NRL preview: Thompson to start, Melbourne without Papenhuyzen & Gagai back in action

There are only three rounds remaining of the regular NRL campaign.

Thursday, September 10

Wests Tigers v South Sydney Rabbitohs (10:50am)

The Tigers managed to pull a proverbial rabbit out of their hat last week, as Michael Maguire’s men staged a remarkable comeback to score three tries within the last ten minutes to seal an unlikely victory over Manly and keep their slim play-off hopes alive. After the loss to Melbourne last week, a place in the top four maybe a step too far now for the Rabbitohs but a win here would go a long way in them sealing a home tie in the first week of the NRL Finals.

Team news: The Tigers remain unchanged.

Dane Gagai returns for the Rabbitohs on the wing while Liam Knight is named to start at prop with Tevita Tatola out.

Friday, September 11

Canterbury Bulldogs v Manly Sea Eagles (9am)

The wooden spoon is starting to look inevitable for the Bulldogs right now but they still have a chance to be able to pass that mantle to Brisbane if they can come away with a win against a Manly side that have fallen completely out of finals calculations. Both sides remain without a win in their last six games but while Canterbury have shown plenty of fight, the Sea Eagles have endured heavy losses in that time span. The Bulldogs still need to be better offensively as they have scored the second least amount of points this season whereas Manly need to be much better defensively. This could be quite the arm wrestle.

Team news: Another backline re-shuffle for Canterbury as the trio of Kerrod Holland, Marcelo Montoya and the injured Kieran Foran all sit out. The Bulldogs recall Reimis Smith and Jayden Okunbor to the wings while Jake Averillo takes his spot at stand-off. Luke Thompson is selected to start at loose forward yet again, with Aidan Tolman moving to prop due Dylan Napa’s knee injury.

Both Jorge Taufua (achilles) and Josh Schuster (ankle) are out for the rest of the year, so Abbas Miski takes a spot on the wing while Cade Cust is back at five-eighth for Manly.

Penrith Panthers v Parramatta Eels (10:55am)

The last game on Friday sees a huge battle between two teams sat firmly towards the top of the table. The Panthers took a brave effort from Brisbane to secure their 15th win of the year last week as their quest to seal the Minor Premiership gets closer. After an impressive win over an in-form Warriors side last week, Parramatta got themselves back on track in their pursuit to be title contenders. The Eels have been hot and cold as of late but a victory here could give us a better look as to where they stand come the finals. The Panthers’ last loss came in round five against the Eels so revenge will definitely be on the cards here for Ivan Cleary’s side.

Team news: James Fisher-Harris moves to prop with Isaah Yeo returning from a head knock to be named at lock.

Despite a shoulder injury, Reed Mahoney is named to start for Parramatta.

Saturday, September 12

St George Illawarra Dragons v Canberra Raiders (6am)

A heartbreaking loss to the Cowboys last week saw St George Illawarra’s play-off hopes finally diminished but they now have the chance to make life difficult for a selection of title contenders as their last three games see them face Canberra, Newcastle and Melbourne to round out their season. Firstly, they come up against the Raiders and have a great opportunity to impress new incoming coach Anthony Griffin. The Raiders missed out on the opportunity to take fourth place after a loss to the Roosters so they cannot afford to drop another two points if they still wish to take a top four spot.

Team news: Paul Vaughan (suspension) is back for the Dragons at prop and Cody Ramsey makes his NRL debut on the wing.

Canberra name the same 17-man squad as last week.

Gold Coast Titans v Brisbane Broncos (8:30am)

Once again, the Titans find themselves in the unlikely situation of being considered favourites in a game and this time against fellow Queensland side Brisbane. For the first time this year, Gold Coast are on the back of two straight victories and now sit six points clear of their state counterparts in 13th. The Broncos are now on an eight-match losing streak and have failed to record a win since beating Canterbury 26-8 in round nine while holding the worse defensive record in the league.

Team news: Beau Fermor moves to centre with Brian Kelly (ankle) out injured for the Titans while Moeaki Fotuaika is named to start as Jaimin Jollife sits out. Keegan Hipgrave is back in the second-row and Jai Arrow is on the bench as he continues to make his comeback from a shoulder problem.

Ben Te’o drops to the bench as skipper Alex Glenn is back in the fold for the Broncos. Both Xavier Coates and Joe Ofahengaue are named on the interchange.

Sydney Roosters v Newcastle Knights (10:35am)

After a mid-season injury scare, the Roosters have seen most of their star troops return to their line-up and now they look more like the team that we have become to expect over the last couple of seasons. The Knights were undoubtedly impressive as they bolstered their finals credentials with a win over Cronulla but now this stiffer test awaits as it will be a clash that will go a long way in confirming whether Newcastle can actually produce a decent run in the play-offs.

Team news: The only change for the Roosters sees Jake Friend back at dummy half as Freddy Lussick drops to the reserves. Sonny Bill Williams is again named on the bench.

The Knights have decided to rest the trio of Kalyn Ponga, Hymel Hunt and Mitch Barnett so Tex Hoy comes in at full-back, Edrick Lee returns from injury on the wing and Herman Ese’ese is selected to play at loose forward. Daniel Saifiti also looks to make his return from injury after being named on the bench.

Sunday, September 13

Melbourne Storm v North Queensland Cowboys (7:05am)

With only three games remaining, Storm’s chances of catching Penrith at the top of the table continue to diminish but once again, it has been another fine season from one of the league’s hottest teams over the last 15 years. Their run in of the Cowboys, Wests Tigers and the Broncos should not pose too many threats, but they will know now is not a time to take a step back. They first face North Queensland who will be high on morale and confidence after snapping a nine-game losing streak in a golden point thriller against St George Illawarra last week but if they want to take a victory here then a lot more will be expected of their defence.

Team news: Ryan Papenhuyzen’s achilles injury means Nicho Hynes is listed to start at full-back for Melbourne while Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Suliasi Vunivalu both make their returns from injury.

The Cowboys name an unchanged side.

Cronulla Sharks v New Zealand Warriors (9:30am)

After a 38-10 defeat to the Knights last week, Cronulla now sit in eighth, four points ahead of  both the Tigers and the Warriors in joint ninth so there cannot be another slip up here if they want find themselves within the finals come the end of the regular season. This will be no walkover though as they face a Warriors side that has performed way better than anyone expected to this year and a win here will see them go within two points of an unexpected play-off place.

Team news: Shaun Johnson has been named to start for Cronulla as he looks to make his return from groin and hamstring issues. The suspended Chad Townsend is out so Connor Tracey partners Johnson in the Sharks halves. Sione Katoa is back on the wing while Siosifa Talakai is in the starting side as Wade Graham (suspension) sits out.

Parramatta loanees Daniel Alvaro and George Jennings both make their way back into the Warriors’ 17-man squad after being unable to play against the Eels last week.

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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