Sunday 17 December 2017 / 01:48 AM

NRL Round 18 Preview

Raiders v Knights – 7.45pm (AEST), Friday, July 10 @ GIO Stadium

The storyline:  The Raiders get a rare appearance on Channel Nine’s Friday night coverage, but it’s not their fault this is the least appealing game of the round – it’s the standard of their struggling opponents, the second-last Knights.

 

Form guide: The Raiders, despite playing some excellent footy, have won just one of their last six and were pumped 30-8 by the Warriors in Round 16. No side is more out of form than the Knights, losing 10 of their last 11 – including their last five straight.

 

Ladder: Raiders 11th, Knights 15th

 

Attack: Raiders 2nd, Knights 11th

 

Defence: Raiders 13th, Knights 15th

 

The selection table: Joey Leilua is out – per the conditions of his mid-season move to the Raiders – as Jarrad Kennedy returns off the bench. Jarrod Mullen and Tyrone Roberts return in the halves meaning Kurt Gidley shifts to fullback while Jake Mamo and Carlos Tuimavave return to NSW Cup. Kade Snowden returns from suspension at prop with Paterika Vaivai dropping back to 18th man. Jeremy Smith returns from a sternum injury for Robbie Rochow (broken arm) while David Fa’alogo returns from a hamstring complaint in place of Clint Newton.

 

The match-up: Edrick Lee and Akuila Uate are gearing up for an electrifying wing battle.

 

The history: The Raiders hold a 23-18-1 advantage in 42 matches against the Knights, including a 16-5-1 record at home.

 

The last time they met: Canberra thrashed Newcastle 44-22 on the road just five weeks ago.

 

The stat:  The Knights have won three of their last four in Canberra.

 

The verdict: The Raiders will have too much firepower against a Knights outfit whose defensive standards have gone out the window over the last two months. The Knights have conceded an average of 35 points over the last five weeks and can expect a similar scoreline against them in the capital. Raiders by 18

 

Panthers v Roosters – 5.30pm (AEST), Saturday, July 11 @ Pepper Stadium

The storyline:  Two sides in great form lock horns in a rematch of last year’s classic qualifying final.

 

Form guide: The Panthers have emerged from a tough, injury-affected run to swamp the Tigers 35-12 and Rabbitohs 20-6 in the last fortnight – despite still sporting a heavy casualty list. The Roosters have won three straight (all by 10 points or less) and six of their last seven to climb into outright third.

 

Ladder: Panthers 9th, Roosters 3rd

 

Attack: Panthers 14th, Roosters 6th

 

Defence: Panthers 5th, Roosters 1st

 

The selection table: Both sides are unchanged, with the Roosters’ Origin quartet expected to back up.

 

The match-up: In-form, double-barrelled Kiwi fullbacks Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak are likely teammates on New Zealand’s end-of-season tour to England.

 

The history: The Roosters hold a commanding 52-31-1 lead over the Panthers, whose record at home in these clashes is a dismal 11-27-1.

 

The last time they met: The Roosters carved out a tough 20-12 win in Round 3 this year at Allianz.

 

The stat:  Despite their ordinary overall record against the Roosters at home, the Panthers have won three of the last four clashes at Pepper Stadium.

 

The verdict: The Panthers’ form in recent weeks has been admirable, but the Roosters represent a step up in class and Mitchell Pearce should be fired up for a big game after a dreadful performance in the Origin decider. The Panthers’ struggling attack has improved vastly thanks to Bryce Cartwright’s explosive form and Dean Whare’s return, and will test the Roosters’ NRL-best defence in what should be one of the weekend’s closest matches. Roosters by 4

 

Bulldogs v Broncos – 7.30pm (AEST), Saturday, July 11 @ ANZ Stadium

The storyline:  The post-Origin period gets off to a flyer with this out-and-out blockbuster at ANZ Stadium, a heavyweight showdown that has the potential to shake up the top-eight picture.

