NRL Round 7 preview: Can the Eels hold onto the top spot?
(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The NRL returns again this weekend, with only two points now separating first and seventh with six rounds already completed.

For those in the United Kingdom, all matches will be available to watch on Sky Sports Arena with Fox League also having coverage.

Penrith Panthers vs Sydney Rabbitohs

The NRL starts on Thursday when the Penrith Panthers host the South Sydney Rabbitohs at 10:50 BST.

Currently in third place, the Panthers carried on their impressive start to the season last weekend when they defeated the Melbourne Storm in a 21-14 thriller. Nathan Cleary proved to be the difference in that game, nailing all three of his conversion attempts and Viliame Kikau for the match-winner 18 minutes from time.

A brace and six conversions from Alex Johnston guided the Rabbitohs to an incredible 40-12 victory against the NZ Warriors in Round 6.

Rabbitohs bench forward Tom Amone is out for the game after suffering a serious knee injury and will be replaced by centre James Roberts on the interchange.

Melbourne Storm vs New Zealand Warriors

The Storm suffered a surprise loss to the Panthers last weekend and will look to add to their eight points that they have already picked up at 9:00 BST on Friday.

Despite last week's loss, it's been a good start for the hosts who currently are just two points behind the top spot in the ladder, with a 4-2 record so far.

It will be interim coach Todd Payten's first game in charge of the Warriors this weekend after Stephen Kearney was sacked after just six rounds of play off the back of a 40-12 hammering at the hands of the Rabbitohs.

With wins in their past eight games against the Warriors, the Storm will be boosted by the return of Joshua Addo-Carr and Jahrome Hughe to their starting side on Friday.

For the Warriors, David Fusitu'a and Lachlan Burr made a return to light training this week and will be assessed on Thursday.

Sydney Roosters vs St. George Illawarra Dragons

The Sydney Roosters come into Friday's match, which is to be played at 10:55 BST at the Bankwest Stadium, off the back of a close victory against the Parramatta Eels, the Eels' first loss of this year's campaign.

St George also picked up two points in round six, defeating the Gold Coast Titans 20-8 away from home, but will need significant improvement to mount a challenge against the Roosters.

James Tedesco will have to pass concussion protocols to play this weekend after a head injury against the Eels.  In other team news for the roosters, Sam Verrills and Lindsay Collins replace Sitili Tupouniua and Mitchell Aubusson on the bench.

For the Dragons, Jason Saab will replace the suspended Jordan Pereira on the wing, Blake Lawrie starts at prop, Josh Kerr goes back to the bench, and Jackson Ford replaces the St Helens-bound James Graham on the interchange.

North Queensland Cowboys vs Newcastle Knights

The Cowboys will look to bounce back from last weekend's loss to Wests Tigers when they host the Newcastle Knights at 6:00 BST on Saturday.

The high-flying Knights travel to the 1300SMILES Stadium off the back of a 27-6 defeat of the Brisbane Broncos in Round 6 and will be looking to close the gap between themselves and the table-topping Eels, which is currently only a single point.

The injury-hit Cowboys will see Reuben Cotter replace Corey Jensen on the interchange, while  Jordan McLean might make an early return from a calf injury.

The Knights will be without Bradman Best on Saturday after he breached the NRL's COVID-19 guidelines midweek after he did not follow the process correctly to see family members. He will be replaced by Enari Tuala in the centre.

Brisbane Broncos vs Gold Coast Titans

Both teams will be energised by a bottom-of-the-table Queensland derby at 08:30 BST on Saturday, with up to 10,000 allowed to attend after the state eased COVID-19 restrictions.

Both teams suffered losses last weekend, with the Broncos having now seen defeat in four games in a row while the Titans have not won since round four.

There are a number of changes for the Broncos ahead of Saturday, with Tesi Niu starting at fullback and Jamayne Isaako on the bench, while Pat Carrigan and Tom Flegler are both suspended. Joseph Ofanhengaue will start at lock and Jamil Hopoate and Rhys Kennedy join the interchange with Cory Paix dropping out.

For the Titans, Dale Copley replaces Young Tonumaipea at centre, Mitch Rein will come into the hooker role instead of Erin Clark, and Sam Lisone and Keegan Hipgrave are named to start with Jaimin Jolliffe benched and Bryce Cartwright out of the 17.

Parramatta Eels vs Canberra Raiders

In what is the highlight game of this weekend, two title challengers go head-to-head at 10:35 on Saturday.

The hosts come into the game after their first loss of the season in Round 6 during an extremely tight match against the Sydney Roosters.

The Raiders also failed to be victorious last weekend, succumbing 6-14 to the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles.

The suspended Nathan Brown will be replaced by Marata Niukore for the Eels. Daniel Alvaro or David Gowar are then likely to take an interchange spot. Brad Takairangi replaces Peni Terepo on the Parramatta bench and although Kane Evans was set to return from suspension, he has suffered a calf injury.

The Raiders side remains unchanged from that which lost to the Sea Eagles last weekend, with coach Ricky Stuart still searching for his 200th NRL victory.

Manly Sea Eagles vs Cronulla Sharks

A game in which the hosts will be favourites, the Sea Eagles host the Sharks at 07:05 BST on Sunday.

The Sea Eagles were 14-6 victors in Round 6 against the Canberra Raiders, but suffered a big loss as star-man Tom Trbojevic picked up a hamstring injury, as well as Dylan Walker damaging his ankle.

Spearheaded by a treble from Sione Katoa, the Cronulla Sharks defeated the Canterbury Bulldogs 20-18 in last weekend's final match and will look to try to bring that momentum into their tie against Manly.

For the Sea Eagles, Brendan Elliot moves back to fullback, Lachlan Croker to five-eighth, Jorge Taufua to the wing and Martin Taupau is back from injury in the front row. Cade Cust joins the interchange.

Andrew Fofota is named to start for the Sharks with Braden Hamlin-Uele going back to the interchange, however, that was also the case last week when the pair made a late switch.

Canterbury Bulldogs vs Wests Tigers

In the final game of Round 7, the Bulldogs host the Tigers at the Bankwest Stadium at 9:30 BST.

The hosts narrowly lost 18-20 to the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks in Round 6 of the NRL, but have only picked up two points in this campaign so far.

The Tigers have fared better over the entire season, with a total of six points earned, and were victorious last weekend - 36-20 winners at home to the North Queensland Cowboys.

For the Bulldogs, Kerrod Holland will replace the suspended Christian Crichton in the backline and Jack Cogger joins the interchange. Nick Meanery has recovered from a hip flexor strain and may be a late inclusion alongside Aiden Tolman.

Tommy Talau replaces Robert Jennings on the Tigers' wing, Oliver Clark replaces Zane Musgrove at prop and Matt Eisenhuth starts at lock for in place of Alex Twal, with Elijah Taylor joining the bench.

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