NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 14
With the first half of the season completed, the challenge of wading through the Origin period has resulted in sides naming larger squads for the eight matches contested over the long-weekend in order to cover for potential representative casualties.
RAIDERS V PANTHERS – FRIDAY, 6.00PM – GIO STADIUM
Refreshed after having the week off, the Raiders will be eyeing off their first major scalp of the season with all their prior wins coming against teams below them on the ladder. Unchanged from the team that secured a great escape over Manly a fortnight ago, the side’s lone Origin representative Josh Papalii is expected to back up 48 hours after Wednesday night’s series opener. Hoping to finish the weekend in outright first place, the Panthers will be sweating on their representative stars making it through Origin I unscathed. Should either of the club’s star halves fail to back up in the ACT, expect Tyrone May or Jarome Luai to come into the side.
TITANS V RABBITOHS – FRIDAY, 7.55PM – CBUS SUPER STADIUM
In need of a win to kick-start their battling season, the Titans will be hoping the bye brings about a change in form having won just one of their past seven matches. Should Queensland duo Jarrod Wallace and Jai Arrow fail to back up for Friday night, expect maligned utility Bryce Cartwright to come into the final 17. Experiencing their best run since 2014, South Sydney have been one of the surprise teams of the year after adapting to a new style following the hangover from their long-awaited premiership triumph. Naming a ten-man bench as back-up in the event the side’s Origin quartet are unavailable, the form shown by the Rabbitohs in recent weeks should give coach Anthony Seibold confidence irrespective of who takes the field.
SEA EAGLES V WARRIORS – SATURDAY, 3.00PM – AMI STADIUM
Hosting their second ‘home’ game away from the Northern Beaches, the Sea Eagles will be looking to continue an astonishing record against the Warriors that has seen them win 13 of 14 matches played since 2010. Set to be bolstered by NSW duo Tom and Jake Trbojevic, coach Trent Barrett will be aware of the need to come away with two points if his side is to be a chance of playing finals football. Refreshed after a week off, the Warriors will be hoping to return to their winning ways courtesy of the inclusion of Shaun Johnson in the halves. Showing signs of frailty in the weeks leading up to the bye, coach Stephen Kearney will be approaching Saturday’s match as a key test in determining whether his much-improved side are capable of remaining dominant during the second half of 2018.
KNIGHTS V ROOSTERS – SATURDAY, 5.30PM – MCDONALD JONES STADIUM
Recording a much-needed win against a defeated Parramatta outfit last Saturday, the Knights will be hoping to kick off a run of five straight matches at home with a win over the Tri-colours. Boosted by the return of Herman Ese’ese from suspension, the chances of the Novocastrians may hinge on whether Kalyn Ponga takes his place after being a late call up to the Maroons squad. Continuing to finish ahead on the scoreboard without blowing teams away this season, the Roosters should relish the opportunity to extend an impressive record in the Hunter having lost just twice in fixtures played since 2003. While the availability of the side’s representative stars won’t be known until prior to kick-off, coach Trent Robinson will have faith in whichever players make up the final 17 following last Sunday’s under-strength win over the Tigers.
EELS V COWBOYS – SATURDAY, 7.30PM – TIO STADIUM
Having attracted over 40,000 supporters to a home semi final when they last faced off against North Queensland, the Eels have been colossal disappointments in 2018 with a seemingly never ending run of issues plaguing the wooden spoon favourites. Naming Jarryd Hayne for his first match in seven weeks along with debutant Reed Mahoney on the bench, Corey Norman has been tasked with the responsibility of filling in for injured playmaker Mitchell Moses at halfback. Recording a desperately needed victory away from home last Thursday, the Cowboys will fancy their chances of coming away with two points having posted big wins in their two previous ventures to the Top End. Bolstered by the return from suspension of co-captain Matt Scott, late changes to the advertised squad are more than likely with Gavin Cooper, Coen Hess and Michael Morgan featuring for Queensland on Wednesday night.
SHARKS V TIGERS – SUNDAY, 2.00PM – SOUTHERN CROSS GROUP STADIUM
Gaining a great deal of perspective in the wake of last Friday’s loss to South Sydney, the Sharks will be eyeing off a strong response against an unpredictable Tigers outfit at home. Opting to retain young flyer Sione Katoa in the top 17 due to Josh Dugan’s extended stint on the sidelines, Valentine Holmes is set to fill in at fullback barring an injury sustained for Queensland. After beginning 2018 as one of the breakout teams of the competition, the hard-fought victories that defined the Tigers’ early wins have been few and far between over the past seven weeks. Resisting the urge to shake up the side following a poor record that has seen the joint venture fall outside the top eight, Malakai Watene-Zelezniak returns to the backline in place of injured flyer David Nofoaluma.
STORM V BRONCOS – SUNDAY, 4.10PM – AAMI PARK
Underperforming over the opening half of 2018, the pre-season expectations of continued dominance look to have dissipated for the Storm having struggled over the past month. Unable to draw upon the services of Billy Slater, Jahrome Hughes has been retained at fullback after featuring in the side’s most-recent performance, while veteran forward Ryan Hoffman has been named to return after being rested against North Queensland. Showing signs of improvement in the weeks following the last meeting between the two sides, the Broncos will be wary of a horror 3/17 record against Melbourne this decade, however in a potential positive omen, all three wins have been at AAMI Park. Naming an extended squad for Sunday’s clash, the final 17 will be largely dependent upon whether the side’s Origin representatives make it through Wednesday night unscathed.
BULLDOGS V DRAGONS – MONDAY, 4.00PM – ANZ STADIUM
Sitting in second last and contesting the second-placed team, the prospect of an unlikely win should provide the battling Bulldogs with the motivation needed to pull off an upset. Missing regular halfback Kieran Foran with a toe injury, Michael Lichaa has been granted a first grade reprieve as part of a reshuffle that also sees veteran prop Aiden Tolman return for his first match since Easter. Keen to respond after copping two convincing losses from their past three matches, the much-praised Dragons will enter Monday’s clash as overwhelming favourites, despite winning just one of the past twelve matches against Canterbury. With the longer turn around from Wednesday’s opening Origin, coach Paul McGregor should have the luxury of a full complement of players barring any unforseen injuries.