NRL Preview: Grand Final rematch, Gallen to return, Cherry-Evans flying high

Zach Holland previews round six of the 2019 NRL season… 

Cronulla Sharks v Penrith Panthers

Despite being considered top four contenders before the start of the season, it has not exactly been the easiest of rides for Ivan Cleary’s Panthers, losing three games and scraping through with two wins. The lack of consistency being a key issue for a Penrith side that is coming off a loss to a Gold Coast side that was winless in the first four rounds.

They now come up against Cronulla, who have faced a few struggles themselves in recent weeks. Paul Gallen and Shaun Johnson are both back to full fitness, making the Sharks favourites here. If the Panthers want to come away with a win, the likes of Nathan Cleary and James Maloney will have to step up.

Team news: Gallen returns at the loose forward position for the Sharks and will certainly be a key return to Cronulla’s forward pack. The Panthers make a couple of changes, with Tim Grant announced to start in place of Reagan Campbell-Gillard.

Canterbury Bulldogs v South Sydney Rabbitohs

The Rabbitohs may still be reeling following the retirement of one of the game’s greats in Greg Inglis but they will more than fancy their chances here as they look to continue an impressive start to the season. The Bunnies sit fourth in the league and will look to stay on top despite losing such a key figurehead in former Australia and Queensland star, Inglis.

Even though the Bulldogs gave a great account of themselves against Melbourne, they were quickly shown up against St George Illawarra last week and they will have to come up with a big defensive performance if they want to stop the likes of the Burgess brothers bursting through the middle of the park.

Team news: The Bulldogs make one change after their crushing loss to St George Illawarra last time out, with Danny Fualalo called up to bench due to suspension of Sauaso Sue. The Rabbitohs make a few changes, with George Burgess named to start at prop and Junior Tatola switching to the bench.

Melbourne Storm v Sydney Roosters

Prepare for NRL to come to a stand still with this fixture as we could be looking at another potential NRL Grand Final match-up between two of league’s most dominant sides. The Roosters have been at their clinical best after a first-round loss, whereas Melbourne remain undefeated and look like they can click into a higher gear anytime they please.

The fact that Melbourne are at home for this one may give them that slight edge and they will no doubt be looking to avenge last season’s Grand Final defeat to the Roosters but an interesting note will be how both coaches approach this game in terms of a gameplan.

The Roosters have seen the likes of James Tedesco, Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Luke Keary in scintillating form while Cameron Munster, Cooper Cronk and the Bromwich brothers have been more than exceptional for the Storm. All in all, this promises to be a cracker so expect fireworks.

Team news: The flying Fijian winger, Suliasi Vunivalu, returns for Melbourne and is named on the wing and will be huge boost at the backline as the Storm look to avenge last season’s Grand Final defeat to the Roosters. After missing two games, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves returns to bolster the Roosters’ front-row, with Zane Tetevano moving in at lock. Jake Friend and Brett Morris both remain out.

New Zealand Warriors v North Queensland Cowboys

There is no doubt that on their day the Warriors have played some of the most free-flowing attacking rugby in the league. When you have one of the greatest attacking players in the likes of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, it doesn’t really come as surprise and now they face a North Queensland still suffering from post-Johnathan Thurston syndrome. The Cowboys have struggled to adapt following the loss of such a prime playmaker over so many years.

However, the Queensland side gave a Melbourne outfit a little bit of a scare over the weekend, displaying a number of positives. They gave it their best shot but by 80 minutes they were out done by the league’s only undefeated side this season. The game against the Warriors is another tough test for the Cowboys and a loss here could see them once again fall out of finals contention.

Team news: A big plus for the Warriors sees Blake Green named to start, despite suffering an injury before the game against South Sydney. The Cowboys make just the one change to the starting line-up, with Justin O’Neill replacing the injured Nene Macdonald on the wing. Also, Scott Bolton could be set to return after an NRL suspension in which he pleaded guilty to assault.

St George Illawarra Dragons v Manly Sea Eagles

Well it certainly looks like it could be business as usual on the Dragons front after coming off their most impressive performance so far this season, with a crushing win over Canterbury. The creativity and flair returning as stand-off Corey Norman has been a huge influence in three consecutive wins for his side. Now, standing in the top eight, St George Illawarra will look to keep the momentum going.

However, they now come up against a team fresh off their own streak in Manly. The Sea Eagles have enjoyed the likes of Jake Trbojevic’s influential status in the forward line and Daly Cherry-Evans discovering his sparkling form once more.

Team news: Dragons boss Paul McGregor will be happy as he is able to name the exact same 17 that cruised past Canterbury last weekend, while Manly remain in the same boat with no changes from the last round.

Gold Coast Titans v Newcastle Knights

Despite half-back Ash Taylor limping off due to injury, the Titans paired up AJ Brimson and Tyrone Roberts in the halves and what followed was a solid performance that saw Gold Coast claim their first points of the season against Penrith. The latter of the two halves stole the show with a great attacking and organised display.

After finally finding a winning formula, the Titans now face off against a Newcastle side struggling for consistency in attack and lacking in points this season. It is a strange one for the Knights as they seem to have a fine amount of talent in the likes of Kalyn Ponga, Mitchell Pearce, David Klemmer and Jesse Ramien but creating a winning formula is the main issue. Once again, Knights coach Nathan Brown will need to address those issues and look to find that second win of the season.

Team news: The return off Shannon Boyd from injury provides a slight boost for the Titans as Jarrod Wallace sits out due to suspension, while Brimson is out due to a broken thumb and Phillip Sami take his spot on the bench. Despite a fourth straight loss, the Knights will make just the one change with Herman Ese’ese taking a spot on the bench with the injured Aidan Guerra missing out.

Canberra Raiders v Brisbane Broncos

Well, it doesn’t look like anything can go right for Anthony Seibold’s Brisbane as the Queensland-based side found themselves on the receiving end of another dramatic loss following the Tigers’ late try at the death.

This round six match may not help their cause either as they now face a Canberra side who could be right up there by the time the business end of the season comes around as they are in red hot form. They sit in third place, with huge credit being given to some astounding defensive displays and will be favourites here.

Team news: The Raiders will be without Joe Tapine in the back-row, with Junior Collins taking his place. After a great start to the season, Canberra coach Ricky Stuart will take comfort in just having to make the one change for this enticing fixture against Brisbane. There will be no drastic changes made by Seibold as Payne Haas and David Fifita switch positions and centre James Roberts is named in the reserves.

Parramatta Eels v West Tigers

The Eels will look to bounce back following their 19-0 shutout loss to Canberra in the last round. However, this improved Parramatta side this season has shown they can be a handful on their day and have taken great pleasure in having Blake Ferguson become such a key influence.

The Tigers, however, will looking to follow on from an impressive comeback win over Brisbane. The match between the Eels and Tigers will certainly be an interesting one that will be a toss-up as to who comes out on top.

Team news: No changes to the 17-man squad but the Eels name two youngsters in 19-year-old Oregon Kaufusi and 21-year-old Ray Stone in the reserves. The fifth-placed Tigers will take benefit in an unchanged squad.