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Sunday, July 25, 2021

NRL round 8 preview: Thursday night special

Round 8 kicks off with a beauty as the Storm and Roosters clash at Suncorp Stadium tonight, Thursday 2 July.

There isn’t much love lost between these sides as they’ve clashed in the finals the past couple of years, so it promises to be a brutal encounter.

Another match of interest focuses on two sides down the other end of the ladder, with the under-pressure Broncos to face the Warriors.

There are some other good games to look forward to this weekend, so let’s get into them.

Melbourne Storm (4th) vs Sydney Roosters (3rd) Thursday 2 July 7.50pm @Suncorp Stadium

Due to the COVID outbreak in Victoria, the Storm have relocated to Queensland so they will lose their home ground advantage with the game to be played in Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium.

This should be a beauty with two top-four teams to do battle for Thursday night footy but both sides will be undermanned after copping injuries last round.

The Storm will be without their star five-eighth Cameron Munster after he suffered a knee injury last round. Munster is a huge loss for the Storm and there will now be more reliance on Cam Smith to create in attack.

The Roosters have been dealt a triple blow with Victor Radley, Sam Verrills and Isaac Liu all ruled out with injury.

Nat Butcher slots in at lock for Radley while Jake Friend will have to play more minutes in the absence of Verrills.

The Roosters certainly have enough quality to cover for the loss of those three players and after five wins on the trot, they are still the team to beat in 2020.

Canberra Raiders (7th) vs St George Illawarra Dragons (12th) Friday 3 July 6pm @GIO Stadium

The Raiders return to their home ground for the first time since round 1 and it comes at a much-needed time as they look to avoid three losses in a row.

There’s good news and bad news for the Raiders lineup with Corey Horsburgh ruled out for 12 weeks but Joe Tapine returns to fill his spot at lock. Jordan Rapana is also out with a minor calf injury and is replaced by Bailey Simonsson.

The big news comes with Curtis Scott being dropped to the bench after struggling since the season returned; he has been replaced in the centres by Michael Oldfield.

The Dragons played well last round against the Roosters and, despite the loss, they would be pleased with how they performed.

Given their solid form, Paul McGregor is running with the same 17 as last week.

There was a bit of feeling the last time these two met and with plenty on the line, we may see some emotions again.

Parramatta Eels (1st) vs North Queensland Cowboys (10th) Friday 3 July 7.55pm @Bankwest Stadium

The Eels have been in fine form in 2020 and after another gutsy win last round, they look the team most likely to knock the Roosters off their perch.

Unfortunately for the Eels, halfback Mitch Moses is out, with young Jai Field named to play his first game for the club, but the bulk of the playmaking duties will fall on Dylan Brown’s shoulders.

The Cowboys found some form last week with an impressive win over the Knights on the back of another dominant performance from Jason Taumalolo.

Valentine Holmes has been named on their extended bench and will be a huge inclusion if passed fit to play.

Gold Coast Titans (13th) vs Cronulla Sharks (11th) Saturday 4 July 3pm @Cbus Super Stadium

The Titans played their best game of the year last round, albeit against a disjointed Broncos side.

Justin Holbrook seems to have his team playing with confidence after a long time without a win and if Ash Taylor can continue his form, they are capable of upsetting the Sharks here.

The Sharks also played their best game of the season last week, racking up 40 points against an undermanned Manly side.

The combination of the halves and fullback Matt Moylan worked a treat but the test for them is whether they can back it up week after week.

New Zealand Warriors (14th) vs Brisbane Broncos (15th) Saturday 4 July 5.30pm @Central Coast Stadium

Well, this match shapes as potentially the breaking of Anthony Seibold and the Brisbane Broncos.

Being the biggest club in the NRL comes with plenty of pressure and expectations, and the Broncos have certainly felt the heat after losing five consecutive matches.

A loss against the homesick, out-of-form Warriors – who are also missing their best player – would be an absolute disaster for the Broncos and would only see the media scrutiny intensify.

The Warriors, on the other hand, have the pressure completely off them as the weight of being away from home has started to hit them hard.

They were belted 50-6 last round against the Storm and are now missing their captain and best player Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, but they are coming up against much easier competition so a win would not surprise.

The Broncos are severely down on confidence but have a chance to get their season going against the Warriors.

Wests Tigers (6th) vs Penrith Panthers (2nd) Saturday 4 July 7.35pm @Bankwest Stadium

The Tigers have found plenty of points the past two weeks, but the Panthers shape as a true test to how they are really travelling.

The Tigers managed a comprehensive 34-6 win over the Bulldogs last week, hence Michael McGuire has named an unchanged side for this clash.

Harry Grant has been a revelation at hooker for the Tigers and must be in the box-seat for a Queensland jersey.

The Panthers are sitting second on the ladder after a great start to the year and look like a genuine premiership threat.

Nathan Cleary was superb last week controlling his side, while front-rower James Fisher-Harris continues his outstanding form and has the third most run-metres of any forward this season.

Manly Sea Eagles (8th) vs Newcastle Knights (5th) Sunday 5 July 4.05pm @Lottoland

Both teams are coming off disappointing losses last week but Manly finally get back to their home ground for this crucial top eight clash.

Despite missing some quality players, Manly coach Des Hasler would’ve been disappointed in his side’s defensive efforts after allowing 40 points against the Sharks.

Manly welcome back Moses Suli into the centres who will provide some much-needed spark to their side.

The Knights have been solid defensively for most of the year but were awful in the first half against the Cowboys as they trailed 26-0 at half-time and just couldn’t get back into the game.

The Knights are also boosted in the centres with the return of young gun Bradman Best after he missed last week due to breaching the NRL’s self-isolating protocols.

Both sides will be looking to bounce back this weekend after disappointing round 7 performances.

Canterbury Bulldogs (16th) vs South Sydney Rabbitohs (9th) Sunday 5 July @Bankwest Stadium

The Bulldogs continue to struggle this season as the lack of quality players on their roster begins to show.

Boom English recruit Luke Thompson could make his debut for the club after being named in the 21 jersey, with coach Dean Pay allowing Thompson to make the call if he feels ready to play.

Thompson has big wraps on him from his time in the English Super League and the Dogs are crying out for a quality front-rower.

The Rabbitohs have beat the lesser teams they’ve faced this year but have been unable to match it with the best.

They have had losses to the Roosters, Storm and Panthers in recent weeks but would back themselves to beat a struggling Bulldogs side.

Latrell Mitchell continues to mix his form as he adjusts to being a fullback while forward pack continues to struggle when they come up against stiff competition.

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