Round 9 is headlined by three matchups between top 8 sides with the match of the round taking place in the nation’s capital.
The Raiders will be aiming for their fourth straight victory over the Storm when they face off at GIO Stadium Canberra on Saturday night, but it won’t be easy with the Storm in fine form.
The other top 8 clashes are the in-form Sharks taking on the Panthers while the Knights and Eels will do battle in Newcastle.
North Queensland Cowboys (11th) vs Sydney Roosters (5th) Thursday 9 July 7.50pm @Queensland Country Bank Stadium
The Cowboys’ form has been up and down like a yo-yo and while you would expect a better performance back at home, it’s hard to see them challenging the Roosters.
The Cowboys were belted 40-4 last round against the Eels with a non-competitive second half leaving coach Paul Green struggling for answers.
Valentine Holmes in under an injury cloud after being shifted to the wing to allow young Hamiso Tabui-Fidow to play fullback.
The Roosters played in a thriller against the Storm last round in what is easily the match of the season so far.
They looked to have that match wrapped up when leading by 10 points late, but the Storm came back and won in golden point.
Despite the loss, the Roosters still played a high-quality game of rugby league and they’ll only need to match that effort to beat the Cowboys.
Gold Coast Titans (15th) vs New Zealand Warriors (12th) Friday 10 July 6pm @Cbus Super Stadium
This one should be an even clash with both sides struggling for consistency this season.
The Titans were the walking wounded last round and are still struggling for outside backs with Bryce Cartwright named at centre.
They were competitive for the first half against the Sharks last round, but fell apart in the second half as injuries took their toll.
They have played inconsistently all season, but if they bring their best form, they are every chance of beating the Warriors.
The Warriors had a good win last week and for a side that has been away from home for so long, it would have given them plenty of confidence.
They lose Kodi Nikorima for this clash with concussion but get a huge boost with captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck back from suspension.
South Sydney Rabbitohs (9th) vs Wests Tigers (8th) Friday 10 July 7.55pm @Bankwest Stadium
This should provide a good test for both teams and in the fight for a spot in the top 8, this could be a pivotal clash.
The Rabbitohs are easily able to beat the teams below them on the ladder but have struggled against the better sides this season.
The Tigers played well against the Panthers last round and now give themselves another opportunity to prove themselves against a good side.
Veteran Benji Marshall will make his return to the side as a utility off the bench and provide a spark in attack for the Tigers.
While an honorable loss was acceptable against the high-flying Panthers, the Tigers need to win this game to prove they are finals worthy.
Cronulla Sharks (7th) vs Penrith Panthers (2nd) Saturday 11 July 3pm @Netsrata Jubilee Stadium
These two teams come into Saturday’s match in blistering form so it should be a cracker.
The Sharks have looked dangerous in attack and have scored 40 points in back-to-back games.
Unfortunately, they lose fullback Matt Moylan to yet another hamstring injury, shifting Josh Dugan to fullback.
Moylan has started to build quite the connection with Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend so he will be a considerable loss for the Sharks.
The Panthers are premiership contenders this season with several players in career-best form.
Api Koroisau has been a magnificent recruit and has transformed their attacking game, taking away some of the creative pressures off Nathan Cleary.
The front row of James Tamou and James Fisher-Harris have been in career-best form and are staking a claim as one of the best combos in the comp.
Brisbane Broncos (14th) vs Canterbury Bulldogs (16th) Saturday 11 July 5.30pm @Suncorp Stadium
This is simply a must-win game for the Broncos and Anthony Siebold after enduring a hellish last six weeks.
They have lost six matches in a row, but this is surely their best opportunity to finally end their losing streak.
There was talk of mass changes to the Broncos side but Siebold resisted the changes, at least for now.
It wouldn’t surprise to see Darius Boyd a late out for Kotoni Staggs while Matthew Lodge may be a late inclusion as well.
The Bulldogs have looked non-competitive in recent weeks and now lose their best player Adam Elliott to a serious shoulder injury.
English recruit Luke Thompson will fill the void of Elliott and play his first game for the club.
Thompson has big wraps on him and perhaps his inclusion can help the Dogs get their second win of the season.
Canberra Raiders (6th) vs Melbourne Storm (3rd) Saturday 11 July 7.35pm @GIO Stadium
This Saturday night showdown in Canberra promises to be a beauty.
The Raiders have bested the Storm in the past three meetings between these clubs, with the most recent victory coming in round 3 with the Raiders winning 22-6.
The Raiders haven’t been able to recapture the form they showed that night and are now facing an injury crisis in the forwards.
Sia Soliola and Emre Guler are their latest casualties, meaning Dunamis Lui returns to the side and Kai O’Donnell will make his debut for the club.
The Storm are coming off one of their best wins in recent history with a 27-25 golden point victory over the Roosters and look to be back to their best form.
With Cameron Munster out, Cameron Smith shifted to the halves and looked comfortable there so expect to see the same this week.
They look a much better team than the last time they met the Raiders so expect a far better showing from the Storm this time around.
Newcastle Knights (4th) vs Parramatta Eels (1st) Sunday 12 July 4.05pm @McDonald Jones Stadium
Another game that promises to be must watch for any rugby league fan with these top-4 sides to do battle.
The Knights managed a controversial win over the Sea Eagles last round and looked far better defensively, holding the Sea Eagles to just 12 points.
They only managed 14 points themselves though and given the attacking prowess of the Eels, they will need to score more than that to beat them.
The Eels remain atop the ladder after only one loss in the first eight rounds, but this is the first time they’ve left Bankwest Stadium since round three.
They are strengthened by the addition of Nathan Brown to the starting side who joins an already dominant forward pack.
The Eels are on top of the ladder for a reason and would head to Newcastle full of confidence.
St George Illawarra Dragons (13th) vs Manly Sea Eagles (10th) Sunday 12 July 6.30pm @Netsrata Jubilee
The Dragons have been competitive in their previous two defeats against the Roosters and Raiders, but it’s time for them to claim a scalp.
Ben Hunt has finally been moved into the starting hooker role, with captain Cam McInnes to move to lock.
It’s a move that could work wonders after Hunt’s strong form for Queensland last season and with Manly missing a few key players, the Dragons should believe in causing an upset.
One of the key players missing for Manly is Addin Fonua-Blake, who has been suspended for two weeks after a foul-mouthed tirade aimed at referee Grant Atkins.
He should count himself lucky to only be missing two weeks, but he will be sorely missed as he is one of their best players.
They’ve had some bad luck in a couple of games this season, but they now find themselves in 10th spot and needing a win to stay in touch with the top 8.