Here we are - officially halfway through the 2018 season. South Sydney and New Zealand's high place on the ladder is as surprising as North Queensland and Parramatta's lowly standing. We're truly in the midst of one of the NRL's most unpredictable seasons.
Origin teams have been named, with 14 players to make their state debuts - three for Queensland, and a whopping 11 for New South Wales with a host of young faces and lightning feet in Brad Fittler's maiden squad.
Only four matches take place this weekend, and with sides missing their Origin players, it tips the scales in most games, creating a whole new sense of unpredictability, but that's nothing new in the NRL this year. Let Round 13 begin!
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles vs. North Queensland Cowboys
Lottoland, 7:50pm, Thursday May 31
Team News: Matthew Wright replaces Tom Trbojevic at fullback, while Shaun Lane starts at lock for Jake Trbojevic and Frank Winterstein starting in the back-row. Api Koroisau returns at hooker in place of Lewis Brown, while Brad Parker and Jack Gosiewski join the bench. Lachlan Coote returns in place of Michael Morgan, with Enari Tuala moving into the starting side at the expense of Ben Hampton. Shaun Fensom starts in the back-row for Gavin Cooper while Sam Hoare joins the bench.
Injury Watch: Matt Scott will miss through suspension.
Prediction: Both sides are affected by Origin, with Manly losing both Trbojevic brothers and North Queensland losing Gavin Cooper, Coen Hess and Michael Morgan. Despite losing more players, back-to-back one-point defeats on their home turf will have the Cowboys desperate and thirsty for a victory, and with the likes of Jonathan Thurston still lining up, the Cowboys will win this one, and win it well. Cowboys by 14.
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs. Cronulla Sharks
ANZ Stadium, 7:55pm, Friday June 1
Team News: Adam Douehi moves to fullback to cover for Greg Inglis, with Hymel Hunt starting at centre and Braidon Burns replacing Dane Gagai. Sam Burgess shifts to the back-row with Cameron Murray starting at lock, with Tyrell Fuimaono and Mark Nicholls joining the bench. Robbie Farah returns to the NRL in place of Damien Cook. Sosaia Feki comes in for Valentine Holmes, while Andrew Fifita's return pushes Ava Seumanufagai and Kurt Capewell to the reserves.
Injury Watch: Wade Graham successfully fought a suspension at the judiciary, is and free to play.
Prediction: South Sydney have won four on the trot, while Cronulla has won six straight, but the Rabbitohs have certainly scored bigger scalps in their streak with 13+ victories over New Zealand and St George Illawarra. Losing four players in comparison to Cronulla's one, the Bunnies will head into this game underdogs, but people will be quick to forget they retain the in-form Cody Walker, Adam Reynolds and Burgess brothers. Damien Cook's absence will hurt, and with Andrew Fifita returning to a side that thrashed Newcastle (thanks to SIX Matt Moylan try assists), Cronulla will have their seventh win in a row this Friday. Cronulla by 10.
Parramatta Eels vs. Newcastle Knights
ANZ Stadium, 7:35pm, Saturday June 2
Team News: Corey Norman has been dropped, with Bevan French moving to fullback and Josh Hoffman recalled on the wing. Corey Denniss replaces the injured Nathan Ross, while Jacob Lillyman replaces Herman Ese'ese in the starting line-up with Josh King joining the bench.
Injury Watch: Nathan Ross will miss 2-4 weeks with a minor groin strain, while Herman Ese'ese has accepted a one-match suspension.
Prediction: Both these clubs need a win, and need it now. The Knights have fallen into old habits without Mitchell Pearce, while Parramatta's consistent chopping and changing isn't allowing any gelling within the football side. Despite another change in their spine, the Eels will step up on their home turf this weekend and hand Newcastle yet another defeat, even with another big showing from Kalyn Ponga. Parramatta by 8.
Sydney Roosters vs. Wests Tigers
Allianz Stadium, 4:10pm, Sunday June 3
Team News: Blake Ferguson shifts to fullback with Matthew Ikuvalu named to debut on the wing, while Daniel Tupou returns, pushing Joseph Manu to the centres. Jared Warea-Hargreaves starts at prop, with Ryan Matterson returning from a week off and Victor Radley starting in the back-row, with Frank-Paul Nuuausala joining the bench. Jacob Liddle is out for Wests, with Elijah Taylor starting at hooker, Matthew Eisenhuth starting at lock and Tim Grant joining the bench.
Injury Watch: Jacob Liddle misses this game but is expected to return next week.
Prediction: Origin evens out this clash out massively. While the Wests Tigers defeated the Roosters 10-8 back in Round 1, the wheels have fallen off the bus a little for Ivan Cleary's side since, and the Roosters are getting stronger. The loss of four players to Origin will take the Roosters back to a level playing turf, which makes it the match of the round. But with the Tricolours still boasting stars like Cooper Cronk, Luke Keary and Blake Ferguson, they'll get the points over a Wests Tigers side that just scraped past the directionless Dogs last weekend. Roosters by 12.
Point To Prove
Robbie Farah. Once one of the greatest hookers in the game, Farah has spent the entirety of this season in reserve grade, stuck behind the competition's in-form rake in Damien Cook. Cook's selection for the Blues sees Farah earn his first start of the season, and a huge performance against Cronulla could see Farah nab a bench utility role in the future, or possibly catch the eye of an English club.
Ken Sio. The Newcastle winger has really struggled in recent weeks since his bombed try against South Sydney a few weeks ago, Sio's form has plummeted. Lacking confidence under the high ball and no real defensive cohesion with his centre in Nathan Ross, Sio could have a long night down his edge, coming up against Michael and George Jennings. Don't be surprised to see a stack of high balls come his way.
Matthew Ikuvalu. The Roosters winger earns a debut against the Wests Tigers at the ripe age of 24. With the Bondi boys missing key backs James Tedesco and Latrell Mitchell, Ikuvalu steps in after years of chipping away in the NSW Cup for both Manly and Wyong. Known for his attacking game, Ikuvaliu has registered seven tries in his 12 games for the Roos this year, running for an average of over 120 metres per game in the centres. He'll have his work cut out for him marking an in-form Corey Thompson, but with Cooper Cronk and Mitchell Aubusson on his inside, Matthew Ikuvalu should have a debut to remember.
Photo of the Week
New era, Blue era. pic.twitter.com/wCpH8Qpga8
— Jack Blyth (@jblesfooty224) May 29, 2018
Quote of the Week
"I can't wait to get out there and start killing people" - Reagan Campbell-Gillard, following his maiden selection in the New South Wales line-up.
North Queensland 13+. Manly will be without the Trbojevic brothers, and while the Cowboys won't have Michael Morgan, Coen Hess or Gavin Cooper, they still have Jonathan Thurston. Back to back one point losses on home turf will have North Queensland thirsting for a victory, and they'll strike in a big way on Thursday night.
Rumour of the Week
Moses Mbye is a Tiger in 2019, and teammate Aaron Woods may be following him to Concord. Canterbury recently announced that the club won't be able to make any major signings until 2021 due to salary cap constraints. Hence, the Dogs are willing to let go of Woods just six months into a four-year deal, they've realised he simply isn't worth the nearly million dollars a year contract he's on. Like it or not Wests Tigers fans, one of the 'big four' may be on his way home.