 

Form guide: The Bulldogs have hit back strongly in recent weeks, winning four of their last five – including an emphatic 20-4 victory over Melbourne in their return to Belmore Oval in Round 16. The Broncos are one win clear at the top of the table after winning their last five straight, trouncing Newcastle 44-22 prior to their second bye.

 

Ladder: Bulldogs 8th, Broncos 1st

 

Attack: Bulldogs 8th, Broncos 1st

 

Defence: Bulldogs 10th, Broncos 4th

 

The selection table: Josh Jackson returns from suspension in the back row in a move which sees last start man-of-the-match Shaun Lane drop back to 18th man. James Graham has been tipped as a possible late inclusion. Daniel Vidot’s return on the wing means Corey Oates drops back to the bench in place of Dale Copley. Justin Hodges is also rested, with Jack Reed returning in the centres. Sam Thaiday also comes in for Josh McGuire (Achilles) who is out for the season, while Parker and Gillett are also expected to back up.

 

The match-up: Origin enemies David Klemmer and Corey Parker are sure to come together in the middle of the park on several occasions.

 

The history: The Broncos are ahead in the count 26-19-1 since 1988, while 12 matches at ANZ Stadium have been shared six apiece.

 

The last time they met: Brisbane whipped Canterbury 41-10 at Suncorp in Round 22 last year as Josh Reynolds infamously lost the plot.

 

The stat:  The Broncos are 6-2 on the road this season; the Bulldogs are 5-4 at ANZ.

 

The verdict: This will go down to the wire, with both clubs in outstanding touch and both shouldering a heavy Origin load. The Bulldogs’ line-up is less disrupted, however, and should be favoured at home…just. Bulldogs by 1

 

Warriors v Storm – 2.00pm (AEST), Sunday, July 12 @ Mt Smart Stadium

The storyline:  Two teams in the five-way logjam for fourth spot square off in Auckland in an intriguing battle between traditional rivals, which could prove season-defining for both sides – win or lose.

 

Form guide: The Warriors have won five of their last seven, including their best two victories of the season in their last two starts against the Titans and Raiders. The Storm have lost three straight to the Eels, Broncos and Bulldogs.

 

Ladder: Warriors 7th, Storm 5th

 

Attack: Warriors 4th, Storm 13th

 

Defence: Warriors 9th, Storm 3rd

 

The selection table: The Warriors named an unchanged from their win over the Raiders a fortnight ago but David Fusitu’a is 18th man with Konrad Hurrell in doubt, and Ryan Hoffman is expected to miss the match with a calf injury picked up in Origin. Jordan McLean is out for Melbourne. His omission sees Ben Hampton move to the bench and Cooper Cronk return from both a knee injury and Origin duty at halfback.

 

The match-up: Queensland hero Cronk will be keen to get one up on Shaun Johnson, who has outplayed him three times in a row at Test level over the last eight months.

 

The history: The Storm holds a narrow 18-15-1 lead since 1998, while 16 matches at Mt Smart have been shared eight apiece.

 

The last time they met: Melbourne scored a 30-14 win over a sloppy Warriors outfit on Easter Monday this year.

 

The stat:  All eight of the Warriors’ wins this season have come against teams currently placed 10th or lower on the NRL ladder.

 

The verdict: The absence of Billy Slater is clearly affecting the Storm’s fluency and effectiveness, while the heavy Origin workload may also have an impact on this road trip. As per usual, the in-form Johnson is the key for the Warriors but Sam Tomkins’ return has also been responsible for the club’s recent turnaround.  Warriors by 10

 

Sharks v Dragons – 4.00pm (AEST), Sunday, July 12 @ Remondis Stadium

The storyline:  The Dragons thumped the Sharks 42-6 six weeks ago and are still in the top four, but this derby shapes as a must-win for the Saints thanks to a lengthy losing streak and Origin fallout – and the Sharks are ready to pounce.

