Melbourne Storm vs. Wests Tigers
AAMI Park, 7:50pm, Thursday May 16
Team News: Jahrome Hughes and Curtis Scott are out, with Ryan Papenhuyzen and Marion Seve starting at fullback and centre respectively, with Patrick Kaufusi joining the bench. Josh Aloiai replaces Oliver Clark on the bench for Wests.
Prediction: Wowsers, didn't Melbourne respond to their loss to Cronulla well. Wests Tigers started phenomenally against Penrith, with five tries in the opening 20 minutes, though they only scored one in the next hour. As good as Wests were though, the main takeaway from that match was just how bad the Panthers were. Melbourne was all about redemption, not just as a team, but individually as well, Curtis Scott being the main one. Ryan Papenhuyzen gets a start with Hughes out, and after spending time in Wests' junior system and eventually being rejected by the club, don't be surprised to see him fire as the Storm dispose of the Tigers at home. Storm by 16.
Penrith Panthers vs. New Zealand Warriors
Panthers Stadium, 6:00pm, Friday May 17
Team News: Josh Mansour, Caleb Aekins, Wayde Egan and Reagan Campbell-Gillard have been dropped, with Dylan Edwards recalled at fullback, Brian To'o named to make his debut on the wing, Sione Katoa at hooker and Liam Martin returning. Waqa Blake returns from his dropping. The Warriors are unchanged.
Prediction: If the last two games were must wins for Penrith, then this is life or death. Two wins and seven losses is simply atrocious for a team carrying both incumbent New South Wales halves, and it looks like they've played themselves out of rep jerseys. The Warriors started slowly against St George Illawarra but their halves took control and got the team home. The Panthers should win this, but a lack of cohesion and confidence swings the pendulum back to the middle. Home ground advantage will help Panthers, but they'll have to work for it. Panthers by 2.
Brisbane Broncos vs. Sydney Roosters
Suncorp Stadium, 7:55pm, Friday May 17
Team News: Jack Bird's season ending ACL tear sees Gehamat Shibasaki shift from the wing to centre, with Jamayne Isaako recalled. Boyd Cordner will sit out this week with concussion, which sees Mitch Aubusson start in the back-row and Lindsay Collins join the bench.
Prediction: You look at this game during the preseason, you think blockbuster. You look at it now, you think it's a towel up. Brisbane have won three matches. One against North Queensland in a match were Taumalolo left injured in the first half, one against Cronulla where they were missing $3 million worth of players, and against a Manly side missing Cherry-Evans and Tom Trobjevic. Meanwhile, the Roosters have managed to win eight on the trot. Tedesco and Mitchell are firing while Keary is slowly taking control from Cronk. Brisbane will lift but this game is the Roosters' to lose. Roosters by 10.
Gold Coast Titans vs. Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
Cbus Super Stadium, 3:00pm, Saturday May 18
Team News: Michael Gordon hasn't been named, with AJ Brimson starting at fullback and Tyrone Roberts returning at five-eighth. Corey Harawira-Naera returns in the second-row for Canterbury, pushing Chris Smith to the bench. Rhyse Martin also re-joins the side via the interchange bench.
Prediction: Yawn. This game looks to be a slopfest, with both sides coming off disappointing losses. The biggest excitement factor from this one is AJ Brimson's return to fullback, where he killed it in late 2018. Canterbury fans are crying foul after the NRL confirmed Mitchell Pearce did knock the ball on late in that contest, but they also confirmed Pearce had been interfered with on the kick chase. So it should have been 18-10, instead of 22-10. Regardless they were beyond poor, and while the Titans did lead Cronulla, they couldn't hold on. With Roberts back, this is a Gold Coast win, the margin depends on how well they execute. Titans by 12.
North Queensland Cowboys vs. Parramatta Eels
1300SMILES Stadium, 5:30pm, Saturday May 18
Team News: Jake Granville starts for the Cowboys with Kurt Baptiste dropping to the bench. George Jennings comes onto the wing in place of the suspended Maika Sivo, though George's brother Michael is out, with Josh Hoffman named at centre. Jaeman Salmon has been dropped with Will Smith starting at five-eighth, while Manu Ma'u and Tepai Moeroa swap between the bench and lock.
Prediction: Two sides victim of playing one of the top three sides last week. You've gotta question how much this contract saga is affecting Parramatta. Brad Arthur has re-signed for two seasons, though the club is sweating on the signatures of Gutherson and Moses. North Queensland showed some serious fight against South Sydney, but in the end, they were simply outclassed. Origin is around the corner, this is when the great players stand tall. Expect the Cowboys to grind out a win on the back of a masterclass from Michael Morgan. Cowboys by 4.
