Brisbane Broncos v Penrith Panthers @ Suncorp Stadium
|Darius Boyd||1||Dylan Edwards|
|Corey Oates||2||Josh Mansour|
|Kotoni Staggs||3||Brent Naden|
|Herbie Farnworth||4||Stephen Crichton|
|Richie Kennar||5||Brian To’o|
|Sean O’Sullivan||6||Jarome Luai|
|Tom Dearden||7||Nathan Cleary|
|Payne Haas||8||James Tamou|
|Issac Luke||9||Mitchell Kenny|
|Rhys Kennedy||10||Moses Leota|
|David Fifita||11||Viliame Kikau|
|Ben Te’o||12||Liam Martin|
|Patrick Carrigan||13||James Fisher-Harris|
|Cory Paix||14||Tyrone May|
|Jordan Riki||15||Spencer Leniu|
|Ethan Bullemor||16||Kurt Capewell|
|Jamil Hopoate||17||Zane Tetevano|
History: Played 36, Broncos 23, Panthers 12
Last Meeting: Round 22, 2019: Broncos 24 def. Panthers 12
Final Thoughts: Well, the bounce back many anticipated after the Brisbane Broncos sacked Anthony Seibold never happened. They were well-handled by the Roosters in the end last week. It doesn’t get any easier this week either. The Penrith Panthers are flying into this one on an 11-game winning streak. They’ve barely been tested. Despite spending time without Viliame Kikau and Api Koroisau in that time, the Panthers have cast aside every opposition team put in front of them. There is little to suggest this week will be any different.
Payne Haas, Issac Luke and Corey Oates all return to provide the Broncos with a boost. However, the return of Kikau and the expected inclusion of Koroisau (named as 18th man) somewhat cancel out Brisbane’s new faces.
The Broncos don’t lack talent. On paper, they should still be able to score points on any side in the competition. Their issues remain in defence with soft tries being scored through them all too regularly. As mentioned last week, underdogs have been the way to go with a 20-point handicap over the last four seasons. We’re siding with the trend again on Thursday night.
Newcastle Knights v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks @ McDonald Jones Stadium
|Kalyn Ponga||1||William Kennedy|
|Starford To’a||2||Sione Katoa|
|Enari Tuala||3||Josh Dugan|
|Gehamat Shibasaki||4||Jesse Ramien|
|Hymel Hunt||5||Ronaldo Mulitalo|
|Mason Lino||6||Braydon Trindall|
|Mitchell Pearce||7||Chad Townsend|
|David Klemmer||8||Braden Hamlin-Uele|
|Kurt Mann||9||Blayke Brailey|
|Jacob Saifiti||10||Aaron Woods|
|Lachlan Fitzgibbon||11||Briton Nikora|
|Aidan Guerra||12||Wade Graham|
|Mitch Barnett||13||Toby Rudolf|
|Phoenix Crossland||14||Connor Tracey|
|Herman Ese’ese||15||Scott Sorensen|
|Josh King||16||Siosifa Talakai|
|Brodie Jones||17||Royce Hunt|
History: Played 39, Knights 21, Sharks 18
Last Meeting: Round 1, 2019: Knights 14 def. Sharks 8
Final Thoughts: Embarrassed by the Warriors last week, the pressure is on the Newcastle Knights to bounce back on Friday evening. They’re a side many expected to compete with the top sides in the NRL. However, right now, they look a couple of steps behind the six teams above them on the ladder. Meanwhile, the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks are yet to beat a side above them on the ladder at all this season. This is their best chance at a Top 8 scalp, but the absence of Shaun Johnson makes that a little more difficult.
Newcastle’s 36-6 loss last week is one of the worst of any team this season. Their attack never looked like firing while a poor defence only got worse as the game wore on. Adam O’Brien says the right things, but his team isn’t responding. They’ll need to clean things up if they’re to keep a lid on the Sharks this week. Even without Johnson, Cronulla are dangerous in attack. Braydon Trindall is an excellent young prospect and already proving tough to handle.
With both sides relatively even across the park, the key playmaking positions grow in importance. Neither are at full strength. While Trindall is playing well and Chad Townsend returns this week, Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce ensure it’s advantage Knights in the spine department. Following back-to-back weeks of blowouts and no use for the Game Saver token, this looks like the game to use it in Round 17.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Melbourne Storm @ ANZ Stadium
|Alex Johnston||1||Ryan Papenhuyzen|
|Corey Allan||2||Isaac Lumelume|
|Campbell Graham||3||Brenko Lee|
|Dane Gagai||4||Justin Olam|
|Jaxson Paulo||5||Josh Addo-Carr|
|Cody Walker||6||Cameron Munster|
|Adam Reynolds||7||Jahrome Hughes|
|Tevita Tatola||8||Jesse Bromwich|
|Damien Cook||9||Cameron Smith|
|Thomas Burgess||10||Christian Welch|
|Jaydn Su’a||11||Felise Kaufusi|
|Bayley Sironen||12||Chris Lewis|
|Cameron Murray||13||Tino Fa’asuamaleaui|
|Mark Nicholls||14||Nicho Hynes|
|Liam Knight||15||Ryley Jacks|
|Patrick Mago||16||Albert Vete|
|Keaon Koloamatangi||17||Darryn Schonig|
History: Played 32, Rabbitohs 5, Storm 27
Last Meeting: Round 4, 2020: Storm 22 def. Rabbitohs 8
Final Thoughts: The South Sydney Rabbitohs won their fifth game in a row last week in thrashing the pants off the Eels. However, Round 16 ended bittersweet with Latrell Mitchell ruled out for the rest of the season. Alex Johnston replaces Mitchell this week. Souths can be a good team without Mitchell at fullback, but not a great one. His absence greatly reduces the threat of South Sydney’s edges while attacking their goal line and working through the centre-third of the field. Meanwhile, the Melbourne Storm continues to go about their business. Getting past the Sea Eagles with relative ease in Round 16, they’re dealing with the injuries that continue to arise while building themselves into finals form.
