Let's take a moment to acknowledge the fact that Queensland will run out this year without Cooper Cronk, Jonathan Thurston or Cameron Smith. Brad Fittler has had the heavens align for him ahead of his maiden series, and the Blues are sure to head into this year's State of Origin as favourites.
Back to the NRL, what about South Sydney! Took on the competition's best attacking and defensive side, and beat them, and easily at that. After starting the season on fire, the Warriors and Tigers have grown inconsistent. North Queensland aren't gelling. Cronulla are starting to work together. Cameron Smith got suspended. It's all happening in rugby league now, now let's sit back and see what Round 11 delivers!
Penrith Panthers vs. Wests Tigers
Panthers Stadium, 7:50pm, Thursday May 17
Team News: Nathan Cleary returns pushing Tyrone Peachey to centre, Yeo to the back-row and Kikau to the bench. Peter Wallace is out, moving Sione Katoa moving to a starting role. Wayde Egan and Jack Hetherington return on the bench, replacing Kaide Ellis and Jarome Luai. Mahe Fonua has been dropped for a poor attitude, replaced by Kevin Naiqama.
Injury Watch: Peter Wallace will miss a week with a shoulder niggle.
Prediction: Nathan Cleary's return is a boost, but Maloney didn't hit his straps until Cleary's injury. Wests Tigers have been inconsistent of late, with last week's Man of the Match in Mahe Fonua being dropped. This is a game of family bragging rights - will it be Nathan Cleary and Dallin Watene-Zellezniak for Penrith, or father Ivan and brother Malakai for Wests? Expect Nathan and Dallin to be grinning at fulltime. Penrith by 10.
Parramatta Eels vs. New Zealand Warriors
ANZ Stadium, 6pm, Friday May 18
Team News: Kenny Edwards is out. Cameron King returns, shifting Will Smith to the bench. Marata Niukore is set to debut from the bench, replacing Vave. Issac Luke returns, pushing Karl Lawton to the reserves. Chris Sate replaces Sam Lisone on the bench.
Injury Watch: No immediate concerns.
Prediction: This is a clash of desperation. Parramatta are clung to the bottom of the ladder, and the Warriors are etching towards a dangerous slide. Issac Luke's return will boost the Warriors, but expect a narrow Parramatta upset, with Clint Gutherson more than making up for last week's howler. Parramatta by 1.
Brisbane Broncos vs. Sydney Roosters
Suncorp Stadium, 7:55pm, Friday May 18
Team News: Jack Bird, Alex Glenn and Payne Haas are sidelined, with Tom Opacic starting at centre, Tevita Pangai jnr shifting to the second row, Joe Ofahengaue starting at lock and Sam Tagataese, Gehamat Shibasaki and Patrick Mago joining the bench. Victor Radley replaces Nat Butcher.
Injury Watch: Bird, Glenn and Haas will all miss 1-3 weeks with their respective injuries.
Prediction: The Sydney Roosters are really finding their form, with a 32-0 win over the Warriors a display of their defensive dominance. Brisbane looked shaky against Manly, and with a stack of injuries to star players, it'll be the Roosters that get the job done in a cracking match. Watch for the match to open up around the 30th minute when the teams are going to their benches. Roosters by 14.
Gold Coast Titans vs. Newcastle Knights
Cbus Super Stadium, 3pm, Saturday May 19
Team News: Jai Arrow returns, pushing Jarrod Wallace to prop and Max King to the bench. Nathan Peats is back at hooker pushing Mitch Rein to the bench with Bryce Cartwright pushed out of the 17. Will Matthews drops out of the back row with Keegan Hipgrave. Jacob Saifiti replaces Luke Yates.
Injury Watch: Kevin Proctor has shrugged off a groin injury to be named.
Prediction: This is a must win for both sides. Newcastle have lost in a row at home to Souths and Penrith, where as Gold Coast are just lacking that want to win. Ash Taylor is far from a complete player, and Kalyn Ponga returning to Queensland soil will put on a show. Newcastle by 10.
North Queensland Cowboys vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs
1300SMILES Stadium, 5:30pm, Saturday May 19
Team News: Both sides are unchanged.
Injury Watch: No immediate concerns, with Robert Jennings due back next week.
