Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, looks over all 16 teams and previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 16 matches.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Melbourne Storm @ 4 Pines Park
|Reuben Garrick||1||Nick Meaney|
|Jason Saab||2||Dean Ieremia|
|Morgan Harper||3||Marion Seve|
|Tolutau Koula||4||Justin Olam|
|Christian Tuipulotu||5||Grant Anderson|
|Kieran Foran||6||Cameron Munster|
|Daly Cherry-Evans||7||Jahrome Hughes|
|Sean Keppie||8||Jesse Bromwich|
|Lachlan Croker||9||Harry Grant|
|Toafofoa Sipley||10||Josh King|
|Haumole Olakau’atu||11||Chris Lewis|
|Andrew Davey||12||Kenneath Bromwich|
|Jake Trbojevic||13||Brandon Smith|
|Dylan Walker||14||Jayden Nikorima|
|Josh Schuster||15||Tui Kamikamica|
|Martin Taupau||16||Tom Eisenhuth|
|Taniela Paseka||17||Nelson Asofa-Solomona|
History: Played 41, Sea Eagles 15, Storm 25
Last Meeting: Round 12, 2022: Storm 28 def. Sea Eagles 8
Final Thoughts: The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles will have been one of the few teams not wanting the week off. They’re coming into this one after blowing a huge lead to the Cowboys in Round 15. The Melbourne Storm, on the other hand, recovered from a slow start to beat the Broncos 32-20.
Josh Aloiai misses this one for the Sea Eagles with Sean Keppie to take his place. In better news, Taniela Paseka will play in his first game since Round 7. Cameron Munster has been named but seems unlikely to play for the Storm this week while Felise Kaufusi is confirmed as out. Chris Lewis will start with Josh King while Jayden Nikorima is on the bench.
The Sea Eagles have played well recently. They did the job to beat the Warriors and Tigers and did most of the job against the Cowboys before clocking off early. Des Hasler is starting to get more out of this side but it all looks a step too far this week. While the Storm are dealing with a handful of injury concerns, Ryan Papenhuyzen is set to return this week and they’re a different team with him in the #1 jersey. He’s the cog that links the Storm attack together. His speed allows him to get into the right position more often than not and we can expect an improvement in the Storm attack this week if he runs onto the field. Munster’s inclusion will be important to confirm before kickoff but regardless of his availability, the Storm look too strong across the field and should take the chocolates in this one.
Newcastle Knights v Gold Coast Titans @ McDonald Jones Stadium
|Tex Hoy||1||AJ Brimson|
|Edrick Lee||2||Greg Marzhew|
|Dane Gagai||3||Brian Kelly|
|Enari Tuala||4||Patrick Herbert|
|Dominic Young||5||Jamayne Isaako|
|Anthony Milford||6||Paul Turner|
|Adam Clune||7||Toby Sexton|
|David Klemmer||8||Jarrod Wallace|
|Chris Randall||9||Erin Clark|
|Jacob Saifiti||10||Isaac Liu|
|Tyson Frizell||11||Sam McIntyre|
|Mitch Barnett||12||Beau Fermor|
|Kurt Mann||13||Tino Fa’asuamaleaui|
|Simi Sasagi||14||Tanah Boyd|
|Leo Thompson||15||Moeaki Fotuaika|
|Mat Croker||16||Jaimin Jolliffe|
|Pasami Saulo||17||David Fifita|
History: Played 25, Knights 13, Titans 12
Last Meeting: Round 24, 2021: Knights 15 def. Titans 14
Final Thoughts: The two competition points were right there for the Newcastle Knights but as their season is going, their Round 15 match ended in a 20-18 defeat to the Raiders. Similarly, the Gold Coast Titans dropped their fifth on the bounce with an 18-10 loss to the Sharks.
