Now that Origin is finally over, NRL sides can focus on fighting for the finals, or cementing the spots they currently hold.
Of course ever NRL fixture across the mid to late rounds is a crunch game, but two games especially stand out as we enter round 18.
Sharks vs Dragons
This local derby rarely needs any other factors to spark interest between both sets of fans, however this Sunday afternoon’s game could completely shape each side’s 2015.
The Dragons have defied critics and at times set the competition alight, however four straight losses sees the very real risk that all of their hard work could be for nothing unless they can find a win, and soon.
Whereas they were at one time leading the competition, they now hold fourth place on point’s differential only. A fifth straight loss could dent their confident to where they are unable to reclaim a top four spot. A win however would do far more for their campaign than just two competition points.
As for the Sharks, they now sit in 10th spot after a slow and quite frankly horrible start to the season. Jack Bird and Valentine Holmes kick started the Sharks season and they now find themselves as genuine top eight contenders.
A win for the Sharks could see them move into the eight, although they would need results to go their way, and a big swing in for and against, while a loss could see them cast adrift.
The Sharks will be seething after being taught a footballing lesson by their local rivals in round 12. The 42-6 loss actually flattered the Sharks, who by all rights should have been kept scoreless if not for a refereeing error.
If a potential top eight spot, revenge for a near record defeat, and a chance to dent their fiercest rivals top four hopes is not enough motivation, then they might as well pack their bags and start planning Mad Monday right now.
The Dragons will welcome back a host of stars who missed last weekend’s game against the Cowboys, although they will be without the suspended Trent Merrin. Josh Dugan is in doubt.
The Sharks welcome back Origin representatives Paul Gallen and Michael Ennis, and will be close to full strength after Chris Heighington beat his lifting charge at the judiciary on Thursday Night.
Sharks officials are hoping for a sell out in what should be a hotly fought contest, despite forecasts of temperatures around the 10 to 12 degree mark.
Titans vs Sea Eagles
This is not a *ah hem* titanic match up by any stretch of the imagination, however the result is absolutely crucial to both teams 2015 season.
If Manly want to make a late run for a spot in the finals they simply cannot lose games like this. Despite travelling to the Gold Coast, and despite the forecast reception DCE will encounter, they enter the game as strong favourites.
Now that Foran and Cherry-Evans have sorted their futures, they can produce the level of football that has made both multi-millionaires.
A loss here for Manly and their slim chances of a finals spot are done and dusted. They realistically need to win seven or eight of their remaining nine matches, and with the Cowboys, Broncos and Bunnies in their near future, Monday Night’s game is a must win.
The Titans have fought bravely when faced with some crazy circumstances, but they’re only one win above their opponents, and a loss would all but end their season also.
They enter the game without both of their first choice halves, and are still without Greg Bird. Despite the missing players, there is no other option on Monday Night other than a win.
A win would put them firmly in that chasing pack for the eight, however even with two competitions points, it’ll be a tough road ahead.
Manly are close to full strength and have zero excuses not to win this game.
Even if the game is a complete stinker, the reception for Daly Cherry-Evans should be worth the price of admission alone.
I just hope Titans fans turn up to support their team.