Sunday

New Zealand Warriors v Parramatta Eels @ Central Coast Stadium – 4:05 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Warriors: George Jennings and Daniel Alvaro aren’t available for this one and Eli Katoa is out with a hand injury. Gerard Beale comes onto the wing, Jack Murchie starts in the back row while Josh Curran and Isaiah Papali’i join the bench.
  • Eels: Jai Field has been given the task of replacing Dylan Brown at five-eighth. Marata Niukore’s return from suspension pushes Andrew Davey off the bench.

Key Factor: Maintaining form v Finding form

What a difference five rounds can make to a rugby league team and their finals and premiership hopes. The Parramatta Eels spent the first 11 rounds of the season in the premiership conversation while scoring 23.1 points per game. The New Zealand Warriors, meanwhile, fought to stay afloat through their living situation, injuries and just 12.5 points per game. But the attacking form of the two teams has flipped over the last five weeks.

The Warriors have begun to put it together to have won four of their last five games scoring 24 points per game. They’re a mathematical chance of playing finals football much deeper into the season than most anticipated. The Eels, on the other hand, have scored an NRL-worst 11.6 points per game since Round 12 with three wins in that time flattering their overall performance. While five spots on the ladder and ten competition points separate the two sides, the form guides in attack bring them closer together on Sunday.

Your Edge: Eels Left Edge Struggles

North Queensland Cowboys v St. George-Illawarra Dragons @ Queensland Country Bank Stadium – 6:30 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Cowboys: With Michael Morgan out yet again, Jake Clifford has been recalled into the halves. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow returns to the wing, Valentine Holmes to fullback and Scott Drinkwater to five-eighth. Esan Marsters and Gavin Cooper have both come back into the starting 13 for Connelly Lemuelu and Coen Hess.
  • Dragons: Tyrell Fuimaono’s return from suspension for Trent Merrin is the only confirmed change to the Dragons this week. Billy Brittain must pass HIA protocols during the week.

Key Factor: Rekindling of Cowboys halves

The North Queensland Cowboys are on a nine-game losing streak and have only won three games all season. Two of them came with Scott Drinkwater and Jake Clifford in the halves earlier in the season. Now paired together for Sunday, the Cowboys will play with perhaps their best backline of the season despite Michael Morgan being sat in the stands.

Jake Clifford v Michael Morgan in 2020

There is no doubting Morgan’s potential to influence the side positively. The problem is, he hasn’t been able to achieve that often enough. Perhaps he’s being asked to do too much? A strong, traditional halfback would help Morgan. Clifford can play that role if given the chance.

Given the lack of ball-players the Cowboys have through the middle, they need to play to their strengths this week. That’s crash and bash. It’s getting into the arm-wrestle. Winning ugly. If Clifford can direct his metre-eaters around the field, and end sets with his excellent kicking game while providing Drinkwater with early ball on the edges, the Cowboys can end the losing streak before it reaches double-digits.

Thursday

Brisbane Broncos v Penrith Panthers @ Suncorp Stadium – 7:50 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Broncos: Payne Haas, Issac Luke and Corey Oates are all named to return this week. Oates pushes Herbie Farnworth into the centres and Jordan Kahu out of the side, Cory Paix makes way for Luke with Brodie Croft out of the 17, and Haas is a straight swap for the suspended Joe Ofahengaue.
  • Panthers: Viliame Kikau is a confirmed starter while Api Koroisau is expected to make his return on Thursday night. With Isaah Yeo out after suffering a head knock last week, James Fisher-Harris is at lock with Moses Leota at prop. With Kurt Capewell expected to make his long-awaited return from injury, Billy Burns has lost his place on the bench.

Key Factor: Broncos Yardage

The key for the Brisbane Broncos last week was to not add to the pressure already on them through giving away penalties. Despite the Roosters running all over them for the best part of 80 minutes, the Broncos only gave away four penalties – a small positive. This week, the Broncos need to keep that discipline while also closing the gap in yardage.

