RABBITOHS V BRONCOS – THURS 27 AUGUST, 7.45PM, ALLIANZ STADIUM
The storyline: An Inglis-less South Sydney is clinging to its spot in the top four, while Brisbane is desperately trying to stay in the minor premiership race ahead of this Thursday night blockbuster.
Form guide: The Rabbitohs have lost two of their last three, swamped by Manly and Canterbury either side of an impressive win over North Queensland. The Broncos have won just one of their last four, edged out 12-10 by the Roosters in a classic last Saturday.
Ladder: Rabbitohs 4th, Broncos 2nd
Attack: Rabbitohs 6th, Broncos 2nd
Defence: Rabbitohs 5th, Broncos 4th
The selection table: Greg Inglis’s absence means Alex Johnston moves to fullback and Joel Reddy comes onto the wing. Issac Luke returns from suspension at hooker in place of Cameron McInnes. Luke Keary returns from suspension as well at five-eighth as John Sutton returns to the back row and Kyle Turner shifts to lock for Chris McQueen. Glenn Stewart and Jason Clark switch between the back row and the bench while Chris Grevsmuhl comes in for Paul Carter. The Broncos are unchanged despite their two-point loss to the Roosters.
The match-up: Linchpin No.7s Adam Reynolds and Ben Hunt will play vital roles on Thursday night.
The history: Brisbane has won 21 games to Souths’ nine, with one drawn since 1988. The Broncos boast a 7-1-1 record at Allianz against the Bunnies.
The last time they met: Souths kicked off their title defence with a blistering 36-6 defeat of the Broncos at Suncorp in Round 1.
The stat: The Rabbitohs are on a four-match winning streak against the Broncos.
The verdict: The Broncos’ more consistent form and the absence of Inglis should see the visitors turn the tables on their opening-round conquerors. Broncos by 7
SEA EAGLES V ROOSTERS – FRI 28 AUGUST, 7.45PM, BROOKVALE OVAL
The storyline: The Sea Eagles need to win to keep their mathematical finals chances alive, while the Roosters are looking to take a cruel double-injury blow in their stride.
Form guide: The Sea Eagles’ outstanding four-game winning streak was inexplicably ended by Parramatta at Brookvale last Sunday, going down 20-16. The Roosters have won 10 on the trot, culminating in a courageous 12-10 eclipse of the Broncos in the game of the season so far.
Ladder: Sea Eagles 9th, Roosters 1st
Attack: Sea Eagles 8th, Roosters 3rd
Defence: Sea Eagles 9th, Roosters 1st
The selection table: Matt Ballin’s ACL injury means Blake Leary will start at hooker, Ligi Sao moves to lock from prop and Willie Mason returns from suspension in the front row. Sam Moa (wrist) returns to replace Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (knee) in the front row, while Matt McIlwrick will take Jackson Hastings’s spot on the bench, with the young half replacing Mitchell Pearce (hamstring) in the No.7 jersey. Mitch Aubusson moves to the centres in place of the suspended Michael Jennings as Suaia Matagi’s comes on to the bench.
The match-up: Five-eighths Kieran Foran and James Maloney – opposite numbers in the 2011 and ’13 grand finals – have both been in superb form in recent weeks.
The history: Manly leads the count 81-43-2, including 35-12 at Brookvale.
The last time they met: The Sea Eagles overcame the Roosters 24-16 in Round 16 last year.
The stat: Manly has won seven of its last eight against the Roosters at home.
The verdict: The Sea Eagles look to have run out of steam, and the Roosters have too much depth to be overly troubled in this clash. Roosters by 8
EELS V SHARKS – SAT 29 AUGUST, 3.00PM, PIRTEK STADIUM
The storyline: Also-rans Parramatta played the spoiling role to derail Manly’s finals bid last Sunday, and will attempt to do the same to Cronulla’s top-four aspirations this weekend.
Form guide: The ever-erratic Eels have won two of their last three, knocking over the Panthers and Sea Eagles either side of a spirited loss to the high-flying Roosters. The Sharks have won nine of their last 11, bouncing back from a big loss to the Storm in Round 23 to crush the Tigers 40-18.
