Manly Warringah Sea Eagles vs. Wests Tigers
Lottoland, 7:50pm, Thursday August 15
Team News: Brendan Elliot and Jack Gosiewski come in for the injured Brad Parker and Curtis Sironen. Tommy Talau will debut in place of Moses Mbye. Jacob Liddle starts at hooker for Robbie Farah. Luke Garner's suspension means Chris Lawrence starts and Chris McQueen joins the bench.
Prediction: It's a must win for both teams. Wests are desperate to keep touch with the top eight as they do every year in their 'will they or won't they make finals' routine. Manly must stay in touch with the top four, and Canberra having to play Melbourne in Melbourne could help them greatly. It won't be a high scoring game, Wests will give Manly a fright, but the Sea Eagles will get the job done. Manly by 8.
Gold Coast Titans vs. Parramatta Eels
Cbus Super Stadium, 6:00pm, Friday August 16
Team News: Michael Gordon replaces Leilani Latu on the bench. Kane Evans returns at prop, pushing Daniel Alvaro to the bench and dropping Tepai Moeroa to the reserves.
Prediction: The definition of a 6pm Friday game. Believe it or not, this is a game the Titans can win. They've been extremely down on confidence, but scoring 28 points last week will do good for their self belief. They're all but certain to get the spoon after Canterbury's hot streak of form, the Gold Coast must loosen up. Parramatta are on cruise control a little. They could put 40 on the Titans, but there's a sense of complacency with the Eels. Upset incoming. Titans by 4.
Brisbane Broncos vs. Penrith Panthers
Suncorp Stadium, 7:55pm, Friday August 16
Team News: Brisbane are unchanged. Penrith welcome back James Maloney in place of debutant Matt Burton.
Prediction: Another must win for both teams. These clubs are teetering on the edge of finals football. Cronulla, Parramatta, Penrith and Brisbane, there's four teams, and only three vacant spots in the top eight. The loser of this game will go along way to being that odd one out. Darius Boyd will have mind focused on 'run first, ball play second' after all the criticism he copped. James Maloney is a big in. It'll be tight, but a Milford field goal will get Brisbane home. Broncos by 1.
Newcastle Knights vs. North Queensland Cowboys
McDonald Jones Stadium, 3:00pm, Saturday August 17
Team News: Connor Watson will start at hooker with Danny Levi dropped. Josh King starts at lock with Tim Glasby out, while Herman Ese'ese joins the bench. The Cowboys have lost Jason Taumalolo, with John Asiata the most likely to join the starting side. Jordan Kahu returns in place of Gideon Mosby-Gela. Jordan MacLean also returns at prop, while Matt Scott starts in the front -row with Josh McGuire suspended.
Prediction: It's been a long month and a half for Newcastle, their last win coming before Origin III. But they're back this weekend. The loss of Taumalolo is massive, and hurt the Cowboys when he missed a few eeks with a knee injury at the start of the season. North Queensland are vulnerable. And Mitchell Pearce will sense that. Ponga has been quiet. A day game in Newcastle could easily draw in 20,000+ fans. It's just going to be a good day tonbe a Knights fan. Newcastle by 14.
Melbourne Storm vs. Canberra Raiders
AAMI Park, 5:30pm, Saturday August 17
Team News: Jahrome Hughes returns at fullback in place of debutant Nico Hynes, while Ryan Papenhuyzen returns on the bench, replacing Billy Walters. Canberra finally welcome back Joey Leilua at right centre, pushing Nick Cotric to the left wing, and Bailey Simonsson to the bench, with Siliva Havili dropped.
Prediction: This will be a low-scoring grind of a game. A win here guarantees the minor premiership for the Storm, but it's unlikely they won't get it anyway. Canberra are yet to beat any of the other top five teams. They need to make a statement. Unlike the Rabbitohs were last week, Ricky Stuart won't be content with just 'sticking with the Storm for most of the contest'. Canberra need a big scalp before finals, and with Joey Leilua back they'll lift. But not enough for a rampaging Melbourne outfit. Storm by 7.
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs. Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
ANZ Stadium, 7:35pm, Saturday August 17
Team News: Sam Burgess returns in the front-row, pushing Junior Tatola to the bench. Briadon Burns returns at centre with Kyle Turner out. Jaydn Su'A starts in the back-row, pushing Dean Britt to the bench, with both Corey Allan and Mark Nicholls dropped. The Bulldogs are unchanged.
Prediction: This will be very interesting. Canterbury are in form, they can't make finals, they probably won't escape the bottom four, but there's promising signs. Souths are humming along. But they have suffered back-to-back defeats, one a heavy loss to Cronulla, one a narrow L at the hands of an efficient Storm side. This will say a lot about the Rabbitohs being premiership contenders. They could easily come out and pump the Bulldogs, or they could make unforced errors, miss tackles, and have to really work for the win. Wayne Bennett is great at priming his sides for the finals, so I'll lean for the former. Souths by 20.
Sydney Roosters vs. New Zealand Warriors
SCG, 2:00pm, Sunday August 18
Team News: Both sides are unchanged.
Prediction: How will the Roosters be stopped? They're just on another planet, specifically James Tedesco. The ball he through to Daniel Tupou was freakish, he's playing with immense confidence and everything he touches turns to gold because of it. The Warriors upset Manly but are still long odds at cracking the finals. Imagine that team without Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, they'd be awful. RTS will keep them in it, but the Roosters will blow them away late through the middle third. Roosters by 16.
Cronulla Sharks vs. St George Illawarra Dragons
PointsBet Stadium, 4:05pm, Sunday August 18
Team News: Matt Moylan's return at fullback pushes Josh Dugan to the centres, and sees Ronaldo Mulitalo drop out. Andrew Fifita is out, replaced by Billy Magoulias. Tariq Sims' season is over, which means Luciano Leilua starts with Blake Lawrie joining the bench.
Prediction: Local derby at a suburban ground on a Sunday afternoon? There's nothing better. The Dragons must put some pride back into that Red V and test combinations. They'll have no Widdop next year. Cronulla must find the balance they had against Souths a fortnight ago, easily their best performance. The likes of Moylan, Johnson and Townsend are all slowly learning how to take a step back and not try to carry the team's attacking game on their shoulders alone. They'll be at their best this Sunday and could blow the Dragons away early, but it's a derby so let's keep it close. Sharks by 12.