Almost every game this weekend could influence the finals picture in some way with a logjam in the middle and a double blockbuster at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday. Here is the Round 21 Rev Up!
Sunshine Coast Stadium, 7:50pm, Thursday August 5
Kotoni Staggs' season is over following a knee injury, Jesse Arthars starts at right centre. Jake Turpn is out with an ankle issue, handing Danny Levi a start at hooker, and TC Robati earning a reprieve on the bench.
Prediction: Captain Kalyn? It appears so with Adam O'Brien set to rest Daniel Saifiti from captaincy duties, but the more exciting prospect for Newcastle is the return of Mitchell Pearce. The club hasn't had a full strength spine since their 38-0 smashing of the Cowboys a month ago, and the loss of Kotoni Staggs is massive for Brisbane after his two-try performance last round.
Bradman Best had a massive return last week, tearing Canberra's right edge apart, with Kalyn Ponga playing a vital role in the process. If the Knights can contain Payne Haas and not let Tyson Gamble get under their skin, they've got a side that could rack up a decent score line here. Jake Clifford has slotted into the side so seamlessly, a strong kicking game and a half that can lead a side around when Pearce isn't there, he's the key to their attack. Brisbane will put up some fight, but not enough to stop Newcastle's late semi-finals push.
Knights by 14.
Canberra Raiders vs St George Illawarra Dragons
Cbus Super Stadium, 6:00pm, Friday August 6
Team News: Sebastian Kris is out after failing a HIA against Newcastle, Matt Timoko is promoted to the starting side, and debutant Elijah Anderson joins the bench. Ryan Sutton returns at lock, shifting Hudson Young to an edge, Corey Harawira-Naera to the bench, and Iosia Soliola drops out.
Jack Bird replaces Tyrell Sloan at fullback, Cody Ramsey and Zac Lomax's return in the centres sees Corey Norman shift to five-eighth, Junior Amone drop to the bench and Jayden Sullivan is out of the 17. Mikaele Ravalawa takes Gerard Beale's wing spot.
Adam Clune will start the game, with Ben Hunt missing time with a broken arm. Josh McGuire, Blake Lawrie and Jack de Belin return to the starting side with Josh Kerr suspended, Poasa Faamausili drops out of the side.
Prediction: This is tighter than the betting market suggests. Canberra head in as hot favourites, but it's hard to buy into them too much after leaking 34 points to Newcastle last week. Jack Wighton looks lost at the moment, he's got a few moments of brilliance in him but throughout the course of 80 minutes, he's directionless. Luckily for Canberra, the Dragons will also lack direction without captain Ben Hunt. Tighter than the market suggests.
It's the very last week of the COVID suspensions for the Red V, and only lose Josh Kerr and Gerard Beale this time around. The choice to play Jack Bird at fullback is a strange one though. No doubt he's capable, but Tyrell Sloan has been electric in limited opportunities, and sits in the reserves this week. Canberra don't have many issues in their team list, it depends how they click. With Zac Lomax and Mikaele Ravalawa both back on the right, the Raiders will cop some headaches, but not enough to cop a defeat here. Hunt's injury is too much.
Raiders by 4.
Cbus Super Stadium, 7:55pm, Friday August 6
Team News: Mitchell Moses is a big in at halfback, pushing Jakob Arthur to the reserves. Reagan Campbell-Gillard has a groin issue, handing Oregon Kaufusi a start at prop, and Marata Niukore returns from on the bench. Bryce Cartwright replaces Ray Stone on the pine.
Prediction: A massive game when it comes to the ladder just a few weeks out from finals footy. A Rabbitoh victory will see them momentarily jump Penrith into outright second place, while a Parramatta win is crucial if they want to hold their place in the top four. South Sydney have scored exactly 38 points in their last three games against the Eels, all wins, and will aim to keep up the trend on Friday night.
Cody Walker is in sublime form at the moment, he's seven try-assists clear of second place in the NRL, and is just inserting himself into the attack perfectly. His ability to drift off onto the right edge takes so much pressure off of Adam Reynolds and Latrell Mitchell, it's hard to come up with a plan to stop him when he just plays eyes up footy. Mitch Moses' return was an absolute must for Parramatta - a 28-0 loss to the Roosters will have their confidence shot. Moses and Gutherson will certainly turn up and try their guts out, but the Rabbitohs are yet to lose to a side ranked 4th or lower this year, and that won't change here.
Rabbitohs by 10.
CBus Super Stadium, 3:00pm, Saturday August 7
Team News: Matt Lodge and Addin Fonua-Blake come into the front-row for the injured Ben Murdoch-Masilla and dropped Jamayne Taunoa-Brown. Peta Hiku shifts to the centres, taking Adam Pompey's spot with Chanel Harris-Tavita back at five-eighth.
Jesse Ramien's return at centre triggers a reshuffle. Siosifa Talakai moves back to the second-row, Jack Williams shifts to lock, Toby Rudolf goes to prop, Aiden Tolman moves back to the bench, and Luke Metcalf drops out.
Prediction: A high-scoring thriller, this mightn't be the best game of footy on this weekend, but it could be the most entertaining. The Warriors were shock winners over the Tigers last week, despite losing RTS during the week as he begins his union career. The Sharks fell victim to the Tom Trbojevic show, though showed promise in their fightback. Will Kennedy has been their most improved player in 2021, he's key here.
