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NRL Finals Week 1 Preview

Sydney Roosters back-rower Angus Crichton

Sydney Roosters v South Sydney Rabbitohs @Sydney Cricket Ground

The hallowed turf of the SCG will play host to these two bitter rivals.

Roosters Coach Trent Robinson would have been doing his best to ensure his players quickly licked their wounds from last week’s upset loss at the hands of the Rabbitohs.

The tri-colours had been on a seven game winning streak prior to last Thursday night’s loss and have only lost one game at the SCG all year – a round one loss, again at the hands of the Bunnies.

South Sydney looked in all sorts a month ago, but after losing three straight they bounced back with three wins, culminating in their confidence boosting performance against the Chooks.

Coach Wayne Bennett is a master at getting his team firing at the right time of year and he looks to have the Rabbitohs fine-tuned for another finals tilt.

Russell Crowe had the much fabled ‘book of feuds’ open out Redfern way this week and has likely written another chapter given Sam Burgess was outed by the judiciary for this contest.

Jared Warea-Hargreaves was found not guilty and free to play despite an ugly looking incident last week which left Rabbitohs bookend Liam Knight dazed and bloody.

Sydney Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary

TEAM CHANGES: The Roosters were resting a number of stars last week with Luke Keary, Brett Morris, Mitchell Aubusson and Siosiua Taukeiaho returning to the 17.

Their inclusions mean Billy Smith. Drew Hutchison, Lindsay Collins and Sitili Tupouniua drop out of the squad whilst Angus Crichton and Nat Butcher shuffle back to the bench.

With Sam Burgess out suspended, Tevita Tatola has been named to start up front. Dane Gagai has been ruled out with a hamstring strain, but strike centre James Roberts returns from suspension to replace him.

South Sydney Rabbitohs centre Dane Gagai

Roberts will likely line up on his preferred right side with Campbell Graham shifting back to the left.

Burgess twins Tom and George have been named in the 21 man squad with Tom named on the bench in place of Tom Amone and George in the reserves.

Both are expected to play on Friday night and there’s every likelihood one will end up starting.

KEY MATCH-UP: Luke Keary v Cody Walker

The absence of Keary was noticeable last week as the Roosters were unable to provide enough space for their normally lethal left-edge attack.

Walker meanwhile is just starting to hit his straps again after going into his shell a little following his failed state of origin stint earlier this year.

Respective halves Cooper Cronk and Adam Reynolds will be playing their roles in getting their troops around the park, but it will likely be a touch of Keary or Walker brilliance that ultimately decides the outcome.

South Sydney Rabbitohs five-eighth Cody Walker

RECENT HISTORY: The Rabbitohs have a 3-2 advantage in the last five clashes and were victorious in both encounters this year.

Campbell Graham and Cody Walker crossed for tries in both matches this year. In the last finals game played between the two, the Roosters triumphed in last year’s preliminary final.


Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders @AAMI Park

After claiming another Minor-Premiership, the Storm come into this encounter after winning four of their last five including a crushing victory over the Sea Eagles at Lottoland two weeks ago which was a real statement heading towards this finals series.

The one loss during that period did come at the hands of the Raiders who overcame an 18 point deficit and two players in the sin-bin to record a remarkable win which sent a warning shot to the rest of the competition that the Raiders were in fact the real deal in 2019.

Before last week’s upset loss to the Warriors, Ricky Stuart’s men faced off against the Roosters, Storm, Sea Eagles and Sharks in a gruelling month of football that make them the most battle-hardened outfit heading into this finals campaign.

Melbourne Storm winger Josh Addo-Carr

TEAM CHANGES: Both teams chose to rest a number of players in the penultimate round of the regular season.

For the Storm, Josh Addo-Carr, Cameron Munster and Brandon Smith all return at the expense of Sandor Earl, Brodie Croft and Harry Grant.

For the Raiders, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Jordan Rapana, Iosia Soliola and John Bateman return from their week off, whilst Joey Leilua and Joseph Tapine also return from suspension and injury respectively.

Rookie back-rower Hudson Young is the big out for the green machine after being handed an eight week suspension at the judiciary on Tuesday night. He will join Michael Oldfield, Siliva Havili, Emre Guler and JJ Collins watching from the side-lines this week.

Canberra Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson

KEY MATCH-UP: Cameron Smith v Josh Hodgson
The big match experience of these two men will be crucial in the outcome here.

