The door has opened for the North Queensland Cowboys to close the gap on NRL leaders Penrith and they cannot afford to slip up when they face St George Illawarra Dragons on Sunday.
The Panthers suffered just their second defeat of the season when losing to the Parramatta Eels on Friday night and the Cowboys will be out to take advantage.
If they can win, the Cowboys will be just six points behind Penrith. The Panthers have also been hit by the news that star halves pairing Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai are on the sidelines for the next few weeks so the minor premiership could be wide open again.
The Dragons are not about to roll over though. The Red V are still very much in the hunt for the top eight and will be going all out for the win to boost their finals chances.
The opening game on Sunday sees two sides that are playing for pride going head-to-head. The Newcastle Knights entertain the Canterbury Bulldogs and there is little separating the two sides.
Two games to wrap up round 20 of the NRL so let’s take a closer look at all four teams as they prepare to do battle.
What: Newcastle Knights v Canterbury Bulldogs
Where: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
When: 14:00 (AEST) Sunday 31st July 2022
How to watch: Kayo, Foxtel
Odds: Knights 9/5, Bulldogs 11/25
The Knights are having a season to forget and are on a downward spiral at the moment after losing five of the last six games. They also have the worst defensive record in the NRL this season.
Their form at McDonald Jones Stadium has also been poor and they have been thrashed on home soil in the last two games by the Roosters and Rabbitohs.
The Roosters won by 30 points last week and just to make matters even worse it looks as though star fullback Kalyn Ponga is facing a spell on the sidelines with concussion.
With finals well out of reach it is thought that the Knights will play it safe and allow Ponga to rest up for the remainder of the campaign.
Tex Hoy is set to take the No.1 jersey against the Bulldogs. There is some good news with star Englishman Dominic Young set to take his place on the wing after recovering from a back and rib injury.
The Bulldogs may be level on points with the Knights, but there is a very different feeling in their dressing room following some improved performances.
They have won three out of the last five games, scoring points for fun along the way, and with Josh Addo-Carr and Matt Burton starting to click the only way could be up for the Bulldogs.
Jake Averillo returns from sickness to take his place at fullback, but Corey Waddell is out after being hit with a five-match suspension following a dangerous contact.
It means Tevita Pangai Junior will play in the second row as his replacement.
What: St George Illawarra Dragons v North Queensland Cowboys
Where: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney
When: 16:05 (AEST) Sunday 31st July 2022
How to watch: Channel 9, Kayo, Foxtel
Odds: Dragons 21/10, Cowboys 19/50
The Dragons are just two points away from the top-eight and are locked in a four-way battle to take the final spot.
They gave their chances a big boost by beating one of their rivals, Manly Sea Eagles, last week but the Cowboys will represent a far bigger test.
The two sides clashed in Townsville earlier in the season with the Cowboys winning that one by 19 points. Back on home soil, the Dragons will be out to cause an upset.
They have been in great form at home as well when winning the last seven games there, so that should give them plenty of confidence heading into the clash with the Cowboys.
The Dragons have been hit by the news that fullback Cody Ramsey is out with a knee injury so Moses Mbye will replace him.
The Cowboys got lucky last week when beating the Tigers in dramatic and controversial circumstances. They need to make it count by going back-to-back against the Dragons.
They have lost just one game in the last six and that came against fellow top-two contenders the Cronulla Sharks in round 18.
There should be extra motivation for them to win on Sunday following Penrith’s defeat to the Eels.
Coach Todd Payten is also boosted by the return of Reuben Cotter following a hamstring injury.