Bulldogs v Roosters – 7.35pm, Friday, May 15 @ ANZ Stadium
The storyline: One of the NRL’s most ferocious grudge matches – and a heavyweight showdown between two of 2015’s foremost title contenders – has been overshadowed by the NSW Origin halves audition between Bulldogs pair Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds, and Roosters playmakers Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney.
The form guide: The Bulldogs have struggled amidst a raft of injuries and suspensions, losing four of their last five – but the 23-16 away loss to the Cowboys was a vast improvement on recent weeks. The Roosters broke a worrying four-match losing streak with an emphatic 36-4 defeat of Wests Tigers last Friday.
The selection table: James Graham, Josh Reynolds and Greg Eastwood are all back for the Bulldogs, while David Klemmer has been named in the No.19 jersey on an extended bench. The Roosters are unchanged.
The match-up: Aside from the halves battle, the front-row clash between the returning Graham and Roosters enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves will be one to savour.
The history: The Roosters are ahead 81-78-5 in the all-time count, but the Bulldogs hold a 10-4 advantage at ANZ Stadium.
The last time they met: Sonny Bill Williams produced his third man-of-the-match performance in four outings against his former club as the Roosters trounced the Bulldogs 32-12 in Round 11 last year.
The stat :The Roosters have conceded just 39 points in their last four matches against the Bulldogs.
The verdict: The Bulldogs will be better for having Graham back on deck, but they need this to turn into a slugfest to be any chance of winning this one – the continued absence of Brett Morris and Tim Lafai leaves the blue-and-whites short on firepower. The Roosters displayed some ominous form last week and will be primed to keep the roll going. Roosters by 8
Cowboys v Broncos – 7.35pm, Friday, May 15 @ 1300SMILES Stadium
The storyline: The blockbuster Queensland derby sees first on the ladder take on fourth, while this clash in Townsville also doubles as a celebration of the Cowboys’ 20th anniversary.
The form guide: The Cowboys are riding a six-match winning streak, although their last three – over the Warriors, Knights and Bulldogs – were desperately close contests that almost went the other way. The Broncos have won seven of their last eight, with Corey Oates’ last-minute try snatching a pulsating 8-5 win over Penrith last Friday.
The selection table: Ray Thompson and Sam Hoare have replaced Rory Kostjasyn and Kelepi Tanginoa on the Cowboys’ bench. Sam Thaiday returns from suspension to replace the suspended Josh McGuire in the front-row. Francis Molo replaces Joe Ofahengaue on the Broncos’ interchange.
The match-up: Johnathan Thurston is the NRL’s undisputed premier match-winner, while Ben Hunt has already produced two clutch plays to get the Broncos out of jail in 2015 – their No.7 showdown should be a ripper.
The history: The Broncos still hold a commanding 28-10-2 lead after 40 derby encounters, including a 15-6-1 record in Townsville.
The last time they met: The Broncos romped to a 44-22 win over an insipid Cowboys outfit in Round 3 earlier this year.
The stat: Brisbane has a 12-5 Friday night record against the Cowboys, including 6-2 in Townsville.
The verdict: Flip a coin for this one, with the absence of Taumololo, Moga and Bolton squaring up the Cowboys’ home-ground advantage and the Thurston factor. It shapes as a cracking game that is destined to go down to the wire. Cowboys by 1
Eels v Warriors – 3.00pm, Saturday, May 16 @ Pirtek Stadium
The storyline: The Eels’ season is teetering on the brink and they badly need a victory over perhaps the only team that is as inscrutable as them, the up-and-down Warriors.
The form guide: The Warriors got out of jail via some Shaun Johnson magic at Cronulla last Saturday, just their second win in six matches. The Eels are 3-6 after a dismal 28-10 home loss to Melbourne on Sunday.
The selection table: Chris Sandow, Joseph Paulo and David Gower have been dumped from the Eels side and replaced by Luke Kelly, Tepai Moeroa and Pauli Pauli. Dominique Peyroux replaces suspended Warriors centre Konrad Hurrell, which also sees Sione Lousi come onto the bench. Manu Vatuvei is under an injury cloud after leaving the field with a sternum injury last week.
