Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, looks over all 16 teams and previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 11 matches.
Newcastle Knights v Brisbane Broncos @ McDonald Jones Stadium
|Kalyn Ponga||1||Te Maire Martin|
|Edrick Lee||2||Corey Oates|
|Enari Tuala||3||Kotoni Staggs|
|Bradman Best||4||Herbie Farnworth|
|Dominic Young||5||Selwyn Cobbo|
|Anthony Milford||6||Tyson Gamble|
|Adam Clune||7||Adam Reynolds|
|David Klemmer||8||Corey Jensen|
|Chris Randall||9||Billy Walters|
|Daniel Saifiti||10||Payne Haas|
|Tyson Frizell||11||Kurt Capewell|
|Lachlan Fitzgibbon||12||Jordan Riki|
|Mitch Barnett||13||Patrick Carrigan|
|Phoenix Crossland||14||Cory Paix|
|Jacob Saifiti||15||Kobe Hetherington|
|Leo Thompson||16||Thomas Flegler|
|Mat Croker||17||Keenan Palasia|
History: Played 39, Knights 15, Broncos 23
Last Meeting: Round 25, 2021: Broncos 35 def. Knights 22
Final Thoughts: It wasn’t pretty but the Newcastle Knights will take anything they can get at the moment. Coach Adam O’Brien was off his feet toward the end of their 16-6 win over the Bulldogs. Meanwhile, the Brisbane Broncos chalked up another win while absolutely thrashing the Sea Eagles 38-8.
The Knights welcome back Tyson Frizell and will introduce Anthony Milford to the side. The former Broncos half is straight into five-eighth for this one. Te Maire Martin, Payne Haas and Kurt Capewell are all nursing injuries but have been named in the Broncos 17 this week.
Newcastle took their chance against a terrible Bulldogs team to play themselves into form – sort of… It’s not a form guide that will have them rising the NRL ladder any time soon but the Knights looked a lot better with the ball than they had done in recent weeks. It will only get them so far but Kalyn Ponga had his hands all over the ball and created often enough to give the Knights faithful hope of an upset this week. The Broncos, however, have proven to be a very good defensive side on the edges. They jam in hard and are well-positioned to close down Ponga on the edges provided the Broncos middle does their job first of all. The problem for the Knights is their 1,416 running metres per game – 15th in the NRL. Given the Broncos form, their dominance in the middle and an edge defence that can close Ponga down, the Knights need to make significant improvements if they’re to keep it close on Thursday.
Wests Tigers v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs @ Leichhardt Oval
|Starford To’a||1||Matt Dufty|
|Junior Tupou||2||Jayden Okunbor|
|Asu Kepaoa||3||Aaron Schoupp|
|Tyrone Peachey||4||Jake Averillo|
|Ken Maumalo||5||Josh Addo-Carr|
|Jock Madden||6||Matt Burton|
|Jackson Hastings||7||Kyle Flanagan|
|James Tamou||8||Luke Thompson|
|Jacob Liddle||9||Jeremy Marshall-King|
|Zane Musgrove||10||Paul Vaughan|
|Luke Garner||11||Jackson Topine|
|Luciano Leilua||12||Tevita Pangai Junior|
|Joe Ofahengaue||13||Josh Jackson|
|Kelma Tuilagi||14||Bailey Biondi-Odo|
|Alex Twal||15||Joe Stimson|
|Fa’amanu Brown||16||Max King|
|Stefano Utoikamanu||17||Chris Patolo|
History: Played 40, Tigers 16, Bulldogs 24
Last Meeting: Round 25, 2021: Bulldogs 38 def. Tigers 0
Final Thoughts: The Wests Tigers are an improved football side and dealing with a lot of injuries but were no match for the Cowboys losing 36-12. The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, on the other hand, are an awful football side dealing with the sacking of their coach following yet another defeat. Their 16-6 loss to the Knights is the last Trent Barrett will coach at the club.
Brent Naden is a surprise inclusion in the Tigers centres after signing with the club late Tuesday afternoon. Luke Brooks is out with Jock Madden to replace him while Jacob Liddle is into hooker for Jake Simpkin. Fa’amanu Brown will make his club debut with Alex Seyfarth and Junior Pauga dropping off the bench. For the Bulldogs, Jake Averillo is back into the centres while Jackson Topine replaces Corey Waddell as the only other change.