The Knights will be without Kalyn Ponga but may see Daniel Saifiti and Bradman Best return with both named in the reserves. Meanwhile, David Fifita makes his NRL return from the Titans bench. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Moeaki Fotuaika have been named to back up from their representative duties over the weekend.
This game has bludger written all over it. Both of these sides are bad, bad footy teams and neither coach instils a lot of confidence in having used the week off to inspire a big improvement. All we really have to go on is the Knights are without Ponga and the Titans have Fifita. In a game where both teams are likely to struggle with the ball and rely on their superstars to create something out of nothing, the Knights are without their main source of points. Newcastle is the worst attacking team in the NRL averaging only 12.3 points per game – that’s with Ponga in the side. It’s difficult to see them getting over the line often enough to win this one even against a poor Titans defence. Anything is possible in a game like this. Either side could turn up and start to play at a first-grade quality. However, we’re looking for elements we can trust and Fifita doing something freakish is the most reliable in this one.
Penrith Panthers v Sydney Roosters @ BlueBet Stadium
|Dylan Edwards||1||James Tedesco|
|Taylan May||2||Daniel Tupou|
|Izack Tago||3||Billy Smith|
|Stephen Crichton||4||Joseph Manu|
|Brian To’o||5||Joseph Suaalii|
|Jarome Luai||6||Drew Hutchison|
|Nathan Cleary||7||Sam Walker|
|Moses Leota||8||Lindsay Collins|
|Apisai Koroisau||9||Sam Verrills|
|James Fisher-Harris||10||Siosiua Taukeiaho|
|Viliame Kikau||11||Angus Crichton|
|Liam Martin||12||Sitili Tupouniua|
|Isaah Yeo||13||Victor Radley|
|Mitch Kenny||14||Connor Watson|
|Scott Sorensen||15||Egan Butcher|
|Spencer Leniu||16||Nat Butcher|
|Jaeman Salmon||17||Fletcher Baker|
History: Played 43, Panthers 23, Roosters 20
Last Meeting: Round 11, 2022: Panthers 32 def. Roosters 12
Final Thoughts: The Penrith Panthers did it easy to beat the Warriors 40-6 before the representative break. It wasn’t quite so easy for the Sydney Roosters who faced a smarting Eels side. The 26-16 defeat somewhat flattered the Roosters in the end.
All of the Panthers players have been named to back up from State of Origin II but it remains to be seen how many do, in fact, run onto the field this weekend. Luke Keary will miss this one for the Roosters with Sam Walker to halfback and Drew Hutchison to five-eighth. Victor Radley does return though with Nat Butcher to the bench.
The Panthers are a different beast. It doesn’t matter the opposition or how many players need to back up from State of Origin, Ivan Cleary’s side turns up on the night and plays out the game plan. Their system is close to flawless and the replacement players are across it well enough to slot in when required. It’s unlikely that all of their Blues reps back up but enough should feature to be significant favourites at kickoff. The Roosters, on the other hand, are without Keary. His partnership with Walker hasn’t caught fire just yet but has shown glimpses throughout the year. Their ceiling is much lower with him sitting in the stands. It may not always look like it but the Roosters (3rd in yardage) are one of the few teams that can keep up with the Panthers (1st) through the middle. If they can keep it tight, close up their defence and make the most of limited opportunities, the Roosters can keep it close. The Keary injury is a factor, but this game will be decided by line defence and how long the Roosters can sustain the inevitable Panthers pressure.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks @ CommBank Stadium
|Jake Averillo||1||William Kennedy|
|Jacob Kiraz||2||Sione Katoa|
|Aaron Schoupp||3||Jesse Ramien|
|Corey Allan||4||Siosifa Talakai|
|Josh Addo-Carr||5||Ronaldo Mulitalo|
|Matt Burton||6||Matt Moylan|
|Kyle Flanagan||7||Nicho Hynes|
|Max King||8||Toby Rudolf|
|Jeremy Marshall-King||9||Blayke Brailey|
|Paul Vaughan||10||Royce Hunt|
|Josh Jackson||11||Briton Nikora|
|Raymond Faitala-Mariner||12||Wade Graham|
|Tevita Pangai Junior||13||Cameron McInnes|
|Zach Dockar-Clay||14||Aiden Tolman|
|Corey Waddell||15||Dale Finucane|
|Joe Stimson||16||Teig Wilton|
|Kurtis Morrin||17||Andrew Fifita|
History: Played 34, Bulldogs 19, Sharks 15
Last Meeting: Round 19, 2021: Sharks 44 def. Bulldogs 24
Final Thoughts: The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks have struggled at times against the teams towards the bottom of the NRL ladder but got the job done against the Titans to win 18-10. Meanwhile, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs continued in their improvements by thrashing the Tigers 36-12.
