North Sydney Bears v Newcastle Knights
North Sydney Oval
Friday, 27 April 7.30pm
Under the bright lights of North Sydney Oval, the Intrust Super Premiership kicks off a day early in Round 8 with a match-up which also featured just three weeks ago.
The Bears and Knights last met in Round 5 at McDonald Jones Stadium, in what would be the visitors' first win of 2018 – and it was largely thanks to the services of Robbie Farah. The 15-time NSW hooker controlled the game from the kick-off, helping centre Campbell Graham to a hat-trick and leading North Sydney to a 28-10 victory. Farah will once again feature for the Shane Millard-coached side on Friday night.
This week, however, there will be one major difference: the inclusion of Danny Levi. After Farah came up against form dummy-half Craig Garvey last week – a battle which highlighted the Bears' narrow loss to Mounties – he will now face-off against the incumbent Kiwis' No.9, who has featured in the Intrust Super Premiership on five occasions this season. Still desperate to regain his NRL spot, Levi will be looking forward to the challenge of overcoming a man of Farah's experience.
Elsewhere in the Knights side is usual NRL halfback Brock Lamb, who returns to the lower grade after his first appearance there last week. While Lamb is only 21 years of age, his 30 NRL games will serve him well against the young Bears halves pairing of Connor Tracey and Dean Hawkins. Lamb's combination with Levi, too, will be one to keep an eye on.
St George Illawarra Dragons v Penrith Panthers
Saturday, 28 April 1pm
Broadcast LIVE on Channel 9 and 9Now
Round 8's Channel 9 televised match sees the defending premiers take on the Dragons, who had been among the favourites for the 2018 title – but both will look to bounce back after losses last weekend.
In Round 7, the Dragons went down to the Warriors and the Panthers were narrowly beaten by the Wentworthville Magpies – but they had begun to hit form in the weeks prior, with both now sitting one win off the ladder leaders. Player stocks, however, have also begun to be tested; St George Illawarra were without captain and halfback Darren Nicholls in the Round 7 defeat, who will remain sidelined with a throat injury this week, while Penrith have seen the likes of Kaide Ellis, Jack Hetherington and Wayde Egan elevated to the NRL recently. None have been named this weekend, but those not used at NRL level on Friday night could return to Guy Missio's side.
The in-form Jarome Luai will once again be key for the Panthers, while his opposite number Tristan Sailor will look for his first win at Intrust Super Premiership level. In the forwards, the Dragons appear to have the advantage with lock Blake Lawrie and second-rower Jackson Ford both among the competition's best in post-contact metres and tackles made.
Finally, the battle of the fullbacks will be an intriguing one; Jai Field has been one of the Dragons' best attacking weapons with four tries and a competition-leading 332 kick-return metres, but also leads with 14 errors for the year. The Panthers' Caleb Aekins, meanwhile, has broken more tackles (41) than any other player and averages 174 metres per game in 2018, setting up an interesting contest between the custodians.
Warriors v Newtown Jets
Saturday, 28 April 1pm
Two last-start winners face off in unfamiliar territory on Saturday, but home side the Warriors will like their chances of taking three straight wins in Auckland.
Not asked to travel to Australia since their 32-0 drubbing at the hands of Western Suburbs in Round 5, the Warriors have convincingly beaten the Sea Eagles and Dragons at Mt Smart Stadium – but will instead line-up at QBE Stadium across town in Round 8. Also known as North Harbour Stadium, it is more often the home ground of Auckland's Blues rugby union club, but will now host the Warriors for the first time in a competitive Rugby League match.
The Jets will be high on confidence after a big come-from-behind win over the Bulldogs last weekend, but know they'll have plenty to work on from that performance. For the Warriors, the competition's leading try-scorer Lewis Soosemea returns from suspension – and alongside fellow winger Zac Santo, will face-off with experienced campaigner Sosaia Feki and young NRL flyer Sione Katoa in the Newtown side.
Wyong Roos v Mounties
Morry Breen Oval
Saturday, 28 April 3pm
The 11th-placed Wyong Roos will be looking to make amends for their last outing against Mounties when they meet again at Morry Breen Oval.
Beaten 42-6 in Round 2 – an ominous sign of the next five weeks, when they would win just one game – Wyong were victims of a red-hot Mounties side highlighted by strong showings from Brad Abbey and Craig Garvey. The fullback and hooker will line-up for Mounties again in Round 8, along with five-eighth Tyler Cornish, who will once again face brother Mitch with the hopes of getting bragging rights again.
A key change for Mounties will be former North Sydney captain and usual centre Ed Murphy's switch to the second row. It follows the move of another regular centre, Tony Satini, into lock last week – Murphy will need to be on his game against a big Wyong pack.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles
Belmore Sports Ground
Saturday, 28 April 3.15pm
Broadcast LIVE on Fox League
The Bulldogs return to Belmore Sports Ground after an agonising defeat in Round 7, while their opponents only look like benefiting from the inclusion of their big-name playmaker.
Having led the Jets 20-0 at Belmore last week, one of the more spectacular second-half collapses of 2018 saw the Bulldogs go down 22-20 in a second consecutive loss. It continues a trend of conceding multiple tries in short periods, which will be a definite focus for Steve Georgallis heading into Round 8.
For the Sea Eagles, the media interest in Jackson Hastings may have slowed down slightly, but his form in the Intrust Super Premiership hasn't; with a solid game last week, he led Blacktown to their own come-from-behind victory and will benefit from a steadier preparation with halves partner Joey Lussick. The switch between usual fullback Honeti Tuha and winger Jade Anderson is also an interesting one, with the lightning-paced Anderson looking to add to his five tries for the year.
Blacktown are yet to register a win over Canterbury-Bankstown since entering the competition last year, but with a solid showing in Round 7 they will fancy their chances of returning to form.
Wentworthville Magpies v Western Suburbs Magpies
Sunday, 29 April 3pm
The battle of the Magpies returns to the Intrust Super Premiership in Round 8, after Western Suburbs made light work of Wentworthville just four weeks ago. The 44-4 demolition, like so many of the Western Suburbs victories, was led by halfback Josh Drinkwater – meaning his absence will be felt by Brett Hodgson's men.
Drinkwater, who has signed a deal with the Catalans Dragons until the end of season 2018, will be a major loss from the Magpies' squad, as the competition leader in both points scored and try-assists. In his place will be Intrust Super Premiership debutant Gus Garzaniti, who will likely play a secondary role to the in-form Tyson Gamble in the halves.
While Western Suburbs will need to respond quickly to Drinkwater's departure, Wentworthville have suddenly hit form and could yet call upon some significant NRL experience to their side. Tepai Moeroa, Kane Evans, Josh Hoffman and Cameron King were named in the Eels' reserves and at least some of those names could feature for the Magpies. If that's the case, eighth-placed Wentworthville will like their chances of upsetting first-placed Western Suburbs on their home turf.