BRONCOS V BULLDOGS – FRI 7 AUGUST, 7.45PM, SUNCORP STADIUM
The storyline: The Broncos are trying to hang onto top spot on the ladder, while the Bulldogs are clinging to a spot in the top eight after both heavyweights suffered Round 21 defeats.
Form guide: The Broncos’ eight-match winning streak was ended in emphatic fashion by resurgent Manly, trounced 44-14 in Gosford. The Bulldogs lost three of their last four to slide into the danger-zone, overrun 38-28 by the Roosters last Friday in a seesawing clash.
Ladder: Broncos 1st, Bulldogs 8th
Attack: Broncos 1st, Bulldogs 6th
Defence: Broncos 5th, Bulldogs 9th
The selection table: The Broncos are unchanged despite their shock 30-point loss to the Sea Eagles last weekend. Dale Copley is 18th man. Tolman and Curtis Rona return at prop and on the wing respectively. It means Corey Thompson and Lloyd Perrett make up the extended bench, while David Klemmer returns to the interchange. Frank Pritchard also returns, with Shaun Lane taking Danny Fualalo’s spot in the 17.
The match-up: Livewire No.6s Anthony Milford and Moses Mbye are set to engage in an enthralling duel.
The history: The Broncos hold a 27-19-1 advantage in 47 encounters with the Bulldogs, but the Bulldogs have won seven games to the Broncos’ five at Suncorp.
The last time they met: The Broncos crafted a gutsy 16-8 win at ANZ Stadium three days after the Origin decider.
The stat: The Broncos are on an eight-match winning streak at Suncorp.
The verdict: The Broncos received a huge wake-up call this week and should be switched on, but the Bulldogs were much improved against the Roosters and with the whiff of September in the air, should be formidable opposition. Broncos by 4
SEA EAGLES V RABBITOHS – FRI 7 AUGUST, 7.45PM, BROOKVALE OVAL
The storyline: Can Manly keep its finals fairytale alive and claim a second massive scalp in the space of six days?
Form guide: The Sea Eagles backed up their courageous 32-12 win in Auckland with an astonishing 44-14 demolition of ladder-leaders Brisbane – their fifth win in seven games. The Rabbitohs are building strongly, edging out Penrith 20-16 last Sunday to claim their seventh win in nine games.
Ladder: Sea Eagles 11th, Rabbitohs 4th
Attack: Sea Eagles 9th, Rabbitohs 5th
Defence: Sea Eagles 8th, Rabbitohs 4th
The selection table: Steve Matai returns from a concussion in the centres as Tom Trbojevic drops back to the NYC. The Rabbitohs are unchanged following their hard-fought four-point victory over the Panthers last weekend. Jason Clark is 18th man.
The match-up: Fullback veterans Brett Stewart and Greg Inglis are pivotal to their sides’ chances of victory.
The history: The Sea Eagles have won 73 and the Rabbitohs 62 of 135 games since 1947, while the record at Brookvale is 32-21 in favour of the home side.
The last time they met: Souths won a rugged Round 16 clash 20-8 in June.
The stat: No two clubs have played each other more often without recording a draw.
The verdict: Manly’s admirable recent run is set to hit a roadblock in the shape of a South Sydney side that will be well aware of what a win at Brookvale will do for their title defence. Rabbitohs by 7
WARRIORS V DRAGONS – SAT 8 AUGUST, 5.00PM LOCAL (3.00PM AEST), WESTPAC STADIUM
The storyline: Two desperates go toe-to-toe in the New Zealand capital in a contest that will have a major bearing on both clubs’ finals aspirations – but the Warriors need to overcome a disturbing hoodoo to down the Dragons.
Form guide: After folding badly against Manly, the Warriors were committed and enthusiastic against Cronulla but ultimately missed Shaun Johnson’s influence as they were run down 18-14. The Saints ended a seven-match losing streak via a Benji Marshall-inspired 46-24 victory over lowly Newcastle.
Ladder: Warriors 9th, Dragons 7th
Attack: Warriors 7th, Dragons 15th
Defence: Warriors 11th, Dragons 3rd
The selection table: Jonathan Wright replaces Konrad Hurrell in the centres, while Dominique Peyroux joins the bench as 18th man. Trent Merrin returns from a four-game suspension on the bench. His return sees Jake Marketo drop back to 19th man. Ben Creagh and Will Matthews swap between the bench and the front row while Kiti Glymin replaces Jason Nightingale (foot) on the wing.
The match-up: Sam Tomkins has to step up for the Warriors, but outplaying the in-form Josh Dugan would be a huge feat.
