NRL preview: The race to avoid the wooden spoon, Canberra and Melbourne rest star talent and Tuivasa Sheck sits out

The last round of the 2020 NRL regular season takes place this weekend and even though all the NRL Finals spots have been filled there remains plenty to fight for with the exact order of the top eight yet to be confirmed and also who is set to take home the wooden spoon.

Thursday 24th September

Brisbane Broncos vs North Queensland Cowboys (10.50am)

The final round of the season kicks off with a bottom of the table clash between Queensland rivals Brisbane and North Queensland. It is hard to imagine that it was only five years ago that both these sides contested one of the greatest Grand Finals ever but how times have changed with them now facing the distinct possibility of finishing at the bottom. It is simple enough for both sides – they need to win in a bid to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon. That should be more than enough motivation so expect this to be an exciting affair.

Team news: The Broncos look to be down on halves with Tyson Gamble now out alongside Brodie Croft, Sean O’Sullivan and Anthony Milford, so young superstar Kotoni Staggs moves to stand off. Payne Haas is back in the front row.

Jason Taumalolo is back again at lock while Josh McGuire returns from suspension in the Cowboys front row.

Friday 25th September

Gold Coast Titans vs Newcastle Knights (9.00am)

If there was an award for most improved side this year then it would be hard to look any further then Gold Coast who are seeing out the year strongly after four straight wins and now positioned at ninth spot on the ladder. There will no doubt be plenty of hype surrounding this team next year especially with players such as David Fifita and Tino Faasuamaleaui joining the ranks. They now look to end their season on a further high as they face Finals side Newcastle who still have a home tie to play for.

Team news: The Titans welcome back Brian Kelly at centre while Corey Thompson drops out.

The Knights backline is given a boost with both Edrick Lee and Bradman Best named to return. Kurt Mann is back at hooker and Sione Mata’utia is selected to start with Lachlan Fitzgibbon out.

South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Sydney Roosters (10.55am)

The last matchup on Friday gives us one of the fiercest rivalries in the sports history as the Rabbitohs and Roosters do battle. Both teams are set for NRL Finals action but will be facing different permutations come the first round as South Sydney face the prospect of a sudden death playoff situation while the Tricolours already have a top four spot secured as well as a double chance, meaning they get a second attempt if they lose in the first round of the post-season.

Team news: Dane Gagai (suspension) is back at centre for Souths while Jed Cartwright has been selected in place of Jaydn Su’A (suspension).

The Roosters quartet of James Tedesco, Boy Cordner, Siosiua Taukeiaho and Jake Friend all make their return while Lindsay Collins, Joey Manu and Issac Liu are all rested.

Saturday 26th September

Canterbury Bulldogs vs Penrith Panthers (6.00am)

Well you have to hand it to the Canterbury, just when it looked as if they were going to succumb to the wooden spoon, they go turn in an inspirational win over the Rabbitohs. However, with one game still to go there still every chance that falling back to last place could happen especially since they face the Minor Premiership winners Penrith come Saturday. The Bulldogs sit level on points with Brisbane and have points difference in their favour but with the added motivation following their win over South Sydney it would still not be surprise to see them come out firing in this one.

Team news: Tim Lafai is suspended for the Bulldogs with either Kerrod Holland or Tui Katoa expected to fill the void.

The Panthers decide to rest Dylan Edwards, Stephen Crichton and Viliame Kikau with the Finals just round the corner so Daine Laurie, Tyrone May and Kurt Capewell fill the voids. Api Koroisau is back at hooker.

Cronulla Sharks vs Canberra Raiders (8.30am)

The Sharks may be on their way to the Finals, but they will be without star man Shaun Johnson, who faces an extended amount of the time of the sidelines after rupturing his achilles tendon. Now with that Cronulla will no doubt be thinking about their halves situation and what will be the best pairing as Connor Tracey, Braydon Trindall, a returning Chad Townsned and even Wade Graham all options come the post-season. The Raiders meanwhile need a win here to stand any chance of making the top four but given the fact they seem to be resting a great number of players they maybe already looking towards the post season.

Team news: Wade Graham is named at five-eighth alongside Connor Tracey at halfback for Cronulla and Nene Macdonald is in for Sione Katoa on the wing.

A large amount of changes for Canberra with John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Jack Wighton, George Williams, Josh Papalii, Joe Tapine, Jarrod Croker and Jordan Rapana all rested. Adam Cook, Sam Williams, Harley Smith-Shields, Matt Timoko, Matt Frawley and debutants Darby Medlyn and Jarrett Subloo all set to come into the matchday side.

Wests Tigers vs Parramatta Eels (10.35am)

The Tigers had no answer for Melbourne’s heavyweight attack last week after conceding nine tries in a 50-22 loss. There have been plenty of injury issues for the Tigers this year which has led to another disappointing season without a place in the Finals. The question now is can they finish on a high with a win over 4th placed Parramatta.

The Eels have certainly been hot and cold as of late but looked much more comfortable with a win over Brisbane last week to keep themselves settled in 4th. However, there will still be question marks as to whether Brad Arthur’s side can still make a decent run throughout the post-season with their out of sorts attack still looking to rediscover the form we saw at the start of the season.

Team news: Luke Brooks is back at halfback for the Tigers while Tommy Talau is in at centre for Joey Leilua. Alex Twal also returns at loose forward.

The Eels bring back Shaun Lane and Junior Paulo into the starting 13.

Sunday 27th September

New Zealand Warriors vs Manly Sea Eagles (5.00am)

Both sides unfortunately have nothing to play for here other than who finishes higher on the NRL ladder at the end of the season. The Sea Eagles have been another team whose year has been hampered by unfortunate injuries to key players whereas the tough and determined Warriors have overcome plenty to sit at 11th place on the ladder. The best now either side can hope for is a 10th place finish as they sit level on 14 points alongside the Tigers.

Team news: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (hamstring) sits out for the Warriors with Peta Hiku moving to fullback. Patrick Herbert is back on the wing and Eliesa Katoa returns is back in the second row.

Manly star Tom Trbojevic (shoulder) is back on the sidelines so Tevita Funa is the new face at fullback. Reuben Garrick marks his return from injury on the wing alongside Abbas Miki on the opposite flank. Jack Gosiewski is out so Corey Waddell is named to start in the second row.

St. George Illawarra Dragons vs Melbourne Storm (7.00am)

It has been another year of ups and down for the Dragons and they come into this one following a disappointing defeat to Newcastle. The Storm meanwhile have won their last four and are heading into the Finals with another outstanding year under their belt. They have put up just over 100 points in their last three games and even though they maybe resting star talent here there will still be plenty more needed by St. George Illawarra if they want to end their season strongly.

Team news: Debutant Jayden Sullivan and Adam Clune are the new halves pairing for the Dragons as Corey Norman drops out and Ben Hunt is suspended. Eddlie Blacker also looks to be handed a debut after being named on the bench while Jacob Host and Blake Lawrie are both selected to start.

Mass changes for Melbourne as several star players are rested with Cameron Smith, Cameron Munster, Suliasi Vunivalu, Josh Addo-Carr, Jahrome Hughes, the Bromwich brothers all sitting out. Ryan Papenhuyzen is back at fullback though while Sandor Earl, Isaac Lumelume, Ricky Leutele, Paul Momirovski, Ryley Jacks and Cooper Johns just some of the new faces in a completely reshuffled Storm side.

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