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Like last week, seven of the eight NRL Round 15 favourites got the W – but there was considerably more drama.

Five underdogs covered (compared to just one in Round 14), including Manly Sea Eagles and Newcastle Knights, who both suffered gut-wrenching last-gasp losses.

Elsewhere, St George Illawarra Dragons romped to a 20-point upset, Melbourne Storm withstood a spirited challenge from shorthanded Brisbane Broncos, confounding Parramatta Eels caught fire again and Canterbury Bulldogs’ mid-season revival continued ahead of the representative weekend break.

1 – Origin Ch-ch-ch-changes

NSW left a lot to be desired in its 16-10 series-opening loss, but has coach Brad Fittler and his selection panel thrown some baby-faced Blues out with the Origin bathwater ahead of Sunday’s must-win showdown in Perth?

On top of losing Jack Wighton – the Blues’ best player in game one – Fittler has axed one-gamers Kotoni Staggs and Ryan Matterson, along with experienced forwards Tariq Sims and Reagan Campbell-Gillard.

In-form Canterbury five-eighth Matt Burton is set to debut at centre (his first appearance in the position since last year’s grand final) alongside former Penrith teammate Stephen Crichton.

Contentious Game 1 omissions Jake Trbojevic and Angus Crichton received recalls despite finishing on losing teams in Round 15.

Meanwhile, a strong showing in Cronulla’s win over Gold Coast after a string of quieter outings has catapulted Siosifa Talakai into a likely NSW bench spot.

The wrecking ball shapes as a much more astute interchange option than Stephen Crichton, able to pinch-hit out wide as well as covering second-row and prop.

Api Koroisau could nab a bench role – or unseat Damien Cook from the No.9 jumper – after being recalled.

Other interesting extended squad picks include perennial fringe utility Victor Radley, who hasn’t played since Round 10, and North Queensland prop Jordan McLean, who is yet to play Origin despite turning out in eight Tests for Australia.

The most controversial game one exclusion, Josh Addo-Carr, was unable to oust Daniel Tupou from the right wing.

Queensland ideally would have taken an unchanged team into game two after all 17 players contributed impressively to the victory in Sydney.

Injuries have put paid to that, though, with Reuben Cotter and Xavier Coates ruled out.

Jai Arrow seems the logical replacement for Cotter, though 2021 debutant Thomas Flegler’s rampaging form for Brisbane gives him a chance.

Corey Oates has enjoyed a 2022 renaissance with 12 tries for the Broncos, but the eight-game Maroon is set to be pipped for Coates’ wing spot by Cowboys magic man Murray Taulagi.

Oates and uncapped Titans back-rower/centre Beau Fernor have been added to Billy Slater’s extended squad.

2 – Jailbreak

It was two minutes and 42 seconds of absolute mayhem at Brookvale on Friday night.

With 7:30 remaining on the timepiece, Manly was headed for a richly deserved and unexpected victory against North Queensland at 26-12 in front.

When the clock read 4:48, the Cowboys had snatched a 28-26 lead with three tries on the back of some Valentine Holmes brilliance and a Daly Cherry-Evans blunder.

After back-row tryscoring freak Jeremiah Nanai bagged yet another touchdown from a kick (his second of the night) while Holmes and Taulagi engineered a helter-skelter try for Connelly Lemuelu, Holmes swooped on an inexplicable first-tackle DCE error and raced 85 metres for the match-winner.

For the Sea Eagles, it was a crushing blow from which their tenuous Top 8 hopes may not recover.

They had dominated one of the NRL’s high-fliers for 72 minutes with bruising, unrelenting defence and patient, quality attack. But as their best win of 2022 looked assured, it all fell apart in staggering fashion.

It was another phase in the evolution of Todd Payten’s Cowboys: nine of their other 10 wins came by margins of 19 or more, but this great escape will have done as much for the $11 premiership hopes’ confidence as any previous victory.

On Sunday, Canberra was on the cusp of an excruciating collapse against lowly Newcastle at GIO Stadium.

