Sunday

Canberra Raiders v New Zealand Warriors @ GIO Stadium – 2:00 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Raiders: Siliva Havili will start at hooker with Tom Starling shifting to the bench as the only confirmed change. Sia Soliola has been named in the reserves and could be a late inclusion in the 17 on Sunday.
  • Warriors: Jamayne Taunoa-Brown’s suspension allows Lachlan Burr to start at prop while Eli Katoa moves back to the bench beside Tom Ale. With George Jennings’ loan spell coming to an end, Hayze Perham starts on the wing and Adam Keighran gets his chance to impress in the centres.

Key Factor: Warriors props

While only 25 metres separate the season averages between the two sides (1,686m v 1,671m), it’s the yardage game that the Warriors need to lift if they’re to cause an upset on Sunday afternoon.

They’re getting desperate to fill middle-forward positions as the season comes to an end. With Daniel Alvaro gone, Jamayne Taunoa-Brown suspended and injuries limiting who they can send onto the field, Isaiah Papali’i and Lachlan Burr have been named to start in the front row for Sunday. They’ll need to significantly outperform their typical yardage numbers if the Warriors are to compete with the Raiders through the middle. Josh Papalii and Dunamis Lui have them covered to start while Hudson Young and Ryan Sutton both offer plenty of go-forward off the bench. The Warriors attack won’t have enough opportunities to score on a strong Raiders defence without a formidable foundation.

Value Plays: Adam Pompey

The first try scorer value lies with the Warriors on Sunday, and with what Peta Hiku has been doing for the players outside him this season, Adam Pompey ($17 – SportsBet) looks the pick of the bunch.

Newcastle Knights v St. George-Illawarra Dragons @ McDonald Jones Stadium – 5:30 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Knights: Kalyn Ponga returns to fullback with Tex Hoy pushing Mason Lino out of the halves. Chris Randall will start at hooker while Phoenix Crossland has been named to come off the bench.
  • Dragons: Tariq Sims is back and will make his return off the bench replacing Billy Brittain. Mex Feagai makes his debut off the bench with Tyrell Fuimaono dropping off.

Key Factor: Matt Dufty

Matt Dufty caught fire in the middle of the season to score eight tries and hand out three try assists between Round 8 and Round 13. However, he hasn’t crossed the line since then with his three try assists seeing the Dragons average just 16.4 points per game while losing three of their last five. With Corey Norman grossly out of form, Ben Hunt at hooker and Adam Clune not a particularly outstanding option as a creative half in good ball areas, it’s up to Dufty to provide the magic to spark the Dragons attack.

Value Plays: Dragons forwards

If there is one area the Dragons always at least look good on paper, it’s in the pack. Our predictive model projects big things for the Red V forwards with Jackson Ford projected to crack 40 points for the fifth time in six games.

Thursday

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs @ ANZ Stadium – 7:50 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Rabbitohs: Jaxson Paulo takes Dane Gagai’s place on the wing while Hame Sele replaces Patrick Mago on the bench.
  • Bulldogs: Tim Lafai is back into the centres with Nick Meaney dropped and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak shifting out to the wing. Matt Doorey’s injury has forced a reshuffle: Chris Smith starts at lock, Josh Jackson in the back row, Luke Thompson at prop and Renouf To’omaga to the bench. Sione Katoa also replaces Dean Britt.

Key Factor: Starting Strong

As Corey Allan sent Campbell Graham streaking down the sideline to make it 20-0 for the South Sydney Rabbitohs over the Wests Tigers inside 30 minutes last week, ideas of a late premiership push started to creep into the minds of the Redfern faithful. But, by the time the final siren sounded and the Bunnies snuck home to win 26-24, reality set in. A team giving up a lead that big to another outside the Top 8 isn’t worrying the likes of the Panthers, Storm and Roosters. However, another fast South Sydney start will worry the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, though. They blew another early lead before losing 32-20 to the Sea Eagles in Round 19.

It comes a week after highlighting just how bad the Bulldogs have been in the second half of matches in 2020. They conceded 2.88 second-half tries throughout the first 16 rounds of the season with three Manly tries after halftime last week killing their chances of a comeback.

Canterbury’s only hope on Thursday night is to build a big enough lead that their flimsy late-game defence can cover. Should South Sydney fly out of the blocks and pile up early points, it’s game over.

Value Plays: Rabbitohs Left

Alex Johnston will be a popular pick on the Rabbitohs left wing but the value lies with two players inside him.

Friday

North Queensland Cowboys v Penrith Panthers @ Queensland Country Bank Stadium – 6:00 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Cowboys: Josh McGuire’s spray directed at Grant Atkins has cost him a week on the sideline; Francis Molo starts at lock and Corey Jensen at prop. Murray Taulagi comes into the centres for Justin O’Neill. On the bench, Emre Pere replaces John Asiata, Gavin Cooper and Tom Gilbert trade places, and Ben Condon rounds out the 17. Meanwhile, Jason Taumalolo has been named in the reserves and could be a late inclusion.
  • Panthers: Api Koroisau, James Tamou and Zane Tetevano will take a break this week. Mitch Kenny moves into hooker, Moses Leota starts at prop, and Kurt Capewell and Jack Hetherington join the bench.

Key Factor: Cowboys Defence

The defensive numbers give us a pretty good idea of how this game will go on Friday evening:

CowboysPanthers
Points Conceded26.212.6
First half tries conceded2.21.1
Second half tries conceded1.90.9

The North Queensland Cowboys concede the second-most points in the NRL while the Penrith Panthers concede the second-fewest. Unless the home team can close the gap and tighten up their defence, it will all be one-way traffic in this one.

