South Sydney Rabbitohs vs. Brisbane Broncos
Stadium Australia, 7:50pm, Thursday April 8
Team News: Cody Walker and Keaon Koloamatangi will both miss the clash through suspension, opening the door for Benji Marshall to start his first game for the club at five-eighth, while Jacob Host is recalled in the second-row. Dean Hawkins will debut from the bench.
Prediction: Good Friday was at least good for one of these clubs, and it should be a similar story this week. Cody Walker is a big out but against a weaker opposition and the calibre of Benji Marshall as a replacement, they are more than enough to get this job done.
Brisbane did start well against Melbourne, before conceding 40, including 24 straight points to Ryan Papenhuyzen. They desperately need an old head on-field to galvanise them when the going gets tough. Despite having a new five-eighth and back-rower on that side, the left edge for the Bunnies should terrorise the likes of Dearden, Niu and Coates. A big Bunnies win incoming. Rabbitohs by 22.
New Zealand Warriors vs. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Central Coast Stadium, 6pm, Friday April 9
Team News: Addin Fonua-Blake and Bayley Sironen are missing through injury as well as the suspended Bunty Afoa, causing a reshuffle. Tohu Harris will start in the front-row alongside Leeson Ah Mau, Jack Murchie comes from the bench onto an edge, and duo Tom Ale and Kane Evans play their first game of the season.
Morgan Harper will play centre in place of the injured Moses Suli. Morgan Boyle is also out with a shoulder problem, moving Jack Gosiewski into the starting side, and promoting Toafofoa Sipley to the bench.
Prediction: Surely Manly have to click into gear eventually, don’t they? The more time Tom Trbojevic misses, the more this fake mentality of ‘Tom will come in and save us’ grows. The side has leaked 156 points in the opening month of the competition, ‘Turbo’ won’t fix that. The Warriors, in true Warriors fashion, are predictably unpredictable. They beat Canberra despite trailing by 21 one week, and lose to a Roosters side missing their halves by 20 the next week.
The Warriors have some big outs as well, Fonua-Blake is a monumental loss. Tohu Harris isn’t a front-rower, and the pressure will be on him to create some go-forward. You can’t possibly tip the Sea Eagles with the way they’re fairing, but this won’t be the blow-out many are tipping. Warriors will win this clash, but there’ll be some DCE magic along the way. Warriors by 10.
Penrith Panthers vs. Canberra Raiders
BlueBet Stadium, 7:55pm, Friday April 9
Team News: Penrith haven’t made a change to the side that demolished Manly last Thursday.
Prediction: Far and away the match of the round. Canberra have had some shaky moments early this season, but make no mistake, they’re a top tier side. If it wasn’t for a controversial forward pass and a few injuries, they’d be 4-0. Penrith we already know are the real deal. They’ve conceded 16 points this year, less than a converted try per game.
The spines and outside backs are elite, but it’s the middle third where this game will be won and lost. James Fisher-Harris against Josh Papalii is mouth-watering, Kurt Capewell running at Elliot Whitehead and Joseph Tapine fighting it out with Isaah Yeo. Stephen Crichton will be really tested at fullback against a quality opposition, and missing Api Koroisau and Dylan Edwards, an upset is tempting. But home ground advantage is huge for this Panthers outfit that’ve won 19-straight regular season games. Penrith win, but only just. Panthers by 2.
Gold Coast Titans vs. Newcastle Knights
Cbus Super Stadium, 3pm, Saturday April 10
Newcastle are in injury crisis. Kalyn Ponga returns at fullback for the hamstrung Tex Hoy. Last week’s halves in Kurt Mann and Mitchell Pearce are both missing, opening the door for a new scrum base combination of Connor Watson and Blake Green, who both came off the bench last week. Jacob Saifiti is suspended. Brodie Jones, Chris Randall and Pasami Saulo join the interchange.
Prediction: You’ve got to feel for Newcastle, the injury curse has been hanging over their heads for a few seasons now. They lost three-quarters of their spine before half time against the Dragons, and have been forced to name numerous development players in their squad just to field a team this week. Kalyn Ponga is back, but has he been rushed through necessity?
The Titans were flat last week against the Raiders, but should bounce back at home, and lift big time in front of their members. AJ Brimson has had flashes of brilliance this season but needs to get himself consistently involved. Jayden Brailey is the only member of the Knights’ spine that has actually started a game this season, and those rusty combinations will be Newcastle’s undoing. Big return from Brian Kelly as the Titans prevail. Titans by 14.
