NRL preview: Round 18
STEVE Deane previews the latest round of the NRL.
WARRIORS v TITANS
Mt Smart Stadium, tonight
Referees: Gavin Badger, Adam Devcich.
The Warriors welcome back Micheal Luck, Sam Rapira and Kevin Locke (all sorely missed in recent times) from injury, while Shaun Johnson returns at halfback for the injured Brett Seymour. Without wanting to overstate the case, if a close-to-full-strength Warriors side can't beat the unspeakably awful Titans at home then they are dead this season. Deader than dead. Already decomposed and re-entered the foodchain as fertiliser dead. Speaking of which, ancient ex-playmaker Mat Rogers will be in town with the Titans but promises he isn't playing, while Clinton Toopi plays his 150th NRL match.
EELS v TIGERS
Parramatta Stadium tonight
Referees: Ben Cummins, Phil Haines.
Tigers centre Chris Lawrence makes his return tonight from a dislocated hip that was initially feared to be career-ending. While Lawrence has made a strong recovery in a matter of months, there is no sign of Benji Marshall on the team list, with Jacob Miller named at five-eighths. Jarryd Hayne and Tim Mannah should back up after Origin for the free-falling Eels, while Jeff Robson and Ryan Morgan return from injury.
Steroid-free utility Reni Maitua reverts to the bench after impressing at five-eighths in last week's defeat by the baby Broncos.
SHARKS v RAIDERS
Toyota Stadium, tomorrow
Referees: Jason Robinson, Gerard Sutton.
The Green Machine continues to run like a Mark II Zephyr, with Tom Learoyd-Lahrs the latest piece to break off and be left left sobbing on the roadside with a season-ending biceps tendon tear. "This is a real blow, I'm pretty disappointed at the moment and I suppose it'll be worse tomorrow morning when I wake up and it sinks in," TLL said. Oft-injured fullback Josh Dugan hasn't been named but might play. The Sharks welcome back skipper Paul Gallen to a side that has now won three straight (no, really) to sit just two points outside of the eight.
BULLDOGS v STORM
Adelaide Oval, tomorrow
Referees: Steve Lyons, Chris James.
Sydney is abuzz with rumours - okay, there's been one tabloid newspaper report - that Canterbury coach Kevin Moore will soon be gone from the Dogs. A run of three defeats in four matches, including significant humpings by Sydney rivals Manly, Cronulla and Penrith, have pushed the Dogs to crisis point. Good time to draw the top-of-the-table Storm then. Pest Ennis returns at hooker at the expense of Ben Roberts. The Storm have named their Origin reps, with injured lock Todd Lowrie (calf) the only notable omission from an extended 20-man squad.
ROOSTERS v PANTHERS
Sydney Football Stadium, Sunday
Referees: Matt Cecchin, Henry Perenara.
So much for a revolt at Penrith over Ivan Cleary's appointment. Fullback Lachlan Coote clears the air. "It was frustrating," Coote said of news current caretaker Steve Georgallis had been overlooked. "Georgie is really respected around the boys and the fans as well so it was a bit disappointing." Er, and? "But that's just the way it goes. Ivan Cleary is coming in next year and we'll give him our full respect - we're not upset with that. We've just got to do what we can do for Georgie this year and hopefully we can try and make the semis and he gets a job next year somewhere." Now where would there be a job going next season?
SEA EAGLES v RABBITOHS
Brookvale Oval, Sunday
Referees: Ashley Klein, Brett Suttor.
Not exactly news this, but Steve Matai is having another (albeit short) spell on the sidelines. Matai, whose NRL-best mark has now stretched to 21 weeks suspended over five and a bit seasons, will sit out this match after copping a one-week ban for belting fellow Kiwi Jason Nightingale in round 16. Michael Oldfield replaces him in the centres, while wing David Williams is doubtful. Greg Inglis is expected to back up from Origin duty for the Rabbitohs, while prop Ben Lowe, who this week signed a three-year extension, is expected to drop off the five-man bench.
KNIGHTS v COWBOYS
Ausgrid Stadium, Monday
Referees: Jared Maxwell, Tony De Las Heras.
Sitting pretty in fourth and with first-choice centres Willie Tonga and Brent Tate poised to rejoin the team, the Cowboys were feeling good about their season - right up until the 58th minute of Wednesday's Origin decider. Johnathan Thurston was due to find out overnight if the knee injury that put him in a wheelchair on Wednesday would end his season. At best, he's gone for up to six weeks. Kurt Gidley and Jarrod Mullen reunite in the halves for the Knights, meaning Dragon-slayer Ryan Stig will likely miss out.