Average running metres per game in 2020

Only Parramatta average more metres per game than Penrith’s 1,852 metres. Meanwhile, no side averages fewer than Brisbane’s 1,454 metres per game. The inclusion of Payne Haas will help. While he’s struggling by his standards to average 179 metres per game, Haas is a big inclusion and will be at the forefront of anything positive the Broncos produce through the middle. If Corey Oates can recapture form in his return from injury and work closer towards the 145 metres per game he averaged in 2019 (he’s currently averaging 89 metres per game), the Broncos may be able to limit the Panthers domination through the middle and give themselves a chance to avoid a club-record eighth consecutive defeat.

Friday

Newcastle Knights v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks @ McDonald Jones Stadium – 6:00 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Knights: Phoenix Crossland and Brodie Jones come onto the Knights bench for Chris Randall and Pasami Saulo as the only changes to the 17 this week.
  • Sharks: Chad Townsend is back in the side for the Knights but there is still no sign of Shaun Johnson. Braydon Trindall retains his place in the halves with Connor Tracey on the bench. Andrew Fifita is healthy, but can’t crack the 17 this week.

Key Factor: Producing Against Top 8 Teams

The Newcastle Knights were embarrassed last week. Expected to possibly be tested by the Warriors, but ultimately win, the Knights conceded 36 points in what ended up a rout. The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, meanwhile, picked up another win against a side sitting on the outside of the Top 8. However, they’re yet to beat a side currently above them on the NRL ladder.

While the Knights have picked up two wins and a draw against Top 8 teams, their numbers aren’t all that appealing overall. Averaging just 16 points per game against finals-bound teams while conceding 18.6 points per game, the Knights need to make significant improvements if they’re to be anything more than a Week 1 speed bump. Worse still, the Sharks score just 15.2 points per game while conceding 29 points per game against Top 8 sides. Cronulla is the quintessential 8th-placed team. They beat those that they should, but struggle to compete with the genuine contenders.

The Sharks are without their best attacking weapon Shaun Johnson while the Knights are grossly out of form. This game is unlikely to add much to the winning team’s form guide but for the Sharks, in particular, it would tick an important box.

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Melbourne Storm @ Panthers Stadium – 7:55 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Rabbitohs: Latrell Mitchell is out with Alex Johnston named to take his place at the back. Dane Gagai has once again been named in the centres; Steven Marsters makes way.
  • Storm: Marion Seve is out for the season which allows Brenko Lee back into the centres. With Nelson Asofa-Solomona out with a calf injury, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui moves to lock with Chris Lewis to start in the back row. Ryley Jacks takes up a spot on the bench.

Key Factor: Replacing Latrell

After diving into what the South Sydney Rabbitohs lose with Latrell Mitchell on the sideline (it’s a lot), Wayne Bennett now needs to figure out how he’s going to replace him. Alex Johnston has been named to have the first crack on Friday night. When it comes to the running metres that Mitchell is slammed for, Johnston hasn’t averaged many more in his last 15 games at fullback.

When it comes to overall involvement in touches of the football, Johnston is behind Mitchell even when taking into consideration his seven receipts in 17 minutes the last time he wore the number one jersey.

With fewer touches, it’s no surprise to see Johnston adding significantly less in the try assists department.

But as touched on in ‘Your Edge‘ this week, Mitchell’s hands are irreplaceable. Simply replicating his counting stats – running metres, in particular – will appease one section of the Rabbitohs faithful, but it’s unlikely to translate into the 26.6 points per game Souths have scored with Mitchell on the field this season.

Saturday

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Gold Coast Titans @ ANZ Stadium – 3:00 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Bulldogs: Jake Averillo and Luke Thompson return to the side rested and ready. Sione Katoa and Dean Britt make way.
  • Titans: No confirmed changes for the Titans, although, Jai Arrow and Anthony Don have both been named in the reserves and may yet crack the 17.

