Suncorp Stadium, 7:50pm, Thursday September 24
Team News: Kotoni Staggs shifts to five-eighth with Tyson Gamble dropped, and Jesse Arthars comes into the centres. Xavier Coates starts on the wing for Corey Oates on the bench, Payne Haas’ return pushes Ben Te’o to the bench and Ethan Bullemor to the reserves while Jordan Riki comes into the back-row for the injured David Fifita. Josh McGuire comes back from suspension at prop while Jason Taumalolo is elevated to starting lock, pushing Corey Jensen and Francis Molo to the bench. Emre Pere and Ben Condon drop off the bench, while John Asiata joins it.
Prediction: Who will finish their career a winner, Gavin Cooper or Darius Boyd? Two wonderful careers with the curtains dropping fast, they’ll both want the spoils in their final clash. Kotoni Staggs on paper seems an odd choice in the six jersey, though Staggs did play their for Tonga in their historical win over Australia last year. Both sides will be disappointed to be here, with many a pundit tipping these sides for a top eighth berth in 2020. These sides have won a combined single game in the last TEN rounds, yet one will finish this season with a victory. Payne Haas and Jason Taumalolo will be a wonderful clash but in his last game, it’ll be Darius Boyd walking into the sunset with the two premiership points. Broncos by 2.
Cbus Super Stadium, 6:00pm, Friday September 25
Team News: Corey Thompson has been dropped, with Tremain Spry shifting to the wing and Brian Kelly coming into the centres. Edrick Lee and Bradman Best return for Star To’a and Gehamat Shibasaki, while Kurt Mann’s suspension is over, meaning he slots in at hooker with Chris Randall back to the bench, and Phoenix Crossland dropped. Lachlan Fitzgibbon is injured, with Sione Mata’utia starting and Brodie Jones joining the interchange.
Prediction: This could be one of the better matches of the round, believe it or not. Both clubs put 42 points on their respective opponents last week, but there is plenty at stake for the traveling club. If Newcastle win, they sow up a home semi against South Sydney next week. A loss would mean the Knights are relying on a Rabbitohs’ loss against the Roosters, which is certainly a possibility. The fullback battle is enough to put bums on seats for this one, with AJ Brimson and Kalyn Ponga starring last week. The Titans will have their eyes set on a fifth straight victory but it isn’t to be, with a rampaging and returning Bradman Best to star. Newcastle by 8.
ANZ Stadium, 7:55pm, Friday September 25
Team News: Dane Gagai replaces Steven Marsters at centre, while Jaydn Su’A’S suspension sees Jed Cartwright start, and Pat Mago join the bench. James Tedesco, Boyd Cordner, Jake Friend and Siosiua Taukieaho, with Joey Manu, Lindsay Collins and Isaac Liu are rested. Angus Crichton moves to lock, while Lachlan Lam joins the bench with Freddy Lussick in the reserves.
Prediction: Geez, the Rabbitohs were both lucky and unlucky last week against Canterbury with a dud sin-binning going against them before they were awarded a clear no-try. The Roosters, on the other hand, continue to show they can win regardless of who is in that 17. South Sydney will be better than last week unquestioned, but enough to beat the Roosters? Not happening. Even with the restings, this is too strong a line-up for an also-depleted Souths’ side to conquer. Expect ex-Rabbitohs in Luke Keary and Angus Crichton to star. Roosters by 16.
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs vs. Penrith Panthers
ANZ Stadium, 3:00pm, Saturday September 26
Team News: Canterbury are unchanged. Penrith have rested Dylan Edwards, Stephen Crichton and Viliame Kikau, with Daine Laurie, Tyrone May and Kurt Capewell starting in their positions. James Tamou and Api Koroisau return at prop and hooker respectively, pushing Moses Leota to the bench and Mitch Kenny out of the 17. Matt Burton and Zane Tetevano join the bench with Jack Hetherington dropping off it.
Prediction: Will the Bulldogs have something to play for? A Brisbane win on Thursday relegates Canterbury back to last place, but a Cowboys win secures a successful ‘spoon dodge’ from the boys at Belmore. Penrith have rested a few stars but their side on paper still looks incredibly strong for a lacklustre Bulldogs outfit. I know they won last week, but as good as Canterbury were, the Rabbitohs were just as bad. Tipping Daine Laurie to score his maiden try as Penrith officially end the regular season with a singular loss. Penrith by 20.
Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, 5:30pm, Saturday September 26
Team News: Wade Graham will play five-eighth in place of Shaun Johnson, while Nene Macdonald, Mawene Hiroti and Teig Wilton come in for Sione Katoa, Josh Dugan and Royce Hunt. Canberra have mass restings, with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Jordan Rapana, Jarrod Croker, George Williams, Jack Wighton, Elliot Whitehead, John Bateman, Josh Papalii and Joe Tapine are sitting out. Adam Cook debuts at fullback, Matt Timoko and Harley Smith-Shields are the centres, Matt Frawley and Sam Williams are the halves, Hudson Young and Corey Harawira-Naera in the back-row with Tom Starling starting at hooker and Siliva Havili at lock. Kai O’Donnell joins debutants Darby Medlyn and Jarrett Subloo on the bench.
