In the penultimate round of the home and away season, the eight matches to be contested will be of huge significance in the makeup of the competition ladder, while also serving as the final home appearance for a number of retiring champions.
TIGERS V SEA EAGLES – CAMPBELLTOWN STADIUM – THURSDAY, 7.50PM
Left with only the most optimistic of mathematical chances of playing finals football after losing to the Dragons last Saturday, the Wests Tigers will be looking to record their first win at Campbelltown since May, 2016. Losing Elijah Taylor for the must-win fixture, Matt Eisenhuth will start at lock with Alex Twal and Josh Aloiai coming onto the bench. Capitulating in an appalling second half against the Titans last Friday, the Manly Sea Eagles will be out to redeem themselves by avoiding the faint possibility of finishing the season with the wooden spoon. In the only change made by coach Trent Barrett, Jack Gosweiski replaces Frank Winterstein on the bench.
WARRIORS V PANTHERS – MT. SMART STADIUM – FRIDAY, 6.00PM
Botching a prime opportunity to confirm a guaranteed top eight berth against Canterbury last Sunday, the New Zealand Warriors will be out to ensure another late season collapse is avoided having capitulated in recent years under similar circumstances. Regaining the services of premiership winning forward Tohu Harris at the expense of Leivaha Pulu, the only other notable change sees Samoan international; Mason Lino come into the halves in place of injured playmaker Blake Green. Needing to win their remaining two matches to have any chance of finishing in the top four, the Penrith Panthers will be banking on maintaining a dominant record against their opponents after claiming victory in 9 of the past 11 clashes. Responding to the disappointment of last week, interim coach Cameron Ciraldo has recalled Christian Crichton in a backline reshuffle that sees Dallin Watene-Zelezniak move to fullback and Tyrone Peachey in to the halves, while Wayde Egan has been preferred ahead of Sione Katoa as the side’s starting hooker.
COWBOYS V EELS – 1300SMILES STADIUM – FRIDAY, 7.55PM
Marking the final home appearance in the illustrious career of Johnathan Thurston, the North Queensland Cowboys will have no shortage of motivation as they endeavour to send one of rugby league’s modern day greats out with a win. In a major boost from the team defeated by Cronulla last Saturday, Matt Scott and Jason Taumalolo have been included after returning from injury and suspension respectively. With the loser almost certain to finish the season with the wooden spoon, the Parramatta Eels will need to overcome a poor record in Townsville where they have managed just one win from their past six appearances. Gallant in defeat to Melbourne last week, coach Brad Arthur has recalled Kane Evans, Tim Mannah and Cameron King in an effort to combat the hostile reception awaiting to Eels on Friday night.
RAIDERS V RABBITOHS – GIO STADIUM – SATURDAY, 3.00PM
Breaking through for their first win over any top eight side last Sunday against the Roosters, the Canberra Raiders will be hoping for a similar result in their final appearance at home. Counteracting the loss of Joe Tapine for the final fortnight due to a broken thumb, Michael Oldfield will return in the centres in a move that allows Elliot Whitehead to shift into his preferred back row position. Enduring an erratic performance minus a number of preferred backline stars in Brisbane last Thursday, the South Sydney Rabbitohs will be eager to secure two competition points to ensure the race for the minor premiership goes down to the final round of the regular season. Returning to the ACT for the first time since 2014, the Rabbitohs have been blessed by the return of backline trio Alex Johnston, Campbell Graham and Greg Inglis at the expense of Richie Kennar, Tyrell Fuimaono and Mawene Hiroti.
TITANS V STORM – CBUS SUPER STADIUM – SATURDAY, 5.30PM
Producing a scintillating attacking display against Manly last Friday, the Gold Coast Titans will be out to capitalise upon their injury-depleted opponents while strengthening their own frail defence. In the only change from last week, experienced forward Will Matthews has been preferred ahead of Bryce Cartwright on the bench. Overcoming a wealth of injuries to defeat the Eels at home last week, the Melbourne Storm will be looking to extend their strong form on the Gold Coast to five wins from their past six appearances. While initial fears predicted the Storm to struggle to field a competitive side, the inclusions of Cheyse Blair, Justin Olam, Tui Kamikamica and Ryley Jacks should see the reigning premiers remain highly competitive.
ROOSTERS V BRONCOS – ALLIANZ STADIUM – SATURDAY, 7.35PM
Missing out on an opportunity to move into outright first after succumbing to the Raiders last Sunday, the Sydney Roosters will be desperate to consolidate their position inside the top four to ensure a guaranteed second chance in the finals. After missing the past three weeks with a knee injury, Luke Keary has been named to return at five-eighth, while Jared Waerea-Hargreaves could be a late inclusion after being selected as 18th man. Bouncing back to form with a strong showing against South Sydney last Thursday, the possibility of securing a home ground advantage in the first week of the finals should see the Brisbane Broncos aim up in pursuit of their first win over the Roosters at Allianz Stadium since 2012. In the only change from the side that downed the Rabbitohs, coach Wayne Bennett has opted to go with the versatility of Kotoni Staggs over the size of Patrick Mago on the bench.
SHARKS V KNIGHTS – SOUTHERN CROSS GROUP STADIUM – SUNDAY, 2.00PM
Posting two late tries to see off a spirited North Queensland outfit last Saturday, the Cronulla Sharks will be looking to extend their recent dominance over the Knights to eight consecutive matches. Losing first-choice centre pairing Ricky Leutele and Jesse Ramien, Edrick Lee and Kurt Capewell have been named in a backline reshuffle, while co-captain Wade Graham will play after missing the win over the Cowboys. Claiming a major scalp over the Panthers last Saturday, the Newcastle Knights will be out to make amends for their worst performance of 2018 in order to spoil the Sharks’ aspirations of finishing in the top four. Opting for former Shark Chris Heighington on the bench ahead of Luke Yates, Connor Watson could be a late inclusion after missing the past month through injury.
DRAGONS V BULLDOGS – UOW JUBILEE OVAL – SUNDAY, 4.10PM
Defying expectations of their ability to win minus Gareth Widdop last week, the St. George Illawarra Dragons will be out to overcome a horrendous record against the Bulldogs having lost 11 of the past 13 meetings. In his final home appearance before hanging up the boots, Jason Nightingale will return on the wing in a reshuffle that sees Jordan Pereira drop to the bench in place of Jai Field. Putting a dent in the Warriors’ finals plans via a late field goal last Sunday, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs will be eager to do likewise to the Dragons in their first visit to Kogarah since 2013. In a rare deviation from the other 15 clubs, coach Dean Pay has stuck with the same 17 players as last week.