Manly Sea Eagles v Melbourne Storm, 7.50pm Thursday, 4 Pines Park
First game up on short turnarounds from Origin and the Pacific Tests, so it will not surprise if we get more than a few team changes or reduced minutes for both sides.
Cameron Munster is no certain starter as he manages an AC joint issue while Melbourne are already without Felise Kaufusi (personal reasons), bringing Manly right into play at home. Should Munster be passed in the Storm will likely tighten things right up and play through their imposing forward pack, especially with rain on the radar. Likely a low-scoring one up on the beaches. Storm by 4.
Newcastle Knights v Gold Coast Titans, 6pm Friday, McDonald Jones Stadium
Two sides that entered the new year looking to build on final appearances find themselves well out of the frame for September football. The Titans sit last on the ladder and are staring down the barrel of a second spoon in four years, while the Knights need a miracle to break into the top eight given they sit three wins off the pace. Newcastle are without Kalyn Ponga due to concussion protocols, with Tex Hoy getting a chance to prove himself. The Knights could be bolstered by Daniel Saifiti spirit Bradman Best with the pair included on the extended bench. The Titans welcome David Fifita back into the fold to give them some much-needed power in the middle. Knights by 8.
Penrith Panthers v Sydney Roosters, 7.55pm Friday, Bluebet Stadium
This shaped up as a potential grand final preview when the two clubs met earlier this season. It would take a brave soul to put the red pen through the Sydney Roosters, but they desperately need to show something. James Tedesco, Joey Manu, Daniel Tupou spirit Joseph Suaalii cannot do it all on their own. Victor Radley will add some grunt in the middle of the park. But their attack lacks that final bit of polish. And they will need plenty of points to beat Penrith. Who can seriously tip against the premiers? They are humming. And what about the confidence following Sunday night’s Origin result? Panthers by 14
Canterbury Bulldogs v Cronulla Sharks, 3pm Saturday, CommBank Stadium
Superboot Matt Burton is back at Belmore riding a wave of confidence following a near-perfect State of Origin debut.
He and Josh Addo-Carr have made Bulldogs fans feel like almost anything is possible lately having run amok at club level for a side experiencing something of a mid-season resurgence. They’ll be hoping for more of the same, but they’ll have to do it without the guidance of coach Mick Potter after he was struck down by COVID-19. Sharks center Siosifa Talakai returns from Blues camp while Ronaldo Mulitalo is buoyed by his Test debut for New Zealand. Sharks by 10.
North Queensland Cowboys v Brisbane Broncos, 5.30pm Saturday, Queensland Country Bank Stadium
Two of the surprise packets of the season meet in Townsville in what could be one of the better matches of the round. North Queensland are third and Brisbane fifth, with the home side a warm favorite, although history suggests the odds do not matter a great deal when the Queensland derby unfolds. The story within the story here centers on some of Queensland’s Origin players, who need to bounce back quickly ahead of game three. Selwyn Cobbo goes head-to-head with Murray Taulagiwhile a breakout night for Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow in the centers could put his name into the mix for the decider. Cowboys by 4.