What a time to be alive!
New South Wales claimed their second series in thirteen years, and this time it seems like winning may become consistent below the Tweed. While the Blues won this year, neither team appears set for ‘an era of dominance’ like Queensland has just come out of, with the likes James Tedesco and Nathan Cleary, and Kalyn Ponga and Cameron Munster will ensure it’s a healthy contest for years to come.
Back to the NRL front, and there’s a few crackers this weekend. Football in Cairns and Adelaide will excite fans, while mid-season recruits Moses Mbye, Aaron Woods and Robbie Farah will run for their new clubs this weekend as well.
Three of the top four sides face off against bottom four teams this week, however the Warriors and Sharks match, along with the Roosters and Storm clash, could decide who take fourth spot at the end of this round.
The contest is starting to heat up, yet just as unpredictable as ever, we’re ten weeks away from the Finals, it’s time to find out who will be contending, and who’s just pretending.
St George Illawarra Dragon vs. Parramatta Eels
WIN Stadium, 7:50pm, Thursday June 28
Team News: Tyson Frizell will sit out this week, with Jacob Host starting the back-row, and Luciano Leilua joining the bench. Mitchell Moses returns at halfback, pushing Clint Gutherson to fullback, Bevan French to the wing and Josh Hoffman out of the side. Marata Niukore starts in the second-row with Manu Ma’u out. Will Smith replaces the suspended Reed Mahoney.
Injury Watch: Manu Ma’u will miss 4-6 weeks with a cheekbone fracture.
Prediction: This could get messy. First place plays last, and it’s hard to read Parramatta’s form after their last game. They managed to score five tries against South Sydney… And concede eight. The Dragons are undefeated at home in 2018 and that won’t change after this match. Dragons by 14.
New Zealand Warriors vs. Cronulla Sharks
Mt Smart Stadium, 6pm, Friday June 29
Team News: Stephen Kearney has decided not to name the players returning from Denver, listing the trio in the reserves. David Fusitu’a returns on the wing, Anthony Gelling starts at centre and Karl Lawton is the hooker. Adam Blair’s suspension sees Simon Mannering start at lock, with Jazz Tevaga and Sam Cook join the bench. Aaron Woods will debut off the bench for Cronulla, replacing Jack Williams. Luke Lewis and Wade Graham are out, replaced by Kurt Capewell and Scott Sorensen starting in the second-row.
Injury Watch: Wade Graham’s facial injury will see him miss three weeks, while Luke Lewis is out for a month with a recurring calf injury.
Prediction: This match sees both sides understrength, but will have massive ramifications on the ladder. Earning a spot in the top four has been tough this year, with the Dragons, Penrith and South Sydney looking like sure things, but competition for that fourth spot is heating up. A win hear for Cronulla could see the Sharks leap frog their opposition into that 4th spot, and provided the Warriors don’t play their Denver stars, it’s looking likely. Sharks by 4.
Sydney Roosters vs. Melbourne Storm
Adelaide Oval, 7:55pm, Friday June 29
Team News: Boyd Cordner is out with Nat Butcher starting in the back-row, and Mitch Aubusson starts at centre for the Roosters with Joey Manu suspended. Jared Warea-Hargreaves is in the reserves after his delayed return from Denver, with Sio Siua Taukeiaho starting at prop, and Matt Ikuvalu and Lindsay Collins joining the bench. Billy Slater returns at fullback, with Jahrome Hughes shifting to the bench and Sam Kasiano out.
Injury Watch: Boyd Cordner will miss a week with concussion.
Prediction: We’ve waited months to see Cooper Cronk come up against his former side, and this Friday we finally will. Cronk will face off against Cameron Smith and Billy Slater for the first time in his first-grade career, while Origin stars Latrell Mitchell and James Tedesco face off against state counterparts in the match of the round. It was a cracking game at Adelaide Oval last year with the Roosters winning in golden point, but the tables will be turned this year. Melbourne by 1.
Penrith Panthers vs. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Panthers Stadium, 3pm, Saturday June 30
Team News: James Tamou starts with Reagan Campbell-Gillard out, and Moses Leota joining the bench. Viliame Kikau returns in the back-row, with Corey Harawira-Naera out. Dylan Walker is back from injury and starts at five-eighth, with Trent Hodkinson benched. Akuila Uate has played his last game in the NRL, with the winger suffering a season-ending ankle injury in Fiji’s loss to PNG, replaced by Brad Parker. Manase Fainu has again been named to debut.
Injury Watch: Akuila Uate has played his last game for Manly after suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Reagan Campbell-Gillard will miss 6-10 weeks with a broken jaw.
Prediction: Penrith were embarrassed by the Roosters a fortnight ago, and they won’t be repeating that effort. Manly were admirable early against the Dragons but don’t have the quality to beat the top tier teams. The definition of insanity is repeating the same experiment and hoping for a different result, so what else would you call playing Dylan Walker at five-eighth, especially when you have Trent Hodkinson at your disposal. Penrith by 16.
Newcastle Knights vs. Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
McDonald Jones Stadium, 5:30pm, Saturday June 30
Team News: Sam Stone starts with Lachlan Fitzgibbon suspended, which sees Jacob Lillyman recalled on the bench. Moses Mbye and Aaron Woods have left the club mid-season, which sees Will Hopoate shift to fullback and Kerrod Holland join the side at centre, while Aiden Tolman starts in the front-row. Brett Morris returns, pushing Marcelo Montoya to centre. Lachlan Lewis debuts at five-eighth, with Matt Frawley dropped. Rhyse Martin starts in the second-row with Raymond Fatala-Mariner injured. Danny Fualalo, Fa’amanu Brown and Ofahiki Ogden join the bench.