The history: The Dragons have won 18 and the Warriors just four of 22 encounters since 1999.
The last time they met: The Saints prevailed 20-10 at WIN Jubilee in Round 7 last season.
The stat: The Warriors have lost 10 in a row against the Saints, while they boast just one win in seven games in Wellington.
The verdict: The Dragons’ sudden return to form should be enough to ensure their hoodoo over the Warriors continues. It’s difficult to see where the Warriors’ points are going to come from with Johnson, particularly against a defence as well-organised as the Saints’. Dragons by 8
SHARKS V COWBOYS – SAT 8 AUGUST, 5.30PM, REMONDIS STADIUM
The storyline: Two in-form sides square off in the Shire as they look to solidify their title credentials – the Cowboys are still in the hunt for their maiden minor premiership, while the Sharks have designs on a top-four finish.
Form guide: Cronulla has won seven of its last eight, coming from behind to down the Warriors 18-14 in Auckland last Saturday. North Queensland has won 15 of its last 16, again getting out of jail in Round 21 by overhauling a 16-0 deficit to beat Canberra 32-24.
Ladder: Sharks 5th, Cowboys 2nd
Attack: Sharks 12th, Cowboys 3rd
Defence: Sharks 7th, Cowboys 6th
The selection table: Cronulla is unchanged following their four-point win over the Warriors last weekend. North Queensland are unchanged following their come-from-behind eight-point win over the Raiders last weekend.
The match-up: Michael Ennis has received a new lease of life with the Sharks, but Cowboys recruit Jake Granville is arguably the competition’s form No.9.
The history: The Sharks lead the tally 22 wins to 14, including a 10-5 record at Remondis.
The last time they met: The Sharks recovered from an 18-0 deficit to beat a Thurston-less Cowboys outfit 24-18 in Round 16.
The stat: North Queensland has not lost to Cronulla at Remondis since 2008.
The verdict: This shapes as an absolute cracker. The Sharks have the type of spoiling game that can put Thurston and the Cowboys off theirs, while they finally possess the attacking firepower in the likes of Valentine Holmes and Jack Bird to capitalise on it. Both sides are in the winning habit and will be hell-bent on keeping it that way. Cowboys by 1
EELS V PANTHERS – SAT 8 AUGUST, 7.00PM, TIO STADIUM
The storyline: The western Sydney derby lamentably sees both sides languishing out of finals contention in the least important match of the round, although that won’t dampen the spirits of the Darwin locals.
Form guide: The gutsy, injury-ravaged Panthers have lost four in a row and seven of their last nine, culminating in a hard-fought 20-16 loss to Souths in Round 21. The Eels have lost three on the trot, succumbing to the cellar-dwelling Titans 24-14 on Monday night as their season lurches from one disaster to the next.
Ladder: Eels 13th, Panthers 12th
Attack: Eels 13th, Panthers 16th
Defence: Eels 13th, Panthers 10th
The selection table: Will Hopoate and Brad Takairangi are back in the centres, with Vai Toutai and Bureta Faraimo dropping out of the team. Corey Norman also returns at five-eighth as Joseph Paulo moves to 18th man. With Robert Jennings out (hamstring), Waqa Blake moves to the wing, Lewis Brown shifts one out to the centres, Bryce Cartwright starts in the back row and Apisai Koroisau comes onto the bench.
The match-up: A potential NSW second-row pairing of the future, Tepai Moeroa and Bryce Cartwright will be looking to build on their burgeoning reputations.
The history: The Eels are the senior partner in this derby, winning 54 games to the Panthers’ 35, with one game drawn.
The last time they met: The Eels notched an impressive 26-20 win in Round 12 at Pepper Stadium.
The stat: Parramatta has not defeated Penrith twice in a season since 2005.
The verdict: The Panthers are far better defensively, boast better direction with Jamie Soward at the helm and possess the game-breaking talents of Cartwright, so they should be too strong for a troubled Eels side that looks like they’ve put their cue in the rack for 2015. Panthers by 8
STORM V TITANS – SUN 9 AUGUST, 2.00PM, AAMI PARK
The storyline: Melbourne is looking to avoid its second straight defeat to an also-ran, but Gold Coast has proven a tricky proposition for the heavyweight Storm in recent seasons.
Form guide: After getting back on track with commanding wins over Penrith and St George Illawarra, Melbourne inexplicably crashed to a 34-16 loss to Wests Tigers last Friday. Gold Coast snapped a run of five losses by outlasting Parramatta 24-14 on Monday – just the Titans’ third win in their last 11 games.