The addition of Fonua-Blake and Lodge to this out as well as Chanel Harris-Tavita changes this contest. Cronulla have an underrated pack, full of young, promising forwards and a sprinkle of veterans to even it out. New Zealand needed their props back if they were to win this match. It'll be a thriller, but the Sharks simply have better structure in their team, and more to play for. They're hungrier. The Warriors will turn to play, but Cronulla will fight tooth and nail in this absolute must win.
Sharks by 6.
Suncorp Stadium, 5:30pm, Saturday August 7
Api Koroisau and Isaah Yeo start at hooker and lock respectively, pushing Mitch Kenny and Matt Eisenhuth to the bench, and Izack Tago and J'maine Hopgood are among the reserves. Stephen Crichton's suspension shifts Kurt Capewell to the centres, Scott Sorensen starts in the back-row and Tevita Pangai Junior will make his club debut on the bench. Robert Jennings has been dropped, moving Brent Naden a spot wider and Paul Momoirovski is at centre. Nathan Cleary is in the reserves.
Prediction: This all revolves around Nathan Cleary. If the star half returns, it's all green lights for the Panthers. They're missing his kicking game as well as his presence in attack, he is their leader in attack, the question is whether his shoulder will be right to go. It appears off-season surgery is a certainty, it almost seems a bit desperate from Penrith, they know they're losing some talent after this season, they need to win now. Pangai Jnr makes his club debut in a cracking rematch with Victor Radley.
The Roosters are just so professional, even missing the star power they are. Trent Robinson has this team so thoroughly drilled when it comes to their execution, those little one percenters ensure they're always in a game. A 28-0 win over the Eels will have the Chooks confident, but the Panthers are a step up in class. This should be a cracker of a game, but provided Cleary plays and isn't hindered by that shoulder, the Panthers won't lose two in a row.
Panthers by 13.
Manly Sea Eagles vs Melbourne Storm
Suncorp Stadium, 7:35pm, Saturday August 7
Prediction: Match of the season? Melbourne haven't lost since Round 3, but face their biggest test this season - Tom Trbojevic. No one has found a way to shut down the superstar fullback, but there is no side in the competition better at shutting down an individual than the Storm. Daly Cherry-Evans will have to be the man if the Sea Eagles are to win this game.
The most underrated facet of Manly in 2021 is their forward pack - Taniela Paseka and Toafofoa Sipley have really toughened up their middle, and Paseka specifically has such great leg speed. Josh Schuster has had a Wade Graham-esque effect on the left edge, they're a genuine dark horse this year. Melbourne are missing a few key forwards, but still have the team to cause a stack of havoc. This going right down to the wire, but a DCE field-goal will break the Storm's 16 game winning streak.
Sea Eagles by 1.
Canterbury Bulldogs vs Wests Tigers
CBus Super Stadium, 2:00pm, Sunday August 8
Daine Laurie's season is done, handing Moses Mbye a start at fullback, with Michael Chee Kam filling the vacant centre role. James Tamou returns at prop, pushing Alex Twal back to the bench and Tom Amone out of the team. Tui Simpkins has been dropped to the reserves, Zac Cini the new face on the pine.
Prediction: This is going to be an ugly game of footy. Neither team has impressed in recent times, the Tigers have lost one of their best players this year, Daine Laurie, for the rest of the season, and suffered a horrendous loss to the Warriors last start. The Bulldogs sit last by a fair distance now, they've shown murmurs of an attacking game in recent times, but nothing to write home about.
Young Bailey Biondi-Odo starts his first NRL game this week in the halves, a week after scoring his maiden first-grade four-pointer. He might not be the man to kickstart their attack, but he certainly has a stack of potential, and has exactly what the Dogs are crying out for - creativity. Wests are going backwards though, last week was possibly their worst loss of the year - even lower than the 66-16 shellacking from the Storm a few months ago. They were diabolical. And with their confidence shot, Canterbury can snare a very rare win here.
Bulldogs by 4.
Gold Coast Titans vs. North Queensland Cowboys
Cbus Super Stadium, 4:05pm, Sunday August 8
Hampton's utility spot is taken by Jake Granville, who drops back to the interchange following Valentine Holme's return at fullback. Payten has promoted all of his bench forwards into the starting side, meaning Coen Hess is at lock, Tom Gilbert at prop and Heilum Luki in he second-row, with Jason Taumalolo moving to an edge. Mitchell Dunn is on the bench, though Shane Wright and Francis Molo are dropped.
Prediction: The Queensland derby for the 'little brothers' of Queensland, this is looking like more of a one-sided contest as the week goes on. However, Todd Payten has named a genuinely exciting rejigged side, Jason Taumalolo's move to an edge in particular a promising sign.
The Cowboys were touched up against lowly Brisbane, and the return of Valentine Holmes doesn't seem to be changing their trajectory. The Titans, similarly to a few other clubs, are around the cusp of the top eight and just have too much to play for. The Cowboys will improve, Tom Gilbert in the starting side is also exciting, but the Titans have too many points in them. AJ Brimson is due for a blinder.
Titans by 19.