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NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 15/03/2017 Laine Clark, Scott Bailey and Matt Encarnacion

PREVIEW OF NRL ROUND-THREE MATCHES (all times AEDT):

THURSDAY March 16

Melbourne v Brisbane at AAMI Park, 8.05pm

Head to Head: Storm 26, Broncos 13, Drawn: 1

Last clash: Round 25, 2016 - Broncos 26 bt Storm 16 at AAMI Park

Tab Sportsbet: Storm 1.53 Broncos 2.50 Draw $19

FootyTAB: Brisbane +2.5

Two words sum up the excitement surrounding this clash between the great NRL rivals - Billy Slater. The veteran Melbourne fullback will end a 374 day absence due to shoulder dramas when he runs out in what looms as an epic duel with the man who took his Test and Queensland No.1 jersey, Darius Boyd. Brisbane must bounce back quickly from their extra-time last round loss to North Queensland against an undefeated Melbourne side that appears to have only gotten stronger with Slater's long-awaited inclusion. Melbourne have won 14 of 20 home matches against the Broncos but Brisbane have emerged triumphant in the past two.

Key: Can Brisbane halfback Ben Hunt step up in a clutch play and provide relief for Anthony Milford after his tentative extra-time last-round effort against the Cowboys?

Tip: Melbourne

FRIDAY March 17

Canterbury v Warriors at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, 6.00pm

Head to Head: Bulldogs 19 Warriors 13 Draw 2

Last clash: Round 7, 2016 - Warriors 24 bt Bulldogs 20 at Westpac Trust Stadium, Wellington

Tab Sportsbet: Bulldogs $2.10 Warriors $1.73 Draw: $21

FootyTAB: Bulldogs +5.5

Pressure is mounting on the Bulldogs to finally crack a win and make all the speculation over coach Des Hasler's future go away - well, for now anyway. Canterbury haven't been outclassed in their tight opening two losses but off-contract Hasler doesn't have to be told it is the scoreboard that counts - especially with him hoping to negotiate a new Dogs deal. The Bulldogs haven't missed the finals since Hasler's 2012 arrival but the jury will be out on his Midas touch if they lose to a Warriors outfit without skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (concussion). The Warriors didn't fire a shot against Melbourne last round after losing Tuivasa-Sheck in the first half but have welcomed back The Beast - try scoring machine Manu Vatuvei. Canterbury have won five of their past six games against the Warriors.

Key: Can the Bulldogs' new attacking set up finally fire? Canterbury's last round 28-24 loss to the Roosters marked the first time they had topped 20 points in seven games.

Tip: Bulldogs

Gold Coast v Parramatta at CBus Super Stadium, 8.05pm

Head to Head: Titans 10, Eels 5

Last clash: Round 20, 2016 - Titans 34 bt Eels 14 at CBus Super Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Titans 2.60 Eels 1.50 Draw 23

FootyTAB: Titans +7.5

Gold Coast coach Neil Henry must have been tempted to throw on the boots after a horror injury toll only got worse in their last-round loss to a revitalised Newcastle. The winless Titans look ripe for the picking against the rampant Eels after NRL star fullback Jarryd Hayne joined a 12-strong list of Gold Coast players either injured or unavailable. Their backline stocks are so depleted debutant Tyler Cornish replaces Hayne while William Zillman and Dan Sarginson were named despite being in doubt. Last-minute signing Dale Copley is a chance to play after the centre received a Sydney Roosters clearance. The Titans have won 10 of their 15 matches against the Eels and seven of their past nine home games. But even without playmaker Corey Norman (hamstring) Parramatta appear to have too much firepower, as evidenced by winger Semi Radradra's four-try feast last round.

Key: Halfback Ash Taylor has ensured the Titans have been competitive but needs pivot Kane Elgey to fire as he eases his way back from - you guessed it - an injury that ruled him out of 2016.

Tip: Eels

SATURDAY, March 18

Newcastle v South Sydney at McDonald Jones Stadium 4.30pm

Head to Head: Knights 14 Rabbitohs 25

Last clash: Round 25, 2016 - Rabbitohs 34 bt Knights 12 at McDonald Jones Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Knights $2.50 Rabbitohs $1.53 Draw $21

FootyTAB: Knights +4.5

Newcastle haven't beaten South Sydney since 2011, but the Knights showed last week they are in the mood for breaking droughts. They looked a far improved side against the Warriors in round one before beating Gold Coast last Saturday. South Sydney have been inconsistent at best over the opening two rounds, but looked far better in the final hour against Manly last week despite the loss of Greg Inglis.

