BRONCOS V TITANS – FRI 24 JULY, 7.45PM SUNCORP STADIUM
The storyline: Rarely have the south-east Queensland rivals’ fortunes been more disparate leading into a derby. The Broncos are leading the comp and the Titans are languishing in second-last in a throwback to the bad old days of the Gold Coast Seagulls.
Form guide: The Broncos have won seven straight, putting the cleaners through the Tigers 42-16 last Sunday. The Titans have lost four in a row, including heavy defeats to fellow stragglers Manly (38-6) and Newcastle (30-2) in the past fortnight.
Ladder: Broncos 1st, Titans 15th
Attack: Broncos 1st, Titans 11th
Defence: Broncos 4th, Titans 16th
The selection table: Jack Reed’s suspension sees Jordan Kahu shift to the centres, Corey Oates promoted to the wing and Dale Copley come onto the bench. Kodi Nikorima also replaces Matt Parcell on the bench. Aidan Sezer returns from a hamstring complaint at five-eighth as Daniel Mortimer takes Chad Redman’s spot on the bench, although Mortimer could be ruled out due to concussion. Kevin Gordon, Matt White and Lachlan Burr replace Anthony Don, Nathaniel Peteru and Dave Taylor. David Hala is 18th man.
The match-up: Josh Hoffman goes head to head with the player whose arrival virtually forced him out of Brisbane, Darius Boyd, in a clash between two former Test fullbacks.
The history: The Broncos hold an 13-5 lead in 18 clashes with the Titans, including 8-1 at Suncorp.
The last time they met: Anthony Milford starred as the Broncos powered to a 26-16 win at Robina in Round 5.
The stat: The Broncos are on a seven-match winning streak at home, and have won their last eight against the Titans at Suncorp.
The verdict: The wheels have completely fallen off for the plucky-but-embattled Titans in recent weeks, while the Broncos are barrelling towards their first minor premiership in 15 years. The Broncos’ sizzling, top-ranked attack and the Titans’ wafer-thin, NRL-worst defence means this could get ugly. Broncos by 40
WESTS TIGERS V ROOSTERS – FRI 24 JULY, 7.45PM ANZ STADIUM
The storyline: Another Friday night mismatch looms as the title-favourite Roosters prepare to dismantle the last-placed Tigers.
Form guide: The Roosters have won five straight and eight of their last nine, culminating in an extremely impressive 24-0 shutout of the in-form Warriors. The Tigers’ recent record is almost the exact inverse, losing four in a row and eight of their last nine. Last week’s 42-16 defeat at the hands of Brisbane was their fourth straight game conceding 28-plus points.
Ladder: Tigers 16th, Roosters 3rd
Attack: Tigers 13th, Roosters 4th
Defence: Tigers 12th, Roosters 1st
The selection table: David Nofoaluma returns in the centres in place of Nathan Milone while Jack Buchanan replaces Ava Seumanufagai on the bench. Boyd Cordner returns from a week off in the back row as Isaac Liu shifts back to the bench. Jackson Hastings is 18th man.
The match-up: Aaron Woods captains the embattled Tigers and will be eager to get over the top of front-row counterpart Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, who has been in imposing form of late.
The history: The Roosters have won 18 and the Tigers eight of 26 games since 2000, but they are locked 2-all after four meetings at ANZ.
The last time they met: The Roosters racked up a dominant 36-4 result at Allianz in Round 9.
The stat: The Roosters have won 10 of their last 11 against the Tigers, including the last six in a row in which they have averaged 42.7 points scored per game and an average winning margin of 30 points.
The verdict: It’s hard to envisage anything but another whitewash given the Tigers’ recent form and their struggles over the last five years against the Tricolours. Roosters by 30
WARRIORS V SEA EAGLES – SAT 25 JULY, 5.00PM LOCAL (3.00PM AEST) MT SMART STADIUM
The storyline: How will the Manly side react to the news that 14 players and coach Geoff Toovey are set to be cut loose by the club at the end of the year? Meanwhile, the Warriors will be desperate to get back on track after being given a reality check by the Roosters last start.
Form guide: The Warriors’ three-match winning run was ended courtesy of a brutal 24-0 bashing at the hands of the Roosters, although keeping the premiership favourites to one try during the second half was a heartening effort. The Sea Eagles’ recent resurgence hit a roadblock in the form of Cowboys on Monday night, going down 30-12.
Ladder: Warriors 7th, Sea Eagles 13th
Attack: Warriors 5th, Sea Eagles 14th
Defence: Warriors 10th, Sea Eagles 11th
The selection table: Glen Fisiiahi will make his long-awaited return on the wing, in place of David Fusitu’a, with Tuimoala Lolohea shifting to the centres. Sam Lisone is 18th man. Manly is unchanged from their last-start loss to the Cowboys, with 2016 Warriors signing Ligi Sao beating a judiciary charge to retain his spot. But Daly Cherry-Evans is in doubt after picking up an injury last week.
