Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, looks over all 16 teams and previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 21 matches.
Sydney Roosters v Brisbane Broncos @ Sydney Cricket Ground
|James Tedesco||1||Tesi Niu|
|Daniel Tupou||2||Corey Oates|
|Paul Momirovski||3||Kotoni Staggs|
|Joseph Manu||4||Deine Mariner|
|Joseph Suaalii||5||Selwyn Cobbo|
|Luke Keary||6||Ezra Mam|
|Sam Walker||7||Adam Reynolds|
|Jared Waerea-Hargreaves||8||Thomas Flegler|
|Sam Verrills||9||Billy Walters|
|Matthew Lodge||10||Payne Haas|
|Angus Crichton||11||Kurt Capewell|
|Nat Butcher||12||Jordan Riki|
|Victor Radley||13||Kobe Hetherington|
|Connor Watson||14||Jake Turpin|
|Ben Thomas||15||Rhys Kennedy|
|Drew Hutchison||16||Corey Jensen|
|Terrell May||17||Keenan Palasia|
History: Played 45, Roosters 22, Broncos 23
Last Meeting: Round 5, 2022: Roosters 24 def. Broncos 20
Final Thoughts: The Sydney Roosters didn’t have it easy last week but got the job done to beat the Sea Eagles 20-10 at 4 Pines Park. Meanwhile, the Brisbane Broncos flopped at home to suffer a shock 32-18 loss to the Tigers.
Lindsay Collins and Egan Butcher miss this one for the Roosters with Matt Lodge moving into the starting side. Terrell May and Ben Thomas join the bench. The Broncos will be without Pat Carrigan this week; Kobe Hetherington moves to lock. In better news, Selwyn Cobbo is back and onto the wing while Jake Turpin takes Cory Paix’s spot on the bench.
The Broncos will be eager to right their wrongs of last week. However, the Roosters are righting multiple wrongs from earlier in the NRL season as they fight to keep hold of their finals spot. Trent Robinson’s side didn’t blow the Sea Eagles off the park like many expected last week, but they got the job done. They showed great signs throughout the earlier stages and held on to take the chocolates in the second half. Most importantly, they held firm through the middle. An area they will need to replicate this week against a Broncos outfit that knows how to get a roll on. The Roosters haven’t clicked this season but they don’t seem far away. At home and against a Broncos side that doesn’t always travel well and is without a key figure in the middle, the Chooks should get the job done here.
Melbourne Storm v Gold Coast Titans @ AAMI Park
|Tyran Wishart||1||Chris Lewis|
|David Nofoaluma||2||Jojo Fifita|
|Marion Seve||3||Phillip Sami|
|Grant Anderson||4||Brian Kelly|
|Dean Ieremia||5||Patrick Herbert|
|Cameron Munster||6||AJ Brimson|
|Jahrome Hughes||7||Tanah Boyd|
|Jesse Bromwich||8||Moeaki Fotuaika|
|Harry Grant||9||Aaron Booth|
|Nelson Asofa-Solomona||10||Tino Fa’asuamaleaui|
|Felise Kaufusi||11||David Fifita|
|Kenneath Bromwich||12||Beau Fermor|
|Josh King||13||Erin Clark|
|Brandon Smith||14||Greg Marzhew|
|Tui Kamikamica||15||Herman Ese’ese|
|Tom Eisenhuth||16||Isaac Liu|
|Chris Lewis||17||Jaimin Jolliffe|
History: Played 24, Storm 18, Titans 6
Last Meeting: Round 23, 2021: Storm 34 def. Titans 20
Final Thoughts: The Melbourne Storm ended their four-game losing streak with a hard-fought 24-12 win over the Warriors in New Zealand. The losses continued for the Gold Coast Titans, though. This time: A 36-24 defeat at the hands of the Raiders.
Brandon Smith is back from his suspension to give the Storm a much-needed boost in the middle. However, Nick Meaney is out and replaced by Tyran Wishart at the back. David Nofoaluma will play his first game for the club on the wing, pushing Grant Anderson into the centres. Yet another change in the spine for the Titans; Jayden Campbell is into fullback, AJ Brimson to five-eighth and Tanah Boyd to halfback.
