St. George Illawarra Dragons vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs
Nestrata Jubilee Stadium, 7:50pm, Thursday July 30
Team News: Adam Clune and Trent Merrin are out with concussion, with Ben Hunt moving to halfback, Cameron McInnes to hooker, Jackson Ford starts at lock with Tristan Sailor on the bench. Jordan Pereira returns in place of Jason Saab, while Tariq Sims comes into the second-row, pushing Tyrell Fuimaono to the bench. Latrell Mitchell returns for Souths, pushing Alex Johnston to the wing and Corey Allan out of the side. Patrick Mago and Liam Knight replace Jack Johns and Hame Sele on the bench.
Prediction: The NRL Indigenous Round is here, kicking off with two clubs carrying immensely talent Indigenous Australians. Josh Kerr, Tyrell Fuimaono and Corey Norman for the Dragons, with Latrell Mitchell, Dane Gagai, Alex Johnston and Cody Walker for Souths. Both clubs are sitting in that 9-12 spot, teetering on the edge of the top eight.
Ben Hunt returns to halfback and McInnes to hooker, which seemed a case of when not if they would return to those spots. Hunt will be firing in a bid to retain the seven jersey, against Souths who’s spine looked like they’d never met each other before last week.
In a bid to get Latrell more involved after the COVID break, Souths made Mitchell the focal point in their attack, and missed him badly this past fortnight. His return will see the one, six, seven and nine click, and put the Dragons to the sword. Souths by 14.
Wests Tigers vs. New Zealand Warriors
Sydney Cricket Stadium, 6:00pm, Friday July 31
Team News: Alex Twal and Luke Garner return at lock and second-row respectively, with Oliver Clark starting at prop for Russell Packer. Michael Chee-Kam is out, Sam McIntyre drops to the bench, Matt Eisenhuth, is out and Thomas Mikaele joins the bench. David Fusitu’a and Ken Maumalo have left, with Patrick Herbert and George Jennings the new wing pairing. Fellow loan player Daniel Alvaro replaces Isaiah Papali’I on the bench, with Wayde Egan replacing Chanel Harris-Tavita on the bench.
Prediction: Alex Twal is as big an in as Fusitu’a and Maumalo are outs, with the Tigers lock adding a massive motor to their middle third. The Warriors were valiant against the Roosters and I love Jack Hetherington’s aggression, whose loan was just extended for four weeks. Alvaro is a wonderful player down on form and regular first-grade should boost him. But the Tigers have this venom that they’ve lacked for a long time right now, and last week’s debutant Shawn Blore adds to it. They should win this in a fiery affair. Tigers by 18.
Brisbane Broncos vs. Cronulla Sharks
Suncorp Stadium, 7:55pm, Friday July 31
Team News: Brodie Croft is out, with Anthony Milford moving back to five-eighth, Darius Boyd to fullback, Richie Kennar on the wing with Herbie Farnworth in the centres. Jake Turpin’s return at hooker sees Issac Luke on the bench, with Corey Paix and Tyson Gamble dropped. Ethan Bullemor replaces Jamil Hopoate on the bench. Connor Tracey is at halfback for the injured Chad Townsend, Briton Nikora’s reuturn sees Jack Williams and Siosifa Talakai on the bench, with Toby Rudolf again named to start. Josh Dugan replaces Bryson Goodwin for NRL game 200.
Prediction: Another week, another Brisbane spine reshuffle. Townsend is a loss for Cronulla but Connor Tracey has spark. In fact, he ran for over 200m on debut last year, and will play second-fiddle to Shaun Johnson, who is firing.
Darius Boyd’s move to fullback may hurt their defence if there’s a Cronulla linebreak, but the way he talks from the back and organises a defensive line is still superb and will lift the Broncos. I’m going to sound insane but at home with Boyd at fullback, Brisbane will lift. Turpin adds direction to the hooking role, in a big upset, the Broncos to snatch one. Brisbane by 2.
