NRL preview: Thompson in action for Bulldogs, Sonny Bill to make Roosters return & Kikau boosts Panthers

There are only four rounds left of the regular NRL campaign before the finals series gets underway.

Thursday, September 3

Brisbane Broncos v Penrith Panthers (10:55am)

The beginning of the post Anthony Seibold era did not get any easier for Brisbane as after being on the end of heavy defeat to Sydney last week, they now have to contend with first placed Penrith in the first game of round 17. Despite a torrid year, there have been some bright sparks with Kotoni Staggs and Payne Haas continuing to develop themselves as bonafide superstars in the making but if they want to come cause a huge upset here then the defence needs to improve massively as they have conceded the most points any side this season.

Team news: The trio of Payne Haas, Corey Oates and Issac Luke all return for Brisbane. Herbie Farnworth moves back to centre and Joe Ofahengaue (suspended) is out.

A huge boost for Penrith as Viliame Kikau returns from suspension while Kurt Capewell makes his comeback from a knee injury.

Friday, September 4

Newcastle Knights v Cronulla Sharks (9am)

The Knights look pretty much set for a finals place despite their worst of the year last week to the Warriors. However, they sit in seventh spot with four games remaining and are five points adrift of ninth so they cannot afford to get anymore complacent if they want to lock their play-off berth. The Sharks, meanwhile, had lost their last two before beating North Queensland last week. A new halves pairing of Connor Tracey and Braydon Trindall worked brilliantly for John Morris’ side as they solidified their own play-off place. Both clubs also have injury issues as Newcastle deal with the loss of Blake Green and Cronulla have had to cope without Shaun Johnson and Matt Moylan.

Team news: A couple of changes for Newcastle sees Phoenix Crossland and Brodie Jones replace Chris Randall and Pasami Saulo on the bench.

Connor Tracey reverts to the bench as Chad Townsend is back in at half-back for Cronulla.

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Melbourne Storm (10:55am)

What a thriller this could turn out to be as the Rabbitohs come into this battle as one of the most in form sides in the league after going on a great run over the last two months. Their last two outings have seen them completely dismantle both Manly and Parramatta to push themselves up into the top six. The Bunnies’ red hot form has stemmed from the influence and skill of the likes of Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds who have all started to form a great connection. On the other side, we have the Storm who welcomed back some of the big stars last week as they brushed aside Manly with ease themselves.

Team news: With Latrell Mitchell out for the rest of the year due to a hamstring injury, Alex Johnston moves to full-back and Dane Gagai is back from his own injury at centre for South Sydney.

Nelson Asofa-Solomona (calf) and Marion Seve (knee, season) are both out for Melbourne while Brenko Lee is selected at centre and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui moves to lock.

Saturday, September 5

Canterbury Bulldogs v Gold Coast Titans (6am)

Once again the Bulldogs found themselves in a very winnable situation against Canberra last week but in an all too familiar sight a poor second half display capped with defensive woes allowed the Raiders to come from behind to take the win and further cement Canterbury’s wooden spoon status. It is not often that Gold Coast are seen as favourites coming into a game but that is exactly what they find themselves as here. After a win over the Dragons last week, the Titans still sit 13th on the ladder but they can still finish in 10th place as they are only two points behind Manly, Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra.

Team news: Both Luke Thompson and Jake Averillo are back on the bench for Canterbury.

Jai Whitbread moves into the reserves as Moeiaki Fotuaika returns from suspension on the bench for Gold Coast. Jai Arrow could make his return from a shoulder injury after being included in the reserves.

Manly Sea Eagles v Wests Tigers (8:30am)

This is a battle of the finals outsiders as Manly take on the Tigers at Lottoland. It has been a season of injury woes for Des Hasler and his Sea Eagles side as they have struggled without some of star talent with the likes of Tom Trbojevic and Dylan Walker both seeing time on the sidelines. The Tigers have gone completely off the boil as coach Michael Maguire continues to look for a consistent 17 by changing his line-up sporadically. A place in the NRL finals yields a very slim chance and it may just be a case of finishing the season strongly for both sides.

Team news: Abbas Miski slots in on the wing and Jack Gosiewski starts in the second-row as Reuben Garrick (shoulder) and Joel Thompson (ankle) sit out.

A backline re-shuffle for the Tigers sees Moses Mbye move to full-back with Adam Douehi shifting to centre. Tommy Talau drops to the reserves, with AJ Kepaoa starting on the wing.

Canberra Raiders vs Sydney Roosters (10:35am)

The calculations for this blockbuster match up could not be simpler, whoever wins takes sole possession of fourth place on the ladder. The Roosters were hampered by injuries in the middle part of the season but in recent weeks Trent Robinson’s side have seen players such as Brett Morris, Boyd Cordner and Daniel Tupou return from injury and in turn provide the Roosters with a huge boost that has seen them look like the side that was dismantling competition earlier on in the season. The Raiders have had injury problems themselves but have shown great determination to fight through it find themselves level on points with Sydney in fourth. The last time these two sides met, Canberra came away with the win and if they do it again it will be first time they have beaten the Roosters twice in season since 1990.

Team news: Dunamis Lui and Tom Starling revert to the Canberra bench as Josh Papalii and Siliva Havili move from the interchange to the starting 13. Matt Timoko moves to the reserves as Corey Harawira-Naera moves back onto the bench.

Sonny Bill Williams is set to make his stunning return to the NRL as he has been included on the Roosters bench while Luke Keary is back from a rib injury at stand-off.

Sunday, September 6

New Zealand Warriors v Parramatta Eels (7:05am)

Even with all the obstacles and difficulties thrown their way the Warriors continue to show plenty of fight and determination and now they sit just outside NRL finals places in ninth. However, they do sit four points behind the Sharks in eighth so there is only a very small chance they could make it into the play-offs. But even still, it’s been a rollercoaster year for the Warriors and their confidence will be high following a comprehensive win over Newcastle last week. They now face a Parramatta side that was on the end of shutout loss to the Rabbitohs last week so they certainly need to regather some of that momentum we saw from earlier on in the season and establish themselves as true premiership contender again.

Team news: Eliesa Katoa (hand) is out while Jack Murchie starts in the back-row and Gerard Beale takes his spot on the wing.

Dylan Brown (ankle) sits out for Parramatta as Jai Field is back in the halves at number six.

North Queensland Cowboys v St George Illawarra Dragons (9:30am)

After losing to Cronulla last week, North Queensland now come into this match up without a win in nine games and if they cannot come up with a win here it will see the Cowboys get closer to equalling their club record losing streak of 13 and the only way to avoid it is to win at least one of their four remaining games. This will be tough though as even though the Dragons lost to Gold Coast last week, there has still been a good deal of improvement from an attacking standpoint this season.

Team news: Michael Morgan (calf) is out for North Queensland so Jake Clifford is back at half-back while Scott Drinkwater moves to five-eighth. Valentine Holmes moves onto the wing as Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow returns to the wing. Esan Marsters is also back in the side at centre.

Trent Merrin drops out as Tyrell Fuimaono is back from suspension for the Dragons.

Watch NRL and live stream every NRL game to keep up with how Tom Burgess, John Bateman, Ryan Sutton, Elliott Whitehead, Luke Thompson and George Williams and all the others are getting on Down Under.

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