NRL Rd 8 - Storm v Roosters
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 02: Josh Morris of the Roosters celebrates with team mates after scoring a try during the round eight NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the Sydney Roosters at Suncorp Stadium on July 02, 2020 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Sydney Roosters vs. Melbourne Storm

Sydney Cricket Ground, 7:50pm, Thursday August 13

Team News: Josh Morris returns in the centres, pushing Mitchell Aubusson to the back-row, Nat Butcher to the bench and Max Bailey out of the side. Ryan Papenhuyzen and Dale Finucane return pushing Nicho Hynes and Tino Faasuamaleaui to the bench and Chris Lewis out of the side. Ryley Jacks replaces the injured Cam Munster.

Prediction: It’s always a shame when two big sides are both depleted heading into a big clash, with a long injury list including Brett Morris, Warea-Hargreaves, Cordner, Crichton, Cam Smith and Munster all missing.

Roosters are surprisingly heavy favourites heading into this clash, with Kyle Flanagan still waiting for a recall, listed in jersey 21. Melbourne are missing Munster and Smith but still have a monster forward pack plus the likes of Addo-Carr, Vunivalu, Hughes and Papenhuyzen.

The last clash between these clubs was one of the best regular season games of the modern era, with the Storm claiming the victory via a golden point penalty goal. The Roosters are in a bit of a flat spot and the Storm are just so professional, they should snatch this one in a relatively low-scoring affair. Melbourne by 4.

New Zealand Warriors vs. Penrith Panthers

Central Coast Stadium, 6:00pm, Friday August 14

Team News: Jack Hetherington’s suspension sees Lachlan Burr elevated to the starting side and Isaiah Papali’i join the bench. Penrith are unchanged.

Prediction: After winning eight straight, Penrith are due for a loss. But this ain’t it. The Warriors continue to surprise people and sit two wins off 7th place, but the Panthers’ squad just seems to have so much trust in one another and continue to perform.

They’re three competition points off a perfect record after 13 games, and have a handy record against the Warriors, beating the Kiwi club 26-0 back in Round 4…. without Nathan Cleary. This could get ugly, especially with the Warriors missing fiery loan player Jack Hetherington. Penrith, if they play for the full 80, should do this in a canter. Penrith by 34.

Parramatta Eels vs. St. George Illawarra Dragons

Bankwest Stadium, 7:55pm, Friday August 14

Team News: Ryan Matterson returns in the second-row, shifting Marata Niukore to the bench and Andrew Davey out. Corey Norman returns at five-eighth, Ben Hunt moves to hooker and Cam McInnes to lock with Jackson Ford suspended. Tariq Sims and Trent Merrin are out, with Tyrell Fuimaono starting and Korbin Sims and Jacob Host join the bench.

Prediction: Does Paul McGregor play ‘duck, duck, goose’ to decide who’s playing in the halves each week? You can’t expect improvement and consistency when you don’t give combinations more than one match, and it’ll show again on Friday night.

Similarly to the Roosters, after hitting the ground running after the COVID-break, the Eels have lost their mojo a little. But, importantly despite that, they’re still winning. They’re in cruise control and see claiming the two points. Dragons can score points but can they stop the likes of Gutherson, Brown and Moses from creating them? Common sense says no, and with Matterson returning, this will be the dashing of any hope Red V fans have of their side playing finals footy. Eels by 18.

Cronulla Sharks vs. Gold Coast Titans

Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, 3:00pm, Saturday August 15

Team News: Jack Williams replaces Teig Wilton on the bench. The Titans are unchanged.

Prediction: One side scored a heavy win last week while the other lost, but going off this match you’d think the script was flipped. Despite losing, Shaun Johnson continues to show how dominant he is with his organisation of games in comparison to the highlight reel off-the-cuff he’s known for.

