Sea Eagles (11) v Panthers (1)
Thursday 7.50pm, 4 Pines Park
Manly need a performance at home like the one they pulled out against Melbourne to be any hope of upsetting the premiers. The Sea Eagles will need to be at their defensive best with the Panthers sure to test them time and again, just as they did against Melbourne last week. There will be plenty of pressure on Jake Trbojevic to keep the home side in the fight in the middle of the field. Their best chance of points will be down the right with Tolu Koula and Jason Saab. But who can tip against Penrith? Panthers by 14.
Sharks (6) v Titans (13)
Friday 6pm, PointsBet Stadium
Provided they bounce back from the long trek to Perth, Cronulla will have plenty to play for at home. The confidence and belief has returned.
Nicho Hynes is back to form, Braydon Trindall had plenty of nice moments at five-eighth, while Ronaldo Mulitalo, who has an unbelievable try-scoring record at PointsBet Stadium, is back from injury. The Titans lose Mo Fotuaika but welcome back sipper Tino Fa’asuamaleaui. This will be close, but the Sharks have so much more to play for. Sharks by 4.
Broncos (2) v Eels (9)
Friday 8pm, The Gabba
Parramatta’s season effectively goes on the line at the Gabba and it’s the tallest of orders: a high-flying Broncos outfit, with Adam Reynolds back at the scrumbase and all off a five-day turnaround.
The Eels left-edge was in all-sorts against the Dragons on Sunday and while Bailey Simonsson and Daejarn Asi are a new pairing out wide, they’ll still have their work cut out for them against Selwyn Cobbo and Kotoni Staggs. Jordan Riki is back for the home side as well. Brisbane (534 points) and Parramatta (533) have scored the most points in the competition this year (with an extra game in hand over Penrith and Cronulla), but it might all be one-way traffic on Friday night. Broncos by 18.
Rabbitohs (8) v Dragons (16)
Saturday 3pm, Barlow Park, Cairns
South Sydney, tipped by many as the team most likely to challenge Penrith’s three-peat quest, are only just remaining in the finals race. After playing the Sharks back into form, they can’t afford another slip up against St George Illawarra. The Rabbitohs are looking very skinny up front without Tom Burgess, Tevita Tatola, Hame Sele and Liam Knight in the engine room. Souths need to win and also win well; they are just 15 points ahead of Parramatta on for-and-against at a time when differential could decide play-off spots. The Dragons have issues of their own and will be without Jack Bird, Zac Lomax and Francis Molo. The team with more to play for usually wins at this time of year. Rabbitohs by 10.
Tigers (17) v Warriors (3)
Saturday 5.30pm, FMG Waikato Stadium
Andrew Webster, considered by many as a sure thing for Dally M coach of the year, comes up against one of the clubs where he did his apprenticeship.
The Tigers’ decision to take a game to New Zealand has played right into the Warriors’ hands, with the hosts set to put up another full-house sign in Hamilton. They are flying and should account for a Tigers outfit that will be boosted from the return of Stefano Utoikamanu and Shawn Blore. Tim Sheen’s men were unlucky not to have pipped the Raiders, but with the wooden spoon again in their grasp their motivation won’t be as high as their opponents. Warriors by 14.
Roosters (12) v Dolphins (14)
Saturday 7.35pm, Allianz Stadium
The Roosters were good without being great against Manly but are back and winning. Siua Wong was excellent in the back row, Drew Hutchison kept things calm in the halves, while Billy Smith continues to enjoy an excellent season at left centre. The Dolphins were always entitled to capitulate in the second half of the season, and while they will give the home side a fright for at least an hour, expect them to fall away the final 15 or 20 minutes. The trip home from Perth will also not help them. Roosters by 10.
Storm (4) v Raiders (5)
Sunday 2pm, AAMI Park
The ladder says these two sides are top-tier contenders, the form line says otherwise. Melbourne were trounced by Penrith last round and haven’t strung consecutive wins together in six weeks.
Jahrome Hughes’s return from ankle issue can’t be overstated though; he’s been one of their best all year. Canberra have snuck away with tight losses all season that in previous years they would have butchered. Ricky Stuart is rightly chuffed at the turnaround, but knows the Raiders are still nowhere near the best at the moment. Playing Melbourne in Melbourne is a proper litmus test. Storm by 12.
Knights (7) v Bulldogs (15)
Sunday 4.05pm, McDonald Jones Stadium
The Knights are flying - who’d have thought? Anyone who clocked the 66-0 thrashing the last time they faced Canterbury it turns out. Newcastle haven’t looked like losing since and can push themselves further into the top eight on Sunday. Their loud, loyal and long-suffering fans deserve nothing less. The Bulldogs are a thoroughly different team from that low point six weeks ago and are showing signs another late-season rally could be in the works now Viliame Kikau is back. Just not against Newcastle this week. Knights by 10.