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs vs. Melbourne Storm
Stadium Australia, 5:30pm, Saturday April 10
Team News: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak’s suspension is over, replacing the hurt Nick Meaney at fullback. Jake Averillo returns at five-eighth for the concussed Lachlan Lewis. Luke Thompson and Josh Jackson return from suspension at prop and lock respectively, pushing Dylan Napa and Renouf Atoni to the bench, and Dean Britt and Joe Stimson to the reserves. Corey Allen officially moves to the centres with Nick Cotric on the wing.
Prediction: Surely the Bulldogs can register a point this week. Surely. Maybe an early game penalty goal? They’ve gone nearly 250 minutes without troubling the scorer. Melbourne scored 40 points just last week. There’s no easy way of saying it, it’s going to be a rugby league massacre.
Harry Grant is named in the reserves and is a big chance of making the final side, as well as the return of Felise Kaufusi. Ryan Papenhuyzen scored 24 straight points against Brisbane, they’re simply a team in cracking form, and Canterbury are the opposite. They do have three internationals in Thompson, Jackson and Watene-Zellezniak returning, but they won’t be able to stop this onslaught. Melbourne by 34.
Sydney Roosters vs. Cronulla Sharks
SCG, 7:35pm, Saturday April 10
Team News: The Roosters have named the same 17 that defeated the Warriors.
Prediction: It turns out there is life without Luke Keary. Sam Walker looks a unique talent, not flustered by the weight on his shoulder, it’s rare you find a rookie so level headed, especially an 18 year-old. The Warriors were busted but still, the Chooks shone, with James Tedesco taking on part of that play-making workload. Cronulla played their best game this year, though it was only up against the hapless Cowboys.
This should be a cracker. The Roosters are deserved favourites, but the Sharks are somewhat of a bogey side for the Bondi boys, should add some spark to this contest. Jesse Ramien is a handy addition, marking up against Josh Morris. Will Kennedy has been a shining light for the Sharks as well, but the Roosters have that touch of class about them, even with such inexperience. Cronulla will send plenty of traffic at Sam Walker, but it won’t be enough to stop a Tri-colours victory. Roosters by 8.
Wests Tigers vs. North Queensland Cowboys
Leichardt Oval, 4:05pm, Sunday April 11
Jason Taumalolo returns at lock in a massive boost for the Cowboys, pushing Josh McGuire to the bench and Corey Jensen out of the side. Justin O’Neill is out with concussion, lining up with Kyle Feldt’s return from suspension. Feldt is on the right wing, pushing Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow to the centres.
Prediction: So close, yet so far for the Tigers against Parramatta. They had the talent to go close to snatching it, but lack the direction to really finish that game off. The Cowboys were beyond hopeless last week, such a far cry than what the roster on paper would suggest. Taumalolo is a massive in however, and could certainly wreak havoc this week.
Daine Laurie has been the Tigers best player in the spine this season, with a license to roam, and Adam Doueihi is delivering at five-eighth. It’s been over a decade since North Queensland have tasted victory at Leichardt Oval, but in the upset of the round, there’ll snare their first win of the season on Sunday. Taumalolo’s first match since Todd Payten called him out after Round 1, he’ll have a point to prove and dominate the middle, and speedsters like Valentine Holmes and Scott Drinkwater will have some room to move. Cowboys by 4.
Parramatta Eels vs. St. George Illawarra Dragons
Bankwest Stadium, 6:15pm, Sunday April 11
Prediction: Who would’ve though the Dragons would win three straight at any point this season? They’re still below the top teams, seeing as they’ve beaten two of the worst sides this year in the Cowboys and Manly, as well as a Knights side that lost 75% of the spine by half time. Regardless, a win’s a win. And those Parramatta Eels, one of two sides undefeated in the NRL.
The Eels went close to dropping that game against the Tigers, and are another hard to read team, form wise. They’re a step above the Dragons but the Red V have some unpredictability up their sleeve. If Corey Norman and Matt Dufty are close to their best, this is a winnable game for St. George Illawarra. But missing Ben Hunt and at Bankwest, this seems too tall an order, Parramatta will go 5-0. Eels by 6.