NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 15
With competition points at a premium heading into the uncertainty created by next week’s representative bye, the eight matches contested over the weekend should ensure clubs look to improve their standing on the NRL ladder.
EELS V RABBITOHS – THURSDAY, 7.50PM – ANZ STADIUM
Coming away with a desperately needed win against North Queensland, the Eels will be hoping the success of their venture to Darwin is the kick-starter needed to turn their woeful 2018 campaign around. Naming Manu Ma’u in the only change from the side that triumphed over the Cowboys last Saturday, Thursday night will mark a special occasion for centre Michael Jennings as he celebrates his 250th appearance in first grade. Continuing their impressive run of form under rookie coach Anthony Seibold, South Sydney will have their sights set consolidating their standing inside the top four and edging closer to a return to the play-offs. Boosted by the inclusion of the side’s Origin representatives, the Rabbitohs will be out to reverse a poor recent record against Parramatta that has seen them lose the past three clashes.
COWBOYS V WARRIORS – FRIDAY, 6.00PM – 1300SMILES STADIUM
Languishing in 14th position, the heights predicted of last season’s beaten grand finalists have failed to eventuate in 2018 with the pre-season ‘experienced’ description of the North Queensland roster beginning to appear as stale and past its best. Naming Michael Morgan at fullback after sitting out last week’s loss in Darwin, barnstorming Queensland forward Coen Hess will be out to deliver a strong showing in his 50th game opposing the same side he debuted against in 2015. With the likelihood of a return to the finals growing with each week, the Warriors will be eager to assert their credentials against a weary opponent before the true test of whether they have improved is revealed in the post-Origin period. Boosted by the inclusion of captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Stephen Kearney will be aware of the challenge posed by the Cowboys given the Warriors’ dismal away record that has seen the side manage a single win from their past 12 visits to Townsville.
ROOSTERS V PANTHERS – FRIDAY, 7.55PM – ALLIANZ STADIUM
Pushed to the very end in the Hunter last Saturday, the Roosters will be out to make a statement against the competition front runners in what shapes as the match of the round. Recalling captain Boyd Cordner after being rested against the Knights, Queensland front rower Dylan Napa has been named to start after coming off the bench in Newcastle. Recording their fourth win in a row just hours after the opening State of Origin fixture, the Panthers have shown themselves to be one of the teams to beat in 2018 with an impressive style of play and depth across the park. Highly competitive against their opponents in recent clashes, the legacy of the 2003 premiership winning Panthers side should give Anthony Griffin’s players plenty of motivation to produce a similar determined effort against the Eastern Suburbs glamour club.
BULLDOGS V TITANS – SATURDAY, 3.00PM – BELMORE SPORTS GROUND
Showing tremendous spirit to go within an inch of upsetting the competition leaders, the Bulldogs will be looking to capitalise upon the rare opportunity of playing at their spiritual home ground in an effort to distance themselves from wooden spoon territory. Resisting the urge to make changes following another loss, the realistic chance of coming away with two competition points should see Dean Pay’s side lift to the occasion. Gallant in going down to the high-flying Rabbitohs on the Gold Coast, the Titans will be hoping their first appearance at Belmore brings about a change in fortune against the Bulldogs from recent seasons. Missing Maroons prop Jarrod Wallace through suspension, unsung hero Anthony Don will celebrate his 100th game in first grade after debuting back in 2013.
DRAGONS V SEA EAGLES – SATURDAY, 5.30PM – WIN STADIUM
Holding off a spirited Canterbury outfit on the Queen’s Birthday public holiday, the Dragons will be looking to extend their winning run against Manly in Wollongong having won the past four matches dating back to 2005. Keeping veteran winger Jason Nightingale on the bench in favour of utility Kurt Mann, it remains unclear whether coach Paul McGregor will make further changes in an effort to rotate his squad during the middle third of the season. Starting their ‘home’ match in New Zealand in fine form last Saturday, the loss of prominent rake Apisai Koroisau cruelled the Sea Eagles chances of arresting a frustrating season that has struggled to gain momentum. Handing former Under 20s premiership winning captain Manase Fainu his NRL debut, expect to see former Kiwi international Lewis Brown come into the side finalised an hour before kick-off.
SHARKS V BRONCOS – SATURDAY, 7.35PM – SOUTHERN CROSS GROUP STADIUM
Continuing an impressive turn around in form following an underwhelming start to 2018, the Sharks will be eager to establish distance from a number of top eight aspirants with their fifth straight win in the Shire. Unchanged from the team that downed the Tigers last Sunday, Cronulla will be looking to overturn a poor record against Brisbane at home having won one of their past five matches played at Southern Cross Group Stadium. For a club that has come to be regarded as one of the dominant forces in Australian rugby league, the 2018 Broncos have been a far cry from the powerhouse of past seasons. Sitting in eighth position having shown glimpses of their potential, coach Wayne Bennett will be looking for a big response on Saturday night following a disappointing second half in Melbourne.
KNIGHTS V STORM – SUNDAY, 2.00PM – MCDONALD JONES STADIUM
Resilient in defeat against the Roosters, Newcastle will be eyeing off a major scalp against a Melbourne side they have struggled against in the years following Andrew Johns’ retirement. With co-captain Jamie Buhrer sidelined for the remainder of 2018 with a torn ACL, young forward Luke Yates returns to the NRL side after spending the past month in reserve grade. Producing one of their best showings of the season last Sunday, the Storm will be looking to capitalise upon their limited opportunities of featuring in daytime football by recording their sixth consecutive win over the Knights. Having let Dylan Walker get the best of him, suspended centre Curtis Scott will be eager to make amends as part of a backline that also include Billy Slater returning from injury.
TIGERS V RAIDERS – SUNDAY, 4.10PM – CAMPBELLTOWN STADIUM
Winning just two matches in the past eight rounds, the Tigers’ promising start to 2018 is on shaky ground after sliding down to the competition hierarchy into the pack of hopeful finals contenders. With the makeup of the final 17 likely to be determined just before kick-off, underrated purchases Corey Thompson and Josh Aloiai will be hoping to celebrate their 50th matches in first grade on a positive note. Having failed to claim a major scalp so far this year, the Raiders are approaching desperate measures in their quest to return to the form that saw them finish the home and away season in second place two years ago. Forced into changes brought on by Jordan Rapana’s injury and Charlie Gubb’s suspension, representative duo Michael Oldfield and Joseph Tapine will come into the side as replacements, while English international Josh Hodgson will play his first game since last year’s World Cup at hooker.