Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, looks over all 16 teams and previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 16 matches.

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Melbourne Storm @ 4 Pines Park
Thursday 30th June, 7:50pm

Sea EaglesStorm
Reuben Garrick1Nick Meaney
Jason Saab2Dean Ieremia
Morgan Harper3Marion Seve
Tolutau Koula4Justin Olam
Christian Tuipulotu5Grant Anderson
Kieran Foran6Cameron Munster
Daly Cherry-Evans7Jahrome Hughes
Sean Keppie8Jesse Bromwich
Lachlan Croker9Harry Grant
Toafofoa Sipley10Josh King
Haumole Olakau’atu11Chris Lewis
Andrew Davey12Kenneath Bromwich
Jake Trbojevic13Brandon Smith
Dylan Walker14Jayden Nikorima
Josh Schuster15Tui Kamikamica
Martin Taupau16Tom Eisenhuth
Taniela Paseka17Nelson Asofa-Solomona


History:
Played 41, Sea Eagles 15, Storm 25

Last Meeting: Round 12, 2022: Storm 28 def. Sea Eagles 8

Final Thoughts: The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles will have been one of the few teams not wanting the week off. They’re coming into this one after blowing a huge lead to the Cowboys in Round 15. The Melbourne Storm, on the other hand, recovered from a slow start to beat the Broncos 32-20.

Josh Aloiai misses this one for the Sea Eagles with Sean Keppie to take his place. In better news, Taniela Paseka will play in his first game since Round 7. Cameron Munster has been named but seems unlikely to play for the Storm this week while Felise Kaufusi is confirmed as out. Chris Lewis will start with Josh King while Jayden Nikorima is on the bench.

The Sea Eagles have played well recently. They did the job to beat the Warriors and Tigers and did most of the job against the Cowboys before clocking off early. Des Hasler is starting to get more out of this side but it all looks a step too far this week. While the Storm are dealing with a handful of injury concerns, Ryan Papenhuyzen is set to return this week and they’re a different team with him in the #1 jersey. He’s the cog that links the Storm attack together. His speed allows him to get into the right position more often than not and we can expect an improvement in the Storm attack this week if he runs onto the field. Munster’s inclusion will be important to confirm before kickoff but regardless of his availability, the Storm look too strong across the field and should take the chocolates in this one.

Tip: Margin – Storm 1-12 @ $3.05

Newcastle Knights v Gold Coast Titans @ McDonald Jones Stadium
Friday 1st July, 6:00pm

KnightsTitans
Tex Hoy1AJ Brimson
Edrick Lee2Greg Marzhew
Dane Gagai3Brian Kelly
Enari Tuala4Patrick Herbert
Dominic Young5Jamayne Isaako
Anthony Milford6Paul Turner
Adam Clune7Toby Sexton
David Klemmer8Jarrod Wallace
Chris Randall9Erin Clark
Jacob Saifiti10Isaac Liu
Tyson Frizell11Sam McIntyre
Mitch Barnett12Beau Fermor
Kurt Mann13Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
Simi Sasagi14Tanah Boyd
Leo Thompson15Moeaki Fotuaika
Mat Croker16Jaimin Jolliffe
Pasami Saulo17David Fifita


History:
Played 25, Knights 13, Titans 12

Last Meeting: Round 24, 2021: Knights 15 def. Titans 14

Final Thoughts: The two competition points were right there for the Newcastle Knights but as their season is going, their Round 15 match ended in a 20-18 defeat to the Raiders. Similarly, the Gold Coast Titans dropped their fifth on the bounce with an 18-10 loss to the Sharks.

The Knights will be without Kalyn Ponga but may see Daniel Saifiti and Bradman Best return with both named in the reserves. Meanwhile, David Fifita makes his NRL return from the Titans bench. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Moeaki Fotuaika have been named to back up from their representative duties over the weekend.

This game has bludger written all over it. Both of these sides are bad, bad footy teams and neither coach instils a lot of confidence in having used the week off to inspire a big improvement. All we really have to go on is the Knights are without Ponga and the Titans have Fifita. In a game where both teams are likely to struggle with the ball and rely on their superstars to create something out of nothing, the Knights are without their main source of points. Newcastle is the worst attacking team in the NRL averaging only 12.3 points per game – that’s with Ponga in the side. It’s difficult to see them getting over the line often enough to win this one even against a poor Titans defence. Anything is possible in a game like this. Either side could turn up and start to play at a first-grade quality. However, we’re looking for elements we can trust and Fifita doing something freakish is the most reliable in this one.