Key Factor: Setting up for the second half

The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs scored four first-half tries to take a 20-12 lead over the Raiders into the break last week. They crumbled to concede four in the second half to lose 34-20. Meanwhile, the Gold Coast Titans didn’t take their first lead against the Dragons until the 76th minute. Down 10-4 heading into the final five minutes, the Titans ran in two late tries to steal the late last-gasp win.

For the Bulldogs, a late-game collapse wasn’t too much of a surprise. Not only are they the worst attacking team in the NRL, but they also concede 2.88 tries in the second half per game (3rd-most in the NRL). While the Titans have averaged fewer tries in the second half than the Bulldogs overall, they’ve been much improved over the last month. The return of AJ Brimson has added another level to the Titans attack. One that lasts for 80 minutes and can pick apart a defence late in the piece, just as we saw last week. While the Titans have averaged only 1.31 tries in the second half throughout the 16 rounds, they’ve averaged two tries in the second half over the last four rounds.

This sort of late-season run has typically been reserved for the Bulldogs over the last three seasons. However, it’s the Titans that are on the up as they work through the final rounds. If the Bulldogs are to reclaim their title as late-season disruptors and pick up a few late wins, they’ll need to improve after halftime against a Titans team that is becoming more accustomed to playing out the full 80 minutes.

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Wests Tigers @ Lottoland – 5:30 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Sea Eagles: As is the case every week, we start by highlighting the latest Manly player ruled out for the season. This week: Joel Thompson. He’s replaced by Jack Gosiewski. Reuben Garrick is also out with Abbas Miski coming onto the wing. Corey Waddell joins the bench.
  • Tigers: Michael Maguire is trying yet another combination following yet another poor defeat. Adam Doueihi and Moses Mbye have swapped positions while Tommy Talau has been dropped for AJ Kepaoa. Josh Aloiai returns to start at prop with Matt Eisenhuth to come off the bench.

Key Factor: Fixing the leak

Points conceded per game since Round 12

The Broncos are the worst defensive team in the NRL. We’ve known that for a long time now. However, the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles and Wests Tigers have given the Broncos a run for their money over the last five rounds. Since the start of Round 12, the Sea Eagles have conceded 36 points per game. They have a handful of excuses. Primarily, they lose a player for the season to injury every week and are forced to rebuild defensive combinations in two or three training sessions. The Tigers, meanwhile, create the poor defensive combinations themselves by shuffling the 17 every week in search of the right ones. They’ve conceded 33.2 points per game in the last five rounds to see their Top 8 hopes slip away for a tenth consecutive season.

Neither are particularly consistent attacking sides. Again, Manly is without their best attacking weapon while the Tigers will try to make things work with another new spine combination on Saturday. Nonetheless, it’s the side that can fix up their frailties in defence best that will take the chocolates in this one.

Canberra Raiders v Sydney Roosters @ GIO Stadium – 7:35 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Raiders: Corey Harawira-Naera’s return in place of Matt Timoko is the only confirmed change to the 17 last week. Although, Ricky Stuart has made a habit of switching things around an hour before kickoff in recent weeks.
  • Roosters: Sonny Bill Williams has been named on the bench, but more importantly, Luke Keary returns. Both Angus Crichton and Mitchell Aubusson have been named in the reserves and could possibly be included later in the week.

Key Factor: Big Papa v JWH

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves v Josh Papalii in 2020

Josh Papalii v Jared Waerea-Hargreaves shapes as a brutal battle that will go a long way to determining the winner of this one.

Waerea-Hargreaves is a grossly underrated player within an excellent Roosters side. He’s a consistent source of yardage in attack and their enforcer in defence. When the Roosters are in a hole and need something on either side of the ball, Waerea-Hargreaves is often the one there to start digging them out. While Papalii doesn’t have the hard-hitting reputation in defence Waerea-Hargreaves does, his superior footwork and speed makes him a much bigger threat in attack. He’s scored four tries and registered five line breaks this season to Waerea-Hargreaves’ single try.

The return of Sonny Bill Williams is going to draw all of the attention, but this is a head-to-head matchup that will play an active part in the result.

NRL Round 17 Value Plays

From Astrophysics At ANU To Analysing The AFL