Round 18 saw the return of the Hayne Train, with Jarryd Hayne back from injury and almost managing to single handedly lift Parramatta to an upset win against the Knights. Against the Bulldogs, who are the only club in an even bigger crisis than Parramatta, he could well take them all the way.
This round will see first in a long while that is unaffected by Origin, with all clubs expected to name full strength teams barring injuries. The first match will be tonight, with the Eels taking on the Bulldogs in a battle of the two wooden spoon favourites. Both sides have been horrendous on the field all year, but the Bulldogs are a mess off it as well, and the Hayne Train is looming. Parramatta should win this, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jarryd Hayne inspire them to a rout.
On Friday the Sharks will face the Raiders in Cronulla, followed by the Broncos and Panthers in Brisbane. The Sharks and Panthers will both be looking to put a stamp on their premiership aspirations, while the Broncos are racing to stay ahead of the Raiders in 8th. The Sharks should beat the Raiders at home, while the Panthers will be close to full strength and are probably too strong for Brisbane.
Saturday features 3 games, with two of them looking tough to tip. First up the Knights (with Mitchell Pearce but without Kalyn Ponga) will take on the Titans. Both teams are probably locked out of the finals, but are still respectable enough sides. At home Newcastle look to have the edge, after grinding out a win against Parramatta despite the heroics of the Hayne Train.
The second match up is between the high flying Rabbitohs and the lurking Tigers. Wests will need to win this game in order to keep their finals hopes alive, while Souths are attempting to cement top spot. The return of Robbie Farah, and his combination with Benji Marshall, sparked the Tigers last week and they will need to hope the old magic is still there this weekend. With Moses Mbye at the back they are a real chance of snatching this game.
The final match up of Saturday night is between the Cowboys and the Dragons. The Dragons will clinch this one – if they don’t, we can write them off completely this year.
Sunday has two more matches, with the Warriors facing the Storm in Auckland and the Roosters playing the Sea Eagles at Lottoland. The first match will be tough to tip, as the Warriors have the better line-up while the Storm are more consistent. Coming off a big win in Brisbane the New Zealanders could look to get on a roll, and a win over the Storm would be a big help to their September aspirations.
The final game will see the Roosters crossing the Harbour Bridge to face the Sea Eagles. While Easts have a gun squad, recent form and the motivation of cementing a top four spot, a Sunday afternoon clash in Brookvale against a team with the Trbojevics and Daly Cherry-Evans in it, fresh off starring Origin performances, screams ambush. Manly could well win in a huge upset here.
So settle in, every game has something to look out for this round – even the wooden spoon play-off has an in-form Hayne Train coming through.