Parramatta Eels vs. Penrith Panthers
Bankwest Stadium, 7:50pm, Thursday May 23
Team News: Brad Takairangi and Daniel Alvaro are benched, with Blake Ferguson shifting to the centres and Maika Sivo returning on the wing. Oregon Kaufusi drops to the reserves and David Gower joins the bench. Josh Mansour replaces Dallin Watene-Zelezniak on the wing. Jarome Luai comes in for suspended five-eighth James Maloney, Frank Winterstein will start in the back-row, Reagan Campbell-Gillard has been recalled as the starting prop, while James Fisher-Harris moves from backrower to lock. Tim Grant and Liam Martin were named on the bench, with Kaide Ellis dropped to the reserves.
Prediction: A return to Bankwest is much needed for Parramatta, after back-to-back losses away from home to Melbourne and North Queensland. Penrith are in all sorts of trouble, especially now with James Maloney suspended. Ivan Cleary’s constant chopping and changing is a sign of panic, and who wouldn’t panic when a side widely tipped for a top-four berth in the pre-season is sitting at 2-8? They’ll be 2-9 after a Clint Gutherson masterclass. Parramatta by 14.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles vs. Gold Coast Titans
Lottoland, 6:00pm, Friday May 24
Team News: Manly are unchanged. Max King and Jack Stockwell drop out, replaced by the returning Shannon Boyd and Keegan Hipgrave.
Prediction: The Titans looked so promising for a while, but what’s happened to them? They’ve dropped off the radar, led both Cronulla and Canterbury at half-time over the last two weeks, only to fade in the second half. That’s on Ash Taylor. Meanwhile, Manly are flying under the radar as Des loves his teams to do. Dylan Walker’s return added much-needed class to the backline, and Kane Elgey is stepping up in the absence of DCE. Should be an easy win for Manly at home. Sea Eagles by 18.
Newcastle Knights vs. Sydney Roosters
McDonald Jones Stadium, 7:55pm, Friday May 24
Team News: Newcastle is unchanged, with Connor Watson named at five-eighth and Kurt Mann on the bench. Daniel Tupou returns on the wing in place of Ryan Hall. Boyd Cordner also returns, with Mitch Aubusson drops to the bench and Lindsay Collins drops to the reserves.
Prediction: Mouth watering clash. Newcastle is arguably the form team of the competition after their fourth straight win, scoring 45 points against St George Illawarra. It’s the Ponga and Pearce show, and Pearce especially will be keen coming up against his former club. The Roosters suffered their first loss since Round 1 last week, and will be eager to get back in the winner’s circle. This should be an intense clash, but it’ll be the Roosters who ensure they don’t lose in back-to-back weeks. Roosters by 13.
Canberra Raiders vs. North Queensland Cowboys
GIO Stadium, 3:00pm, Saturday May 25
Team News: Joe Tapine replaces Sebastian Kris on the bench for Canberra. Gideon Gela-Mosby replaces the injured Ben Hampton on the wing.
Prediction: Canberra will be desperate in this clash, losing consecutive games to the competition’s two heavyweight teams, Souths and the Roosters. But losing both by 6 points or less is a point of confidence, and they’ll need that against a Cowboys outfit that’s finally gathering form with all their players getting back on the park. They were lucky against Parramatta, with a dropped pass from Blake Ferguson handing them the match winner. Regardless, a win is a win. It’ll be a tight affair, but at home, it’s the Raiders night. Canberra by 4.
New Zealand Warriors vs. Brisbane Broncos
Mt Smart Stadium, 5:30pm, Saturday May 25
Team News: Agnatius Paasi is suspended, with Bunty Afoa starting at prop and Adam Blair joining the bench. Brisbane is unchanged.
Prediction: This is a coin toss. On one hand, Brisbane becomes just the second team this year to defeat the Roosters, and that’ll instil confidence. The Warriors are 2/2 since snaring Kodi Nikorima from Brisbane – his opponent this week. They’re really firing, the Warriors, and will have a vocal home ground behind them, especially with their last home game being a heavy loss to Newcastle. A close affair, but the partnership between Green and Nikorima, and the likes of Isaac Luke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck playing off the back of them, they’ll get the two points at home. Warriors by 2.