Prediction: That was a mouthful. Canberra have rested a stack of experience, but Cronulla aren’t looking red hot. They’ve lost Shaun Johnson for a year, and a loss would make Cronulla the first team in history to play finals footy without beating a single top eight side. Wade Graham has had a lacklustre year by his standards but I’m tipping him to fire at six. If the Eels beat the Tigers, these two sides will clash again next week in the first week of the finals. They’re incredibly understrength but Canberra will win in what will be deemed an upset, with Sam Williams in his captaincy debut to steer his side to victory. Raiders by 4.
Bankwest Stadium, 7:35pm, Saturday September 26
Team News: Luke Brooks, Tommy Talau, Luke Garner and Thomas Mikaele come in for Josh Reynolds, Joey Leilua, Sam McIntyre and Josh Aloiai. Alex Twal returns at lock, pushing Matt Eisenhuth to the bench, where he’s joined by Elijah Taylor, Shawn Blore and Michael Chee-Kam, with Russell Packer and Jacob Liddle dropping out. Junior Paulo and Shaun Lane return to the starting side with Kane Evans and Andrew Davey dropping back to the bench.
Prediction: A grudge match of sorts, the last time these sides battled it out ended with a 26-16 win for the Eels, and a very angry Nathan Brown (attempting to) whack Shawn Blore on debut, with Blore coming out on top. Brooks against Moses, Marshall in his last Wests’ game, the headlines write themselves. There’ll be spite, but on the cusp of the finals, Parramatta will sneak home on the back of Clint Gutherson, a Dally M dark horse. Parramatta by 10.
New Zealand Warriors vs. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Central Coast Stadium, 2:00pm, Sunday September 27
Team News: Peta Hiku shifts to fullback for the injured Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, with Hayze Perham moving into the centres and Patrick Herbert on the wing. Isaiah Papali’i starts at prop, Tohu Harris moves to the back-row, Jazz Tevaga at lock, Eli Katoa returns from injury in the second-row with Jack Murchie dropping to the bench. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown returns on the bench with Josh Curran and Tom Ale dropping off the bench. Tom Trbojevic is done for the season, with Tevita Funa moving to fullback and Reuben Garrick returning on the wing. Abbas Miski starts on the wing this week with Albert Hopoate benched. Taniela Paseka and Morgan Boyle swap starting and bench spots, while Jack Gosiewski is out, shifting Corey Waddell to the starting side and Haumole Olakau’atu on the bench.
Prediction: Both sides sit on equal competition points, a shock for many. Coming into the ‘COVID break’ in March, the Warriors were hot favourites for the spoon and Manly were coming off a win over the Chooks. Now? The Warriors, without RTS, look the better side heading into this clash. DCE and Taupau will have to shoulder the load if they are to grab a win in their last outing, but a Kiwi outfit with a returning Eli Katoa, an ex-Manly back Peta Hiku at the back. There’ll be a few points scored but the Warriors will repay their fans, and captain RTS who snubbed a flight home despite not seeing his family for five months, to stick it out with his squad for the last round despite a hamstring injury. It’s the only way to cap off 2020’s rugby league feel good story. Warriors by 12.
St. George Illawarra Dragons vs. Melbourne Storm
Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, 4:05pm, Sunday September 27
Team News: Jayden Sullivan and Adam Clune come in for Corey Norman and Ben Hunt in the halves, while Max Feagai and Euan Aitken come into the backline for Jordan Pereira and Brayden Williame, with Eddie Blacker joining the bench. Jacob Host returns in the back-row, pushing Tariq Sims to the bench and Tyrell Fuimaono out of the side. Blake Lawrie starts with Kaide Ellis back to the bench. Melbourne have changed every position in their 17 from last week. Ryan Papenhuyzen is the fullback, Sandor Earl and Isaac Lumelume on the wing, Ricky Leutele and Paul Momirovski in the centres with Ryley Jacks and Cooper Johns the halves. Christian Welch and Tui Kamikamica are in the front-row with Brandon Smith the rake, Tom Eisenhuth and Chris Lewis make up the back-row with Max King locking the scrum. The bench features Nicho Hynes, Darryn Schonig, Aaron Pene and Albert Vete.
Prediction: Have you ever seen a side change every member of their 17? Melbourne have rested a heap of stars but this still isn’t clear cut, with a brand new halves pairing for the Dragons. They have some great young talent on debut as well as farewelling Tyson Frizell, but Craig Bellamy would still want to win. It gives the ‘second tier’ players a chance of snaring some match fitness in case called upon in the finals, while St. George Illawarra will have eyes on 2021, despite it being Dean Young’s farewell game from the club. While the Storm’s young squad will show promise, it’ll be the Red V ending their season on a high. Dragons by 7.