We’re going to hear a lot about a possible bounce back and the “new coach bounce” this week. However, the Bulldogs need a lot more than that if they’re to turn their season around. Lucky for them, they face one of the few sides they’re capable of beating. The Tigers have had some nice moments in recent weeks. Jackson Hastings is having a huge impact on this side. Injuries and a turnover in faces across the park is a potential issue, though. This week, Hastings will play with another halves partner while the outside backs introduce Naden – an average centre even at the Panthers when surrounded by superstars. Where the two teams differ is in their attack. While they’re far from consistent and the actions aren’t always repeatable, the Tigers have a nose for points. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have a crippling allergy. Barrett’s departure will surely trigger an improvement with the ball at some stage but that’s unlikely to be this week, Mick Potter is said to be taking over from the rest of the season and will have two training sessions and most to make an impact. It doesn’t happen often, but the Tigers are the better side in better form and should take the chocolates here.
Parramatta Eels v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles @ CommBank Stadium
|Clinton Gutherson||1||Tom Trbojevic|
|Hayze Perham||2||Christian Tuipulotu|
|Will Penisini||3||Morgan Harper|
|Tom Opacic||4||Tolutau Koula|
|Bailey Simonsson||5||Reuben Garrick|
|Dylan Brown||6||Kieran Foran|
|Mitchell Moses||7||Daly Cherry-Evans|
|Reagan Campbell-Gillard||8||Josh Aloiai|
|Reed Mahoney||9||Lachlan Croker|
|Junior Paulo||10||Sean Keppie|
|Shaun Lane||11||Haumole Olakau’atu|
|Isaiah Papali’i||12||Andrew Davey|
|Ryan Matterson||13||Jake Trbojevic|
|Makahesi Makatoa||14||Dylan Walker|
|Marata Niukore||15||Josh Schuster|
|Oregon Kaufusi||16||Martin Taupau|
|Nathan Brown||17||Toafofoa Sipley|
History: Played 39, Eels 20, Sea Eagles 19
Last Meeting: Round 22, 2021: Sea Eagles 56 def. Eels 10
Final Thoughts: The Parramatta Eels were the unlucky side to face the Roosters just as the Chooks found form. However, the Eels did mount an impressive second-half comeback before losing 31-21. Round 10 is a week for the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles will want to forget. They were embarrassed by the Broncos throughout the 38-0 thrashing.
Maraka Niukore is back for the Eels this week; Bryce Cartwright drops out. Ryan Matterson has earned a much-deserved recall into the starting side and replaces Nathan Brown at lock. The Sea Eagles will be hoping Tom Trbojevic is able to line up at fullback in Round 11 – he has been named. His brother Ben, however, is out of the side with Josh Schuster returning from injury off the bench.
Slow to start last week, expect the Eels to fire from the opening whistle on Friday. They’re a top side in the NRL and will be eager to prove it following a disappointing loss to the Roosters last week. Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown know the winning formula: Get the forwards onto the ball, drop the edges off short, compress the middle and find space on the edges. They also know that edge defence is not an area of strength for the Sea Eagles. In fact, the Sea Eagles are proving to be one of the leakier teams in the competition to concede 23 points per game. While the Eels haven’t been at their best in that department either, they’ve proven to be a lot more consistent with the ball and are a different side when at full-strengh in the middle and spine. With Ryan Matterson to start this week, they’ll run onto the field with another strong ball carrier capable of engaging the line and sending it wide alongside Junior Paulo. The Sea Eagles are still too reliant on Tom Trbojevic. It’s no surprise that he looked banged up last week and so too did the Sea Eagles attack. While he could have his way with the Eels on the edges, it’s more likely that the Eels dominate territory and possession with their superior pack and grind out the two competition points this week.
