Panthers v Eels – 7.45pm, Friday, May 29 @ Pepper Stadium
The storyline: The western Sydney derby shapes as a vital one for the embattled, last-placed Parramatta side, while Penrith welcome back a couple of key players.
The form guide: The injury-hit Panthers have managed to jag three wins in their last five matches, including a superb 11-10 eclipse of Manly at Brookvale last start. The Eels are on a four match losing streak, going down in golden point to the Warriors and suffering a late loss to Souths in their last two outings.
The selection table: Josh Mansour and Peter Wallace are back for the Panthers, while Chris Sandow returns to halfback at Luke Kelly’s expense in the Eels’ line-up, with Reece Robinson back at fullback.
The match-up: Nathan Peats could play his way into NSW Origin contention with a big match opposite James Segeyaro.
The history: The Eels hold a 53-35-1 advantage in 89 games, including a narrow 22-21-1 lead at Pepper Stadium.
The last time they met: The Panthers pummelled the Eels 38-12 at home in Round 12 last season, with Josh Mansour and Tyrone Peachey grabbing doubles.
The stat: The Panthers have won six of their last eight against the Eels.
The verdict: Despite their woes on and off the field, the Eels have put up plenty of fight in recent weeks. But the return of Mansour and Wallace – combined with the class of Moylan and Soward – will be too much for the confidence-sapped blue-and-golds to combat. Panthers by 16
Titans v Rabbitohs – 3.00pm, Saturday, May 30 @ Cbus Super Stadium
The storyline: The wobbly premiers are looking to build some momentum but the plucky Titans could prove to be a banana skin during this crucial mid-season period.
The form guide: The Titans followed up their 40-point thrashing at the hands of the Raiders with a devastating golden point defeat to Cronulla in Round 10, giving them a 4-6 record. The 6-4 Rabbitohs edged the Eels 14-12 in a grinding clash last Friday night.
The selection table: Kevin Gordon replaces David Mead on the Titans’ flank. Issac Luke is back in the starting hooker role for Souths; Jason Clark and Ben Lowe start in the backrow, while George Burgess will come off the bench. Lowe is in some doubt, however, with Chris Grehvsmuhl in line to join the final 17. Maroons stars Greg Inglis and Nate Myles are set to play.
The match-up: Rookie halfback Kane Elgey has been a tremendous find for the Titans, while Luke Keary is still finding his feet in the No.7 with Adam Reynolds on the sidelines.
The history: Souths hold a 7-5 lead after 12 matches with the Titans, including a 3-1 record at Robina.
The last time they met: The Titans grabbed a 14-10 victory in an Origin-affected clash in Round 17 last year at ANZ Stadium.
The stat: The Rabbitohs have won five of the last six encounters between the clubs.
The verdict: Souths are still a few notches below their best and they need more from Keary and struggling skipper Inglis. It will be a tough road trip, but the Titans have slid significantly since Greg Bird’s suspension, while John Sutton’s return made a huge difference for the Bunnies last week and he will be a key figure again. Rabbitohs by 4
Raiders v Broncos – 5.30pm, Saturday, May 30 @ GIO Stadium
The storyline: The burgeoning Raiders are looking to get back on the winning track against a Broncos side that has shouldered a heavy Origin load.
The form guide: The ninth-placed Raiders have lost their last two to the Dragons and Bulldogs, but continued to show positive signs in both defeats. The Broncos’ depleted line-up racked up a remarkable 31-18 victory in Newcastle – after trailing 18-6 during the first half – to retain a share of the competition lead.
The selection table: Sam Williams returns from injury for Mitch Cornish and Jack Wighton comes back at fullback, with Jordan Rapana dropping out. Kyle O’Donnell has replaced Shannon Boyd on the Raiders’ bench. Brisbane’s six Origin men have been named, but Justin Hodges is likely to be rested.
The match-up: Blake Austin and Anthony Milford, who makes his first appearance in the capital since leaving the Raiders, are both in blistering form in the No.6 jumper.
The history: Broncos hold a 25-19-1 lead in the all-time tally, but the Raiders are 12-9-1 ahead in the count in Canberra.
The last time they met: The Broncos pumped the Raiders 28-4 at GIO Stadium in Round 13 last season.
The stat: The Raiders have won six of the last eight between the clubs in Canberra.
The verdict: Unencumbered by Origin and with a couple of players in contention for game two, expect the Raiders to come out firing. The Broncos have sporadically produced big games on the back of gruelling Origin clashes, but this one feels like a loss for the visitors if the Green Machine can maintain their solid form. Raiders by 7
Cowboys v Sea Eagles – 7.30pm, Saturday, May 30 @ 1300SMILES Stadium
The storyline: These clubs’ recent finals history ensures there is still plenty of feeling when they come together – but the Sea Eagles’ top-eight hopes are tenuously placed, while the Cowboys are on a club record winning streak.
The form guide: The Cowboys have won eight straight, culminating in an 8-0 defeat of the Tigers with their Origin contingent absent. The Sea Eagles’ handy two-match resurgence – downing the Storm and Knights – was halted by an 11-10 loss to Penrith before the bye.
The selection table: The Cowboys’ Origin quartet has been named, although Matt Scott is in serious doubt with a cork. Kieran Foran returns for Manly but Daly Cherry-Evans has been ruled out.
The match-up: Fullbacks Brett Stewart and Lachlan Coote have both been in outstanding form in recent weeks.
The history: Manly has won 15 and the Cowboys eight of 23 clashes, while 12 previous clashes in Townsville have been split 6-all.
