There are just two weeks to go until the NRL finals, and just about every game this weekend again has finals ramifications attached to it. Here is the Rev Up.
Sunshine Coast Stadium, 7:50pm, Thursday August 26
Ash Taylor has been dropped, handing Tyrone Peachey a shot at five-eighth, Erin Clark goes back to the interchange with Mitch Rein starting. Moe Fotuaika replaces Sam Lisone on the bench, and Greg Marzhew's elbow niggle sees Phillip Sami come in.
Prediction: The race for the eight is heating up, and if Newcastle can snare a win here, they're guaranteed to play finals for a consecutive year, the first time in a decade they'll manage it. The Titans must win to keep their season alive, and they'll be keen to cast their eye back to the early season demolition the Titans managed over Newcastle, David Fifita scoring a hat-trick that afternoon. Blessed with a healthy spine, this contest looks nothing like their last meeting.
The Knights weren't all that impressive against Canterbury, winning by just a converted try. But they're doing just enough to win their games. If they are to be beaten this week, it's going to have to be on the back of the Titan's forwards. Tino, Moe and Fifita are going to have to stand up against a Newcastle pack missing both Dave Klemmer and Daniel Saifiti. It'll be a hotly contested match-up with some tempers to flare, but Newcastle have too much time, talent and composure in their spine to not hand themselves a top eight berth tonight.
Knights by 10.
BB Print Stadium, 6:00pm, Friday August 27
Prediction: Another top-eight decider, Canberra are currently level with 8th placed Cronulla on 20 points, but it's their for-and-against that lets them down. A win here sets up a massive clash next week, with the Raiders battling for the eight and the Roosters with one hand on a top-four finish. Let's not forget about this week, though, against a Warriors outfit who fell painfully short of beating Brisbane last week, which would have been the side's fourth straight win.
There's been a lot of upside in this Raiders side of late, Jack Wighton's best game of the season in a ten-point loss to Melbourne followed by a one-point loss to the Sea Eagles. They're matching it with the elite teams, yet they struggle against those lowly outfits.
Reece Walsh, as well as their starting front-rowers, definitely have the skill to pull off an upset here. Mathematically the Warriors can still sneak into the eight, and Nathan Brown will no doubt be clinging on to any hope he can.
However, Ricky Stuart won't be here to muck around. It'll be interesting to see how Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is used, and if Jordan Rapana comes from the field again. Regardless, the Raiders have too many points in them to lose this one.
Raiders by 14.
Suncorp Stadium, 7:55pm, Friday August 27
Team News: Adam Keighran misses the game through a head knock, pushing Lachlan Lam to left centre, Sam Walker starts at seven, and Ben Marschke joins the bench. Brad Abbey makes his club debut on the right wing, in place of the injured Dale Copley. Nat Butcher's knee injury hands his brother Egan a start on an edge, promoting Naufahu Whyte to the bench.
Prediction: The oldest rivalry in our game, and what a cracker it should be. South Sydney are reeling away from their first loss in three months, while the Roosters are fighting tooth and nail for a top four spot, despite losing another three to injury. There's question marks over Damien Cook's fitness, but there's little doubt the likes of Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell will be fired up here. There was some spite last time these sides met, and there'll be more sparks on Friday.
Hats off to Trent Robinson for getting this side to where they are now, James Tedesco as well has led from the front all year. But it isn't enough against a juggernaut like South Sydney. They score points for fun at times, and won't like being kept to 12 last weekend. Expect a very potent left edge, with Alex Johnston to bag a couple up against Brad Abbey.
Rabbitohs by 16.
Team News: Tyrell Sloan replaces Matt Dufty. There's a forward reshuffle. Jayden Sullivan starts at hooker, pushing Josh McGuire to prop, Jack de Belin to lock, Tariq Sims to an edge, and Tyrell Fuimano to the bench. Freddy Lussick replaces Josh Kerr on the bench, and Blake Lawrie starts at prop with Kaide Ellis in the reserves.
Prediction: These could be the two most out of form clubs going around at the moment. The Dragons have bagged a win since before the 'BBQgate', it's well and truly derailed their season. The Cowboys are at least experimenting with their line-up, playing Holmes at centre and Taumalolo at prop. The loan of Freddy Lussick will help the Red V momentarily, meaning Josh McGuire won't have to spend time at hooker this week.
It's good to see Tyrell Sloan get some minutes, players like him, Junior Amone and Jayden Sullivan are the future of the club. It'll be interesting to see how both coaches use these sides over the last few rounds, it's exciting to see the Hammer given another run at fullback. The Dragons have been the better team this year but the Cowboys have really been putting in the effort of late, despite not getting the results. North Queensland to edge the Red V in an absolute bludger.
Cowboys by 2.
