The final regular round of the 2016 NRL season is just around the corner with the battle for the minor premiership the most prominent battle to watch this weekend.
Brisbane's chances of consolidating fifth spot at the worst for the finals series have received a major boost with the Sydney Roosters missing Boyd Cordner and Sio Siua Taukeiaho from the back row as Nat Butcher is set to make his first grade debut. The Broncos lineup is the same from the 17 that defeated Melbourne last start and can snatch their fifth win on the trot as they march into the finals with renewed confidence.
Friday, 7:50, ANZ Stadium- Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
Both sides are unchanged from last week's matches after the Bulldogs surrendered their top four spot to the reigning premiers while the Rabbitohs heaped more misery on the cellar-dwelling Knights. The 'Dogs can still end up in the top 4 if they can push past the Rabbitohs who have rediscovered some of their best football in recent weeks and if other results go their way.
Saturday, 3:00, UOW Jubilee Oval- St George Illawarra Dragons vs Newcastle Knights
Off-contract Benji Marshall and retiring club legend Ben Creagh have been recalled to Paul McGregor's side for a last hurrah against the one-win wonder of 2016, the Newcastle Knights. After young half Drew Hutchison scored in his first appearance of the season against the Eels, Marshall will return with the opportunity to farewell the club in style. The Knights welcome the return of top tryscorer Nathan Ross and crucial forward Korbin Sims as they aim to finish their worst ever season on a high.
Saturday, 5:30, 1300 Smiles Stadium- North Queensland Cowboys vs Gold Coast Titans
The reigning premiers will be fired up with their eyes firmly set on sealing their top four position while the Titans are desperate to make up for missed opportunities in recent weeks to finally guarantee a spot in the finals. The Cowboys will be missing Matt Scott while Scott Bolton moves to the front row. The Titans have been inconsistent in recent weeks and their complacency continued last week as they fell late to Penrith, 15-14 on their own turf. With the Tigers breathing down their necks, the Titans can't afford to let this one slip and must step up to the challenge of JT's Cowboys.
Saturday, 7:30, AAMI Park- Melbourne Storm vs Cronulla Sharks
Ladder leaders Melbourne Storm host the Cronulla Sharks who re-found their form with a 37-12 thumping of the Sydney Roosters on Saturday night. The Storm sit one point above the Sharks who suffered a setback of three straight losses which almost cost them the J.J. Giltinan Shield altogether before the Storm's shock home loss to a revitalised Brisbane side kept Cronulla's hopes alive. After their solid win, the Sharks have remained unchanged while Craig Bellamy has been forced to adjust his lineup with Nelson Asofa-Solomona out for suspension.
Sunday, 2:00, Leichardt Oval- Wests Tigers vs Canberra Raiders
As the result of Gold Coast's match with the Cowboys will be known by the Tigers players and fans ahead of their contest with Canberra, their fate may well be in their own hands in front of a packed Leichardt crowd on Sunday afternoon. Despite their attack being as strong as ever, running in eight tries last week at Manly, their defence would most certainly be a worry for coach Ricky Stuart a week out from the finals after they also conceded six tries. The loss of Blake Austin due to a broken hand may assist the Tigers this week if their young halves produce their best performances yet again.
Sunday, 4:00, Mt Smart Stadium- New Zealand Warriors vs Parramatta Eels
The home side let their lead slip more than once against the Tigers and it hurt them, as they now can't qualify for a spot in the finals for the fifth year running. The Warriors' last finals appearance was their 2011 Grand Final loss to Manly and many critics held high expectations for the trio of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Shaun Johnson and Issac Luke to make a difference this season. RTS was injured early on and the Warriors have dealt with the same inconsistency problems that has haunted them in recent years. The Eels continue to play with pride after their difficult season was littered with off-field issues however they continue to exhibit positive signs such as the exuberant rookie that is 20-year old Bevan French.
Sunday, 6:30, Pepper Stadium- Penrith Panthers vs Manly Sea Eagles
The young and inexperienced halves duo of Bryce Cartwright and Nathan Cleary have been astounding in the back end of the season in establishing the Panthers into a genuine title contender. With four wins on the run, Penrith are in their best run of form this season, exciting many passionate fans at the foot of the mountain for their title prospects. An unfortunate injury to dominant prop, Reagan Campbell-Gillard allows Jeremy Latimore to make his return to the 17 while Manly see Dylan Walker return to the team to spoil Penrith's Father's Day party.