It was hardly the Storm at their best, but Craig Bellamy’s side did enough to get back to their winning ways last week. They were forced to play tough and dig in against a valiant Warriors. However, with Meaney going down with an injury, they’re forced into yet another reshuffle. Wishart has been named at the back but it’s unlikely to be that simple. Even if Cameron Munster doesn’t end up there, expect him to play a hybrid role and pop up in the middle and around the ruck a little bit more often than he normally does. It’s an area he can really expose the Titans. Justin Holbrook isn’t getting any defence out of this group. They’re weak through the middle and leaky on the edges. The gaps will present themselves for Munster and Jahrome Hughes, in particular, to exploit. The Storm aren’t playing good footy by their standards. Still, this is an opportunity to play themselves into form and they rarely give up opportunities to run up a score.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Parramatta Eels @ 4 Pines Park
|Reuben Garrick||1||Clinton Gutherson|
|Jason Saab||2||Maika Sivo|
|Morgan Harper||3||Will Penisini|
|Tolutau Koula||4||Tom Opacic|
|Christian Tuipulotu||5||Waqa Blake|
|Kieran Foran||6||Dylan Brown|
|Daly Cherry-Evans||7||Jakob Arthur|
|Taniela Paseka||8||Reagan Campbell-Gillard|
|Lachlan Croker||9||Reed Mahoney|
|Toafofoa Sipley||10||Junior Paulo|
|Haumole Olakau’atu||11||Shaun Lane|
|Andrew Davey||12||Isaiah Papali’i|
|Jake Trbojevic||13||Ryan Matterson|
|Dylan Walker||14||Makahesi Makatoa|
|Ben Trbojevic||15||Bryce Cartwright|
|Martin Taupau||16||Oregon Kaufusi|
|Morgan Boyle||17||Marata Niukore|
History: Played 40, Sea Eagles 19, Eels 21
Last Meeting: Round 11, 2022: Eels 22 def. Sea Eagles 20
Final Thoughts: The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles were written off ahead of their Round 20 match against the Roosters but put in a good fight to go down 20-10. The Parramatta Eels were in a somewhat similar situation against the defending premiers. However, they pulled off a huge 34-10 upset to beat the Panthers.
The ‘Manly 7′ are able to return this week but Josh Aloiai remains out with an injury. Ben Trbojevic is back from his head knock in Round 19. As for the Eels, Mitch Moses is out which brings Jake Arthur into the halves.
Expected to be thrashed last week, the Sea Eagles have been installed as favourites for this one. Moses’ injury and the inconsistent form of the Eels has a lot to do with that, too. The Sea Eagles have performed well at full strength (minus Tom Trbojevic). They don’t have a problem scoring points and have defended well for periods before faltering late on the odd occasion. This is a finals calibre side fighting for a spot. Meanwhile, the Eels have looked like a bottom four and top four side in each of the last two weeks. With Moses unavailable, we’re more likely to see the bottom four version on Friday night. Clint Gutherson will look to get himself more involved from the back. That isn’t always a good thing as he can overplay his hand. His form doesn’t instil a lot of confidence either. Parramatta have the wood through the middle. However, their defence is poor and has been all season. If this Manly side welcoming back the majority of its first-choice side can hit the ground running and pile up a few points early, they should be able to take the chocolates and keep their hopes of finals football alive for another week.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v New Zealand Warriors @ Sunshine Coast Stadium
|Latrell Mitchell||1||Reece Walsh|
|Alex Johnston||2||Dallin Watene-Zelezniak|
|Taane Milne||3||Marcelo Montoya|
|Isaiah Tass||4||Euan Aitken|
|Jaxson Paulo||5||Edward Kosi|
|Cody Walker||6||Wayde Egan|
|Lachlan Ilias||7||Shaun Johnson|
|Tevita Tatola||8||Addin Fonua-Blake|
|Damien Cook||9||Freddy Lussick|
|Daniel Suluka-Fifita||10||Tohu Harris|
|Keaon Koloamatangi||11||Bayley Sironen|
|Jai Arrow||12||Jack Murchie|
|Cameron Murray||13||Aaron Pene|
|Blake Taaffe||14||Taniela Otukolo|
|Davvy Moale||15||Bunty Afoa|
|Siliva Havili||16||Eliesa Katoa|
|Mark Nicholls||17||Josh Curran|
History: Played 36, Rabbitohs 19, Warriors 17
Last Meeting: Round 10, 2022: Rabbitohs 32 def. Warriors 30
Final Thoughts: The South Sydney Rabbitohs will still be losing sleep over the one that got away after falling to the Sharks 21-20 in golden point last week. Meanwhile, the New Zealand Warriors put in a good effort in their 24-12 loss to the Storm.
