Parramatta Eels utility Justin Hunt will make his return from injury for Wentworthville in the VB NSW Cup.

VB NSW Cup: Round 18 previews

Penrith Panthers Vs Newtown Jets
Sportingbet Stadium, Saturday, July 12, 3.00pm
Referee: Liam Nicholls
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of Hawkesbury Radio 89.9FM (www.hawkesburyradio.com.au)

The premiership favourites head home this weekend and will roll out the welcome mat for what is sure to be a desperate Jets side that currently sits outside the eight. A loss to the Sharks last weekend makes this a must win match for the Bluebags, but that will be easier said than done as they face a Panthers side that has tasted defeat just the once since Round 3 of this year’s competition. After a string of close wins, the Panthers finally put a team to the sword with a comprehensive 20-point win over the Tigers at Leichhardt Oval last Sunday, and with the likes of Will Smith and Wes Naiqama starting to find top form, the sky is the limit for this Panthers team. There are some new faces for the Jets with both Nathan Stapleton and Scott Dureau set to get their first run with the side this week, so that should help offset the recent losses of Moga and Mortimer respectively. It's business as usual for the Panthers, but they will be sweating on the fitness of Waqa Blake and Sam Anderson, who were both involved in last night’s representative fixture.

Fresh Faces: As the Jets continue to battle for a spot in the top eight, they will welcome a few new recruits this round. Both Scott Dureau and Nathan Stapleton joined the Roosters before the June 30 deadline, and should both bring something to the table for the Jets. Stapleton is a more than capable winger/fullback who will most likely also assume the goal kicking duties for the Jets, while Dureau, should prove to be an excellent addition in the halves alongside Arana Taumata.

Prediction: The Panthers are top of the pops for a reason and should win at home against a desperate Jets side. Panthers by 8.

Manly Warringah Sea Eagles Vs Newcastle Knights
Brookvale Oval, Saturday, July 12, 3.00pm
Referee: Chris James
Broadcast: NSWRL Match Centre coverage available via NSWRL.com.au

Both of these sides were held scoreless last weekend and will no doubt be looking to put some points on the board when they square off here. The Knights went down to the Cutters 26-0 at WIN Jubilee while the Sea Eagles were no match for the Roos, going down 36-0. While the season is effectively over for Manly, that’s not the case for Newcastle, as they are currently locked in a dogfight with several other sides to secure a spot in the eight before seasons end. With a decent run home that will see them play four of their last five at home, the Knights still look the best placed side to hold onto to eighth spot, but both the Jets and the Roos are hot on their tails, and they can’t afford to slip up here in a match where they will be heavily favoured. Manly have named a host of players that missed last round, although you can guarantee they will be without the services of David Williams, while the Knights have shifted Timana Tahu back into the centres to replace Wiliame who shifts to the back.

Wiliame New Boss Following Loss of Ross: Following injury to Nathan Ross last weekend in the Knights loss to the Cutters, Brayden Wiliame has been handed the number one jersey for this all important clash against Manly. Wiliame is a very dependable player but has mainly plied his trade in the centres during his time at both the Knights and Parramatta. His ability to fill the big shoes of Nathan Ross for the immediate future may well have a defining say on just what the Knights accomplish in this year’s competition.

Prediction: Been bitten by Manly once too many times. Knights by 10.

North Sydney Bears Vs Wests Tigers
North Sydney Oval, Saturday, July 12, 3.00pm
Referee: Chris Sutton
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of Steele Sports Radio (www.steelesports.com.au)

The North Sydney Bears will head home this weekend to face a Wests Tigers outfit that will be looking to bounce back following consecutive losses in recent weeks. After going down to Mounties and then the Panthers last weekend, the Tigers will be desperate for the two points in a bid to maintain their position in the top four. The Bears were no match for Wenty last Sunday and continue to lack for confidence at present. There is no doubting that there are some talented players in this Bears outfit, but winning is a habit, and so too is losing at times and unfortunately for the Bears, they have fallen into the habit of the latter. Unsurprisingly the Bears have both the worst attack and defence in the VB NSW Cup, although it is probably their defence that lets them down the most at times. The Bears are conceding 33 points a game in 2014, and those numbers won’t see you win many games of footy. The Tigers will be hopeful that New South Wales residents' representatives Jack Buchanan and Nathan Brown will be available here as they have both been named to start in the front row.

John-Zilla: The Tigers will be banking on an immediate impact from their mid-season signing in John Sila. The man who effectively comes into the side to replace Marika Koroibete, Sila is a powerful style of winger who was a prolific try scorer at NYC level but his career stalled somewhat at the Dogs, so he would see this move as a chance to reinvigorate his career. Look for him to want to begin repaying the Tigers faith in him straight away.

Prediction: If the Tigers can get back to how they were playing a month ago, they should be too strong here. Tigers by 12.

