Bulldogs v Rabbitohs – Friday, April 3, 4.00pm (AEDT) @ ANZ Stadium
The storyline: The traditional Good Friday blockbuster doubles as a Grand Final rematch this year – and the Bulldogs, vanquished so emphatically by the rampant Rabbits in last year’s decider, are out for retribution.
The form guide: The Bulldogs notched their third straight win with a stunning comeback against the Tigers, pegging back an 18-point deficit with 23 minutes left to prevail 25-24 in golden point. The Rabbitohs incurred their first loss last week after a blistering start to their title defence, overrun 29-16 by the Eels.
The selection table: Josh Reynolds, Brett Morris and Tim Lafai return in a triple bonus for the Bulldogs, while the Rabbitohs are unchanged.
The match-up: Incumbent NSW No.7 – and the 2014 Good Friday hero – Trent Hodkinson up against the player many believe deserves a maiden Origin call-up this year, Adam Reynolds.
The history: After 150 meetings since 1935, Canterbury leads the tally 78-68-4, including 13-7 at Homebush.
The last time they met: Souths powered away to a euphoric 30-6 Grand Final victory after the scores were locked 6-all early in the second half.
The stat: Boom Souths winger Alex Johnston has scored 10 tries from his 10 games at ANZ Stadium, including one in last year’s Grand Final.
The verdict: Another absolute belter of a contest looms. The Bulldogs hold the edge in the forwards and out wide, while the Rabbitohs possess the superior spine. I’m tipping the Bulldogs to back up with a second straight Easter celebration. Bulldogs by 2
Titans v Broncos – Friday April 3, 8.35pm (AEDT), CBUS Super Stadium
The storyline: This is one of the more intriguing south-east Queensland derbies of recent years, with both teams coming off good wins complemented by the added edge of Josh Hoffman coming up against his former club.
The form guide: The Titans have competed bravely in the face of off-field tumult all season, and bagged their first win last week over Cronulla via a late intercept try to James Roberts. The Broncos have won three on the trot, ousting the Warriors 24-16 in Auckland last Sunday courtesy of a valiant defensive effort.
The selection table: Kierran Moseley returns from injury to replace suspended Titans hooker Beau Falloon. The Broncos will be without internationals Justin Hodges and Adam Blair, replaced in the 17 by Dale Copley and Mitch Garbutt respectively.
The match-up: Jilted ex-Broncos fullback Josh Hoffman lines up against fellow Kiwi Jordan Kahu, who is proving himself as a capable stand-in for the injured Darius Boyd more and more every week.
The history: The Broncos have won 12 and the Titans just five of 17 encounters since 2007, but the eight matches at Robina have been split four apiece.
The last time they met: The Broncos cruised to a 22-8 win at Suncorp over an injury-hit Titans side in Round 10 last year.
The stat: The Titans have won just one of their last 11 home games.
The verdict: Despite a couple of high-profile injury absentees, the Broncos’ burgeoning new combinations are starting to fire and they should be too powerful for the plucky Titans. Broncos by 10
Sea Eagles v Raiders – Saturday April 4, 5.30pm (AEDT), Lavington Sports Ground, Albury
The storyline: Two sides coming into Round 5 with 1-3 records, desperate to avoid their season slipping away as the NSW-Victoria border town of Albury sees some NRL action.
The form guide: The injury- and strife-torn Sea Eagles were outmuscled 12-4 by St George Illawarra last week, while the Raiders were pumped 34-6 by the Roosters – their third straight defeat.
The selection table: Steve Matai returns in the place of injured skipper Jamie Lyon; Feleti Mateo and Josh Starling are out, with Ligi Sao and Justin Horo coming into the Sea Eagles’ squad. Raiders halfback Mitch Cornish has been dumped for Sam Williams as coach Ricky Stuart takes just a month to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
The match-up: The five-eighth duel between Kieran Foran and Blake Austin could have a major bearing on the contest.
The history: The Sea Eagles lead the Raiders in the all-time match tally 29-17-1.
The last time they met: The Daly Cherry-Evans-inspired Sea Eagles humiliated the Raiders 54-18 at Brookvale in Round 8 last year after leading 42-0 after 30 minutes.
The stat: Manly has won 12 of its last 14 against Canberra.
The verdict: Not a lot of upside for either of these teams at present, but look for Foran and Cherry-Evans to get the Sea Eagles over the line as the Raiders field a new halves combination. Sea Eagles by 7
Knights v Dragons – Saturday April 4, 7.30pm (AEDT), Hunter Stadium
The storyline: Unbeaten Newcastle and resurgent St George Illawarra square off in the inaugural Alex McKinnon Cup match.
The form guide: The Knights produced their most impressive performance of 2015 to date last week, subduing Penrith 26-14. After a disastrous opening fortnight, the Dragons have bounced back with tight wins over Canberra and Manly.
The selection table: Joseph Tapine makes way for Tariq Sims, who makes his first appearance for the Knights. James McManus comes back from injury as Sione Mata’utia takes ‘18th man’ duties – he is certain to be included on the bench. The Dragons are unchanged.
