Coronavirus: NRL, AFL, Zimbabwean cricket and a boxing title fight - Saturday's sporting picks

By Sports Desk March 20, 2020

Despite events having to take place behind closed doors and restrictions on travel outside the country, Australia's major sporting leagues continue to plough on manfully amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Football, rugby league and Australian rules football are all vying for centre stage this weekend.

A look further afield means we've also got all you cricket and boxing fans covered.

Western Sydney Wanderers v Sydney FC – A-League

Normally one of the feistiest fixtures on the A-League calendar, the empty stands of Bankwest Stadium will feel particularly incongruous for the latest instalment of this local argument.

Sydney are sitting pretty at the top of the standings – seven points clear of Melbourne City and with three games in hand – but their only two A-League defeats this season have come courtesy of a pair of 1-0 defeats to the Wanderers, with Mitchell Duke the matchwinner on both occasions.

Roosters v Sea Eagles, Sharks v Storm – NRL

It's week two in the NRL and correcting false starts will largely be the order of the day on Saturday.

Sydney Roosters were beaten 20-14 by Penrith Panthers and will hope to make amends at home to Manly Sea Eagles, themselves dispatched 18-4 by Melbourne Storm.

It means the Storm travel with a spring in their steps to face Cronulla Sharks, who fell short in a 22-18 thriller against South Sydney Rabbitohs last time out.

New Zealand Warriors, who have remained in Australia due to travel restrictions back home, are also in action against Canberra Raiders.

Melbourne City v Sydney FC – W-League

Melbourne City were the dominant force in the W-League this term, topping the table undefeated, and head into Saturday's Grand Final as strong favourites to win their fourth title in the past five seasons.

City earned the right to host the match by demolishing Western Sydney Wanderers 5-1 in their semi-final, while there was a certain symmetry to Sydney FC progressing via a 1-0 win against Melbourne Victory.

Greater Western Sydney v Geelong - AFL

The first round of action in the AFL sees last season's beaten Grand Finalists Greater Western Sydney host Geelong – the 2019 minor premiers.

Elsewhere Essendon entertain Freemantle, Sydney Swans travel to Adelaide Crows and Gold Coast Suns take on Port Adelaide.

Tibo Monabesa v Toto Landero – WBC International light-flyweight title

The coronavirus outbreak has led to the vast majority of elite boxing action in the United Kingdom and the United States being cancelled, but there is an international contest of some intrigue in Indonesia.

Monabesa (20 wins, one defeat, two draws) is seeking to get back in world title contention having won successive bouts on the back of his sole career loss to Japan's undefeated WBC light-flyweight king Hiroto Kyoguchi.

Jakarta's home favourite will have game Filipino Landero (11-4-2) for company in the squared circle.

Rangers v Mountaineers, Matabeleland Tuskers v Mid West Rhinos – Logan Cup

Mountaineers can draw level with Mashonaland Eagles at the top of Zimbabwe's first-class cricket competition if they can see off a Rangers side languishing in last place and winless in six matches this season.

It's also day one of four when Mid West Rhinos travel to face Matabeleland Tuskers. Rhinos all-rounder Neville Madziva is the top run-scorer in the Logan Cup this season – his total of 361 including a maiden red-ball century.  

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    A bemused Ronald Koeman has described the constant speculation over his future as Barcelona head coach as "a little bit strange". 

    It has been a tumultuous debut season for the former Netherlands boss, who arrived at Camp Nou on a two-year contract in August. 

    First up, he had to manage the fallout from Lionel Messi's ultimately unsuccessful transfer request ahead of the 2020-21 campaign. 

    A failure to get past the last-16 stage in the Champions League was a major disappointment, but a superb recent run in LaLiga has put them into title contention. 

    They did suffer a first defeat since early December against Real Madrid in El Clasico last weekend, but they are just two points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid with eight games remaining. 

    Up next is Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday and, speaking at a pre-match media conference, a clearly exasperated Koeman did not hold back when asked if failure to secure the trophy would result in his dismissal. 

    "If you would like to hear my opinion about this, it's a little bit strange that I need to answer questions like this," he told reporters. 

    "We had a run of 19 games without losing, we lose one match and I need to talk about my future. 

    "Maybe I need to accept this, but I don't agree. You have to do your job and talk to people in the club. I have one more year of my contract. 

    "I know before the game what will happen if we win and if we don't win. I have to accept it. I took this job as a coach and I know there's a big pressure and I can handle that. Sometimes it's a little bit strange."

    Despite speculation that Koeman may not start next season as Barca boss, the club's new president Joan Laporta did offer public support to Koeman over his future after his victory in last month's election. 

    Asked if he needs Laporta's backing again following the defeat to Madrid, Koeman said: "I don't need this. We have spoken and he has shown me his confidence.

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    "I'm the first to know what Laporta thinks. At this club you need to win trophies, and despite the changes and the economic situation at the club, we're here at a final and we want to win it; speculation isn't important."

    This will be the fourth meeting between the sides this season, with Barca winning both LaLiga clashes and Athletic securing a dramatic 3-2 triumph in the Supercopa de Espana in January. 

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    Tuchel has never beaten a side managed by Guardiola during his career, having met the Catalan tactician five times across spells in charge of Mainz and Borussia Dortmund, earning two draws against his opponent's Bayern Munich side.

    Both Chelsea and City are through to the semi-finals of the Champions League but, with the Blues 20 points behind Guardiola's men domestically, Tuchel accepts his team are a long way off the standard set by the Premier League leaders.

    Asked if, having always been an underdog against him in Germany, Tuchel's Chelsea and Guardiola's City can be considered equals at Wembley, Tuchel told a media conference: "Yes and no. We have to accept there is a gap between us and Manchester City.

    "If you look at the fixtures in the Premier League and if you look at the fixtures in the last few years we have to accept this. It's important that we accept it but without making us too small.

    "From day one next season we will hunt them and try to close the gap between us. For me, in Europe, there are two teams who are the benchmark: Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

    "But I know what you're saying of course, he made it impossible for us to beat them with Mainz, I think we had two draws with Dortmund, one ended in the cup final in a penalty loss and we had another draw at home, so we came close, it's time that we beat them, the next try is tomorrow.

    "I don't believe in how big clubs are, are we equal or not? We have to admit that there is a gap but for 90 minutes we are very self-aware and very self-confident that we truly believe we can close the gap for one game, this is the target for tomorrow and I arrive with a team that I'm absolutely happy to arrive, to compete against the benchmark in England and Europe.

    "We don't have the momentum of football on our side. If we want to have this we have to play on our top level, to force things and need a bit of luck.

    "If we manage to beat them it will be a huge boost if not we will have to accept and take it as a challenge and opportunity to grow because we have some fights coming up. It's not only about the FA Cup, it's about the top-four race and the Champions League."

    Tuchel takes joy in competing with Guardiola, identifying him as a significant inspiration in his managerial career.

    "[Guardiola is a] huge influence because when he was coach of Barcelona I was watching almost every game," Tuchel explained. 

    "I was very impressed by the way they made success happen with the style they were playing with their own academy guys, the offensive way, the ball possession.

    "The most impressive thing about this team was their mentality, how they defended when they lost the ball. I learned a lot watching the game and understanding more of the game, how adventurous, how brave you can approach this game.

    "So it was a big, big lesson. At this time I was a coach at the academy and then became a coach at Mainz. Almost every match was a lesson in these days and then later we had the opportunity to play against him.

    "It was not always a pleasure but when you arrive on a certain level it's of course a pleasure to play against him and to meet him and to fight on the highest level."

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