Smith is the master of controlling the tempo of a match and Hodgson isn’t far behind these days. Expect one of these two to come up with the influential play that decides this one.

Melbourne Storm captain and hooker Cameron Smith

RECENT HISTORY: The Raiders will be full of confidence after their last start win over the Storm, but that won’t affect the psyche of this Melbourne team who’ve won four of the last five between the two teams.

Jarrod Croker scored a double in both games played between the two this year and Suliasi Vunivalu has crossed for six tries in his last four games against the Raiders.


Manly Sea Eagles v Cronulla Sharks @ Lottoland

After upsetting the Raiders in Canberra three weeks ago, the Sea Eagles were flying high and looked on track for a top four birth.

In the ensuing two weeks, they were comprehensively beaten by both the Storm and Eels, but the real story is the club being decimated by injuries and suspension that has left the Northern beaches side extremely thin on troops for the most important game of their season.

Still, Manly historically thrive when in these backs to the wall scenarios and Coach Des Hasler loves nothing more than flying under the radar coming into the big end of season games.

The Sharks meanwhile have been the sleeping giants of this

competition for most of the year.

With a squad stocked with representative stars, most people expected the Sharks to go on a run at some stage.

They have won three of their last four heading into this and the lone loss was a golden point thriller against the Raiders two weeks back.

Manly Sea Eagles lock Jake Trbojevic

TEAM CHANGES: Already missing Tom Trbojevic, Joel Thompson and Morgan Boyle to injury, things got a whole lot worse for the Sea Eagles in their last start loss.

Curtis Sironen and Taniela Paseka went down in what look to be season ending injuries and gun prop Martin Taupau was suspended for a high shot.

In somewhat of a reprieve to the injury crisis, they do welcome Jack Gosiewski and Toafofoa Sipley.

They also convinced the NRL to allow them a roster exemption with Tony Williams named in the reserves and expected to come into the game day 17.

Manly Sea Eagles back-rower Tony Williams and coach Des Hasler

Prop Sean Keppie has been named to replace Taupau up front in just his second NRL game.

Sharks Coach John Morris has selected Aaron Gray on the wing in place of the suspended Ronaldo Mulitalo.

Matt Moylan has again been named in the reserves and is rated a 50/50 chance of suiting up on Saturday night.

Cronulla Sharks fullback Matt Moylan

If he can prove his fitness, he would likely slot in at fullback with Josh Dugan moving onto the wing in place of Gray.

KEY MATCH-UP: Addin Fonua-Blake v Andrew Fifita

Fifita has been named on the bench, but if he’s promoted to the starting side as he was last week we could be in for a ferocious opening with these two going hammer and tongs.

Both players provide a rare x-factor up front for their respective sides with their ability to bust tackles and create second-phase play with their offloads.

Fifita is getting somewhere near his best at the right time of year after struggling with an ongoing knee injury for much of the season.

Fonua-Blake meanwhile is enjoying his most consistent season to date, but with no Taupau alongside him, needs to produce the game of his life to give the Sea Eagles a chance here.

Cronulla Sharks prop Andrew Fifita

RECENT HISTORY: It’s been well documented Manly hold a superior record over the Sharks and the recent history isn’t much different.

The Sea Eagles hold a 4-1 advantage in their last five clashers. Dylan Walker has crossed for a try in his last three games against the Sharks.


Parramatta Eels v Brisbane Broncos @ Bankwest Stadium

If the golden point thriller that was played out by these two teams at Suncorp Stadium two weeks ago is anything to go by, we should be in for a cracking contest to close out the opening weekend of finals action.

Both teams have won three out of their last five coming into this match and it was only a barnstorming charge from David Fifita and a Jamayne Isaako field goal that proved the difference in Round 24.

Brisbane Broncos young back-rower David Fifita

The Eels did score three tries to two on the night with goal-kicking letting them down.

In a contrast of styles, the Broncos play off their hungry young pack whilst the Eels seem to have more direction from their key men and more strike out wide.

TEAM CHANGES: Eels Coach Brad Arthur has lost Kane Evans to suspension and he will need to be replaced after being named in Tuesday’s team list prior to his failed judiciary hearing.

The likely scenario is Daniel Alvaro coming back into the starting side with one of Tepai Moroera or Peni Terepo joining the bench.

