PREVIEWS | ISP Rd 22
Penrith Panthers v Wyong Roos
Saturday, 11 August 1pm
Broadcast live on Channel Nine and 9Now
For the second time in 2018, the Intrust Super Premiership is treated to a grand final replay - and the first encounter delivered on all expectations.
Round 13 saw the 2017 grand finalists meet in contrasting positions; while the since-crowned minor premiers Penrith were in third place, the Roos had only just begun their resurgence and remained in 11th. Nevertheless, an entertaining, tightly-contested affair followed and the teams couldn't be split after 80 minutes, with a late Maika Sivo try ultimately ensuring a 16-all draw.
Christian Crichton is the only named omission for the Panthers, while the Roos will also be without hooker Kurt Baptiste, who is replaced in the squad by Jake Lewis. While the Panthers' end-of-season place on the top of the ladder is assured, the Roos must return to the winners' circle if they are to cling on to their place in the top eight.
Warriors v Newcastle Knights
Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday, 11 August 3pm
What appeared to be an all-but-confirmed ticket to the finals is now in serious doubt as the Warriors suffer a disappointing drought, resulting in desperation for John Teina's men.
Winless in their past four matches, the Warriors will have welcomed the week off in Round 21, when they earned their only two points since 30 June. Their opposition this week, meanwhile, are keen to see out a disaster season by troubling some of the best teams.
Knights fans will understandably be disappointed with what will be their second wooden spoon in three seasons, but a shock 16-6 defeat of Mounties in Round 21 gives hope that there is still fight left in the Rory Kostjaysn-coached side. Two games remain for Newcastle - the other against the minor premiers - before a Round 24 bye, so the finish line is now within reach.
While Karl Lawton is the only addition to the Warriors' side, the Knights welcome the likes of Christian Hazard, Jacob Gagai, Jirah Momoisea and Josh King. Despite the last-start victory, the Knights will need to improve on 12 errors and 12 penalties conceded if they are to take another win in Auckland.
Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Saturday, 11 August 3.10pm
Both the Sea Eagles and the Bulldogs will have it all to play for when they meet on Sydney's Northern Beaches on Saturday, needing to lift in order to secure a top eight and top four position respectively.
Blacktown currently sit one point off the pace and, in addition to a Round 22 win, will be hoping for either the Warriors or Roos to taste defeat this week to return to finals contention. Canterbury-Bankstown have had an impressive run of late before suffering a one-point loss to St George Illawarra last weekend, but could find themselves in the top four if results fall their way.
Jackson Hastings was the central focus when the Sea Eagles went down to the Bulldogs 44-14 in Round 8, but a number of changes have affected the club in the weeks since. A much less experienced halves pairing will feature this time around, which will see the Intrust Super Premiership debut of one of the brightest talents throughout the junior representative system. Luke Metcalf, a former Shark and NSW representative, will partner Cade Cust as they look to get the better of experienced Bulldogs duo Josh Cleeland and Matt Frawley.
Alongside Frawley, the Bulldogs will be boosted by the inclusion of Clay Priest and Mason Cerruto. As a combined unit, they will require significantly fewer than the 49 missed tackles they came up with in the loss to the Dragons.
Mounties v Western Suburbs Magpies
Sunday, 12 August 11.45am
Broadcast live on Fox League
Just four weeks on from their last encounter, both Mounties and the Western Suburbs Magpies have experienced a slide which threatens to derail their finals campaigns before they've begun.
Mounties' 28-8 win over the Magpies in Round 18 put them right in the frame for the minor premiership and favouritism for the title, but with one win to show for their three games since they have since relinquished a chance at top spot to the Panthers. Western Suburbs have the same record for their past three games and while they would be unlucky to miss out of the finals from here, their place in sixth position is all but assured.
There is no doubt that Craig Garvey's departure from the black and gold is a difficult hurdle to overcome - and the Magpies, who earlier had to make up for the loss of form halfback Josh Drinkwater, are no strangers to that challenge. Joel Luani - like Garvey, a former Bulldog - has taken up the starting hooking role, but may look to increase his minutes in a bid to shore up his side's place in the top four.
Head to head, it's a fixture the Mounties have had the better of in recent times, but desperation will play a part in the Magpies' bid to unsettle that pattern.
North Sydney Bears v Wentworthville Magpies
North Sydney Oval
Sunday, 12 August 2pm
North Sydney Bears continue their push for a top eight berth, a reality that seemed unlikely prior to the three wins from their past five outings.
However, just two points adrift of the eighth-placed Wyong Roos, the Bears' charge towards the finals series can gain some serious credibility with a win over the Wentworthville Magpies here.
Five-eighth Connor Tracey has been in stellar form of late, having scored back-to-back try doubles in his side's wins over the Mounties and Roos, respectively.
Tracey and his halves partner Dean Hawkins will be a duo heavily man-marked by the Wentworthville Magpies outfit, who themselves have enjoyed some end-of-season success in recent weeks.
A run of six-straight losses through rounds 11 to 16 has been offset of late, with Nathan Cayless' men having banked six of a possible 10 competition points in the past five weeks.
A win over the Newcastle Knights in Round 20 all-but ensured the Magpies would avoid the dreaded wooden spoon in 2018, with a win over the Bears to add further respectability to their season record.