With just ten weeks left in the regular season, the eight matches contested during Round 16 will help shape the hotly contested races for the minor premiership, top eight and wooden spoon by pitting sides at either end of the ladder against each other, along with several closely matched tussles for good measure.
DRAGONS V EELS – THURSDAY, 7.50PM – WIN STADIUM
Sitting atop the premiership ladder with the opportunity to all but secure a finals berth, the Dragons will have no shortage of motivation against the bottom-placed Eels. Resting Tyson Frizell in an otherwise unchanged side, expect further changes in what will be James Graham’s 150th appearance in the NRL. Enduring a dismal 2018 campaign that has produced just three wins to date, the Blue and Golds will be hoping history repeats on Thursday night having triumphed over the Dragons in the previous six encounters. Gaining Mitchell Moses in a bittersweet inclusion that sees Manu Ma’u out with a fractured cheekbone, the Eels will be looking to strengthen their defence following some flashes of attacking spark in recent weeks.
WARRIORS V SHARKS – FRIDAY, 6.00PM – MT. SMART STADIUM
Tied on 22 competition points alongside the Rabbitohs and Panthers, coach Stephen Kearney will be hopeful that the decision to keep Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Shaun Johnson and Tohu Harris in New Zealand over the representative weekend pays dividends. Naming a 23-man squad as cover for any niggling injuries, the side named on Tuesday is unlikely to be the same one that lines up three days later. Holding an emphatic record against the Warriors with eight wins from the past ten clashes, the Sharks will be optimistic of coming away with two competition points having scored nearly twice as many points opposing the home side. Set to debut mid-season purchase Aaron Woods after securing his release from Canterbury, the international prop will cover the absences of Luke Lewis and co-captain Wade Graham who is set to return after the bye from cheekbone surgery.
ROOSTERS V STORM – FRIDAY, 7.55PM – ADELAIDE OVAL
Marking the first time Cooper Cronk will face off against Melbourne, the Roosters will be hoping to replicate their golden point heroics from the corresponding fixture twelve months ago. Missing Boyd Cordner, Joey Manu and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves for varying reasons, look for young guns Victor Radely, Nat Butcher and Lindsay Collins to make the most of their opportunities on Friday night. Rejuvenated after the weekend off, Melbourne will be looking to continue their run of strong form against the tri-colours, having won four of the past five meetings. Naming Billy Slater at fullback for his first club game since mid-May, Sam Kasiano will miss the Adelaide contest after suffering an early injury playing for Samoa, while utility Jahrome Hughes has retained his place in the top 17 on the bench.
PANTHERS V SEA EAGLES – SATURDAY, 3.00PM – PANTHERS STADIUM
With close to half their squad involved in representative football last weekend, the makeup of the Panthers line-up is unlikely to be known until the last minute. Relatively unchanged from the team that went down to the Roosters a fortnight ago, Moses Leota returns after two months out, while James Tamou will start in place of injured NSW prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard. Appearing to be a far cry from the side that hosted the Panthers in the finals last year, the chances of a Sea Eagles’ upset look unlikely having managed just two wins from the past ten matches played against Penrith. Sitting out the past month after copping the brunt of Curtis Scott’s fists, Dylan Walker will return at five-eighth, while Trent Barrett will try his luck gaining clearance for Manase Fainu to debut after an unsuccessful bid against the Dragons.
KNIGHTS V BULLDOGS – SATURDAY, 5.30PM – MCDONALD JONES STADIUM
Needing to prove their credentials by disposing of lowly ranked opponents, the Knights will be looking to record their first win over the Bulldogs since the 2013 finals series. Swapping out Lachlan Fitzgibbon with Sam Stone due to suspension, co-captain Jamie Buhrer could be a shock inclusion having previously been ruled out for the season three weeks ago. Consigned to 15th position with no hope of playing finals football, the chance to make amends for a horror showing at Belmore a fortnight ago will serve as the primary motivation for Canterbury. Naming Lachlan Lewis and Ofahiki Ogden to debut, the departures of Moses Mbye, Aaron Woods and a season-ending injury to Kieran Foran has many predicting the Blue and Whites could be headed for an ignominious wooden spoon finish in Dean Pay’s rookie season.
BRONCOS V RAIDERS – SATURDAY, 7.35PM – SUNCORP STADIUM
Currently holding a four-point break over their opponents on the ladder, the Broncos will be aware of the threat posed by Canberra despite winning the past five meetings. Naming Tom Opacic on the bench in an otherwise unchanged line up, Korbin Sims could be in line for a first grade recall after recovering from a broken jaw sustained against the Roosters. Producing a breakthrough win brought on by the return of Josh Hodgson a fortnight ago, Ricky Stuart will be hoping to mastermind just the third ever Raiders win at the revamped Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night. Set to re-join Parramatta at the end of the season, Junior Paulo will play his first match since Round 9 in place of Luke Bateman on the bench.
TIGERS V TITANS – SUNDAY, 2.00PM – LEICHARDT OVAL
Boosted by the triumphant inclusions of mid-season purchases Moses Mbye and club legend Robbie Farah, the Tigers will be out to make immediate amends for an atrocious second half showing in their last match. With Josh Reynolds returning in the halves to boot, coach Ivan Cleary will be mindful of retaining a defensive mindset in spite of the attacking threats brimming throughout his squad. Holding an advantage over the Tigers with four wins from their past five encounters, the Titans will be hopeful of following up their dominant showing a fortnight ago by benefitting from an under the radar lead up to Sunday’s contest. Naming Queensland duo Jarrod Wallace and Jai Arrow in the forward pack, young halfback Ashley Taylor will be eager to press his claims for a Maroons debut with a strong showing in his first visit to Leichardt Oval.
RABBITOHS V COWBOYS – SUNDAY, 4.10PM – BARLOW PARK
Sitting in second position with the best attacking record in the league and a run of seven straight wins, the Rabbitohs should have little trouble accounting for the out of contention Cowboys. Naming their strongest possible team, in the wake of the club’s decision to release Robbie Farah back to the Wests Tigers, don’t be surprised to see Billy Brittain feature in first grade leading into the finals as an insurance policy should Damien Cook sustain a serious injury. Having claimed victory against South Sydney in their past two visits to Cairns, the opportunity to upset September-bound teams such as the Rabbitohs should serve as the motivation needed for the Cowboys to finish 2018 with hope leading into life without JT. With Michael Morgan sidelined for the remainder of the year, Lachlan Coote earns a recall alongside veteran winger Antonio Winterstein.