Mick Potter has the luxury and pleasure of naming the same 17 Bulldogs that beat the Tigers in Round 15. Craig Fitzgibbon has done the same with the Sharks following their win over the Titans before the weekend off.
We’re going to learn a lot about the Bulldogs this week. They hit season-best form before the break. The key now is to recapture that form following a week off and against a side towards the top of the NRL ladder. Matt Burton and Josh Addo-Carr looked to be their only source of points throughout the first half of the year but the Bulldogs have started to vary their attack. Jake Averillo is making a difference from fullback while Jacob Kiraz has been a revelation out wide. The Sharks, on the other hand, are in a bit of a lull. They flew into the NRL season with one of the most exciting attacking systems in the competition but they aren’t finding quite the same success out wide at the moment. Nicho Hynes’ on-ball style isn’t surprising defences as it once was and they need to change things up. But with Dale Finucane back and the Sharks at full strength, we should see them start to get back to their early-season ways. This game profiles as one that will finish a lot closer than it would have six weeks ago but the Sharks should still get the job done through the middle with relative ease.
North Queensland Cowboys v Brisbane Broncos @ Queensland Country Bank Stadium
|Scott Drinkwater||1||Te Maire Martin|
|Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow||2||Corey Oates|
|Valentine Holmes||3||Kotoni Staggs|
|Peta Hiku||4||Brenko Lee|
|Murray Taulagi||5||Selwyn Cobbo|
|Tom Dearden||6||Ezra Mam|
|Chad Townsend||7||Adam Reynolds|
|Jordan McLean||8||Corey Jensen|
|Reece Robson||9||Billy Walters|
|Coen Hess||10||Payne Haas|
|Tom Gilbert||11||Kurt Capewell|
|Jeremiah Nanai||12||Jordan Riki|
|Jason Taumalolo||13||Patrick Carrigan|
|Jake Granville||14||Jake Turpin|
|Luciano Leilua||15||Kobe Hetherington|
|Jamayne Taunoa-Brown||16||Thomas Flegler|
|Griffin Neame||17||Keenan Palasia|
History: Played 53, Cowboys 19, Broncos 33
Last Meeting: Round 3, 2022: Cowboys 38 def. Broncos 12
Final Thoughts: The North Queensland Cowboys displayed their premiership credentials with an outrageous 28-26 comeback win over the Sea Eagles. The Brisbane Broncos aren’t quite at the same level but they put in a good shift while going down to the Storm 32-20.
The Cowboys have named their representative players this week but it’s Luciano Leilua’s name that stands out. He will make his first appearance for the club and the 100th of his NRL career. Kyle Feldt has been named in the reserves and is a chance at returning. Adam Reynolds is back for the Broncos while Payne Haas has also been named despite carrying an injury.
