Penrith Panthers vs. Newcastle Knights

BlueBet Stadium, 7:50pm, Thursday April 22

Team News: Penrith have named an unchanged line-up from the side that defeated Brisbane but will now need to fill the void left by Paul Momirovski, who’s NRL Judiciary appeal failed. Dylan Edwards and Api Koroisau have been named in the reserves as they near their respective returns.

Hymel Hunt picked up a hamstring issue in the Knights’ win over Cronulla, and is replaced by Starford To’a.

Prediction: A great escape for both sides last weekend, the pair starting their respective matches as favourites, yet either trailed or sat level with the opposition in the final ten. It’s the stars that stood tall. Nathan Cleary, Kalyn Ponga, whoever wins on Thursday, their victory will be based around one of these men.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – AUGUST 18: Kalyn Ponga of the Knights is tackled by Nathan Cleary of the Panthers during the round 23 NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the Newcastle Knights at Panthers Stadium on August 18, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt Blyth/Getty Images)

Newcastle were courageous in their win over Cronulla, Brodie Jones a surprise hero for the Novacastrians, but it’s hard to see them matching it with Penrith, especially back at the foot of the mountains. David Fifita did a job on the Knights’ right edge defence and Viliame Kikau could do something similar, as well as Nathan Cleary being arguably the best player in the NRL right now. They fought out a 90 minute draw in Round 3 last year, but there’ll be a clear cut winner this time around. Penrith by 14.

Gold Coast Titans vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs

Cbus Super Stadium, 6:00pm, Friday April 23

Team News: Tino Fa’asuamaleaui has taken an early guilty plea and will miss a fortnight, meaning Moeaki Fotuaika starts at prop and Sam McIntyre makes his club debut off the bench. Anthony Don returns in place of Jonus Pearson.

Regardless of the judiciary decision, Latrell Mitchell misses this match through suspension, pushing Alex Johnston to fullback with Jaxson Paulo earning a recall on the wing. Josh Mansour has a minor hamstring issue and will miss a month, while Dane Gagai moves to the wing in his place and Steven Marsters plays his first NRL game of the year at centre. Keaon Koloamatangi returns from suspension in the back-row, with Jacob Host dropping to the reserves.

Prediction: My lord, what a wild ride that South Sydney match was. Thomas Burgess brought back memories of twin brother George’s barnstorming Grand Final try, but they’ll be back a few pegs without backline stars Latrell Mitchell and Josh Mansour. The Titans are in a similar spot however, having lost Tino for a fortnight and coming off a 36-0 loss to Manly. Both clubs will wear special jerseys to honour 100 years of the RAAF.

The Gold Coast have been hit and miss this year. When they’re on they’re on, but they need to prove themselves against one of the top six teams. The Titans have only faced one of those sides this year, the Canberra Raiders, and lost by 16 points.

Even without Latrell, the Bunnies are hot, having won five-straight, and eager to extend their stay in the top two. Jaydn Su’A up against Fifita will be a fiery battle on the edge, but even if the Titans marquee signing wins that battle, he won’t win the war.

Damien Cook could tear this game wide open, and don’t be surprised if Cody Walker shifts to fullback before the match, handing Benji Marshall a start and making the Bunnies even more potent. Rabbitohs by 13.

Parramatta Eels vs. Brisbane Broncos

TIO Stadium, 7:55pm, Friday April 23

Team News: Dylan Brown returns at five-eighth in place of Will Smith, while young centre Will Penisini debuts off the bench, replacing Keegan Hipgrave.

Herbie Farnworth is a welcome return in place of Richie Kennar in the centres. Danny Levi makes his club debut on the bench, replacing John Asiata.

Prediction: Looking at their ladder positions, you wouldn’t guess it, but the last time these clubs played, it was a tight affair. Brisbane actually led the Eels 16-0 at half-time before a second-half collapse saw Parramatta win by eight, though the blue and gold did only lead 18-16 with a minute to play.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 12: Reed Mahoney of the Eels celebrates after scoring a try during the round one NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the Parramatta Eels at Suncorp Stadium, on March 12, 2021, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Brisbane have shown glimpses since that bout, including their surprisingly close affair with Penrith last week, but not to the extent of the 5-1 Eels.

