PREVIEWS | ISP Rd 20
Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles v Western Suburbs Magpies
Saturday, 28 July 12.45pm
Broadcast LIVE on Fox League
The upcoming weekend may have been dubbed "Retro Round" at NRL level, but Round 20 of the Intrust Super Premiership will kick off with a rivalry still very much in its infancy.
The Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles, introduced to the game in 2017, have only met Western Suburbs Magpies once previously, with the foundation club readmitted into the Intrust Super Premiership under their original name this season. It was a Round 14 encounter which ended with an eight-point victory to the Magpies, but did not do justice the dominant, five-tries-to-three victory which Brett Hodgson's men produced at Leichhardt Oval.
This time around, it looks like the Magpies will be boosted by the inclusion of NRL regulars Jacob Liddle and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, whose experience will need to cover the notable recent losses of Tim Grant (knee injury) and Luke Garner (NRL). Liddle's defensive effort, in particular, will be one to watch, with the 21-year-old coming up with an impressive 63 tackles in the last of his four Intrust Super Premiership games a fortnight ago.
Three competition points - and three ladder positions - separate these two teams, who are both still a long way from confirming their place in the finals. Another Magpies win can go a long way to shoring up their top-eight spot, while the ninth-placed Sea Eagles need to rise to the challenge of the toughest run home in the competition. Steve Hales' men face each of the current top six sides in their final six games, including the loss to second-placed Mounties last weekend.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Warriors
Belmore Sports Ground
Saturday, 28 July 1pm
Broadcast LIVE on Channel Nine and 9Now
Inconsistency has been a feature of both these sides' seasons, after limitless potential was shown earlier in the year - and now the Bulldogs and Warriors look to complete a strong run home into a likely finals berth.
When the two teams met in Round 2, it was the Bulldogs who came away with an upset victory in Auckland - but deserved NRL call-ups for Lachlan Lewis, Rhyse Martin and Ofahiki Ogden have since changed the side dramatically in the Intrust Super Premiership. It will once again be up to captain Matt Frawley and Josh Cleeland to steer the ship from the halves, while opposite numbers Mason Lino and Chanel Harris-Tavita will be difficult opponents.
The Bulldogs' hopes of a second consecutive top-four finish may hinge on this battle, while the Warriors risk falling out of the top eight if they can't secure the two points. The Belmore Sports Ground clash will be followed by a display of some of the state's youngest stars, with the NSW Under 16s taking on the Pacifika Under 16s from 2.45pm.
Newcastle Knights v Wentworthville Magpies
Cessnock Sports Ground
Saturday, 28 July 3pm
Success has been hard to come by for the Knights and Magpies, with just nine wins between the two sides thus far. Not since Newcastle's premiership-winning 2015 season have they featured in finals, while the drought is a year longer for Wentworthville - and it looks set to continue with the teams taking up last and second-last places on the ladder.
The Knights held their own in their clash with the first-placed Panthers last week, however, and coach Rory Kostjaysn will hope to have built on the performance which easily could have delivered them the win. They will be without either NRL-elevated fullback Nick Meaney or five-eighth Jack Cogger, with Cogger currently favoured to replace the injured Connor Watson in the top grade.
For the Magpies, the return of centre Nathan Davis is sure to help, but a relatively unchanged line-up will look to move past a narrow defeat to the Jets. If not for a try conceded inside two minutes, Nathan Cayless's men could have secured the victory at Ringrose Park, giving him some confidence of taking the win in Round 20.
Unfortunately, this match shapes up as the battle for the dreaded wooden spoon. With four competition points already separating the pair, the Knights cannot afford to lose if they are to avoid finishing the competition in 12th place.
Mounties v North Sydney Bears
Aubrey Keech Reserve
Saturday, 28 July 3pm
It's now or never for the 10th-placed Bears, who will know the gravity of the task ahead of them after taking a week off for the bye, while Mounties won't have lost sight of the minor premiership as they prepare for their match at Aubrey Keech Reserve.
North Sydney's break came at a good time, following a brave 28-all draw which would have helped their confidence significantly after a 32-0 defeat to Blacktown in Round 17. Mounties, meanwhile, were far from convincing in their Round 19 22-14 win over the Sea Eagles, and the absence of Craig Garvey could be a difficult hurdle to overcome.
Both hookers - Garvey and the since-departed Robbie Farah - dominated the teams' last clash in Round 7, which Mounties won 22-18. It leaves big shoes for Joel Luani and Billy Brittain to fill, but both experienced No.9s will set up an intriguing match-up.
Newtown Jets v Penrith Panthers
Saturday, 28 July 3pm
Henson Park is the home of the Beer, Footy and Food Festival this Saturday afternoon, with the spotlight on the Jets and the Panthers in one most anticipated days on the Intrust Super Premiership calendar.
Outside of the festivities taking place at the historic Rugby League venue, Newtown and Penrith face off in a top-four clash which will be extremely important in the final premiership race. The third-placed Jets are unlikely to unseat the Panthers from their spot on top of the ladder, but a victory could go close to confirming their top-four finish.
Both sides will clearly remember what happened when they last met in Round 4: a dominant 36-12 victory to the Knights at Panthers Stadium. The reigning premiers took some time to find their feet, but have since firmed their chances of another title.
The most intriguing factor of the Round 20 match-up comes from the sides' journey to the top of the table; the Panthers are the competition's best defensive side while the Jets are the best in attack. Both serious premiership contenders, it sets up what could fairly be considered the match of the round.
Wyong Roos v St George Illawarra Dragons
Sunday, 29 July 1.55pm
Before an exciting match between the Roosters and Dragons at NRL level, another interesting match-up takes place in the Intrust Super Premiership curtain-raiser at Allianz Stadium.
While the Dragons have slowly built their premiership credentials throughout the season, the Roos left it late to start their run - and, now sitting in eight place, could yet prove to be the dark horses of the competition. Their finals berth is, of course, far from assured, but they will hope that some recent NRL experience for a number of key players will help them in the back end of the year.
When the two teams last met in Round 6, both were further down the ladder than they would have liked, but it was the Dragons who came away with a narrow 20-14 victory. Two quality, near-full strength outfits will meet again on Sunday, with finals potentially on the horizon for both.