Thursday night: Canterbury v North Qld, Homebush
The Thurston-less Cowboys have another tough trip to Sydney against the Bulldogs. Both sides are 5-4, with Canterbury marginally ahead on points differential. Canterbury – with a 4-1 home record – should win this comfortably.
CANTERBURY BY 20
Friday night: St. George-Illawarra v Cronulla, Kogarah
There’s high stakes in this local derby, with the winner to take second place behind Melbourne. The Dragons – once surprise ladder leaders – have lost their last two, while Cronulla have won five of their last six. St. George-Illawarra beat Cronulla 16-10 back in round three and will be relying on a parochial Kogarah crowd to complete the clean sweep. Based on recent form, Cronulla should win a tight one.
CRONULLA BY SIX
Friday night: Wests Tigers v Souths, Homebush
For the first time this season, Channel Nine will be a Broncos-free zone, with the Wests Tigers v Souths game played on Friday night. It’s hardly a captivating game, with Wests’ season containing more drama than an overwrought soap opera and Souths have lost their last three, including a heavy loss to Manly two weeks ago. It may be a case of who manages to lose the least than who wants to win. To be fair to Wests, they’ve beaten North Qld (in Townsville) and Canterbury recently, so they should have enough for the struggling Rabbitohs.
WESTS BY 10
Saturday afternoon: Penrith v NZ Warriors, Penrith Park
Like the Wests Tigers v Souths game, this clash in Penrith isn’t exactly exciting. Penrith’s awfulness has been well documented, while NZ have been great at home (4-1), awful away (0-4). The Kiwis’ flogging against Australia won’t help their confidence either. After a horrible first half at Lang Park, Penrith showed a bit of fight against Brisbane. Building on that momentum – and banking on the Warriors struggling away from home again – should get Penrith their third win of the year.
PENRITH BY 12
Saturday night: Melbourne v Gold Coast, Lang Park
The first leg of the Lang Park/Suncorp Stadium double header, Melbourne are two games clear at the top of the ladder, while the Gold Coast found some confidence with a big win over Newcastle. The Storm’s big Queensland contingent will ensure plenty of support up north. Expect the Titans to fight, but the Storm to have too much class.
MELBOURNE BY 14
Saturday night: Manly v Brisbane, Lang Park
After a slow start, Brisbane have worked their way to the top four, while Manly have won two in a row (and nearly beat Melbourne for a third) to sit sixth. This promises to be an interesting match, with the Broncos 4-1 at Lang Park and Manly 4-0 away from Brooky (though technically it’s a Manly home game). Given Manly’s recent run, a win at Lang Park wouldn’t be a surprise, but Brisbane should do the job at home. Just.
BRISBANE BY TWO
Sunday afternoon: Newcastle v Canberra, McDonalds Jones Stadium.
Following their widely-criticised loss to Canterbury, this is a must win for Canberra to stay in touch with the finals. If Canberra have their heads screwed on, they should win against the perennially brave but outclassed Knights. Newcastle fans will take hope from their 2016 form against Canberra: they drew 24-24 in Newcastle and led 22-0 in Canberra before losing 29-25 in Golden Point. If Canberra are serious about turning around their season, they have to beat Newcastle. No questions asked.
CANBERRA BY 10
Sunday afternoon: Sydney Roosters v Parramatta, SFS
It’s been a fun week in Bondi, gaining James Tedesco from the Wests Tigers and losing Shaun Kenny-Dowall for drug possession. They would still be steaming after the controversial loss in Auckland, so they’ll be fired up to beat Parramatta. The Eels have three straight wins – including a big win in Townsville – so they’ll be confident, but the Roosters will probably be more desperate to move the headlines back on-field.
SYDNEY ROOSTERS BY SIX