This week for ‘Your Edge’ we look at Queensland’s hooker conundrum, George Williams’ departure from Canberra, Top 5 & 8 ladders, and find the best value plays of the weekend.

Queensland’s Hooker Conundrum

State of Origin chat has taken over every NRL conversation this week. With teams to be named at the end of Round 12, experts and punters are all putting together their predicted teams ahead of the 2021 State of Origin series.

While many positions are fairly clear-cut (even by NSW’s standards), the #9 jersey for both states is a conversation many people are having. Reed Mahoney, in particular, is a popular left-field name being added to the mix.

He is playing out a career year for the Parramatta Eels at the moment. As a former Mahoney doubter, he has left egg on my face and many others with his start to the season to have two tries and ten try assists to his name through 11 games. The subtleties he has added to his game around the ruck have taken his influence as an attacking option to a new level and the Eels attack has benefited from having another consistent on-ball threat.

However, he isn’t Harry Grant.

Grant has only played five times for the Storm this season but matches Mahoney in tries and try assists per game and is yet to play the full 80 minutes. As much as Mahoney has added to his game, he still doesn’t come close to Grant around the ruck with the 23-year-old displaying Cameron Smith-like vision and precision throughout a set that leads to points.

Comparing Origin Hookers (2020 and 2021)

The Storm hooker is superior to Mahoney in every area, but right now, lags behind in match fitness and game time in 2021.

Provided Grant is healthy, he should be the starting #9 for the Maroons in Game 1. From there, Mahoney becomes an option in #14. He faces stern competition from Ben Hunt, though. Hunt has recaptured his form this season and is a more versatile option off the bench for Paul Green than Mahoney. He started three games at hooker for Queensland in 2019, spent eight games there for the Dragons in 2020, and has proven capable at representative level wherever he is played. The 31-year-old can spell Grant at hooker while also providing cover in the halves and lock at a pinch.

While Mahoney is the popular pick for Origin bolter, it appears as though his only chance at cracking the side for Game 1 is if Hunt starts beside Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves. Mahoney then becomes a possible option off the bench.

Queensland don’t usually make things so difficult for themselves and it’s only injuries and suspensions that have created this conversation. Expect Green to take the tried and tested approach and for Grant and Hunt to feature in the 17 for the series opener.

Meanwhile, Damien Cook’s grip on the Blues #9 jersey isn’t all that tight at the moment. Api Koroisau doesn’t match Cook for numbers, but his influence on an unbeaten Panthers side in the five games he has played this season is clear for all to see. He passes the eye test and is arguably the more consistent of the two. Cook would be the safe pick for Freddy Fittler ahead of a crucial series opener, but this is Freddy Fittler…

Cheerio, George Williams

The Canberra Raiders are a shambles at the moment. They’ve lost six of their last seven games on the field and stories surrounding off-field dramas seem to be popping up every week.

George Williams is the latest player to make headlines. Reportedly homesick and eager to return to the U.K. for the remainder of this season, the Raiders have granted a release from his entire contract. As it stands, the Englishman has played his last game in the nation’s capital. The Raiders are now searching for a replacement at a key playmaking position with their NRL season hanging by a thread.

Williams hasn’t been at his very best this season but has been an influential part of Canberra’s attack since joining the club last year. He led the side in try assists with 15 in 2020 and his six in 2021 is the most of all Raiders players through 11 rounds.

Raiders Attacking Involvements (2020 & 2021)

He averaged almost one try+try assist per game throughout his 32 matches steering the Green Machine around the paddock. With Josh Hodgson out of favour at hooker, Jack Wighton not a traditional five-eighth let alone organising half, and Caleb Aekins only 18 games into his NRL career, the Raiders face a tough task in replacing Williams’ output for the remainder of the 2021 season.

Sam Williams is a serviceable veteran that can fill the role, but he’s not going to turn Canberra’s season around and propel them back into the Top 8. An in-form Williams had that ability, but we will never know whether or not he could pull it off now.

Top 5/8 Ladder Results

Not every win is created equal.

A team beating the Bulldogs right now gets the same number of competition points as one beating the Eels or Roosters. There is a lot more to assessing a match than the final score, and a lot more to a season than wins and losses. While the NRL ladder gives us a general idea of where teams are at through 11 rounds, breaking it down into the ladder position of their opposition is another wrinkle we can add.

Top 5 Ladder

Record v Top 5 Teams (After Round 11)

Interestingly, the Penrith Panthers have only played two teams currently inside the Top 5 on the ladder. They did, however, beat one of those teams 56-12 over the weekend. While the Sydney Roosters have done remarkably well to navigate their injury and suspension issues to be 5th on the ladder, they’re yet to beat a top side this season which goes some way to highlighting how far behind they are from the genuine contenders.

Top 8 Ladder

Record v Top 8 Teams (After Round 11)

The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks managed to play finals football without beating a Top 8 side last season but have already beaten two in 2021. The Gold Coast Titans are threatening to take a similar path this year after beating enough of the teams below them to be 8th on the ladder while failing to register a W against any team above them.

Worryingly for the South Sydney Rabbitohs, they have just three wins in six matches against finals-bound sides this season.

Panthers Putting It To Punters

The 2021 Penrith Panthers are already in the conversation around the best regular season team of all time and the opinion of the bookmakers this week starts to back that up a little bit more.

It’s a worrying sign that three of the five biggest lines since 2009 have come this season already, but we won’t get into that now…Instead, we’re going to add one more to the top of the list.

Top 10 Biggest Betting Lines Since 2009

The Panthers are currently -35.5 favourites against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs this week and that line could still drift out further. It’s the biggest line since at least 2009 and you can bet most punters will swallow the points and side with Penrith on Saturday afternoon.

Value Plays

Value is always going to show in the biggest underdog in NRL history so it’s no surprise to see a bevvy of Bulldogs players in the Top 10 First Try Scorer Value Plays list. Nick Cotric is the shortest-priced option at $17…

Siosuia Taukeiaho is the more realistic option, though. Likely to be moved into lock to start the game, he’s going to be a target for the Roosters through the middle in good ball. Nelson Asofa-Solomona picked little Tom Starling out twice last week. Look for Taukeiaho to try and do the same.

Best Value Plays for First Try Scorer markets in Round 12, 2021

Bulldogs try scorers again feature in the anytime list but Nathan Cleary at $2.50 is excellent value. He is never afraid to take the line on and could run riot against a dodgy Dogs defence on Saturday afternoon. Cleary has scored in seven of his 20 home games since Round 1 last season per the Sport Tech Daily Try Scorer Portal.

Anytime Try Scorer Plays for Round 12, 2021

Your Edge: Passing Props, Blues Backrow Contenders & Value Plays

Your Edge: State Of Origin Preview & Your Club’s Main Man For Round 13