EELS V BULLDOGS – FRI 17 JULY, 7.45PM ANZ STADIUM
The storyline: Heritage Round kicks off with one of the NRL’s most celebrated grudge matches – and a vital showdown in the context of both clubs’ campaigns.
Form guide: Despite a prolonged period of off-field turmoil, the Eels have won three in a row and four of their last five prior to last week’s bye. The Bulldogs came off a period of four wins in five matches with a disappointing 16-12 loss to Brisbane at home in the wake of Origin III.
Ladder: Eels 12th, Bulldogs 8th
Attack: Eels 6th, Bulldogs 7th
Defence: Eels 13th, Bulldogs 11th
The selection table: Darcy Lussick and Junior Paulo swap between prop and the bench in an otherwise unchanged team, although Nathan Peats could be a late inclusion at hooker. Trent Hodkinson returns at halfback for the Bulldogs in a move which sees Moses Mbye drop back to the bench and Tim Browne shift to 18th man.
The match-up: Two players frequently in the news, halfbacks Chris Sandow and Trent Hodkinson can shift the focus back to the football they’re playing for their current clubs with a match-winning turn on Friday.
The history: The Bulldogs lead the all-time count 74-58-5, including a 14-9 record at ANZ Stadium.
The last time they met: The blue-and-whites powered to a comfortable 32-12 win at the same venue in Round 2 this year.
The stat: Des Hasler has won 13 of his last 16 coaching against Parramatta.
The verdict: The Eels and Bulldogs have been two of the hardest to tip teams of 2015, and this match is a lottery. So much depends on which Parramatta side turns up – their attack is irresistible when it’s on, but the Eels have nothing to fall back on if it doesn’t click. Bulldogs by 4
STORM V PANTHERS – FRI 17 JULY, 7.45PM AAMI PARK
The storyline: In another pivotal mid-table clash, the Storm are desperately attempting to arrest a losing streak in Cameron Smith’s 300th game, while the Panthers need to overcome more injury setbacks to continue their recent upswing.
Form guide: Melbourne has lost four in a row, comprehensively outplayed 28-14 by the Warriors last week. Penrith subdued 24-4 last week by the Roosters, following on from impressive wins over the Tigers and Rabbitohs.
Ladder: Storm 6th, Panthers 11th
Attack: Storm 13th, Panthers 15th
Defence: Storm 3rd, Panthers 6th
The selection table: Tim Glasby and Felise Kaufusi swap between the bench and prop in an otherwise unchanged team. The Panthers named an unchanged team but Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has been ruled out with a collapsed lung, David Simmons could also be a late omission and James Segeyaro may take the field.
The match-up: The milestone man, Cameron Smith, will have a tough individual battle on his hands if livewire Segeyaro is a late inclusion.
The history: The Storm hold a commanding 22-7 lead in 29 games since 1998, and are unbeaten in four matches hosting the Panthers at AAMI Park.
The last time they met: Melbourne shut Penrith out 20-0 at Pepper Stadium six weeks ago.
The stat: The Panthers have won just one of their last 15 against the Storm, and have not chalked up a W in Melbourne since 2005.
The verdict: The Storm aren’t a side the type of side to phone it in on such a big occasion and they should be able to honour Smith with a victory, particularly in such desperate circumstances. The Panthers will scrap away, but their lack of troops will once again be a decisive factor. Storm by 14
RAIDERS V SHARKS – SAT 18 JULY, 3.00PM GIO STADIUM
The storyline: Two teams just outside the eight but in hot form, the Raiders and Sharks can take a huge step towards an unlikely finals appearance with a win in this mouth-watering Saturday afternoon showdown.
Form guide: The Raiders’ 36-22 victory over the Knights – featuring an early Blake Austin hat-trick – was just their second in seven games, belying their excellent performances of late. The Sharks racked up their fourth win in five games with a punishing 28-8 win over an under-strength Dragons outfit.
Ladder: Raiders 10th, Sharks 9th
Attack: Raiders 1st, Sharks 11th
Defence: Raiders 14th, Sharks 8th
The selection table: With Sam Williams out for five weeks with a pectoral injury, Kurt Baptiste moves from the bench to halfback with Joey Leilua returning on the interchange. The Sharks are unchanged from their last start win over the Dragons.
The match-up: A scorching wing battle looms between Raiders beanpole Edrick Lee and diminutive Shark Valentine Holmes.
The history: The Sharks have won 33 and the Raiders 30 of 63 clashes since 1982, but the Raiders hold a 14-9 advantage in Canberra.
The last time they met: The Raiders pulled off an exciting 24-20 upset at Remondis in Round 1 this season.
The stat: Canberra has not beaten Cronulla twice in a season since 2003.
