Newcastle Knights v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles @ McDonald Jones Stadium – 2:00 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Knights: Daniel Saifiti is a big inclusion for the Knights this week. He pushes brother Jacob to the bench and Brodie Jones drops out.
- Sea Eagles: Joel Thompson and Curtis Sironen have both been named to return while Brad Parker is expected to slot back into the centres. Addin Fonua-Blake misses this one to injury with Taniela Paseka elevated into the starting lineup.
Key Factor: Filling the Fonua-Blake Void
Addin Fonua-Blake leads all Manly and Newcastle props, locks and back rowers in running metres per game this season. His absence for the Sea Eagles this week is of great concern. They already sit way down at 13th in yardage with 1,640 metres per game. Meanwhile, only the Eels run for more than the 1,859 metres per game the Knights have managed in 2020. With Marty Taupau also in some doubt after Jack Hetherington tried to take his head off in Round 13, it will require a team effort for Manly to make up Fonua-Blakes 186 running metres per game.
To make matters worse for the Sea Eagles, Daniel Saifiti returns this week. He produced career-best numbers before his injury. Averaging 180 running metres in games Newcastle have won this season, it’s a mark he will be looking to hit on Sunday.
READ: Saifiti To Save The Day
Wests Tigers v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs @ Bankwest Stadium – 4:05 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Tigers: Joey Leilua has been named but is no certainty of playing. Luke Garner is back into the starting 13 with Chris Lawrence moving to the bench and Shawn Blore out of the side. Billy Walters is out for the season with Josh Reynolds to replace him on the bench.
- Eels: Jake Averillo misses this one to injury, Kerrod Holland steps into the centres. Lachlan Lewis is also unavailable but due to suspension. Jack Cogger takes his place.
Key Factor: Let Luke Run
It’s a tired cliche, but Luke Brooks needs to get back to running the ball and engaging the defensive line. Throw some doubt into the defence rather than throwing a premeditated pass. His career form translates directly into how often he runs the ball.
Brooks’ average runs per game have gone against the general trend of NRL halves. They’re running the ball more since the six-again rule was introduced. However, Brooks is averaging 10.9 runs per game in 2020, down from a career-high 15.6 in 2019. He’s only cleared his 15.6 average from last season twice in 2020.
The Tigers need to turn things around. So too does Brooks. They can happen in concert if the 25-year-old can start getting downhill.
Sydney Roosters v Melbourne Storm @ Sydney Cricket Ground – 7:50 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Roosters: Josh Morris has been named to return to the centres with Mitchell Aubusson moving into the back row and Nat Butcher to the bench. None of the injured players normally in the first-choice 17 are a chance at returning.
- Storm: Ryan Papenhuyzen and Dale Finucane return for this one but the Storm have lost Cameron Munster. Nicho Hynes and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui shift to the bench.
Key Factor: Storming up the field
The Melbourne Storm have beaten the Sydney Roosters without Cameron Munster once already this season. And while Cameron Smith is also out for this one, the Chooks are dealing with injuries themselves. The absence of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Angus Crichton and Boyd Cordner allows the Storm to close the gap in running metres if not overtake the Roosters in this one.
Melbourne pipped Sydney in the yardage game to win the Golden Point thriller in Round 8 and can do so again with the superior forward pack they’re sending onto the field. With the loss of creativity in attack while Smith sits on the sideline, the Storm need to generate as many chances inside the opposition 20-metre line as possible. They’re not at their strongest in attack, but if the Storm can win the territory battle and keep the Roosters pegged in their own end, we’re in for an upset to start Round 14.
New Zealand Warriors v Penrith Panthers @ Central Coast Stadium – 6 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Warriors: It’s finally happened: Jack Hetherington has been suspended. Lachlan Burr has been elevated to the starting side with Isaiah Papali’i named on the bench.
- Panthers: The Panthers have named the same 17 again for Friday night.
Key Factor: Switched on Warriors
The New Zealand Warriors need to start strong this week if they’re to upset the Penrith Panthers and win their third game on the bounce.
As we saw with the Panthers cruising out to a 24-0 halftime lead over the Raiders in Round 13, this match could also be decided before the first orange is bit into. While the Warriors rank 15th in the NRL in first-half tries scored with just 1.2 per game, the Panthers race out of the blocks to lead the competition with 2.2 first-half tries per game. To make the challenge tougher for the Kiwi club, Penrith allow the third-fewest first-half tries and haven’t conceded a point in the opening 20 minutes of a match since Round 1. It’s going to be a long evening for the Warriors if they can’t buck the worrying trends and cross the line early.
