The Origin round may be dreaded by fans, but it’s all about the silver linings. The Melbourne-Dragons and Penrith-Warriors clashes will have huge ramifications on the top four, and a Dragons loss by 16 points or more will see South Sydney take the top spot on the ladder.
The Raiders’ season is on the line, and another Queensland derby will finish the round, with a host of debutants and young stars to use this as an opportunity to cement their place in the first-grade side. So don’t look at the negatives of playing without Origin stars, look at the potential this round offers. Two months from finals time, this is where the run begins.
Melbourne Storm vs. St George Illawarra Dragons
AAMI Park, 7:50pm, Thursday July 5
Team News: Billy Slater, Josh Addo-Carr, Will Chambers, Cameron Munster, Tim Glasby and Felise Kaufusi are on Origin duty, which sees Young Tonumaipea start at fullback, Cheyse Blair at centre, Justin Olam on the wing, Ryley Jacks returns at five-eighth, Christian Welch starts at prop and Brodie Croft joins the bench. Ben Hunt, Tyson Frizell, Tariq Sims, Jack de Belin and Paul Vaughan are out, with Darren Nicholls debuting at halfback, and the likes of Jacob Host, Luciano Leilua and Blake Lawrie form a new back-row. Leeson Ah Mau starts, with Hame Sele and Reece Robson joining the bench.
Injury Watch: Sandor Earl may return from an ACL tear after being named on an extended bench.
Prediction: It’s poor timing for these top four teams to clash, with Melbourne missing six stars to the Origin arena, and St George Illawarra missing five of their own. This one comes down to a case of who will miss their stars the most, and looking at who each side loses and the quality of their replacements, the Dragons will simply miss Ben Hunt more than Melbourne will miss any of their Origin reps, and will get the job done on their home turf. Storm by 8.
Penrith Panthers vs. New Zealand Warriors
Panthers Stadium, 7:55pm, Friday July 6
Team News: Tyrone May and Jarome Luai start in the halves with Maloney and Cleary out. Waqa Blake returns from injury at centre, while Corey Harawira-Naera is back on the bench, replacing Kaide Ellis. David Fusitu’a and Ken Maumalo return on the wing, with Beale replacing Karl Lawton on the bench. Adam Blair returns at lock wiith Simon Mannering shifting to the back-row to cover Tohu Harris. Ligi Sao replaces Bunty Afoa on the bench.
Injury Watch: Tohu Harris and Bunty Afoa will both miss 4-6 weeks with ankle injuries.
Prediction: This is the time of year where New Zealand thrive. Without any Origin representatives, the Warriors head into this period stronger than their rivals, especially Penrith who lose both their halves as well as Tyrone Peachey, while the Warriors only lose two back-rowers to injury. After being dudded against Cronulla last week, the Warriors will come out swinging on Friday and hand Penrith a third straight defeat. Warriors by 14.
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs vs. Canberra Raiders
Belmore Sports Ground, 7:30pm, Saturday July 7
Team News: Danny Fualalo starts in place of Dave Klemmer, with Clay Priest joining the bench. Blake Austin has been dropped to the bench with Sam Williams starting, while Siliva Havili starts at lock in place of Josh Papalii.
Injury Watch: No immediate concerns.
Prediction: This is what rugby league needs in this time period. Fans are always a little deflated heading into a round without genuine stars to watch, and nothing brings fans back to the game like suburban footy. Belmore on a Saturday night, two teams that only lose a single player to Origin, the Bulldogs coming off a great win and Canberra absolutely needing a win with six points between them and the top eight. Despite losing at Belmore last start, this new Dogs line-up will be raring to go, and end Canberra’s season on Saturday night. Bulldogs by 10.
Gold Coast Titans vs. Brisbane Broncos
Cbus Super Stadium, 4:10pm, Sunday July
Team News: Jack Stockwell and Will Matthews start in place of Jarrod Wallace and Jai Arrow, with Morgan Boyle and Konrad Hurrell joining the bench. Jonus Pearson and Tom Opacic join the backline with James Roberts and Corey Oates on Origin duty, while Jake Turpin will debut at hooker in place of Andrew McCullough. Joe Ofahengaue starts at lock in place of Josh McGuire, with Tevita Pangai Jnr and Kotoni Staggs joining the bench, and record-setting forward David Fifita dropped to the reserves.
Injury Watch: Pangai Jnr returns from a rib injury on the interchange bench.
Prediction: The Titans’ victory over Brisbane earlier this year was seen as one of the year’s biggest upsets, but don’t be surprised to see the Gold Coast back it up and defeat their big brother for a second time in 2018 following strong back-to-back wins over Canterbury and Wests Tigers. Ash Taylor should consider himself hard done by missing out on an Origin spot, and will instead be focused on dismantling his former club. His clash with Anthony Milford will define this match, and the Titans should prevail on home soil. Titans by 4.
Point To Prove: Brodie Croft. The youngster once touted as Cooper Cronk’s successor was forced to watch Cronk take on his former club from the sidelines, dropped from first grade after a host of sub-par performances. Recalled on the bench with Cameron Munster on Origin duty, Croft will have to put on a big performance against the ladder leaders if he is to be in first grade conversation again.
Struggle Street: Blake Austin. Rumours of the five-eighth being offside in the nation’s capital have been floating around for weeks now, and after being dropped to the bench this week, it only pours more fuel on the fire. After a strong performance against the Tigers, Austin was quiet in Canberra’s must-win clash against Brisbane, and will see him fight for a spot from the bench this week.
Rookie Watch: Darren Nicholls. Rugby league fans may be familiar with the name ‘Darren Nicholls’, a halfback who has floated around reserve grade for years now, and finally gets his shot at the age of 29. Following stints with Brisbane, South Sydney, Penrith and now St George Illawarra, Nicholls is an organiser who should partner Gareth Widdop perfectly in the halves, and give the Dragons a fighting chance.
Photo of the Week:
Quote of the Week: “We intend to win, bring the broom out” – Jack de Belin on New South Wales intent to sweep the series.
Best Bet: Warriors 13+. A spine of Dallin Watene-Zellezniak, Tyrone May, Jarome Luai and Sione Katoa is one of the most inexperienced spines in the competition, and a Warriors spine featuring RTS, Green, Johnson and Luke should have no problem dismantling a spiraling Penrith outfit.
Rumour of the Week: He may have gotten an Origin recall on the wing this week, but Corey Oates is still very focused on becoming an NRL back-rower in the very near future. It’s no secret that wingers are the lowest paid position in the game, but Oates’ choice appears to be about more than money. And with Wayne Bennett having an array of second-row options at his disposal, expect to see Oates replacing Angus Crichton in the cardinal and myrtle for 2019.