NRL round 9 preview panel
PREVIEW OF NRL ROUND NINE MATCHES (all times AEST):
THURSDAY, May 9
Gold Coast v Cronulla at Suncorp Stadium, 7.50pm
Head to Head: Titans 8, Sharks 10 , Drawn 1
Last clash: Round 2, 2019 - Sharks 20 bt Titans 6 at Southern Cross Group Stadium
A near full-strength Cronulla outfit put the Titans to the sword with a 20-0 first half in round two before running out 14-point winners. The stage is different for the Magic Round opener in Brisbane, with both teams missing a handful of stars due to injury. AJ Brimson starting for the absent Tyrone Roberts is one to watch.
Key: Only complacency will stop an understrength Sharks team that upset Melbourne last week.
FRIDAY, May 10
Wests Tigers v Penrith at Suncorp Stadium, 6pm
Head to Head: Wests Tigers 12, Panthers 21
Last clash: Round 4, 2019 - Panthers 9 bt Wests Tigers 8 (GP) at Panthers Stadium
There's been little fanfare over Ivan Cleary's second game against his former club compared to five weeks ago, although it would've been different had the Wests Tigers hosted this at a real home ground. Instead the focus is purely on a spiralling Panthers side perilously close to irrelevance and now without Isaah Yeo.
Key: Viliame Kikau looked a goner when he went down with an ankle injury last week, but is on the extended bench and can be the difference.
Manly v Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium, 8.05pm
Head to Head: Sea Eagles 22, Broncos 22, drawn 1
Last clash: Round 25, 2018 - Broncos 48 bt Sea Eagles 16 at Suncorp Stadium
Manly are winners of five of their past six without their biggest stars. In contrast, Brisbane have dropped five of their last six, lost hooker Andrew McCullough, and banished two players to reserve grade, including star centre James Roberts. All 16 teams are in town for Magic Round, but the heat is on the one home team.
Key: Another home defeat with all 15 rivals in town could result in the locals turning dark on new coach Anthony Seibold, if they haven't already.
Tip: Sea Eagles
SATURDAY, May 11
Canterbury v Newcastle at 3pm
Head to Head: Bulldogs 25, Knights 20, Drawn 1
Last clash: Round 16, 2018 - Bulldogs 36 bt Knights 16 at McDonald Jones Stadium
Brave without reward in recent weeks, Canterbury are now mired in last spot but could get Kieran Foran back. They take on a Newcastle side that have found life with two straight wins, coinciding with back-to-back man-of-the-match efforts by skipper Mitchell Pearce. The top eight now beckons.
Key: The possible inclusion of Foran will give the Bulldogs all the inspiration they need to make this a genuine contest.
Warriors v St George Illawarra at 5.30pm
Head to Head: Warriors 7, Dragons 21
Last clash: Round 21, 2018 - Warriors 18 bt Dragons 12 at WIN Stadium
A game of two halves. One, new Warriors recruit Kodi Nikorima, plays his first game for the club ironically on his former home ground at Suncorp Stadium following his controversial move from Brisbane. And the second is Jai Field, who has long been touted a future star and replaces the injured Corey Norman.
Key: Has Stephen Kearney made the right call by dropping Issac Luke? One week after captaining the club, the veteran rake was axed for Nathaniel Roache.
Melbourne v Parramatta at 7.35pm
Head to Head: Storm 21, Eels 13
Last clash: Round 23, 2018 - Storm 20 bt Eels 4 at AAMI Park
Only one change has been made at Melbourne despite the wrath of Craig Bellamy threatening to make changes after last week's loss to Cronulla. Just one alternation has also been made to an Eels side that keeps fronting up despite the storm clouds gathering over their plethora of unsigned players.
Key: Does hooker Reed Mahoney become a Queensland Origin dark horse if he gets a win - and points decision victory - over retired Maroons' legend Cameron Smith.
SUNDAY, May 12
Sydney Roosters v Canberra at 2pm
Head to Head: Roosters 32, Raiders 28
Last clash: Round 23, 2018 - Raiders 14 bt Roosters 12 at GIO Stadium
Should've been the game of the round between the white-hot defending premiers against the 2019 surprise packets. But the double blow of losing injured Raiders duo John Bateman and Joey Leilua, somewhat dilutes the significance of the match being used as a measuring stick for coach Ricky Stuart.
Key: There's only one NSW No.6 jumper, but could both five-eighths Luke Keary and Jack Wighton make the cut? The latter is being considered as a utility.
South Sydney v North Queensland at 4.05pm
Head to Head: Rabbitohs 16, Cowboys 17, drawn 1
Last clash: Round 16, 2018 - Rabbitohs 21 bt Cowboys 20 at Barlow Park
Is this saving the best for last? Brisbane locals will have done well to survive seven games of NRL at Suncorp Stadium before seven-time premiership-winning coach Wayne Bennett steps back into the box for the first time since his controversial exit. How will the master coach be welcomed back?
Key: Jason Taumalolo is always a handful and gives the Cowboys a fighting chance, but Cody Walker has yet to be stopped this year.
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