There are only five games of the NRL season to go and the pressure is building as clubs aim to make the top eight.
North Queensland Cowboys v Brisbane Broncos
In the first game of round 21, we see a Queensland clash between the Cowboys and the Broncos in a race for a top eight spot. The Broncos sit in 10th place with 19 points and they are only one point behind three teams who are level in eighth. A win here will keep them right in the hunt. The Cowboys cannot afford anything other than win here though as they stand in 13th place with 16 points and a loss here leaves their top eight hopes dangling by a thread. The difference in this game could be between both sets of young players.
Team news: Gideon Gela-Mosby is selected on the wing for the Cowboys in the only notable change for Paul Green’s men.
Matt Gillett still remains out with a lower back injury but both Tevita Pangai Jr and Joe Ofahengaue are back in the starting side.
New Zealand Warriors v Manly Sea Eagles
The Sea Eagles are one of the league’s most in-form teams after winning their last three and now they see themselves in fifth place on 26 points and they are within touching distance of the top four. The Warriors are only three points behind in eighth place and they can keep themselves in the hunt with an upset win here.
However, if there was ever a time to play Stephen Kearney’s men then it would be now as they have lost their last six games at Mt Smart Stadium and Manly have all the firepower necessary to make it seven in a row. After a fine performance in a losing effort last week, Chanel Harris-Tavita will be the one to watch for the Warriors while Manly will look to feed Tom Trbojevic coming in from the back while Daly Cherry-Evans runs the show at half-back.
Team news: There is no Kodi Nikorima for the Warriors so Chanel Harris-Tavita takes his place.
Manly coach Des Hasler names the same 17-man squad from last week.
Penrith Panthers v Cronulla Sharks
Here is a match with plenty at stake as both teams stand level on 20 points and are both fighting it out for eighth place.
The Sharks will have plenty of confidence coming into this game after they were able to end a disappointing losing streak with an inspired win over South Sydney whereas the Panthers will need to shake off back-to-back defeats to both Canberra and Canterbury. The battle between the teams’ packs remain the key match-up here with Cronulla’s Andrew Fifita, Wade Graham, Briton Nikora and Paul Gallen going up against Penrith’s James Fisher-Harris, Liam Martin, Jason Tamou and Isaah Yeo.
If the forwards for both teams can set the precedent for the game then it will open the game up for the likes of Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend to break Penrith’s line or Nathan Cleary to run the Panthers offensively.
Team news: A big loss for Penrith sees James Maloney [suspension] out after failing his attempt to appeal a tripping charge. Viliame Kikau is back from his own suspension.
Matt Moylan (concussion) is out for Cronulla, so soon-to-be Castleford man Sosaia Feki starts on the wing.
St George Illawarra Dragons v Gold Coast Titans
Well, you can chalk this season down as one of disappointment for the Dragons who have not been able to find a measure of consistency all season, with injuries to key players at different points in the season having a lasting effect. A recent bright spot for St George Illawarra though seems to be the inclusion of young sensation Jason Saab who has two tries in his first two appearances in the NRL and the 18-year-old could be the impact player they desperately need here.
The wooden spoon is now more than a big possibility for Gold Coast as they sit at the foot of the ladder four points adrift of Canterbury and a loss here will all but seal their fate as this season’s bottom-placed team. There might not be much to play for here in terms of an NRL finals spot but it will be a chance for both sides to finish the season strong and build confidence going into 2020.
Team news: Patrick Kaufusi is the new face in the back-row for the Dragons, while Jackson Ford will make his NRL debut off the bench.
Gold Coast’s Jai Arrow makes his return after being named at loose forward and Jesse Arthars comes onto the wing.
Parramatta Eels v Newcastle Knights
After an important win over St George Illawarra last week, the Eels have all but secured at least an eighth place finish as they are now four points off seventh. This no excuse to take their foot off the gas just yet though as they are still within touching distance of the top four and could make a solid push for it with a win here.
There was a point in the season where the Knights looked to be genuine top four contenders before some hot and cold form has seen them drop further down the table as they now sit 11th with 18 points. With only five games left to go, Newcastle need to kick on and discover the form that we saw earlier on in the season. They can take comfort in the fact that they have won 11 of their last 13 games against the Eels but Parramata’s strong record at Bankwest Stadium speaks for itself.
Team news: No issues for either team as they both name unchanged squads.
Canterbury Bulldogs v Wests Tigers
The Bulldogs showed once again that they can be a troublesome team to those above them in the ladder as they came away with an upset over Penrith last week and now with a top eight spot all but out of the question, Canterbury can look to finish the season strong and give their some fans something to cheer about with a win against the Tigers. The wooden spoon is still not out of the question and they need valuable contributions across all fronts to secure a vital win this week.
The Tigers are level on points with both Cronulla and Penrith who are holding onto eighth place and will no doubt be on a high after winning their last two. Their approach to the game in those wins was high octane and coach Michael Maguire will expect more of the same.
Team news: Adam Elliott (finger) is out for Canterbury, with his spot being taken by Chris Smith.
The Tigers are unchanged following their big win over the Cowboys last week.
Canberra Raiders v Sydney Roosters
The first game of a Sunday’s blockbuster double header sees the biggest match of the round as two of the league’s most in-form teams go head-to-head in a match-up that certainly has its ramifications on the top four race. The Roosters stand in second and the Raiders third but both teams sit level on 28 points and are only separated by points difference.
The Raiders failed in their first go at the Roosters earlier in the season but now look a much more improved team than last time and have all the ability to push the free-flowing Chooks all the way. The key battle will be between Canberra’s superior defence and Sydney’s attacking onslaught could go a long way in deciding who comes away with the spoils.
Team news: The return of both Nick Cotric and Ryan Sutton provide huge boosts for Canberra.
The Roosters have Jared Waerea-Hargreaves back from suspension in their only change.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Melbourne Storm
The round ends with another epic clash as Souths take on Melbourne in what promises to be a fiery affair. After getting six tries put past them last week, the Rabbitohs will need to bounce back quickly if they want to keep within the top four race. The Storm do not look to be slowing down anytime soon, despite holding a six-point lead at the top of the table.
The half-back pairing of Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker need rediscover some form, with Reynolds’ kicking ability and Walker’s instinct going a long way in breaking down the dominant Melbourne pack. The Storm just need to keep doing what they are doing as they lead the NRL in plenty of statistical categories and will no doubt be the favourites here.
Team news: Sam Burgess is eligible to play after having his tackle on Cronulla’s Matt Moylan downgraded.
Christian Welch’s season ending knee injury means Tui Kamikamica is the new face on the bench for Melbourne.
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