St. George-Illawarra Dragons v New Zealand Warriors @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
|Cody Ramsey||1||Reece Walsh|
|Mathew Feagai||2||Dallin Watene-Zelezniak|
|Moses Suli||3||Viliami Vailea|
|Zac Lomax||4||Adam Pompey|
|Mikaele Ravalawa||5||Marcelo Montoya|
|Talatau Amone||6||Daejarn Asi|
|Ben Hunt||7||Shaun Johnson|
|Blake Lawrie||8||Addin Fonua-Blake|
|Moses Mbye||9||Jazz Tevaga|
|Francis Molo||10||Matthew Lodge|
|Jack Bird||11||Euan Aitken|
|Jack Gosiewski||12||Tohu Harris|
|Jack de Belin||13||Jack Murchie|
|Jayden Sullivan||14||Aaron Pene|
|Tariq Sims||15||Ben Murdoch-Masila|
|Aaron Woods||16||Bunty Afoa|
|Michael Molo||17||Freddy Lussick|
History: Played 33, Dragons 23, Warriors 10
Last Meeting: Round 1, 2022: Dragons 28 def. Warriors 16
Final Thoughts: The St. George-Illawarra Dragons let one slip to go down to the Titans 20-16 in golden point last week. While the final 32-30 scoreline makes it look as though the New Zealand Warriors competed well with the Rabbitohs, they didn’t. Poor again, Nathan Brown’s seat is starting to heat up.
Anthony Griffin is shuffling the Dragons’ deck chairs again and has named Cody Ramsey at the back in place of Tyrell Sloan. Jack Gosiewski is also in for Josh McGuire while Michael Molo makes his NRL debut off the bench. Euan Aitken is back for the Warriors after missing last week as the only major change. Jesse Arthars and Chanel Harris-Tavita are in the reserves and a chance of returning.
The Dragons aren’t a particularly good football side but are laden with veterans that know how to grind out a win on offer. The Warriors will more than likely extend them that offer on Saturday afternoon. Poor again in Round 10, there is little sign of improvement in this group and not even the return of Tohu Harris last week could inspire an uptick. Dead last in the NRL for yardage, the Warriors give the opposition free passage up the field every week. Nathan Brown talks about “playing footy” and moving teams around the field. If there is a week for his approach to pay dividends, it’s this week against a slow and relatively immobile Dragons middle. However, the signs simply aren’t there. The Warriors are poorly coached and it shows in their lack of game plan and detail. The Dragons have the cattle to cart it up the field and Ben Hunt to manufacture points. They also have a favourable record against the Warriors at home. Expect them to add to it again this week.
North Queensland Cowboys v Melbourne Storm @ Queensland Country Bank Stadium
|Scott Drinkwater||1||Tyran Wishart|
|Kyle Feldt||2||Nick Meaney|
|Valentine Holmes||3||Marion Seve|
|Peta Hiku||4||Justin Olam|
|Murray Taulagi||5||Xavier Coates|
|Tom Dearden||6||Cameron Munster|
|Chad Townsend||7||Jahrome Hughes|
|Jordan McLean||8||Jesse Bromwich|
|Reece Robson||9||Harry Grant|
|Reuben Cotter||10||Brandon Smith|
|Tom Gilbert||11||Felise Kaufusi|
|Jeremiah Nanai||12||Kenneath Bromwich|
|Jason Taumalolo||13||Josh King|
|Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow||14||Alec MacDonald|
|Heilum Luki||15||Dean Ieremia|
|Coen Hess||16||Trent Loiero|
|Griffin Neame||17||Tui Kamikamica|
History: Played 42, Cowboys 10, Storm 32
Last Meeting: Round 19, 2021: Storm 20 def. Cowboys 16
Final Thoughts: The North Queensland Cowboys keep doing it with their 36-12 win over the Tigers enough to have them sitting at 3rd on the NRL ladder after ten rounds. As for the Melbourne Storm, their 32-6 loss to the Panthers can be circled as a bad day. Injuries and poor conditions didn’t help and the loss won’t have too many people panicking about their premiership chances.
As most teams would when winning five games on the bounce, the Cowboys have named the same 17 again for this one. Meanwhile, the Storm welcomes back Jahrome Hughes but lose Nelson Asofa-Solomona for this one. Brandon Smith has been named to start at prop and lines up against Reuben Cotter as one of the more unexpected battles of the #10’s.
