With time running out before Origin takes hold of the rugby league consciousness, all 16 clubs will be eager to round out the opening third of the season with a win during Round 11.
PANTHERS V TIGERS – THURSDAY, 7.50PM – PANTHERS STADIUM
Recording another win in spite of a severe injury toll, the long-awaited return of rising halfback Nathan Cleary will have unknown consequences for the Panthers as they look to consolidate their standing as premiership contenders. With captain Peter Wallace out injured, Tongan international Sione Katoa will start at hooker, while young rake Wayde Egan comes onto the bench. Returning to form against North Queensland, the Tigers will be looking to overcome a mediocre 33% success rate at the foot of the mountains and consolidate a top four standing after 11 rounds for the first time since 2007. With Kevin Naiqama returning in place of Mahe Fonua due to failing to meet team standards, the joint venture will be otherwise the same from the side that triumphed last Thursday.
EELS V WARRIORS – FRIDAY, 6.00PM – ANZ STADIUM
Sitting in outright last-position, the Eels will need to replicate their 2006 mid-season revival to have any hope of featuring in the finals following a dire 2/10 start. Responding to the side’s recent run of losses, Brad Arthur has reinstated Cameron King at hooker, while with Kenny Edwards facing potential sanctions over a court issue, former Warriors junior Marata Niukore will make his NRL debut off the bench. Delivering an inept showing at home last Saturday, the pre-season fractures many predicted within the Warriors are beginning to appear following two dire losses over the past three weeks. With such a vast difference between their best and worst performances, the New Zealand outfit will be hopeful of Issac Luke and Mason Lino lining up on Friday despite injury clouds looming over both playmakers.
BRONCOS V ROOSTERS – FRIDAY, 7.55PM – SUNCORP STADIUM
Humiliated in Brisbane last week, the Broncos will have a defensive mindset at the forefront of their game plan following a horror performance against the lowly Sea Eagles. With injuries beginning to mount up for the Queensland glamour outift, Sam Tagaetese, Patrick Mago and NRL debutant Gehamat Shibasaki will all make their first appearances for the club. Having struggled over the first third of the season, the Roosters produced a performance befitting of pre-season expectations in New Zealand to record their second shutout of the season. Reinstating young gun Victor Radley on the bench, several players including excitement machine Latrell Mitchell will be eager to step up in an effort to press their representative claims.
TITANS V KNIGHTS – SATURDAY, 3.00PM – CBUS SUPER STADIUM
Squandering a potential upset against the reigning premiers, the Titans will return home as they look to end a run of five consecutive losses. Boosted by the returns of Nathan Peats and Jai Arrow, coach Garth Brennan appears to have lost patience with Bryce Cartwright after relegating the star signing to 18th man duties. Producing a pair of subpar showings at home, the Knights will be approaching Saturday’s fixture as a must-win if their aspirations of September football are to eventuate. Resisting the urge to make large scale changes, Jacob Saifiti comes onto the bench in place of Luke Yates in an effort to allow players to make amends for the letdown of last Friday.
COWBOYS V RABBITOHS – SATURDAY, 5.30PM – 1300SMILES STADIUM
Experiencing their worst start to a season since 2010 – the year the Cowboys fortuitously avoided the wooden spoon due to Melbourne’s salary cap breaches – the need to arrest a dismal run of losses has yet to result in a significant overhaul of the team line up. Producing their biggest scalp of 2018 in downing the competition leaders, the Rabbitohs will be approaching their journey to Townsville with caution to ensure the good work of last Sunday isn’t for naught. Retaining the same 17 players that downed the Dragons, captain Greg Inglis will be eyeing a big game to press his claims for assuming the newly vacated Queensland captaincy.
STORM V SEA EAGLES – SATURDAY, 7.35PM – AAMI PARK
Getting the job done in unfashionable circumstances against the Gold Coast, the Storm will host their fierce rivals in a contest that sees skipper Cameron Smith sitting on the sidelines. Having last been suspended during the 2008 finals series – which ironically included the Grand Final loss to Manly – the future Immortal will miss the match after accepting an early guilty plea for dangerous contact on former teammate Kevin Proctor. Producing a relieving win over Brisbane last Saturday, the release of extreme pressure inflicted upon the Sea Eagles by internal and external forces has allowed the under siege club a sense of brevity to focus solely on football. Naming Trent Hodkinson in the halves following his mid-week release, the NSW hero will play his first match for Manly since September, 2010 alongside club debutant Toafofoa Sipley.
DRAGONS V RAIDERS – SUNDAY, 2.00PM – GLEN WILLOW OVAL
Given a reality check against the Bunnies, the Dragons will be eager to reaffirm their standing in the premiership hierarchy with a decisive return to form against the Raiders. Retaining the same core 16 players that have performed so well over the opening third of the season, Blake Lawrie takes the final bench position, however further changes could be made with injury clouds looming over Jack de Belin and Ben Hunt. Unable to capitalise on a solid opening at home last Sunday, the challenge of keeping pace with the NRL contenders will be a concern for coach Canberra Ricky Stuart as his side looks to claw back a four point break from the top eight. Despite being assisted from the field against Cronulla, Blake Austin has been named in the halves with Sam Williams on standby if required.
SHARKS V BULLDOGS – SUNDAY, 4.10PM – SOUTHERN CROSS GROUP STADIUM
Recording a fourth straight win without several of their highest profile players, Cronulla look to have assumed the mantle made famous by Des Hasler’s Manly in 2008 of ‘flying under the radar’. Boosted by the returns of Paul Gallen and Jayson Bukuya, after a slow start to the year the Sharks have benefitted in the development of style and roster from the side that won the premiership two years ago. While their attack continues to lack any great confidence, a much-needed win has positioned the Bulldogs back among the legion of contenders vying for a place in the lower half of the top eight. With Clay Priest coming onto the bench as the only change from the side that defeated Parramatta last week, the Bulldogs will be hoping to record their first win in the Shire since 2011.