The Titans certainly look a club on the up and whilst not much to eye off this season, these last seven games are a chance to establish combinations, while some are playing for contracts. The energy of forwards like Toby Rudolf, Royce Hunt, Siosifa Talakai and Braden Hamlin-Uele alongside Johnson’s form is what’s winning games for the Sharks at the moment. Expect it to continue on Saturday. Sharks by 22.+

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JULY 13: Shaun Johnson of the Sharks runs with the ball during the round 17 NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the Cronulla Sharks at AAMI Park on July 13, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

North Queensland Cowboys vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs

Queensland Country Bank Stadium, 5:30pm, Saturday August 15

Team News: Scott Drinkwater’s return at fullback sees Justin O’Neill dropped with Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow on the wing, while John Asiata replaces Tom Gilbert on the bench. Jaydn Su’A’s suspension is over, with Liam Knight reverting to the bench and Jack Johns the 18th man.

Prediction: Scott Drinkwater returns at fullback for the Cowboys to deliver some spark, but will it be enough for the hapless Cowboys? They’re still coachless for 2021, lost their last six straight, including the Titans last weekend. They must clench one soon, but this is a must win for Souths.

The Newcastle-Manly games either leaves a big gap between 8th and 9th, or allows Souths to jump higher on the ladder. Jaydn Su’A’s return adds aggression but they must find a way to start Liam Knight, who was fantastic last week. It’s a tough road trip but in an afternoon game, expect Reynolds to shine on a sunny, dry track, and kick his way to victory. Souths by 14.

Canberra Raiders vs. Brisbane Broncos

GIO Stadium, 7:35pm, Saturday August 15

Team News: The Raiders are 1-17 from the side that lost to Penrith. Tevita Pangai Jnr has been suspended via a COVID breach, with Ben Te’o starting and debutant Jordan Riki on the bench. Corey Paix replaces Issac Luke on the bench.

Prediction: What on earth is going on in Brisbane? This is the season from hell, with Xavier Coates carried off training today with a knee injury. Canberra were outclassed by Penrith and their halves combination exposed, though a return to GIO could aid them. Peter Gentle steps in as coach for Brisbane, and the poor bloke will be a deer in headlights on Saturday night, with Wighton and Croker to poke holes in the Broncos’ defence. Raiders by 16.

Newcastle Knights vs. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles

McDonald Jones Stadium, 2:00pm, Sunday August 16

Team News: Daniel Saifiti comes back into the starting side with brother Jacob dropping to the bench and Brodie Jones a reserve. Brad Parker replaces Tevita Funa at centre, Taniela Paseka starts for Addin Fonua-Blake, and both back-rowers in Sironen and Thompson start. The cavalry returning sees Haumole Olaka’atu and Corey Waddell benched with Morgan Boyle dropping out.

Prediction: How much did Blake Green’s arrival help Kalyn Ponga? Kurt Mann has been wonderful at five-eighth this year and one of the NRL’s most improved, but Green just mirrors Pearce so well, and means Ponga doesn’t have to take on as much playmaking duties, just inject himself.

Manly look lost and a defeat in the Hunter could really hurt their finals chances, Turbo isn’t too far off but without him, Dylan Walker or Addin Fonua-Blake, it’ll be a good day to be a Novocastrian. Newcastle by 12.

Wests Tigers vs. Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs

Bankwest Stadium, 4:05pm, Sunday August 16

Team News: Jacob Liddle starts his first game exactly one year and a day since tearing his ACL late last season. His return sees Mbye return to the centres, with Tommy Talau back to the wing and Asu Kepaoa out. Josh Reynolds replaces Billy Walters on the bench, while Luke Garner slots into the back-row, forcing Chris Lawrence to the bench and Shawn Blore dropped. Kerrod Holland and Jack Cogger come in Jake Averillo and Lachlan Lewis.

Prediction: This doesn’t look pretty for either side. Both have had concerning weeks, the Dogs sit alone on the bottom wrung of the ladder while Wests were playing for a top eight spot last week – and lost by 40.

They’re both so out of whack, the Tigers look lost without Grant darting out of dummy half while Canterbury just look lost in the opposition 20 metre zone. This will be more low scoring than people assume, but in an upset, the Dogs will grind out a win on mutual ground. Bulldogs by 8.