Round 13 promised the next chapter in the bitter rivalry between South Sydney Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett and Brisbane Broncos coach Anthony Seibold.
There is clearly no love lost between the two so Friday night’s clash was expected to have some extra spice to it.
However, Bennett has now been stood down by the NRL for a period of two weeks on ‘COVID Hold’ after breaching the NRL’s strict bio-security rules by dining at a Leichhardt restaurant on Wednesday.
Rabbitohs’ assistant coach Jason Demetriou will take charge of the team during Bennett’s absence.
The match with the most anticipation this round is undoubtedly the Raiders and Panthers battle on Saturday night, with both sides boasting a plethora of stars.
Manly Sea Eagles (9th) vs New Zealand Warriors (12th) Friday 7 August 6pm @Lottoland
Manly ran into a red-hot Panthers side last round and were found wanting as they continued their patchy form.
The loss was compounded by a serious foot injury to five-eighth Dylan Walker, meaning Cade Cust comes back into the starting side.
Cust played well in his last match against the Cowboys so will be looking to have a similar impact for his team in a match they desperately need to win.
The Warriors surprised many with an upset victory over the Tigers last round and could be a dangerous side to come up against late in the season.
Despite being away from home for so long and losing several players, they keep finding guys that step up. One of those is Jack Hetherington who is just so much fun to watch as he plays with passion and aggression.
Blake Green has left the club to join the Knights so they will miss his experience, but it opens the door for Chanel Harris-Tevita to make the starting halves spot his own.
South Sydney Rabbitohs (8th) vs Brisbane Broncos (15th) Friday 7 August 7.55pm @ANZ Stadium
The next chapter in the rivalry between Anthony Seibold and Wayne Bennett will have plenty of spice after some heated words from Bennett this week.
There have been rumours that Bennett and Seibold both knifed each other as they swapped clubs at the end of the 2018 season, but Bennett completely denied his role in the drama, calling the accusations “bulls—t” in an interview with the Courier Mail.
The drama adds extra spice to the contest, but Bennett may not even be at the game as he potentially faces 14 days in isolation after breaching the NRL’s strict COVID protocols.
Anyway, back to the field and the Rabbitohs find themselves clinging to a top-8 spot and would fancy themselves to knock over the hapless Broncos.
The Broncos looked certain to record a rare victory against the Sharks last round before a capitulation in the final 10 minutes saw them lose their 9th game in their past 10.
Titans-bound David Fifita will play his first game since the competition restarted in round 3 and will hopefully provide the spark the Broncos need.
Anthony Milford is out with and injury with Brodie Croft to take his spot at five-eighth.
Melbourne Storm (2nd) vs Canterbury Bulldogs (16th) Saturday 8 August 3pm @Sunshine Coast Stadium
The Storm have been on a roll lately but will be without two of their stars when they take on the improved Bulldogs.
Cameron Smith is out with an injured shoulder, meaning Brandon Smith will get to start in his preferred position of hooker in a potential tryout for the spot should Cameron Smith retire at the end of the season.
Ryan Papenhuyzen is also out after starring last week against the Knights with Nicho Hynes named as his replacement at fullback.
Despite missing those two stars, the Storm have enough quality depth to be able to win against the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs have improved dramatically since Dean Pay was sacked and were desperately close to causing an upset over the Eels last round.
Kieran Foran was at his best against the Eels and will need to continue that form to give his side a chance in this one.
Although an upset would seem unlikely, the Bulldogs have been playing a tough brand of footy so don’t expect them to lie down for the Storm.
Newcastle Knights (7th) vs Wests Tigers (10th) Saturday 8 August 5.30pm @McDonald Jones Stadium
The Knights have lost two straight games to find themselves just one point clear of the 9th placed Sea Eagles and in need of a victory here.
They announced the signing of Blake Green earlier in the week and he has been named at five-eighth to partner Mitchell Pearce in the halves, with Kurt Mann shifting to hooker.
Given how much experience Green has in the NRL, you would expect him to be able to gel with the Knights side rather quickly.
The Tigers are coming off the back of a poor performance against the Warriors where coach Michael Maguire berated his side at halftime.
Maguire has responded by putting Luke Brooks back in the starting side to partner Benji Marshall, shifting Billy Walters to the interchange.
The Tigers’ woes from last week have been compounded with an injury to their star hooker Harry Grant who could miss a month with a knee injury.
Grant is leading the Dally M leaderboard and has been the Tigers’ best player so will be a huge loss as they look to get back on track. Moses Mybe has shifted from the centres into hooker to cover for Grant.
Penrith Panthers (1st) vs Canberra Raiders (5th) Saturday 8 August 7.35pm @Panthers Stadium
The match of the round between two sides that you expect will be vying for the premiership deep in the finals.
The Panthers put on a stunning display last round to smash Manly with a brilliant all-round performance.
Nathan Cleary has taken the mantle as the best halfback in the game and has the Panthers backline looking extremely dangerous.
James Fisher-Harris and James Tamou have been leading the forwards brilliantly and their clash with the Raiders big men of Josh Papalii and Joe Tapine looks mouth-watering.
The Raiders are coming off three straight victories, but they have all been close, physical contests.
John Bateman was sensational on his return last week and with Viliame Kikau on the Panthers, we will get to see a battle of two of the best back rowers in the NRL.
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad has been named to return after a recovering from a gruesome finger injury sustained only two weeks ago.
He has become an integral part of the team in his 18 months at the Raiders and will be pivotal if they are to beat the ladder leaders.
Gold Coast Titans (14th) vs North Queensland Cowboys (13th) Sunday 9 August 2pm @Cbus Super Stadium
No Queensland side has registered a win since round 9 so at least one of these will get on the board in this one.
The Titans have lost their last three matches but have been competitive against the Panthers and Roosters, so are showing signs of improvement.
They had two players sin binned against the Roosters but showed the sort of resolve we haven’t seen from a Titans side in many years to only lose by six points.
Alex Brimson returned at fullback last week and looked dangerous and has been named there again, which means that Corey Thompson is unable to get a game.
The Cowboys have lost their past five matches but their effort last week against the Raiders could not be questioned.
Led by Jason Taumalolo, the Cowboys worked tirelessly to find the match winner against the Raiders but ultimately fell short.
They have lacked polish when attacking in recent weeks, but they regain their captain Michael Morgan who will play alongside Ben Hampton and add some much-needed experience to a young spine.
Cronulla Sharks (6th) vs Parramatta Eels (2nd) Sunday 9 August 4.05pm @Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
Another blockbuster to finish the round with two top-8 teams to face off.
The Sharks got out of jail last week against the Broncos, so will need to improve on that performance to match the Eels.
They will be bolstered by the return of a couple of their veterans with Matt Moylan been named to return at five-eighth and Josh Dugan named at centre.
The Sharks have scored 320 points this season, which has them ranked 2nd in the NRL so they clearly have no issue scoring, but they are clearly the worst side in the top for points conceded.
They have conceded 274 points this season which is a massive 124 points clear of the Eels.
The Eels also escaped with a narrow win over a bottom side in the Bulldogs, so Brad Arthur will also want to see some improvement in his side.
They raced out to an 18-0 lead after just 28 minutes but failed to score another point for the remainder of the game.
The battle of the halves should be very interesting with Dylan Brown and Mitchell Moses for the Eels and Shaun Johnson and Matt Moylan for the Sharks.
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