Rabbitohs v Eels – 7.45pm, Friday, May 22 @ ANZ Stadium
The storyline: The Eels’ season has gone from bad to hellish in the wake of a fresh salary cap scandal. The embattled blue-and-golds come up against a desperate, GI-less Rabbitohs side that can’t buy a win without Adam Reynolds.
The form guide: Both sides have won just one of their last five matches.
The selection table: Greg Inglis will be away on Origin duty, but Alex Johnston’s non-selection allows him to switch to fullback. Joel Reddy comes in on the Rabbitohs’ wing, while Jason Clark returns to the pack. Ryan Morgan moves into the centres for NSW’s Will Hopoate, with John Folau coming onto the wing. Junior Paulo returns to the Eels’ bench for the injured Isaac De Gois. There is mail that Chris Sandow will make a surprise return in the fullback spot.
The match-up: Johnston’s chance in the No.1 jumper will be a talking point, and he is set for an intriguing battle with his opposite – whether it be the fleet-footed Reece Robinson or the enigmatic Sandow.
The history: Souths hold a 65-51-3 record over Parramatta since 1947.
The last time they met: The Eels broke a seven-match losing streak against the Rabbitohs with a stunning 29-16 upset in Round 4 this year.
The stat: The Bunnies have won the last six matches between the sides at ANZ Stadium.
The verdict: Clubs have an uncanny knack of producing a stirring win in the days after a crisis and Brad Arthur will be instilling a siege mentality in his Eels side. The Reynolds factor – combined with Inglis’ absence – will be difficult for the premiers to overcome. Eels by 2
Tigers v Cowboys – 7.30pm, Saturday, May 23 @ Campbelltown Stadium
The storyline: The Cowboys, on the verge of the longest winning streak in the club’s history, are attempting to overcome the Origin drain and an away hoodoo against a Tigers side desperate for a win.
The form guide: The Cowboys are on a club record-equalling seven-match winning streak, culminating in a fine comeback win over the Broncos last start. The Tigers have won just one of their last five and were poor in losses to the Roosters and Knights in the last fortnight.
The selection table: Matt Lodge and Dene Halatau replace NSW front-row duo Aaron Woods and Robbie Farah respectively. Johnathan Thurston is replaced by Ray Thompson; Ben Hannant and Sam Hoare start in the Cowboys’ front-row for Origin props Matt Scott and James Tamou. Rory Kostjasyn, Glenn Hall and Kelepi Tanginoa join the interchange. Jason Taumololo is slated to be a late inclusion.
The match-up: Former Origin props Keith Galloway and Ben Hannant need to set the tone with their respective teams’ representative enforcers absent.
The history: The Tigers hold a 16-14 lead in the match tally since 2000.
The last time they met: The Cowboys humiliated the Tigers 64-6 in Townsville late last season in the midst of the Mick Potter saga.
The stat: The last six matches between the sides have been won by the home team, while the Cowboys have not defeated the Tigers in Sydney since a 24-12 win at Campbelltown in 2004.
The verdict: The Cowboys will struggle to overcome the loss of their halves and starting props on a cold Campbelltown night. Look for Brooks, Moses and Tedesco to wreak havoc against the reshuffled visitors in a do-or-die match for the Tigers. Tigers by 8
Raiders v Bulldogs – 4.00pm, Sunday, May 24 @ GIO Stadium
The storyline: Ignored by the Origin selectors, the Raiders are looking to continue their good patch of form against a Bulldogs side decimated by rep duty and injury.
The form guide: The Raiders have won four of their last six and performed admirably in a 32-18 loss to the in-form Dragons last week. The Bulldogs have won just one of their last six and are looking to avoid a fourth straight defeat after going down 24-10 to the Roosters last up.
The selection table: The Raiders are unchanged. Tim Lafai returns for the Bulldogs, Moses Mbye lines up at halfback and Tony Williams moves into the starting second-row with Josh Morris, Trent Hodkinson, Josh Jackson and David Klemmer in the NSW team. James Graham and Chase Stanley seem likely to drop out of the side with injury.
The match-up: The overlooked NSW five-eighth contenders, Josh Reynolds and Blake Austin, duke it out on Sunday afternoon.
The history: The Bulldogs are ahead 35-26 in 61 games since 1982.
The last time they met: Canterbury prevailed 22-14 in the clubs’ Round 15 clash in the capital last year.
The stat: The Bulldogs have won six of the last nine games between the teams, including four of the last six at GIO Stadium.
The verdict: The Raiders should do this fairly comfortably, provided they play with the same physicality and attacking spirit that has marked their season to date. The Bulldogs are playing ordinary football at near full-strength – they won’t come close with so many key men unavailable. Raiders by 20
Knights v Broncos – 7.00pm, Monday, May 25 @ Hunter Stadium
The storyline: Wayne Bennett returns to Newcastle – but he lobs into town with a Broncos team severely depleted by Origin commitments.
The form guide: The Broncos’ tough 31-20 loss to the Cowboys last week was just their second defeat in nine matches. The Knights snapped a dreadful five-match losing streak with a 22-12 win over a lacklustre Tigers side in Round 10.
The selection table: Joe Tapine comes into the Knights’ line-up for Blues second-rower Beau Scott. Dane Gagai has been called into the Queensland side as cover, but may return for Monday’s game. The Broncos will be without Maroons Darius Boyd, Justin Hodges, Sam Thaiday, Matt Gillett and Corey Parker. Jordan Kahu reverts to fullback, Daniel Vidot comes in on the wing, Dale Copley returns at centre, Jarrod Wallace starts at prop, and David Stagg and Jo Ofahengaue come into the backrow. Debutant Joe Boyce has been added to the bench.
The match-up: The old bull Jeremy Smith and the young buck Jo Ofahengaue go toe-to-toe in the No.13 jumpers this week.
The history: The Broncos have dominated this rivalry to the tune of 29-13-1, including a 14-9-1 record in Newcastle.
The last time they met: Ben Barba notched a hat-trick in the Broncos’ late-season 48-6 drubbing of the Knights at Suncorp last year.
The stat: The Knights are winless in their last four matches hosting the Broncos, while they have won just one of their last eight against the Broncos overall.
The verdict: The Knights were aided by a Tigers side seemingly hell-bent on gifting the two premiership points to them last week, and this is by no means a ‘Baby Broncos’ outfit – there’s still plenty of class and experience in maroon and gold, along with some outstanding young talent. Get on an away upset by the under-strength Broncos with Ben Hunt primed for a big game.Broncos by 7