In the first of two shortened rounds for 2018, half the competition will rest up while the remaining eight teams will look to make the most of Origin-affected squads – both testing the depth of teams and providing battlers with an opportunity to climb the NRL ladder.
SEA EAGLES V COWBOYS – THURSDAY, 7.50PM – LOTTOLAND
After squandering a match-winning lead in Canberra, the resurgent Sea Eagles will be intent on effectively ending the Cowboys’ finals aspirations, while enhancing their own credentials of featuring in September. Without the services of the Trbojevic brothers on NSW duty, the loss will be somewhat offset by the return of premiership winning hooker Apisai Koroisau. Gallant in agonising defeats over the past fortnight, the Cowboys will be hoping a strong recent record on the Northern Beaches continues on Thursday night. With Michael Morgan, Gavin Cooper and Coen Hess in camp with the Maroons, Lachlan Coote and Ethan Lowe have been granted reprieves, while Kane Linnett could be a late inclusion for his first appearance of 2018.
RABBITOHS V SHARKS – FRIDAY, 7.55PM – ANZ STADIUM
Missing a number of prominent figures due to Origin, the Rabbitohs will be out to solidify their place in the top four against the quiet achievers of the season so far. Returning to the top grade for the first time in 2018, Robbie Farah will be hoping to press his claims for more game time at hooker, while exciting youngster Tyrell Fuimaono has been named for his second start of the year after an extended injury lay-offf. Thrashing Newcastle in a one-sided affair last Sunday, the Sharks have shown tremendous skill over the past six weeks to persevere through a host of injuries, all while finishing ahead of opponents by a little or a lot. Missing just one player through representative commitments, premiership-winning winger Sosaia Feki returns to a side out to record their first win over South Sydney at ANZ Stadium since 2008.
EELS V KNIGHTS – SATURDAY, 7.35PM – ANZ STADIUM
With their chances of playing finals football reduced to a mathematical possibility, the decline of the Eels from 2017 semi finalists to wooden spoon candidates has been baffling to comprehend. Having dominated their opponents in a pre-season trial, the decision to use Bevan French at fullback ahead of Corey Norman will hopefully see the cellar dwellers pose more threats with the ball, but given their complete inability to capitalise in quality attacking position in recent weeks, the chances of a high-scoring affair appear slim. A difficult month against three of the top four sides and the absence of Mitchell Pearce can be seen as reasons why the Knights have struggled in recent weeks, but after producing a putrid performance against Cronulla the only antidote for frustrated stakeholders will be a win on Saturday night. Unaffected by the upcoming representative fixture, coach Nathan Brown has handed young centre Cory Denniss his first start in the top grade in over twelve months as a replacement for Nathan Ross, while Samoan prop Herman Ese’ese will miss the match through suspension.
ROOSTERS V TIGERS – SUNDAY, 4.10PM – ALLIANZ STADIUM
Flexing their attacking muscles in the second half to dominate the Titans in Gosford, the Roosters will be out to make amends for their shock opening-round loss against their weekend opponents. Unable to draw upon Boyd Cordner, James Tedesco, Latrell Mitchell and Dylan Napa, the return from injury of Daniel Tupou should lessen the burden for Trent Robinson as the early season favourites look to improve their standing during the middle third of the season. Tied on seven wins alongside the Roosters, the Tigers have shown themselves to be a much-improved side from the perennial battlers of recent season courtesy of the strategic coaching employed by Ivan Cleary. Blessed to have a full complement of players unaffected by Origin duties, the joint venture will be wary of maintaining their place in the top eight having fallen away following promising starts in past years.