 

Form guide: The Sharks’ three-match winning streak came to an end via a 28-16 loss to Manly in Round 16. The Dragons have lost four in a row at the hands of the Bulldogs, Roosters, Eels and Cowboys.

 

Ladder: Sharks 10th, Dragons 4th

 

Attack: Sharks 12th, Dragons 15th

 

Defence: Sharks 7th, Dragons 2nd

 

The selection table: Paul Gallen and Michael Ennis have been both named for the Sharks in place of Pat Politoni and Chris Heighington (18th man), with the latter beating a judiciary charge on Thursday night and tipped to come into the 17 with Gallen in serious doubt. Josh Dugan’s return from Origin means Justin Hunt shifts to the wing in place of Kiti Glymin, but Dugan is in doubt with an arm injury. Jason Nightingale also returns on the wing in place of Charly Runciman. Will Matthews and Joel Thompson return from suspension and injury respectively in a move which sees Jake Marketo drop to the bench and Luke Page and Nathan Green drop out of the team. Heath L’Estrange and Trent Merrin were named to replace Craig Garvey and Mark Ioane (18th man) on the bench, but Merrin’s four-week ban means Ioane is likely to get a reprieve.

 

The match-up: Sharks hooker Michael Ennis goes up against the player who perhaps should have been NSW’s dummy-half on Wednesday night instead, Mitch Rein.

 

The history: The Dragons hold an 18-16-1 advantage in the southern Sydney derby, but the Sharks lead the joint venture 9-6 at Remondis.

 

The last time they met: Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop were on fire as the Dragons powered to a 42-6 win in Round 12 at WIN Jubilee.

The stat:  The Saints have won 10 of their last 13 against the Sharks, including four of their last six in the Shire.

 

The verdict: The Dragons’ outstanding resurgence goes on the line this week after four straight losses, in which have failed to score more than 16 points. The absence of Merrin and possibly Dugan further tips the scales in favour of the home side, who will look to grind the under-strength visitors into submission. Sharks by 6

 

Titans v Sea Eagles – 7.00pm (AEST), Monday, July 13 @ Cbus Super Stadium

The storyline:  The focus will inevitably centre on Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans after his contract back-flip on the Titans, who are ironically in the grips of a halves injury crisis.

 

Form guide: The Titans have won only two of their last seven, going down to the Warriors (36-14) and Roosters (20-10) in their last two outings. The Sea Eagles have won two of their last three, downing the Tigers and Sharks either side of a loss to the Rabbitohs.

 

Ladder: Titans 13th, Sea Eagles 14th

 

Attack: Titans 7th, Sea Eagles 16th

 

Defence: Titans 16th, Sea Eagles 11th

 

The selection table: James Roberts returns to the centres as Josh Hoffman moves back to five-eighth, Daniel Mortimer shifts to halfback, Chad Redman starts at hooker and Dave Taylor goes back to the bench. Ryan James returns from a shoulder injury in the back row as Matt Robinson drops back to the bench for Mark Ioane following his move to the Dragons. Justin Horo returns to a five-man bench in an otherwise unchanged team from their last-start win over the Sharks.

 

The match-up: Manly hit-man Steve Matai will be lurking in the shadows ready to put a hit on dazzling Gold Coast centre James Roberts.

 

The history: The Sea Eagles are 8-5 ahead after 13 clashes with the Titans, including a 4-3 record on the Gold Coast.

 

The last time they met: Manly scored a gripping 15-12 win at Cbus Super Stadium in Round 23 last year.

 

The stat:  The last four matches between these sides on the Gold Coast have been decided by eight points or less.

 

The verdict: DCE may cop a chorus of boos when he runs out on Monday, but he and Kieran Foran – both magnificent against the Sharks – will ensure the reshuffled Titans slip further out of finals contention. The Sea Eagles can still mount a late rally to reach the top eight and they will be primed for a big one.  Sea Eagles by 12

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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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