The split round proved a lot of things. South Sydney are well and truly the real deal, beating a nearly full-strength Cronulla outfit while missing five regular starters. The Cowboys aren't done with yet, but Manly are. Parramatta have no luck, and Newcastle have the determination to win when they push themselves. The Roosters know how to hang tough, and the Wests Tigers, they aren't listening to what everyone else has to say.
This round sees the Origin stars return to the clubs, with some needing them more than others. While there's a few lopsided contests this weekend, there's some real belters, and some very hard to tip clashes. Expectations are out the window, it's the Origin period, and it's time for the real contenders to stand tall.
Canberra Raiders vs. Penrith Panthers
GIO Stadium, 6pm, Friday June 8
Team News: Canberra have named the same side that defeated Manly a fortnight ago, while Penrith have named all of their Origin contingent, with the only change between their Round 12 side being Kaide Ellis replacing Jack Hetherington on the bench.
Injury Watch: Jack Hetherington has accepted a one-match suspension.
Prediction: These sides have built a formidable rivalry in recent years, with a host of close matches. Canberra were lucky to beat Manly a fortnight ago, while the bye couldn't have come at a worse time for Penrith, with a week off disrupting the form that saw them hold the Dragons try-less. Provided their Origin stars pull through the match and back-up less than 48 hours later, Penrith will do the job on a cold Canberra night. Penrith by 10.
Gold Coast Titans vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs
Cbus Super Stadium, 7:55pm, Friday June 8
Team News: Phillip Sami replaces Konrad Hurrell on the wing, while Will Matthews' return pushes Keegan Hipgrave to the bench and Bryce Cartwright out of the side. South Sydney have named all four Origin representatives, though Hymel Hunt has been named in the reserves with Dane Gagai expected to miss the match.
Injury Watch: Dane Gagai is expected to play in Origin I, but could be rested for this clash to help his finger heal.
Prediction: This looks like a one-sided affair. South Sydney are one of the in-form sides of the competition, while the Gold Coast have really struggled in recent times. The Rabbitohs proved last weekend they don't need their Origin stars to win, beating a strong Cronulla outfit who only missed Valentine Holmes. Expect a powerhouse performance from the Bunnies' forward pack to set up their outside backs. Regardless if Queensland win or lose on Wednesday, back Greg Inglis in for a big one. Rabbitohs by 18.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles vs. New Zealand Warriors
AMI Stadium, 3pm, Saturday June 9
Team News: Matt Wright drops to the bench, with Taniela Paseka joining the bench, and Brad Parker and Lloyd Perrett dropping out. Shaun Johnson returns, pushing Peta Hiku back to the centres and Gerard Beale out of the side. Isaiah Papali'i returns in the back-row with Simon Mannering dropping to the bench and Jazz Tevaga out.
Injury Watch: No immediate concerns.
Prediction: Two sides who have really struggled in recent weeks, though the return of Shaun Johnson should tip the scales in the Warriors' favour. Manly have taken their home game to New Zealand, a questionable move when playing the Warriors. Following another Origin snub, Daly Cherry-Evans will be up for a huge game, but the Warriors should sneak past the Sea Eagles on the back of Blake Green. Warriors by 4.
Newcastle Knights vs. Sydney Roosters
McDonald Jones Stadium, 5:30pm, Saturday June 9
Team News: Herman Ese'ese returns in place of Jacob Lillyman. Blake Ferguson returns to the wing, Matt Ikuvalu drops out, Mitch Aubusson and Victor Radley drop to the bench, Sio Siua Taukeiaho shifts to the second-row, with all four Origin reps named.
Injury Watch: Ryan Matterson misses a third consecutive match with concussion.
Prediction: Newcastle had a big win over luckless Parramatta, the Roosters beat a resilient Wests Tigers outfit, the form is hard to read. The Roosters have four players in the Origin side, while Newcastle have none, giving the Knights the fresher lead in. However, the Roosters' goal line defence has been on song for a few weeks, so expect a strong win by the Sydney side in this one. Roosters by 13.
Parramatta Eels vs. North Queensland Cowboys
TIO Stadium, 7:30pm, Saturday June 9
Team News: Jarryd Hayne returns at centre, pushing Brad Takairangi to the back-row to cover for the suspended Tepai Moeroa. Corey Norman has been recalled in place of injured Mitchell Moses. Tim Mannah replaces Suaia Matagi on the bench, while Reed Mahoney has been named to debut in place of the injured Will Smith. The Cowboys have named all of their Origin stars.
Injury Watch: Mitchell Moses will miss 2-4 weeks with bone bruising, while Moeroa is suspended for three weeks following a Grade Three shoulder charge.
