Finals race goes to the wire: Expert breakdown of NRL round 27 matches

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Broncos (1) v Storm (4)

Thursday 7.50pm, Suncorp Stadium

A battle of two top four sides, yet one deprived of more stars than any clash in recent memory. Brisbane and Melbourne’s fates are largely secure; the Storm can finish no lower than fourth, and only a win on Thursday night and a shock Warriors defeat to the Dolphins can launch them to third.The Broncos have the minor premiership on the line, yet coach Kevin Walters has swept through his starting side – a combination of injuries, suspension and resting taking 11 men out of his best 17. Melbourne have also rested 11 key men, including Cameron Munster, Harry Grant and the injured Jahrome Hughes. The Broncos have proven throughout the year they have at last developed the next-man-up mentality with Tristan Sailor, Keenan Palasia, Jock Madden and Xavier Willison all performing admirably without Reece Walsh, Pat Carrigan, Adam Reynolds and Payne Haas. We’re tipping them to overcome a resurgent Ryan Papenhuyzen to end a 13-year hoodoo against Melbourne at Suncorp Stadium, and claim the JJ Giltinan Shield in the process. Broncos by 6.

Nick Wright

Sea Eagles (12) v Wests Tigers (17)

Friday 6pm, 4 Pines Park Stadium

You might think this game doesn’t mean anything – but win this, and the Tigers might just avoid the wooden spoon.

The team have discovered a newfound freedom since supercoach Benji Marshall stepped into the head role, and skipper Api Koroisau has been exceptional these past few weeks as they try and finish the season on a high. As for the Sea Eagles, Jake Trbojevic celebrates his 200th game, and a win would see the team finish just outside the top eight. Manly get to play their final game of the year at Brookvale, and the Jake ArthurDaly Cherry-Evans halves combination has been magic. Sea Eagles by 8

Billie Eder

Rabbitohs (8) v Roosters (10)

Friday 8pm, Accor Stadium

Biggest game of the round here, and a spot in the finals on the line. No Latrell Mitchell is devastating for South Sydney, but you can’t underestimate Blake Taaffe – he knows how to perform in a big game.

Api Koroisau, James Tedesco, Chad Townsend, Jackson Hastings and Nicho Hynes.Credit: Getty

Expect a massive performance from Cody Walker: he’ll be looking to target Roosters half Sam Walker, who had an epic game last week on his return to the NRL. Everything about this game is juicy: the centre match-up with Campbell Graham and Joey Manu, the battle of the hookers Damien Cook and Brandon Smith, and the return of James Tedesco from a concussion two weeks ago. This comes down to the wire, but the halves will be the difference in this game, and I’m not sure Lachlan Ilias’ kicking game is up to scratch. Roosters by 4.

Billie Eder

Dolphins (14) v Warriors (3)

Saturday 3pm, Suncorp Stadium

Changes aplenty for the Warriors with little to gain, and only a potential slide from third to fourth to lose. Shaun Johnson, Tohu Harris (who is actually managing a back issue), Addin Fonua-Blake and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad are among those putting their feet up.

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and the Dolphins will farewell their inaugural season on Saturday.Credit: Getty

Of those players suiting up, Te Maire Martin’s return from a broken leg is worth keeping an eye on. Rookie fullback Taine Tuaupiki gets another NRL run too after lighting up the Queensland Cup last year. The Dolphins are playing for pride and have Jesse Bromwich back up front, and they might just get one last win for the road. Dolphins by 6.

Dan Walsh

Panthers (2) v Cowboys (9)

Saturday 5.30pm, BlueBet Stadium

Until the Broncos and Storm play, who knows about this one because the Panthers will rest their big guns – Dylan Edwards, Isaah Yeo and Liam Martin among them – if Brisbane lock up the minor premiership.

The Cowboys season goes on the line against the defending premiers.Credit: Getty

The Cowboys simply have to win to stay alive this year though, and are all guns blazing. Feels a bit like a ‘Jason Taumalolo runs for 300 metres’ type affair, but Chad Townsend’s ability to keep Penrith’s running back three in check could be just as influential. The upset could be on. Cowboys by 4.

Dan Walsh

Dragons (16) v Knights (5)

Saturday 7.50pm, Netstrata Jubilee Stadium

The Knights are resting plenty of stars but still have plenty of class in their line-up, and are playing with a lot of confidence.

Tyson Gamble has been instrumental to the Knights’ stunning late-season charge.Credit: Getty

Jackson Hastings is on an extended bench, but Adam Clune is more than capable – he also knows plenty of the Dragons – while Tyson Gamble is a ball of energy. The Dragons will be hoping to get to the end of their season and will struggle to match the Knights for enthusiasm. This could blow out late. Knights by 12.

Christian Nicolussi

Titans (13) v Bulldogs (15)

Sunday 2pm, Cbus Super Stadium

The season cannot end soon enough for the Bulldogs, whose poor form has finally become a talking point.

The 2023 campaign cannot end quick enough for Cameron Ciraldo’s Canterbury.Credit: Getty

The Wests Tigers will collect the spoon, but at least they have aimed up nearly every week. Toby Sexton would love to get one over his old club, but the Titans have too much firepower up front. AJ Brimson has had another stop-start year, but adds so much at the back when he is fit. Titans by 14.

Christian Nicolussi

Sharks (6) v Raiders (7)

Sunday 7.50pm, PointsBet Stadium

There is a lot on the line in this game. A win for the Raiders will see them into the finals, but a loss could see them tumble out of the eight due to their shocking points differential (-119). The team are without enforcer Corey Horsburgh, who copped a four match ban for a shoulder charge, and are also missing Josh Papali’i after the forward suffered a bicep injury. It’s a different story in the Shire, with Nicho Hynes slotting back into the halves with Braydon Trindall. Since their hiccup a few weeks ago – three straight losses – the Sharks have been on the up, and get to play this game at home. Sharks by 12.

Billie Eder

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