The verdict: What a game this shapes up to be. There’s little between the sides despite their vastly different styles and strengths. The Raiders’ No.1-ranked attack should be able to overcome the Sharks’ solid D at home, however. Raiders by 6
KNIGHTS V TITANS – SAT 18 JULY, 5.30PM, HUNTER STADIUM
The storyline: Two teams low on form, low on confidence and low on the NRL ladder square off in easily the least appealing and least important match of Heritage Round.
Form guide: The Knights have lost 11 of their last 12, including their last six staight. ’Nuff said. The Titans have lost six of their last eight, including their last three in a row – culminating in a 38-6 thrashing at the hands of Manly last Monday.
Ladder: Knights 16th, Titans 14th
Attack: Knights 8th, Titans 9th
Defence: Knights 15th, Titans 16th
The selection table: Beau Scott returns from suspension in the back row for Newcastle. It means Joe Tapine will take Jeremy Smith’s spot on the bench, with the veteran lock starting in the No. 13 jumper as Paterika Vaivai drops back to 18th man. Greg Bird returns from an eight-week suspension at lock as Eddy Pettybourne drops back to the bench in place of Lachlan Burr. Beau Falloon and Dave Taylor will also start at hooker and second row respectively as Chad Redman and Agnatius Paasi return to the bench. Ben Ridge is 18th man. There are whispers Kane Elgey could be a late inclusion.
The match-up: Two NSW 2016 hopefuls, Tariq Sims and Ryan James, are set for a ding-dong second-row battle on Saturday.
The history: Newcastle has won eight and Gold Coast five of 13 matches since 2007, but only hold a 4-3 advantage at home.
The last time they met: The Knights edged the Titans 20-18 in a Round 3 thriller earlier this season.
The stat: Seven of the last 11 matches between these sides have been won by the away side.
The verdict: Expect plenty of points with the two worst defensive sides in the NRL on show, but the Titans have displayed far more character than the embattled Knights and the return of Greg Bird could be the factor that tips the visitors over the line. Titans by 8
DRAGONS V RABBITOHS – SAT 18 JULY, 7.30PM, SYDNEY CRICKET GROUND
The storyline: The old foes commemorate 50 years since the famous 1965 Grand Final, but there are more immediate priorities to take care of at the SCG as the Dragons and Rabbitohs search for some top-eight traction.
Form guide: The wheels have fallen off for the Saints, losing five in a row after winning eight of their previous nine. The Rabbitohs have lost two of their three, losing convincingly to the Tigers and Panthers either side of a tough 20-8 win over Manly.
Ladder: Dragons 7th, Rabbitohs 5th
Attack: Dragons 16th, Rabbitohs 10th
Defence: Dragons 2nd, Rabbitohs 5th
The selection table: Josh Dugan returns from a week absence at fullback in place of Charly Runciman (19th man), with Justin Hunt moving to the wing. Benji Marshall returns from a hamstring injury at halfback in place of last start debutant Drew Hutchinson (18th man). Tyson Frizell and Joel Thompson also return in the back row, as Will Matthews and Jake Marketo return to the bench in place of Nathan Green and Mark Ioane (20th man). Greg Inglis returns from Origin duty as Alex Johnston shifts back to the wing and Joel Reddy drops out. Cameron McInnes will start at hooker in place of the suspended Issac Luke while Tim Grant returns from injury at prop, with Dave Tyrrell taking Jason Clark’s spot on the bench.
The match-up: An Origin III rematch between Josh Dugan and Greg Inglis is just one of many mouth-watering, crucial duels.
The history: The Dragons joint venture has won 15 and lost nine of 24 matches against Souths since ’99, including a 3-2 record at the SCG.
The last time they met: The Rabbitohs prevailed 16-10 in a gruelling Round 9 clash earlier this year.
The stat: Souths are on a three-match winning streak at the SCG.
The verdict: Such a vital game between two heavyweights in thoroughly unconvincing form. The return of several Dragons stars is a boost, but whether they have enough points in them against one of the better defensive outfits in the competition is the key. Rabbitohs by 7
ROOSTERS V WARRIORS – SUN 19 JULY, 2.00PM, ALLIANZ STADIUM
The storyline: A top-four blockbuster awaits at Allianz Stadium as the title-favourite Roosters host the on-fire Warriors, who are beginning to be talked up as a genuine premiership threat.
Form guide: The Roosters have won four straight, downing the Warriors, Dragons, Titans and Panthers. The Warriors have won three in a row since that defeat to the Roosters, convincingly taking care of the Titans, Raiders and Storm.