Taane Milne has recovered from his injury and will replace Jed Cartwright in the Rabbitohs centres after Cartwright sustained one of his own. Blake Taaffe has been recalled to the bench for Kodi Nikorima. Mass changes for the Warriors: Euan Aitken is into the centres, Wayde Egan to five-eighth, Freddy Lussick to hooker, Aaron Pene to prop and Josh Curran to the bench, among others.
The Rabbitohs may have lost last week but the defeat didn’t dent their form guide too badly. They’re still one of the hot teams in the NRL and Latrell Mitchell will be out to make up for his three missed field goals in Round 20. They have the benefit of running against an already poor Warriors defence working through more combinations. Only the Knights concede more points per game than the Warriors. For all of their little improvements with the ball in recent weeks, they’ve been for nothing as the defence continues to struggle. Marcelo Montoya and Euan Aitken are encouraging names defending in the centres but it’s only the second time Montoya has featured at the position for the club while Aitken hasn’t played there all year. Aitken, in particular, has been given the tough task of defending the lethal Rabbitohs left edge. The Warriors are improving but the team list this week leaves a lot to be desired. It’s more than likely they take a backwards step while the Rabbitohs continue on their path to finals footy.
Canberra Raiders v Penrith Panthers @ GIO Stadium
|Xavier Savage||1||Dylan Edwards|
|Nick Cotric||2||Taylan May|
|Matthew Timoko||3||Izack Tago|
|Sebastian Kris||4||Stephen Crichton|
|Jordan Rapana||5||Brian To’o|
|Jack Wighton||6||Jaeman Salmon|
|Jamal Fogarty||7||Sean O’Sullivan|
|Josh Papalii||8||Moses Leota|
|Zac Woolford||9||Apisai Koroisau|
|Joseph Tapine||10||James Fisher-Harris|
|Hudson Young||11||Viliame Kikau|
|Elliott Whitehead||12||Liam Martin|
|Adam Elliott||13||Isaah Yeo|
|Tom Starling||14||Mitch Kenny|
|Ryan Sutton||15||Scott Sorensen|
|Emre Guler||16||Spencer Leniu|
|Corey Harawira-Naera||17||Charlie Staines|
History: Played 47, Raiders 22, Panthers 25
Last Meeting: Round 7, 2022: Panthers 36 def. Raiders 6
Final Thoughts: The Canberra Raiders are still in the hunt for NRL finals football following their 36-24 win over the Titans. The Penrith Panthers, on the other hand, may have a fight on their hands to keep hold of the minor premiership after falling to the Eels 34-10.
Just one change for the Raiders this week: Jordan Rapana returns to replace Albert Hopoate on the wing. Meanwhile, Sean O’Sullivan will take Nathan Cleary’s spot at halfback with Jaeman Salmon to make up the rest of the Panthers halves. Stephen Crichton and Mitch Kenny return from injury, too.
