Tigers v Rabbitohs – 7.45pm (AEST), Friday, June 12 @ ANZ Stadium
The storyline: The Tigers’ season is on the brink, while the Rabbitohs have seemingly unlocked the secret to winning without linchpin Adam Reynolds.
The form guide: The Tigers have lost four straight, culminating in a 27-20 loss to the Titans at Leichhardt last week. Souths have now won three in a row, following up scratchy wins over the Eels and Titans with a dominant 36-4 victory over the Warriors in Perth that could prove the launching pad of their title defence.
Ladder: Tigers 13th, Rabbitohs 5th
Attack: Tigers 13th, Rabbitohs 4th
Defence: Tigers 8th, Rabbitohs 5th
The selection table: Aaron Woods’s selection for NSW means Keith Galloway starts and Matt Lodge returns on the bench. David Nofoaluma and Tim Simona’s return from injury means Delouise Hoeter and Nathan Milone drop out of the team. Alex Johnston moves to fullback with Greg Inglis away on Origin duty. John Olive makes his NRL debut on the wing. Issac Luke is out with a medial ligament injury, replaced by Cameron McInnes at hooker.
The match-up: Alex Johnston may have to wait a few years before he wears the No.1 on a fulltime basis, but he is unquestionably one of the best-credentialed young fullbacks in the game. His showdown with Tigers dynamo James Tedesco should be a scorcher.
The history: The Rabbitohs have moved ahead 15-10 in matches since 2000, including a 6-4 advantage at ANZ Stadium.
The last time they met: Souths subdued a plucky Tigers outfit 20-6 in Round 3 this year.
The stat: The Tigers are chasing three straight wins at ANZ Stadium for the first time since 2006.
The verdict: Even without Inglis and Luke, the Rabbitohs look like being far too powerful and polished for a Tigers side that has hit the skids after a promising start to the year. Dylan Walker’s display last week was an ominous sign for all opposing defences, while Johnston, John Sutton and Chris Grehvsmuhl are in great touch. Rabbitohs by 14
Warriors v Roosters – 6.00pm (AEST), Saturday, June 13
The storyline: Origin has weakened both teams’ line-ups, but the biggest talking point is the players that each side welcomes back for this important clash between two clubs locked on 14 points.
The form guide: The Warriors’ jammy wins over lesser lights Cronulla, Parramatta and Newcastle were exposed when faced with a quality outfit, creamed 36-4 by Souths as sloppy handling and pathetic goal-line defence plagued their performance from the first till the 80th. The Roosters, too, suffered a setback, seeing their three-match winning streak halted 10-4 by the Sharks.
Ladder: Warriors 8th, Roosters 6th
Attack: Warriors 9th, Roosters 7th
Defence: Warriors 11th, Roosters 2nd
The selection table: Sam Tomkins returns at fullback with Siliva Havili dropping out of the team, Nathan Friend starts at hooker and Tuimoala Lolohea moves to the bench in a slight reshuffle. Johnathan Wright drops out of the team for Konrad Hurrell’s return from suspension while Charlie Gubb and Raymond Faitala-Mariner come in for Origin representatives Jacob Lillyman and Ryan Hoffman. Albert Vete starts. Blake Ferguson returns from a foot injury in place of Origin-bound centre Michael Jennings. Boyd Cordner’s absence means Mitch Aubusson moves to the back row, Shaun Kenny-Dowall shifts to the centres and Brendan Elliot comes in on the wing. Mitchell Pearce is effectively replaced by Matt McIlwrick with Jackson Hastings starting at halfback while Aidan Guerra’s absence means Sio Siua Taukeiaho starts and Willie Manu comes on to the bench.
The match-up: Hurrell and Ferguson, two of the game’s most damaging centres who have both endured an interrupted campaign to date, go head-to-head in a fascinating duel.
The history: The Warriors hold an 18-14-1 advantage in 33 matches since 1995, including 10-5 at their Mt Smart base.
The last time they met: The Warriors were embarrassed 46-12 by the Roosters at home in Round 24 last year.
The stat: Blake Ferguson has scored four tries in his past five games against the Warriors; Manu Vatuvei has scored 10 tries in his past 12 games against the Roosters.
