NRL preview: Thompson returns, Papenhuyzen starts and Radley given three-game ban

As the NRL regular season nearly comes to an end we preview every game over the course of round 23.

Gold Coast Titans vs Melbourne Storm (Thursday, 10.50am, Watch NRL)

Ryan Papenhuyzen is back starting at fullback for Melbourne

An interesting battle to start the round sees Melbourne looking to secure a staggering 18th win in a row. The Storm have shown no signs of slowing down and have the Minor Premiership right there in their sights so they will present an extremely tough task for Gold Coast. The Titans are looking to secure one of the final play-off spots as they sit 8th and level on points with Canberra.

Team news: Titans fullback AJ Brimson (fractured jaw) sits out with Jayden Campbell taking his place in the number one role. Jamal Fogarty takes back over halfback role from Toby Sexton while Erin Clark is the new man at hooker.

Ryan Papenhuyzen is back at starting fullback for Melbourne after coming off the bench in his first four games back from injury. Nicho Hynes now moves to scrum-half with Jahrome Hughes rested while Chris Lewis fills in for Dale Finucane (head knock) at lock. Harry Grant also starts at hooker with Brandon Smith also rested.

Canberra Raiders vs Manly Sea Eagles (Friday, 9.00am, Sky Sports Arena and Watch NRL)

A loss to Melbourne hampered Canberra’s hunt for an NRL Finals place but even so they are still well within the mix but they will need a big win here to keep pressure on the Titans in the hunt for 8th spot. The Sea Eagles destroyed Parramatta last week to leapfrog the Eels into 5th place and now with only three games remaining they still have a chance to make the top four. The last time these two teams met though Canberra came away with a shock 30-16 win in round 17 and they will need a similar kind of performance here if they want to see off a Tom Trbojevic inspired Manly.

Team news: Two huge blows for Canberra see Tom Starling (broken jaw) and Jarrod Croker (head knock) both miss out with Sebastian Kris filling in at centre and Matt Frawley joining the bench. Corey Harawira-Naera has been suspended for three weeks for his late challenge on Jahrome Hughes while Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (neck) is set to make his comeback off the interchange.

Tom Trbojevic has been named for Manly despite a cheekbone injury suffered last week. Moses Suli comes in for Brad Parker (head knock).

Penrith Panthers vs South Sydney Rabbitohs (Friday, 11.05am, Sky Sport Arena and Watch NRL)

The last game of Friday’s double header is undoubtedly the match of the round as two of the hottest teams in the league go head to head. A winner here will see a side claim sole spot of second place whilst also keeping themselves in the race for the minor premiership. The Rabbitohs remain one of the most in form teams in the league and with the likes of Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell firing on all cylinders they will be aiming for a 11th straight win. Meanwhile, the Panthers are finding their groove once again with superstar Nathan Cleary back in the mix after returning from injury.

Team news: Api Koroisau returns from at hooker for Penrith while Kurt Capewell is also back from suspension and has been named on the bench.

The Rabbitohs welcome back Dane Gagai (Hamstring), Campbell Graham (head knock) and Alex Johnston (hamstring) are all back in the starting side.

Wests Tigers vs Cronulla Sharks (Saturday, 6.00am, Watch NRL)

The Sharks’ play-off chances are hanging by a thread as a narrow loss to Newcastle last week saw them drop to 10th and two points outside the top eight. The Tigers also have a slim chance to make the NRL Finals themselves as they sit level on points with Cronulla so a loss for either team here will seemingly end any hope of going beyond the regular season.

Team news: The Tigers lose Jacob Liddle and Thomas Mikaele to suspension, so James Tamou is back at prop while Jake Simpkin is the new face at hooker.

Mawene Hiroti returns from a hand injury at centre for Cronulla while Aiden Tolman (suspended) and Andrew Fifita (throat) are both out.

Canterbury Bulldogs vs Newcastle Knights (Saturday, 8.30am, Watch NRL)

Luke Thompson in action for Canterbury Bulldogs

After coming away with a tough win against Cronulla last week, Newcastle are now firmly situated in the top eight as they took sole possession of 7th place. However, there will be no room for complacency as they look to extend their three-game win streak to four and cement their place in the Finals. They have every chance to do that here when they took on last placed Canterbury, who will be looking to end the season on a positive note and then set their eyes on next season as they see plenty of new talent enter the fray.

Team news: Kyle Flanagan is back at halfback for Canterbury while Jake Averillo and Nick Meaney have been named despite injury issues. Luke Thompson and Corey Waddell are both back in the starting side at prop and second row retrospectively.

Daniel Saifiti (MCL) is expected to miss a few weeks, so David Klemmer starts at prop for Newcastle and Tyson Frizell’s one-game suspension means Brodie Jones fills in at second row.

Parramatta Eels vs North Queensland Cowboys (Saturday, 10.35am, Sky Sports Mix and Watch NRL)

Only a few weeks ago Parramatta looked set for a top four finish but after a four-game losing streak they now find themselves in 6th place and their title hopes in pieces if they do not find a way to stop the bleeding. The Cowboys have lost their last nine straight so do not have anything to lose as they remain out of the race for the play-offs so the Eels will need to regain their earlier season form that saw them become a permanent fixture in the top four for most of the season.

Team news: Ryan Matterson has been handed a three-match ban for a high tackle on Manly’s Brad Parker last week, so Marata Niukore starts in the second row for the Eels. Tom Opacic and Michael Oldfield have both been dropped with Will Penisini and Haze Dunster starting in their places.

North Queensland duo Coen Hess (head knock) and Kyle Feldt (jaw) have both been named despite some injury doubts. Jason Taumalolo (hand) is on the extended bench and is a chance to feature while Griffin Neame has been given a one-game ban.

St. George Illawarra Dragons vs Sydney Roosters (Sunday, 5.00am, Watch NRL)

The Dragons are another team whose Finals hopes are starting to get smaller as a loss to Penrith last week saw them drop to 11th and level on points with the Sharks, the Warriors and the Tigers. They now take on Sydney side that is slightly depleted due to suspensions so have an opportunity to find their mojo once again. However, the Roosters have battled hard with injuries and suspensions all year and with that are now in 4th place and will be looking to solidify that position here.

Team news: Andrew McCullough (ankle) is out for the season, so Josh McGuire fills the void at dummy half. Jack De Belin moves to prop, and Tariq Sims returns from suspension to start at lock. Kaide Ellis takes over Blake Lawrie (hand) at prop while Corey Norman and Talatau Amone are the new halves pairing.

Just a couple of changes for Sydney with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves back at prop and Isaac Liu taking over Victor Radley (suspended) at loose forward.

Brisbane Broncos vs New Zealand Warriors (Sunday, 7.05am, Watch NRL)

Somehow the Warriors are now in hunt for a top eight finish as they sit two points adrift of a place in the NRL Finals. Also, with their last games against Canberra and Gold Coast there is every conceivable chance they could find a way to sneak in. The Broncos may be 15th but they have looked quite strong towards the end of the season and certainly have plenty of positives to take in to the 2022 season.

Team news: Anthony Milford takes over Tyson Gamble at five-eighth for Brisbane and Albert Kelly takes up the halfback role. Herbie Farnworth is back at centre after missing last week’s game and Danny Levi (head knock) will have to pass concussion protocols.

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak is back on the wing for the Warriors and makes 150th NRL appearance. Both Jamayne Taunoa-Brown and Bayley Sironen return to the starting line-up at prop and loose forward.

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