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Illawarra Mercury

Round 21 preview

Date: 24/07/1999
Words: 867
          Publication: Illawarra Mercury
Section: Sport
Page: 76

WESTS V CANTERBURY at Campbelltown Stadium

Head to head: Bulldogs 58 Magpies 56 Drawn 7

If Balmain members reject the proposed merger with Wests, the Magpies face extinction or a fate even worse - a shotgun marriage with Canterbury. After thrashing Wests 56-14 in last year's corresponding round, Canterbury coach Steve Folkes reportedly said only Kevin and Ken McGuinness would make a combined side. Having conceded an average of more than 45 points per game, Folkes has probably re-assessed that number on the Magpies' form of the past five weeks, although hooker Ciriaco Mescia remains the NRL's leading tackler.

KEY: Wests defence. Having missed 58 tackles during last week's record 68-10 loss to Parramatta, just what the rest of the side has been doing should become clearer in Mescia's absence.

TIP: Canterbury

BALMAIN V NEWCASTLE at Leichhardt Oval

Head to head: Tigers 8 Knights 8 Drawn 1

Will Robinson no longer plays for Balmain but, as the Newcastle Herald said, this game has got danger written all over it for the Knights. With Balmain's members to vote on Tuesday night whether to end 92 years as a stand-alone club, emotion in Tigertown is building to a crescendo. The Tigers have a formidable record against Newcastle at Leichhardt Oval (5-2) and are aided by the absence of Andrew Johns (groin), Adam MacDougall (hip) and Tony Butterfield (suspension).

KEY: The Knights have won six in succession but their last loss - 27-4 to South Sydney - occurred in Johns' absence and his importance to side will again be underlined.

TIP: Newcastle


Head to head: Raiders 5 Cowboys 1

North Queensland's Canberra connection of Tim Sheens, Brett Hetherington, John Lomax and Noa Nadruku return home but the Raiders have hardly put out the welcome mat - refusing the Cowboys permission to train at Bruce Stadium. Perhaps if they had, they'd have some idea of their opponent's line-up - Brian Jellick, Kyle Warren and Shaun Valentine all being in doubt. Canberra also has injury worries, Simon Woolford, Ken Nagas and Luke Williamson facing fitness tests.

KEY: If the Raiders are fair dinkum about making the play-offs they must win here or risk falling five points behind eighth-placed South Sydney.

TIP: Canberra



Head to head: Sharks 1 Storm 1

It's appropriate that Treasurer Peter Costello, a Victorian, chose the eve of this match to announce his conversion to rugby league as a Sharks supporter. Not only will it be a ``taxing" game for the Sharks but Melbourne centre Tony Martin was ruled out after the most publicised cycling accident since fellow Federal MP Leo MacLeay. The good news for the Storm is the return of Paul Bell and Robbie Kearns, who gets back on the horse nine weeks after his infamous riding fall.

KEY: With only Tony Martin and Scott Hill on the sideline, Melbourne is now back near full strength while the Sharks are now under siege from injury.

TIP: Melbourne


Head to head: Bears 55 Eels 44 Drawn 3

It's a measure of how bad Norths are travelling this season that a loss in this game will see the team enter its worst losing streak at Bear Park since the grim, dark days of 1979. Yet it went close to stopping a five-game stretch of losses at home against Manly in last week's local derby, the Sea Eagles only scoring in the dying minutes. But with the fourth worst defence in the competition, the Bears could be on the end of another Parramatta pointscoring spree.

KEY: Having scored 382 points to 374, Norths actually boast a better attacking record than Parramatta but the Eels (228) have the best defence in the competition, conceding exactly 200 points less than the Bears.

TIP: Parramatta

SOUTH SYDNEY V AUCKLAND at Sydney Football Stadium

Head to head: Rabbitohs 2 Warriors 2

Souths officials have confirmed the crowd for last week's Brisbane match was close to 28,000 but because the club had given away 10,000 tickets NRL auditors wouldn't let them post any more than 19,426. The Rabbitohs are unlikely to have such concerns this week - Auckland not being renowned as big drawers yet still guaranteed a place in next year's comp ahead of more traditional clubs. But there will still be plenty of interest in the return of Souths playmaker Darrell Trindall and Warriors full-back Matthew Ridge from lengthy suspensions. KEY: Before his seven-match ban, Trindall was one of the form players in the competition.

TIP: South Sydney



Head to head: Roosters 36 Panthers 17 Drawn 1

Aside from Brad Fittler's 200th first grade game, the most interesting statistic from this game could be the official crowd figure after Penrith last year produced photos to dispute that posted by Sydney City. With most experts agreeing they can't make the finals, criteria points are now more important for the Panthers than competition points.

KEY: With Matt Sing (knee) a week away from returning, the Roosters are not only fresh from the bye but almost at full strength.

TIP: Sydney City

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