The verdict: There were some danger signs last week for the Warriors and they are yet to claim a big scalp in 2015, but the return of Hurrell and Tomkins – finally reuniting the potent right-edge triumvirate along with Shaun Johnson – should improve their attack markedly. It will be a thriller, and the Roosters do have some disruptions, but they should be able squeak home a give their six Kiwis a happy homecoming. Roosters by 2
Titans v Bulldogs – 4.00pm (AEST), Sunday, June 14 @ Cbus Super Stadium
The storyline: The Bulldogs attempt to overcome more injury and Origin disruptions and continue their climb up the NRL ladder, but the Titans are one of those pesky teams who refuse to let their finals dreams die quietly.
The form guide: Gold Coast snapped a three-match losing run with a nail-biting 27-20 away win over Wests Tigers, getting home late after coughing up a 17-point lead. Canterbury has emerged from a poor run to defeat Canberra with Origin players unavailable, before overwhelming table-topping St George Illawarra 29-16 with a stunning late surge.
Ladder: Titans 11th, Bulldogs 7th
Attack: Titans 5th, Bulldogs 8th
Defence: Titans 14th, Bulldogs 12th
The selection table: Kane Elgey’s syndesmosis strain means Daniel Mortimer moves to halfback, Kierran Moseley shifts to hooker and Matt Robinson comes on to the bench. Eddy Pettybourne starts in place of Origin-bound Nate Myles with Matt White coming on to the bench while Dave Taylor is replaced by Mark Ioane on the bench. With Brett and Josh Morris named for New South Wales, Sam Perrett shifts to fullback with Corey Thompson and Chase Stanley coming into the team on the wing and in the centres respectively. Trent Hodkinson’s Origin recall sees Josh Reynolds start and Danny Fualalo named on the bench. Greg Eastwood moves to the back row for Josh Jackson as Lloyd Perrett comes in at lock. James Graham’s hamstring injury sees Sam Kasiano start, and along with David Klemmer’s absence due to Origin, means Antonio Kaufusi and Herman Ese’ese come on to the bench.
The match-up: Tenacious five-eighths Aidan Sezer and Josh Reynolds are in great form and will play key roles on Sunday.
The history: Surprisingly, the Titans hold a 6-5 advantage in 11 previous clashes – including 3-1 at Robina.
The last time they met: The Titans snared a surprise 19-18 golden point victory in the final round of 2014…after trailing 18-0!
The stat: The Bulldogs played the Gold Coast Giants/Seagulls/Chargers 13 times – and won all 13.
The verdict: The Bulldogs’ dynamic pack, despite the loss of Graham, and the in-form combination of Reynolds and Mbye should be too tough for the Titans to combat, particularly with Elgey on the sidelines. Bulldogs by 10
Storm v Eels – 7.00pm (AEST), Monday, June 15 @ AAMI Park
The storyline: The Storm face their first assignment without the Smith-Cronk-Slater triumvirate – plus Will Chambers – taking on an Eels side desperate to atone for the season’s greatest choke.
The form guide: Melbourne bounced back from an insipid 24-2 loss to the Roosters by shutting out Penrith 20-0, but form goes out the window when the team has undergone such a line-up transformation. The Eels somehow surrendered a 30-6 lead in the space of 11 minutes against the Cowboys, their fifth loss in six outings.
Ladder: Storm 3rd, Eels 15th
Attack: Storm 11th, Eels 6th
Defence: Storm 3rd, Eels 16th
The selection table: Kurt Mann replaces Origin rep Will Chambers, Ben Hampton replaces injured halfback Cooper Cronk (knee) while Queensland captain Cameron Smith is replaced by Young Tonumaipea with Ryan Hinchcliffe moving from the bench to hooker. Will Hopoate’s Origin recall means Bureta Faraimo returns on the wing with Ryan Morgan moving to the centres. Daniel Alvaro also drops out of the team in place of Darcy Lussick.
The match-up: Blake Green will take control of the Storm’s direction without the club’s big names on deck, and his No.6 battle with Corey Norman could be a decisive factor on Monday night.
The history: The Storm hold an 18-11 lead in 29 matches since 1998, including 3-0 at AAMI Park.
The last time they met: Melbourne comfortably outpointed Parramatta 28-10 in Round 9 this season.
The stat: The Eels have not won in Melbourne since 2005.
The verdict: Tipping the Eels is fraught with danger, but there was enough in the first 55 minutes of their performance against the Cowboys to suggest they can grab their maiden win at AAMI Park against a heavily disrupted Storm side. Eels by 7