Ladder: Eels 11th, Sharks 5th
Attack: Eels 14th, Sharks 10th
Defence: Eels 11th, Sharks 8th
The selection table: Tim Mannah has been named to return from a knee injury in the front row. Darcy Lussick will take Joseph Paulo’s spot on the bench following the Eels captain’s return. The Sharks are unchanged from their 40-18 win over the Wests Tigers.
The match-up: Valentine Holmes and Semi Radradra are the two hottest wingers in the NRL at present.
The history: The Sharks hold a narrow 41-39 lead in 80 games since 1967, including a 12-11 lead in games at Pirtek Stadium.
The last time they met: The Eels spanked the Sharks 32-12 in Round 21 last year.
The stat: Semi Radradra has scored 21 tries in 17 appearances at Pirtek Stadium.
The verdict: The Sharks will potentially be playing to move into the top four (if the Rabbitohs lose on Thursday) and should be able to grind the Eels into submission if their recent form is a good indicator. Sharks by 12
KNIGHTS V BULLDOGS – SAT 29 AUGUST, 5.30PM, HUNTER STADIUM
The storyline: The Knights’ ability of late to spring an upset will have the Bulldogs wary this for their trip to Newcastle – but the Belmore boys appear to be timing their run just right as they gear up for another finals charge.
Form guide: The Knights have won two in a row for the first time since March, accounting for the Tigers (24-18) and Storm (20-6) in back-to-back away games. The Bulldogs are on a run of three wins, downing the Broncos, Titans and Rabbitohs – the latter a highly impressive 32-18 result.
Ladder: Knights 14th, Bulldogs 7th
Attack: Knights 9th, Bulldogs 5th
Defence: Knights 15th, Bulldogs 10th
The selection table: Beau Scott returns in the back row with Chris Houston moving back to the bench at the expense of Sam Mataora. The Bulldogs are unchanged following their 14-point win over South Sydney last Friday night.
The match-up: Former Kiwi Test teammates – and all-round hard nuts – Jeremy Smith and Greg Eastwood go head-to-head in the No.13 jumpers.
The history: The tally is all square after 41 games, with both sides winning 20 each and one match drawn.
The last time they met: The Bulldogs held off the Knights 16-12 in Round 8 last year.
The stat: The Knights have won just two of their last nine at home.
The verdict: Canterbury is running into championship form and have an arsenal too vast for Newcastle to spring a third straight upset. Bulldogs by 16
STORM V COWBOYS – SAT 29 AUGUST, 7.30PM, AAMI PARK
The storyline: Injuries and form wobbles are clouding these contenders’ late-season campaigns, but the winner of this clash will carry some much-needed momentum into the playoffs.
Form guide: The Storm coughed up a chance to climb into the top four with a dreadful performance in a 20-6 home loss to the lowly Knights, just their second loss in six games. The Cowboys arrested a two-game slide by trouncing the Warriors 50-16 – but they were again forced to come from behind, trailing 16-0 early on.
Ladder: Storm 6th, Cowboys 3rd
Attack: Storm 7th, Cowboys 1st
Defence: Storm 2nd, Cowboys 6th
The selection table: The Storm are unchanged despite their shock defeat to the Knights on Monday night. Ray Thompson replaces Michael Morgan at five-eighth and Gavin Cooper returns in the back row, with Ben Hannant shifting to prop for the injured James Tamou. Scott Bolton takes Coen Hess’s spot on the bench.
The match-up: Test and Origin halves buddies Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston square off in a titanic No.7 battle.
The history: Melbourne has won 19 and North Queensland just nine, but the ledger is square one-all at AAMI Park.
The last time they met: The Cowboys snatched an extraordinary 18-17 comeback win in golden point in Townsville in Round 4, kick-starting an 11-match winning streak for the northerners.
The stat: The Cowboys have won just one of their last eight in Melbourne.
The verdict: A very difficult game to get a read on, and despite the Storm’s woeful display last Monday, the Cowboys’ disruptions and the AAMI Park factor tip the scales in the favour of the hosts. Storm by 2
WESTS TIGERS V WARRIORS – SUN 30 AUGUST, 2.00PM, CAMPBELLTOWN STADIUM
The storyline: The Robbie Farah saga has provided an intriguing sidelight to this otherwise inconsequential Sunday afternoon clash.
Form guide: After downing the Storm and Raiders in consecutive games, the Tigers have lost their last two against the Knights and Sharks; the joint venture has won just three of its last 14. The Warriors are on a woeful six-game losing streak, averaging 31 points against while scoring just nine points per game.
