Sunday 17 December 2017 / 12:06 AM

NRL ROUND 15 PREVIEW

There’s just four games on the NRL agenda in Round 15, but each match shapes as vitally important in the context of all eight clubs’ 2016 aspirations.

NRL ROUND 15 TEAM LISTS

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Parramatta Eels – 7.50pm (AEST), Friday, June 17 @ ANZ Stadium

The Storyline: Horribly out of form and without their two Origin-bound linchpins, South Sydney are in last-chance saloon territory as they prepare to take on gutsy Parramatta, who refuse to let myriad setbacks affect their efforts on the paddock.

The Stat: The Rabbitohs have won nine of their last 10 against the Eels, including the last seven straight at ANZ Stadium.

It’s a big game for: After four matches in a row coming off the bench, Luke Keary gets a chance in the starting side as speculation over his future continues to swirl.

The Verdict: If the Rabbitohs’ stand-in playmakers, Keary and Cody Walker, are allowed to play with a free rein, they could unsettle the Eels. But the blue-and-golds’ outstanding defence – and unwavering commitment to a hopeless cause – should be the overwhelming factor. Eels by 8

St George Illawarra Dragons v Melbourne Storm – 7.30pm (AEST), Saturday, June 18 @ WIN Stadium  

The Storyline: There’s no Smith or Cronk for the ladder-leading Storm, but Saturday’s road trip to Wollongong provides an opportunity for their support cast to show it’s not just a two-man show in Melbourne.

The Stat: The Storm are conceding an NRL-low 10.46 points per game in 2016; the Dragons are scoring an NRL-low 12.23 points per game this season.

It’s a big game for: They may be in a share of eighth spot, but it’s now or never for the patchy Saints – and it’s Gareth Widdop and Benji Marshall who need to take ownership for the side’s dreadful attack.

The Verdict: The absence of Melbourne’s Origin superstars evens the scales somewhat, but it’s the NRL’s best defence against the competition’s worst attack – and the Saints will lose some much-need grunt with Tyson Frizell’s NSW call-up. Expect Cameron Munster, Blake Green, Jesse Bromwich, Tohu Harris, Kevin Proctor and tryscoring machine Suliasi Vunivalu to demonstrate why the Storm are firming as a genuine premiership threat. Storm by 7

New Zealand Warriors v Sydney Roosters – 4.00pm (AEST), Sunday, June 19 @ Mt Smart Stadium

The Storyline: The Warriors have rocketed back to form in the past fortnight, while the Roosters are rooted to second-last spot. A tough evening in Auckland looms for the embattled Chooks.

The Stat: The Warriors will be aiming to score 30 points in three consecutive games for the first time since 2007.

It’s a big game for: It’s up to Shaun Johnson and Issac Luke to ensure the Warriors’ roll continues and complacency doesn’t creep in.

The Verdict: Warriors fans could be excused for half-expecting their side to back up their scorching win over Brisbane with a loss to bottom-placed Newcastle, but they produced another emphatic display. It’s too early to say the Warriors are back, but they will far too much firepower for a disjointed Roosters outfit missing Mitchell Pearce, Blake Ferguson and Aidan Guerra. Warriors by 20

Gold Coast Titans v Manly Sea Eagles – 7.00pm (AEST), Monday, June 20 @ Cbus Super Stadium

The Storyline: Manly hasn’t been this down-and-out in more than a decade, when the club was rebuilding after the Northern Eagles disaster. The pressure is piling up on Trent Barrett and his injury-ravaged team, while Gold Coast are aiming to remain in the top-eight hunt.

The Stat: The Sea Eagles are looking to avoid six straight losses for the first time since 2004.

It’s a big game for: Jamie Lyon is back from injury, but with no Daly Cherry-Evans or Dylan Walker, the onus is on the soon-to-retire skipper to rally his down-on-confidence troops.

The Verdict: It’s a big game for both clubs – the Sea Eagles are in crisis, while the Titans had the wind taken out of their sails by the Eels in Darwin last week – but there’s been far more upside and grit about Gold Coast’s performances in 2016, so expect them to get the job done at home. Titans by 10

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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