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NRL: A look ahead to the Preliminary Finals

It is another huge week in the NRL with two Preliminary Finals set to take place between Penrith Panthers and South Sydney Rabbitohs and North Queensland Cowboys versus Parramatta Eels.

We are clsoing in on the grand final and by the end of the week we will know which two teams will battle it out for the premiership.

The two preliminary finals have all the ingredients to be classic encounters and hopefully we will get two closely-fought battles, unlike the semi-finals which were one-sided.

The first game will take place on Friday night in Townsville, the home of the North Queensland Cowboys who will take on Parramatta.

Then on Saturday we have the repeat of last season’s grand final when the Penrith Panthers take on the Rabbitohs at Accor Stadium. These two sides clearly don’t like each other so expect some fireworks.

As the excitement starts to build let’s take a look at the early news coming out of each camp as the team lists have been named and one or two players are facing fitness battles.

Panthers name May replacement

The Panthers will be missing Taylan May through suspension and have confirmed that Charlie Staines will replace him on the wing.

Staines is a more than adequate replacement and has always done a fine job when stepping into the Penrith side.

Other than that the Panthers have no fresh injury issues and coach Ivan Cleary has named a very strong team list for Saturday’s clash with the Bunnies.

Dylan Edwards, Charlie Staines, Izack Tago, Stephen Crichton, Brian To'o, Jarome Luai, Nathan Cleary, Moses Leota, Apisai Koroisau, James Fisher-Harris, Viliame Kikau, Liam Martin, Isaah Yeo, Mitch Kenny, Scott Sorensen, Spencer Leniu, Jaeman Salmon, Sean O'Sullivan, Matt Eisenhuth, J'maine Hopgood, Sunia Turuva, Chris Smith.


 

Issues stack up for the Rabbitohs

Souths have had a couple of bruising encounters during the finals and are nursing one or two key players ahead of the showdown against the Panthers.

Alex Johnston is one of the biggest concerns. The star winger who is the leading try-scorer in the NRL is struggling with a hip issue and is said to have a 50-50 chance of making the game.

His absence would be a huge loss. The bunnies need all their star players and a lot to go right for them if they are to overcome the Panthers. Josh Mansour is on standby should Johnston be ruled out.

Elsewhere Siliva Havili has been ruled out with a calf injury so Jed Cartwright has been moved to the bench.

State of Origin ace Jai Arrow is also struggling with a hip injury and is facing a race against time to make the clash.

Latrell Mitchell, Alex Johnston, Isaiah Tass, Campbell Graham, Taane Milne, Cody Walker, Lachlan Ilias, Tevita Tatola, Damien Cook, Mark Nicholls, Keaon Koloamatangi, Jai Arrow, Cameron Murray, Kodi Nikorima, Hame Sele, Michael Chee Kam, Jed Cartwright, Davvy Moale, Blake Taaffe, Josh Mansour, Richard Kennar, Jacob Host.

Same again for the Cowboys

North Queensland have enjoyed an easy week after beating the Cronulla Sharks in their qualifying final win and are happy to report a clean bill of health.

Todd Payten has named an unchanged team and they should be fit, fresh and raring to go against the Eels.

Cowboys: Scott Drinkwater, Kyle Feldt, Valentine Holmes, Peta Hiku, Murray Taulagi, Tom Dearden, Chad Townsend, Jordan McLean, Reece Robson, Reuben Cotter, Tom Gilbert, Jeremiah Nanai, Jason Taumalolo, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Luciano Leilua, Coen Hess, Griffin Neame, Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, Tomas Chester, Jake Granville, Brendan Elliot, Ben Hampton.


 

One change for the Eels

Parramatta were on fire during the semi-final win over the Canberra Raiders and it is no surprise that coach Brad Arthur has kept his changes to a minimum.

Bryce Cartwright comes on to the bench as Makahesi Makatoa has been left out of the side.

There are concerns however over the fitness of Tom Opacic. He picked up a hamstring injury in the win over the Raiders and faces a race to be fit despite being named to start.

If he is ruled out then Marata Niukore could move to the centres with Nathan Brown joining the bench.

Clinton Gutherson, Maika Sivo, Viliami Penisini, Tom Opacic. Waqa Blake, Dylan Brown, Mitchell Moses, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Reed Mahoney, Junior Paulo, Shaun Lane, Isaiah Papali'i, Ryan Matterson, Bryce Cartwright, Jakob Arthur, Oregon Kaufusi, Marata Niukore, Makahesi Makatoa, Bailey Simonsson, Nathan Brown, Ofahiki Ogden, Ky Rodwell

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