Prediction: When you see 15th taking on 16th, it doesn't seem too exciting. But the Cowboys rediscovered their mojo last weekend, while Parramatta's bad luck continues to haunt them. Taking their home game to Darwin will suit North Queensland, and despite the return of Nathan Brown, Jason Taumalolo will run riot through the Eels' pack. Cowboys by 14.
Cronulla Sharks vs. Wests Tigers
Southern Cross Group Stadium, 2pm, Sunday June 10
Team News: Valentine Holmes returns at fullback, pushing Edrick Lee to the wing and Sosaia Feki out of the team. Jack Williams replaces Ava Seumanufagai on the bench. Malakai Watene-Zellezniak returns in place of the injured David Nofoaluma.
Injury Watch: Nofoaluma will miss a fortnight with a minor calf strain, while Josh Dugan will miss a month with a foot injury.
Prediction: Cronulla were disappointing last weekend, falling to a well under strength South Sydney outfit, while Wests were valiant in their loss to the Roosters. This has game of the round potential, a sunny Cronulla Sunday afternoon with two attack focused sides. However, Holmes' return to fullback will spark the Sharks back to the winners circle, along with a 150+ metre game from Andrew Fifita against his former club. Cronulla by 10.
Melbourne Storm vs. Brisbane Broncos
AAMI Park, 4:10pm, Sunday June 10
Team News: Jahrome Hughes will start at fullback in place of the injured Billy Slater, with the remainder of their Origin stars named. Tim Glasby starts at lock with Dale Finucane out, Ryan Hoffman and Christian Welch return on the bench with Sam Kasiano suspended. Brisbane have named all four Origin stars, with Alex Glenn returning and Tevita Pangai Jnr and Joe Ofahengaue shifting to the bench.
Injury Watch: Slater's hamstring injury will see him spend up to a month on the sidelines.
Prediction: This game could go either way. Melbourne will be without Slater, but Brisbane's recent form has been inconsistent at best. Cameron Smith produced a masterclass in the Storm's last outing, and while the Broncos will show their attacking strengths, it's their defensive weaknesses that will let them down. Storm by 8.
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs vs. St George Illawarra Dragons
ANZ Stadium, 4pm, Monday June 11
Team News: Kieran Foran is out, with Michael Lichaa returning at hooker and Jeremy Marshall-King shifting to the halves. David Klemmer has been named at prop, shifting Adam Elliot to lock and Rhyse Martin to the bench. Aiden Tolman replaces Clay Priest on the bench. The Dragons are unchanged.
Injury Watch: Foran has a toe ligament issue, and while it's minor, he is set to spend up to two weeks out.
Prediction: This is a must win game for both clubs. The Bulldogs need to keep their season alive with a victory, while a St George Illawarra loss will see them with a 1-3 record over their last four games, a slide. The Dragons were woeful against Penrith in the last outing, and despite the Bulldogs winning 11 of their last 12 games against the Dragons, St George Illawarra will make a statement to prove their is no slide this year. Dragons by 12.
Point To Prove
Connor Watson. The former Rooster has been in good form since returning from a shoulder injury, and comes up against his former club, including the in-form duo of Cooper Cronk and Luke Keary. Newcastle had a huge victory last week over Parramatta while the Roosters only just scraped past the Wests Tigers, though it'll take a big effort from Watson to take down the Bondi boys, especially with their Origin stars.
Jarryd Hayne. The former Dally M winner returns at centre after a hip injury, but fans won't be quick to forget Hayne's shocking form beforehand. It's going to take a man of the match effort from Hayne to change the rugby league community's mind, and with North Queensland returning to winners circle, it's a huge ask for the Hayne Plane.
Reed Mahoney. The young hooker is a graduate of Parramatta's Holden Cup side, and has a big task ahead of him replacing the Eels' Mr. Fix-It, Will Smith. An absolute livewire, Mahoney's explosive pace from dummy half will worry aging forwards Matt Scott and Scott Bolton, and could be a silver lining for a poor Eels outfit.
Photo of the Week
— Jack Blyth (@jblesfooty224) June 5, 2018
Quote of the Week
"You're not going to have James Roberts at all if he keeps going like this, he'll end up six feet under" - Anna Jovanovic, the partner of James Roberts, pleaded with Wayne Bennett six months ago.
South Sydney 13+. They may be without Dane Gagai, but South Sydney's stunning attack has seen them record eight consecutive 20+ point games, a feat only achieved twice in their 110-year history, while Gold Coast's defence has seen them concede over 27 points a game.
Rumour of the Week
Newcastle certainly have strength and experience in their forward pack, but they lack one key component - aggression. But don't worry Knights fans, you're about to get some. Tim Grant is set to be released from his contract effective immediately, and give the Newcastle a big boost as they look towards the finals.