PREVIEWS | ISP Rd 23

Penrith Panthers v Newcastle Knights
Panthers Stadium
Saturday, 18 August 12.45pm
Broadcast live on Fox League

One month after the first-versus-last battle went down to the wire, Newcastle will leave nothing in the tank in their final match of 2018.

When the 12th-placed Knights hosted the 1st-placed Panthers in Round 19, few gave Rory Kostjaysn's men much chance of an upset - and while they fell just short, they gave the defending premiers a run for their money. Two tries in the final 10 minutes sealed the 36-26 victory as Penrith continued their charge to the 2018 minor premiership.

While the Panthers' place on top of the ladder has since been confirmed, so has the Knights' unfortunate anchor to the bottom. A shake-up to the roster has the potential to prompt an upset at the foot of the mountains, with Beau Fermor, Jacob Gagai, Jayden Butterfield, Matt Cooper, Pat Mata'utia and Tyrone Amey all coming into the side, while the Panthers could have the major inclusions of Christian Crichton, Kaide Ellis, Liam Martin and Paea Pua. With the two combatants at the opposite ends of the spectrum in both attacking and defensive performances this season, the home side must still be the clear favourite - but Newcastle will not go down without a fight.

Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles v St George Illawarra Dragons
Campbelltown Sports Stadium
Saturday, 18 August 1pm
Broadcast live on Channel Nine and 9Now

With a monumental rise in the past two weeks, the Dragons are flexing their muscles in the premiership race - while the Sea Eagles form part of the five-team logjam for seventh and eighth spot.

Just two competition points separate the Warriors, Roos, Sea Eagles, Bears and Wentworthville Magpies, leaving Steve Hales' men just outside the top eight - and the task for his men is clear. With the hardest run home of any team in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW, Blacktown must now overcome the top two teams if they are to feature in finals football this year.

With their past five matches decided by eight points or less, another tight one is on the cards at Campbelltown. A narrow loss to the Bulldogs kept them in ninth place, but they have proved throughout the season they have what it takes to unseat the top teams. The Dragons, coming off a bye and a one-point win over Canterbury-Bankstown, will prove a difficult opposition.

While rookie Luke Metcalf and the talented Tom Wright will be key for Blacktown, St George Illawarra will only welcome back Josh Kerr from their Round 20 team. With the Dragons the second-best defensive outfit, the Sea Eagles will need to maximise their opportunities - but with a better attack than their opposition, they will be a definite chance to keep their finals dream alive.

Wyong Roos v Western Suburbs Magpies
Morry Breen Oval
Saturday, 18 August 3pm

While the Round 3, 23-22 victory to the Roos will seem like an age ago, the heartbreak could serve as extra motivation when the Western Suburbs Magpies look to lay their claim on a top-four finish.

The remarkable second half - capped by a Mitch Cornish field goal - was enough to hand Western Suburbs their first loss of 2018, but proved to be a rare win for Wyong in the early stages of the season. Fast forward 20 rounds and it's all on the line, with the prospect of a finals lifeline on offer should the Magpies finish towards the top.

For the eighth-placed Roos, a finals berth is still all but assured - although they will be buoyed by the knowledge that they can enjoy a bye in Round 24. It makes the equation simple for Rip Taylor's men: win this weekend and start preparing for finals, lose and spend the week sweating on other teams' results.

Newtown Jets v Warriors
Henson Park
Saturday, 18 August 3pm

As with the Roos and Magpies, the Jets and Warriors will have differing goals at Henson Park on Saturday; Newtown can go a long way to shoring up a top-four finish, while the Warriors need to book their place in the top eight.

Second only to the Panthers on points differential, the Jets could confirm a top-four spot by reaching 28 competition points this week. The Warriors also have a favourable points differential to their main competitors, meaning one win could be enough to see them through til the playoffs.

Big inclusions of Aaron Gray, Jack Williams, Malakai Houma, Matt Evans and Tyla Tamou will help Newtown, while the Warriors will do without the NRL-bound Peta Hiku. The Warriors will look for a repeat of their 20-18 win over the Jets in Round 8 - a rain-soaked affair in Auckland.

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v North Sydney Bears
ANZ Stadium
Sunday, 19 August 11.45am
Broadcast live on Fox League

Traditionally a hard-fought battle in the Intrust Super Premiership, the Bulldogs and Bears both have important points to prove when they meet at ANZ Stadium.

While a loss would spell the end of the Bears' season, a win could spark a miraculous rise into eighth place next week - although they will still be relying on other results. For the Bulldogs, a top four place is on offer and with four wins and a one-point loss from their past five starts, they appear to be coming home with a wet sail.

Rookies Brandon Wakeham and Morgan Harper could make way for Fa'amanu Brown and Clay Priest in Steve Georgallis's side, while the Bears will be boosted by Billy Brittain and Dean Britt. Brown, who has also been named in the NRL outfit, will play a key role if given an opportunity at halfback this weekend.

Wentworthville Magpies v Mounties
Ringrose Park
Sunday, 19 August 3pm

By the time their Round 23 match comes around, the Wentworthville Magpies will know whether their 2018 season is still alive; if both the Warriors and Bears have lost to the Jets and Bulldogs respectively, they will hold on to a slim chance of finals football.

Despite sitting just one place off the bottom of the ladder, the door is still ajar for Nathan Cayless's men, and it goes without saying that they must win both of their remaining fixtures. That starts with Mounties this Sunday afternoon - a side now desperately clinging onto fourth place.

The Mount Pritchard-based team is facing a monumental slide since farewelling hooker Craig Garvey after Round 19; they have lost the three matches since, and have now won just two of their past seven. After a shock loss to Newcastle a fortnight ago, they will not take the Magpies lightly when they wrap up the penultimate round of competition.