Sydney Roosters vs. Gold Coast Titans
Sydney Cricket Ground, 3:00pm, Saturday August 1
Prediction: Lion, meet gazelle. Regardless of how valiant the Titans may have been against table-topping but depleted Penrith, Trent Robinson won’t be happy with his side only beating the Warriors by 8. He’ll have them firing, and with only one change to the 17, they’ll be settled.
The Titans will try and still display that effort, but they’re outmanned, out-gunned, out-enthused, and out of luck. The Roosters love a day game at the SCG and they’ll put on a display for the fans. Roosters by 38.
North Queensland Cowboys vs. Canberra Raiders
Queensland Country Bank Stadium, 5:30pm, Saturday August 1
Team News: Connor Lemuelu and Jordan Maclean return at centre and prop respectively, pushing Mitch Dunn and Francis Molo to the bench, and Ben Hampton and Reuben Cotter out of the 17. Jordan Rapana starts at fullback for the injured Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, with Curtis Scott in the centres. John Bateman’s return in the back-row sees Hudson Young move to lock and Kai O’Donnell dropped, while recruit Corey Harawira-Naera replaces last week’s debutant Harry Smith-Shields on the bench.
Prediction: While losing CNK, Canberra’s pack looks incredibly strong with Bateman and Harawira-Naera in the 17. Dunamis Lui is one of the most improved players this season, and will face the best in Jason Taumalolo. The Cowboys spine only has 58 NRL games between them, and while they all have their individual moments, just can’t execute a game plan with any pressure. They’ll score some flashy tries but Canberra will roll through them, and Jack Wighton and George Williams will finish them off. Cowboys by 16.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles vs. Penrith Panthers
Lottoland, 7:35pm, Saturday August 1
Prediction: This should be a cracker – Manly lift at Lottoland and beat Parramatta in their last outing there, while the Panthers have only lost one game this season. Stephen Crichton is in stellar form for a rookie, and will target Moses Suli in defence. The biggest battle is that of the Origin halves in Cleary and Cherry-Evans.
Probably the best two halfbacks in the competition in terms of controlling a match, should be an arm wrestle with their kicking games crucial. The absence of Api Koroisau and Dylan Edwards will see Manly win another without Tommy Turbo. Manly by 6.
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs vs. Parramatta Eels
ANZ Stadium, 2:00pm, Sunday August 2
Team News: Tim Lafai replaces Kerrod Holland at centre for his first game for Canterbury since 2015, while Jack Cogger and Sauaso Sue replace Brandon Wakeham and Renouf To’omaga on the bench. Kane Evans and Oregon Kaufusi replace Brad Takairangi and Stefano Utoikamanu on the interchange.
Prediction: They may not seem like big names, but Oregon Kaufusi and Kane Evans are big inclusions for Parramatta. The energy they bring off the bench can turn a match, alongside rookie 28 year-old Andrew Davey, who has been immense in his first two NRL games. The Bulldogs fought hard to hold off Newcastle but don’t have the class to match it with the likes of Gutherson, Moses and Brown. Once again, Canterbury will show heart and fight for it, but to no avail. Parramatta by 22.
Melbourne Storm vs. Newcastle Knights
Sunshine Coast Stadium, 4:05pm, Sunday August 2
Team News: Marion Seve replaces the injured Brenko Lee at centre, while Tom Eisenhuth replaces Paul Momirovski on the bench. Chris Randall starts at hooker and Phoenix Crossland at 14 for the injured Andrew McCullough and Connor Watson. Sione Mata’utia is out with Aiden Guerra starting and Josh King on the bench.
Prediction: The injury toll is devastating in Newcastle with their first three options at hooker ruled out for the season, while Melbourne have lost two backs to injury. The Knights looked lost at times and couldn’t earn a repeat set to save their lives.
Melbourne are a side you must complete, execute and build pressure against. They just have too many questions over their direction to topple a high-flying Melbourne side that in their last five games have scored an average of 37 points per game. I want to say it’ll be a tussle, but Melbourne will run away with this one, with their back three all on the score sheet. Melbourne by 26.