St. George Illawarra Dragons v Gold Coast Titans @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium – 6:00 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Dragons: Korbin Sims and Paul Vaughan are both unavailable allowing Jackson Ford and Billy Brittain to join the bench.
- Titans: Good news for the Titans, Ash Taylor returns to the halves pushing Tanah Boyd to the bench. Bad news for the Titans, Moeaki Fotuaika is out forcing Tyrone Peachey into lock and allowing Erin Clark to return to the bench. Mitch Rein also replaces Nathan Peats at hooker while Beau Fermor starts in the back row ahead of Keegan Hipgrave.
Key Factor: Clogging up the middle
This week, more than ever, the Dragons and Titans need a heavy focus on the middle of the field. The Red V are without Paul Vaughan who ran for 123 metres on 12 carries in 36 minutes in his return from quarantine last week. Vaughan is at the front of it all when the Dragons are at their best. Meanwhile, the Titans lost Jai Arrow in Round 14 and Moeaki Fotuaika in Round 15. Arrow is third amongst Titans forwards in running metres per game while Fotuaika leads the side with 140.9 running metres per game.
The Dragons can take confidence in the fact they rank fifth in the NRL in yardage and have dealt without Vaughan recently before. However, the Titans (ranked 15th in running metres per game themselves) will be aware that no side in the competition allows their opposition to run for more metres per game than the Dragons. Rugby league is a simple game. There is no more simple plan than clogging the middle, winning the yardage battle, and grinding out a win.
Sydney Roosters v Brisbane Broncos @ Sydney Cricket Ground – 7:55 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Rabbitohs: Boyd Cordner and Daniel Tupou make their long-awaited return with Matt Ikuvalu and Daniel Fifita out. Nat Butcher moves to the bench.
- Broncos: Sean O’Sullivan replaces the injured Anthony Milford in the halves while Cory Paix takes Issac Luke’s place at hooker. Brodie Croft has been offered another chance in the 17 but will come off the bench for this one.
Key Factor: Broncos Penalties
The Brisbane Broncos are $13 and +25.5 underdogs to the defending premiers this week. For some perspective, no team has entered a game with a line that high since the 2016 Knights – arguably the worst team of all time – lost to the Raiders. While the weight of Anthony Seibold’s inevitable sacking may be lifted off the shoulders of the Broncos playing group, it’s important they don’t add any more pressure through a heavy penalty count on Friday night.
The Broncos give away more penalties than any other team in the NRL at 6.6 per game while forcing the fewest out of their opposition at 3.3 per game.
A lack of leadership and ability to stay in the fight has been evident in the Broncos for the last two seasons. Once things don’t go to plan, they fold quicker than a paper plate. They find themselves on the back foot, and in turn, give away penalties as they scramble to keep a lid on the opposition. While the Sydney Roosters may not be at their best, they’re improving every week. They’ll be boosted by Boyd Cordner and Daniel Tupou this week while no doubt having one eye on building up into the finals too. Brisbane can’t afford to give them extra opportunities with the football through silly indiscretions. If they do, we could have another 59-0 thrashing on our hands.
New Zealand Warriors v Newcastle Knights @ Bankwest Stadium – 3:00 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Warriors: Chanel Harris-Tavita returns to take Paul Turner’s place in the side. Eli Katoa is also back and into the second row with Isaiah Papali’i dropping to the reserves.
- Knights: Blake Green won’t face his former teammates, but Mason Lino will in replacing the injured veteran in the halves. Star To’a needs to pass concussion protocols while Tex Hoy is in the reserves as a possible replacement.
Key Factor: Leaning on Lino
Mason Lino takes Blake Green’s spot in the side this week in yet another reshuffle of the Newcastle Knights spine. Tex Hoy sits in the reserves, and for many, is the preferred option. However, Lino shapes as a more direct replacement to Green. Neither are prolific runners of the ball which means the ball won’t get stuck in their hands. It will shift wide to their weapons on the edges, which in recent weeks, has seen the Knights play their best-attacking football in months.
Kalyn Ponga is looking a lot more dangerous playing wider, deeper and while touching the ball less at the moment. Having Lino in there to shift the ball rather than Hoy or Kurt Mann being inclined to look up and take on the line should see the Knights attack return to their Round 13 and 14 form (35 points per game).
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v North Queensland Cowboys @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium – 5:30 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Sharks: Matt Moylan has been dropped for Connor Tracey in the halves with Shaun Johnson also returning. Braden Hamlin-Uele starts with Toby Rudolf to lock and Scott Sorensen to the bench. Meanwhile, Briton Nikora has been recalled to the back row pushing Siosifa Talakai to the bench. Andrew Fifita is a chance at returning after being named in the reserves.
- Cowboys: Valentine Holmes is back and slots in on the wing for Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow. Murray Tuilagi takes Tom Opacic’s place in the centres while Daejarn Asi replaces Ben Hampton in the halves. With Jason Taumalolo out, Francis Molo starts at prop and Josh McGuire at lock. Tom Gilbert will come off the bench.
Key Factor: Replacing Another JT
The North Queensland Cowboys are one of the worst teams in the NRL at the moment. They would be a whole lot worse had Jason Taumalolo not been out there to drag them up the field too. Now they are without him. The hulking Tongan suffered a calf injury last week and will miss at least the next month.
To put in perspective just how dominant Taumalolo is, he is second in the NRL in running metres and the only forward to feature in the Top 10:
Taumalolo’s 221.7 running metres per game can’t be replaced by one man. Josh McGuire fills Taumalolo’s 13 jersey this week, but Jordan McLean, Francis Molo, John Asiata and Tom Gilbert all need to exceed their usual output if the Cowboys are to compete with an improving Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks middle and limit the opportunities Shaun Johnson has to attack in good ball areas.
