LEEDS V HULL|
Perennial chokers and underachievers Leeds take on Hull FC in what is the SL match of the round this weekend. Leeds have the luxury of selecting from a full squad and welcome back the return of the world's best forward Jamie Peacock after the clobbering handed out to him by NRL-reject Keith Mason in Keith Senior's Testimonial three weeks ago. By contrast, Hull will be without the enigmatic Paul Cooke, with Paul King and Willie Manu also missing out through injury. Graeme Horne and Motu Tony are now available for selection having both recovered from bouts of influenza. They both missed last week's disappointing draw at home to the Catalans Dragons. This seems like an ideal time for Leeds to play one of their major rivals as we all know Leeds are generally at their best early season rather than at the business-end when they usually run out of steam and their form descends into a steaming pile of that smelly brown stuff.
By all accounts, Hull were awful last week at home against Les Catalans and were fortunate to escape with a draw. That result, although surprising, wasn't exactly a shock though. Early season results do have a tendency to be far more unpredictable in SL than at any other time and Hull were without their chief organiser and kicker in Paul Cooke. He won't be playing this Friday either. I think Hull might struggle for some consistency until he returns to the fold. By contrast, Leeds defeated the 'Mighty Salford' away from home last week, a club they've only managed to overcome 21 times out of 21 during the SL era. Awesome, eh? I therefore expect Leeds to beat Hull, and to cover their 6 point handicap comfortably. Cue sundry 'believist' Rhinos fans proclaiming the distinct possibility of glory days ahead for the Rhinos. Peter Smith of the YEP - eat your heart out!
SportingOdds Handicap: Leeds (-6), Hull (+6) at 10/11
My Tip: Leeds by 14
CATALANS V WIGAN
Wigan lost this corresponding fixture in Round 1 last year and I wouldn't be surprised if the same happened again. They looked pretty ordinary last week at home to Warrington and were a tad fortunate not to lose by a more convincing margin than they did as their forward pack were well beaten. That's not a good sign considering they had their strongest possible pack out there. Their new halfback partnership (Barrett and Leuluai) looked rusty and didn't combine well at all. Leuluai was anonymous. Brian Noble has named the same 20 man squad as last week for this Saturday's game against the Catalans Dragons with Bryan Fletcher fully recovered from knees in his back.
The Catalans Dragons must be quite happy with the draw and the point they secured away at Hull last week. That result must give them huge confidence going into Saturday's home game against Wigan. I think Catalans will win this one narrowly, and with the six point start they get on the handicap it's a reasonable bet.
SportingOdds Handicap: Catalans (+6), Wigan (-6) at 10/11
My Tip: Catalans by 4.
HARLEQUINS V SALFORD
Quins must be absolutely ecstatic and oozing confidence after turning over the reigning SL Champions last week, and they did so on Saints very own rusty, backwater, hog-infested, smelly-toilet-of-a-midden HQ as well. How dare they? BOOOOOOOOO! FOOOORWAAAARD! According to Saints fans anyway. Not many will have predicted that outcome last week though. I know I certainly didn't, and good on the Quins.
The 'Mighty Salford' (guffaw - yeah, right) lost narrowly at home to Leeds last week. No surprises there. T'is truly amazing how this club can be rated so highly these days on the basis that they aren't quite the flat-track-bullied team of the past but still succeed in losing games relentlessly. The bookies allocate the Quins a four point start on the handicap so they are considered marginal favourites, but this game could go either way on Saturday. I'm tempted to tip the Quins on the basis of their form last week and their home advantage but that counted for little last season as their home form was absolutely diabolical. I cannot tip this game with any great deal of confidence as it's too close to call. This is a fixture well worth giving a wide berth for any of those considering a wager this weekend. I'll marginally tip Salford on the basis that the Quins have a tendency to be very inconsistent, and seeing as they won last week they'll probably lose this week.
SportingOdds Handicap: Harlequins (-4), Salford (+4) at 10/11
My Tip: Salford by 6.
HUDDERSFIELD V HULL KR
The Giants have lost their opening two SL games but were only just pipped at the post away at Bradford last week, and were squeezed out by Saints the week before. Their big pack looks to be a match for most Super League sides this season but they lack pace and nous in the backs. I would expect them to break their duck against relegation fodder Hull KR and win with plenty to spare.
Hull KR were geared up for their opening night in Super League and everything was built towards that big night for months, so it was no great surprise when
they edged home at the last gasp against the Wildcats. However, the Robins looked unconvincing to me and despite scraping home at the end, that was a game in which fellow relegation candidates the Wildcats really ought to have won. Winning one-off games is always achievable but backing-up the week after isn't quite so easy and I think Hull KR will struggle to back up. They'll struggle for most of this season as well.
SportingOdds Handicap: Huddersfield (-12), Hull KR (+12) at 10/11
My Tip: Huddersfield by 18
WAKEFIELD V ST HELENS
Whinge! Whine! Moan! Booooo! Fooooorwaaaard! It's not fair! Those are the groans emanating from the Saints camp as they moan, groan and whine about having to play this fixture on Sunday, just five days before their WCC encounter with the Brisbane Broncos next Friday. Strange how they weren't grumbling until their shock defeat at home to the Quins last week. Saints will be without their injured thugmongrels Jason Hooper (injured) and Jon Wilkin (suspended). However, current 'Man Of Steel' Paul Wellens and Lee Gilmour are both set for a return to the Saints team after missing out last week.
For the Wildcats, Duncan McGillvray returns to the side after a hamstring injury, but they are still without Danny Sculthorpe and Wayne Price. They were poor last week against Hull KR but should still have won that game. I saw nothing there to suggest they'll trouble Saints too much, not unless Saints have their minds elsewhere on the WCC? Possible I suppose, but I still take Saints to win this game, though not necessarily by a wide enough margin to overcome their 12 point handicap.
SportingOdds Handicap: Wakefield (+12), St Helens (+12) at 10/11
My Tip: St Helens by 10
WARRINGTON V BRADFORD
Dire weren't so 'dire' in their victory away at Wigan last week but they'll now be without the services of Adrian Morley (fractured eye-socket) and Chris Bridge (torn hamstring) for some considerable time. Nevertheless, fixtures against Top 6 opposition like the Bulls are the one's they need to win if they are to make a major impression amongst the elite, particularly at the Halliwell Jones.
Sam Burgess has recovered from a bout of concussion against Huddersfield last week and is declared fit to play for the Bulls. Iestyn Harris could return to the Bulls side after missing last week's game with a bout of flu. If he hasn't recovered, I'd expect David Solomona will continue in his temporary role at stand off. David Solomona at stand off, eh? What does that say about the lack of emerging halfback talent in this country? Exactly.
I take Warrington to win this game and cover their handicap, despite the absences of Morley and Bridge.
SportingOdds Handicap: Warrington (-6), Bradford (+6) at 10/11
My Tip: Warrington by 10