NRL preview: Star duo return for Roosters, Milford recalled for Brisbane and Proctor suspended

We are now in the home stretch of the 2020 NRL regular season as teams look to force themselves into the top eight and others look to fight for the top four. The 15th round lies just around the corner and we preview each game over the course of the weekend.

Thursday 20th August

Parramatta Eels vs Melbourne Storm (10.50am)

The 15th round of the 2020 NRL season kicks off with a potential game of the round contender as second place Melbourne take on third place Parramatta. The Storm took sole control of second place last week after the Eels shock loss to the Dragons, while Melbourne took the win over a depleted Roosters side. It has been a tough couple of weeks for Brad Arthur’s men as they sneaked home to a win against Cronulla before the disappointing defeat to St. George Illawarra, so a lot more will be needed against a Melbourne side that even without the likes of Cameron Smith and Cameron Munster were able to dismantle Sydney.

Team news: The Eels remain unchanged.

Both Dale Finucane (calf) and Suliasi Vunivalu (jaw) sit out for the Storm with Sandor Earl and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui coming into the starting 13. Jahrome Hughes has been named to start despite a groin injury but Nicho Hynes could be on stand by. Jesse Bromwich’s suspension opens the door for Nelson Asofa-Solomona to jump into the starting side.

Friday 21st August

Penrith Panthers vs Cronulla Sharks (9.00am)

The Panthers secured a club record ninth win in a row following a gritty display over the Warriors last week. It was not the most complete performance from Ivan Cleary’s side but yet again they showed why they are the league leaders with the 18-12 victory. They now face a Cronulla side who have been hot and cold all year, but even still they find themselves within a slim chance of the top four as they sit only two points behind the fourth placed Roosters in seventh. In fact, only two points separate fourth from eighth.

Team news: Both teams name unchanged squads

Brisbane Broncos vs St. George Illawarra Dragons (10.55am)

It doesn’t look to be getting any better for Brisbane at the moment as despite leading 8-6 against Canberra, the Broncos found themselves in an all-too-familiar situation as more defensive woes entered the equation and in the end, they would succumb to another defeat after letting in 30 unanswered points. They now face a Dragons outfit that will be full of confidence following an inspiring win over Parramatta in what was a fitting send off for Paul McGregor in his last game in charge of the club. Their top eight hopes are all but gone, but St. George Illawarra have still been an improved side since their four-game losing streak to start the season.

Team news: Payne Haas (suspended) and Thomas Flegler (shoulder) are out for Brisbane which means Rhys Kennedy and Joe Ofahengaue form a new front-row partnership. Anthony Milford returns to the Broncos halves with Brodie Croft has been dropped while Isaac Luke starts at hooker in favour of Jake Turpin.

Jacob Host looks to be the one to fill the void left by suspended Tyrell Fuimaono while Paul Vaughan is back for the Dragons after returning from quarantine following the break of COVID-19 protocols.

Saturday 22nd August

Gold Coast Titans vs Canberra Raiders (6.00am)

Even though they lay 13th on the NRL ladder, there is no question this has been a much-improved year for Gold Coast after last year’s disastrous wooden spoon season. In recent weeks they have pushed the likes of Sydney and Cronulla while recording a thumping win over North Queensland as well. The Raiders will no doubt be weary of this and despite slicing apart Brisbane’s defences, it was still a slow start from Ricky Stuart’s side so a solid 80-minute performance will be needed. As the green machine now sit level on points with fourth placed Sydney, the men in lime green should know they now have the perfect opportunity to capitalise and enter the top four as the Roosters deal with an extensive injury list.

Team news: The Titans are boosted by the returning Anthony Don and Phillip Sami while Jai Arrow (shoulder) sits out with Jarrod Wallace coming in to start. Kevin Proctor is suspended for a biting allegation against Cronulla last week.

Hudson Young is named to start at loose forward with Ryan Sutton moving onto the interchange for Canberra.

Wests Tigers vs Sydney Roosters (8.30am)

The Roosters injury crisis has certainly taken its toll as the Tricolours need to win here just to retain their place within the top four. The loss to Melbourne allowed Canberra to close the gap on Trent Robinson’s side and now at worst the Roosters could fall to as low as sixth with a defeat to the Tigers this week. That, though, would have been unthinkable when you think back to the Sydney side that teared open their oppositions in the first few weeks after the season’s resumption. The Tigers on the other hand do have a chance to make the top eight but they need to keep the wins rolling in if they want that NRL Finals berth.

Team news: The Tigers are unchanged, but Alex Twal has a chance to make his comeback from injury.

The Roosters’ injury list got even bigger last week but this week sees the welcome returns of Brett Morris and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, while Kyle Flanagan and Drew Hutchison are the new halves partnership as Lachlan Lam (ankle) and Luke Keary (ribs) sit out.

South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Manly Sea Eagles (10.35am)

The Sea Eagles have their own injury concerns and a late loss to Newcastle last week means the Northern Beaches side are now four points behind eighth placed South Sydney in ninth, which certainly makes this an intriguing affair. If Manly want to force their way into the NRL Finals then it all begins here as they look to reduce that deficit to two against a Rabbitohs side that sneaked away with a victory against North Queensland last week. Another win here and Wayne Bennett’s men will have a firmer grasp on a place in the play-offs.

Team news: Bailey Sironen is named to start in the second-row for the Rabbitohs with Liam Knight suspended. Jack Johns is back on the bench.

Reuben Garrick shifts to full-back after Brendan Elliott suffered an ACL injury to end his season. Jorge Taufua is back on the wing while Martin Taupau is back at prop.

Sunday 23rd August

Canterbury Bulldogs vs New Zealand Warriors (5.00am)

Both teams have proven to be quite resilient in recent weeks as they continue to showcase positive improvements despite suffering defeats last week. The Bulldogs will be annoyed they could not finish the job against the Tigers, but they will know that if they can win more games than Brisbane or North Queensland in the run, then they will move out of bottom place. However, the Warriors have certainly defied plenty of odds against them this year and have even been a much better side themselves since the axing of coach Stephen Kearney, especially after giving first placed Penrith plenty of work to do.

Team news: The Bulldogs see the return of Will Hopoate at fullback while Nick Meaney moves to wing. Marcelo Montoya is out while Jake Averillo make his return after being named on the bench. Both Sione Katoa and Luke Thomspon also revert to the interchange while Dylan Napa (suspended) is out.

Eliesa Katoa is suspended for the Warriors so Isaiah Papali’I moves into the back row. Adam Pomepy moves onto the wing in replacement of Patrick Herbert.

Newcastle Knights vs North Queensland Cowboys (7.05am)

The Knights have been one of the most hot and cold teams in the competition and secured back-to-back wins for the first time since the second round of the season after beating Manly in round 14. But Newcastle now look firmly set for their first NRL Finals appearance since 2013 as they sit in sixth spot on the ladder and only a point behind fourth place. The Cowboys meanwhile have not won a game since round seven when they actually beat Newcastle on the day. They certainly had every opportunity to take a victory over South Sydney with Michael Morgan performing brilliantly, but costly errors allowed the Rabbitohs to come from 30-24 behind with five minutes to go.

Team news: Another unfortunate knee injury sees Daniel Saifiti sit out and his brother Jacob fill in at prop.

Only one change for the Cowboys as Reuben Cotter is the new face on the bench.

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