This is the big test for the Cowboys. They’ve impressed to start the 2022 NRL season but haven’t faced one of the two powerhouses until now. Expect them to get into an early grind. They’ve displayed patience early in a match before finding points later on the back of strong yardage, high completions and fatigue in the opposition. The Storm will no doubt take a similar approach but won’t be afraid to take a few more risks with the ball if the opportunity arises. Melbourne are still working through things without Ryan Papenhuyzen. He’s a huge part of their attack and Tyran Wishart simply can’t fill the void on his own. However, Cameron Munster is in fine form and North Queensland’s 2nd-ranked defence will be tested throughout. The Cowboys should start well at home but the Storm don’t often lose back-to-back games. Craig Bellamy will have them fired up and come with a plan to shut down Taumalolo and stall the Cowboys go-forward. The Cowboys are on the up, but not at the Storm’s level just yet.
Sydney Roosters v Penrith Panthers @ Sydney Cricket Stadium
|James Tedesco||1||Dylan Edwards|
|Daniel Tupou||2||Taylan May|
|Paul Momirovski||3||Izack Tago|
|Joseph Manu||4||Stephen Crichton|
|Joseph Suaalii||5||Brian To’o|
|Sam Walker||6||Jarome Luai|
|Luke Keary||7||Nathan Cleary|
|Jared Waerea-Hargreaves||8||Moses Leota|
|Connor Watson||9||Apisai Koroisau|
|Siosiua Taukeiaho||10||James Fisher-Harris|
|Angus Crichton||11||Viliame Kikau|
|Sitili Tupouniua||12||Liam Martin|
|Nat Butcher||13||Isaah Yeo|
|Drew Hutchison||14||Mitch Kenny|
|Fletcher Baker||15||Scott Sorensen|
|Daniel Suluka-Fifita||16||Spencer Leniu|
|Lindsay Collins||17||Jaeman Salmon|
History: Played 42, Roosters 20, Panthers 22
Last Meeting: Round 21, 2021: Panthers 20 def. Roosters 14
Final Thoughts: The Sydney Roosters are starting to come right and picked up an impressive 31-24 win over the Eels in Round 10. Similarly, the Penrith Panthers bounced back from a dodgy couple of weeks by their standards to handle the Storm with relative ease for a 32-6 win.
The Roosters lose Victor Radley for this one with Nat Butcher to start at lock. Lindsay Collins returns from suspension while Connor Watson has again been named at hooker but may drop to the bench. Following their big win over the Storm, the Panthers are running out the same 17 again on Saturday night.
Are the Roosters back? We’re going to find out this week. They don’t need to win, but the Roosters need to at least keep this game close to keep up their turnaround in form. Slow to start the NRL season, they’ve gone back to doing what they know works with the ball and playing an up-tempo and short passing style through the centre third. It somewhat plays into the hands of the Panthers who are brutally strong defensively in the middle. Changing angles is the way to break down the Panthers defence but it isn’t a huge part of the Roosters’ style. Instead, they’ll be looking to pepper the edges down short sides. The Panthers bounced back from their first loss of the season to handle the Storm with relative ease. Again, they’ll rely on their yardage to get them up the field and patience with the ball to translate into points. Expect the Roosters defence to be up for it, though. Despite the superstar attacking players on show in this one, defence will decide it.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Canberra Raiders @ Apex Oval
|Blake Taaffe||1||Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad|
|Alex Johnston||2||Nick Cotric|
|Jaxson Paulo||3||Matthew Timoko|
|Campbell Graham||4||Sebastian Kris|
|Taane Milne||5||Jordan Rapana|
|Cody Walker||6||Jack Wighton|
|Lachlan Ilias||7||Matt Frawley|
|Tevita Tatola||8||Josh Papalii|
|Damien Cook||9||Zac Woolford|
|Thomas Burgess||10||Joseph Tapine|
|Keaon Koloamatangi||11||Hudson Young|
|Trent Peoples||12||Elliott Whitehead|
|Jai Arrow||13||Corey Harawira-Naera|
|Kodi Nikorima||14||Tom Starling|
|Davvy Moale||15||Ryan Sutton|
|Siliva Havili||16||Xavier Savage|
|Liam Knight||17||Corey Horsburgh|
History: Played 30, Rabbitohs 14, Raiders 16
Last Meeting: Round 8, 2021: Rabbitohs 34 def. Raiders 20
Final Thoughts: It looked for a moment like the South Sydney Rabbitohs had clicked into gear while running up a big score on the Warriors. However, in letting them come back to make it 32-30, the bounceback may not have been so high. The Canberra Raiders, on the other hand, picked up one of the best wins of Magic Round to beat the Sharks 30-10.
