NRL Preview: Watkins dropped, Bateman rested & Panthers send-off for Maloney

Zach Holland

We head into the last week of fixtures in the 2019 NRL regular campaign.

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Sydney Roosters

The first game of the final round of the 2019 NRL regular season sees one of the sport’s greatest rivalries take place between the Rabbitohs and the Roosters. The Bunnies can still finish third if results go their way while the Chooks will finish in second place. Now, when you take in to account that both these teams could meet again in the post season, a win here could yield a big confidence boost. If the likes of Damien Cook, Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker can work their magic then Souths will have as good a chance as any but they are going to have to contend with keeping the likes of James Tedesco, Daniel Tupou, Cooper Cronk and Luke Keary at bay.

Team news: Kyle Turner [quad] remains out the Rabbitohs, with Tom Amone replacing him on the bench.

A couple of big returns for Sydney as Boyd Cordner and Cooper Cronk are back in the starting squad, while Sio Siua Taukeiaho [rib] is out.

Parramatta Eels v Manly Sea Eagles

Despite a slip up against table toppers Melbourne, the Sea Eagles still sit in fifth and have a slim chance to make the top four if the Rabbitohs lose to the Roosters. However, they have to come away with the win themselves and it is no easy task as they face sixth-placed Parramatta, who are one of the league’s surprising entities this season. The Eels suffered a heartbreaking golden point loss to Brisbane last week but have the ability to finish above Manly if they come away with a decent win here. Both teams may already be secured of a finals spot but they will undoubtedly still want to get one over their opponents as they head into the realm of the play-offs.

Team news: Marata Niukore comes in at loose forward in Parramatta’s only change to their starting line-up.

The loss of Tom Trbojevic [pectoral] is huge for Manly and they have Brendan Elliott move in at full-back. Corey Waddell comes into the starting side and Sean Keppie is set to make his NRL debut.

Melbourne Storm v North Queensland Cowboys

It is fair to say it has been a rather unforgiving year for the Cowboys, with injuries playing havoc on any chance of making the finals. However, they come into this game with some form under their belts after two straight wins over the Penrith and Canterbury and they could possibly fancy their chances here if Melbourne decide to take their foot off the pedal after already securing top spot on the ladder. The Cowboys need Jason Taumalolo and Michael Morgan to be at their influential best and if they can get the ball to the red hot Kyle Feldt then there is every hope.

Team news: Brodie Croft and Sandor Earl are promoted to the starting squad in place of Cameron Munster [shoulder] and Josh Addo-Carr [rested].

Josh McGuire is named on the bench after a three week suspension in North Queensland’s only change.

Canberra Raiders v New Zealand Warriors

The Raiders have now secured a top four finish after an impressive comeback win over the Sharks last week and showed they can play under a good amount of pressure. Even though it looks as if Canberra are going to rest key players, they will look to players like Josh Hodgson and Jack Wighton to create the opportunities.

The Warriors had a chance to make the top eight at one point but after three straight losses, they are now conceded to finish no higher than 12th place. If they want to at least finish this season strongly then they need to be much more solid in defence after conceding 115 points over the last three games.

Team news: The quartet of John Bateman, Jordan Rapana, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Sia Soliola will be rested by Canberra, with Bailey Simonsson, Hudson Young,  Sebastian Kris and Michael Oldfield all coming in to start.

The Warriors’ centres sees a reshuffle as Adam Pompey and Blake Aysford replace Peta Hiku [shoulder] and Patrick Herbert [quad]. Chanel Harris-Tavita is out with an arm injury.

Canterbury Bulldogs v Brisbane Broncos

After such a disastrous first half of the season, Canterbury did well to even have any chance of reaching the top eight. However, those hopes ended after a loss to North Queensland last week. The Bulldogs may now have nothing to play for but they will undoubtedly want to keep up their exceptional play to end their season, especially against a Brisbane side who rejuvenated themselves. The Broncos have all but secured a place in the play-offs after a dramatic victory over the Eels and a win here can give them a much needed boost when they may face either Manly or Parramatta in the first round. The combination of Payne Haas and David Fifita can continue to shine here while Keiran Foran remains Canterbury’s biggest attacking threat.

Team news: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak [knee] and Kerrod Holland [shoulder] are out for Canterbury, so Morgan Harper and Reimis Smith come into the starting 13.

The Broncos decide to go with Jake Turpin at halfback after his suspension so Sean O’Sullivan drops out.

Gold Coast Titans v St George Illawarra Dragons

If you look over the course of this season, this game does not have the appeal it could have had as both teams are succumbed to the last two spots on the ladder, with the Titans finishing with the wooden spoon. This match-up revolves around pride and who has the desire to finish their year on the front foot. It is certainly a toss up as to who will come away as the winner. There is no doubt that both sides need to be more composed up front after leaking so many points over the last few weeks so tough defence is a top priority. The battle of the forwards will be worth keeping an eye on as the Titans duo of Jarrod Wallace and Jai Arrow go toe-to-toe with Paul Vaughan and Tyson Frizell.

Team news: Mitch Rein returns from suspension at hooker for Gold Coast, while Kallum Watkins has been dropped and Tyrone Peachey takes his place at centre.

Reece Robson is the new face at number nine for the Dragons, with Cameron McInnes out [broken leg]. Blake Lawrie is bumped up to the starting side and Corey Norman returns from a groin injury.

Wests Tigers v Cronulla Sharks

The battle for eighth spot comes right down to the final round. The Tigers and the Sharks are the ones vying for that all important final place. The formula could not be any simpler, win and you are in the finals or lose and your season is done. This game could not see a better half-back battle, with the Tigers’ Luke Brooks and Benji Marshall going up against Chad Townsend and Shaun Johnson of the Sharks. If either duo can come out firing then we may just be in for a treat.

Team news: The biggest change for Wests sees both Moses Mbye [hip] and Robbie Farah [fractured leg] named in the reserves, while the in-form Josh Reynolds starts at dummy half.

Shaun Johnson and Sosaia Feki return from injury for Cronulla, with Kyle Flanagan and Matt Moylan included in the reserves.

Penrith Panthers v Newcastle Knights

It is pretty hard to believe that at the start of the season, both of these teams were seen as legitimate contenders for the top eight but after plenty of struggles on and off the field, their attempts have fallen short. So, just like the Gold Coast-St George Illawarra game, this is all down to pride and bragging rights. The Panthers will want to give Origin star James Maloney a fitting send off before he joins Super League next season, while the Newcastle backs need to keep finding a way to click.

Team news: Wayde Egan is the new face at hooker for Penrith, while Josh Mansour looks to return from a back injury and is included in the reserves.

The biggest change for Newcastle sees Lachlan Fitzgibbon make his way back into the second-row.

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