Key: Adam Reynolds appears to be somewhere near full fitness again, and if he controls the game to his ability, it's hard to see Newcastle cracking though.

Tip: Rabbitohs

Penrith v Roosters at Pepper Stadium, 7.00pm

Head to Head: Panthers 35 Roosters 57 Drawn 1

Last clash: Round 22, 2016 - Panthers 38 bt Roosters 18 at Pepper Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Penrith $1.90 Roosters $1.90 Draw $19

FootyTAB: Roosters +0.5

Two of the competition heavyweights come together in what could be one of the clashes of the early part of the season. Penrith looked back to their best against Wests Tigers last week, firing in the second half to win 36-2. Meanwhile the Roosters have appeared to be in cruise control in the opening fortnight of the season. They held comfortable leads against Gold Coast and Canterbury, before taking their foot off the pedal. They won't be able to do this on Saturday.

Key: It will be a battle of the big forward packs. Both boast representative front rowers and whoever performs best will go a long way towards claiming victory.

Tip: Roosters

North Queensland v Manly at 1300SMILES Stadium, 9.00pm

Head to Head: Cowboys 12 Sea Eagles 15

Last clash: Round 16, 2016 - Cowboys 30 bt Sea Eagles 26 at 1300SMILES Stadium

Tab Sportsbet: Cowboys $1.25 Sea Eagles $3.00 Draw $26

FootyTAB: Sea Eagles +10.5

Two busted and bruised sides over the opening rounds of the competition. North Queensland will discover how tough life is without Matt Scott, who is ruled out for the rest of the season. After two gruelling golden-point wins, they're also missing Jason Taumalolo (suspension), Lachlan Coote (calf) and Antonio Winterstein (arm). But they face a Manly side who haven't looked like winning, and without four front-rowers themselves in Darcy Lussick (wrist), Lloyd Perrett (eye-socket), Martin Taupau and Addin Fonua-Blake (both suspension).

Key: How the Cowboys back up without their missing quartet. They should be too good for the Sea Eagles but have had a tough start to the season.

Tip: Cowboys

Canberra v Wests Tigers at GIO Stadium 4.00pm

Head to Head: Raiders 14 Tigers 18

Last clash: Round 26, 2016 - Raiders 52 bt Tigers 10 at Leichhardt Oval

Tab Sportsbet: Raiders $1.40 Tigers $3.00 Draw $23.00

FootyTAB: Tigers +7.5

After opening the season with back-to-back defeats, premiership heavyweights Canberra will look to finally kickstart their campaign now that skipper Jarrod Croker is back from a knee injury and new recruit Dave Taylor is on the bench. If they fall to a Tigers side still licking their wounds from a Panthers hiding as well as the Tim Simona saga, then questions will certainly be asked of coach Ricky Stuart's men. The Tigers have lost Jamal Idris for a week, with Michael Chee Kam set to play 80 minutes at left centre.

Key: It's been almost 18 months since Dave Taylor last graced the NRL, and all eyes will be on what kind of shape the former State of Origin star will return in.

Tip: Raiders

Sharks v Dragons at Southern Cross Group Stadium 6.30pm

Head to Head: Sharks 18 Dragons 19 drawn 1

Last clash: Round 23, 2016 - Dragons 32 bt Sharks 18 at UOW Jubilee Oval

Tab Sportsbet: Sharks $1.30 Dragons $3.50 Draw $24.00

FootyTAB: Dragons +8.5

The Sharks cured the premiership hangover with an impressive road shellacking of the Raiders last week, and have been bolstered by the probable return of gun flyer Valentine Holmes. It's just the boost they need for the local derby against the Dragons, who have given another chance to the 17 players who went back to their unappealing ways in a loss to Parramatta last week.

Key: Provided Holmes gets the nod at fullback, the defending premiers finally get a look at their long-term replacement for Ben Barba. How will he go?

Tip: Sharks

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