Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, looks over all 16 teams and previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 18 matches.

Gold Coast Titans v Parramatta Eels @ Cbus Super Stadium
Friday 16th July, 6:00pm

TitansEels
AJ Brimson1Clinton Gutherson
Phillip Sami2Maika Sivo
Brian Kelly3Tom Opacic
Patrick Herbert4Waqa Blake
Corey Thompson5Haze Dunster
Ashley Taylor6Dylan Brown
Jamal Fogarty7Mitchell Moses
Jarrod Wallace8Reagan Campbell-Gillard
Erin Clark9Reed Mahoney
Moeaki Fotuaika10Junior Paulo
Kevin Proctor11Isaiah Papali’i
David Fifita12Ryan Matterson
Tino Fa’asuamaleaui13Nathan Brown
Tyrone Peachey14Marata Niukore
Sam Lisone15Shaun Lane
Jaimin Jolliffe16Oregon Kaufusi
Beau Fermor17Bryce Cartwright


History:
Played 20, Titans 11, Eels 9

Last Meeting: Round 2, 2020: Eels 46 def. Titans 6

Final Thoughts: The Parramatta Eels scored 36+ points three weeks on the bounce before losing to the Panthers 13-12 in Round 16. Meanwhile, the Gold Coast Titans bounced back from a horror fortnight in Round 14 and 15 to thrash the Raiders 44-6 in Round 16.

Provided Moeaki Fotuaika, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and AJ Brimson back up from State of Origin III, the Titans will send out the same 17 for this one. For the Eels, they’re hoping the same for Junior Paulo and Mitchell Moses but do have the positive news of Reed Mahoney’s return.

While the Titans looked a lot better in their last run, the attack still can’t be trusted. They’ve played one good game and followed it up with multiple poor performances too often already this season. The Eels, on the other hand, have been relatively consistent all season. Moses may be missing for this one, but so too could key figures in the Titans side. Reed Mahoney’s control will add plenty to the direction of Parramatta’s attack too. With or without Origin players backing up, Parramatta looks too good.

Tip: Handicap – Eels -5.5 @ $1.90

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v St. George-Illawarra Dragons @ Cbus Super Stadium
Friday 16th July, 8:05pm

Sea EaglesDragons
Tom Trbojevic1Tyrell Sloan
Jason Saab2Cody Ramsey
Brad Parker3Jack Bird
Morgan Harper4Brayden Wiliame
Reuben Garrick5Gerard Beale
Kieran Foran6Corey Norman
Daly Cherry-Evans7Ben Hunt
Taniela Paseka8Blake Lawrie
Lachlan Croker9Andrew McCullough
Martin Taupau10Jack de Belin
Haumole Olakau’atu11Josh Kerr
Josh Schuster12Tariq Sims
Sean Keppie13Jackson Ford
Dylan Walker14Poasa Faamausili
Karl Lawton15Jamayne Taunoa-Brown
Kurt De Luis16Josh McGuire
Toafofoa Sipley17Billy Burns


History:
Played 31, Sea Eagles 10, Dragons 21

Last Meeting: Round 3, 2021: Dragons 38 def. Sea Eagles 12

Final Thoughts: So, here we are again. The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles played a game without Tom Trbojevic and struggled to compete as they fell 30-16 to the Raiders. The St.George-Illawarra Dragons, on the other hand, are preparing for 2-4 weeks without 12 of their best. While the 19-18 win over the Warriors kept them in the Top 8, the celebrations came at a cost.

Tom Trbojevic has been named to start for Manly but there is a high chance he will be rested. Josh Schuster returns this week which pushes Karl Lawton to the bench. St. George-Illawarra’s Matt Dufty, Tyrell Fuimaono and Kaide Ellis have been nominated to serve their one-game suspension this week. Tyrell Sloan will slot into fullback, Jack de Belin to prop and Jackson Ford to lock. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown is on loan from the Warriors and will come off the bench alongside Poasa Faamausili.

So much clearly depends on whether or not Trbojevic backs up after Origin. The Manly attack doesn’t fire when their fullback isn’t exactly where he needs to be every time he needs to be there. While the Dragons are also without their first-choice fullback, we should see a response from the side overall. In the headlines for all of the wrong reasons, expect at least a strong start for the Red V. Ben Hunt is in good form and will be looking to direct what is a big Dragons pack up the field. While they might struggle to turn possession into points, the Dragons can force the Sea Eagles into an arm-wrestle to start. Top teams can get a roll-on. Few do it better than Manly. However, this is set up to start with a grind.

