This week for ‘Your Edge’ we look into why the Sharks need to re-sign Shaun Johnson, three wingers on the move, preview Panthers v Roosters, and find the best value plays of the weekend.
Re-sign Johnson, Cronulla
How is Shaun Johnson struggling to find a club for 2022?
His teammate Chad Townsend has signed a deal for next season already. So has Tom Dearden. Nicho Hynes’ arrival at The Shire next year is effectively pushing Johnson out of the Sharks. Outside of Adam Reynolds, there isn’t a better half that is currently on, or has been on, the market for next year.
Reynolds>Johnson is debatable, too.
Numbers don’t capture what Reynolds adds to a side quite like they do for Johnson, but when looking at attacking involvements of halves since the beginning of the 2020 NRL season, you can see Johnson is among the best in the business.
The 30-year-old finished with an NRL-high 23 try assists in just 16 games last season as he commanded the most potent right-edge attack in the competition for a third consecutive year. Running for 72 metres per game while forcing 18 dropouts with his boot, Johnson’s triple-threat ability allowed the Sharks to sneak into the Top 8 despite not beating a team above them on the ladder all season.
In 2021, he has taken on the role of a traditional halfback to have just two try assists in five games. However, as with Reynolds in his role as an organizing #7, the numbers don’t always reflect a player’s influence on the game. It’s no coincidence that Cronulla has played their best football since Johnson returned from injury, and since he took on his new role managing the side.
With the game on the line in the dying stages, it was Johnson that produced the match-winning play in Round 14.— Jason Oliver (@JasonNRL) June 15, 2021
He first spied Scott Sorensen involved in back-to-back tackles as the Sharks worked out of their own end down the right edge. pic.twitter.com/quICNCWaD7
We’ve been here before with Reynolds. Demanding he be re-signed by the South Sydney Rabbitohs after Round 5, they ignored the advice. He signed on with the Brisbane Broncos, and with that signature, they secured one of the best halfbacks in the NRL and one that can lead an inexperienced side around the park. Don’t make the same mistake, Sharkies. You’ve got your running five-eighth and x-factor player in Hynes signed up for 2022 and beyond. Now you need to find an experienced halfback to play beside him.
Wingers On The Move
Blake Ferguson was dropped from the Parramatta Eels first-choice 17 back in Round 12. Despite Maika Sivo being ruled out for Round 15, Brad Arthur has named rookie Sean Russell on the wing ahead of the 31-year-old veteran.
Ken Maumalo is gone from the New Zealand Warriors.
His spot might be filled by Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs fullback/winger, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
The wing position makes the highlight reels for scoring tries, but their bread and butter is in the yardage game. The best teams in the NRL use their wingers effectively to get up the field in exit sets. They’re strong ball-carriers and tackle breakers that either help a side work off their own line, or start a set strong and carve out a path towards an attacking position on the field.
Ferguson’s position on the below image paints him as a decent yardage man and set starter. That’s true – when he holds onto the ball. It’s his 22 errors in 12 games that keeps him out of the side and something that will be a major consideration for potential suitors.
The Warriors forcing out Ken Maumalo is a head-scratcher. He is one of the best metre-eaters in the NRL – even on a down year. Maumalo averaged 176 running metres per game this year which is down from 187 metres and 190 metres per game over the last two seasons. However, that is more down to the predictable runs the Warriors have sent him on two-out off the ruck more than anything else.
Moving Maumalo on to then replace him with Watene-Zelezniak only makes things more confusing. Even with the benefit of playing games at fullback and on the wing, Watene-Zelezniak’s career-high 167 running metres per game this season isn’t close to anything Maumalo has produced over the last three seasons.
The wing position looks like one that clubs are willing to turnover at the moment. Ferguson, Maumalo and Watene-Zelezniak were all first-choice wingers not too long ago. Now they’re all on the move. Corey Oates, Daniel Tupou, Murray Taulagi and Hymel Hunt are four more interesting names coming off-contract with nowhere to go in 2022.
Daniel Tupou off-contract after this season is something I didn’t realise until just now.— Jason Oliver (@JasonNRL) June 16, 2021
– 29 years old
– 8 tries in 13 games this season
– 178 running metres per game in 2021
– 170+ running metres per game in each of the last three seasons
He’s a top winger in the game.
Panthers v Roosters
The Penrith Panthers and Sydney Roosters have played each other 40 times throughout the NRL era. Both have registered 20 wins each while their last match in Week 1 of the 2020 NRL Finals ended 29-28 in Penrith’s favour.
While injuries have depleted the Roosters and the key Panthers players are rested and ready after a week off, these two are historically close and we can expect a continuation of that this week. It’s in the middle of the field that the Roosters can close the gap.
James Fisher Harris is the best prop in rugby league right now and occupies the top right corner of the below graph with his 174 running metres per game.
However, Siosiua Taukeiaho and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves are the next best in this one running for 127 metres and 150 metres per game respectively. Waerea-Hargreaves, in particular, has been in superb form of late to run for 481 metres in his last two games while playing the full 80 minutes. The Roosters pair will need to be at their best if they’re to work their way up the field against one of the best yardage defences in the NRL.
Only the Melbourne Storm concede fewer metres per game than the Panthers. They plug the middle in defence while Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai’s elite kicking game – the pair rank 1st and 2nd in forced drop outs – pins the opposition in their own end. It’s going to be a massive factor in this one considering the Roosters average just 23.6 tackles inside the opposition 20-metre line per game (12th) to the Panthers’ 32.8 tackles (2nd).
If Taukeiaho can inch closer to his 2020 mark of 160 running metres per game while Waerea-Hargreaves extends his purple patch of form for another week, the Roosters middle will give their key play makers a chance to orchestrate an upset.
The Parramatta Eels are playing a Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs side that has leaked an NRL-high 23 tries through the middle of the field this season and Nathan Brown is the model’s top first try scorer value play. It’s a simple selection this week. To view the historical & model odds as well as the odds comparison, check out Edge for First & Anytime Tryscorer markets.
Tyson Gamble scored the first try of his NRL career in Round 14 and the model has spied some value in a second this week. However, with tries in 55.6% of his games per the Sport Tech Daily Try Scorer Portal, Matt Burton appeals. Particularly now that he is back out in the centres.
Stand-in hookers Jazz Tevaga and Adam Keighran are among the Top 10 DFS value plays this week while second-string hookers Erin Clark and Joey Lussick also feature. However, against a flimsy Cowboys defence and with a good chance of crossing the stripe, Siosifa Talakai is the pick of the bunch.