MACKAY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 18: Dylan Edwards of the Panthers is tackled by Marata Niukore of the Eels during the NRL Semifinal match between the Penrith Panthers and the Parramatta Eels at BB Print Stadium on September 18, 2021 in Mackay, Australia. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

Round 9 is here, with the NRL closing in on the State of Origin window and more than a third of the season in the books.

After upsets galore last weekend, there is plenty riding on some crucial clashes this weekend, with Adam Reynolds set to finally play his old club, two stragglers at the bottom of the table going at it and the battle of Western Sydney.

We are also just a week out from the magic round festival of football, with teams desperate to head to Brisbane with a win, form and momentum under the belt.

Here is everything you're going to want to watch out for this weekend.

Reynolds returns home to face his old team

In Round 1, the South Sydney Rabbitohs fell to the new-and-improved Brisbane Broncos. Meeting again in Round 9, it could be a much different story.

Tied for points on eight but sitting four ladder spots away from each other, this game has more meaning to it than just the Rabbitohs greatest halfback returning to his home ground.

A win to the Broncos could see them leap over the Manly Sea Eagles, Sydney Roosters and Rabbitohs, finding themselves in sixth position heading into round 10. The Rabbitohs, meanwhile, could see themselves sitting in the top four.

Both teams would be up for this game no matter what. It has huge ramifications for their season in the long and short run.

The Rabbitohs were less than convincing against the 12-man Sea Eagles last week and will be looking to show their dominance, while the Broncos proved their worth against the Cronulla Sharks and they'll want to continue that momentum.

The fact that it's Adam Reynolds versus the Rabbitohs and Cody Walker versus Adam Reynolds, just makes it that much spicier. In a round in which Penrith plays Parramatta, this could be your game of the round.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 16: Adam Reynolds of the Rabbitohs passes during the round 23 NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Suncorp Stadium on August 16, 2018, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Battle of the West

The Penrith Panthers versus the Parramatta Eels never disappoints.

It is no secret that the Penrith Panthers have dominated the Eels matchup in the last few seasons.

But for a team that finished last season with a differential of +390 in 2021 and +299 in 2020, the Panthers' being only +48 through five games against the Eels (including on 34-point blowout) is pretty impressive.

The Eels' biggest issue since... 1986... has been consistency, and that's the one thing they don't have a problem with when it comes to the Panthers. They always get up for it.

There isn't much to say about Penrith. They're great. They were so incredibly poor against the Gold Coast Titans and I didn't think they were going to lose for even a second.

They are just as aware that the Battle of the West is one of the biggest occasions of the year, and they'll want to put on a show at home.

Riddled by injuries to their outside backs and forced to play players out of position (hopefully Brown is named at five-eighth), it is no guarantee the Eels win. I do guarantee that they'll put up a hell of a fight.

In 2020, the Eels put an end to the Panthers' unbeaten start to the season (they then went on to win 17 games straight) - history could repeat itself two years later.

NRL Rd 18 - Panthers v Eels
PENRITH, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 11: Nathan Cleary of the Panthers is tackled during the round 18 NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the Parramatta Eels at Panthers Stadium on September 11, 2020, in Penrith, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Shaky Sharks have more to lose than just the game against Warriors

The Cronulla Sharks are a strange one and I think most of their issues stem from the fact they haven't worn that gorgeous heritage jersey.

In reality, the Sharks' issues stem from them being a newly put together team without much experience together. There is no doubt they have the talent to beat anyone, but with a young hooker, inexperienced halfback and five-eighth who's just finding his feet again, they've struggled for consistency.

There is no doubt that injuries, specifically Dale Finucane's missing time haven't helped this. The fact is, the Sharks are going to be a work-in-progress all season. Nobody expected them to be this good straight off the bat.

However, the ladder is about as close as it gets and one or two losses can be the difference between being top-four and fighting for the eighth position.

The Sharks return home, where they are undefeated, to face the New Zealand Warriors who come off a nail-biting win against the Canberra Raiders.