Value Plays: Panthers through the middle

With the Panthers expected to run riot against this dodgy Cowboys defence, the value lies in the forwards. Melbourne made a mockery of North Queensland’s defence around the ruck last week. Viliame Kikau, Liam Martin and Isaah Yeo are set to benefit if Penrith can do the same on Friday.

Parramatta Eels v Brisbane Broncos @ Bankwest Stadium – 7:55 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Eels: Reed Mahoney has again been named but is expected to play this week. Will Smith retains his spot on the bench.
  • Broncos: Payne Haas and Rhys Kennedy aren’t available leaving Ben Te’o and Joe Ofahengaue to start in the front row. Sean O’Sullivan has lost his place in the halves with Tyson Gamble named at five-eighth. Jamil Hopoate and Ethan Bullemor join the bench.

Key Factor: Making metres and piling up points

The Brisbane Broncos rank 16th in attack scoring just 13.3 points per game and 16th in yardage with 1,442 running metres per game. While their attack hasn’t looked like clicking all season, they haven’t had much of a chance given the lack of go-forward through the middle.

Meanwhile, the Parramatta Eels rank 9th in attack and 2nd in yardage overall. They have premiership aspirations, and at one stage for some, expectations. However, the Eels have fallen off a cliff since Round 12. Their 1,653 metres ranks 10th in the NRL while their 12 points per game over the last seven rounds is dead last, even behind the Broncos’ 14 points per game in the same span.

Both teams are grossly out of form in key areas. The Broncos might just be a chance of causing an upset if they can be the side to get back on track this week.

Value Plays: Reagan Campbell-Gillard

The Broncos have conceded some soft tries in the middle of the field this season. Many have come due to a poor defensive read by Joe Ofahengaue. With the Broncos forced to shake things up and start Ben Te’o and Ofahengaue at prop, opportunities are likely to present themselves for the Parramatta forwards. Their best way to recapture their early-season form is to start rolling up the middle again. Reagan Campbell-Gillard will be a big part of that, and Brisbane’s poor goal line defence and NRL-high 23 tries conceded in the middle of the field make him a threat as a try scorer.

Saturday

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Gold Coast Titans @ Lottoland – 4:00 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Sea Eagles: Tom Trbojevic and Reuben Garrick have tests to pass during the week but Trbojevic is at least expected to play. Addin Fonua-Blake has been named to start but may be a late withdrawal due to a knee injury.
  • Titans: Kevin Proctor has served his suspension and returns to replace Beau Fermor in the back row. Meanwhile, Tanah Boyd takes Erin Clark’s spot on the bench.

Key Factor: Tom Trbojevic

Des Hasler says Tom Trbojevic is a “strong chance” at returning this week, and while it’s too late for the Sea Eagles to push for the finals, he can still ensure they end a disappointing 2020 season on a positive note.

Outrageously good for four tries, seven try assists, 16 tackle breaks and four line breaks in six games to start the season, the Sea Eagles are a different team when Trbojevic is on the field. He’s the focus of their attack whether he has the ball or not. However, his running metres took a dive to start 2020. After averaging 177 metres per game in 2019, he only cracked that number once before going down with his hamstring injury. With his yardage so important to Manly victories in the games he has played over the last two seasons, it will be interesting to see how far Trbojevic pushes his hamstring as a ball-runner on Saturday.

Win/Loss since 2019

Value Plays: Manly Backrow

The Titans edges have had their issues in recent seasons. Our predictive model projects the Sea Eagles back row to take full advantage this week.

Melbourne Storm v Wests Tigers @ Sunshine Coast Stadium – 5:30 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Storm: Christian Welch’s return pushes Nelson Asofa-Solomona to lock and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui to the bench – Darryn Schonig drops out.
  • Wests Tigers: Joey Leilua is back to take Tommy Talau’s place in the centres while Josh Reynolds replaces the suspended Luke Brooks. Sam McIntyre has been named to start with Luke Garner dropping to the bench. Elijah Taylor and Jacob Liddle lose their places on the bench for Russell Packer and Zane Tetevano.

Key Factor: Smith v Grant

Cameron Smith v Harry Grant. Master v Apprentice.

They’re two very different players but they will have the biggest influence on which team wins on Saturday evening. Grant is already elite at getting out from behind the ruck with his 88.08 running metres in 13 games this season dwarfing Smith’s 43.83 metres in the same period. However, Smith is far superior in sending players over the line to average over one try assist per game while Grant has registered just five all season at 0.39 per game.

Value Plays: Tigers outside backs

As always in one-sided matchups, the value lies in the underdogs with the Wests Tigers outside backs the pick of the bunch on Saturday afternoon.

Sydney Roosters v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks @ Sydney Cricket Ground – 7:35 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Roosters: James Tedesco and Siosiua Taukeiaho have both been given the week off with Joseph Manu to start at fullback and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves back into prop. Lindsay Collins also starts in the front row. Angus Crichton and Freddy Lussick will come off the bench.
  • Sharks: The Sharks have named an unchanged 17 to the side that beat the Warriors last week.

Key Factor: Sharks Defence

The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks say they’re contenders, but they’ve not produced against any yet this season. Currently 0-6 against Top 8 teams, the for and against numbers make for worrying reading.

Vs Top 8 Vs Bottom 8
Points Scored14.329
Points Conceded3019

The Sharks need to buck the trend and keep a lid on the best attack in the NRL (28.3 points per game) while getting a few points past an elite defence (13.6 points conceded per game) themselves this week.

Value Plays: Joseph Manu ($10,510)

Joseph Manu is named to start at fullback and it’s a position that has proven fruitful for Draftstars players over the last two seasons. He has averaged 52.9 points in the four games he has worn the #1 jersey since last season and managed 58.95 points playing there in Round 7. With our predictive model projecting him to score 43 points, but with a ceiling much higher, Manu is a value play at $10,510.

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