Parramatta Eels v St. George-Illawarra Dragons @ Bankwest Stadium – 7:55 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Eels: Ryan Matterson returns for the Eels to push Marata Niukore to the bench and Andrew Davey to the reserves.
- Dragons: Remarkably, Corey Norman is back in the side at five-eighth. His return shifts Ben Hunt to hooker and Cameron McInnes to lock. Jackson Ford is suspended. Tariq Sims and Trent Merrin are both also out with Tyrell Fuimaono to start in the back row with Korbin Sims and Jacob Host to come off the bench.
Key Factor: Cohesion
The Parramatta Eels haven’t only been blessed with a friendly draw. They’ve also only used 26 players all season, and much of that is by design with a regular rotation of faces filtering through the end of the bench. Blake Ferguson’s one missed game in Round 10 is the only time the first-choice backline has been split up while the spine have had the luxury of playing 10 of the 13 games this season together.
The St. George-Illawarra Dragons, on the other hand, have played seven Top 8 teams and used 27 players. Their rotation hasn’t been quite so smooth. Paul McGregor is making weekly adjustments to the spine; some by choice, others by necessity. The one, six, seven and nine have changed in each of their last three games and will do so again for this one. Such a rotation of players not only makes developing combinations difficult, but building trust in those around you defensively is next to impossible.
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Gold Coast Titans @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium – 3 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Sharks: Jack Williams replaces Teig Wilton on the bench as the only confirmed change. Although, Scott Sorensen and Ronaldo Mulitalo both need to pass concussion protocols.
- Titans: We’ve not been able to say this too often about the Titans over the last few seasons, but they’ve named an unchanged lineup for this one.
Key Factor: Piling up points
While scoring 30 points always looks good, doing it against the Cowboys isn’t much of an achievement at the moment. Even for the Gold Coast Titans. They need to recapture that form again this week if they’re to stick with the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks in what shapes to be a shootout if the Titans are up for it.
The Sharks are behind just the Storm and Roosters in scoring at 25.5 points per game. Shaun Johnson is making a mockery of left-edge defences while the introduction of Matt Moylan into the halves last week triggered one of Wade Graham’s better performances. Cronulla’s downfall is in their defence conceding 22.2 points per game. But so too is Gold Coast’s. Only the Cowboys and Broncos concede more than their 25.9 points per game.
With how the Sharks have scored this season and the form of the Titans last week, piling up points and playing from in front could be crucial on Saturday afternoon.
North Queensland Cowboys v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ Queensland Country Bank Stadium – 5:30 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Cowboys: Scott Drinkwater makes his welcomed return this week at fullback. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow moves out to the wing, pushing Justin O’Neill out of the side. John Asiata also returns to take Tim Gilbert’s place on the bench.
- Rabbitohs: Jaydn Su’A has served his suspension and returns to the back row. Liam Knight shifts to the bench and Jack Johns to the reserves.
Key Factor: Cowboys getting it right
After talking about their need to close the defensive line ahead of their Round 13 clash against the Titans, the Cowboys allowed six linebreaks. Connelly Lemuelu and Michael Morgan were the two major culprits as Ash Taylor and Kevin Proctor repeatedly hit the new defensive pairing.
The Cowboys right edge now faces one of the best-attacking left-side’s in the NRL this week. With Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell starting to link up nicely, the Rabbitohs have scored 52% of their total tries down the left side – only the Knights and Panthers have scored more. If the Cowboys can’t get their defence right, they don’t have enough points in them to keep up with an improving Rabbitohs attack.
Canberra Raiders v Brisbane Broncos @ GIO Stadium – 7:35 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Raiders: The 17 is unchanged from Round 13.
- Broncos: Tevita Pangai Jr has been replaced by debutant, Jordan Riki. Corey Paix joins the bench and pushes Issac Luke to the reserves. Matt Lodge and Xavier Coates won’t feature in this one with Rhys Kennedy and Jesse Arthars to replace the injured duo.
Key Factor: John Bateman v David Fifita
Both John Bateman and David Fifita have missed significant portions of this season but are fit, firing and ready to go in this one.
Bateman made an instant impact to the Raiders right side upon his return in Round 12. Curtis Scott is serviceable beside Bateman and the combination with George Williams will only improve things. Meanwhile, Fifita did all he could to inspire the Broncos in his first game since Round 2 last week. The 20-year-old has his work cut out for him on Saturday, though.
While the two won’t square up opposite each other, they are key points in attack for both sides. They track similarly in running metres with the pair averaging roughly 119 metres each per game. It’s in the tackle break department where Fifita separates himself. He’s averaged 7.3 tackle breaks per game (including seven last week) compared with Bateman’s 3.6 per game. It’s there that he can inspire change in the Broncos. They need a lift, and Fifita is the most likely to provide it.