After blowing a 14-0 lead and narrowly avoiding a late match-sealer from the plucky Knights, the Raiders had one last roll of the dice with 90 seconds remaining.

Dynamic back-rower Hudson Young – surely not too far out of NSW Origin calculations – gambled on a fourth-tackle grubber for himself and came up trumps, stealing an invaluable 20-18 win for the Green Machine.

A home loss to a team of the Knights’ ilk could have been catastrophic for the 10th-placed Raiders’ Top 8 chances.

3 – Eels Keep Everyone Guessing

Five days after a harrowing 30-point loss to the cellar-dwelling Bulldogs, Parramatta Eels reminded everyone of their blistering talent with a 26-minute, five-try blitz to subdue star-studded Sydney Roosters 26-16.

Dylan Brown, Mitch Moses, Clint Gutherson, Shaun Lane and Isaiah Papali’i were untouchable during one of the most entertaining halves of football we’ve seen in 2022.

Maika Sivo’s return on the flank after a long injury layoff has added a new, scary dimension to the Eels.

Some pundits point to losses against the Tigers and Bulldogs as a reason to write off the Eels’ title credentials.

But the fact remains they are the only team to beat the Panthers, have also knocked off the Storm at home and are the equal of any heavyweight rival when at their best.

4 – Mid-table Squeeze

The Round 15 results created a clearly-defined top six on the NRL ladder, with Cronulla, Brisbane and Parramatta now in a share of fourth spot – four points in front of five-team logjam.

St George Illawarra’s shock 32-12 beatdown of South Sydney, built on a stunning six-tries-to-none first half, saw the Dragons join the seventh-placed Rabbitohs on 16 competition points.

Two points back, Sydney Roosters have slipped out of the Top 8 for the first time since Round 3, level with Manly and Canberra with 7-8 records.

The Roosters, though, remain cautiously priced on the fifth line of premiership betting at $13, in contrast, the Saints are $151 longshots.

It’s Souths in need of the most honest introspection during the representative break, however.

Coach Jason Demetriou inexplicably hooked rookie halfback Lachlan Ilias amid the first-half landslide, while leaders Cody Walker, Jai Arrow and Damien Cook seemed more occupied with getting involved in off-the-ball flare-ups.

The Dragons may be the most unfancied of the of the mid-table pack, but their dismantling of the Rabbitohs – with Zac Lomax’s sensational bounce-back performance the headliner – can provide a launching pad for the run home.

The Saints face the Raiders, Roosters and Sea Eagles during the next four rounds in three showdowns that will have a huge bearing on the race for seventh and eight spots.

5 – Bulldogs Keep Barking

Proving its 34-4 demolition of Parramatta last Monday was no flash in the pan, Canterbury thrashed fellow bottom-four battlers West Tigers 36-12 to record back-to-back wins for the first time since 2019.

It’s also the first time since 2016 the Bulldogs have scored 30-plus points in consecutive games since 2016, with the rejuvenated Belmore boys averaging 26-8 points in five games under caretaker Mick Potter after scoring just 10.6 per game in the first 10 rounds with Trent Barrett at the helm.

The Bulldogs’ expansive offence – with Matt Burton and Josh Addo-Carr calling the tune for outstanding tyros such as Aaron Schoupp and Jacob Kiraz to follow – has been a breath of fresh air for long-suffering fans.

Meanwhile, Potter would have taken particular satisfaction from decimating the Tigers, the club that cut him loose after just two seasons in charge back in 2014.

The Bulldogs are looking increasingly likely to offload the wooden spoon to the Tigers, Warriors or last-placed Titans.

The Warriors’ Redcliffe odyssey ended with a somewhat encouraging 40-6 loss to runaway competition leaders Penrith.

Their next assignment is a Mt Smart homecoming after 59 matches and more than 1,000 days on the road – against the Tigers in a huge encounter in the context of the spoon battle.

Gritty in an 18-10 loss at Cronulla, the Titans have won just one of their last 11 as the pressure mounts on coach Justin Holbrook.