The Broncos will have some extra wind in their sails after that tight clash with the ladder leaders, and could match it with Parramatta in the early stages. Tevita Pangai Jnr marking Isaiah Papali’i will be a highlight, but the longer this game goes, the more Parramatta will pull in front. Won’t be the massacre many are predicting. Parramatta by 14.

Cronulla Sharks vs. Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs

Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, 5:30pm, Saturday April 24

Team News: Shaun Johnson will play his first game since late last year via the bench, pushing Braydon Trindall to the reserves. Josh Dugan is also back, which sees Teig Wilton move back to the second-row, Jack Williams to the bench and Aiden Tolman dropping out due to suspension. Will Chambers is in the reserves.

Dylan Napa and Luke Thompson start at prop, with Jack Hetherington accepting a five game ban and Renouf Atoni back on the bench after starting against the Cowboys. Chris Smith starts in the back-row, with Corey Waddell starting the match at lock. Bradley Deitz, Ava Seumanufagai and Matt Doorey join the bench, while Jackson Topine and Ofahiki Ogden drop out.

Prediction: The Bulldogs were valiant last week, they had a player sent off with half an hour to go, and from the 50th minute through the fulltime whistle the game was locked 12-12. The Sharks were oh so close, Chad Townsend absolutely nailing a sideline conversion only to miss a tackle on Kalyn Ponga’s game-winning try. However, the Sharks look a lot stronger this week than they did against Newcastle.

Shaun Johnson is back, though it seems only through a cameo role via the bench. Will Kennedy, Matt Moylan and Chad Townsend will all have one more chance to show Josh Hannay why they shouldn’t be the man axed, though it seems more and more likely Chad will be the one on the chop. The Dogs will scrap as they always do, but Cronulla have a habit of beating the lower ranked sides, and should get the job done and done well on Saturday afternoon. Tipping Shaun Johnson to score a meat pie on his return. Cronulla by 16.

North Queensland Cowboys vs. Canberra Raiders

Queensland Country Bank Stadium, 7:35pm, Saturday April 24

Team News: The Cowboys have stuck with the same team that defeated the Bulldogs.

Josh Papalii has been benched and Joseph Tapine has been dropped for the Raiders. Emre Guler moves into the starting team, and is joined in the front-row by Ryan James, who was rested last week. Ryan Sutton moves from prop to lock. Both Corey Harawira-Naera and Corey Horsburgh play their first games of the year from the bench. Sia Soliola also moves to the reserves. Josh Hodgson is out with a minor calf injury, replaced by Tom Starling, while Bailey Simonsson’s concussion sees Sebastian Kris start on the wing.

Prediction: I didn’t think we’d be going into a clash where the Cowboys have won back-to-back games, and Canberra were coming off a heavy home loss. But here we are. The Raiders have been underwhelming for the level they’re expected to be at. Josh Hodgson has a sudden calf injury and will spend some time on the sideline, giving Tom Starling a chance to start.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – AUGUST 02: Josh Hodgson of the Raiders runs the ball during the round 20 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Canberra Raiders at Mt Smart Stadium on August 02, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

This could be exactly what the Green Machine need with Hodgson struggling to gel into the side after missing half of last year’s campaign. They’re missing Starling’s speed in the ruck, and frankly, Hodgson’s need to take control is hindering them.

The Raiders are at their best when they’re playing eyes up footy, their halves pairing is built for it. The Cowboys have successive wins for the first time since Round 2 and 3 last year, but other than the first half against Wests, haven’t been awfully impressive. They’re aching for Jason Taumalolo in the middle, and will feel it ten fold when Canberra roll through their centre on Saturday night. The Raiders will bounce back well here. Raiders by 19.

Wests Tigers vs. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles

Bankwest Stadium, 1:45pm, Sunday April 25

Team News: Asu Kepaoa’s season is over following an ACL tear, with Michael Chee Kam called into the centres. Alex Seyfarth replaces Thomas Mikaele on the bench.

Manly are unchanged.

