Brisbane Broncos vs. Penrith Panthers
Suncorp Stadium, 7:50pm, Thursday September 3
Team News: Payne Haas, Issac Luke and Corey Oates all return to the starting side, with Joe Ofahengaue suspended, Herbie Farnworth shifting to centre with Jordan Kahu dropped, while Corey Paix moves to the bench and Brodie Croft out.
Isaah Yeo is out but Viliame Kikau returns, with Moses Leota starting at prop, James Fisher-Harris moves to lock and Kurt Capewell replaces Billy Burns on the bench.
Prediction: It doesn’t get easier for the Broncos, does it? They conceded 58+ to the Roosters for the second time this season last week, while Penrith just keep winning, only three competition points short of a perfect score after 16 games.
Brisbane are boosted by the return of a rep trio but they won’t be enough to stop a Panthers outfit that hasn’t dropped a game since Round 5, and they won’t be dropping one this week. Brisbane may show some resistance at the start of the contest, but as a side leaking over 32 points a game, it won’t be close for long. Panthers by 32.
Newcastle Knights vs. Cronulla Sharks
McDonald Jones Stadium, 6:00pm, Friday September 4
Team News: Phoenix Crossland and Brodie Jones replace Chris Randall and Pasami Saulo on the bench. Chad Townsend returns for Cronulla, shifting Connor Tracey to the bench and Andrew Fifita to the reserves.
Prediction: A massive game in context of the top eight. A Newcastle win can all but confirm their first finals appearance since 2013, while a Cronulla loss and Warriors win over Parramatta will see New Zealand two points out of eight.
The Knights struggled against the Warriors in Tamworth, and look to be limping towards an early finals exit. They’ve persisted with Mason Lino, but I think their best bet is to shift Mann back into the halves and bring Chris Randall into the starting hooker role. Cronulla are again with Shaun Johnson but are really riding on the back of their youngsters, and with Chad Townsend returning, they’ll snare an upset in the hunter. Sharks by 4.
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs. Melbourne Storm
ANZ Stadium, 7:55pm, Friday September 4
Team News: Alex Johnston replaces Latrell Mitchell at fullback, while Dane Gagai comes in for Steven Marsters. Brenko Lee replaces Marion Seve at centre, while Nelson Asofa-Solomona’s injury sees Chris Lewis start in the back-row, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui to lock and Ryley Jacks joining the bench.
Prediction: This should be an absolute belter. Melbourne were impressive against Manly, specifically their left edge though South Sydney are in a world of their own form wise. A 38-0 win over third placed Parramatta is as big as a statement as you’d see, and while Latrell will miss the remainder of the season, the Rabbitohs still won the final half hour 16-0 without Mitchell and will be boosted by the return of Gagai and Johnston.
Melbourne have a great record against the Bunnies, but how much will that count for on Saturday night? They’re the outsiders, but expect the Rabbits to continue their impressive form, built on the back of Adam Reynolds career-best form. In his 200th game, he’ll put on a show. Rabbitohs by 8.
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs vs. Gold Coast Titans
ANZ Stadium, 3:00pm, Saturday September 5
Team News: Luke Thompson and Jake Averillo replace Dean Britt and Sione Katoa on the bench. Moe Fotuaika comes in for Jai Whitbread on the bench.
Prediction: This is the Bulldog’s chance. Their chance to climb off the bottom of the ladder, finally. But the Titans are no easy beat. They’re Queensland’s greatest team right now, and have an air of confidence about them, especially the likes of Jamal Fogarty and AJ Brimson.
Fotuaika is also a massive in for the side, but Canterbury will be hungry. They led the Tigers with five to go, only to lose by one, and then last weekend they went into halftime with a 20-12 lead over the Raiders.
They just need to close it out, and if they want to climb to 15th, this is their best bet. Expect some points scored but it’ll be the cool hand of Foran that gets the Dogs their third win of 2020. Bulldogs by 6.
