NRL Preview: Mitchell returns, Ferguson in for Eels & Gallen to play final home match

Zach Holland

There are just two games left of the regular season in the NRL.

North Queensland Cowboys v Canterbury Bulldogs

It might not be considered one of the biggest games of the week but after recent weeks, this game has a little more meat on the bone as Canterbury come into this game as one of the most in-form teams in the league after winning six of their last eight games. The Bulldogs have seemingly come from being a team that was dubbed wooden spoon material to 12th on the ladder and within reach of a top eight finish if results go their way. The Cowboys will be quietly confident though after a win over Penrith last week.

Team news: North Queensland coach Paul Green names the same 17-man squad as last week.

Reimis Smith’s suspension means that Jayden Okunbor comes in on the wing for Canterbury.

New Zealand Warriors v South Sydney Rabbitohs

The Rabbitohs’ big win over Brisbane made sure their top four hopes for the season remained on track after a run of defeats. Their 22-20 victory kept them level on points and joint third with Canberra and Manly. There is no room for let up though as they come into this game against the Warriors in needing the likes of Damien Cook to produce the kind of electric performance we saw against the Broncos.

The Warriors remain out of NRL finals contention and if they are not careful defensively, then it might be another long afternoon for Stephen Kearney’s side.

Team news: A big change for the Warriors sees Kodi Nikorima back in the starting 13, with Chanel Harris-Tavita moving to the bench. The front-row sees a reshuffle with Agnatius Passi coming in for his 100th game.

The trio of Sam Burgess, Alex Johnston and Kyle Turner have all been selected to make their return from injury. James Roberts is suspended.

Brisbane Broncos v Parramatta Eels

The Eels’ hopes of getting into the top four took a sizeable blow last week after the loss to the Bulldogs and coming into this game against Brisbane – they cannot afford another defeat if they want to sneak their way in. They will certainly have their hands full this week as the Broncos are a completely different team to the one we saw in the earlier parts of the season.

The Queensland-based side performed with a fine amount of gusto in the game against Souths, despite the defeat and they need a similar kind of display here but with just that extra edge. The Eels will take some comfort in the 38-10 win against Antohny Seibold’s men in round 14 but as previously mentioned, Brisbane are not to be taken lightly and Parramatta need to see Mitchell Moses continue his impressive ways while they try to contain the likes of Payne Haas in the Broncos front-row.

Team news: No changes for Brisbane this week as they stick with the same 17 that faced Souths.

A huge boost for Parramatta sees Blake Ferguson named to return from injury and Nathan Brown’s suspension sees Brad Takairangi take his place.

Newcastle Knights v Gold Coast Titans

Newcastle will be without head coach Nathan Brown who departed the club with immediate effect on Tuesday, with Kristian Woolf taking over as interim boss for the last two fixtures. The handling of Brown’s exit may have come under scrutiny but the Knights need life to be business as usual coming into these last two games and they need their talented attacking core to bring some fire to the game with Kalyn Ponga, Connor Watson and Mitchell Pearce being the prime catalysts.

The Titans come into this game resigned to the wooden spoon and have nothing to play for other than the chance to build some confidence to end their year.

Team news: The only noteworthy move for the Knights sees Connor Watson start at dummy half in place of Danny Levi.

Jarrod Wallace’s return to the starting line-up is a big positive for Gold Coast and Jai Arrow moves to loose forward.

Manly Sea Eagles v Melbourne Storm

After a huge win over top four rivals Canberra last week, Manly can certainly be classed as title contenders themselves now and if they want to keep stay in the mix then the challenge of Melbourne lies ahead. The Sea Eagles were the winners against Melbourne last time out, giving them a fine bit of confidence going into this game. However, Melbourne will not be ones to take that loss lightly and need the win to secure the Minor Premiership.

The Storm will need a better 80 minutes than they were able to manage against Gold Coast if they want to come away with the win, so keeping errors to a minimum is pivotal. If Manly can remain strong in that forward pack and keep their opponents guessing then the door is wide open for another win over the Victoria-based side.

Team news: Jack Gosiewski keeps his spot in Manly’s starting 13 due to Joel Thompson’s arm injury.

The Storm see the return of Will Chambers after missing last week’s game against Canberra.

Sydney Roosters v Penrith Panthers

The pressure is now on the Panthers as they enter the penultimate round of regular season solely needing a win to keep their NRL finals dream alive. They have it all to do though as they face a Roosters side that keeps sending firm reminders that they are not going to let go of their reign as NRL champions that easily. The Chooks sit firmly in second spot while the Panthers are just outside the top eight with two games to go following their defeat to North Queensland.

The idea of keeping the likes of James Tedesco, Daniel Tupou and Latrell Mitchell at bay has boggled the mind of many a team but Penrith need to find a way while allowing the likes of James Maloney and Nathan Cleary to find a weakness in the defence.

Team news: Bad news for Penrith but great news for Sydney as Latrell Mitchell is back after being named at centre, while captain Boyd Cordner is amongst the reserves.

There is a few changes for Penrith as Moses Leota is named as starting prop while Jarome Luai is set to make his comeback from an eye injury. The 20-year-old Billy Burns is also set to make his NRL debut after being named on the bench.

Cronulla Sharks v Canberra Raiders

After a poor run of form, Cronulla have now won three on the bounce and sit in seventh spot and need a win over Canberra to secure a NRL finals spot. The Raiders may have lost to Manly last week but are still in a great spot as we come close to the end of the regular season. A victory over an in-form Sharks side could certainly send a reminder to their top four rivals that they are still contenders, despite the defeat to Manly. The Raiders have talent up and down the field and need the influential British quartet to be on song once again whereas the 2016 champions will look to give Paul Gallen a great send off as he plays his last home game for the club.

Team news: Sione Katoa is the new face on the Cronulla wing as Sosaia Feki is out with a groin injury.

The loss of Joey Leilua to suspension means Bailey Simonsson come sback into the Canberra fold.

St George Illawarra Dragons v Wests Tigers 

This is a must win game for the Tigers if they wish to stay in the hunt of the top eight as they sit in ninth place – one point behind Brisbane in eighth. Their 46-4 win over Newcastle could make them much more confident in seeing out this match and staying within the reach of eighth spot. An energetic and fast paced start to the game will be crucial for Michael Maguire’s men. The Dragons have lost six out of their last eight and even though they sit solely in 15th place, they need to give their fans something to shout and feel optimistic about as the season comes to a close. It is a strange one as St George Illawarra host plenty of attacking and defensive talent with the likes of Paul Vaughan, Tyson Frizell, James Graham, Corey Norman and Gareth Widdop all considered exceptional talents in their respective positions. However, it all needs to come together if they want to win more games on a consistent basis.

Team news: The only noteworthy changes for the Dragons see Patrick Kaufusi named on the bench and Ben Hunt named in the reserves as they both look to come back from concussions.

There is some comfort for the Tigers as they are able to name the exact same 17 that ran over Newcastle last week.

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