Tip: Time of 1st Try – 8 Minutes or Later @ $2.08

Canberra Raiders v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks @ Cbus Super Stadium
Saturday 17th July, 3:00pm

RaidersSharks
Xavier Savage1William Kennedy
Semi Valemei2Sione Katoa
Jarrod Croker3Connor Tracey
Sebastian Kris4Jesse Ramien
Jordan Rapana5Ronaldo Mulitalo
Jack Wighton6Braydon Trindall
Sam Williams7Shaun Johnson
Josh Papalii8Aiden Tolman
Josh Hodgson9Blayke Brailey
Emre Guler10Aaron Woods
Corey Harawira-Naera11Briton Nikora
Hudson Young12Teig Wilton
Ryan Sutton13Toby Rudolf
Tom Starling14Mawene Hiroti
Joseph Tapine15Siosifa Talakai
Iosia Soliola16Jack Williams
Ryan James17Braden Hamlin-Uele


History:
Played 44, Raiders 21, Sharks 23

Last Meeting: Round 2, 2021: Raiders 12 def. Sharks 10

Final Thoughts: Remarkably, the Canberra Raiders are still in the hunt for a spot in the Top 8. Losers of five of their last six before beating the Sea Eagles in Round 17, the Raiders are just one win out of a finals spot. The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks currently hold one of those spots after handling the Warriors with relative ease to win 20-12 on Sunday afternoon.

Jack Wighton and Josh Papalii have been named to return this week provided they get through Origin III unscathed. Matt Frawley and Dunamis Lui drop out of the Raiders squad. Meanwhile, Josh Hannay has named the same 17 that beat the Warriors in Round 17.

What to make of the Raiders…They’re starting to look better at times. But they’ve sold us a couple of dummies already throughout the 2021 NRL season. The Sharks, on the other hand, are starting to find their groove with Shaun Johnson and Braydon ‘tricky’ Trindall developing a nice partnership in the halves. Matching up well in the middle, the key playmakers will have a big say in the result of this game. With Josh Hodgson taking more control of the Raiders, they’ve begun to produce some good periods. Johnson showed last week that he’s prepared to play patient footy with a lead and kick his side to victory. If both of these teams turn up for the full 80 minutes, we’re in for a rare close game.

Tip: Tri Bet (10.5) – Either Team by 10 or Less @ $1.91

North Queensland Cowboys v Sydney Roosters @ Queensland Country Bank Stadium
Saturday 17th July, 5:30pm

CowboysRoosters
Valentine Holmes1James Tedesco
Kyle Feldt2Daniel Tupou
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow3Josh Morris
Connelly Lemuelu4Joseph Manu
Murray Taulagi5Matt Ikuvalu
Scott Drinkwater6Drew Hutchison
Tom Dearden7Sam Walker
Francis Molo8Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
Reece Robson9Sam Verrills
Jordan McLean10Isaac Liu
Shane Wright11Angus Crichton
Mitchell Dunn12Sitili Tupouniua
Jason Taumalolo13Victor Radley
Jake Granville14Lachlan Lam
Tom Gilbert15Nat Butcher
Coen Hess16Egan Butcher
Peter Hola17Fletcher Baker


History:
Played 36, Cowboys 12, Roosters 24

Last Meeting: Round 10, 2021: Roosters 30 def. Cowboys 16

Final Thoughts: It looked for a moment like the North Queensland Cowboys could end their three-game losing streak in Round 17. Then the Rabbitohs caught fire and made it four defeats on the bounce for Todd Payten’s side. Meanwhile, the Sydney Roosters were asked to work a lot harder than anybody expected in their 22-16 win over the Bulldogs.

No major surprises for the Cowboys with Francis Molo, Val Holmes and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow named to back up after Origin. Peter Hola has joined the bench, though. James Tedesco and Angus Crichton have been named which pushes Joey Manu back into the centres and Billy Smith out of the side. Isaac Liu is into the front row with Siosiua Taukeiaho out of the side.

North Queensland’s biggest problem has been their consistency. They’ve not been able to complete one 80 minute performance. Instead, they play out good periods here and there and they’ve not even been able to do that recently. Last week started well enough, but it turned for the worse far too easily and a similar situation is a chance this week against a Roosters side that can still pile up points in a hurry, even with their injuries. With a strong pack capable of keeping Jason Taumalolo in check and a backline that can rip through this dodgy Cowboys edge defence, it will only take 20 minutes of dominance for the Roosters to start running away with this one.

