With six rounds remaining and competition heating up for positions at either end of the premiership spectrum, the eight matches to be contested during Round 20 will help clear the fog surrounding the final standings for all 16 NRL clubs.
BRONCOS V SHARKS – THURSDAY, 7.50PM – SUNCORP STADIUM
Producing a season best tally at home last Friday, the Broncos will be out to draw level with the Sharks on 26 competition points while maintaining adequate distance from the resurgent Tigers. Retaining the same 17 players that posted 50 points against Penrith, Joe Ofahengaue could start in place of Matthew Lodge despite wearing jersey 15. Holding off a spirited Canberra side in the Shire last Friday, the Sharks will have their sights set on confirming a place in the finals with a rare win north of the border. In a year that has seen workman prop Matt Prior debut for NSW, the former Dragons utility will play his 100th game with the Sharks to join an elite group of first graders to crack a century of appearances at two separate clubs.
COWBOYS V KNIGHTS – FRIDAY, 6.00PM – 1300SMILES STADIUM
Enduring another despairing loss at home to sit above the last-placed Eels due to a marginally superior for-and-against differential, the Cowboys will be hoping to continue their strong form against Newcastle in recent seasons. Maintaining the same starting 17 that went down to the Dragons last Saturday, off-season purchase Jordan McLean could be a late inclusion after being named as part of the extended bench. Remaining in contention for an unlikely finals finish, the Knights will be out to post their third straight win for the first time this season. Boosted by the inclusion of former North Queensland junior Kalyn Ponga, former captain Sione Mata’utia will also return sooner than expected after failing to see out the Parramatta win a fortnight ago.
BULLDOGS V TIGERS – FRIDAY, 7.55PM – ANZ STADIUM
Producing a dismal attacking performance to lose the ignominious ‘spoon bowl’ against Parramatta last Thursday, the Bulldogs will be cognisant of the need to challenge the Tigers in attack if they are to be any chance of coming away with two competition points. Making his first grade debut under Des Hasler two years ago, reliable second rower Adam Elliot will play his 50th game for Canterbury. Breaking the Rabbitohs nine-game streak to send a message to the rest of the competition of their intentions to take down any opponent regardless of reputation, the Tigers will be looking to lift their for-and-against out of the red with a big win on Friday night. After debuting a fortnight ago off the bench Luke Garner will start in place of injured second rower Josh Aloiai, while two of the Tigers’ best contributors over recent seasons winger David Nofoaluma and lock Elijah Taylor will celebrate personal milestones with 100 and 50 appearances for the club respectively.
SEA EAGLES V PANTHERS – SATURDAY, 3.00PM – LOTTOLAND
Embarrassed at Lottoland last Sunday in a performance that never threatened to be a contest, the Sea Eagles will be out for redemption after conceding their equal highest score at home. In response to the 56-24 loss to the Roosters, Jorge Taufua and Dylan Walker have been named in place of Matthew Wright and Tom Wright. Conceding 50 points for the first time during Anthony Griffin’s tenure at the club last Friday, the Panthers will be desperate to reverse a dismal run of form that has seen the former competition leaders drop four of their past five matches. Boosted by the timely return of New Zealand international Dallin Watene-Zelezniak in a major overhaul of the starting thirteen, fellow Kiwi outside back Dean Whare will play his 100th game for Penrith against the club he debuted for back in 2010.
RABBITOHS V EELS – SATURDAY, 5.30PM – ANZ STADIUM
Handed a reality check against the Tigers having dominated during the representative season with nine consecutive wins, the Rabbitohs will be out to atone against the 16th placed Eels on Saturday evening. Following on from John Sutton’s triple century milestone last week, fellow premiership winners Alex Johnston and Adam Reynolds will mark their 100th and 150th appearances for South Sydney in an unchanged line up. Salvaging a win over Canterbury in one of the most unremarkable matches played in recent memory, the Eels will be striving to mastermind the unlikeliest of upsets against the competition front runners. Having claimed the decisive try to lead last year’s semi finalists to just their fourth win of 2018, Mitchell Moses will play his 100th game in the NRL, while highly-rated speedster Greg Leleisiuao could be in line for his first grade debut after being included in the extended squad.
STORM V RAIDERS – SATURDAY, 7.35PM – AAMI PARK
Assuming the competition lead for the first time in 2018 after downing the Warriors across the Tasman, the Melbourne Storm will be looking to position themselves for a tilt at becoming the first club in two decades to record back-to-back premierships. In the only change from last week’s win, Dale Finucane will start at lock with Kenny Bromwich reverting to the bench. Sitting six points behind the eighth-placed Broncos, the Raiders will need to overcome a tragic record against Melbourne to remain in contention for the play-offs. Set to return to Parramatta next season, hulking front rower Junior Paulo will play his 50th game for the club having joined Canberra midway through 2016, while New Zealand international Joseph Tapine will start in the second row after serving a two-match suspension.
TITANS V WARRIORS – SUNDAY, 2.00PM – CBUS SUPER STADIUM
Failing to capitalise upon a dominant second half lead in Newcastle last Saturday, the Titans will return to the Gold Coast with hopes of causing finals-bound teams difficulties over the remaining six weeks of the competition. In an otherwise unchanged side Will Matthews has been preferred ahead of Leilani Latu on the bench. Unable to get the best of the reigning premiers in a closely fought affair last Sunday, the Warriors will be looking to claim an expected win against the Titans in order to keep their finals hopes intact. Regaining the services of Tohu Harris, Blake Green and Samoan prop Sam Lisione in his first NRL appearance since Round 10, lock forward Adam Blair will miss the match after accepting a one-match ban for late contact against the Storm.
ROOSTERS V DRAGONS – SUNDAY, 4.10PM – ALLIANZ STADIUM
Obliterating the Sea Eagles in a mismatched affair last Sunday, the Roosters will be wary of the threat posed by the joint competition leaders having borne the brunt of a deflating loss on ANZAC Day. Naming Isaac Liu and Mitchell Aubusson to return in the match of the round, an unlikely series of events could see the tri colours finish the weekend in first place with a win. Locked in a three-way tussle for top position on the NRL ladder, the Dragons will be out to consolidate a position in the top four while recording consecutive wins against the Roosters for the first time since Wayne Bennett’s tenure at the club. Having been without the services of Tyson Frizell in last week’s win over North Queensland, the star forward is set to return alongside second row partner Tariq Sims in what will be Sims’ 50th game for the club.