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Vs Illawarra Cutters
Belmore Sports Ground, Saturday, July 12, 3.00pm
Referee: Matt Cecchin
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of 2GLF FM 89.3 (893fm.com.au)

The Illawarra Cutters continued on their merry way last round with a clinical 26-0 win over the Newcastle Knights at WIN Jubilee. The damage was done in the first half, as the Cutters sprinted out to an early 20-0 lead. Cutters winger Tyrone Cranston bagged himself a double, which took his tally to six tries in his last two matches. Cranston hasn’t been a one man band though with the likes of Kyle Eather, Kiti Glymin and Geoff Daniela all shining as of late. The news hasn’t been quite so rosy for the Dogs however as they have only managed to win one of their last four, and are now all but out of the running for this year’s finals series. Lachlan Burr was one of the VB NSW Cup Representative team's best last night and his clash with opposing back rower Willie Mataka looms as a tantalizing clash here. Kayne Brennan is a former Dragon, and will be licking his lips at the chance to get one over on his old club on the weekend. The Cutters will not want to take the Dogs lightly on Saturday. The Bulldogs showed a fortnight ago against the Sharks just what they are capable of.

Keeping a Lid on Things: You would be forgiven for thinking that the Cutters are coached by Des Hasler and not Scott Logan, because despite having been a permanent fixture in the top four for some time now, the Cutters continue to travel along ‘under the radar’. The Panthers are clearly the premiership favourites and deserve that billing, but the Cutters are not that far behind them. When you consider that the Cutters two most recent losses were both close affairs against the Panthers, their form does look outstanding.

Prediction: Hard to see the Dogs winning, although they often do when you don’t expect it. Cutters by 7.

Cronulla Sharks Vs Mounties
Belmore Sports Ground, Saturday, July 12, 5.00pm
Referee: Adam Cassidy
Broadcast: Radio Coverage courtesy of 2GLF FM 89.3 (893fm.com.au)

The match of the round on paper at least when the seventh placed Sharks tackle the fifth placed Mounties as the back end of a VB NSW Cup double header at Belmore. Mounties are surging once again after a tough few months and have posted back to back wins against the Tigers and Bulldogs. The Mounties club has wonderful depth, and this has been on show in recent weeks with the likes of Matt Place, Uiti Baker and Mitch Cahalane all stepping up to the mark. Jeremy Hawkins bagged four tries last weekend against the Bulldogs, and although he hasn’t been named here, he may yet play after being denied a second tier exemption to play NRL on the weekend. The Sharks continue to mix their form of late, but there is no doubting that they have what it takes to mix it with the best on their day. The halves combination of Holdsworth and Manumalealii looked good once again last weekend against the Jets, and if these two can stay together for the remaining rounds, they may yet give their premiership defence one almighty shake.

On The Back-up: There will be a number of players facing the prospect of backing up from Wednesday nights VB NSW Cup Representative fixture here, with Mounties the most affected, having four players facing that proposition. Jack Ahearn, Mitch Cornish, Mark Nicholls and Jake Foster have all been named here to face the Dogs, but only time will tell just how many of them will take their place. Cornish did appear to pick up an injury during the clash, but just how serious it was will only be known in the coming days.

Prediction: Probably the toughest match of the round to tip. Mounties look like they have their mojo back. Mounties by 4.

NZ Warriors Vs Wentworthville Magpies
Mt Smart Stadium, Saturday, July 12, 5.10pm (NZT), 3.10pm (AEST)
Referee: Jamal Thompson
Broadcast: LIVE on Fox Sports 1 and Sky Sport NZ

Another tough one for the tipsters with the sixth placed Warriors hosting the second placed Magpies at Mt Smart on Saturday afternoon. The Warriors should be fresh after they enjoyed their second bye of the year last weekend, while Wenty should also be in decent shape after they barely got out of second gear against the Bears. With a top four spot all but sealed for the Magpies, the finals few weeks of the regular season may see coach Brett Cook tinker with his side in an attempt to fine tune their structures ahead of finals football. Ben Jones has been named at seven this weekend with Liam Foran at nine although both of these players are interchangeable so don’t be surprised to see them share duties at times. Another bonus for the visitors is the return from injury of Justin Hunt. Hunt is a genuine star, and on his day, he can be a game changer for the Magpies. For the Warriors, the Lousi boys will bookend the front row, and their match up with Taniela Lasalo and Daniel Alvaro should be a beauty.

Return of Serve: A lot of sides in the VB NSW Cup make a point of trying to win the return leg of clashes that they lost first up in a season. For example, Wenty knocked off the Warriors 38-24 way back in round one, so no doubt coach Rohan Smith would have circled this return clash on his calendar some time ago. There is some chance that these two may yet meet in again in the finals, but the Warriors will certainly be looking to square the ledger here all the same.

Prediction: Will stick with the Warriors at home who have also had an extra week to prepare. Warriors by 10.

Wyong Roos have the BYE