NRL Preview: Dufty boosts Dragons, Bromwich returns & Panthers raided for Origin

Matt Dufty returns at full-back for the Dragons

There are only four games in the NRL this weekend due to the State of Origin series.

St George Illawarra Dragons v Brisbane Broncos (Thursday, 10:55am, Watch NRL)

Tyson Gamble returns for Brisbane

Both these sides come into this one looking to rediscover some form and bounce back after disappointing defeats last week. The Dragons started off the season very brightly but have only won one of their last seven games and are now fighting to stay within the top eight. The Broncos ran into the brick wall of Melbourne last week, but they have still shown on their day they have what it takes to come up with a big win and if they come up perform as well as they did against Sydney two weeks ago then this could certainly be there’s for the taking.

Team news: The Dragons lose Tariq Sims to New South Wales duty so Josh Kerr’s return to the second-row is all the more timely. Matt Dufty (shoulder) is back at full-back, so Cody Ramsey shifts back to the wing and Brayden Wiliame slots in at centre while Jack Bird reverts to the second-row alongside Kerr. Mikaele Ravalawa provides a boost on the wing and Jack de Belin looks set to make his comeback off the bench.

Brisbane duo Tyson Gamble and Matt Lodge are back from suspension, slotting in at half-back and prop respectively. There are two key losses for the Broncos though as Payne Haas and Xavier Coates both miss out due to Origin, so Tom Flegler is in the front-row to cover Haas while rookie Selwyn Cobbo is set to make his debut on the wing. Kevin Walters’ side are also a boost by returning captain Alex Glenn who starts in the second-row.

Wests Tigers v Penrith Panthers (Friday, 10:55am, Sky Sports Arena or Watch NRL)

Penrith will be without seven players including Brian To’o (pictured) due to Origin

The Panthers have laid waste to all their opponents so far this year, winning a remarkable 12 from 12 so far without any defeats. However, as we approach Origin season, Penrith face a new challenge to keep their extensive win streak as several key personnel including talisman Nathan Cleary are set for Origin duty. If there was ever a time for the Tigers to face the league leaders it was now but even without their most influential figures, the Panthers will know the that the quality is still there and coach Ivan Cleary will no doubt be relishing such a test.

Team news: Just the one change to the Tigers’ starting line-up with Alex Seyfarth being promoted to replace Origin-bound Joe Ofahengaue. Luciano Leilua is free to play after being found not guilty of a shoulder charge at Tuesday’s judiciary hearing.

The Panthers have been forced into a massive re-shuffle as Jarome Luai, Nathan Cleary, Isaah Yeo, Brian To’o, Liam Martin, Kurt Capewell and Api Koroisau are all selected for Origin duty. With that, Robert Jennings has been recalled to replace To’o on the wing, Matt Burton moves back from centre to five-eighth to replace Luai while Tyrone May has big shoes to fill in Cleary’s vacant half-back spot.

The new faces in the back-row are Matt Eisenhuth and Scott Sorensen who fill in for Yeo and Martin while Mitch Kenny takes Koroisau’s role at hooker. Dylan Edwards returns at full-back, so Stephen Crichton moves back to centre and there are four new faces on the bench as Jaeman Salmon, J’Maine Hopgood and debutants Lindsay Smith and Izack Tago all come into the squad.

Melbourne Storm v Gold Coast Titans (Saturday, 10;35am, Sky Sports Arena or Watch NRL)

Cooper Johns has been named at stand-off for Melbourne

With the way Melbourne are playing right now it would take a brave person to bet against them even with some of their own players having State of Origin commitments. The Storm sit comfortably in second place, winning their last nine games and proving to be Penrith’s biggest challenger in the race for the Minor Premiership and possibly for the NRL crown itself. Meanwhile, Gold Coast have had a very erratic and inconsistent season so far and with four players set to feature for the Maroons, the task of proving their top eight credentials becomes much tougher.

Team news: Both Josh Addo-Carr and Felise Kaufusi will be missing for Melbourne due to State of Origin call-ups, so Dean Ieremia is the new face on the wing while Kenny Bromwich is back from injury to replace Kaufusi. Nelson Asofa-Solomona starts in the front-row yet again as Christian Welch is also missing due to Origin. Cooper Johns, son of Matty and nephew of Andrew, has been named at stand-off after being a late inclusion last week and Chris Lewis will come off the interchange.

The Titans are another team forced into plenty of changes due to Origin as David Fifita, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Moeaki Fotuaika and AJ Brimson all received call-ups to the Queensland side. This allows Jayden Campbell, son of Titans legend Preston Campbell, to make his debut at full-back while Sam Stone and Sam McIntyre fill the void left in the back-row by Fifita and Fa’asuamaleau. Jaimin Jolliffe will replace Fotuaika in the front-row and Ash Taylor is back from injury to partner Jamal Fogarty in the halves.

Newcastle Knights v Parramatta Eels (Sunday, 7:05am, Sky Sports Main Event & Arena or Watch NRL)

Dylan Brown is back for the Eels

The Knights gave themselves a big dose of confidence after a 18-10 upset win over an in form Manly side last week. Their ability to limit the Sea Eagles’ Tom Trbojevic worked wonders and in the end it earned them a victory that could go a long way in them earning an NRL finals spot. The question now is can they follow on from this win and record back-to-back wins for the first time since the first two rounds of the season? Well, they have not had the best record at home with only three wins to their name and with Parramatta looking to snap a two-game losing streak, plus not having as many Origin call-ups as most of the big teams, it could be a tough day at the office for Adam O’Brien’s side if they fall behind early.

Team news: Daniel Saifiti’s inclusion in the New South Wales squad means his brother Jacob comes into the starting 13 while David Klemmer’s suspension sees Sauaso Sue come in at prop alongside Saifiti in a new-look front-row for the Knights. Kalyn Ponga and Tyson Frizell have received their own representative call-ups, so Tex Hoy is back at full-back and Brodie Jones is the preferred choice in the second-row. Jack Johns, Cooper’s brother, will make his first appearance for Newcastle off the bench.

Reed Mahoney has been released by Queensland so he should take his place at hooker for Parramatta. A big boost for the Eels sees Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Dylan Brown both make timely returns at prop and five-eighth retrospectively. Junior Paulo has been included on New South Wales’ bench so it means Marata Niukore starts in the front-row while Blake Ferguson’s shock omission sees Haze Dunster called up to the wing.

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