NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 25

With 80 minutes standing between half the competition and Mad Monday, the remaining eight sides will be eager to use the final round of the regular season to shape up before the race for the premiership begins in earnest next week.

RABBITOHS V TIGERS – ANZ STADIUM – THURSDAY, 7.50PM
Disappointing in defeat to the Raiders last Saturday, the South Sydney Rabbitohs will be hopeful of making amends for a poor showing against the Tigers six weeks ago in order to secure a top two finish. Boosted by the inclusion of prolific try-scorer Robert Jennings in the backline, former Melbourne forward Dean Britt will play his first match of 2018 in place of Junior Tatola off the bench. Denied the opportunity to fight for a place in the finals following external results last weekend, the Wests Tigers will be hoping to maintain their strong record over South Sydney before kick-starting their end-of-season festivities. Losing co-captain Russell Packer for the final round match-up, Matt Eisenhuth will start at prop with Elijah Taylor returning in jersey 13.

WARRIORS V RAIDERS – MT. SMART STADIUM – FRIDAY, 6.00PM
Securing a return to the play-offs with a dominant performance against Penrith last Friday, the New Zealand Warriors will be out to commemorate Simon Mannering’s 300th game by securing a home ground final for the first time in a decade. In the only change from the team that thumped the Panthers by 20 last week, Gerard Beale replaces Leivaha Pulu on the bench. Finding form at the wrong end of the season after accounting for the Roosters and Rabbitohs in consecutive matches, the Canberra Raiders will be out to finish the year on a high while pondering what could have been in 2018. Retaining the same squad that downed South Sydney 24-12 last Saturday, Aidan Sezer could be a late inclusion after being named as part of the extended bench.

STORM V PANTHERS – AAMI PARK – FRIDAY, 7.55PM
Getting the job done on the Gold Coast in less than impressive fashion last Saturday, the Melbourne Storm will have high hopes of sending Billy Slater out a winner in his final regular season home appearance along with securing a third consecutive minor premiership in the process. Maintaining the same playing group that prevailed 10-8 last Saturday, Ryan Hoffman has been named on an extended bench but would appear to be long odds to play. Producing a dismal showing in Auckland last week, the Penrith Panthers will be out to overcome a horror record against Melbourne having managed just one win from the past 18 clashes dating back to 2006. Losing Dean Whare with a broken arm, the Panthers will be banking on the return of James Maloney to stem their poor form over the past fortnight.

KNIGHTS V DRAGONS – MCDONALD JONES STADIUM – SATURDAY, 3.00PM
Going down by a margin that failed to represent the closeness of last Sunday’s loss to Cronulla, the Newcastle Knights will be looking to defy a poor record against the Dragons while paying homage to club legends on Old Boy’s Day. Pending NRL clearance rookie hooker Tom Starling is set to make his first grade debut off the bench, while Chris Heighington and Jacob Lillyman will be hoping for a final victory before hanging up the boots. Producing a season worst performance in front of their home fans last Sunday, the St. George Illawarra Dragons will be desperate to atone for their 38-0 humiliation against Canterbury to ensure their strong start to 2018 amounts to more than the very realistic possibility of finishing in eighth position. Losing Jason Nightingale and Euan Aitken through injury, Zac Lomax and Jai Field will make their second appearances in first grade this season.

TITANS V COWBOYS – CBUS SUPER STADIUM – SATURDAY, 5.30PM
Following a season of mixed results in Garth Brennan’s first year at the helm, the Gold Coast Titans will be out to play party poopers on Saturday evening with the largest crowd expected at CBUS Super Stadium since Jarryd Hayne’s return to the NRL two years ago. Despite falling short on the scoreboard last week, coach Garth Brennan has retained the same squad. In the final match of his NRL career, Johnathan Thurston will be looking to go out with a win as the North Queensland Cowboys endeavour to extend their record over the Titans to seven consecutive matches. Preferring Te Maire Martin ahead of Jake Clifford at five-eighth, Shaun Fensom has been named on the bench for a potential final appearance at the club with his future unknown for 2019.

EELS V ROOSTERS – ANZ STADIUM – SATURDAY, 7.35PM
Needing a miracle to avoid the wooden spoon following a lacklustre showing in Townsville last Friday, the Parramatta Eels will be hopeful of overcoming a poor record against the Roosters that has yielded just four wins over the past decade. Making mass changes following last week’s dismal showing, Bevan French has been recalled in a backline reshuffle that sees Jarryd Hayne move to fullback and Corey Norman into the halves. Squandering a prime opportunity to draw level with Melbourne on 34 competition points last Saturday, the Sydney Roosters will be desperate to secure a home final in their first appearance at ANZ Stadium opposing Parramatta since the opening round of the new millennium. Offsetting the suspension of Dylan Napa, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves has been named to return in an otherwise unchanged team.

BULLDOGS V SHARKS – ANZ STADIUM – SUNDAY, 2.00PM
Posting their largest win since 2014 by obliterating the Dragons at Kogarah last Sunday, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs will be hoping to spoil the Sharks’ top four aspirations in the farewell appearance for a number of loyal club servants. Despite failing to complete the match last week, Rhyse Martin has been named in an unchanged 17. Capable of finishing as high as second depending on other results, the Cronulla Sharks will be looking to secure a top four finish by extending their record over Canterbury to five straight matches. Reinstating Matt Moylan ahead of Kyle Flanagan in the halves, Newcastle-bound centre Jesse Ramien could be a late inclusion after being named on the extended bench.

BRONCOS V SEA EAGLES – SUNCORP STADIUM – SUNDAY, 4.10PM
In a rare Sunday afternoon appearance at home, the Brisbane Broncos will be looking to give Sam Thaiday a fitting regular season farewell by securing a final appearance at Suncorp Stadium in the first week of the play-offs should result fall in their favour. Opting to rest Andrew McCullough with Jake Turpin named as his replacement, Jack Bird could make his first appearance in four moths after being selected as part of the extended bench. Unlikely to claim the wooden spoon barring the mathematical possibility of Parramatta overcoming a 52-point differential, the Manly Sea Eagles will be eager to relegate 2018 to the annals of history with their second win over the Broncos at Suncorp this season. In the only change from the team defeated at Campbelltown last Thursday, Matthew Wright has been selected on the wing in place of Jorge Taufua.

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