With Magic Round in the rear-view mirror, the road to State of Origin has officially begun as players look to make a statement ahead of selection in Round 10 of NRL on Nine.
It kicks off tonight with Macca’s Thursday Night Footy, pitting the Melbourne Storm against the up-and-down Wests Tigers. Confidence will be high in both teams after emphatic victories last week.
Melbourne lose metre-eating fullback Jahrome Hughes and centre Curtis Scott through injury, with the fleet-footed and promising Ryan Papenhuyzen filling in for Hughes.
Tigers halfback Luke Brooks continues to impress, and if the Tigers can keep their completion rates high they could give last year’s grand finalists a scare. His halves partner, Benji Marshall, looks revitalised after five weeks off with an injury, and he was instrumental in their defeat of the Panthers last round.
In VB Friday Night Footy the Brisbane Broncos face the Sydney Roosters in a showcase for several players in Origin contention for NSW and Queensland. After a crucial win against a depleted Manly side last week, the Broncos have lost Jack Bird for the season, while James Roberts, “The Jet”, remains out of favour. They regain sharpshooting winger Jamayne Isaako following a stint on the sidelines.
The Roosters have named star Latrell Mitchell to start, despite a groin injury scare, but lose captain Boyd Cordner to concussion. The reliable Mitchell Aubusson replaces him in a seasoned pack that will be out to overwhelm the younger Broncos.
In Chemist Warehouse Sunday Footy the Cronulla Sharks defend their home turf against the gutsy Manly Sea Eagles, who continue to prove the doubters wrong. Though coming off a loss, they get representative player Dylan Walker back for his first game of the season, and Addin Fonua-Blake and Lachlan Croker both return.
The battle up front between Sharks captain Paul Gallen and Jake Trbojevic could prove decisive, while the Sharks are also sweating on the health of powerhouse forward Andrew Fifita. Halfback Chad Townsend has been quietly brilliant for Cronulla, leading the NRL in supporting play statistics, and may prove the key in a Sharks victory.