Injury Watch: Jamie Buhrer, Mitchell Pearce and Daniel Saifiti are two weeks away. Kieran Foran is out for the season with a toe injury.
Prediction: This is an intriguing one. Expect Kalyn Ponga to lift following an outstanding Origin debut, but the Bulldogs have reshuffled their entire team, and brought in new blood. How the Bulldogs react to two of their best players leaving now could define the rest of the season, especially on the back of Foran’s season-ending toe injury. This is going to come down home ground advantage. Newcastle by 2.
Brisbane Broncos vs. Canberra Raiders
Suncorp Stadium, 7:35pm, Saturday June 30
Team News: Tom Opacic replaces Sam Tagatese on the bench. Josh Hodgson starts with Siliva Havili dropping back to the bench. Sia Soliola starts at prop with Dunamis Lui on the bench, while Junior Paulo returns from injury on the interchange.
Injury Watch: Jack Bird will miss the remainder of the season.
Prediction: Brisbane always lift at Suncorp, but this Raiders outfit has found something exciting now that Josh Hodgson has returned. Expect all-out attack from both sides, and if Canberra are on, they’ll win this easy. But if they’re off, it could be anything. Hodgson should add consistency to Canberra, and that should be enough. Canberra by 8.
Wests Tigers vs. Gold Coast Titans
Leichardt Oval, 2pm, Sunday July 1
Team News: Recruits Moses Mbye and Robbie Farah both start, with Mahe Fonua’s injury meaning Kevin Naiqama shifts to centre and Corey Thompson reverts to the wing. Matt McIllwrick drops out, Josh Reynolds replaces Tyson Gamble. Elijah Taylor starts at lock, Josh Aloai is in the second-row with Robbie Rochow dropped. The Gold Coast side is more settled, with Jarrod Wallace’s return seeing Jack Stockwell benched and Morgan Boyle dropped.
Injury Watch: Mahe Fonua will sit out 6-8 weeks with a broken arm.
Prediction: This is simply one of those games where the headline is too strong to see any other result than a Wests Tigers win. Robbie Farah is back, Moses Mbye has arrived, and it’s all going to take place at the Tigers’ spiritual home. Gold Coast were great against Canterbury, but Farah’s homecoming will be too big an occasion for the Titans to snatch this. They’ll take some time to gel, they might even trail at halftime, but they’ll get it done. Tigers by 6.
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs. North Queensland Cowboys
Barlow Park, 4:10pm, Sunday July 1
Team News: Campbell Graham returns on the wing in place of Hymel Hunt. Lachlan Coote, Antonio Winterstein and Matt Scott return in place of Michael Morgan, Javid Bowen and Sam Hoare.
Injury Watch: Michael Morgan’s season is over after a bicep tear.
Prediction: South Sydney have won seven in a row for the first time since 1994, and the Cowboys have lost one of their stars for the remainder of the season. But there’s an air of danger around this clash. It took an after-the-buzzer penalty goal for South Sydney to beat the Cowboys a month ago, and taking a home game to Cairns against North Queensland has haunted the Bunnies before. But on the back of Origin II, Greg Inglis will be looking for a huge game, don’t be surprised to see his name on the score sheet a few times this Sunday. Rabbitohs by 12.
Point To Prove: Robbie Farah. When the club’s most capped player runs out to Leichardt Oval on Sunday, it will be just a day short of two years since Farah last ran out for the Tigers. The hooker will be looking to finish his NRL career on a high after re-joining his former team, and will start at Leichardt in front of a massive crowd. Expect him to remind the Wests Tigers’ faithful why he’s one of the best.
Struggle Street: Moses Suli. While his fitness is slowly getting back to NRL standard, Moses Suli’s defence has been poor in recent times, specifically against Tim Lafai in the last clash with St George Illawarra. Dylan Walker is back on deck but in the halves, but that won’t last long. Suli needs to prove he’s worthy of a centre spot instead of Brian Kelly, and his performance against Tyrone Peachey could determine it.
Rookie Watch: Lachlan Lewis. Born in the same bloodline as ‘The King’, rugby league immortal Wally Lewis, Lachlan has the talent. A string of average performances from the Bulldogs sees the crafty five-eighth get his maiden shot at the NRL. Kieran Foran will miss the remainder of the season and Moses Mbye is gone, if Lewis puts in a good performance, this six jersey could be his for the rest of 2018.
Photo of the Week:
— Jack Blyth (@jblesfooty224) June 26, 2018
Quote of the Week: “If it was another club I probably would have knocked that back but coming back to the Tigers was something I couldn’t say no to.” – Robbie Farah on his dream return to the Wests Tigers.
Best Bet: Robbie Farah to score a try. I know it might be just be me falling into the dream headline of Farah’s match-winning return, but it just seems like it’s meant to be. Gold Coast have struggled in the middle third at times, and if Farah gets a sniff of that white line from close range, he’ll score.
Rumour of the Week: Some of the NRL’s bad boys are set to depart their club at season’s end, and there’s not too many options floating around. Jackson Hastings looks set for a stint in the Super League after being released effective immediately by Manly, and Bryce Cartwright could join him over there with the Titans cold on the former Penrith back-rower. Corey Norman is out of chances with Parramatta, and while Newcastle are keen on the five-eighth, expect Brisbane to make a big play for the former Red Hill junior.