The match-up: A Fijian flyer fest as Akuila Uate and Eto Nabuli go head to head.
The history: The Saints have won 19 and the Knights 10 of 29 matches.
The last time they met: Newcastle trounced St George Illawarra 40-10 in the final round of 2014.
The stat: The Dragons have 13 of their 16 matches at Hunter Stadium.
The verdict: The Knights are riding an extraordinary run of form and should have far too much firepower for the improving Dragons. Knights by 10
Roosters v Sharks – Sunday April 5, 4.00pm (AEST) Allianz Stadium
The storyline: Winless Cronulla face an uphill battle getting its season off the mark against the in-form Sydney Roosters at the SFS.
The form guide: The Roosters blew the Raiders away 34-6 last Sunday, their third win of the season. The Sharks butchered a late lead against the Titans in Round 4, going down 26-24 via an intercepted try.
The selection table: Nene Macdonald comes onto the wing following Blake Ferguson’s injury, with Shaun Kenny-Dowall moving back to centre. Valentine Holmes gets a chance at fullback with Michael Gordon switched to the wing. Jack Bird will play five-eighth and Wade Graham returns to the backrow.
The match-up: Holmes goes up against brilliant Roosters No.1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
The history: The Roosters hold a 56-29-2 led in the all-time tally.
The last time they met: The Sharks produced one of the most extraordinary comebacks in premiership history in Round 17 last year, fighting back from 24-0 down to prevail 30-28.
The stat: The Sharks are on an eight-match losing streak dating back into last season.
The verdict: The Roosters will win this in a landslide. Roosters by 30
Eels v Tigers – Monday April 6, 3.00pm (AEST), ANZ Stadium
The storyline: Two young, exciting potential finals bolters should draw another bumper crowd for an Easter Monday blockbuster.
The form guide: Parramatta snapped a two-match losing streak with a resounding 29-16 upset of South Sydney. Wests Tigers coughed up an 18-point lead to go down in golden point to Canterbury, their second loss in succession.
The selection table:Bureta Faraimo comes onto the wing and John Folau moves to centre with Brad Takairangi injured. Tepai Moeroa returns for the Eels, with Peni Terepo the player dropping out of the 17. Pat Richards, Dene Halatau and Aaron Woods all come back into the Tigers line-up.
The match-up: Diminutive halfbacks Chris Sandow and Luke Brooks are both in tremendous form.
The history: The Eels lead the match tally against the Tigers 16-12-1.
The last time they met: Parramatta prevailed 21-18 in last season’s Easter Monday classic.
The stat: The Tigers have won five of their last six against the Eels, but the Eels have won five of the clubs’ six encounters at ANZ Stadium.
The verdict: The game of the round, destined to go down to the wire. Eels by 1
Storm v Warriors – Monday 6 April, 5.00pm (AEST), AAMI Park
The storyline: The traditional Anzac Day clash in Melbourne has been moved to Easter Monday, with the Warriors looking to maintain their reputation as a bogey side for the Storm.
The form guide: Both clubs are 2-2 after the Storm gave up a late lead to go down to the Cowboys in golden point, while a woeful first half performance saw the Warriors go down 24-16 in their 20th anniversary match against the Broncos.
The selection table: The Storm are unchanged. Warriors nugget Ngani Laumape returns at centre for Matt Allwood, with Jonathan Wright somehow retaining his wing spot. Ben Henry is out for the season, which sees Sebasine Ikahihifo make his first appearance of the year.
The match-up: Shaun Johnson had the wood on Cooper Cronk twice during the Four Nations.
The history: The Storm have their nose in front 17-15-2 in 34 clashes with the Warriors.
The last time they met: The out-of-sorts Warriors carved out a 16-10 victory of the Storm at AAMI Park on Anzac Day last year.
The stat: The Warriors’ have won three of their five matches at AAMI Park.
The verdict: A vital showdown for the momentum of both clubs’ campaigns, with the Warriors’ partisan crowd support in Melbourne set to get them over the line. Warriors by 2
Panthers v Cowboys – Monday April 6, 7.00pm (AEST), Pepper Stadium
The storyline: Two of the title favourites are lagging behind the front-runners one month into the competition – this Easter Monday showdown could prove a launching pad for the victor.
The form guide: The Panthers have lost two on the trot, going down to the Roosters and Knights. The Cowboys staged a stunning, Johnathan Thurston-inspired comeback to edge out the Storm 18-17 in golden point.
The selection table:Isaac John, James Segeyaro and Nigel Plum are all back for the Panthers, but Brent Kite and Lewis Brown are out. Kelepi Tanginoa returns as John Asiata slips back to 18th man.
The match-up: Kiwi locks Jason Taumololo and Elijah Taylor play in contrasting styles but are equally important to their respective teams.
The history: Penrith has won 18 and North Queensland 14 of 32 encounters over the previous 20 seasons.
The last time they met: The Panthers edged out the Cowboys 23-22 at Penrith in Round 23 last year.
The stat: Penrith has won 11 of its last 13 at home.
The verdict: The home ground advantage gives the Panthers the edge against the travel-shy Cowboys. Panthers by 4