The match-up: The evergreen Ryan Hoffman and terrifying teenager Tepai Moeroa are a contrast in backrow styles, but both are having fine seasons and are in NSW Origin reckoning.
The history: The Eels are ahead 19-15 overall and 11-4 at Pirtek Stadium.
The last time they met: The Warriors chalked up a 29-16 victory over the Eels at Mt Smart earlier this season.
The stat :The Warriors have conceded 76 points in their last two visits to Parramatta – in Round 1 of the 2013 and ’14 seasons.
The verdict: Neither side has produced anything like consistent form this season, but the Warriors have more scope for improvement – particularly with the disruption caused by Sandow’s umpteenth demotion. Warriors by 12
Titans v Sharks – 5.30pm, Saturday, May 16 @ Cbus Super Stadium
The storyline: These then-winless sides produced a Round 4 thriller in the Shire and both have improved markedly since, but the loser of this encounter is in danger of being left behind in the top-eight scramble.
The form guide: After three straight wins that saw the club rack up 30-plus points on each occasion, the Bird-less Titans were shellacked 56-16 by Canberra in a confidence-shattering afternoon. The Sharks have lost to the Panthers and Warriors in their last two outings, negating an impressive three-match winning run.
The selection table: The Titans are unchanged despite their 40-point loss to the Raiders, while David Fifita, Michael Gordon and Blake Ayshford come into the Sharks’ line-up for Anthony Tupou, Mitch Brown and Ricky Leutele respectively.
The match-up: In something of an Origin preview, Nate Myles and Andrew Fifita go head-to-head in a crucial battle up front.
The history: The 12 matches between these sides to date have been shared six apiece; the Titans lead the count 2-1 at Robina.
The last time they met: A late James Roberts intercept try clinched a 24-22 victory at Remondis Stadium in March.
The stat: This is the teams’ first clash at Cbus Super Stadium since 2011, with the last five matches curiously hosted by Cronulla.
The verdict: Very little between these sides at present, and while the Titans’ thrashing in the capital was pretty ugly, they have more capacity for posting points than the Sharks – particularly with coach Flanagan persisting with Ben Barba instead of Valentine Holmes at fullback again. Titans by 6
Storm v Rabbitohs – 7.30pm, Saturday, May 16 @ AAMI Park
The storyline: More injury setbacks for South Sydney means the premiers will go in as underdogs on their Melbourne road trip, with the Storm sailing on in second spot.
The form guide: The Storm have won four of their last five, with a home loss to Manly the only blip. The Rabbitohs ended a three-match losing run with a gritty 16-10 win over the high-flying Dragons, but lost Adam Reynolds for another extended period.
The selection table: The Storm are unchanged. John Sutton has been named at five-eighth despite suffering an eye injury on Monday; Luke Keary returns to halfback after Reynolds suffered a broken thumb. Chris Grevsmuhl moves into the starting pack and Nathan Brown joins the Rabbitohs’ interchange.
The match-up: Slater v Inglis always delivers.
The history: Melbourne holds a commanding 20-4 lead in 24 matches to date, including a perfect 4-0 record at AAMI Park.
The last time they met: Slater was on fire in a 27-14 Storm victory in Round 10 last year.
The stat: South Sydney has never won in Melbourne, also losing in all seven of its visits to Olympic Park.
The verdict: Melbourne has proven a bogey for South Sydney despite the Rabbitohs’ climb to the top of the NRL tree, and the loss of Reynolds makes this one a no-brainer in the tipping stakes. They’re lost without their linchpin and the clinical Storm will exact full toll. Storm by 10
Dragons v Raiders – 2.00pm, Sunday, May 17 @ WIN Stadium
The storyline: The Dragons have broken their Raider bogey in recent times, but this clash takes an extra importance as a showdown between the two 2015 bolters. The Saints are the top defensive side in the NRL, while the Green Machine has scored more points this season than any other team.
The form guide: The Dragons’ six-match winning streak – which started with a miraculous comeback in Canberra in Round 3 – was halted 16-10 by Souths last Monday. The Raiders have won three straight, including outstanding come-from-behind victories over the Tigers and Rabbitohs, and a 56-16 demolition of the Titans in Round 9.
