North Queensland Cowboys vs. Sydney Roosters
Queensland Country Bank Stadium, 7:50pm, Thursday July 9
Team News: Justin O’Neill is injured and Tom Opacic dropped, with Conelly Lemuelu in the centres with Valentine Holmes shunted to the wing, with Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow recalled at fullback. Tom Gilbert replaces Reuben Cotter on the bench. Daniel Tupou will miss two months, with Ryan Hall named on the left wing. Boyd Cordner is being rested, with Mitch Aubusson starting in the second-row and Lachlan Lam joining the interchange.
Prediction: Word is Valentine Holmes may miss this one after a training injury, a massive loss for the Cowboys. The Roosters continue to rotate and rest players to tremendous effect, having used 21 players since the season restart. They just click into gear so easily, and the Cowboys continue to be hot-or-cold, though they will be boosted by a return to their home ground in front of fans. Unfortunately Jason Taumalolo won’t be enough to stop a rampaging Roosters pack, and with the Morris brothers finishing the sets, the tricolours should rejoin the winner’s circle comfortably. Roosters by 16.
Gold Coast Titans vs. New Zealand Warriors
Cbus Super Stadium, 6:00pm, Friday July 10
Team News: Tyrone Roberts has been dropped to the reserves and Tyrone Peachey to the bench, which sees Corey Thompson start at fullback, Beau Fermor move to the centres, Sam Stone in the back-row and Treymain Spry debut on the wing. Kodi Nikorima is out through concussion protocol, with Chanel Harris-Tavita starting at five-eighth and Jazz Tevaga returning on the bench. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has served his suspension, which sees Peta Hiku move to the centres and Gerard Beale drop out.
Prediction: Whilst being the most ‘6pm Friday’ game of all time, this should actually be a good contest. Not often do these sides go into a clash thinking they should be favourites, and should both really throw it at each other. Jazz Tevaga is a massive in for the Warriors, and are lucky to have Chanel Harris-Tavita as back-up for Kodi Nikorima. Ash Taylor, while still patchy, is starting to look a lot better, but he won’t make up for a Titans side playing two back-rowers in the centres, and a centre on the bench. The Warriors have more hunger and will beat their third Queensland side this year. Warriors by 10.
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs. Wests Tigers
Bankwest Stadium, 7:55pm, Friday July 10
Team News: Bailey Sironen returns on the bench in place of Braidon Burns. Joey Leilua is suspended, meaning Michael Chee-Kam is the new face in the centres, and Chris Lawrence joins the bench. Benji Marshall reportedly ‘killed it’ training with the starting team however remains 18th man.
Prediction: Flip a coin. South Sydney have been flashy against lower tier sides but put the gun in the rack against the top teams, while the Tigers are erratic at best. Their clash against the Cowboys sums them up well, 36-0 in the first half, and lost the second period 20-2. However, the Tigers are a bogey side for the Bunnies and talk is Adam Doueihi is keen to face the side that released him for Latrell Mitchell. Both sides should rack up some points but it’ll be Wayne Bennett’s men that get the points in this one. They’ve just got a bit more control over their flare. South Sydney by 13.
Cronulla Sharks vs. Penrith Panthers
Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, 3:00pm, Saturday July 11
Team News: Matt Moylan is out, which means Josh Dugan moves to fullback, Bryson Goodwin shifts into left centre and Ronaldo Mulitalo returns from injury on the wing. Brian To’o has an ankle injury, which sees Dean Whare return at right centre, pushing Brent Naden to the wing.
Prediction: A great clash for daytime footy, there should be some tries scored in this one. I can’t help but think Cronulla have made the wrong choice, electing Josh Dugan as fullback over Will Kennedy. The amount of lower-limb injuries Dugan ha suffered in recent years makes me question whether he has the miles in the legs to still run around at No. 1, but the bigger issue is his ball-playing. Matt Moylan is a natural passer of the footy whereas Dugan is a runner of the ball, which takes some sting out of the Shark’s attack. In terms of controlling a game of footy, Nathan Cleary is in career-best form. He is kicking teams to death and just picks his moments to ad-lib or run so well at the moment. Shaun Johnson will stand his ground but the Panthers should win this in a tussle. Panthers by 2.