Penrith Panthers v Wests Tigers @ Panthers Stadium – 7:35 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Panthers: Viliame Kikau and Api Koroisau are both unavailable this week. Isaah Yeo takes Kikau’s place on the edge moving James Fisher-Harris to lock and Moses Leota to prop. Mitch Kenny takes Koroisau’s place at dummy half. Brian To’o makes his return this week and comes onto the wing; Brent Naden moves to centre, Tyrone May to the bench and Daine Laurie to the reserves.
- Tigers: The Tigers receive the two biggest boosts they could with Harry Grant and Alex Twal back into the side. Jacob Liddle drops to the bench and Josh Reynolds to the reserves. Tom Mikaele starts at prop for the dropped Russell Packer while Shawn Blore has made his way back onto the bench.
Key Factor: Tigers Start Fast
The Penrith Panthers have forgotten what it’s like to concede points early. They’ve not allowed the opposition to score inside the first 20 minutes since Round 1 and have grown more than comfortable with playing from in front and maintaining a lead. While the Wests Tigers attack was overrated for much of the season before struggling over the last month, they do know how to score points early. Only the Panthers average more tries scored in the first half than the Tigers.
The Panthers are already without Viliame Kikau and Api Koroisau this week. They’re two key cogs in the Panthers attack which will take some adjusting to on Saturday. If the Tigers can add the shock of an early deficit and force the Panthers into a position they’re relatively unfamiliar with, the ten-game winning streak may come under threat.
Melbourne Storm v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles @ Sunshine Coast Stadium – 4:05 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Storm: Brandon Smith, Ryley Jacks, Cooper Johns and Kenny Bromwich are out of the side for a variety of reasons this week. In better news, Cameron Munster, Cameron Smith, Jahrome Hughes and Jesse Bromwich all return. Tom Eisenhuth starts in the back row and Marion Seve on the wing with Sandor Earl moving to the bench and Albert Vete out of the side.
- Sea Eagles: Yet another Manly player has been ruled out for a lengthy period with Moses Suli now unavailable. Tevita Vuna starts at fullback, Reuben Garrick on the wing and Jack Gosiewski in the centres. Marty Taupau pushes Taniela Paseka back to the bench while Joel Thompson returns from injury. Corey Waddell shifts to the bench.
Key Factor: Ball-playing locks
We’ve looked a lot at how lock forwards are moving the ball more in 2020 to seasons prior recently. This week for ‘Your Edge‘ we looked at which middle forwards have the highest pass/run ratio with Jake Trbojevic coming out on top. His opposite for Sunday, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, had only passed the ball seven times this season before Round 15. Trbojevic is arguably Manly’s most influential player while Asofa-Solomona is filling an important role in the Storm attack which is the opposite to how he typically plays.
While Asofa-Solomona has plenty of support around him and his performance won’t ultimately determine the result like Trbojevic’s can, it will be interesting to see how the Storm adjusts to the change and whether or not the Sea Eagles can capitalise on any teething issues.
Canberra Raiders v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs @ GIO Stadium – 6:30 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Raiders: Josh Papalii, Dunamis Lui and Hudson Young have all been named to start. Although, the same happened last week before all three came off the bench for Joe Tapine, Ryan Sutton and Corey Harawira-Naera. Harawira-Naera is out of the side this week with Matthew Timoko taking his place.
- Bulldogs: Luke Thompson is out of the 17 this week along with Jack Cogger, Reimis Smith, Tim Lafai, Jake Averillo and Sauaso Sue. Lachlan Lewis starts at halfback, Marcelo Montoya in the centres, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak on the wing, Dylan Napa at prop and Aiden Tolman at lock. Josh Jackson moves back to the edge while Matt Doory drops to the bench. He’s joined by Renouf To’omaga and Dean Britt.
Key Factor: Stopping the roll
The Canberra Raiders middle is far superior to the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. That much is obvious. It also makes it clear that the Bulldogs must find a way to stop the Raiders from rolling up the field on Sunday with only the Dragons and Broncos allowing the opposition to average more running metres per game in 2020.
The Bulldogs played well enough last week. They even offered a glimpse of hope in the attacking department. However, in allowing the Warriors to run for over 2,000 metres, the Bulldogs gave up too much field position, and eventually, too many points. With the Raiders offering even more than the Warriors through the middle and in attack close to the goal line, the only way the Bulldogs stay in this game is by slowing the Green Machine down when coming out of their own end.
Parramatta Eels v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ Bankwest Stadium – 7:50 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Eels: Andrew Davey replaces Marata Niukore as Parramatta’s only change this week.
- Rabbitohs: Dane Gagai is out of the 17 with a hamstring injury. Steven Marsters will play the second game of his NRL career in Gagai’s place while Corey Allan replaces Alex Johnston on the wing. In better news, Liam Knight returns to the bench for Kurt Dillon.
Key Factor: Putting Points on the Top 8
Both the Parramatta Eels and South Sydney Rabbitohs have had a friendlier run than most this season. They’ve only played six games each against Top 8 teams. While the Eels have impressed to win five of them, the Rabbitohs lone victory against a finals-bound team came in Round 1 (Sharks). Beating a fellow Top 8 team is handy in the run-in to October, but more importantly, both Parramatta and Souths need to build some confidence by scoring points against better teams in the competition. Parramatta averages just 14.8 points per game against Top 8 teams in 2020. South Sydney, just 14 points per game.
As touched on in ‘Your Edge‘ this week, a lot of the improvement in how either team attacks will come through their fullbacks. Clint Gutherson’s constant presence and pressure go up against the briefly impactful but brilliant Latrell Mitchell in a head-to-head battle that will go a long way to deciding the winner.