Tip: Anytime Tryscorer – David Fifita @ $3.05

Penrith Panthers v Sydney Roosters @ BlueBet Stadium
Friday 1st July, 7:55pm

PanthersRoosters
Dylan Edwards1James Tedesco
Taylan May2Daniel Tupou
Izack Tago3Billy Smith
Stephen Crichton4Joseph Manu
Brian To’o5Joseph Suaalii
Jarome Luai6Drew Hutchison
Nathan Cleary7Sam Walker
Moses Leota8Lindsay Collins
Apisai Koroisau9Sam Verrills
James Fisher-Harris10Siosiua Taukeiaho
Viliame Kikau11Angus Crichton
Liam Martin12Sitili Tupouniua
Isaah Yeo13Victor Radley
Mitch Kenny14Connor Watson
Scott Sorensen15Egan Butcher
Spencer Leniu16Nat Butcher
Jaeman Salmon17Fletcher Baker


History:
Played 43, Panthers 23, Roosters 20

Last Meeting: Round 11, 2022: Panthers 32 def. Roosters 12

Final Thoughts: The Penrith Panthers did it easy to beat the Warriors 40-6 before the representative break. It wasn’t quite so easy for the Sydney Roosters who faced a smarting Eels side. The 26-16 defeat somewhat flattered the Roosters in the end.

All of the Panthers players have been named to back up from State of Origin II but it remains to be seen how many do, in fact, run onto the field this weekend. Luke Keary will miss this one for the Roosters with Sam Walker to halfback and Drew Hutchison to five-eighth. Victor Radley does return though with Nat Butcher to the bench.

The Panthers are a different beast. It doesn’t matter the opposition or how many players need to back up from State of Origin, Ivan Cleary’s side turns up on the night and plays out the game plan. Their system is close to flawless and the replacement players are across it well enough to slot in when required. It’s unlikely that all of their Blues reps back up but enough should feature to be significant favourites at kickoff. The Roosters, on the other hand, are without Keary. His partnership with Walker hasn’t caught fire just yet but has shown glimpses throughout the year. Their ceiling is much lower with him sitting in the stands. It may not always look like it but the Roosters (3rd in yardage) are one of the few teams that can keep up with the Panthers (1st) through the middle. If they can keep it tight, close up their defence and make the most of limited opportunities, the Roosters can keep it close. The Keary injury is a factor, but this game will be decided by line defence and how long the Roosters can sustain the inevitable Panthers pressure.

Tip: Handicap – Roosters +15.5 @ $1.90

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks @ CommBank Stadium
Saturday 2nd July, 3:00pm

BulldogsSharks
Jake Averillo1William Kennedy
Jacob Kiraz2Sione Katoa
Aaron Schoupp3Jesse Ramien
Corey Allan4Siosifa Talakai
Josh Addo-Carr5Ronaldo Mulitalo
Matt Burton6Matt Moylan
Kyle Flanagan7Nicho Hynes
Max King8Toby Rudolf
Jeremy Marshall-King9Blayke Brailey
Paul Vaughan10Royce Hunt
Josh Jackson11Briton Nikora
Raymond Faitala-Mariner12Wade Graham
Tevita Pangai Junior13Cameron McInnes
Zach Dockar-Clay14Aiden Tolman
Corey Waddell15Dale Finucane
Joe Stimson16Teig Wilton
Kurtis Morrin17Andrew Fifita


History:
Played 34, Bulldogs 19, Sharks 15

Last Meeting: Round 19, 2021: Sharks 44 def. Bulldogs 24

Final Thoughts: The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks have struggled at times against the teams towards the bottom of the NRL ladder but got the job done against the Titans to win 18-10. Meanwhile, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs continued in their improvements by thrashing the Tigers 36-12.

Mick Potter has the luxury and pleasure of naming the same 17 Bulldogs that beat the Tigers in Round 15. Craig Fitzgibbon has done the same with the Sharks following their win over the Titans before the weekend off.

We’re going to learn a lot about the Bulldogs this week. They hit season-best form before the break. The key now is to recapture that form following a week off and against a side towards the top of the NRL ladder. Matt Burton and Josh Addo-Carr looked to be their only source of points throughout the first half of the year but the Bulldogs have started to vary their attack. Jake Averillo is making a difference from fullback while Jacob Kiraz has been a revelation out wide. The Sharks, on the other hand, are in a bit of a lull. They flew into the NRL season with one of the most exciting attacking systems in the competition but they aren’t finding quite the same success out wide at the moment. Nicho Hynes’ on-ball style isn’t surprising defences as it once was and they need to change things up. But with Dale Finucane back and the Sharks at full strength, we should see them start to get back to their early-season ways. This game profiles as one that will finish a lot closer than it would have six weeks ago but the Sharks should still get the job done through the middle with relative ease.

