The second to last of the shortened rounds will see a bye for the Broncos, Titans, Sea Eagles, Storm, Warriors, Knights, Rabbitohs and the Dragons.
So who has the best chance to pick up points while players are away on Origin duty?.
Eels V Roosters (Fri 08/07, 7.50pm)
The battle of the performing side who don't look like they will play finals because of the cap breach vs the side who has a very good list but probably wont make finals because they don't seem to be playing to their potential. It is now clearly evident how important Maloney and Roger Tuivasa-Scheck were to the Roosters set up. With Mitchell Pearce back the Roosters now have to win every single game in the run in to even be a slight chance of grabbing 8th spot. The same probably has to be said for the Eels, once they have their points stripped they go back equal to the Roosters on the ladder. The biggest threat on the park is French. French last week scored a triple and if he sees half a hole no one within cooee will catch him. Every time I see a speedster going full tilt these days I always have Ray Warren in my head "He's like grease lighting"(talking off Brett Dallas's runaway try in Origin '95). Pearce will surely be the headline again and will be the one who controls the tempo and possible the outcome. A tough one to pick I think he Eels at home are too strong facing a side missing Ferguson and Guerra.
Bulldogs V Tigers (Sat 09/07, 7.30pm)
Who can get a read on the Tigers at the moment? They pushed the Storm all the way to the finish and outclassed the Panthers in recent weeks, however they just seem like they are about to bust open at any time. For the Bulldogs they just let their big men roll on and continue to terrorise sides. On a run of 'scary' form the Bulldogs are firming as a genuine threat and when they get to September who knows what carnage they might cause. The Morris boys look better every week and as brave as the young Tigers are the Bulldogs should make it four in a row. Tedesco and Woods too important to the Tigers structure and game plan.
Panthers V Sharks (Sun 10/07, 4.00pm)
If any side has a chance of stopping the Sharks winning streak, it is this young panthers side. Although their young captain Moylan has been called up for Origin duty, that wont stop Cleary/Cartwright playing the way to do. For the plays where Moylan sweeps up into he backline they will probably be covered by the newly signed Hardaker. The biggest omission for the Panthers is probably Mansour who played so well last week and was almost Penrith's best on ground. Even though the Sharks are without Gallen, Maloney, Graham, Bird and Fifita, they still have Townsend, Barba and Ennis to guide them round. So depth wont be an issue. I am backing the Sharks to keep the streak going because let's face it, who doesn't love a fairy tale?. Sharks by 8.
Raiders V Cowboys (Mon 11/07, 7.00pm)
The Raiders currently sitting 6th on the ladder need to keep winning to cement their spot in the 8. If the Broncos have a resurgence and the Bulldogs keep playing the way they are, the Raiders will want their finals chances to be in their hands and it's up to them to stay at the pointy end of the comp. This game for the Raiders could not have come at a better time. Although playing at home if this were a game with Origin players involvement it might have been a bridge too far for Canberra to cross. But that's not the case. The Cowboys are missing a record number of players from their starting line up and they are going to have to rely heavily on Coote and Taumalalo to stay in this one. For the Raiders they will sorely miss Papalii (injured) who is the form back rower of the comp, and it's a shame we wont get to see him square off against Taumalolo. The conditions also play a big part. Monday night, in the freezing cold of the nations capital the ground might also be a bit greasy. All signs point to a Raiders win.
Enjoy round 18 and bring on Origin.