Brisbane Broncos vs. Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
Suncorp Stadium, 5:30pm, Saturday July 11
Team News: Thomas Flegler is benched, with Tevita Pangai Jnr starting at prop and Corey Oates in the back-row. Adam Elliott’s season-ending shoulder injury is softened by the inclusion of English international Luke Thompson at lock.
Prediction: They couldn’t go 0-7, could they? Sure there were tears post-game but something needs to give to re-instil pride into that jersey again. That’s probably one thing Canterbury do have going for them. They’re courageous, and despite a lack of elite players, always show fight in every game, losses fans can be proud of. Adam Elliott has been their heart and is a monumental loss, but what will Luke Thompson bring to the table? People in the Super League were calling him ‘the best prop in the world’ after his Man of the Match in St Helen’s Grand Final victory last year. English forwards have a good track record in the NRL, expect Thompson to hit the ground running. The Broncos keep picking the same underperforming players and it will hurt them again, this time in front of a home crowd. Bulldogs by 8.
Canberra Raiders vs. Melbourne Storm
GIO Stadium, 7:35pm, Saturday July 11
Team News: Sia Soliola and Emre Guler are out, with Dunamis Lui starting at prop and Kai O’Donnell earning a debut from the bench. Jordan Rapana returns from injury in place of Curtis Scott on the bench. Suliasi Vunivalu is injured, with Marion Seve on the wing.
Prediction: Canberra’s forward stocks will be tested without the experience of Soliola and the energy Guler brings off the bench, while Melbourne have named Cam Smith back at hooker. Whether Ryley Jacks is benched and the Storm reshuffle is yet to be seen, with Cam Munster among the reserves. The Raiders best game this season came in Round 3 against Melbourne, a hard fought 22-6 victory at AAMI Park. Expect a low scoring affair, and Marion Seve to get targeted on the right wing. He was shocking in his last game out wide, dropping several balls, and won’t have Vunivalu’s metre-eating ability. Playing at GIO should have Canberra primed for an upset with Ricky ensuring his men don’t let the Storm in late like they did the Dragons. Canberra by 1.
Newcastle Knights vs. Parramatta Eels
McDonald Jones Stadium, 4:05pm, Sunday July 12
Team News: Tex Hoy starts on the wing for Edrick Lee, with Starford To’a on the bench. Sione Mata’utia is rested after another concussion, with Aidan Guerra starting and Brodie Jones joining the bench. Oregon Kaufusi and Ray Stone both have broken hands, with Nathan Brown’s return at lock seeing Marata Niukore nab one bench spot and future Tiger, debutant Stefano Utoikamanu takes the other vacant spot on the bench.
Prediction: Tigers’ fans, watch close, Stefano Utoikamanu is going to be big. Well, he’s already big at 115kgs, but just you wait. The wrecking ball debuts with the Eels losing Ray Stone and Oregon Kaufusi, while Tex Hoy’s 2020 has seen him move from fullback to five-eighth to fullback and now to the wing. And he’s marking Blake Ferguson, currently suffering a nine-game try drought. Yelp. However, a return to McDonald Jones will do wonders for Newcastle, and in the upset of the round, hand the Eels their second loss of the season. Knights by 7.
St. George Illawarra Dragons vs. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, 6:30pm, Sunday July 12
Team News: Ben Hunt starts at hooker with Cameron McInnes at lock, and Trent Merrin dropping to the bench. Jordan Pereira replaces Jason Saab on the wing. Tariq Sims also returns in the second-row, pushing Tyrell Fuimaono to the interchange, and Korbin Sims out of the side. Taniela Paseka starts for the suspended Addin Fonua-Blake, with Morgan Boyle joining the bench.
Prediction: Ben Hunt finally returns to the starting side for the Dragons, who were valiant in defeat against Canberra, while Manly will be hurting after their controversial loss to Newcastle. Addin Fonua-Blake is a big out for the Sea Eagles but a deserved one. The Dragons look to be figuring out things slowly but lack that winning instinct, and it all centres on Dufty. The Sea Eagles have a few different points of attack and despite some losses in recent weeks, Daly Cherry-Evans has been firing. It took composure to return from a sin-bin and score the solo try he did, a captains knock. He’ll lead Manly to victory in the final 6:30pm Sunday game for five weeks. Sea Eagles by 22.