Tip: Halftime/Fulltime – Sharks/Sharks @ $1.80

North Queensland Cowboys v Brisbane Broncos @ Queensland Country Bank Stadium
Saturday 2nd July, 5:30pm

CowboysBroncos
Scott Drinkwater1Te Maire Martin
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow2Corey Oates
Valentine Holmes3Kotoni Staggs
Peta Hiku4Brenko Lee
Murray Taulagi5Selwyn Cobbo
Tom Dearden6Ezra Mam
Chad Townsend7Adam Reynolds
Jordan McLean8Corey Jensen
Reece Robson9Billy Walters
Coen Hess10Payne Haas
Tom Gilbert11Kurt Capewell
Jeremiah Nanai12Jordan Riki
Jason Taumalolo13Patrick Carrigan
Jake Granville14Jake Turpin
Luciano Leilua15Kobe Hetherington
Jamayne Taunoa-Brown16Thomas Flegler
Griffin Neame17Keenan Palasia


History:
Played 53, Cowboys 19, Broncos 33

Last Meeting: Round 3, 2022: Cowboys 38 def. Broncos 12

Final Thoughts: The North Queensland Cowboys displayed their premiership credentials with an outrageous 28-26 comeback win over the Sea Eagles. The Brisbane Broncos aren’t quite at the same level but they put in a good shift while going down to the Storm 32-20.

The Cowboys have named their representative players this week but it’s Luciano Leilua’s name that stands out. He will make his first appearance for the club and the 100th of his NRL career. Kyle Feldt has been named in the reserves and is a chance at returning. Adam Reynolds is back for the Broncos while Payne Haas has also been named despite carrying an injury.

Having ridden a wave of momentum through the NRL season so far, it will be interesting to see how the Cowboys respond to what was ultimately a disappointing 70 minutes in Round 15 and week off to think about it. They’re the second-best defensive team in the competition but didn’t play like it in their last outing. That will be an area Todd Payten demands an improvement in this one. Reynolds’ return is a huge boost for the Broncos. He’s the sort of player that can be the difference between winning and losing a match like that against the Storm in Round 15 and will be able to provide that impact here. The Broncos are a proven attacking side. They’ve scored plenty of points without their star halfback. It’s playing with the lead, kicking to corners and closing out the game that Reynolds can make a serious impact. These Queensland derbies are always close encounters. We’re used to seeing them go down to the wire and this one is unlikely to be any different given the respective form guides.

Tip: Tri Bet (8.5) – Either Team by 8 or Less @ $2.18

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Parramatta Eels @ Accor Stadium
Saturday 2nd July, 7:35pm

RabbitohsEels
Latrell Mitchell1Clinton Gutherson
Alex Johnston2Maika Sivo
Taane Milne3Will Penisini
Campbell Graham4Waqa Blake
Jaxson Paulo5Bailey Simonsson
Cody Walker6Dylan Brown
Lachlan Ilias7Mitchell Moses
Tevita Tatola8Reagan Campbell-Gillard
Damien Cook9Reed Mahoney
Mark Nicholls10Junior Paulo
Keaon Koloamatangi11Shaun Lane
Jai Arrow12Isaiah Papali’i
Cameron Murray13Ryan Matterson
Kodi Nikorima14Makahesi Makatoa
Thomas Burgess15Marata Niukore
Siliva Havili16Oregon Kaufusi
Hame Sele17Ky Rodwell


History:
Played 36, Rabbitohs 18, Eels 17

Last Meeting: Round 21, 2021: Rabbitohs 40 def. Eels 12

Final Thoughts: Things got so bad for the South Sydney Rabbitohs that Lachlan Illias was hooked early into the 32-12 loss to the Dragons. As for the Parramatta Eels, they played out one of the best 40-minute periods of their NRL season to start their 26-16 win to the Roosters.

Latrell Mitchell makes his long-awaited return for the Rabbitohs on Saturday night which pushes Kodi Nikorima to the bench. As expected, Lachlan Illias remains at halfback. Unless any of his rep players are carrying niggles from the weekend, Brad Arthur has named the same 17 that beat the Roosters a fortnight ago.

The Rabbitohs are coming into this one on the back of a poor Round 15 performance but will be boosted by the return of Mitchell. It looked as though they were waiting for him to return before really getting to their best. He changes the dynamic of the Rabbitohs attack. Neither edge is particularly dangerous but both are capable of points if he is throwing the last pass or crashing into the defensive line. Edge defence hasn’t been a great strength for the Eels either. They were excellent with the ball in Round 15 but we’ve seen that from them before. Backing it up is where the questions come in. And while they are naming the same faces on the edges more often, it’s still an area of concern without the ball. The Rabbitohs can pile up points on anybody on their day and the Eels are somewhat vulnerable to poor periods in a match. If the Rabbitohs can get on the board early behind the energy Mitchell gives them, they’ll be tough to chase down at home.

