Sydney Roosters vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs
Sydney Cricket Ground, 7:50pm, Friday September 13
Team News: Luke Keary, Mitch Aubusson, Brett Morris and Siosiua Taukeiaho all return, pushing Nat Butcher and Angus Crichton the bench, and Billy Smith and Drew Hutchison to the reserves. James Roberts returns in the centres in place of the injured Dane Gagai. Sam Burgess is suspended, meaning Junior Tatola starts with Thomas Burgess joining the bench, with Dean Britt also joining the interchange in place of Tom Amone. George Burgess is named in the reserves but is expected to join the final side.
Prediction: A rematch of last week’s blockbuster, with a few more familiar faces. The Bondi Boys welcome back four stars while Souths gain three, however they have lost Sam Burgess and Dane Gagai. South Sydney haven’t beat the Roosters three times in one year in decades, however this is the best chance of a Roosters-Rabbitohs Grand Final in years. The loss of class internationals like Sam Burgess and Gagai, who’d hit some form in recent weeks, will hurt the red and green faithful too much. Adam Reynolds, Cam Murray and Damien Cook will fire, but it won’t be enough to stop a Chooks outfit hellbent on going back-to-back. Roosters by 8.
Melbourne Storm vs. Canberra Raiders
AAMI Park, 5:30pm, Saturday September 14
Team News: Cameron Munster returns in place of Brodie Croft, while Addo-Carr and Brandon Smith come back to the side in place of Sandor Earl and Harry Grant. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Jordan Rapana, John Bateman, Joey Leilua, Joe Tapine and Sia Soliola all return for the Raiders.
Prediction: Here comes the cavalry! Both sides return to practical full strength after resting stars last week, and this should be a belter. Canberra’s last finals game was a 2016 prelim on the same field, with an Edrick Lee shocker sending the green machine packing. But this is a different Canberra outfit, one that can rally. However just one win against the other top four sides is alarming, and Melbourne should just have too much class for a Ricky Stuart outfit built heavily on some ad-lib play. Storm by 10.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles vs. Cronulla Sharks
Lottoland, 7:35pm, Saturday September 14
Team News: Sean Keppie and Corey Waddell start in place of the suspended Marty Taupau and Taniela Paseka. Jack Gosiewski returns in the back-row, with Toafofoa Sipley and debutant Haumole Olakau’ato on the bench, and Tony Williams listed on the reserves. Aaron Gray replaces the suspended Ronaldo Mulitalo, while Aaron Woods starts at prop with Andrew Fifita dropping to the bench.
Prediction: Game of the round. What an absolute belter of a clash. Manly have been given the green light to play the game at Brookie, their fortress, but will do so without a multitude of stars. Tom Trbojevic, Curtis Sironen, Joel Thompson and Marty Taupau all sidelined. Cronulla are only missing Matt Moylan, but will need to fire if they are to topple a Sea Eagles outfit that has flown under the radar for so long. They’ve all but been written off following the loss of their custodian to a pec injury, but the Sharks will still have to rise to get the win. It’ll be tight, but expect Bronson Xerri to be the man to break this one open. Cronulla by 4.
Parramatta Eels vs. Brisbane Broncos
Bankwest Stadium, 4:05pm, Sunday September 15
Team News: Nathan Brown returns from suspension at lock meaning Tepai Moeroa drops to the reserves, though he could return with Kane Evans failing at the judiciary. Joe Ofahengaue returns from a calf injury to start at lock, with Pat Carrigan dropping to the bench and Rhys Kennedy out of the side.
Prediction: Another great clash. Parramatta are two-try better side at Bankwest and Mitchell Moses is just short of 30 try-assists for the season. But can the Eels forward pack contain Payne Haas and David Fifita? Brisbane are a much better side than people give credit, they’ll rise for this Sunday. Milford is a huge X-Factor, but so is a backline with the names Gutherson, Sivo, Jennings, Blake and Ferguson. Brisbane will win the battle of the packs, Parramatta the battle of the backs, it’s going to come down to the spine – and that’s where the Eels will (just) win this one. Parramatta by 2.
Point To Prove: Latrell Mitchell. The star centre has out scored the rival team the last eight times he’s played at the SCG. But ‘Trell wasn’t himself last week against Souths, coming up with multiple errors in key moments last Thursday night. In fact, he’s let the occasion get the better of himself twice against the Bunnies this year, and marking James Roberts who’s burnt him before, Mitchell will make it third time lucky.
Struggle Street: George Burgess. Named in the reserves, George is expected to join the bench for tonight’s game. Returning from a nine-game suspension for eye gouging, don’t be surprised to hear a few boo’s from the tricolours crowd. Unlucky not to claim the Clive Churchill Medal a few years ago, Burgess enters this finals series knowing he only has a handful of games left before he departs for the Wigan Warriors.
Best Bet: Parramatta 1-12/Maika Sivo Anytime Try Scorer. A cheeky little double, Sivo finished the regular season of his rookie year with 20 tries, an astonishing feat. And Parramatta are close to undefeatable at Bankwest, but with Brisbane being embarrassed in last year’s finals series, they’ll want to avenge that. Expect Parra to narrowly earn the win, with Sivo crashing over at some point
Rumour of the Week: It’s musical chairs for props this coming off-season. A host of under-contract front-rowers look set to shift places within the next six weeks, starting at Penrith. Expect the Panthers to unload international and Blues prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard to rivals Parramatta, so that they can snare Jared Wearea-Hargreaves from the Roosters. Matt Prior is another set for the exit doors, with Cronulla happy to let go of the one-time State of Origin prop in order to develop youngster Billy Magoulis. Christian Welch is still being sounded out by Wayne Bennett at Redfern but interest has dropped on the Maroon after his ACL tear. And let’s just say, that isn’t the end of it.