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs. Wests Tigers
ANZ Stadium, 7:35pm, Saturday May 25
Team News: South Sydney are unchanged, with Ethan Lowe named to start at centre. Paul Momirovski starts at centre, with Rob Jennings shifting to the wing and Mahe Fonua dropping out.
Prediction: This has the potential to be one of the games of the round. Souths have won nine of their 10 games this season, including six on the trot. But the Tigers are a danger side for South Sydney. This game won’t be a blowout, and the Rabbitohs will be exhausted after a physical game against Canberra. While Wests will have confidence after pushing Melbourne for 80 minutes, the Bunnies always lift in Indigenous Round, so expect a narrow win for the red and green. Rabbitohs by 10.
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs vs. Melbourne Storm
Belmore Sports Ground, 2:00pm, Sunday May 26
Team News: Christian Crichton replaces the injured Jayden Okunbor. Jahrome Hughes returns from concussion at fullback, with Ryan Papenhuyzen dropping to the bench and the injured Christian Welch out.
Prediction: One team is sitting second, the other sitting second last. Straight forward, right? Wrong. Canterbury is a major bogey team for Melbourne, and the Dogs nearly got them a few weeks ago if it wasn’t for a shanked last-minute conversion attempt from Rhyse Martin. Playing at Belmore will be a big helping hand for the Bulldogs, but with Melbourne really starting to find form, they’ll get the job done, but more narrowly then some will think. Melbourne by 8.
St George Illawarra Dragons vs. Cronulla Sharks
WIN Stadium, 4:05pm, Sunday May 26
Team News: Matt Dufty and Mikaele Ravalawa have been dropped, with Zac Lomax starting at fullback, Euan Aitken starting at right centre, and Jonus Pearson starting on the wing. Reece Robson joins the bench, while Korbin Sims returns on the bench in place of Josh Kerr. Cronulla is unchanged, with Matt Moylan named in the reserves.
Prediction: God, both of these teams are playing some below average football. The Dragons conceded close to a half-century against Newcastle in Mudgee, while Cronulla lost at home to a heavily depleted Manly outfit. The injuries in both squad’s spine are having a huge toll on their performances, with both teams missing their starting fullback and five-eighth. Home advantage might push the result towards the favour of St George Illawarra, with a big game from Paul Vaughan to ensure he gets that starting New South Wales jersey. Dragons by 10.
Point To Prove: Jesse Ramien. The Newcastle centre is on the cusp of Origin selection, and the Knights haven’t conceded a single try to an opposition left centre this year, and he’s facing the best let centre in the game – Latrell Mitchell. If Ramien can shut Latrell down, he’ll be a big step closer to a sky blue jersey.
Struggle Street: Sione Katoa. I’m talking the Penrith hooker. Katoa could be the worst hooker in the NRL right now, he’s not picking the right times to run out of dummy half, his service is sloppy and he’s not really getting the opposition on the back foot. Every member of the Penrith spine is out of form, but Katoa is arguably struggling the most, and there doesn’t appear an end in sight.
Rookie Watch: Mawene Hiroti. The young Kiwi had just his second NRL game last weekend, and his first ever start. And he scored his first try in the top grade, a match winner. Hiroti has spent some time working away in the lower grades for South Sydney, and with Alex Johnston expected to miss a month, Hiroti will have plenty of time to ply his trade and impress in the NRL.
Best Bet: Dylan Walker to score a try. The former Blues and Kangaroos’ centre was back with a bang last week, and will fancy himself to score another try against a weakened Gold Coast outfit.
Rumour of the Week: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has requested an immediate release from his deal at Penrith, despite having a year to run. Where will he go? While South Sydney have expressed interest, it seems it’s a two horse race between Parramatta and North Queensland. If he wants to play fullback, the Cowboys it’ll be, but expect a move to the Eels to save himself the move up north.