Tip: Rabbitohs Total Points – Over 18.5 @ $2.04

New Zealand Warriors v Wests Tigers @ Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday 3rd July, 2:00pm

WarriorsTigers
Reece Walsh1Daine Laurie
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak2David Nofoaluma
Jesse Arthars3Starford To’a
Euan Aitken4James Roberts
Marcelo Montoya5Ken Maumalo
Ronald Volkman6Luke Brooks
Shaun Johnson7Jackson Hastings
Addin Fonua-Blake8James Tamou
Wayde Egan9Fa’amanu Brown
Jazz Tevaga10Zane Musgrove
Jack Murchie11Luke Garner
Tohu Harris12Kelma Tuilagi
Josh Curran13Joe Ofahengaue
Chanel Harris-Tavita14Stefano Utoikamanu
Bunty Afoa15Adam Doueihi
Eliesa Katoa16Alex Seyfarth
Bayley Sironen17Fonua Pole


History:
Played 34, Warriors 18, Tigers 16

Last Meeting: Round 3, 2022: Warriors 16 def. Tigers 12

Final Thoughts: Strangely, the New Zealand Warriors played fairly well while losing to the Panthers 40-6. Given how they’ve performed throughout the 2022 NRL season, they’ll have taken that loss as one to build on. It’s a different story for the Wests Tigers who never looked likely in their 36-12 loss to the Bulldogs.

Stacey Jones is taking notes from Mick Potter and simply making the easy decisions to start his time as head coach of the Warriors. As should have been the case from Round 1, Euan Aitken has been named to start in the centres. Eli Katoa joins the bench. James Roberts and Stefano Utoikamanu are back for the Tigers while Fa’amanu Brown will start at hooker. Fonua Pole has been named to make his NRL debut off the bench.

The Warriors will have 25,000 fans in their corner this week. They’ve put in some poor performances throughout the year but surely this is a game it clicks for the Kiwi club. Aitken’s shift into the centres is a positive move. The centre position has been their worst all year and finally, they will play their best player available at the position. Shaun Johnson has struggled at times this year but the period at home looks set to provide him with a boost too. The Tigers, on the other hand, don’t take the same optimism across the ditch. Their defence hasn’t shown the slightest sign of improvement since Michael Maguire left the club and there is only so much Adam Doueihi can do for the attack off the bench. While the Tigers will get better as the season wears on and players return, the occasion makes it especially difficult this week.

Tip: Handicap – Warriors -3.5 @ $1.90

St. George-Illawarra Dragons v Canberra Raiders @ WIN Stadium
Sunday 3rd July, 4:05pm

DragonsRaiders
Cody Ramsey1Xavier Savage
Mathew Feagai2Nick Cotric
Moses Suli3Matthew Timoko
Zac Lomax4Sebastian Kris
Mikaele Ravalawa5Jordan Rapana
Talatau Amone6Jack Wighton
Ben Hunt7Jamal Fogarty
Jack de Belin8Josh Papalii
Andrew McCullough9Zac Woolford
Blake Lawrie10Joseph Tapine
Jack Bird11Hudson Young
Jaydn Su’a12Elliott Whitehead
Tariq Sims13Adam Elliott
Moses Mbye14Tom Starling
Francis Molo15Ryan Sutton
Aaron Woods16Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
Michael Molo17Corey Horsburgh


History:
Played 34, Dragons 12, Raiders 21

Last Meeting: Round 21, 2021: Raiders 20 def. Dragons 12

Final Thoughts: The St. George-Illawarra Dragons are keeping themselves in the Top 8 conversation having beaten the Rabbitohs 32-12 in Round 15. The Canberra Raiders are doing similar following their 20-18 win over the Knights.

Ben Hunt is nursing a leg injury but has been named for the Dragons and is the only possible change to the 17 from Round 15. Meanwhile, Jack Wighton is back for the Raiders with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad to return from the bench.

The Dragons continue to surprise many footy fans. Not good enough to be a genuine premiership threat or Top 8 certainty but not bad enough to slip down the NRL ladder, they’re doing just enough to remain relevant in the finals conversation. The Raiders are doing similar but their ceiling is higher. This is the week for the Green Machine to prove it. Excellent through the middle in recent weeks behind Joseph Tapine’s career-best form, the Raiders are building into the side most expected before Round 1. They’re offloading the football, getting up the field and grinding out points in good ball. Meanwhile, the Dragons are relying heavily on Ben Hunt and some flashy moments from the outside backs. When it all sticks the Dragons are lethal. It can’t be trusted to happen every week, though. While the Raiders have a shocker in them, they have the better side on paper and have looked the better side overall in recent weeks. Despite playing away from home, Ricky Stuart should take the two competition points back to Canberra on Sunday.

Tip: Head-to-head – Raiders to win @ $1.70