The NRL has confirmed the draw for Week 1 of the 2020 finals series.
After a disappointing third State of Origin game, full attention now turns to the regular NRL season. This weekend marks the 19th round and with only six rounds remaining after this weekend, every win is crucial for teams vying for a finals berth.
New Zealand Warriors versus Penrith Panthers
Friday, 14 July
Kick-off: 6pm at Mt Smart Stadium
The most remarkable comeback of this season occurred when these two sides last met, in Penrith. Down 28-6 halftime, the Panthers stormed home to win 36-28.
Penrith will look to topple the Warriors without needing to afford them a 22-point head start on Friday night.
The home side welcome back hooker Issac Luke and centre Solomone Kata to the side that was defeated 26-22 by Manly a fortnight ago. For the Panthers, James Fisher-Harris returns on the bench, with Sitaleki Akauola dropping back to the reserves.
The Panthers have been playing better football in the past six weeks, but have had lapses against the Rabbitohs and Cowboys in that span.
Despite a much-needed win over the Sea Eagles last Saturday night, I’m not convinced on the Panthers’ September credentials. The Warriors fall into much the same category – a fantastic team on paper that has failed to deliver on the field with any regularity, with both sides sitting two games outside the top eight.
In what will be a close encounter at a slippery Mt Smart Stadium, I’m predicting the Panthers to win and build some momentum heading into the end of the season.
Prediction: Penrith by 4.
[latest_videos_strip category=”rugby-league” name=”League”]
Canberra Raiders versus St George Illawarra Dragons
Friday, 14 July
Kick-off: 7:50pm at GIO Stadium
The Dragons’ Canberra hoodoo was snapped in 2014 and since then they have won their last two games in the nation’s capital.
This season’s biggest disappointment, the Raiders have lost four games in a row and are six points outside of eighth position. A loss here would almost end any hope they have of playing finals footy.
As for the Dragons, after starting the season with such promise, they have dropped off in recent weeks. Boasting only a win against the Knights, coming from behind to win after being down 28-10 at halftime, the Dragons need a turn in form if they hope to play in September, let alone make an impression.
Josh Hodgson returns at hooker for the home side, with Kurt Baptiste on the bench. For the Dragons, Josh Dugan and Paul Vaughan have been named on an extended bench, while Tyson Frizell is out. Euan Aitken’s hamstring injury forces a backline reshuffle, with Taane Milne replacing the Scottish international in the centres. Promising youngster Matt Dufty is set to make his debut off the bench.
The Dragons look set to be without three of their best players in Dugan, Vaughan and Frizell. That, coupled with the Raiders’ hunger and a cold, winter night, is pointing towards a much needed Canberra win.
Prediction: Canberra by 10.
Newcastle Knights versus Brisbane Broncos
Saturday, 15 July
Kick-off: 5:30pm at McDonald Jones Stadium
Knights coach Nathan Brown must be wondering what his side needs to do to grab two competition points, after a horrible last five minutes dealt the Knights yet another loss, this time to the Bulldogs 20-18. Leading by ten points with five minutes to go, the Knights leaked two tries and with it, their 14th loss of the season.
Newcastle expect to welcome back State of Origin man of the series Dane Gagai in the centres.
For Brisbane, Corey Oates, David Mead and Herman Ese’ese are all unavailable for this clash, while Ben Hunt, Matt Gillett and Josh McGuire are expected to back up from Origin on Wednesday.
The Broncos were taught a lesson in their last game, against the Storm a fortnight ago, but should have no issue beating the wooden spoon favourites.
Even if coach Wayne Bennett conservatively rests McGuire or Gillett, the likes of Adam Blair and Sam Thaiday should have no issue competing with the Knights pack.
Brisbane should see this as a chance to boost their points differential.
Prediction: Brisbane by 18.