Just one change for Jason Demetriou and the Rabbitohs this week: Trent Peoples replaces Jacob Host in the backrow. Meanwhile, the Raiders make a welcome change with Jack Wighton back from suspension. Strangely, Brad Schneider is the man to make way. Zac Woolford starts again at hooker.
The Rabbitohs are a tough team to read at the moment. They have been showing signs of life in recent weeks and seemed to have clicked into gear while running up a score on the Warriors in Round 10. However, a late-game fade took some of the shine off their win. The Raiders, on the other hand, played their best game in years last week. Dominant from start to finish and playing well enough that the usual thoughts of doubt and impending collapse were barely present. Add Jack Wighton to the side for this one and the Raiders are on the up. Neither team is particularly consistent. As we’ve seen in recent weeks – and recent halves – it’s tough to pick which version of the Rabbitohs and Raiders we will see. The error count will play a big part in the result. Souths lead the NRL in errors per game while both sides average over 10 handling errors every 80 minutes. If one team pulls ahead, there’s a good chance they fumble up an opportunity for the opposition to respond. Both can pile up points but give them up just as quick which should see this game end relatively close regardless of who is on top.
Gold Coast Titans v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks @ Cbus Super Stadium
|Jayden Campbell||1||Lachlan Miller|
|Corey Thompson||2||Sione Katoa|
|Phillip Sami||3||Connor Tracey|
|Esan Marsters||4||Siosifa Talakai|
|Jamayne Isaako||5||Ronaldo Mulitalo|
|AJ Brimson||6||Matt Moylan|
|Toby Sexton||7||Nicho Hynes|
|Moeaki Fotuaika||8||Toby Rudolf|
|Erin Clark||9||Blayke Brailey|
|Jarrod Wallace||10||Royce Hunt|
|Isaac Liu||11||Briton Nikora|
|Beau Fermor||12||Wade Graham|
|Tino Fa’asuamaleaui||13||Cameron McInnes|
|Tanah Boyd||14||Aiden Tolman|
|Sam Lisone||15||Braydon Trindall|
|Herman Ese’ese||16||Teig Wilton|
|Sam McIntyre||17||Andrew Fifita|
History: Played 23, Titans 8, Sharks 14
Last Meeting: Round 12, 2021: Sharks 38 def. Titans 10
Final Thoughts: The Gold Coast Titans just needed a win. While far from pretty and not one that will swing the form guide, their 20-16 victory over the Dragons ended an ugly losing streak. After completing one of the great NRL wins in Round 9, the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks couldn’t back it up while falling to the Raiders 30-10.
Justin Holbrook has named the same Titans 17 that beat the Dragons last week. It’s a bit different for the Sharks who have Lachlan Miller making his NRL debut at fullback which allows Nicho Hynes to move back into the halves. Dale Finucane is out which has caused a reshuffle to the pack. Andrew Fifita is the new man on the bench.
The Titans are a different team every week both in the 17 named and how they perform. Struggling despite winning in Round 10, they’ll need to take another two or three steps forward if they’re to compete with the Sharks on Sunday. While not at their best last week, Hynes moving back up into the halves will help. They didn’t get the balance right with him at fullback. He’s an on-ball player and averages over 60 touches per game. He managed 56 last week while NRL fullbacks typically average roughly 36 touches per game. It didn’t look right and has forced a change. If Miller can slot in and get the ball to the edge, the Titans are in trouble. Their edge defence is poor and few teams ask more questions on any given shift than the Sharks and their change of angles. There is a battle in the middle. Both teams boast strong packs and there’s likely to be a bit of a feeling-out period early. However, the Sharks attack is far superior and should get the job done in the end.