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Manly Warringah Sea Eagles vs. Wests Tigers
Lottoland, 5:30pm, Saturday September 5
Team News: Reuben Garrick and Joel Thompson are out, with Abbas Miski and Jack Gosiewski starting, and Corey Waddell joining the bench. Michael Maguire has mad some moves, swapping Moses Mbye to fullback and Adam Douiehi to the centres, with AJ Kepaoa on the wing for Tommy Talau. Josh Aloiai returns at prop, pushing Matt Eisenhuth to the bench, and Shawn Blore out of the side.
Prediction: Six weeks ago these sides look destined for a finals finish, now both are waiting for this season to end. Manly have conceded over 90 points in the last fortnight, while Wests started well against Penrith only to fade fast, they look lost in attack.
Luke Brooks has one try-assist this season. One. The once touted ‘saviour’ of the club, Brooks will bring up 150 NRL games before he plays his first finals game. A return to Lottoland is needed for this Sea Eagles outfit, who should have the Tigers on the backfoot from the get go. Manly by 14.
Canberra Raiders vs. Sydney Roosters
GIO Stadium, 7:35pm, Saturday September 5
Team News: Josh Papalii and Siliva Havili return to the starting side for Dunamis Lui and Tom Starling, while Corey Harwira-Naera replaces Matt Timoko. Luke Keary replaces Drew Hutchison for the Chooks, Boyd Cordner starts with Nat Butcher reverting to the bench, and Sonny Bill Williams makes a long awaited return to the NRL via the bench in place of Poasa Faamausili.
Prediction: How man storylines can one match give us? The return of Sonny Bill, the Grand Final rematch Part II, this will go down to the wire. Canberra left it late to put the Bulldogs away, while typically the Chooks blew Brisbane off the park.
If the Raiders are going to, it’ll come down to three men – Jack Wighton, who could break the game open running at tiring forwards. Their pack leader, Josh Papalii against the NRL’s best starting font-row pairing.
And Tom Strling, who’s speed around the ruck could do massive damage. But with Luke Keary’s return and Boyd Cordner moving back into the starting line-up, the tricolours have their first full-strength left edge since Round 8. They’ll throw the kitchen sink at each other, but unlike last time, Sonny Bill will return to the NRL with a win. Roosters by 1.
New Zealand Warriors vs. Parramatta Eels
Central Coast Stadium, 4:05pm, Sunday September 6
Team News: George Jennings and Daniel Alvaro aren’t permitted to play against their former club and Eli Katoa is hurt, with Gerard Beale on the wing, Jack Murchie moves to the starting side on an edge, with Josh Curran and Isaiah Papali’i joining the bench. Jai Field replaces the injured Dylan Brown while Marata Niukore’s suspension is over, returning in place of Andrew Davey.
Prediction: An absolute must win for both sides. The Roosters v Raiders match means one of those clubs will join the Eels on 24 competition points, so to ensure they stay deep in the top four, Parramatta must win.
The Warriors need a win if they’re to stay in touch with the top eight. A Cronulla loss could see them one win away from 8th spot. A loss could all but end their season. Dylan Brown is a monumental loss for the Eels, though Mitchell Moses will stand tall in his absence. Parramatta simply have too much firepower in the forwards, too much direction in the spine and too much skill out wide for the Warriors to compete. Parramatta by 18.
North Queensland Cowboys vs. St. George Illawarra Dragons
Queensland Country Bank Stadium, 6:30pm, Sunday September 6
Team News: Jake Clifford replaces the injured Michael Morgan at halfback. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow returns on the wing, with Valentine Holmes moving to fullback, Scott Drinkwater to five-eighth, Daej Asi to the bench and Jake Granville out of the side. Esan Masters and Gavin Cooper come in for Connor Lemuelu and the suspended Coen Hess.
Prediction: Can we give the Cowboys an early mark from the 2020 season? It goes from bad to worse for the club with Michael Morgan an outside chance of playing again this season, a loss here would be their 10th straight.
The Dragons lost to the Titans but are as hot and cold as it gets, unfortunately ‘three straight wins’ isn’t a term in the club’s dictionary. Ben Hunt will play game 250 against the side he lost a Grand Final to, and will be out to impress with a limited number of games to put himself on show before Origin comes around. They’re a side that could score 40 or get blown off the park, but a shocking injury toll to the Cowboys means the Red V will get the chocolates in this one. Dragons by 16.