The Raiders play out some shockers. Sometimes, they just don’t get off the bus. But surely – SURELY! – they see this opportunity against a depleted Panthers side as one they can’t afford to miss. They’ve been gifted an easy draw to finish the NRL season as they fight for 8th on the ladder and it’s been made easier by playing the Panthers without Cleary. Penrith aren’t without quality. Some would argue that Isaah Yeo, in fact, is the player that keeps the Panthers attack purring. He’s the link man through the middle and often instigates the shift through his ball playing or a carry and quick play-the-ball. While O’Sullivan and Salmon may not promote confidence as attacking players themselves, they’re capable of shovelling the ball out to the likes of Izack Tago, Stephen Crichton, Viliame Kikau and Brian To’o. This Panthers pack will still be tough to move, too. It’s an area the Raiders have improved, but they are massively reliant on Joseph Tapine. There’s a good chance Ivan Cleary has a plan in place for him. While this looks like one the Raiders should be able to win in Canberra, expect the Panthers to keep it close at the very least.
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v St. George-Illawarra Dragons @ PointsBet Stadium
|Kade Dykes||1||Moses Mbye|
|Connor Tracey||2||Mathew Feagai|
|Jesse Ramien||3||Jack Bird|
|Siosifa Talakai||4||Zac Lomax|
|Ronaldo Mulitalo||5||Tautau Moga|
|Matt Moylan||6||Talatau Amone|
|Nicho Hynes||7||Ben Hunt|
|Toby Rudolf||8||Jack de Belin|
|Blayke Brailey||9||Andrew McCullough|
|Braden Hamlin-Uele||10||Blake Lawrie|
|Briton Nikora||11||Billy Burns|
|Wade Graham||12||Jaydn Su’a|
|Cameron McInnes||13||Tariq Sims|
|Braydon Trindall||14||Tyrell Sloan|
|Aiden Tolman||15||Aaron Woods|
|Teig Wilton||16||Francis Molo|
|Andrew Fifita||17||Josh McGuire|
History: Played 49, Sharks 25, Dragons 23
Last Meeting: Round 3, 2022: Sharks 36 def. Dragons 12
Final Thoughts: The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks needed golden point to do it but ended up on top of the Rabbitohs courtesy of a Nicho Hynes field goal. The St. George-Illawarra Dragons, on the other hand, never looked like beating the Cowboys throughout their 34-8 thrashing.
The Sharks have lost Will Kennedy for 5-6 weeks. Kade Dykes takes his spot at fullback. Meanwhile, Royce Hunt’s shoulder injury rules him out with Braydon Trindall to join the bench. Anthony Griffin has named the same 17 Dragons again this week.
It wasn’t a clinical or particularly impressive win over the Rabbitohs, but it was one that added to the Sharks’ credentials as premiership smokies. They got the job done against a tough opposition – something we’ve been asking them to do for much of the NRL season given their relatively easy draw. Meanwhile, the Dragons – a perfectly just-below-average football side – never kept close to the quality of the Cowboys. While the Sharks aren’t quite at that level, the end result is likely to be the same. The Sharks thrive at home. They’ve lost just one game at Shark Park all season (to the Roosters in Round 12). The Dragons, on the other hand, have won only two of their nine games on the road. Ben Hunt is in superb form and has managed to drag this Dragons team to victory on his own at times this season. However, with what the Sharks have through the middle and given their ability to pile up points, this looks a step too far for the probable Dally M Medal winner.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v North Queensland Cowboys @ Salter Oval
|Jake Averillo||1||Scott Drinkwater|
|Jacob Kiraz||2||Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow|
|Aaron Schoupp||3||Valentine Holmes|
|Braidon Burns||4||Peta Hiku|
|Josh Addo-Carr||5||Murray Taulagi|
|Matt Burton||6||Tom Dearden|
|Kyle Flanagan||7||Chad Townsend|
|Max King||8||Jamayne Taunoa-Brown|
|Jeremy Marshall-King||9||Reece Robson|
|Paul Vaughan||10||Coen Hess|
|Josh Jackson||11||Tom Gilbert|
|Jackson Topine||12||Jeremiah Nanai|
|Tevita Pangai Junior||13||Jason Taumalolo|
|Zach Dockar-Clay||14||Jake Granville|
|Joe Stimson||15||Reuben Cotter|
|Harrison Edwards||16||Luciano Leilua|
|Chris Patolo||17||Griffin Neame|
History: Played 37, Bulldogs 20, Cowboys 17
Last Meeting: Round 1, 2022: Bulldogs 6 def. Cowboys 4
Final Thoughts: The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs’ recent improvements are finally translating into wins as they took care of the Knights 24-10 in Newcastle. Meanwhile, the North Queensland Cowboys are back on track following a 34-8 win over the Dragons.
