With State of Origin squads named at the conclusion of the round, the eight fixtures taking place will be a final opportunity for players to press their cases for higher honours, while also shaping the big movers and losers in the competition over the coming months.
BRONCOS V EELS – THURSDAY, 7.50PM – SUNCORP STADIUM
Demonstrating a level of spirit and fight against the Roosters that has often been criticised as lacking throughout 2018, the Broncos will be hoping to follow up with a dominant showing over the last-placed Eels. After missing the past ten weeks, Kiwi outside back Jordan Kahu will return in the centres, while Josh McGuire could be a late inclusion in an effort to boost his Origin chances. Languished in 16th place with few positives to draw upon, the Eels have been a far cry from the side that posted a half century the last time they played at Suncorp. Switching Clinton Gutherson and Corey Norman between fullback and five eighth, the realistic goal for Brad Arthur over the remainder of 2018 will be avoiding the spoon rather than making the finals unless there is a dramatic change in performance from last season’s finalists.
RAIDERS V SEA EAGLES – FRIDAY, 6.00PM – GIO STADIUM
Pushing the competition leaders in a spirited affair in Mudgee, the Raiders will be approaching Friday’s fixture as a must-win given the level standing of both sides on eight competition points. With New Zealand international Joseph Tapine set for a two-game stint on the sidelines, former Manly prop Liam Knight has been recalled to the top 17. Overcoming a turbulent period on and off the field to record a pair of impressive victories on the road, the energised Sea Eagles will be hoping to extend their winning ways over the Raiders to a fourth straight victory. Unable to draw upon injured star Dylan Walker, mid-season pick up Trent Hodkinson will start in the halves after making an impact on return against Melbourne, while Lewis Brown replaces Apisai Koroisau in the number nine jersey.
COWBOYS V STORM – FRIDAY, 7.55PM – 1300SMILES STADIUM
Suffering the type of heartbreak that cannot be eased with praise of the overall performance, the Cowboys will be hoping to replicate their efforts of last week to down their recent rivals. Retaining the same squad that went down 20-19 last Saturday, Michael Morgan has been named as starting fullback for the first time since Round 3, 2015. Imploding in the second half against Manly last Saturday, the return of Cameron Smith should assist the Storm greatly as they look to eliminate the fundamental errors that have plagued their season to date. With Curtis Scott out suspended, reliable outside back Young Tonumaipea returns in the centres, while Jesse Bromwhich has recovered from a knee injury that sidelined the former Kiwi captain for a month.
ROOSTERS V TITANS – SATURDAY, 3.00PM – CENTRAL COAST STADIUM
Producing an effort that would have beaten a number of opponents last Friday, the Roosters will be hoping to resume the Titans’ run of losses in their annual venture to Gosford. Retaining the same squad that went down 28-22 in Brisbane, look for Boyd Cordner to step up after coming under fire for his form by NRL icon Phil Gould earlier in the week. Capitalising upon a woeful late collapse by their opponents seven days ago, the Titans will have their sights set on upsetting one of the league’s glamour clubs. Managing a single win on the Central Coast dating back to 2009, coach Garth Brennan will be boosted by the return from injury of Kiwi representative Kevin Proctor in the second row.
WARRIORS V RABBITOHS – SATURDAY, 5.30PM – MT. SMART STADIUM
Recording more wins in the first half of the season than their entire 2017 total, the Warriors have proven themselves to be the NRL dark horses through a much-improved commitment throughout matches. Boosted by the return of skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, the home side will be eager to make amends on home soil following their dismal showing against the Roosters a fortnight ago. Grabbing a fortuitous victory from the jaws of defeat in Townsville, the Rabbitohs will be hoping to solidify their place in the top four amid a host of finals aspirants. Suffering a shock opening round loss to their opponents in Perth, South Sydney will be optimistic about extending their five-year winning run across the ditch with Greg Inglis to play fullback in the absence of Alex Johnston.
PANTHERS V DRAGONS – SATURDAY, 7.35PM – PANTHERS STADIUM
After the Warriors downed the competition leaders in a top of the table fixture five weeks ago, the Panthers will be intent on following suit on Saturday night. Retaining the same squad that downed the Tigers, as many as six Penrith players could find themselves in Brad Fittler’s maiden NSW team with strong performances. Entrenched in first position for the equal second longest period in the joint venture’s history, the unchanged Dragons will have their sights set on establishing a four point gap should other fixtures fall in their favour.
KNIGHTS V SHARKS – SUNDAY, 2.00PM – MCDONALD JONES STADIUM
Going down for the third straight week as a result of a complete inability to remain resilient after mistakes, the Knights face the prospect of falling further behind the top eight pack with another loss as home. Recalling Jack Cogger and Jamie Buhrer, the occasion of Beanies for Brain Cancer should inspire the home side to step up in honour of Newcastle legend Mark Hughes. Winning five matches in a row for the first time since 2016, the Sharks will be eager to extend their opponents misery with a dominant performance on the road. Boosted by the inclusions of Luke Lewis and Wade Graham in the second row, Cronulla could potentially finish the weekend in the top four – a far cry from the form shown in mid-April.
TIGERS V BULLDOGS – SUNDAY, 4.10PM – ANZ STADIUM
Recording a fourth loss from their past five matches last Thursday, the Tigers will be looking to steady their declining ladder standing having started 2018 in superlative form. Boosted by the inclusion of Josh Reynolds, the former Canterbury fan favourite will be keen to make up for lost time having managed less than a half of football all season. For as willing as the Bulldogs have been this season, the harsh reality facing the struggling outfit is that for all their efforts they lack the attacking prowess to dominate opponents. With off-contract centre Josh Morris sidelined for two months, John Olive will make his debut after linking up with Canterbury from the Titans over the off-season, while Raymond Faitala-Marine returns to the forward pack after missing last week’s loss to Cronulla.