Team changes: Key Origin spots up for grabs
New Blues coach Ricky Stuart is relying on next week's City-Country Origin match to resolve a number of positions for the first Harvey Norman State of Origin clash with Queensland in four weeks.
Stuart will attend the AAMI City v Country Origin match at Lavington Sports Ground, Albury (Vic), on Friday week (May 6), the same night as the VB Test between Australia and New Zealand at Skilled Park on the Gold Coast.
The Test and City-Country teams will be named this Sunday night adding some extra motivation to this weekend's Round 8 Telstra Premiership clashes.
"The City-Country game will help provide a clearer opinion on a number of positions," Stuart said.
With several NSW Origin hopefuls either injured, returning from injury, suspended or dealing with other issues, Stuart has some selection dilemmas in a number of positions, including the key 1, 6 and 7 spots.
Bulldogs hooker Michael Ennis will get another good opportunity to push his Origin claims when his side takes on co-competition leaders the Broncos in their Round 8 opener at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night. Brisbane will be aiming for their seventh straight win of the season. Sam Thaiday, who will shift back to the second row for the Broncos, has his fingers crossed he's done enough to win selection in Australia's Test side either up front or in the back row.
The Bulldogs have made a number of changes, with prolific try scorer Michael Lett called up to play his first NRL match for Canterbury-Bankstown as a replacement for Bryson Goodwin, who injured ligaments in his big toe in their win over South Sydney last weekend. Michael Hodgson will miss the match after suffering a fainting spell against the Rabbitohs. Corey Payne makes his return after serving a one-match suspension, while Dene Halatau is also included on the interchange bench after recovering from a hamstring strain.
In the other Friday night game, the Rabbitohs and Sharks are set for a tight battle at ANZ Stadium, with both coming off losses, as well as being forced to make changes to their line-ups due to injuries. Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has handed Tim Smith the Sharks' No.7 jumper just days after he was fined by police for loitering outside a nightclub. He replaces five-eighth Albert Kelly, who was ruled out for eight weeks with a fractured leg.
Rabbitohs head coach John Lang has named Ben Ross in the front row to replace injured prop Sam Burgess (ankle). Jason Clark returns to the Rabbitohs' NRL side on the interchange bench.
On Saturday, Storm coach Craig Bellamy and Titans coach John Cartwright have retained the same line-ups for their home clashes with the Knights (at AAMI Park) and Roosters (Skilled Park) despite upset losses last round.
The Cowboys and Sea Eagles have made only one change each for their blockbuster at Dairy Farmers Stadium on Saturday as North Queensland chases a fourth straight home win and fourth consecutive victory. Brett Stewart has been named at fullback for the Sea Eagles, while the inclusion of hooker James Segeyaro on a five-man interchange bench is the only change to the Cowboys.
On Sunday, Eels coach Stephen Kearney has stuck with the side that hung on for a last-minute victory against the Titans last weekend with the same 17 to take on premiers and co-competition leaders St George Illawarra at WIN Jubilee Oval.
Dragons winger Ratu Peni Tagive, 22, will make his club debut, slotting in for Jason Nightingale, who has been moved to fullback to replace the injured Darius Boyd.
The Raiders, currently last on the ladder with just one win, have recalled halfback Matt Orford, who missed the past two weeks with a back injury, for their important match against the Wests Tigers at Canberra Stadium on Sunday.
The Wests Tigers welcome back forward Alan Schirnack from a shoulder injury but have lost international second-rower Gareth Ellis with an ankle injury. Wade McKinnon has been named at fullback after missing last week’s loss to Brisbane with a hamstring injury.
In the other Sunday game, the Warriors have named an unchanged squad as they chase a fourth win in five matches this season when they play the Panthers at Mount Smart Stadium. Penrith is expected to respond with a big performance after coach Matt Elliott was told yesterday that his services would not be required beyond this season.