The Eels do however receive a big boost with their forward leader Nathan Brown returning from a two week suspension to lock the scrum.

Parramatta Eels lock Nathan Brown

The Broncos will also welcome back their regular lock forward with Joe Ofahengaue returning from injury.

His inclusion will push Patrick Carrigan back to the pine where he will be joined by centre Gehamat Shibasaki who’s earned a recall to the 17.

KEY MATCH-UP: Clinton Gutherson v Anthony Milford

Different styles of fullbacks, but both are just as important to their respective teams.

Gutherson is the ultra-consistent team man who has a knack for turning up at the right time with his exceptional support play.

Milford has all the talent in the world with his skillful kicking, passing and running games.

Parramatta Eels fullback Clint Gutherson

He’s been a little underwhelming since moving to fullback, but the stage could be set for him to deliver when his teams need it the most.

With the two forward packs cancelling each other out in their recent match, it could be a bounce of the ball with one of these fullbacks on the spot that proves the difference.

RECENT HISTORY: The Eels hold a slim advantage in the last five played with the ledger reading 3-2. Michael Jennings and Corey Oates have both crossed for three tries throughout that period.

NRL Rd 24 Previews

North Queensland Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo

As we near the business end of the season, there is still plenty to play for whether it be finals spots, avoiding the spoon or pride. 

Enjoy a preview of all the games set to come in Rd 24:

COWBOYS v BULLDOGS @ 1300Smiles Stadium

Despite having little to play for in regards to their 2019 season, the Cowboys still have plenty of motivation when it comes to knocking off a rampant Bulldogs side on Thursday night.

Out of the finals equation, Paul Green’s men will run out onto 1300Smiles Stadium for the final time after 24 years of calling it home with a new stadium currently being built in time for the 2020 season.

In further motivation, the club has also paid tribute to retiring club legend Matt Scott who suffered a mild stroke two weeks ago by retiring his number eight jersey for this match.

Instead, Scott Bolton who is also departing the club at season’s end, will wear number 16 as he looks to go out a winner on his home turf.

The Bulldogs are on a remarkable late season surge winning six of their last eight including four on the bounce.

Mathematically, they can still sneak into the final eight if they win their remaining two games and other results fall their way.

TEAM CHANGES: The Cowboys will run out with the same 17 men that caused an upset over the Panthers last weekend.

Rookie half Jake Clifford is listed on the reserves but is considered unlikely to recover from an ankle injury in time.

The Bulldogs have made just the one forced change with early season sensation Jayden Okunbor coming onto the wing for the suspended Reimis Smith.

KEY MATCH-UP: Jordan McLean v Dylan Napa

RECENT HISTORY: The Cowboys have won three of the last five clashes but the Bulldogs have won the last two between the pair.


WARRIORS v RABBITOHS @ Mt Smart Stadium

Last week’s heavy loss at the hands of the Sharks has all but ruled the Warriors out of the finals race.

They do sit four points off the 8th placed Broncos, but would need to win both their games by 40 plus points to make up for a poor points differential, not to mention the teams above them needing to falter.

The Rabbitohs bounced back into form with a big win over the Broncos last Friday night and have it all to play for here.

Currently sitting 5th on the ladder and locked in a four-way battle to finish in the top four, Wayne Bennett should have his chargers up for another big performance.

South Sydney Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook

TEAM CHANGES: Mid-season recruit Kodi Nikorima has been recalled to the number six jersey with rookie Chanel Harris-Tevita dropping back to the bench.

Agnatius Paasi is back from injury and will start up front in his 100th NRL game – pushing Lachlan Burr back to the bench.

Bunty Afoa is listed as a reserve and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sneak into the game day 17.

South Sydney lose strike centre James Roberts to suspension forcing a backline reshuffle.

Alex Johnston returns from injury and has been named on the wing which pushes Campbell Graham to centre.

Skipper Sam Burgess has been named to return in the front-row with Junior Tatola pushing back to the bench, but the club are believed to be treading lightly with their most inspirational player in order to have him 100 per cent for the finals.

KEY MATCH-UP: Isaac Luke v Damien Cook

RECENT HISTORY: The Bunnies have won four of the last five encounters between these two sides. Souths’ five-eighth Cody Walker has scored seven tries in them games including four alone in their previous match this year.