The match-up: Rookie sensation Solomone Kata was given a torrid time by Blake Ferguson last Sunday, and it won’t get a great deal easier when he lines up against wily veteran Jamie Lyon this weekend.
The history: The Sea Eagles have won 18 and the Warriors eight of 26 previous encounters, while the visitors boast an 8-3 record at Mt Smart.
The last time they met: Manly won a tough encounter 22-12 in Round 20 last year against a Warriors side minus Shaun Johnson.
The stat: The Sea Eagles have won eight of the last nine, 11 of the last 13, and 15 of the last 19 against the Warriors. They have lost just once in Auckland since 2007.
The verdict: You had to dig deep to find them, but there were signs of real grit and character under tough circumstances for the Warriors last weekend. And the Sea Eagles are certainly no Roosters – particularly in the engine-room departure – so we should see the Warriors side of the previous three rounds re-emerge. If Cherry-Evans is ruled out, as expected, it could get ugly for the embattled Manly side. Warriors by 14
STORM V DRAGONS – SAT 24 JULY, 7.30PM LOCAL (5.30PM AEST), MCLEAN PARK
The storyline: The NRL breaks new ground again as Melbourne takes its home game to the New Zealand city of Napier, located on the east coast of the Central North Island. But the frontier spirit will take a backseat for two sides locked in a desperate fight for finals survival, particularly the Saints, who fell out of the top eight with another loss last week.
Form guide: The Storm snapped a four-match losing streak with a 52-10 drubbing of Penrith in Cameron Smith’s 300th match last Friday. The Dragons slumped to their six straight loss – after winning eight of their previous nine – with a 24-8 defeat at the hands of Souths.
Ladder: Storm 5th, Dragons 9th
Attack: Storm 9th, Dragons 16th
Defence: Storm 2nd, Dragons 3rd
The selection table: Both sides are unchanged.
The match-up: Marika Koroibete was outstanding last week and will prove a handful for veteran New Zealand Test winger Jason Nightingale.
The history: Melbourne holds a 21-8-1 lead over St George Illawarra since 1999.
The last time they met: The Storm held on for a dour 12-4 win over the Dragons in Round 1.
The stat: Cameron Smith has won 17 of 21 games as captain against the Dragons.
The verdict: The Saints have everything to play for – and another loss may put paid to their finals hopes – but they need to rediscover their defensive steel as well as finding away to post enough points to secure the win. The Storm’s emphatic return to form provided some ominous signs for their opponents, particularly the influence of Cooper Cronk. Storm by 6
RABBITOHS V KNIGHTS – SAT 25 JULY, 7.30PM, ANZ STADIUM
The storyline: The Knights grabbed a belated win over a fellow cellar-dweller last week, but Saturday’s clash against a Rabbitohs side whose title defence appears to be gathering momentum is another proposition altogether.
Form guide: Souths’ form-line over their last five outings reads WLWLW, but the 24-8 defeat of St George Illawarra in Round 19 – spearheaded by a brilliant display by captain Greg Inglis – was a big step in the right direction. Newcastle ended a six-match losing streak by whipping the similarly embattled Gold Coast 30-2 last up, notching just their second win in 13 games.
Ladder: Rabbitohs 4th, Knights 14th
Attack: Rabbitohs 10th, Knights 7th
Defence: Rabbitohs 5th, Knights 15th
The selection table: Issac Luke returns from suspension at hooker in place of the injured Cameron McInnes. Kyle Turner has been rated a chance of being a late inclusion. Adam Clydsdale has been named to return from a shoulder injury in place of Tyler Randell, who left the field with concussion last week, while Akuila Uate and Dane Gagai are expected to be ruled out despite being named.
The match-up: Two old hard-heads square off in the backrow, Glenn Stewart and Beau Scott.
The history: The Knights have won 25 and Souths 11 of 36 previous encounters, but the Rabbitohs hold a 2-1 lead at ANZ Stadium.
The last time they met: Souths racked up a 50-10 scoreline at Cairns’ Barlow Park in Round 21 last year.
The stat: Souths are on a four-match winning streak against Newcastle, scoring 127 points in those games.
The verdict: The Knights won’t have the muscle or firepower to go with the Rabbitohs, who are looking to cement their place in the all-important top four. Rabbitohs by 18
PANTHERS V RAIDERS – SUN 26 JULY, 2.00PM, PEPPER STADIUM
The storyline: With both sides sitting four points outside the top eight, this is virtually a must-win clash for the Panthers and Raiders.
Form guide: The injury-riddled Panthers’ impressive wins over the Tigers and Rabbitohs have been followed by convincing losses to the Roosters (24-4) and Storm (52-10). The Raiders have won just two of their last eight, agonisingly going down in golden point to the Sharks at home last weekend. The Green Machine’s form has been sound, however, despite not getting results on the board.
