Broncos v Panthers – 7.35pm AEST, Friday, May 8 @ Suncorp Stadium
The storyline: The shock early return of Darius Boyd from an Achilles injury for the Broncos, and the possible injury comeback of Panthers linchpin Jamie Soward, has overshadowed what should be an outstanding encounter.
The form guide: The table-topping Broncos bounced back from a tough loss to the Dragons with a 28-16 defeat of the Eels on Anzac Day. The injury-ravaged Panthers ended a rough trot with a stirring come-from-behind upset of Cronulla in Round 8.
The selection table: Boyd is a confirmed starter at fullback, with Jordan Kahu likely to take Corey Oates’ place on the wing. Alex Glenn is back from injury, coming in for the suspended Sam Thaiday. Soward and Elijah Taylor are possible inclusions for the Panthers.
The match-up: All eyes will be on Boyd, who now seems certain to take his place on the wing for Queensland. Opposing fullback Matt Moylan, meanwhile, has had the door opened for a NSW call-up just a little more by Josh Dugan’s injury.
The history: The Broncos hold a 29-17-1 advantage in the all-time tally, including 9-5 at Suncorp Stadium.
The last time they met: Moylan was the match-winner in a 35-34 thriller at Penrith in Round 18 last year.
The stat: The Panthers have won just three of their last 12 in Queensland.
The verdict: Soward would be a big in for a Panthers side struggling for direction without him and Peter Wallace, but the in-form and more settled Broncos line-up should get up at home. Broncos by 8
Roosters v Tigers – 7.35pm, Friday, May 8 @ Allianz Stadium
The storyline: The heavyweight Roosters desperately need to start chalking up wins after a dismal month, but the plucky Tigers are equally keen to consolidate their position on a congested NRL table.
The form guide: The Roosters are on a four-match losing streak, although their losing margins in defeats to the Broncos, Storm and Dragons totalled just seven points. The Tigers have been up and down, ending a two-match losing run with an emphatic 38-14 victory over the Bulldogs in Round 8.
The selection table: Aiden Guerra and Mitch Aubusson are big ins for the Roosters, with Lagi Setu and Willie Manu dropping off the bench. Keith Galloway is back for the Tigers in a reshuffle that sees Chris Lawrence return to the centres with Tim Simona out.
The match-up: Another fullback showdown blockbuster. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will be fizzing from a stellar first outing as New Zealand’s Test No.1, while James Tedesco is in the NSW frame – at fullback or elsewhere in the backline.
The history: The Roosters lead the count 17 wins to eight – including 10-3 at Allianz.
The last time they met: The Tigers copped a 48-4 belting at Leichhardt Oval in Round 23 last season.
The stat: The Roosters are on a five-match winning streak against the Tigers, averaging 44 points per game.
The verdict: Back at near full strength, the Roosters represent a massive test for the young Tigers – particularly in the engine-room department. An intriguing match-up, but expect Pearce and Maloney to steer the Tricolours to a drought-breaking win. Roosters by 10
Raiders v Titans – 3.00pm, Saturday, May 9 @ GIO Stadium
The storyline: Two of 2015’s surprise packets go head to head, with a place inside the top eight the prize for the victor.
The form guide: The Titans have defied all expectations to notch convincing consecutive wins over the Eels, Panthers and Warriors. The Raiders are also on a high after toppling the Tigers and Rabbitohs with remarkable comebacks in their last two outings.
The selection table: The Raiders are unchanged, while the Titans have Dave Taylor, Daniel Mortimer and Mark Ioane returning, with Greg Bird suspended and Beau Falloon out injured.
The match-up: Blake Austin has soared into NSW Origin contention, while opposing five-eighth Aidan Sezer has already signed on to join the Raiders in 2015.
The history: The Titans have won nine and the Raiders six of 15 clashes, but the Raiders hold a 4-3 advantage in the capital.
The last time they met: The Green Machine chalked up a 36-20 away win in Round 18 of 2014.
The stat: The Titans scored 30-plus points in three straight games for the first time in their history from Round 6-8.
The verdict: A flip of the coin game, but Bird’s absence could rattle the visitors. Home-ground advantage suggests a Raiders win in what should be a corker. Raiders by 7
Sharks v Warriors – 5.30pm, Saturday, May 9 @ Remondis Stadium
The storyline: The Warriors are looking to use momentum created by the Kiwis’ Test win to climb out of a rut – and end a Shire hoodoo.
The form guide: The Warriors threw away halftime leads against the Cowboys and Titans in their last two games, while the Sharks’ outstanding three-match winning streak was halted by the under-strength Panthers in Round 8.
The selection table: Konrad Hurrell returns to the Warriors line-up, with 18th man Albert Vete a chance of ousting Sam Rapira for a bench spot. Ben Barba has reclaimed the Sharks’ No.1 jumper, with Valentine Holmes shifting to the wing and Sosaia Feki dropping out. Andrew Fifita returns for the suspended Chris Heighington.
The match-up: Fifita is gunning for a NSW re-call, and has a great opportunity to further his claims up against Kiwi Test prop Ben Matulino.
The history: The Sharks have won 18 and the Warriors 15, including an 11-4 record at home.
The last time they met: The Warriors scraped through with an ugly 16-12 win, with Fifita causing havoc for the Sharks before going off with a broken arm.
The stat: The Warriors have lost five of their last six against Cronulla, including three straight at Remondis Stadium.
The verdict: The form of Johnson, Vatuvei, Matulino, Mannering and Leuluai – along with another handful of star performers in the Samoa-Tonga Test – should boost the Warriors, but they’ll have to graft it out against the pesky Sharks. Barba’s re-call is destined to back-fire. Warriors by 10
Cowboys v Bulldogs – 7.30pm, Saturday, May 9 @ 1300SMILES Stadium
The storyline: Two of the more fancied title contenders in the NRL, both sides are missing key players from the vital pre-Origin clash.
