SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 03: (L-R) Darius Boyd of the Brisbane Broncos, Boyd Cordner of the Sydney Roosters, James Maloney of the Penrith Panthers, Cameron Smith of the Melbourne Storm, Gareth Widdop of the St George Illawarra Dragons, Paul Gallen of the Cronulla Sharks, Tohu Harris of the New Zealand Warriors and Greg Inglis of the South Sydney Rabbitohs pose during the 2018 NRL Finals Series Launch at Allianz Stadium on September 3, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Melbourne Storm vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs

AAMI Park, 7:40pm, Friday September 7

Team News: Billy Slater, Cameron Munster and Suliasi Vunivalu return for Melbourne, shifting Jahrome Hughes to halfback and Justin Olam and Scott Drinkwater drop out, while Brandon Smith returns on the bench. Souths are unchanged.

Injury Watch: No immediate concerns.

Prediction: History calls for one of these teams. No team has won the first week of the finals the year after winning the premiership since 2004, while the Rabbitohs are 0-14 when playing in Melbourne. South Sydney snapped a three match losing streak with a huge victory over the Wests Tigers, their first win since beating Melbourne 30-20 a month ago. Melbourne were down on troops against Penrith and it cost them the minor premiership. The Rabbitohs have the more dominant pack, but with names like Smith and Slater, they’ll make the home advantage count. Melbourne by 2.

Penrith Panthers vs. New Zealand Warriors

ANZ Stadium, 5:30pm, Saturday September 8

Team News: Corey Harawira-Naera returns on the bench in place of Jack Hetherington. Blake Green replaces Mason Lino at five-eighth, while James Gavet’s return pushes Bunty Afoa to the bench and Leviaha Pulu to the reserves. Gerard Beale replaces Chris Satae on the bench.

Injury Watch: No immediate concerns.

Prediction: This is hard to read. The teams have played twice this year, and on both occasions the home team has registered a big win over the other. The return of James Maloney was huge for Penrith, but Blake Green’s return from a calf strain should cancel that out. It comes down to which Warriors side shows up on the day. They can beat anyone on their day, but they could lose to anyone as well. Penrith have struggled in the finals in the last few years, and it’s anyone’s guess how rookie coach Cameron Ciraldo will approach his game plan. It’s a coin toss, but New Zealand will sneak home on the back of a Shaun Johnson field goal. Warriors by 1.

Sydney Roosters vs. Cronulla Sharks

Allianz Stadium, 7:30pm, Saturday September 8

Team News: The Roosters are unchanged, while Ricky Leutele’s return sees Kurt Capewell drop to the bench and Scott Sorensen out of the team.

Injury Watch: No immediate concerns.

Prediction: The Roosters won their fourth minor premiership in eight years over the weekend, but it’s Cronulla who head into the finals as the NRL’s form side. Valentine Holmes has been irresistible and Andrew Fifita is firing at the right time. The big decider in this one is the loss of Dylan Napa, which should see the Sharks pack dominate in the middle. Sharks by 4.

Brisbane Broncos vs. St George Illawarra Dragons

Suncorp Stadium, 4:00pm, Sunday September 9

Team News: Andrew McCullough’s return sees Jake Turpin drop out, while Alex Glenn is back in he second-row, pushing David Fifita to the bench and Kotoni Staggs to the reserves. Gareth Widdop is named at five-eighth, moving Kurt Mann to the bench and dropping Jai Field.

Injury Watch: Alex Glenn is under an injury cloud with a calf injury.

Prediction: On Sunday, we farewell a great of the game. Whether it’ll be Sam Thaiday or Jason Nightingale, that’s yet to be seen. But one of the veterans will finish their NRL career at around 6pm Sunday. Brisbane have really hit their straps over the last month, while the Dragons are a shadow of the side that dominated in the early rounds of the competition. Ben Hunt will need to have a big one against his former club, but with halves partner Gareth Widdop almost certainly underdone, it’s hard to see a Dragons win. They’ll bow out in week one after they showed so much promise, the fans won’t be happy. Brisbane by 12.

Point To Prove

Ben Hunt. Returning to his former stomping ground, the pressure will be on Hunt to ensure the Red V don’t leave the finals in week one after sitting 1st two months ago. He won’t have the happiest memories of the ground either, with his last appearance coming for Queensland in Game III, where he was demoted to the bench for the Maroons. He is due for a big game, and the Dragons need him to have one. Pressures on.

Photo of the Week

Quote of the Week

“We’re the most in-form team of the competition” – Trent Robinson, on his red hot Roosters outfit.

Best Bet

Billy Slater to score a try. The champion fullback has four or less games left in the NRL, but he will exit as the NRL Finals highest ever try scorer. He just has a knack for bobbing up at the right time, and with Munster back in the side this week, watch for Slater to go sweeping out the back, or pounce on a Cameron Smith grubber. He’s just everywhere.

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