Ladder: Roosters 3rd, Warriors 4th
Attack: Roosters 5th, Warriors 3rd
Defence: Roosters 1st, Warriors 10th
The selection table: Aidan Guerra returns at lock for the Roosters as Isaac Liu returns to the bench for Jackson Hastings who is 18th man. Jacob Lillyman and Albert Vete swap between the bench and starting in the only positional change for the Warriors. Sam Rapira is 18th man, while Manu Vatuvei could be a late inclusion.
The match-up: Shaun Johnson’s form has been unbelievable in recent weeks, while Mitchell Pearce is at the start of the long, familiar climb back from Origin failure.
The history: The Warriors enjoy an 18-15-1 record over the Roosters, while 15 matches at Allianz Stadium have been split 7-7-1.
The last time they met: A last-minute try to Blake Ferguson – after a diabolical in-goal error by Jonathan Wright – saw the Origin-depleted Roosters pip the Warriors 25-21 five weeks ago.
The stat: The Roosters have won six of their last eight against the Warriors.
The verdict: This match has been billed as potentially the match of the year and it’s easy to see why. The Roosters will look to strangle the Warriors out of the contest with their relentless defence, but if Johnson is allowed to impart his influence, it will be game on. Strap yourselves in! Warriors by 2
BRONCOS V WESTS TIGERS – SUN 19 JULY, 4.00PM, SUNCORP STADIUM
The storyline: A rare Sunday afternoon at Suncorp Stadium will see the front-running Broncos host the beleaguered Tigers in a Heritage Round mismatch.
Form guide: The Broncos are flying high thanks to a six-match winning streak, remarkably going through the entire Origin period unbeaten. Conversely, the Tigers have just won win to show for their last eight outings, including a 28-16 loss to the Eels in Round 17.
Ladder: Broncos 1st, Tigers 15th
Attack: Broncos 2nd, Tigers 12th
Defence: Broncos 4th, Tigers 12th
The selection table: Captain Justin Hodges returns in the centres in a move which sees Jordan Kahu shift to the wing and Daniel Vidot drop back to an extended bench. Tim Simona returns from a leg injury in place of Delouise Hoeter in the centres, while Luke Brooks returns at halfback for Josh Drinkwater. Keith Galloway returns to the bench in place of Jack Buchanan, who shifts to 18th man. Robbie Farah is racing the clock to take the field in Brisbane despite not being named.
The match-up: James Tedesco is the Tigers’ danger-man, while Darius Boyd continues to improve every week.
The history: The Broncos lead the tally 18-4-1 since 2000, but only 5-3 at Suncorp.
The last time they met: The Origin-hit Broncos edged the Tigers at Campbelltown in Round 11 last year, with Ben Hunt and Luke Brooks starring.
The stat: The Broncos have posted 44 points in three of their last six matches at home.
The verdict: Anything but a resounding Broncos win would be totally against the form guide. The Tigers are in all-sorts and Suncorp against the competition leaders is a tough place to turn it around. Broncos by 20
SEA EAGLES V COWBOYS – MON 20 JULY, 7.00PM, BROOKVALE OVAL
The storyline: The Sea Ealges’ late bid to stay in top-eight contention meets a hefty obstacle in the shape of the second-placed Cowboys – but can the Brookvale Oval factor play a part?
Form guide: Manly have won three of their last four, including impressive wins over Cronulla and Gold Coast in the past fortnight. North Queensland have won 12 of their last 13, bouncing back from the loss to the Sharks with a courageous 18-12 win over the Dragons with Origin players absent.
Ladder: Sea Eagles 13th, Cowboys 2nd
Attack: Sea Eagles 14th, Cowboys 4th
Defence: Sea Eagles 9th, Cowboys 7th
The selection table: Dunamis Lui returns from a week-long absence at lock as Ligi Sao drops back to the bench in place of 18th man Jayden Hodges. Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan return in the halves in place of Robert Lui and Ray Thompson. Matt Scott returns from Origin duty in place of Scott Bolton who takes Glenn Hall’s spot on the bench.
The match-up: Origin hero Johnathan Thurston goes up against jilted Maroon Daly Cherry-Evans in an individual blockbuster.
The history: Manly have won 15 and the Cowboy nine of 24 encounters since 1995, including a 4-2 record at Brookvale.
The last time they met: A late try saw the Cowboys snatch an 18-14 win over the gallant Sea Eagles in Round 12 this year in Townsville.
The stat: The Cowboys have not won at Brookvale since 2005.
The verdict: The Sea Eagles’ form and confidence has enjoyed a major upturn, and a win here would put their finals bid into overdrive. But a rested Jonathan Thurston and the Cowboys’ stellar efforts can’t be ignored. Expect the visitors’ remarkable run of tight wins to continue. Cowboys by 2