The form guide: The Cowboys are on a five-match winning streak, culminating in a courageous, shorthanded 26-24 win over the Knights on Anzac Day. The Bulldogs have lost three of their last four with a clutch of their best players on the sidelines, including a 38-14 loss to the Tigers last start.
The selection table: Tautau Moga, Jason Taumololo and Scott Bolton are all out of the Cowboys’ side, with Matt Wright, Kelepi Tanginoa and Rory Kostjasyn coming into the 17 respectively. Moses Mbye replaces suspended Bulldog Josh Reynolds at five-eighth, but Josh Morris and David Klemmer return.
The match-up: The battle up front between prop duos Matt Scott and James Tamou (Cowboys), and Aiden Tolman and David Klemmer (Bulldogs), could decide the contest as well as having significant ramifications on Origin selection.
The history: The Bulldogs boast a 21-11 record against the Cowboys, including a remarkable 12-3 tally in Townsville.
The last time they met: The Cowboys grabbed a vital 20-12 win at ANZ Stadium in Round 20, 2014.
The stat: The Cowboys are chasing consecutive wins over the Bulldogs for the first time since 2008.
The verdict: The triumvirate of Thurston, Morgan and Coote will be the difference on Saturday night. Cowboys by 8
Sea Eagles v Knights – 2.00pm, Sunday, May 10 @ Brookvale Oval
The storyline: The bottom-placed Sea Eagles, back at their deteriorating home ground, are aiming to start a charge against a Knights outfit that is slumping big time after a superb start to the year.
The form guide: The Sea Eagles snapped a five-match losing streak with a heroic 12-10 defeat of the Storm in Melbourne. The Knights have lost four in a row after winning their first four.
The selection table: Jamie Buhrer, Steve Matai and Kieran Foran are out for Manly, but Jamie Lyon returns. Beau Scott is back for Newcastle and Jarrod Mullen is under an injury cloud.
The match-up: Peta Hiku was outstanding at centre for the Kiwis last Sunday against Kangaroos debutant Will Chambers; he faces another burgeoning rep prospect this weekend in Dane Gagai.
The history: The Sea Eagles lead the tally 27-17, including 13 wins in 15 clashes at Brookvale Oval.
The last time they met: Daly Cherry-Evans snapped a last-second field goal to steal a 15-14 home victory over the struggling Knights, who led 14-4 in the latter stages, in Round 10 last season.
The stat: The Knights are winless at Brookvale Oval since 2006.
The verdict: The Brookvale factor may just give under-strength Manly the edge, with the Knights struggling for confidence and direction from their halves. It won’t be pretty, but it should be close. Sea Eagles by 2
Eels v Storm – 4.00pm, Sunday, May 10 @ Pirtek Stadium
The storyline: Melbourne is looking to consolidate its place near the top of the ladder, while Parramatta is trying to avoid being left behind.
The form guide: The Storm’s three-match winning streak ended courtesy of a shock 12-10 home loss to struggling Manly on Anzac Day. An upset of the Knights in Newcastle in Round 7 was the Eels’ only win in their last four.
The selection table: Semi Radradra and Ryan Morgan return to the wings for Parramatta with Bureta Faraimo and John Folau dropped. Billy Slater, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs and Dayne Weston are back for Melbourne.
The match-up: Cooper Cronk will be keen for a big game after a disappointing Test showing, while Chris Sandow will be charged with sparking the Eels’ attack.
The history: The Storm have won 17 games to the Eels’ 11, while the blue-and-golds hold a 7-6 advantage at home.
The last time they met: A Slater-inspired Storm thumped the visiting Eels 46-20 in Round 15 of 2014.
The stat: Five of the Storm’s matches this year have been decided by four points or less; the Eels’ five losses in 2015 have all been by 12 points or more.
The verdict: Backing against the Storm is always fraught with danger, while the Eels are the most inscrutable team in the NRL. But there’s a whiff of an upset here, and the Eels are an unpredictable outfit capable of upsetting the Storm’s structure and rhythm. Eels by 4
Rabbitohs v Dragons – 7.00pm, Monday, May 11 @ ANZ Stadium
The storyline: A bona fide Monday night blockbuster between high-flying St George Illawarra and struggling premiers South Sydney – and a perpetual grudge match whenever the Red V trots out alongside the myrtle and cardinal.
The form guide: The Dragons have won six straight, including two-point victories in their last two outings against the Broncos and Roosters. The Rabbitohs are on a three-match losing run, going down to the Cowboys, Sharks and Raiders since losing Adam Reynolds to injury.
The selection table: John Sutton is back from a broken jaw for Souths, while the Saints welcome back Tyson Frizell from suspension and Eto Nabuli from injury. Reynolds and Josh Dugan are late-inclusion chances.
The match-up: Reynolds v Marshall and Inglis v Dugan – should either eventuate – will be crucial to the outcome and worth the price of admission alone.
The history: The Dragons joint venture holds a 15-8 advantage, including 5-3 at ANZ Stadium.
The last time they met: The Rabbitohs were too strong in Round 12 last year, winning 29-10 at ANZ.
The stat: The Saints are ranked first in defence but 15th in attack.
The verdict: What will have a bigger impact on the clash – the Dragons’ miserly defence or inability to rack up points? Reynolds’ and Dugan’s health are huge X-factors, and if both remain out, the Saints hold the edge. If the Rabbitohs linchpin returns, expect the premiers to turn it around. Rabbitohs by 1