The selection table: The Dragons will line up as per last Monday. Mitch Cornish has been recalled for injured Raiders halfback Sam Williams.
The match-up: Saints second-rowers Tyson Frizell and Joel Thompson are on the verge of NSW debuts, and they can give their selection chances a boost with a strong display against bruising Canberra pair Josh Papalii and Iosia Soliola.
The history: The renowned hoodoo that was broken last year is still reflected in the Raiders’ 16-8-1 record against the joint venture, including a 3-2-1 win at WIN Stadium.
The last time they met: The Dragons clawed back from 18-0 down to snatch a 22-20 triumph in Round 3 in the capital.
The stat: The Dragons have not beaten the Raiders at home since 2007.
The verdict: Probably the most intriguing game of the round. The Raiders’ blistering attack up against the Dragons’ impregnable defensive wall in a contest brimming with subplots. The loss of Williams is a big one for the Raiders, however, and that may just tip the scales in the Saints’ favour in Wollongong. Dragons by 2
Knights v Tigers – 4.00pm, Sunday, May 17 @ Hunter Stadium
The storyline: Two of the NRL’s most desperate come together for a must-win encounter after being taken to the cleaners last weekend. The loser can all but forget about playing finals football in 2015.
The form guide: After winning their first four, the Knights have lost their last five – culminating in a pathetic 30-10 loss to last-placed Manly. The Tigers were routed 36-4 by the Roosters last week, undoing the good work of their big win over the Bulldogs prior to the representative weekend.
The selection table: Dane Gagai has been named at fullback and Sione Mata’utia at centre for the Knights, Kurt Gidley remains at five-eighth, while Jack Stockwell returns to the bench for Joseph Tapine. The Tigers are unchanged, although David Nofoaluma could make a long-awaited return at the expense of rookie Delouise Hoeter.
The match-up: Rick Stone has rolled the dice by shifting Dane Gagai to the fullback role, while James Tedesco remains the Tigers’ most potent weapon.
The history: The Tigers are ahead 10-9 in overall count, but the Knights hold a narrow 6-5 advantage at Hunter Stadium.
The last time they met: Pat Richards was the hero of the Tigers’ 23-20 victory at Hunter Stadium in Round 13 last year.
The stat: The Knights are in danger of losing four in a row at home for the first time since 2008.
The verdict: Rick Stone’s backline confusion, combined with his forward pack’s toothless recent efforts, means the Knights are ripe for the picking for the hot-and-cold Tigers. Tigers by 7
Sea Eagles v Panthers – 7.00pm, Monday, May 18 @ Brookvale Oval
The storyline: Manly is on the comeback trail, while Penrith is battling to stay in the touch with the front-runners amid a terrible injury crisis.
The form guide: Manly’s five-game losing streak is fading from the memory after edging Melbourne and thrashing Newcastle in consecutive outings, with Daly Cherry-Evans in commanding form. The Panthers have won two of their last four despite being down on troops, while they were courageous in an 8-5 loss to Brisbane last week as Jamie Soward’s return sparked the Mountain Men.
The selection table: Steve Matai returns from suspension at centre, which pushes Peta Hiku out to the wing and David Williams out of the side. James Segeyaro returns for Penrith, which sees Apisai Koroisau move to five-eighth and Isaac John drop out of the team. Sika Manu has returned to the bench for the suspended Tyrone Peachey.
The match-up: A couple of mouth-watering individual showdowns in this one, with Cherry-Evans and Soward squaring off in the No.7 jumpers and in-form fullbacks Brett Stewart and Matt Moylan going head-to-head.
The history: Manly have won 50 and Penrith 29, with one drawn in 80 meetings. The Sea Eages lead the match tally at Brookvale 29-10.
The last time they met: The short-handed Panthers notched a 22-12 win over the Sea Eagles at Pepper Stadium in Round 6 earlier this season.
The stat: The Sea Eagles have won their last five Monday night games; the Panthers have lost their last three in the timeslot.
The verdict: A cracking contest awaits on MNF, but there was something about Manly’s performances in the last couple of weeks that suggest they may be on the verge of a remarkable charge to the finals. Penrith aren’t too far off the mark, and Segeyaro is a big in, but they are treading water to an extent until Wallace, Whare and Mansour return.