Prediction: Take it as you read it - this is a danger game for South Sydney. They amped themselves up big time for that Dragons game, and now they've announced themselves as true contenders, they're going to be hunted by opposition. North Queensland have been lacking this season, but a return home may be just what they need. Expect the Bunnies' spine to get the job done, but closer than you'd think. Rabbitohs by 2.
Melbourne Storm vs. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
AAMI Park, 7:30pm, Saturday May 19
Team News: Brandon Smith starts for the suspended Cameron Smith with Jahrome Hughes joining the bench, while Tim Glasby returns in place of Sam Kasiano. Trent Hodkinson replaces Tom Wright on the bench, while the injured Taniela Paseka is replaced by Toafofoa Sipley.
Injury Watch: Cameron Smith and Sam Kasiano miss the match with one game suspensions, while Taniela Paseka will miss 2-3 weeks with an ankle injury for Manly.
Prediction: Manly bounced back in a big way with a 14-point win over Brisbane, while the loss of Cameron Smith is huge for Melbourne. Hodkinson's involvement from the bench will be intriguing, but Melbourne at home will be too strong for the boys from Brookvale. Melbourne by 12.
St. George Illawarra Dragons vs. Canberra Raiders
Glen Willow Oval, 2pm, Sunday May 20
Team News: Blake Lawrie replaces Zac Lomax on the bench for St George Illawarra. Canberra have named the same side that lost to Cronulla.
Injury Watch: Blake Austin has been named despite an ankle injury.
Prediction: The Dragons came crashing back to Earth after a heavy 14-point loss to South Sydney, with their attack in particular poor. Canberra were unlucky at times against Cronulla, but even if Austin plays this week, he'll be underdone. Ben Hunt will be hungry to bounce back, and is sure to target Austin's ankle, so don't be surprised to see Tyson Frizell running at him all game. Dragons by 16.
Cronulla Sharks vs. Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
Southern Cross Group Stadium, 4:10pm, Sunday May 20
Team News: Paul Gallen and Jason Bukuya return, which sees Ava Seumanufagai and Joseph Paulo back to the bench, and Braden Uele and Kurt Dillon out of the side. Josh Dugan and Luke Lewis are named in the reserves. Dave Klemmer starts, with Danny Fualalo out, and Clay Priest joins the bench.
Injury Watch: Fualalo will miss 4-6 weeks with an ankle injury, while Wade Graham is aiming for next week.
Prediction: Cronulla will be boosted by the return of some big names this week, while Canterbury somehow managed to win last week, mainly due to a massive blunder from Clint Gutherson. The Dog's will need luck on their side to defeat a Cronulla outfit finally finding form, with Valentine Holmes especially lifting his game close to the Origin period. Cronulla by 14.
Point To Prove
Adam Reynolds. The South Sydney half is close to his peak form, and emerged as a genuine State of Origin bolter with Nathan Cleary missing two months of football and Mitchell Moses playing in a struggling side. A strong performance opposite the likes of Michael Morgan and Jonathan Thurston could see the former Origin halfback shoot into the box seat to regain his spot.
Bryce Cartwright. The former Penrith back-rower has been nothing short of abysmal these last few weeks, and that attempted tackle on Cameron Munster showed it. Despite Newcastle's recent struggles, Lachlan Fitzgibbon has been one of the form second-rowers in the NRL. With Ponga and Fitzgibbon's combination building, Cartwright will be under immense pressure.
Marata Niukore. Another Kiwi to slip through the Warriors fingers, Niukore a quick back-rower with some serious size. Standing at 188cm and weighing 102kgs, Niukore is set to make inroads into his first-grade career on Friday, starting with his junior club, the Warriors. Lining up against quality back-rowers in Tohu Harris and Simon Mannering, Niukore will have to be up to the task on debut.
Photo of the Week
Quote of the Week
'Origin affected me physically and mentally last year' - Cameron Smith, during his rep retirement announcement.
Connor Watson to score two tries. I know, it's a big call, but Gold Coast's right edge has been incredibly weak of late. Even without Bryce Cartwright lining up, expect one dummy and barge over try by Watson, followed by a second four-pointed trailing Ponga through the middle.
Rumour of the Week
Canberra are going to need some big men. Junior Paulo has reportedly agreed to terms to return to Parramatta, and Josh Papalii is a high chance hitting the exit doors for a move to Redfern. Shannon Boyd has also left and moved to the Titans, although it's a questionable move by Gold Coast, who desperately need backs and halves over forwards right now.