Penrith will get the chance to extend their lead at the top of the NRL ladder when they face the Sydney Roosters on Friday night, while Newcastle will be out to keep their finals hopes alive against the struggling Gold Coast Titans.
The Panthers lead the competition by four points but get the chance to open up a six-point gap as the Melbourne Storm slipped to a surprise defeat at Manly on Thursday night.
The Storm went down 36-30 at Brookvale and Penrith will now have an extra spring in their step when they face a Roosters side who are in need of a win as they battle for a place in the eight.
In the early kick-off the Knights need to take the two points against the Titans if they are to have any chance of closing the gap on the eight. The games are fast running out and the clash in the Hunter is a great chance to take the win.
Like Newcastle, the Gold Coast played finals last year but have won just three games all season to sit bottom of the ladder. Coach Justin Holbrook is fighting to keep his job and needs his players to start picking up wins.
Let’s take a closer look at a busy night of NRL action.
What: Newcastle Knights v Gold Coast Titans
Where: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle, Sydney
When: 18:00 (AEST), Friday 1st July, 2022
How to watch: Kayo, Foxtel
Odds: Knights 4/5, Titans 51/50
Newcastle had started the season in electric fashion with wins over the Sydney Roosters and Wests Tigers and another finals appearance looked to be on the cards.
That is until they went on an alarming run of form that saw them lose seven games on the bounce. They went on to pick up a couple of wins against the Bulldogs and Warriors but need plenty more to have a chance of getting back into finals.
But they can take heart from the fact they have a decent run of fixtures towards the end of the season with games against the Bulldogs, Tigers and another showdown with the Titans to come.
Adam O’Brien has been hit by the news there is no Kalyn Ponga after the star fullback suffered concussion playing State of Origin. Bradman Best is also out with an elbow injury, but there is good news regards Daniel Saifiti who is a late inclusion following a knee injury.
The Titans are desperate to avoid a second wooden spoon in four years but have work to do after losing the last five games.
There is also games against the Brisbane Broncos and Melbourne Storm to come, but the Titans can take heart from the fact that Newcastle have won just one of their six home matches so far this season.
The Gold Coast also welcome back superstar David Fifita via the bench after he recovered from a knee injury. They will also need a big game from captain Tino Fa'asuamaleaui who is good to go after coming through Origin unscathed.
What: Penrith Panthers v Sydney Roosters
Where: BlueBet Stadium, Penrith, Sydney
When: 19:55 (AES), Friday 1st July, 2022
How to watch: Channel 9, Kayo, Foxtel
Odds: Panthers 13/100, Roosters 5/1
Penrith had no less than 10 players in the New South Wales State of Origin squad that defeated Queensland in Perth last Sunday and thankfully for coach Ivan Cleary they all came through unscathed.
However he still has a decision to make over whether some of them need a rest including son Nathan who picked up the man-of-the-match award at Optus Stadium.
The Panthers are blessed with plenty of strength-in-depth though and Sean O’Sullivan has shown he is more than a capable deputy when the halfback has sat out in the past.
Jarome Luai, Brian To'o, Stephen Crichton, Liam Martin, Isaah Yeo and Api Koroisau all came through training this week and have been named to play.
That is a scary prospect for the Roosters who are in danger of missing out on finals for the first time in six years unless they can get on a run.
They sit in 10th spot, one win away from the eight, but their form is poor after losing the last three games against the Raiders, Storm and Eels.
Sydney are boosted by the news that their own Origin stars have also been given the nod to play, including influential skipper James Tedesco who was a revelation in the Blues win.
Another huge plus is the return of Victor Radley at lock after he recovered from an ankle injury.