Premiers South Sydney and pre-season favourites Sydney Roosters will use the stand alone representative weekend to take stock of there title hopes after crashing to new lows after the opening third of the NRL season.
Souths fell to their third successive loss 30-22 against Canberra in Cairns on Sunday, their worst slump under coach Michael Maguire, who moved to Redfern ahead of the 2012 season.
The Roosters’ 14-12 Anzac Day loss to St George Illawarra was their fourth on the trot, the Tricolours’ worst run since coach Trent Robinson joined the club before their premiership winning year of 2013.
The NRL premiership breaks for a week on Sunday for Friday’s Anzac Test between Australia and New Zealand, the Pacific Nations double header on the Gold Coast on Saturday and and Sunday’s City-Country match at Wagga Wagga after the opening third of the season.
After eight rounds St George Illawarra, on the back of six straight victories, and Brisbane have emerged as the surprise early season pacesetters at the top of the NRL ladder.
The Dragons started the season horribly in the first two rounds, recording the worst attacking performance in 16 seasons, but since then they have turned things around to become genuine finals contenders.
Wayne Bennett’s return to Red Hill has worked wonders immediately with the Broncos securing six wins under the seven times premiership winner.
Of almost as much surprise as the form of the Broncos and the Dragons is the performances of the past two premiership winners in the Rabbitohs and the Roosters.
Injury has struck at both sides, with halfback Adam Reynolds out for at least another three months for Souths with a knee injury, the Rabbitohs winless without him since his debut in 2012.
The Roosters are missing Blake Ferguson and Aidan Guerra.
Their teams might have the week off, but Maguire and Robinson won’t.
“We will stand strong through this period there is a lot of belief in this team,” Maguire said.
“It’s now about how we react to this.
“We are burning about our performance out there. We didn’t play the way we know we can.
” Every team keeps turning up and completing high against us and we need to match that.
“It was a game where again the second half wasn’t good enough.”
Souths captain Greg Inglis added: “We are very disappointed, that’s two weeks in a row.
“That’s not what we stand for, what our standards are about, we have to stick together and work our way out of it.”
In round eight’s other games, Kevin Naiqama and Luke Brooks starred in Wests Tigers’ 38-14 win over Canterbury on Friday night.
Rookie halfback Kane Elgey scored two tries in Gold Coast’s 32-28 win over the Warriors in Auckland on Saturday in the first of five Anzac Day fixtures.
North Queensland pipped Newcastle 26-24 at Hunter Stadium, sending the Knights to their fourth straight defeat.
Daly Cherry-Evans piloted Manly to just their second win of the season 12-10 over the Storm in Melbourne and a 90m try from Anthony Milford helped the Broncos to a 28-16 win over Parramatta.
On Sunday Penrith beat Cronulla 26-18 to round out the weekend.