Tip: Handicap – Roosters -8.5 @ $1.95

Melbourne Storm v Newcastle Knights @ AAMI Park
Saturday 17th July, 7:35pm

StormKnights
Nicho Hynes1Kalyn Ponga
George Jennings2Dominic Young
Reimis Smith3Kurt Mann
Justin Olam4Enari Tuala
Josh Addo-Carr5Hymel Hunt
Cameron Munster6Jake Clifford
Jahrome Hughes7Mitchell Pearce
Jesse Bromwich8Jacob Saifiti
Brandon Smith9Jayden Brailey
Christian Welch10Daniel Saifiti
Felise Kaufusi11Tyson Frizell
Kenneath Bromwich12Lachlan Fitzgibbon
Dale Finucane13Mitch Barnett
Aaron Booth14Connor Watson
Tui Kamikamica15David Klemmer
Chris Lewis16Josh King
Aaron Pene17Brodie Jones


History:
Played 43, Storm 28, Knights 15

Last Meeting: Round 12, 2020: Storm 26 def. Knights 16

Final Thoughts: The Melbourne Storm have had a week to rest and recover following their 46-0 win over the Roosters. They remain the form team of the NRL through 17 rounds. The Newcastle Knights, on the other hand, are only just coming up to speed. A 38-0 win over the Cowboys in Round 16 has set them up nicely to finish the season strong and claw their way into the finals.

Craig Bellamy is taking a cautious approach with Ryan Papenhuyzen and Harry Grant and may do the same with Cameron Munster, Josh Addo-Carr, Dale Finucane, Felise Kaufusi and Christian Welch after Origin III. The Storm 17 could look a lot different on game day. The Knights, however, welcome back Tyson Frizell and Daniel Saifiti. Mitch Barnett shifts to lock and Sauaso Sue drops out.

The Knights have just started to look capable of a run towards the Top 8 but now face the favourites for the minor premiership. It is more than likely that their push to the finals will need to start in Round 19 with the Storm showing no signs of slowing down having won 13 on the bounce. They’ve scored 40+ points ten times in those 13 games. Bellamy may choose to rest some of his Origin players but that is unlikely to matter. The pack will still dominate the middle and it is Nicho Hynes, Brandon Smith and Jahrome Hughes doing most of the damage with the ball at the moment. Expect Justin Olam to get in on the action, too. The Knights right edge defence has conceded 36 tries so far this season – only the Cowboys have conceded more.

Tip: Win Try Combo – Olam to score and Storm to win @ $2.00

New Zealand Warriors v Penrith Panthers @ Suncorp Stadium
Sunday 18th July, 1:50pm

WarriorsPanthers
Reece Walsh1Dylan Edwards
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak2Charlie Staines
Rocco Berry3Stephen Crichton
Marcelo Montoya4Brent Naden
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck5Brian To’o
Kodi Nikorima6Matt Burton
Sean O’Sullivan7Tyrone May
Addin Fonua-Blake8Moses Leota
Wayde Egan9Apisai Koroisau
Matthew Lodge10James Fisher-Harris
Eliesa Katoa11Viliame Kikau
Bayley Sironen12Kurt Capewell
Jazz Tevaga13Isaah Yeo
Josh Curran14Mitch Kenny
Leeson Ah Mau15Scott Sorensen
Bunty Afoa16Spencer Leniu
Kane Evans17Liam Martin


History:
Played 42, Warriors 16, Panthers 25

Last Meeting: Round 14, 2020: Panthers 18 def. Warriors 12

Final Thoughts: Another round, another loss for the New Zealand Warriors. Their 20-12 defeat to the Sharks makes it seven from their last eight games as they tumble down the NRL ladder. Things don’t get any easier for the Kiwi club this week as they prepare to face a post-Origin Penrith Panthers that managed to beat the Eels in Round 16 without Nathan Cleary.

Josh Curran is back in the side this week as Nathan Brown names the same 13 to start again this week. Kane Evans is another new face on the bench. The pair take the spots of Ben Murdoch-Masila and Jack Murchie. Dylan Edwards is back for the Panthers while Matt Burton and Tyrone May have been named in the halves. Brian To’o, Isaah Yeo, Kurt Capewell and Liam Martin have all been named to back up from Origin III.

The Warriors have lost seven of their last eight games. Nathan Brown is somehow avoiding pressure but isn’t helping himself by constantly rotating through his side. They’ve been impacted by injuries, but cohesion is suffering when it doesn’t need to and it shows in how aimless they are in attack. Once again, the Kodi Nikorima/Sean O’Sullivan halves combination failed to threaten in Round 17. While Tyrone May has hardly set the world on fire in the #7 jersey this year, he has Matt Burton, Dylan Edwards and Api Koroisau to shoulder the load. Penrith’s defence hasn’t suffered through the Origin period either. They’ve only conceded more than 12 points once since Round 8 and have yet to concede more than 19 points in a game once all season.

