South Sydney Rabbitohs vs. Melbourne Storm
Stadium Australia, 7:50pm, Thursday May 6
Team News: The Bunnies have lost Adam Reynolds, Cameron Murray, Campbell Graham and Jaxson Paulo to injury. Benji Marshall shifts to halfback with Cody Walker returning to five-eighth. Alex Johnston moves to fullback and Steven Marsters and Taane Milne are the new wing pairing, while Braidon Burns returns to the NRL at centre. Tevita Tatola returns at prop, shifting Jai Arrow to lock.
George Jennings returns for Melbourne in place of debutant Dean Ieremia, while Nelson Asofa-Solomona replaces Chris Lewis on the bench. Harry Grant retains his spot at hooker, with Brandon Smith named at lock.
Prediction: The Rabbitohs haven't lost a match since they faced Melbourne back in Round 1, but unfortunately for Bunnies fans, that's about to change.
The injury bug has swept through the side, with four missing from last week's win over Canberra. Worryingly, the Rabbitohs have a 29.2% win rate when halfback Adam Reynolds is missing, which he will be for the next 2-4 weeks. Their backline is incredibly depleted, with Taane Milne making his club debut and Braidon Burns is thrown into first-grade after just 53 minutes in NSW Cup in last week's return from injury.
Melbourne are still without Ryan Papenhuyzen but you'd hardly tell with the way they're playing, scoring 40+ in both clashes that the custodian has missed. Between 2011 and now, the Storm have only lost to Souths once in the regular season. Harry Grant is clicking with the halves. They get big Asofa-Solomona back into the side, all fingers point to a Melbourne Storm victory to kick off Round 9. Melbourne by 12.
Penrith Panthers vs. Cronulla Sharks
BlueBet Stadium, 6:00pm, Friday May 7
Team News: Penrith have named the same side that defeated Manly in Bathurst.
Jesse Ramien returns in the centres, pushing Teig Wilton to the bench, and the injured Braden Hamlin-Uele drops out.
Prediction: The last time these sides faced off, Charlie Staines scored four tries on debut. It's so hard to see Penrith losing a game right now, they click better than any other side and just have this whole other level they can go to. Cronulla on the other hand look shot. The John Morris sacking is having a delayed effect on the squad. It looks like their season is already over.
Penrith could honestly blow them away here. Especially since Shaun Johnson's return the Sharks look clunky, and with Chad Townsend departing, dropping Chad for Matt Moylan could add some spark to the team. A wing pairing of Hiroti and Tracey could be in big strife this round, facing pressure from Nathan Cleary's kicking game as well as the current best winger in the NRL, Brian To'o. This could be tight if Cronulla stand up in the opening quarter, but if they concede early they'll fold. I'll go with the latter. Penrith by 22.
Parramatta Eels vs. Sydney Roosters
Bankwest Stadium, 7:55pm, Friday May 7
Team News: Parramatta are unchanged, with Ryan Matterson again starting with Shaun Lane on the bench.
It was carnage for the Chooks last weekend. Brett Morris is out with a torn ACL, as Joey Manu returns to the centres and James Tedesco comes back into the team at fullback. Lindsay Collins has also torn his ACL, handing Isaac Liu a starting spot and Daniel Suluka-Fifita comes onto the interchange. Sam Verrills and Sitili Tupouniua are omissions as well, with bench duo Ben Marschke and Nat Butcher starting at hooker and back-row respectively, and Fletcher Baker and Adam Keighran join the pine.
Prediction: Match of the round! Two top four sides come face-to-face on Friday, and it should be an absolute cracker. Sam Walker is the rookie of the year without question, this kid is a freak. But the Roosters have lost some high quality stars after last round, with Lindsay Collins and Brett Morris' seasons done following ACL tears, the latter's career potentially finished.
Sitili Tupouniua is suspended and Sam Verrills is out, but they do get James Tedesco back. The question is - will the emotion of Brett Morris' injury lift the Chooks to victory?
Parramatta are 7-1, equal second with South Sydney and flying high. Bankwest is their fortress, their spine is firing, but they can go missing in these big games. If I'm a Roosters fan, I'm worried about the Sivo-Ikuvalu match-up. Isaiah Papali'i is holding Shaun Lane to the bench, there's a lot to like about this Eels side, deserved favourites. There's an upset on the cards however, with Sam Walker to claim his first 'top team' scalp with another dominant display against a surprisingly clunky Parramatta outfit. Roosters by 8.
Canberra Raiders vs. Newcastle Knights
McDonalds Park, 3:00pm, Saturday May 8
Team News: Josh Papalii comes straight back into the starting side at the expense of Ryan James, who drops to the reserves. George Williams is back at halfback after being a late scratching against South Sydney, pushing Elliot Whitehead to the second-row, Hudson Young to the bench and Sia Soliola out of the side.
Phoenix Crossland is named at halfback with Blake Green injured, while Hymel Hunt returns in lieu of Starford To'a on the wing.
Prediction: We go from a top four clash, to a clash between two sides firing well below expectation. Held at the neutral venue of Wagga Wagga, one of these teams is going to need to lift if they want a victory in this match. Canberra have lost four on the trot but will receive Josh Papalii back from his 'rest', but the real question mark is over whether Ricky Stuart can bring this changeroom together after Joseph Tapine's partner's social media outburst towards Stuart.
