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.
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
— Parramatta Eels (@TheParraEels) June 15, 2016
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
— Melbourne Storm (@storm) June 15, 2016
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
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) June 14, 2016
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
— Gold Coast Titans (@GCTitans) June 15, 2016