Panthers v Rabbitohs – 7.35pm (AEST), Friday, July 3 @ Pepper Stadium
The storyline: The plucky Panthers are looking to build on last week’s convincing win and stay in the finals picture, while the Rabbitohs are quietly building a compelling title defence.
Form guide: The Panthers’ thumping 35-12 victory over the Tigers last week snapped a three-match losing streak. The Rabbitohs have won four of their last five, including a 20-8 success in a physical clash with Manly last Friday.
Ladder: Panthers 10th, Rabbitohs 5th
Attack: Panthers 15th, Rabbitohs 8th
Defence: Panthers 5th, Rabbitohs 6th
The selection table: The Panthers are unchanged from their big 23-point win over the Wests Tigers last Sunday afternoon. Greg Inglis is out on Origin duty, Alex Johnston will play at fullback and Joel Reddy has been named to return on the wing. Glenn Stewart will start in the back row with Chris McQueen shifting to lock and Ben Lowe coming off the bench.
The match-up: Issac Luke squares off against his replacement when suspension ruled him out of last year’s Grand Final, Apisai Koroisau.
The history: The Rabbitohs hold a comfortable 42-32-1 lead all-time, but just 19-18-1 at Penrith.
The last time they met: Souths shut the Panthers out 18-2 in Round 6 last year.
The stat: The Rabbitohs have averaged 35 points per game in their last four meetings with the Panthers.
The verdict: Souths’ defence is several notches above the standard Penrith encountered last week against the Tigers, and despite Greg Inglis’ absence they should have too much power and go-forward for the home side. Rabbitohs by 10
Dragons v Cowboys – 7.30pm (AEST), Saturday, July 3 @ WIN Stadium
The storyline: This top-four battle sees both sides negotiating several key absences as an invaluable two points goes on the line.
Form guide: The Dragons have got the wobbles, losing three in a row to the Bulldogs, Roosters and Eels. The Cowboys’ club record 11-match winning streak ended last week courtesy of a 24-18 loss to the Sharks with Johnathan Thurston rested, despite leading 18-0 at halftime.
Ladder: Dragons 4th, Cowboys 2nd
Attack: Dragons 14th, Cowboys 3rd
Defence: Dragons 1st, Cowboys 8th
The selection table: Yaw Kiti Glymin will make his NRL debut on the wing in place of Dylan Farrell. Origin-bound Josh Dugan and Trent Merrin have been replaced directly at fullback and on the bench by Jason Nightingale and Nathan Green. Mitch Rein returns from suspension at hooker with Heath L’Estrange dropping to the bench in place of 18th man Craig Garvey. Tyson Frizell and Joel Thompson are both out, while Will Matthews has been suspended; Frizell may be a late inclusion to partner Jake Marketo in the second-row. George Rose and Rory O’Brien come onto the bench. Ben Creagh and Mike Cooper swap between lock and prop also. Michael Morgan being named for Queensland sees Ray Thompson (cheek) return from injury to replace him at halfback. Cameron King drops out for Robert Lui too with Rory Kostjasyn dropping back to the bench. Matt Scott and James Tamou’s Origin selections sees Ben Hannant and Sam Hoare start and Scott Bolton come onto the bench.
The match-up: In-form Englishman Mike Cooper is at lock for the Dragons, and he will have his hands full matching Cowboys wrecking ball Jason Taumololo.
The history: The Cowboys are ahead 13-12 in the count overall, but the Dragons are 6-5 in front at WIN Stadium.
The last time they met: The Dragons held on for a 27-24 victory in a similarly Origin-affected match in Round 17 last season at WIN Jubilee.
The stat: North Queensland is five from five in NSW this year.
The verdict: Although the Cowboys have extinguished their travel woes this year, the WIN Stadium factor may be enough to tip the scales in the favour of the Dragons in a battle between two depleted sides. Last week’s loss without Thurston would have really dented the northerners’ confidence, and the added absence of Morgan, Scott and Tamou will be tough to overcome on the road. The Dragons will be desperate, knowing that the dread ‘slump’ tag will follow a fourth straight defeat. Dragons by 4
Sea Eagles v Sharks – 4.00pm (AEST), Sunday, July 5 @ Brookvale Oval
The storyline: The so-called ‘Battle of the Beaches’ shapes as a crucial game for both sides’ top-eight hopes is set to unfold at Brookvale on Sunday, but it’s the Sharks who will go into the match under-strength.
Form guide: The last-placed Sea Eagles have improved recently but have won just one of their last five, going down to the Rabbitohs 20-8 last start. The Sharks have climbed up the ladder on the back of three straight wins over the Roosters, Knights and Cowboys, overturning an 18-point halftime deficit to defeat the latter in Townsville.
Ladder: Sea Eagles 16th, Sharks 9th
Attack: Sea Eagles 16th, Sharks 13th
Defence: Sea Eagles 9th, Sharks 7th
The selection table: Willie Mason returns on an extended bench for the Sea Eagles in an otherwise unchanged team. Pat Politoni coming in for Michael Ennis at hooker is the only change for the Sharks.
The match-up: With his future settled, Kieran Foran is in for a big game, and his individual battle with boom Sharks five-eighth Jack Bird will be a ripper.
The history: The Sea Eagles are way out in front 59-23-2 overall against the Sharks, and an even more emphatic 31-5-1 at Brookvale.
The last time they met: Manly trounced struggling Cronulla 26-0 at Remondis Stadium in Round 15 of last season.
The stat: The Sharks have won just one of their last 11 against the Sea Eagles and are winless at Brookvale since 2008.
The verdict: Foran and the slighted Cherry-Evans will be fired up for a dominant performance as the Sea Eagles look to start building a platform for a late charge, while the absence of the combative Ennis is sure to upset the Sharks’ continuity. The Brookvale curse is set to continue for the Shire dwellers. Sea Eagles by 7
Tigers v Eels – 7.00pm (AEST), Monday, July 6 @ ANZ Stadium
The storyline: Two struggling clubs on the brink of finals oblivion, but coming off very different results last week.
Form guide: The Tigers’ only win in their last seven was over the Rabbitohs in Round 14; last week’s 35-12 loss to the Panthers was as bad as they’ve produced all season. Despite their off-field troubles, the Eels have won three of their last four, including a valiant 16-12 victory over the heavyweight Dragons last week in the shadow of the Kieran Foran saga.
Ladder: Tigers 14th, Eels 12th
Attack: Tigers 11th, Eels 8th
Defence: Tigers 10th, Eels 13th
The selection table: Sauaso Sue has been promoted to the starting 13 in place of Origin-bound Aaron Woods with Manaia Cherrington coming on to the bench. Dene Halatau is a straight swap for hooker Robbie Farah while Tim Simona has been ruled out too as Nathan Milone replaces him in the centres. Will Hopoate being named for the Blues means Ryan Morgan shifts to centres and Bureta Faraimo comes onto the wing. Manu Ma’u returns from suspension in the back row with David Gower moving to the bench in place of 18th man Joseph Paulo.
The match-up: Nuggetty, quick and brilliant halfbacks Luke Brooks and Chris Sandow hold the key on Monday.
The history: The Eels are 16-13-1 against the Tigers since 2000, including 5-2 at ANZ Stadium.
The last time they met: A late surge saw the Tigers down the Eels 22-6 on Easter Monday in Round 5.
The stat: The Tigers have won six of their last seven against the Eels, but they have lost six of their last seven Monday night fixtures.
The verdict: There are some serious deficiencies in the Tigers’ play on both sides of the ball, while the Eels are riding high on confidence and have the in-form game-breakers to continue their recent purple patch. Eels by 12