NRL heavyweights North Queensland and Cronulla have the premiership wobbles four rounds out from the finals, as Gold Coast learned the late season inclusion of Jarryd Hayne won’t guarantee them a playoffs berth.
Hayne will travel with the Titans to his home of Campbelltown to face Wests Tigers this weekend, in a match critical for the finals hopes of both sides.
Meanwhile the Cowboys, the Sharks and even the Storm will seek to re-energize their title claims a month out from the playoffs.
Premiers North Queensland’s 26-14 loss to Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval in round 22 on Sunday tipped them out of the top four, while second-placed Cronulla’s 30-14 loss to Canberra on Saturday ended their 16-match unbeaten streak.
Melbourne have taken the premiership lead from Cronulla. But not without worries of their own. Only some late-game brilliance from captain Cameron Smith helped the Storm to a 15-14 golden point win over South Sydney at AAMI Park on Saturday denied the Rabbitohs just their sixth win of the season.
In Hayne’s much hyped comeback to the NRL on the Gold Coast on Sunday, it was the Titans finals hopes that took a hit despite the superstar enjoying an impressive rugby league return.
The Warriors were meant to be almost bystanders in Hayne’s Titans debut, but the seventh-placed New Zealanders enjoyed a vital 24-14 away win.
That could make Saturday afternoon’s Campbelltown clash do-or-die for both sides.
“I’m looking forward to that, it’s the first time in my NRL career I’ll be playing at Campbelltown,” Hayne told Fox Sports.
“Being a Campbelltown boy it will be great to get back down there, I have always wanted to play there in the NRL, I have played a couple of trial matches down there but never on the big stage, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Hayne will go head-to-head with NSW and Tigers fullback James Tedesco.
“We have got some momentum and some confidence as a team now and we want to keep that up,” Tedesco said.
“There is a month to go and there is plenty to play for. We are looking forward to that and we are looking forward to playing Jarryd at Campbelltown.
“It will be a big game for both sides.”
Sixth-placed Brisbane opened round 22 with a vital 12-8 win over battling St George Illawarra in Wollongong on Thursday night.
Parramatta all but ended Manly’s finals aspirations with a 10-9 win at Pirtek Stadium on Friday night.
Fourth-placed Canterbury have moved back into the top four courtesy of a 28-14 win over Newcastle at Hunter Stadium on Saturday.
Penrith host Sydney Roosters in the final game of round 22 on Monday night at Pepper Stadium.