Having ridden a wave of momentum through the NRL season so far, it will be interesting to see how the Cowboys respond to what was ultimately a disappointing 70 minutes in Round 15 and week off to think about it. They’re the second-best defensive team in the competition but didn’t play like it in their last outing. That will be an area Todd Payten demands an improvement in this one. Reynolds’ return is a huge boost for the Broncos. He’s the sort of player that can be the difference between winning and losing a match like that against the Storm in Round 15 and will be able to provide that impact here. The Broncos are a proven attacking side. They’ve scored plenty of points without their star halfback. It’s playing with the lead, kicking to corners and closing out the game that Reynolds can make a serious impact. These Queensland derbies are always close encounters. We’re used to seeing them go down to the wire and this one is unlikely to be any different given the respective form guides.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Parramatta Eels @ Accor Stadium
|Latrell Mitchell||1||Clinton Gutherson|
|Alex Johnston||2||Maika Sivo|
|Taane Milne||3||Will Penisini|
|Campbell Graham||4||Waqa Blake|
|Jaxson Paulo||5||Bailey Simonsson|
|Cody Walker||6||Dylan Brown|
|Lachlan Ilias||7||Mitchell Moses|
|Tevita Tatola||8||Reagan Campbell-Gillard|
|Damien Cook||9||Reed Mahoney|
|Mark Nicholls||10||Junior Paulo|
|Keaon Koloamatangi||11||Shaun Lane|
|Jai Arrow||12||Isaiah Papali’i|
|Cameron Murray||13||Ryan Matterson|
|Kodi Nikorima||14||Makahesi Makatoa|
|Thomas Burgess||15||Marata Niukore|
|Siliva Havili||16||Oregon Kaufusi|
|Hame Sele||17||Ky Rodwell|
History: Played 36, Rabbitohs 18, Eels 17
Last Meeting: Round 21, 2021: Rabbitohs 40 def. Eels 12
Final Thoughts: Things got so bad for the South Sydney Rabbitohs that Lachlan Illias was hooked early into the 32-12 loss to the Dragons. As for the Parramatta Eels, they played out one of the best 40-minute periods of their NRL season to start their 26-16 win to the Roosters.
Latrell Mitchell makes his long-awaited return for the Rabbitohs on Saturday night which pushes Kodi Nikorima to the bench. As expected, Lachlan Illias remains at halfback. Unless any of his rep players are carrying niggles from the weekend, Brad Arthur has named the same 17 that beat the Roosters a fortnight ago.
The Rabbitohs are coming into this one on the back of a poor Round 15 performance but will be boosted by the return of Mitchell. It looked as though they were waiting for him to return before really getting to their best. He changes the dynamic of the Rabbitohs attack. Neither edge is particularly dangerous but both are capable of points if he is throwing the last pass or crashing into the defensive line. Edge defence hasn’t been a great strength for the Eels either. They were excellent with the ball in Round 15 but we’ve seen that from them before. Backing it up is where the questions come in. And while they are naming the same faces on the edges more often, it’s still an area of concern without the ball. The Rabbitohs can pile up points on anybody on their day and the Eels are somewhat vulnerable to poor periods in a match. If the Rabbitohs can get on the board early behind the energy Mitchell gives them, they’ll be tough to chase down at home.
New Zealand Warriors v Wests Tigers @ Mt Smart Stadium
|Reece Walsh||1||Daine Laurie|
|Dallin Watene-Zelezniak||2||David Nofoaluma|
|Jesse Arthars||3||Starford To’a|
|Euan Aitken||4||James Roberts|
|Marcelo Montoya||5||Ken Maumalo|
|Ronald Volkman||6||Luke Brooks|
|Shaun Johnson||7||Jackson Hastings|
|Addin Fonua-Blake||8||James Tamou|
|Wayde Egan||9||Fa’amanu Brown|
|Jazz Tevaga||10||Zane Musgrove|
|Jack Murchie||11||Luke Garner|
|Tohu Harris||12||Kelma Tuilagi|
|Josh Curran||13||Joe Ofahengaue|
|Chanel Harris-Tavita||14||Stefano Utoikamanu|
|Bunty Afoa||15||Adam Doueihi|
|Eliesa Katoa||16||Alex Seyfarth|
|Bayley Sironen||17||Fonua Pole|
History: Played 34, Warriors 18, Tigers 16
Last Meeting: Round 3, 2022: Warriors 16 def. Tigers 12
Final Thoughts: Strangely, the New Zealand Warriors played fairly well while losing to the Panthers 40-6. Given how they’ve performed throughout the 2022 NRL season, they’ll have taken that loss as one to build on. It’s a different story for the Wests Tigers who never looked likely in their 36-12 loss to the Bulldogs.