Ladder: Panthers 12th, Raiders 10th
Attack: Panthers 15th, Raiders 2nd
Defence: Panthers 9th, Raiders 14th
The selection table: David Simmons returns on the wing in place of 19th man Robert Jennings while Sika Manu will start in the back row as Bryce Cartwright returns to the bench and Apisai Koroisau shifts to 18th man Josh McCrone has been named at halfback, with Jack Wighton replacing Sisa Waqa (knee) at fullback in an otherwise unchanged team.
The match-up: The irresistibly in-form Blake Austin lines up opposite the Panthers’ wily five-eighth linchpin Jamie Soward in a crucial individual duel.
The history: In 65 matches since 1982, Penrith has won 33, Canberra has won 31 and there has been one draw. At home, the Panthers’ advantage is more pronounced at 18-11-1.
The last time they met: The sides have not clashed since Round 10 last year, when the Panthers got up 26-20 in the capital.
The stat: Ricky Stuart-coached sides have lost their last six at Pepper Stadium.
The verdict: An intriguing encounter set to go down to the wire as both clubs strive to keep their finals hopes alive, but the effervescent Raiders have shown more in recent weeks and their superior attack should win the day. The Panthers will improve from the Melbourne debacle, but with so many key attacking weapons unavailable, they will struggle to find enough points.
BULLDOGS V SHARKS – SUN 26 JULY, 4.00PM, BELMORE SPORTS GROUND
The storyline: It’s Back to Belmore Part II as Canterbury and Cronulla lock horns in a match vital to the make-up of the top-eighth picture. The clubs have not played at Belmore since the 1997 Super League season, when the Sharks prevailed 13-12.
Form guide: The Bulldogs have won five of their last seven, bouncing back from the 16-8 loss to the Broncos in Round 18 with a comprehensive 28-4 thrashing of the Eels. The Sharks have won five of their last six, backing up their commanding 28-8 defeat of the Dragons by pipping the Raiders 21-20 in a golden point thriller.
Ladder: Bulldogs 6th, Sharks 8th
Attack: Bulldogs 6th, Sharks 12th
Defence: Bulldogs 7th, Sharks 8th
The selection table: Moses Mbye joins a five-man interchange in an otherwise unchanged team. Ben Barba returns on a six-man bench also including Matt Prior and the returning Anthony Tupou.
The match-up: Two of the NRL’s most exciting young talents, equal top try-scorer Curtis Rona and freakish match-winner Valentine Holmes, face off in a tantalising wing battle.
The history: Canterbury has won 54, Cronulla has won 30 and two have been drawn since 1967; the record at Belmore is 19-8-1 in the Bulldogs’ favour.
The last time they met: The Bulldogs routed the Sharks 42-4 in Round 2 last year.
The stat: Des Hasler has won his last nine coaching against the Sharks.
The verdict: In what should be an engrossing, hard-fought and gruelling encounter, the Belmore factor can carry the Bulldogs over the line again, as it did against the Storm a few weeks back. Bulldogs by 4
COWBOYS V EELS – MON 27 JULY, 7.00PM, 1300SMILES STADIUM
The storyline: Finally rid of problem child Chris Sandow, the Eels arrive in Townsville at long odds of keeping their flagging finals bid alive.
Form guide: The Cowboys have won 13 of their last 14, overwhelming Manly at Brookvale last Monday night. The Eels’ unlikely three-match winning streak came to a shrieking halt as they crumbled 28-4 to the Bulldogs in Round 19.
Ladder: Cowboys 2nd, Eels 11th
Attack: Cowboys 3rd, Eels 8th
Defence: Cowboys 6th, Eels 13th
The selection table: James Tamou returns from suspension at prop, as Ben Hannant takes 18th man Sam Hoare’s spot on the interchange. Reece Robinson returns from a fractured cheekbone at fullback in place of the injured Corey Norman (knee) and Joseph Paulo starts at five-eighth, with Luke Kelly shifting to halfback for the suspended Chris Sandow. With Anthony Watmough and Danny Wicks out for the season, David Gower is promoted to lock as Daniel Alvaro and Isaac De Gois come on to the bench.
The match-up: Hard-running second-rowers Gavin Cooper and Manu Ma’u will play key roles for their sides on Monday.
The history: The Eels hold a 17-14-1 advantage over the Cowboys in 32 matches since 1995, but the Cowboys have the edge at home, 7-5-1.
The last time they met: The Cowboys somehow overturned a 24-point deficit during the second half at Pirtek Stadium in Round 13, with a six-minute hat-trick by Cooper spurring the visitors to a 36-30 win over the dumbstruck Eels.
The stat: Parramatta has won only one of its last nine in Townsville, while North Queensland has won 16 of its last 19 at home.
The verdict: As much as Sandow’s departure is a positive step for the Eels, his absence means they will struggle to create scoring opportunities – particularly with Corey Norman also sidelined. The Cowboys, and in particular Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan, are in irrepressible touch and could rack up a big score on their home track. Cowboys by 28