ICYMI, on Thursday the @NRL - National Rugby League released the 2018 #NRLDraw.
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North Sydney Bears Vs Newtown Jets
North Sydney Oval, Friday, July 30, Kick-off: 7.00pm
Referee: Jon Stone
Broadcast: Triple H 100.1FM (Link available via www.nswrl.com.au's Weekend Game-Cast)
Friday night football comes to Bear Park for this clash between two foundation clubs. The Jets sit just one point from the competition lead while the Bears are a measly two wins out of the top eight. Newtown welcome back second-rower Aidan Guerra from a week on the sidelines while for North Sydney, Brock Molan retains his place in the starting line-up for this must win clash. Both sides have injury worries. The Jets are sweating on halfback Liam Foran who is struggling to overcome a sternum injury and the Bears are also waiting to see if Ben Lowe will be available. It is now or never for the Bears as a loss here would almost rule them out of finals contention for the first time in several years. A Jets victory locks in a Saturday 3pm home final at Henson Park and a massive advantage heading into weeks two and three of the final series at Leichhardt Oval. Wouldn't be surprised if the Bears cause an upset here.
Auckland Vulcans Vs Cronulla Sharks
Mt Smart #2, Saturday, July 31, Kick-off: 1.00pm (11am AEST)
Referee: Craig Pascoe
Both teams coming off disappointing losses last weekend and will look to bounce back here. The Vulcans sit one point behind the eighth placed Cronulla side and, with Scott Porter no longer a member of the NSW Cup side, the Vulcans will see this as the best time to ambush the Sharks. Last weekend the Vulcans looked to have Wentworthville on the ropes but it was their inability to string 80 minutes of quality football together which eventually saw them overrun 32-24. The Sharks were dominated by a Windsor side 50-20 and Coach Tony Herman will be asking his players to forget last week and simply treat every game as if it is a grand final. Johnny Mannah's return from Hodgkin's Lymphoma continues to gain momentum as he has earned a spot in the starting line-up for Inoke Tapa'atoutai. The Vulcans lose the services of Jacob Lillyman who has been named on the Warriors extended bench which also includes Joel Moon. Could see the makeup of the top-eight change after this one.
Melbourne Storm Vs Shellharbour Dragons
Olympic Park, Saturday, July 31, Kick-off: 3.00pm
Referee: Luke Phillips
Prized St George Illawarra recruit Nathan Fien is tipped to make his return for this match at Olympic Park. Fien has not played since he suffered a horrific ankle injury in the Dragons' Round One fixture against the Parramatta Eels and his added impetus will be a welcomed with open arms by the struggling Shellharbour unit. In what truly sums up their season so far, last weekend they were beaten in the last 30 seconds by a runaway try to Newtown winger Troy Savage after they lead 19-18 and were arguably the better side over the 80 minutes. For the Storm, Rory Kostjasyn returns to strengthen an already formidable forward pack while back-rower Hep Cahill is still struggling with an ankle injury which has kept him sidelined for over a month. The Dragons have named their strongest squad all year with Bronx Goodwin, Ricky Thorby, Junior Paulo, Jake Marketo and Michael Greenfield all expected to board the plane south. Melbourne are looking to close the gap between them and the top four while the Dragons are playing for pride. With the Shellharbour side named, an upset wouldn't surprise.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Vs Wentworthville Magpies
The Crest Stadium, Saturday, July 31, Kick-off: 3.00pm
Referee: Henry Perenara
Broadcast: NSWRL Match of the Round to be aired on Fox Sports 2, Wednesday, August 4, 5.00pm
A tough task facing the Wentworthville Magpies as they will attempt to do what no side has done for a few months now, defeat the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. The Bulldogs confirmed their status as the hottest team in the NSW Cup last week as they clinically disposed of an under strength Balmain side and took over top spot on the ladder in the process. The Wentworthville Magpies recovered from slow starts in both halves against the Vulcans last weekend to eventually overrun the visitors 32-24 but a more complete performance will be required if they are to challenge in this one. The Bulldogs continue to field a side that would be the envy of most NSW Cup sides with Ben Roberts suiting up once again this week and he will also be joined by Gary Warburton. Due to Timana Tahu's return to the Parramatta team, the inform Jonathon Wright will turn out for the Magpies and will look to form a good combination with Jorge Taufua who has been in good try scoring form of late. Wenty need this one to consolidate their place in the eight while the Dogs will not want to slip up as they are now in the box seat for the minor premiership.
Central Coast Centurions Vs Western Suburbs Magpies
Morrie Breen Oval, Saturday, July 31, Kick-off: 3.00pm
Referee: Rob Bowen
Broadcast: www.nswrl.com.au's Weekend Game-Cast, proudly brought to you by Teamm8
An important clash for both of these sides as ninth hosts fifth on the ladder. The Centurions will be buoyed by their upset win against Melbourne last round, while Wests racked up their eleventh win of the season against Norths and are pressuring Windsor for fourth spot. With the tenth placed Vulcans playing the eighth placed Sharks earlier in the day, there is a scenario that could see the Centurions inside the top eight at the end of this game but regardless of that earlier match this is still a game the home side cannot afford to lose. The Magpies sit comfortably in fifth but Coach Leo Epifania would like to use the remaining month of the regular season to tweak some things before the finals. Scott Dureau has been very dangerous since joining the Centurions and he has combined well with danger men in Simon Williams and Kevin Naiqama. The Magpies continue to field one of the most consistent line ups in the NSW Cup and that is a big factor in why they are sitting pretty in fifth place. The best defence in the competition (Western Suburbs) up against one of the entertainers, this one has all the makings of being a classic.
Balmain Ryde-Eastwood Tigers Vs Windsor Wolves
Leichhardt Oval, Saturday, July 31, Kick-off: 3.15pm*
Referee: Gavin Reynolds
The Balmain Ryde-Eastwood Tigers will look to bounce back after an uncharacteristic performance last week at The Crest as they play host to the ever dangerous Windsor Wolves. If they are to get back to their winning ways they will once again have to do it without the services of key personnel in Ryan Carr, Sean Meaney and Captain Lee Bennett. On the flipside, the Wolves will field one of their strongest line ups in recent times with young gun Ali Beale at the back and the adaptable Ryan Walker moving into the five-eighth for this one. The Wolves have every right to feel they are a big chance after running in fifty points at home last weekend against the Sharks and they got home 34-32 against the Tigers in their only other meeting so far in 2010. The Tigers need the win to keep pace with the Bulldogs in the race for the minor premiership while the Wolves can all but tie up a top four position with a win.
* Please note the Tigers v Wolves NSW Cup match serves as one of two curtain-raisers to the NRL Wests Tigers v Cronulla Sharks match at 7:30pm that night. Ticket includes all three matches, and can be purchased via Proticket.