A loss to the Warriors would see the Sharks heading to Suncorp next week for Magic Round, against a Raiders side with their backs against the wall.

That isn't a game you want to head into after back-to-back losses, even if the Raiders sit at the bottom of the table.

NRL Rd 5 - Sharks v Wests Tigers
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 10: Ronaldo Mulitalo of the Sharks celebrates with his teammates after scoring a try during the round five NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Wests Tigers at PointsBet Stadium, on April 10, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Knights can revive their season while Cowboys can prove worth

When asked before the season as to who I thought could be a surprise wooden-spoon winner, the Newcastle Knights were the first team that came out. The reasoning was that just one medium-length injury to Kalyn Ponga could leave them in the dust and unable to make-up ground.

Kalyn Ponga has played six of a possible eight games this season. Not bad. The Knights have won only one; Round 1. The Knights second win of the season came in Round 2, without Ponga and against a horrid Tigers outfit.

In Round 1 and 2, the Knights scored a total of 46 points, while allowing a total of 10 to the Sydney Roosters and Wests Tigers. in the six games since, the Knights have scored 46, allowing 196.

It isn't the wins and losses that are the problem. The Knights have faced some tough competition in the Melbourne Storm, Penrith Panthers, Manly Sea Eagles, Cronulla Sharks and Parramatta Eels. It is a distinct lack of effort and intensity. David Klemmer said he was embarrassed of how they've been playing, and it's easy to see why.

No moment signifies this more than how they started against the Melbourne Storm. At home, against the best team in the competition, desperate for a win. You'd think they'd be hyper-focused and ready to dig-in. Jake Clifford kicked it out on the full.

Whatever the reason behind the Knights woes, the fact is they need a win. and the North Queensland Cowboys are not the easiest target.

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 27: Kalyn Ponga of the Knights looks dejected after losing the round 20 NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Newcastle Knights at 1300SMILES Stadium on July 27, 2018 in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Are Cowboys the real deal?

On the other end is the fact that as much as this game means to the Knights, it should mean as much to the Cowboys. The NRL is an extremely fickle competition.

One win or loss can be the difference between being the media's darling or being torn apart.

And unfortunately, with confidence being so important, the conversation around your team does have an impact.

Right now, on the back of a win against the then third-placed Parramatta Eels, the Cowboys are now sitting pretty third on the table. However, the difference between teams like the Melbourne Storm and Penrith Panthers and everyone else, is consistency.

Those two teams play the same, no matter their competition. If the Cowboys want to prove themselves as a real top-four team, they have to take care of business against the Knights.

Every game is crucial. A loss this week means they head into round 10 against an improved Wests Tigers, followed by a back-to-back of the Storm and Panthers.

One loss can quickly turn into three or four, which is why beating teams that are worse than you is so crucial. The Cowboys need to take care of business at home on Saturday night.

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 28: Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow of the Cowboys celebrates after scoring a try during the round 12 NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the New Zealand Warriors at QCB Stadium, on May 28, 2021, in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Roosters need to find form ahead of three-week horror run

Drastically out of form compared to what we know, the Roosters will need to find some form before Round 10.

In rounds 10, 11 and 12, the Roosters face the Parramatta Eels, Penrith Panthers and Cronulla Sharks. If they play against any of those three like they have the past two weeks, they'll be obliterated.

Luckily for them, they come up against the Gold Coast Titans this Saturday.

Last weekend, the Penrith Panthers were just having one of those games. They just weren't in it and nothing was going right.

Almost any team in the competition would have won the game - the Titans never looked like winning. With David Fifita out with a knee injury, I can't see them improving against the Roosters.

Luke Keary and Sam Walker have failed to gel in 2022, while the entire team has looked fatigued.

Taking a sledgehammer to the Titans could be exactly what they need to find themselves before facing some of the best teams in the competition. A loss, on the other hand, would be catastrophic.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 12: James Tedesco of the Roosters and team mates look dejected after a Knights try during the round one NRL match between the Sydney Roosters and the Newcastle Knights at Sydney Cricket Ground, on March 12, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)