

But this initial contest won’t be all about Penrith. If it’s playmaking you love, then there mightn’t be a better affair to christen your season with. The Dogs’ Origin duo of Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds are among the best in the business because of the way they combine, and when they celebrate a try, their comradery is evident. As are their haircuts. Sharp.

 

Graham the goldfish

The Panthers were truly on the cusp last season. And they lost a number of games by such a small margin that it makes you wonder how much better they were than their 15-9 record. Then again, their defence could be spun around like a reporter trying to crack Des Hasler at a presser.

Meanwhile, the Dogs were tough – they are tough – but ran out of steam in the second half of last year’s big one. That may take its toll psychologically this year. Or maybe not. They did, after all, go further than Penrith.

And if there’s ever a player you wanted to lead your team’s charge into a new campaign, it’s James Graham. He’s big, he’s wild, and he’s the sort of man who’d care very little about what happened the last time Canterbury were on the paddock. That’ll go a long way.

When a late Storm sets in

Melbourne StormManly’s quick feet and hands down the short side seemed to be the story on Saturday night. The Sea Eagles’ edge passing can be sublime to be sure, the sort of fast exchanges that leave opponents with heavier feet than mascot Egor trudging home after a loss. Well, you could forgive Egor if he felt confident with just 10 minutes to go this night against Melbourne, as halfback Cooper Cronk and his troop stormed back into the match with late breaks that wore out a tiring Manly. To be fair, Cronk and teammate Billy Slater hit defensive lines with sudden steps and dashes most matches, it’s just that when they do it late in a game it chips away at confidence levels. Anyone who’s been left standing in the corner of a nightclub come last call appreciates how high esteem can easily fall. The Storm had the momentum and that means they were more energetic than Manly. Clever halves like Cronk see this as it unfolds, which is why he kicked a hopeful floating ball, bending to the left side, just moments after Melbourne had worked the right side. The Sea Eagles had drifted right, surely expecting another Cronk or Slater burst toward that corner. But like Clint Eastwood in A Fistful Of Dollars, Cronk stunned an enemy which had used up all its bullets. The kick swerved over the broken Manly line like a wounded duck in flight, before a charging Kurt Mann caught the ball at full tilt to slide over for the match winner.

Storm 22 – Sea-Eagles 19