BRONCOS v EELS @ Suncorp Stadium

The Broncos face a must win match here after going down to the Rabbitohs last week leaving them vulnerable in 8th spot just one point clear of the chasing pack.

They will be looking to thrive off what should be another big Suncorp crowd.

The Eels are still optimistic of securing a top four birth despite an upset loss against the Bulldogs last week.

Currently sitting 6th on the ladder, a win here is paramount if they’re a chance of getting a second bite of the cherry come September.

Parramatta Eels back-rower Manu Ma’u

TEAM CHANGES: Broncos Coach Anthony Seibold has named an unchanged line-up from last week.

The Eels have lost their forward leader in Nathan Brown who took the early guilty plea from his crazy shoulder charge last week and will miss the next two weeks.

Marata Niukore will move from the bench to lock.

In a plus for Brad Arthur’s men, Blake Ferguson returns from a knee injury for his first game in six weeks.

He will line up on the wing which pushes the versatile Brad Takaraingi to the bench.

KEY MATCH-UP: David Fifita v Manu Ma’u

RECENT HISTORY: The Eels hold a 3-2 advantage in the last five clashes. Corey Oates has crossed the stripe in his last three games against Friday night’s opposition.


KNIGHTS v TITANS @ McDonald Jones Stadium

Experiencing one of the more tumultuous weeks in club history following the immediate departure of former Coach Nathan Brown, the Knights playing group need to find a way to quickly band together to avoid another repeat of last week’s diabolical showing against the Tigers.

Still a chance to sneak into the eight if they win their remaining two, restoring pride in the jersey should be motivation enough here.

The Titans certainly aren’t faring any better and are now assured of receiving the dreaded wooden spoon.

They did show some grit despite going down to the Storm last Sunday and if they can replicate that performance, they could be a chance of notching their first win in ten weeks.

Gold Coast Titans lock Jai Arrow

TEAM CHANGES: The sudden departure of Brown on Tuesday meant there was little time to make any squad changes for the Knights.

Connor Watson does return from a minor knee injury at hooker replacing Danny Levi who picked up a knock to his ribs during last week’s loss.

For the Titans, Mitch Rein has been suspended with Nathan Peats to move back into his more natural position at hooker.

Jai Arrow moves to lock, Jarrod Wallace to starting front-row and Will Matthews joins the bench.

KEY MATCH-UP: Tim Glasby v Jai Arrow

RECENT HISTORY: The Titans hold a 3-2 advantage in the last five clashes and winger Phillip Sami has scored four tries in three games against the Knights.


SEA EAGLES v STORM @ Lottoland

Another big test for Des Hasler’s side as they continue to prove themselves a genuine Premiership threat.

After defeating Saturday evening’s opponents in a golden point thriller a month ago, Manly notched another top four scalp when downing the Raiders in Canberra on Sunday.

They currently sit in 4th position on points differential but need to keep winning to ensure an all-important top four finish.

The Storm meanwhile have all but wrapped up yet another minor premiership to place in their already bulging trophy case.

Only back-to-back losses to finish the year would put them at risk of not finishing top of the table.

Even then, the Roosters would need a couple of big wins to swing the points differential in their favour.

After being a touch slow out of the blocks in defeating the lowly Titans last round, Craig Bellamy should have his side fired up for this one.

Manly Sea Eagles fullback Tom Trbojevic

TEAM CHANGES: Last week’s win came at a cost for Manly after losing second-rower Joel Thompson to a broken arm for the next month.

Fortunately for them, fellow edge forward Curtis Sironen makes his injury return and slots straight into Thompson’s spot.

Centre Moses Suli was also among the walking wounded on Sunday after injuring his ankle, but has been named to back up this week.

Brad Parker is also on the comeback trail listing in the reserves and could be a replacement if Suli can’t fully recover in time.

The Storm welcome back Will Chambers who missed last week through injury and Curtis Scott is the man to make way.

In the only other change, Tino Faasuamaleuai has been named on the bench in place of Tui Kamikamica.

Brodie Croft has been left out for the second straight week with Bellamy keen to get another look at Jahrome Hughes at half and Ryan Papenhuyzen at the back.

KEY MATCH-UP: Tom Trbojevic v Ryan Papenhuyzen

RECENT HISTORY: The Storm hold a 3-2 advantage in the last five played between the two.