Canberra Raiders vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs
GIO Stadium, 7:35pm, Saturday May 18
Team News: Jordan Rapana is out with a PCL injury, with Bailey Simonsson named to start on the wing. Nick Cotric and Michael Oldfield swap between the wing and centre. Young centre Sebastian Kris has been named to make his debut from the bench. Alex Johnston is set to miss a month for South Sydney with a knee injury, with Corey Allan shifting to fullback and Mawene Hiroti named to start on the wing.
Prediction: A top four belter! The second best defensive outfit in Canberra comes up against the second-best attacking side in South Sydney. South Sydney have five players that seem more and more certain to play State of Origin each week, while Canberra has a few in contention that will want to stand tall. It's honestly a contest of 'who's injuries are less detrimental'. The Rabbitohs have suffered their first major injury of the year, losing fullback Alex Johnston to a knee cleanout, while Canberra's Jordan Rapana joins Joey Leilua, Joe Tapine and John Bateman on the sideline. The positive of Johnston's injury is the chance handed to Corey Allan, a true prospect. It's no secret that there is a clear 'big three' in the NRL, consisting of Melbourne, the Roosters and Souths. The Raiders have played the Storm and the Roosters, and are 0/2. It'll be 0/3 after this weekend following dominant displays from both of South Sydney's halves. Rabbitohs by 8.
St George Illawarra Dragons vs. Newcastle Knights
Glen Willow Oval, 2:00pm, Sunday May 19
Team News: Both sides are 1-17.
Prediction: Another intriguing clash. Newcastle is rolling on the back of Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga's electric form, while the Dragons seem a tad lost without Corey Norman at five-eighth. Jai Field was great with the ball in hand, but in terms of playmaking, the youngster was lacking. If the Dragons are to stop the Knights from picking up their fourth win in a row, they're going to need Cameron McInnes to really step up and control this game out of dummy half. The hooker is in good touch, but he needs to give Ben Hunt as much help as he possibly can, especially after tha halfback's crucial knock-on last week is sure to bring up old scars. The Knights should sneak home, just. Newcastle by 1.
Cronulla Sharks vs. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
PointsBet Stadium, 4:05pm, Sunday May 19
Team News: Cronulla are unchanged. Manly welcome back Dylan Walker in the centres as well as Lachlan Croker at five-eighth, Jorge Taufua on the wing and Addin Fonua-Blake at prop. Moses Suli and Toafoa Sipley drop out through injury, Jack Gosiewski moves back to the bench, while Abbas Miski and Kelepi Tanginoa miss out completely.
Prediction: Dylan Walker finally returns following the 'no fault stand down policy' was lifted, along with a host of Sea Eagles members. Cronulla hasn't made a change following their win over the Gold Coast, although they expect Matt Moylan, Wade Graham and Shaun Johnson to all return within the next month. If this game was at Lottoland, it might swing the pendulum back towards Manly, but a sunny Sunday arvo at Shark Park and hopefully a packed house should be enough to get Cronulla home. Sharks by 7.
Point To Prove: Dylan Walker. The former Kangaroos and Blues' centre was found not guilty in court, but despite the court's ruling, Walker is getting a hammering on social media. A big performance on Sunday afternoon could go a long way to silencing his critics, and help him focus on his football instead of outside noise.
Struggle Street: The Penrith halves. Have you ever seen a duo play themselves out of Origin like these two have? We've just completed Round 9, and the only thing keeping the club off last place is a single point difference in their for-and-against compared to Canterbury. Their forwards aren't firing, but even when they have the field position, the pair look lost. Another poor performance or loss this week will all but certainly see them overlooked for the Blues. The ball is in their court.
Rookie Watch: Corey Allan. He's been playing a few games for South Sydney this year, but this week we see the former Bronco is his primary position - fullback. Allan became the first player in history to play for the Prime Minister's XIII without playing an NRL game last year, and for good reason. There is massive wraps on this kid, and if Canberra's kicking game isn't inch perfect, Allan will light up GIO Stadium.
Best Bet: Melbourne 13+/Ryan Papenhuyzen to score a try. Melbourne will be eager to put on a show in front of their home crowd after a few weeks away, and with Papenhuzen being handed his first start and it coming against his former club, the young custodian will stand tall.
Rumour of the Week: Regardless of how his season plays out, it seems certain that 2019 will be Dylan Walker's last year playing in Brookvale. Since joining the club in 2016, Walker has brought off-field issues and indifferent form with him, and it seems Des Hasler is ready to let him go. Where will he go? There were rumours of a South Sydney return last year, and while Wayne Bennett does love reforming bad boys, there has been no contact between the two. South Sydney are saving their money for a major bid at Latrell Mitchell. How will Manly spend the money? Hasler, who debuted him in late 2013, is keen to lure Clint Gutherson back to the club. While 'King Gutho' debuted on the left wing for Manly five and a half years ago, his return to Brookvale would see him arrive as Cherry-Evan's latest halves partner. The writing is on the wall.