Stacey Jones is taking notes from Mick Potter and simply making the easy decisions to start his time as head coach of the Warriors. As should have been the case from Round 1, Euan Aitken has been named to start in the centres. Eli Katoa joins the bench. James Roberts and Stefano Utoikamanu are back for the Tigers while Fa’amanu Brown will start at hooker. Fonua Pole has been named to make his NRL debut off the bench.
The Warriors will have 25,000 fans in their corner this week. They’ve put in some poor performances throughout the year but surely this is a game it clicks for the Kiwi club. Aitken’s shift into the centres is a positive move. The centre position has been their worst all year and finally, they will play their best player available at the position. Shaun Johnson has struggled at times this year but the period at home looks set to provide him with a boost too. The Tigers, on the other hand, don’t take the same optimism across the ditch. Their defence hasn’t shown the slightest sign of improvement since Michael Maguire left the club and there is only so much Adam Doueihi can do for the attack off the bench. While the Tigers will get better as the season wears on and players return, the occasion makes it especially difficult this week.
St. George-Illawarra Dragons v Canberra Raiders @ WIN Stadium
|Cody Ramsey||1||Xavier Savage|
|Mathew Feagai||2||Nick Cotric|
|Moses Suli||3||Matthew Timoko|
|Zac Lomax||4||Sebastian Kris|
|Mikaele Ravalawa||5||Jordan Rapana|
|Talatau Amone||6||Jack Wighton|
|Ben Hunt||7||Jamal Fogarty|
|Jack de Belin||8||Josh Papalii|
|Andrew McCullough||9||Zac Woolford|
|Blake Lawrie||10||Joseph Tapine|
|Jack Bird||11||Hudson Young|
|Jaydn Su’a||12||Elliott Whitehead|
|Tariq Sims||13||Adam Elliott|
|Moses Mbye||14||Tom Starling|
|Francis Molo||15||Ryan Sutton|
|Aaron Woods||16||Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad|
|Michael Molo||17||Corey Horsburgh|
History: Played 34, Dragons 12, Raiders 21
Last Meeting: Round 21, 2021: Raiders 20 def. Dragons 12
Final Thoughts: The St. George-Illawarra Dragons are keeping themselves in the Top 8 conversation having beaten the Rabbitohs 32-12 in Round 15. The Canberra Raiders are doing similar following their 20-18 win over the Knights.
Ben Hunt is nursing a leg injury but has been named for the Dragons and is the only possible change to the 17 from Round 15. Meanwhile, Jack Wighton is back for the Raiders with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad to return from the bench.
The Dragons continue to surprise many footy fans. Not good enough to be a genuine premiership threat or Top 8 certainty but not bad enough to slip down the NRL ladder, they’re doing just enough to remain relevant in the finals conversation. The Raiders are doing similar but their ceiling is higher. This is the week for the Green Machine to prove it. Excellent through the middle in recent weeks behind Joseph Tapine’s career-best form, the Raiders are building into the side most expected before Round 1. They’re offloading the football, getting up the field and grinding out points in good ball. Meanwhile, the Dragons are relying heavily on Ben Hunt and some flashy moments from the outside backs. When it all sticks the Dragons are lethal. It can’t be trusted to happen every week, though. While the Raiders have a shocker in them, they have the better side on paper and have looked the better side overall in recent weeks. Despite playing away from home, Ricky Stuart should take the two competition points back to Canberra on Sunday.