The last time they met: The Cowboys denied the Sea Eagles a minor premiership with a comprehensive 30-16 victory at home in Round 26 last year.
The stat: The Cowboys have won 15 of their last 17 at 1300SMILES.
The verdict: The home side may be weary after Origin, but Taumololo, Coote, Cooper, Lowe and Hannant will pick up the slack for their rep club-mates, while the absence of in-form linchpin Daly Cherry-Evans will be too big of a hurdle to overcome. Cowboys by 10
Warriors v Knights – 2.00pm (AEST), Sunday, May 31 @ Mt Smart Stadium
The storyline: The out-of-sorts Knights make the arduous trek to Auckland in an attempt to turn their campaign around – but their dismal form has been compounded by injury woes.
The form guide: The Warriors grabbed two much-needed, heart-stopping wins after the rep weekend, eclipsing Cronulla and Parramatta away. The Knights have won just one of their last six, and were overrun 31-18 by an Origin-depleted Broncos side last Monday.
The selection table: Sam Tomkins and Manu Vatuvei return from injury for the Warriors, with Tuimoala Lolohea slotting in at centre. Nathan Friend starts at hooker after Thomas Leuluai’s season-ending injury, and 2014 Kiwi Test rep Siliva Havili joins the bench. Adam Clydesdale returns at hooker for the visiting Knights. Jeremy Smith is likely to be a late scratching, but Beau Scott is reportedly good to go.
The match-up: Manu Vatuvei and Akuila Uate traditionally wage an enthralling – and occasionally erratic – individual battle on the wing.
The history: The Knights hold a 17-15-1 lead in the all-time tally but the Warriors are 9-8-1 in front at Mt Smart.
The last time they met: The unfancied Knights fought back from an eight-point halftime deficit to score a 24-14 win in Round 1 at Hunter Stadium earlier this season.
The stat: The Warriors have won eight of their last nine against the Knights at home.
The verdict: The return of Tomkins should sharpen up the Warriors’ attack immeasurably, while the Knights’ dreadful recent form is unlikely to improve on a trans-Tasman road trip. This is the time of the year the Warriors traditionally mount a charge and there’s nothing to suggest they won’t do so again – starting with the struggling Novocastrians. Warriors by 18
Dragons v Sharks – 4.00pm, Sunday, May 31 @ WIN Jubilee Oval
The storyline: Another bitter local derby, the Dragons are sailing along near the top of the table while the Sharks are plagued by indifferent form and off-field disruptions.
The form guide: The Saints have won seven of their last eight, including a high-quality 32-18 defeat of in-form Canberra in Round 10. The Sharks improved their record to 4-6 in their last outing, ending a two-match losing streak with a 23-22 golden point victory over the Titans.
The selection table: Jake Marketo (Dragons) and Tinirau Arona (Sharks) joining extended benches are the only changes to the respective sides. The aggrieved Michael Gordon has been included in the Sharks’ side on the wing. Paul Gallen is a chance of an ahead-of-schedule return.
The match-up: NSW star Josh Dugan’s individual clash with Sharks fullback Ben Barba – who coach Flanagan is persevering with despite having two better alternatives on the wings in Valentine Holmes and Gordon – epitomises the gulf in class between these two sides.
The history: The Dragons joint venture holds a 17-16-1 lead in the tally since 1999, including 5-2 at Jubilee Oval.
The last time they met: The Saints trounced the hapless Sharks 30-0 in Wollongong in Round 13 last year.
The stat: The Dragons have won nine of the last 12 derbies, including five of the last six at this ground.
The verdict: The Dragons are in an excellent groove – Marshall and Widdop are combining superbly, Dugan is outstanding every week and their forwards, led by Frizell and Thompson, are a force to be reckoned with. The Sharks, particularly with Barba occupying the fullback role, are a comparative rabble. This should be a comfortable win for the Saints despite the traditionally close nature of the derby. Dragons by 14
Roosters v Storm – 7.00pm, Monday, June 1 @ Allianz Stadium
The storyline: Two of the premiership’s heaviest hitters go toe-to-toe in what shapes as the best Monday night game of the season – and a possible Grand Final preview.
The form guide: The Roosters have emerged from a four-match losing streak with comprehensive defeats of the Tigers (36-4) and Bulldogs (24-10) in their last two outings. The table-topping Storm have lost just one of their last six, holding off the Rabbitohs 16-12 in Round 10 prior to last weekend’s bye.
The selection table:The Roosters are unchanged – provided their Origin contingent comes through unscathed – while the Storm have added a young trio to an extended interchange as cover for any potential Origin-related withdrawals.
The match-up: There’s plenty of mouth-watering individual showdowns – Origin combatants Pearce and Cronk, Kiwi props Bromwich and Waerea-Hargreaves, Queensland captain Smith and his hooking deputy Friend – but it’s impossible to go past brilliant fullbacks Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Billy Slater, who have both been in irrepressible form of late.
The history: The Storm lead the tally 15-13 since 1998, but the Roosters are in front 7-3 at Allianz.
The last time they met: Like on Wednesday, a Cronk field goal proved the difference in a 17-16 Melbourne victory at AAMI Park just five weeks ago, with James Maloney starring for the Roosters.
The stat: The Roosters have won six of their last seven Monday night games.
The verdict: A split hair between these teams in what should be one of the great contests of the 2015 regular season. The Origin workload would arguably have taken less of a toll on the Roosters’ NSW quartet, who also have far more to prove than the Storm’s triumphant Queensland contingent. Look for field goals to again decide the day. Roosters by 1