Monday Morning Halfback: Round 20
Round 20 of the NRL Telstra Premiership saw the competition heavyweights asserting their authority in the run to the finals.
The Broncos, Roosters, Storm and Rabbitohs all recorded big wins, while the Raiders and Sharks put the heat on the likes of the Dragons, Warriors and Bulldogs for top eight spots.
Check out the Ladder Predictor on NRL.com to see who you think will make the finals.
Old dogs up to new tricks at Belmore
Former Canterbury players Michael Ennis and Ben Barba had the last laugh in Sunday's Back to Belmore clash, with the Sharks holding on to win 18-16.
Ennis was at his scheming best with two try assists for the Sharks while also providing good direction from dummy half. The hooker who played 136 games for the Bulldogs sent his Cronulla and NSW Blues captain Paul Gallen over for a try with a deft pass close to the line in the 51st minute and then provided a pin-point accurate cross-field kick for Valentine Holmes to touch down 10 minutes later.
Barba came off the bench to a chorus of boos from the Belmore crowd and was solid enough at fullback without showing much flair in a stop-start affair. The 2012 Dally M Medallist played 97 games for the Bulldogs and is still trying to find a regular spot in the Sharks line-up after his move from the Broncos.
Ennis fittingly finished with the ball as the full-time siren sounded, running back towards his own try-line and then across the sideline in a cheeky taunt to the thousands of Bulldogs fans on the Belmore hill.
Injuries and suspensions could hurt the run home
Round 20 saw seven players placed on report from the first seven matches. Most notably for clubs who have top four and top eight aspirations, Melbourne's Jesse Bromwich (biting), Brisbane's Adam Blair (high tackle), Canberra's Josh Papalii (shoulder charge) and Canterbury-Bankstown's Josh Reynolds (high tackle) could all have cases to answer from the match review committee.
The biggest injury of the round, and possibly the season, was Warriors star Shaun Johnson being sidelined for up to five months with a broken ankle. Johnson's injury has cast a long white cloud over the Warriors' run to the finals, and he will also miss New Zealand's tour to England in the Telstra Premiership off-season.
Sharks veterans Luke Lewis (knee) and Paul Gallen (shoulder) picked up injuries in their win over the Bulldogs while Manly did well to beat the Warriors over in Auckland with Steve Matai (shoulder), Luke Burgess (leg), Tom Symonds (leg), Ligi Sao (knee) all suffering ailments.
Super Hero Round returns to the NRL
Round 21 sees players from seven NRL clubs turn from mild-mannered footy players into super heroes from the Marvel Universe, with at least three of those clubs hoping that their extra powers will result in a change in form.
Saturday evening in Townsville will see a massive clash when Thor goes head-to-head with Hulk. The Raiders flexed their big green muscles against the Cowboys in Round 15 when they were only beaten by an 80th minute Johnathan Thurston field goal at GIO Stadium. The rematch is set to be huge, with the Raiders eyeing off a top eight spot and the Cowboys gunning for the minor premiership.
On Sunday it's the battle between Iron Man and Spider-Man when St George-Illawarra take on Newcastle at Jubilee Oval. The Dragons are on a seven-game losing streak while the Knights have only won one of their last eight matches. Both teams will need some sort of heroics to secure an elusive victory, the positive being at least one of them will get a win.
Captain America (Roosters), Daredevil (Sea Eagles) and War Machine (Wests Tigers) will also be in action in Round 21.
Matches featuring the ISC Marvel Super Heroes Jerseys in Round 21 are:
Friday, 31 July
Roosters v Bulldogs at Allianz Stadium
Wests Tigers v Storm at Leichhardt Oval
Saturday, 1 August
Cowboys v Raiders at 1300Smiles Stadium
Sea Eagles v Broncos at Central Coast Stadium
Sunday, 2 August
Dragons v Knights at Jubilee Oval