NRL Preview: Watkins set for NRL debut, Widdop returns & Maumalo is back

Zach Holland

We now enter round 19 of the 2019 NRL season and there remains plenty to play for as teams battle it out to secure a place inside the top eight.

Cronulla Sharks v North Queensland Cowboys

The round kicks off between with an interesting match-up between two teams fighting amongst the bottom half of the table for a spot in the NRL finals. It was not long ago that Cronulla were on plenty of lips as a dark horse this year but they have been their own worst enemy recently, succumbing to a run of defeats that sees them drop out of the top eight all together and into 11th. The Cowboys have felt the brunt of injuries this season and have been hot and cold all year. The Sharks are going to need their star players to kick into gear and find the chemistry that made them ones to watch in the first place, while the Cowboys have plenty of big bodies through the middle of the pitch to really take it to their opponents.

Team news: Braden Hamlin-Uele starts in place of Andrew Fifta (suspended), while Josh Dugan goes to full-back and Josh Morris comes in at centre. Matt Moylan (hamstring) remains out.

Paul Green names the same Cowboys squad as last week, with Michael Morgan still missing due to injury.

Newcastle Knights v Wests Tigers

The Knights have had a peculiar season, with a torrid start followed by a great run of form that placed them within the top four. However, a few losses over the Origin period have now succumbed them to eighth place and two points behind the Panthers in seventh. The Tigers have had their consistency issues as well but Michael Maguire’s men still remain in the hunt for a top eight spot, sitting in 12th – level on points with the Sharks and the Cowboys. The talented Newcastle backline should be on full show here with Kalyn Ponga, Mitchell Pearce and Jesse Ramien all looking to steer their side back in the right direction whereas the Tigers need to find be more efficient and take their chances much more than they did last week.

Team news: No injury worries for the Knights who remain unchanged.

A couple of key changes for the Tigers sees Corey Thompson (ankle) return to full-back and Oliver Clark named at prop, with Alex Twal dropping to the bench.

South Sydney Rabbitohs v St George Illawarra Dragons

A convincing win over North Queensland last week ensured that the Bunnies are back to winning ways after ending their losing streak the previous week with a narrow one-point win over Manly. After being dismantled by an in-form Panthers team last week, the Dragons have now lost their last four with not much hope of climbing back into the top eight discussion as they sit four points away from eighth in 14th. The return of Gareth Widdop at stand-off certainly provides a huge boost but in his first game back, there will be a lot of work to do against a Rabbitohs side that look to be finding their form that we saw earlier in the season.

Team news: The Bunnies take luxury with the same squad as last week and will have both Sam and Tom Burgess on the reserves as they battle their way back from injury.

The biggest news for the Dragons comes with the return of Widdop (shoulder) at stand-off, while exciting youngster Jason Saab makes his debut.

Parramatta Eels v New Zealand Warriors

The Eels took it to Manly last week but in the end they would fall to a 36-24 defeat, losing ground on their Northern Beaches rivals in the race for the top four. Despite plenty of defensive woes this season, the Warriors are still right there in the race for a spot in the finals as they remain ninth with 17 points and level with Brisbane. The key here will have to be building a steady defensive foundation for either team and allowing their catalysts to create the opportunities, with the Warriors looking to Blake Green and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Parramatta expecting Clint Gutherson and Mitchell Moses to run the show.

Team news: The Eels will debut new signing Waqa Blake while Blake Ferguson misses out with a knee infection.

Despite injury worries, Kodi Nikorima has been named at half-back for the Warriors and Ken Maumalo is back in the squad.

Gold Coast Titans v Brisbane Broncos 

The Broncos have somehow managed to stay within the hunt for a space in the post season, despite plenty of key figures under performing and now if they want to continue their push for the top eight then some of these players are going to have to find a connection. For the Titans, it just seems to be all about making sure they do not end with the wooden season come season’s end. The Broncos’ young guns continue to be the difference makers for Anthony Seibold’s men, with Kotoni Staggs and Payne Haas standing above the rest and showing a great deal of maturity. The lack of points has been a constant issue for Gold Coast and if they want to kick on and avoid the last place finish then something needs to be done about it as soon as possible.

Team news: Former Leeds man Kallum Watkins is set to make his first start for Gold Coast and Tyrone Peachey could make an earlier return from a pectoral injury.

The most noteworthy changes for Brisbane will be Matt Gillett coming back from injury and David Fifta moving back into the second-row.

Melbourne Storm v Manly Sea Eagles

A potential game of the round contender as first faces fifth in an enticing fixture. The Sea Eagles continue to keep their eyes on the top four after a win over Parramatta last week and a win here would prove to be a lucrative scalp. It could place a fine amount of pressure on the other teams just above them in the ladder as well. The Storm keep piling up the wins, looking set for a first place finish this season and with their Origin representatives set to make a return, it promises to be a game that cannot be missed.  The match-up between both forward packs could be what separates them, with Craig Bellamy fielding the Bromwich brothers and Felise Kaufusi for Melbourne while Manly coach Des Hasler sees the power and flair of Addin Fonua-Blake and Jake Trbojevic feature for Manly.

Team news: Melbourne will welcome Josh Addo-Carr, Cameron Munster, Felise Kaufusi, Will Chambers and Chrsitian Welch back from Origin.

No problems on the Manly front, who remain an unchanged side from last week.

Canterbury Bulldogs v Sydney Roosters

Alongside Gold Coast, the Bulldogs will be looking to avoid the wooden spoon and after two wins in their last three games, they have put themselves in a good position to do that. However, last week’s loss to Brisbane showcased that Canterbury are still a team that can be taken apart at will. It does not get any easier either as they face the Roosters – a team looking ready to put their foot on the pedal for the last stretch of the season. It will take a display of impressive magnitude for Canterbury and they will need players such as Josh Jackson and Dylan Napa to be at their ferocious best. We have mentioned it countless times but it is too hard to ignore that the Roosters have all the attacking star power at their disposal, with James Tedesco and Latrell Mitchell at the forefront of a dangerous Sydney backline.

Team news: Lachlan Lewis and Kerrod Holland are both named to start for Canterbury while there are potential returns for both Keiran Foran and Raymond Faitala-Mariner.

Jake Friend remains out for Syndey, and both Joseph Manu and Zane Tetevano are back in the squad.

Penrith Panthers v Canberra Raiders

I think it is now fair to say that both Canberra and Penrith could possibly be classed as contenders this season with their form over recent weeks. This is one of the games of the round as it is fourth versus seventh and will be one with critical implications going forward for the top four race. After an impressive seven-game winning streak, Penrith have proven you cannot write them off so easily and are now one of the hottest teams in the league. Despite winning the last encounter 30-12, the Raiders will know they have a harder fight on their hands now and will need to rely on that impressive defence that has already worked wonders this season.

Team news: Penrith name the exaxt same 17 that conquered the Dragons last week.

No changes either for Canberra, the only potential move could be as to who starts between Josh Papalii and Sia Soliola.

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