Ladder: Tigers 16th, Warriors 10th
Attack: Tigers 12th, Warriors 11th
Defence: Tigers 12th=, Warriors 12th=
The selection table: Martin Taupau and Dene Halatau swap between lock and the bench in an otherwise unchanged side. Matt Allwood replaces Ken Maumalo on the wing while Sebastine Ikahihifo comes in for Jacob Lillyman (cheek) at prop. Bodene Thompson and Sione Lousi swap between the bench and the back row.
The match-up: The besieged Farah lines up against fellow veteran Nathan Friend.
The history: The Warriors have won 13 and the Tigers 11 of 24 encounters, but the four previous meetings at Campbelltown have been shared two apiece.
The last time they met: The Warriors overcame the Tigers 32-22 at Mt Smart in Round 6 this year.
The stat: The Warriors have racked up 98 points in their last three wins over the Tigers.
The verdict: Impossible to pick a winner out of this inscrutable pair, but the controversy surrounding Farah may give the Warriors the leg up they need to bust out of their slump. Warriors by 4
TITANS V DRAGONS – SUN 30 AUGUST, 4.00PM, CBUS SUPER STADIUM
The storyline: The Dragons are limping towards the finals and need to keep winning against a string of out-of-contention clubs – but the pesky Titans have run into some decent form at precisely the wrong time for the Saints.
Form guide: The Titans’ 28-12 upset of the Raiders last Sunday was just their second win in nine outings. The Dragons have won three of their last four, recovering from a heavy loss at the hands of the Broncos to outlast the Panthers 19-12 in a dour game best forgotten.
Ladder: Titans 15th, Dragons 8th
Attack: Titans 13th, Dragons 15th
Defence: Titans 16th, Dragons 3rd
The selection table: Greg Bird’s quadriceps injury means Daniel Mortimer will move to five-eighth, Beau Falloon to hooker and Kierran Moseley comes onto the bench. Lachlan Burr replaces the suspended Ryan James in the starting side. Jason Nightingale replaces Justin Hunt on the wing while Joel Thompson returns from a one-week absence to replace the suspended Jake Marketo in the back row.
The match-up: Rookie sensation Kane Elgey has a chance to show off his wares opposite old-stager Benji Marshall.
The history: The Dragons lead the tally 10-4 since 2007, including a 4-2 advantage at Cbus Super Stadium.
The last time they met: The Saints notched a crushing 34-6 win in Round 24 last year.
The stat: The Dragons have won just one of their last seven away games.
The verdict: The Dragons should have the motivation required to get over the line (just), but it will be ugly (again). Dragons by 8
RAIDERS V PANTHERS – MON 31 AUGUST, 7.00PM, GIO STADIUM
The storyline: There’s only pride on the line in this Monday night dud, with the Raiders and Panthers searching for a positive note to end the season on.
Form guide: The Panthers’ 24-10 win over the battling Warriors in Round 23 was their only win in their last seven outings. The Raiders have lost four on the trot, including the last three to teams stationed outside the top eight – Tigers, Sea Eagles and Titans.
Ladder: Raiders 12th, Panthers 13th
Attack: Raiders 4th, Panthers 16th
Defence: Raiders 14th, Panthers 7th
The selection table: Brenko Lee comes into the centres for the suspended Joey Leilua – who will miss the remainder of the season. Elijah Taylor (hand) is out for the season, with Isaah Yeo shifting to lock and Waqa Blake returning in the centres. Apisai Koroisau will start at five-eighth as James Segeyaro is promoted to hooker, Sika Manu is demoted to the bench and Tyrone Peachey returns to the back row.
The match-up: Contrasting styles but both effective and in-form, Josh Papalii and Bryce Cartwright take the field in the No.11 jumpers.
The history: The Panthers have edged in front in the all-time count, 33-32-1, but the Raiders hold a 16-8 lead in matches at GIO Stadium.
The last time they met: The Raiders recorded a 34-24 result at Pepper Stadium in Round 20.
The stat: Ivan Cleary has won five of his last six opposite Ricky Stuart.
The verdict: There’s more upside to the Raiders, who will be desperate to end a dismal run at home that has garnered just one win from their last seven at home. Raiders by 10