The Knights can at least blame their growing injury toll, they're really lacking Mitchell Pearce's direction at the moment. Kalyn Ponga is the man trying to carry their attack and unfortunately he's just not that sort of fullback.. At his best and most effective, he can just inject himself into the attack, not have to set up the play. The Raiders, despite the losses, look good with Tom Starling at hooker and should have enough in the tank to get through Newcastle. Canberra by 10.
Wests Tigers vs. Gold Coast Titans
Campbelltown Sports Stadium, 5:30pm, Saturday May 8
Team News: Tommy Talau has been suspended, handing Moses Mbye a start at centre, and Jacob Liddle joining the bench.
Corey Thompson will miss up to two months with a syndesmosis injury, shifting Phillip Sami a spot wider to the wing, and Beau Fermor starting at centre. Tino Fa'asuamaleui returns from suspension at prop, pushing Moe Fotuaika into the vacant bench spot.
Prediction: What happened to the Titans? After a few massive weeks, the club has lost three on the trot, leaking 112 points in the process. Their attack is still firing, scoring 29 points a game over the last fortnight, yet their defence lets them down. The Tigers are just happy to notch a victory, now 2-6 a third of the way through the season. They managed to hold off a spluttering Dragons outfit, and will be eager to go back-to-back.
Zac Cini is a cult figure in the making, and the side is finally allowing Adam Doueihi and Daine Laurie to be the focal points of their attack. However, their defence is also a massive issue, leaking 20+ points in 16 of their last 18 clashes.
Played at Campbelltown, the Tigers will be up for this one, but the Titans have too much sting in their attack. They'll struggle to contain star recruits in Tino Fa'asuamaleui and David Fifita, as well as AJ Brimson sniffing around the middle third. Wests will put up a fight but it's the Titans time to shine. Gold Coast by 16.
North Queensland Cowboys vs. Brisbane Broncos
Queensland Country Bank Stadium, 7:35pm, Saturday May 8
Team News: Jake Clifford returns to the side at halfback, with Ben Hampton missing with a pec injury, while Javid Bowen gets a start at centre in place of Justin O'Neill.
Brisbane have named an unchanged 17.
Prediction: They've done it, Brisbane have beaten a team that isn't Canterbury for the first time since Round 2, 2020. The Cowboys had a foot on the other side of the fence, losing their first game in a month to the undermanned Warriors side. The second straight Queensland derby for Kevin Walters' men, they'll be up for this one.
The Broncos got some mixed news on Wednesday, reportedly losing Xavier Coates to Brisbane, while securing Kotoni Staggs on a four-year deal. Staggs was the higher priority of the two, though Coates will be a loss that'll haunt the Red Hill based club for years to come. Valentine Holmes has transformed the Cowboys' attack since his return to fullback, but a confident Brisbane side with an in-form Jamayne Isaako at the back have enough in their arsenal to defeat their rivals and claim consecutive victories for the first time in 14 months. Brisbane by 4.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles vs. New Zealand Warriors
Lottoland, 2:00pm, Sunday May 9
Team News: Josh Aloiai and Marty Taupau are missing, with Sean Keppie starting at front-row and Haumole Olakau'atu starts in the back-row. Moses Suli returns via the bench, while Zac Saddler debuts from the interchange.
Eli Katoa returns in the back-row in place of Ben Murdoch-Masilla, who misses out following a head knock.
Prediction: No side has managed to topple Penrith so far in 2021, but Manly certainly went close. There was a period early in the second half where the Sea Eagles trailed 16-12 and had repeat sets on the Panthers line, if they managed to break through, it's a different story. The Warriors are missing a stack of talent at the moment, but the introduction of Reece Walsh has given them some spark.
With halfback Chanel Harris-Tavita included in the reserves after recovering from a foot injury, it'll be interesting to see who makes way if the halfback does return to the side. Even in defeat, Tom Trbojevic still managed to light it up last weekend and don't expect his form to fall away anytime soon. 'Turbo' is the difference maker but DCE has been back in a big way with his partner in crime back in the side, and expect those two to combine and conquer again on Sunday afternoon. Manly by 10.
St. George Illawarra Dragons vs. Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, 4:05pm, Sunday May 9
Team News: Zac Lomax is out after dislocating his thumb against Wests, with Tyrell Fuimaono named at centre, and Kaide Ellis joining the bench.
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak moves to fullback and Nick Meaney to the wing in Canterbury's only change.
Prediction: It's classic St. George Illawarra, start the season; on fire only to fade as the season goes on. The loss to the Tigers will hurt them for sure, with a big focus on their attack after managing just the one try against Wests. The Bulldogs' singular win has already been forgotten after a 22-point shellacking from Parramatta, and in an absolute must-win for both sides, this will be tighter than many expect.
If the Dragons start slow, Canterbury have the ability to grind out a win in a low-scorer, but just don't have the capabilities to match it once an opposition sides starts scoring tries in succession. Matt Dufty alone could tear this side in two, and if Ben Hunt can find that early season form, it could also be another towel up. Tip a fiery start to this one, but the Red V will be walking away with the two competition points, and leaving the blue and white anchored to last place. Dragons by 19.