Ladder: Storm 6th, Titans 14th
Attack: Storm 8th, Titans 14th
Defence: Storm 2nd, Titans 15th
The selection table: Tim Glasby and Felise Kaufusi swap between the bench and the front row in an otherwise unchanged team. Captain Nate Myles returns at prop for Gold Coast, meaning Eddy Pettybourne moves back to an extended interchange alongside 18th man Lachlan Burr, and Daniel Mortimer.
The match-up: Two of the NRL’s premier front-rowers will lock horns in Jesse Bromwich and Nate Myles.
The history: The Storm have won eight games to the Titans’ five, including a 3-1 record at AAMI Park.
The last time they met: Melbourne prevailed 24-20 at Robina in Round 14 last year.
The stat: The last five games between the clubs – two of which have been won by the Titans – were decided by eight points or less.
The verdict: Complacency certainly won’t be a problem for the Storm and they should have too much muscle on their home patch for a patched-up Titans outfit. Storm by 16
KNIGHTS V ROOSTERS – SUN 9 AUGUST, 4.00PM, HUNTER STADIUM
The storyline: The rampant Roosters are odds-on to brush the last-placed Knights aside at Hunter Stadium, and it could get ugly as the competition’s best defensive side lines up against the worst.
Form guide: The Knights have won just two of their last 15 and conceded 98 points in the last fortnight to the Rabbitohs and Dragons, although there were some promising signs in attack in the Round 21 defeat to the Saints. The Roosters boast the longest active winning streak in the NRL, notching seven in a row – but they were given a wake-up call as their big lead was overhauled by the Bulldogs last week, before hitting back late to grab a 38-28 win.
Ladder: Knights 16th, Roosters 3rd
Attack: Knights 10th, Roosters 4th
Defence: Knights 16th, Roosters 1st
The selection table: Tariq Sims and David Fa’alogo return in the back row and on the bench respectively. Their inclusion means Chris Houston drops back to the bench while Joe Tapine and Lachlan Fitzgibbon return to NSW Cup. Shaun Kenny-Dowall returns on the wing in place of Brendan Elliot while Isaac Liu replaces Sam Moa (wrist) on the bench.
The match-up: Tenacious Knights youngster Jake Mamo and tall Roosters strike weapon Daniel Tupou are set for an intriguing wing battle.
The history: The Roosters hold a 25-19-2 lead since 1988, including 11-9-2 at Hunter Stadium.
The last time they met: The Knights pulled off a stunning 16-12 upset at home in Round 20 last year.
The stat: The Roosters have won just two of their last nine against the Knights at Hunter Stadium.
The verdict: The Tricolours’ crack backline will have a field day against the Knights’ leaky defence, while they won’t be as generous as the Dragons were on the other side of the ball last weekend. A rout looms. Roosters by 28
RAIDERS V WESTS TIGERS – MON 10 AUGUST, 7.00PM, GIO STADIUM
The storyline: The Raiders are striving to stay alive in the top-eight scramble, but the besieged Tigers may be a dangerous opponent after pulling off a king-sized upset last week.
Form guide: It seems incongruous that Canberra has won just three of its last 10, such has been their impressive form. Last week, they let a 16-0 lead slip against North Queensland before going down 32-24. Wests Tigers broke a five-match losing streak by stunning Melbourne 34-16 at Leichhardt – only their second victory in 11 games.
Ladder: Raiders 10th, Tigers 15th
Attack: Raiders 2nd, Tigers 11th
Defence: Raiders 13th, Tigers 12th
The selection table: Sisa Waqa returns from a knee injury, taking Edrick Lee’s (suspension) place on the wing. Glen Buttriss comes in at hooker for the injured Josh Hodgson while Jarrad Kennedy is promoted to the back row and NRL debutant Mitchell Barnett comes on to the bench for Sia Soliola (cheekbone) who will miss the remainder of the season. Brenden Santi comes on to a five-man Tigers bench, with Manaia Cherrington named at 18th man.
The match-up: Raiders sensation Blake Austin will be looking to emphasise the joint venture’s folly in letting him go when he takes on beleaguered Tigers five-eighth Mitchell Moses.
The history: The Tigers have won 17 and the Raiders 12 of 29 encounters since 2000, including a slender 8-7 lead in matches at GIO Stadium.
The last time they met: The Raiders scored a remarkable come-from-behind 30-22 win at Leichhardt in Round 7.
The stat: The Raiders are chasing three straight against the Tigers for the first time since 2002-03.
The verdict: The Raiders simply have to win and that desperation – combined with the confidence they’ve garnered from a string of honourable losses – should carry them over the line against a pesky Tigers side that will play like they’ve got nothing to lose. Raiders by 6