Prediction: Tom Trbojevic is BACK. The Manly custodian lit it up in Mudgee last weekend, and will be on a warpath over the next few rounds to reinstate himself as a top three fullback. He made such a dramatic change to the Sea Eagles, he must be in the conversation as the game’s most influential player.

Wests Tigers were beaten cruelly in golden point via a 30 metre Thomas Burgess try. They were valiant, but with the lower sides, there’s only two ways the team will react. Either agonise over the loss and fight their way to a deserved win, or collapse.

While the likes of Adam Doueihi, Daine Laurie and debutant Jake Simpkin showed glimpses of a bright future for the Concord club, it’ll be the latter rather than the former. The Sea Eagles look like they could wreak some havoc over the next few weeks while Wests will carry that hurt from the Souths clash into this one. In a high-scoring affair, the Sea Eagles will edge out a fast finishing Tigers outfit. Manly by 8.

Sydney Roosters vs. St. George Illawarra Dragons

Sydney Cricket Ground, 4:05pm, Sunday April 25

Team News: Brett Morris returns on the wing in place of Matt Ikuvalu, while Sam Verrills plays his first NRL game since his ACL tear against the Dragons last year. He starts at nine, pushing Ben Marschke to the bench and Adam Keighran out of the side.

Blake Lawrie comes back into the side at prop after missing last week, with Trent Merrin out of the side all together after announcing his retirement. Ben Hunt is an outside chance of returning after being named on the reserves list.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – SEPTEMBER 15: Ben Hunt (L) of the Dragons celebrates with Zac Lomax (R) after scoring a try during the NRL Semi Final match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the St George Illawarra Dragons at ANZ Stadium on September 15, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Prediction: The most emotional and arguably most important regular season clash of each season. COVID robbed us of this clash on ANZAC Day last year, and both sides will make up for it on Sunday. The pair are on equal terms ladder wise as well – 4-2 after six rounds.

Sam Verrills’ return can’t be understated for a team that desperately needs a spine that’ll stay together on the pitch. There’s question marks over the fitness over Taukeiah. The Chooks will breathe again after Victor Radley escaped a ban.

Ben Hunt played his best footy in a Dragons jersey at the start of this year, and is inching towards a return, likely at the cost of Adam Clune. Matt Dufty could break this one open, but this Roosters side, despite missing big names, still looks strong. Teddy, the Morris brothers, Lindsay Collins. Like most ANZAC Days, it’ll be gritty, they’ll fight tooth and nail and to the final buzzer, but the Chooks will emerge victorious. Roosters by 4.

Melbourne Storm vs. New Zealand Warriors

AAMI Park, 6:30pm, Sunday April 25

Team News: Ryan Papenhuyzen misses the match with a niggling shoulder injury, promoting Nicho Hynes to starting fullback and Dale Finucane moving onto the bench.

The Warriors are missing both of last week’s centres in Peta Hiku and Adam Pompey. Jack Murchie comes into the side at centre, while Marcelo Montoya shifts in one spot from the wing, and David Fusitu’a returns on the flank. Paul Turner is also out, with Bayley Sironen returning in lieu of the utility on the interchange bench.

Prediction: The other famous ANZAC clash. While it doesn’t have the fanfare that the previous match does, it’s still an exciting tussle between these clubs. The Storm will be without Ryan Papenhuyzen in a massive blow, though Nicho Hynes isn’t too shabby of a replacement. The Warriors have lost even more key personnel to the casualty ward, with new signing and RTS successor, Reece Walsh, named in the reserves.

The inclusion of Harry Grant has seen the Storm go up another rung, as unbelievable as that may be. They managed to hold the Roosters scoreless for 79 and-a-half minutes, the side oozes talent, class and discipline. ‘Paps’ is out but they do get Dale Finucane back in the squad in another boost to the premiers.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 28: Ryan Papenhuyzen of the Storm heads for the try line to score during the round 15 NRL match between the Sydney Roosters and the Melbourne Storm at Adelaide Oval on June 28, 2019 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

This will be a highly entertaining affair, but at AAMI Park, Melbourne are nearly unstoppable. It won’t be a blowout in such a meaningful clash, but the Storm have too many points in them for the Kiwis. Melbourne by 10.