Mick Potter is sending out the same 17 Bulldogs again this week but does have Raymond Faitala-Mariner named in the reserves. Meanwhile, Todd Payten has lost Kyle Feldt but makes the simple decision of slotting Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow onto the Cowboys wing.
The Bulldogs are an exciting team to watch at the moment. Nobody saw this level of entertainment coming following their start to the NRL season. However, they face an elite defensive team in the Cowboys this week. North Queensland work hard from the inside, put pressure on ball players, and makes it difficult for the attacking team to shift the ball. If they do manage to get to the edges, Todd Payten has this side scrambling. Kyle Flanagan looks set for a difficult afternoon. He rarely digs deep into the line as it is. With the likes of Coen Hess applying inside pressure and forcing an even earlier pass, the Bulldogs will struggle to engage the line and compress the middle. Tevita Pangai Jr. can do that through regular offloads, but he’s another that won’t contribute all that positively to wide-ranging shifts. That is where the Bulldogs have looked their best in recent weeks and it’s an area the Cowboys can dominate. Scoring plenty of points themselves and familiar with winning on the road, the Cowboys should spoil what has been a fun few weeks for the Bulldogs faithful.
Wests Tigers v Newcastle Knights @ Campbelltown Stadium
|Daine Laurie||1||Tex Hoy|
|Brent Naden||2||Enari Tuala|
|Starford To’a||3||Dane Gagai|
|Asu Kepaoa||4||Bradman Best|
|Ken Maumalo||5||Dominic Young|
|Adam Doueihi||6||Anthony Milford|
|Jock Madden||7||Jake Clifford|
|James Tamou||8||Jacob Saifiti|
|Fa’amanu Brown||9||Jayden Brailey|
|Joe Ofahengaue||10||Daniel Saifiti|
|Alex Seyfarth||11||Tyson Frizell|
|Kelma Tuilagi||12||Brodie Jones|
|Fonua Pole||13||Mitch Barnett|
|Zane Musgrove||14||Phoenix Crossland|
|Austin Dias||15||Simi Sasagi|
|Tom Freebairn||16||Pasami Saulo|
|Tyrone Peachey||17||Mat Croker|
History: Played 33, Tigers 17, Knights 16
Last Meeting: Round 2, 2022: Knights 26 def. Tigers 4
Final Thoughts: The Wests Tigers picked up
back-to-back a deserving 32-18 win over the Broncos in Round 20 to shock the home side at Suncorp. The Newcastle Knights shocked nobody while losing 24-10 to the Bulldogs.
Jackson Hastings is a huge loss for the Tigers. He is replaced at lock by Fonua Pole. Meanwhile, Tom Freebairn will make his NRL debut off the bench. The Knights welcome back Bradman Best for this one but will be without David Klemmer who has been handed a show cause notice… by the Knights.
Round 21 of the NRL season ends with a strange, possibly so bad it’s good game between two of the three worst teams in the competition. The positivity taken from the Tigers win last week went under the knife with Hastings on Wednesday. He is a massive part of how the Tigers attack has performed over the last fortnight. He’s irreplaceable in his role and it’s difficult to see the Tigers keeping up their recent level of form. However, Newcastle’s NRL-worst defensive form has lasted all season. If there is a team to play when you’re working into another attacking scheme, it’s the Knights. Poor defensively and a genuine eye-sore with the ball, it’s going to take a monumental turnaround for the Knights to win this one. Scoring only ten points with 46 tackles inside the opposition’s 20-metre line sums up their potency in attack right now. The Tigers offer opportunities to attack around the ruck which is encouraging for the Knights. Jayden Brailey is their best-attacking weapon now and has shown the odd glimpse of danger around the ruck in recent weeks. If he can get the pack on the front foot and take control of the set in good ball, Newcastle might just have enough in them to end the losing streak.