Suncorp Stadium, 5:30pm, Saturday August 28
Brisbane are unchanged.
Prediction: Another high scoring thriller on the way. How good was it to see vintage Milf again? If he can play like that again, we may have a game on our hands. Cronulla have lost a gun in outside back Ronaldo Mulitalo, but they still have a heap of strike across the park, Will Kennedy in particular has been one of the more underrated players this season. Brisbane showed last week they were still capable of victory, edging out the Warriors.
The Sharks certainly have more to play for, a top eight spot, but that doesn't mean the Broncos have nothing to play for. There's spots on the line for next year, Albert Kelly has definitely put his hand up to partner Adam Reynolds in 2022. It's got a 36-28 kind of ring to it, both will score points, both will leak them. Fortunately the Sharks are better at both, and should keep themselves in the hunt here.
Sharks by 8.
Suncorp Stadium, 7:35pm, Saturday August 28
Team News: Jahrome Hughes' return pushes Nicho Hynes back to the bench and Cooper Johns out. Justin Olam replaces Marion Seve, and Brandon Smith's return at hooker shifts Harry Grant to the bench, and Tepai Moeroa drops to the reserves.
Prediction: It's a little disheartening seeing two top six teams face off - with one of them a $1.05 favourite. The last time these sides met at Suncorp, the Storm scored over 60 points just two years ago. The loss of Maika Sivo doesn't just Parramatta's try-scoring ability, similarly to Brian To'o, they rely on the metres he makes coming out of his backend. Melbourne once again proved they can rest key players, and still dominate a contest. They were missing the starting half and hooker last week, and still racked up a score against the Titans.
Parramatta actually beat Melbourne earlier this year, all the way back in a wet Round 2 affair, but it's a different game since then. If the Storm can get the victory here, they set the record for the most consecutive wins in a season, 20. Craig Bellamy is proving week in, week out that he doesn't need the stars to win, he doesn't need a 'big three', it's the coach that makes these players, not vice versa. The Eels may make a game of it to start, but the Storm just capitalize on all their chances, the Eels don't. That'll be the difference as Melbourne wrap up the minor premiership.
Melbourne by 13.
Manly Sea Eagles vs. Canterbury Bulldogs
Moreton Daily Stadium, 1:50pm, Sunday August 29
Matt Doorey starts on an edge with Adam Elliot out, Ava Seumanufagai starts for Luke Thompson with Ofahiki Ogden on the bench, while Brandon Wakeham and Sione Katoa join the bench, Corey Waddell misses out
Prediction: Uh oh. This isn't looking pretty. These sides met a while back, a 66-0 shellacking followed. Tom Trbojevic looked like he was playing against kids. It's seriously ridiculous how much of another level he is playing on, especially now coming off a weeks rest. The Dally M is certainly within his grasp, but don't take anything away from his supporting cast. Reuben Garrick is breaking records, Daly Cherry-Evans is steering the ship, Kieran Foran is playing some vintage footy. They're hitting the right notes.
There's not much to say for Canterbury. They mathematically can't avoid the spoon, Adam Elliot will miss the rest of the year, there's just hope for 2022, that's about it. There's some promising youngsters staking a claim, but this season has been long abandoned, and it's going to be another thrashing unfortunately. Their forwards can't match Manly's, their backline isn't of the same standard. They can show the club some heart here, but heart won't stop Turbo. It'll be ugly.
Sea Eagles by 46.
Moreton Daily Stadium, 4:05pm, Sunday August 29
Adam Doueihi's season is over, Jock Madden starts at five-eighth in his absence. Kemi Tuilagi, Tuki Simpkins and Billy Walters all drop out. Alex Seyfarth joins the bench, where he's joined by Jake Simpkin with Jacob Liddle named to start, and Thomas Mikaele joins the front-row.
Prediction: Another short-priced favourite, to make matters worse the Tigers have lost their best player for the remainder of the season in Adam Doueihi, set to miss a lot of footy next year as well after an ACL reconstruction. Penrith are the opposite, getting injured troops back into the team, Brian To'o and James Fisher-Harris are massive inclusions, specifically To'o who's yardage carries take a lot of pressure off the forward pack.
Technically the Tigers can make the eight, but facing Penrith and without Doueihi, there's little to no chance they see the post-season, for the tenth consecutive year. Nathan Cleary had the ball on a string last week, I hope David Nofoaluma is comfortable under a high ball.
All but guaranteed to finish second, this week is more about tuning up for the finals. Getting the bench right, there's still some question marks over the backline, whether Charlie Staines comes back in. They've got the Tigers and Parramatta to finish the season before a likely rematch with South Sydney in the first week of the finals. It'll be a training run for the Panthers as they dismantle the Tigers, and build towards the postseason.
Panthers by 38.