Tip: Warriors Total Points – Under 18.5 @ $1.81

Brisbane Broncos v Wests Tigers @ Suncorp Stadium
Sunday 18th July, 4:05pm

BroncosTigers
Tesi Niu1Daine Laurie
Corey Oates2David Nofoaluma
Kotoni Staggs3Fetalaiga Pauga
Herbie Farnworth4James Roberts
Xavier Coates5Ken Maumalo
Tyson Gamble6Adam Doueihi
Brodie Croft7Luke Brooks
Rhys Kennedy8Stefano Utoikamanu
Jake Turpin9Jacob Liddle
Payne Haas10James Tamou
Alex Glenn11Luke Garner
TC Robati12Luciano Leilua
Kobe Hetherington13Thomas Mikaele
Cory Paix14Joe Ofahengaue
Thomas Flegler15Alex Twal
Keenan Palasia16Tukimihia Simpkins
Jordan Riki17Moses Mbye


History:
Played 29, Broncos 21, Tigers 7

Last Meeting: Round 10, 2020: Tigers 48 def. Broncos 0

Final Thoughts: The Brisbane Broncos may not have wanted the bye in Round 17. Their 26-18 win over the Sharks in Round 16 is their best game of the 2021 NRL season so far and one that could mark a turning point in their rebuild. We’re still waiting for that moment from the Wests Tigers, though. Showing little signs of improvement all season, they barely threw a punch in losing 38-22 to the Rabbitohs last time out.

Much of the same for the Broncos again this week. Cory Paix and Tom Flegler join the bench in place of Jesse Arthars and Ethan Bullemor. Michael Maguire, on the other hand, is still desperately searching for his best 17. Unsurprisingly, the Adam Doueihi at centre experiment wasn’t a success – he’s back in the halves it Moses Mbye to the bench. Fetalaiga Pauga will make his NRL debut while Stefano Utoikamanu and Thomas Mikaele have been named to start with Alex Twal dropping to the bench. Tuki Simpkins will also make his NRL debut off the bench.

With the Broncos playing out a decent game in Round 16 and the Tigers naming one of their more appealing 17’s of the season so far, this is an unlikely candidate for match of the round. The Tigers thumped the Broncos 48-0 the last time these two met, but Kevin Walters has triggered some improvement out of this Broncos side since then. Still, it’s a lottery. As much as the Tigers middle looks promising and Doueihi is in the halves, they’ve done little to warrant any sort of faith they can put it together on the day. Meanwhile, the Broncos have shown a tendency to turn up and play well at Suncorp Stadium. It hasn’t happened often this season, but the Broncos are deserving favourites.

Tip: Handicap – Broncos -3.5 @ $1.90

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs @ Cbus Super Stadium
Sunday 18th July, 6:15pm

RabbitohsBulldogs
Latrell Mitchell1Nick Meaney
Alex Johnston2Corey Allan
Dane Gagai3Will Hopoate
Campbell Graham4Aaron Schoupp
Taane Milne5Falakiko Manu
Cody Walker6Lachlan Lewis
Adam Reynolds7Jake Averillo
Mark Nicholls8Jack Hetherington
Damien Cook9Sione Katoa
Thomas Burgess10Luke Thompson
Keaon Koloamatangi11Corey Waddell
Jaydn Su’a12Josh Jackson
Cameron Murray13Renouf Atoni
Benji Marshall14Bailey Biondi-Odo
Liam Knight15Dylan Napa
Patrick Mago16Ava Seumanufagai
Jacob Host17Joe Stimson


History:
Played 41, Rabbitohs 17, Bulldogs 23

Last Meeting: Round 4, 2021: Rabbitohs 38 def. Bulldogs 0

Final Thoughts: With Latrell Mitchel and their State of Origin stars or without Latrell Mitchell and their State of Origin stars, the South Sydney Rabbitohs are doing it easy. They gave the Cowboys a 12-2 head start last week. Still, the result was never in doubt as they cruised to a 46-18 win. Meanwhile, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs put in a noble effort in defeat as they at least pushed the Roosters close for their 22-16 loss.

No surprises for the Rabbitohs with all of Bennett’s Origin stars named to back up in their usual spots. For the Bulldogs, Ava Seumanufagai is back onto the bench while Josh Jackson and Renouf Atoni swap places from how they started in Round 17.

Unsurprisingly – even with Canterbury’s impressive showing last week – South Sydney are massive favourites for this one. Their Origin stars are being given maximum time to rest before returning to club land which should mean most line up on Sunday evening. While the Rabbitohs would be favoured to win without them, there is still the slightest chance of a Minor Premiership win at stake this season. We saw the Rabbitohs explore down the right side a little more often last week. It looked like part of the game plan as they look to add some more variety to their attack as the finals approach. Expecting them to build a lead and once again put a focus on their right side attack late in the piece, Taane Milne is likely to add to his try scoring tally after bagging three last week.

Tip: To Score a Try in 2nd Half – Taane Milne @ $2.20