Last month’s golden point match was the second time in a row where only one point separated these sides after the Storm won the corresponding match at Lottoland last year by the same margin.


ROOSTERS v PANTHERS @ Sydney Cricket Ground

The Roosters head into this encounter all but assured of finishing in second spot on the ladder.

Still a slim chance to put pressure on the Storm for top spot, they will know by the time they kick-off whether that scenario is still a possibility with Melbourne playing the game before them on Saturday.

Coach Trent Robinson has had the Tri-colours humming along nicely in recent weeks, but you get the sense they’re still only cruising in fourth gear.

Sitting one point out of the eight, the Panthers can basically be rest assured it’s do or die on Saturday night.

With the worst points differential out of all the teams still in contention, they can’t afford to slip up here.

After winning only one out of their last five matches, it’d be some turnaround if they were to knock over the Roosters in order to stay in contention.

Sydney Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary

TEAM CHANGES: The Roosters will welcome back gun centre Latrell Mitchell who was a late withdrawal last weekend.

Billy Smith drops out of the side after an impressive debut game against the Dragons.

Captain Boyd Cordner was named in the reserves for the second straight week and is firming to make his injury return.

Penrith back-rower Isaah Yeo has been ruled out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury that has disrupted a large part of his 2019 campaign.

James Fisher-Harris will lock the scrum in Yeo’s absence with Moses Leota joining the run-on side at prop.

Jarome Luai has been named to return from his eye injury on the bench along with Billy Burns who looks set to make his NRL debut.

KEY MATCH-UP: Luke Keary v James Maloney

RECENT HISTORY: Surprisingly it’s the Panthers who hold an edge in recent games here with a 3-2 advantage including an upset win over the Roosters in Round 13 this year.


SHARKS v RAIDERS @ Pointsbet Stadium

A sell-out crowd is expected in the Shire on Sunday afternoon with the home team coming up against the 3rd placed Raiders in a match that will have a big bearing on where both sides finish the season.

The Sharks can secure their position in the finals with a win and will also be buoyed by the occasion of farewelling club legend Paul Gallen in his last home game after 18 years plying his trade at the top level.

The Raiders will be looking to tie up a top four berth and face another stern test against the Sharks after facing three of the competition’s top teams over the last three weeks.

Win, lose or draw on Sunday, there won’t be a more battle hardened team once the finals come round in September.

Canberra Raiders back-rower John Bateman

TEAM CHANGES: The Sharks depth will be further tested after losing Sosaia Feki and Jack Williams to injury in last week’s win over the Warriors.

Sione Katoa comes in on the wing and the experienced Jayson Bukuya will fill the void on the interchange.

The Green Machine have lost Joseph Leilua to suspension just one game back from a serious neck injury after the mercurial centre dropped his knees into the back of Manly’s Rueben Garrick last Sunday.

Nick Cotric shifts to right centre, Bailey Simonsson to left wing and Siliva Havili re-joins the 17 via the bench.

KEY MATCH-UP: Wade Graham v John Bateman

RECENT HISTORY: The Sharks hold a slender 3-2 advantage in the last five clashes. Second-Rower Wade Graham and winger Jordan Rapana have each scored four tries in those matches.


DRAGONS v TIGERS @ Sydney Cricket Ground

The Dragons will take a rare home game to the SCG to conclude Round 24 and the Red V will have nothing but pride to play for after a disappointing back half of the season that sees them sitting second-last on the ladder.

The Tigers meanwhile have it all to play for.

Depending on how the Broncos fare on Friday night, Michael Maguire’s men could leapfrog them into the eight with a win and at the very least will need to win to stay in the race heading into the penultimate round.

St George Illawarra Dragons half Tristan Sailor

TEAM CHANGES: Paul McGregor has largely stuck solid with the team that went down to the Roosters.

Ben Hunt has been named in the reserves and looks likely to take his place at halfback on Sunday.

That would force a reshuffle to the backline with Gareth Widdop going to fullback and Tristan Sailor to the wing.

The Tigers have stuck solid with the 17 that convincingly got the job done last week.

Josh Reynolds has been named in the number nine, but expect him to revert back to the bench as was the case last week with Benji Marshall starting the game at dummy half.

KEY MATCH-UP: Tyson Frizell v Ryan Matterson

RECENT HISTORY: The Dragons hold a 3-2 advantage in recent battles between the two sides.