As we approach the realms of State of Origin, we face a weekend of condensed fixtures as several teams take a bye in this round. However, there is still plenty to discuss so we shall take another in depth look into the four games on offer…
Penrith Panthers vs Manly Sea Eagles – Thursday May 30th (10.50am)
After weeks of poor performances, the Panthers finally ended their torrid run of six straight defeats with a shaky 16-10 win over Parramatta a game which was not one for the neutrals. However, there will be a sigh of relief amongst the Panthers set up and will be hoping to follow on from this as we come up to fast approaching State of Origin series.
They now face a Manly side that were more than surprisingly shown up by an inspired Gold Coast who many had given little hope to in the lead up to the game. Despite leading 12-0, the Northern Beaches side showed that old habits die hard as the Titans scored seven tries in 45 minutes. There is no doubt though that coach Des Hasler has done wonders so far this season for the Sea Eagles and the fact they have been solid enough this season means that they will certainly be favourites once again here.
Also, the unavailability of Jake Trbojevic leaves a huge gap in the forward line of Manly leaving emphasis on Joel Thompson and Curtis Sironen to fill the void left in the back row by the Blues lock.
Team news: No Nathan Cleary for the Panthers due to Origin duty as James Maloney returns from suspension to move into the halves. There is a reshuffle in the Penrith centres, with Isaah Yeo and Brent Naden both named to start as Waqa Blake and Dean Whare suffered injuries in round 11. Also, even though he was moved to the bench before the start of the game last week, Reagan Campbell is named to start once again.
The absence of Daly Cherry Evans and Tom and Jake Trbojevic because of Origin duty means a few changes for Manly. Corey Waddell comes in at loose forward while Abbas Miski has been named on the wing. Also, with DCE out it means Joel Thompson is named captain. A broken jaw keeps Brad Parker out and has Reuben Garrick slotting in at centre.
Parramatta Eels vs South Sydney Rabbitohs – Friday 31st May (10.55am)
In what was a rather sloppy affair last week saw Parramatta fall victim to the Panthers and overall, they have now lost four of their last five games. The Eels are still well placed within NRL finals contention sitting in 8th position with five wins and six losses to their name. However, they now face a greater test as they take on the league’s leading team, the Rabbitohs.
A 10th win of the season was chalked up by the Bunnies last week even despite losing halfback Adam Reynolds due to injury throughout the game.
Although, it was confirmed later to be not as serious as first thought, the Souths may not take such a huge risk with one of key playmakers by bringing him back into the fold so quickly.
Their depth will be tested here though as they lose four players to Origin duty. However, time and time again we have seen Wayne Bennett’s side run through the Burgess’ and their huge work rate on the field. If Parramatta want to be in this game, then the likes of Mitch Moses and Clint Gutherson need to be at their electric best while Shaun Lane could be pivotal against the hard running Rabbitohs forward line in that back row.
Team news: A lot to think about for Eels coach Brad Arthur as he responds to the loss to the Penrith by dropping Tim Mannah, Brad Takairangi, Daniel Alvaro and George Jennings to the reserves. The duo of Michael Jennings and Josh Hoffman move into the centre spots with the ever-dangerous Blake Ferguson moving on to the wing. The forwards see Kane Evans named as a prop Manu Ma’u switching from loose forward to the second row. The starting loose forward spot sees Tepi Moeroa named and back from concussion.
The State of Origin will always have its effects on teams and no more so than the Rabbitohs. The Souths lose Dane Gagai, Cameron Murray and Cody Walker to representative duty and see Adam Doueihi, Junior Tatola and Connor Tracey named as replacements. It could be argued though that the biggest loss will be Damien Cook to NSW and his dummy half role will be filled by Billy Brittain. Adam Reynolds is named to start despite suffering an injury last week.
Canterbury Bulldogs vs Canberra Raiders – Saturday 1st June (10.35am)
The Raiders have now lost their last three straight after falling short against North Queensland and are now suspect to falling outside the top eight after being within the top four for most of the season.
If they are going to find a way out of this poor run, then they will have to do that without another one of their primary players in Josh Hodgson who is set to be out for 6-8 weeks with a broken thumb. If you put this alongside losing Josh Papalii, Jack Wighton and Nick Cotric to Origin duty then it looks things are certainly going to be even tougher for the green machine in next few weeks. The Raiders have struggled in the past without Hodgson and again could be the case here. They now take on Canterbury who although sit right at the bottom of the ladder have more than shown they can take teams all the way to the end.
It may be a difficult one for the Raiders but to come away with the win here then they can afford to waste too many chances in the attacking third and still have the talent throughout their ranks, that can get the job done in the likes of Jarrod Crocker, Sam Williams, Elliott Whitehead and Charnze Nicoll Klokstad. The latter proving effectively useful getting forward, racking up the most metres for Canberra this season and again will be relied heavily on here.
It is no secret now that, the Bulldogs attack runs through Keiran Foran in the halves and his return from injury in recent weeks has firmly solidified the halves of the Doggies.
Team news: The Bulldogs only have Dylan Napa away on State of Origin duty and Ofahiki Ogden is named to start at prop in his place. There is no place in the match day 17 for Adam Elliott, Lachlan Lewis, Kerrod Holland and Michael Lichaa as they are all named as reserves.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has had to force his hands with injuries and representative call ups effecting his side. Josh Hodgson’s place at dummy half is taken by Siliva Havili, while Sebastian Kris, Adam Sezer and Corey Horsburgh are called upon to replace Origin trio, Nick Cotric, Jack Wighton and Josh Papalii. The back row also sees change with Joe Tapine coming back into the starting squad and Ryan Sutton moved to the bench. There is some good news though as John Bateman continues his rehab from a fractured eye socket and is amongst the reserves.
Gold Coast Titans vs North Queensland Cowboys – Sunday 2nd June (7.05am)
The Titans sprung up a bit of a surprise during last week’s Indigenous round after racking up seven tries in the win over Manly, with Tyrone Roberts showing us once more how influential he is the side. A lot more of the same from the halfback will be needed here as North Queensland have a found a bit of form in recent weeks and came away with the win against Canberra last time out.
The Cowboys have been a rejuvenated side since the return of Jason Taumalolo and will their star forward to be brutal best as usual. The ability to get into their opponents’ territory has not been much of an issue this season but finding a killer instinct to finish off plays is what has been lacking and will be something that should be of primary focus here.
There will be a lot of pressure on Gold Coast halfback Ash Taylor to perform here after coming under a bit of scrutiny for his performances this season but if he can link up with Roberts like we saw last week then the Titans have every chance to come away with the win.
Team news: The Titans will be without one of their most impactful players in Jai Arrow, who is away on duty for Queensland. However, Arrow was out injured in the last round and it will be the same 17 that conquered the Sea Eagles.
The same cannot be said for the Cowboys though as they will lose two key players in Michael Morgan and Josh McGuire to Origin as well as missing Matt Scott and Justin O’Neil to injury. In response, Scott Bolton comes in a prop for Matt Scott while Jake Clifford takes his place at halfback for Morgan. The back row sees Coen Hess slot in as Mitchell Dunn moves into the centre.