Melbourne’s injuries in the middle of the field even things up make for an exciting battle this week. South Sydney’s pack has come along nicely over the last month as Tevita Tatola and Thomas Burgess get the ball rolling to start before Mark Nicholls, Liam Knight, Patrick Mago and Keaon Koloamatangi pack some punch off the bench. Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker are thriving behind the stable middle while Damien Cook has recaptured his form behind the ruck.
With two of the great coaches going head-to-head, we can expect a tactical battle. Craig Bellamy will work to slow down the Rabbitohs middle while Wayne Bennett will have a plan for the Storm’s blistering attack. This shapes as a close one and probable Match of the Round.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Gold Coast Titans @ ANZ Stadium
|Will Hopoate||1||AJ Brimson|
|Nick Meaney||2||Corey Thompson|
|Marcelo Montoya||3||Brian Kelly|
|Kerrod Holland||4||Young Tonumaipea|
|Dallin Watene-Zelezniak||5||Phillip Sami|
|Kieran Foran||6||Ashley Taylor|
|Lachlan Lewis||7||Jamal Fogarty|
|Ofahiki Ogden||8||Jarrod Wallace|
|Jeremy Marshall-King||9||Mitch Rein|
|Dylan Napa||10||Jaimin Jolliffe|
|Josh Jackson||11||Sam Stone|
|Raymond Faitala-Mariner||12||Beau Fermor|
|Aiden Tolman||13||Tyrone Peachey|
|Jake Averillo||14||Erin Clark|
|Renouf To’omaga||15||Moeaki Fotuaika|
|Matt Doorey||16||Keegan Hipgrave|
|Luke Thompson||17||Sam Lisone|
History: Played 17, Bulldogs 9, Titans 8
Last Meeting: Round 10, 2019: Bulldogs 22 def. Titans 16
Final Thoughts: The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs are every NRL fans second or third team at the moment. One win will see them jump up the ladder for the Broncos to sit 16th. The Rugby League public have been ready to celebrate the switch over the last two weeks before the Bulldogs blow a lead and keep one hand on the wooden spoon. Carrying an unexpected 20-12 lead over the Raiders into halftime last week, the Bulldogs crumbled under the pressure. The Gold Coast Titans, on the other hand, thrived in the late stages of their match against the Dragons to snatch victory in the dying moments. The win caps off an encouraging period for the Titans as AJ Brimson takes a leap in his career and the plans and processes of Justin Holbrook start to take shape.
This is a game the Bulldogs will have circled as one to win and avoid the wooden spoon. They may well have been favourites had it been played two or three weeks ago. However, the Titans continue to impress despite carrying injuries to key players while Moeaki Fotuaika has been named to return and Jai Arrow a chance at getting onto the field in Round 17. Premature calls of the Titans cracking the NRL’s Top 8 next season are already circulating. They’ve got a long way to go before getting into finals footy. But the Bulldogs have more to do. Their list is awful and there is only so much Kieran Foran can do to manufacture points. It’s unlikely Foran has enough in him to get past this strong Titans pack and improving spine.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Wests Tigers @ Lottoland
|Tevita Funa||1||Moses Mbye|
|Jorge Taufua||2||David Nofoaluma|
|Brad Parker||3||Joseph Leilua|
|Albert Hopoate||4||Adam Doueihi|
|Abbas Miski||5||Asu Kepaoa|
|Cade Cust||6||Benji Marshall|
|Daly Cherry-Evans||7||Luke Brooks|
|Addin Fonua-Blake||8||Josh Aloiai|
|Danny Levi||9||Harry Grant|
|Martin Taupau||10||Thomas Mikaele|
|Jack Gosiewski||11||Luke Garner|
|Curtis Sironen||12||Luciano Leilua|
|Jake Trbojevic||13||Alex Twal|
|Lachlan Croker||14||Matthew Eisenhuth|
|Corey Waddell||15||Elijah Taylor|
|Sean Keppie||16||Jacob Liddle|
|Taniela Paseka||17||Sam McIntyre|
History: Played 29, Sea Eagles 16, Tigers 13
Last Meeting: Round 22, 2019: Sea Eagles 32 def. Tigers 12
Final Thoughts: Tevita Vuna, Jorge Taufua, Brad Parker, Albert Hopoate and Abbas Miski. Is that the worst backline we’ve seen all season? The worst over the last two seasons? The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles have their work cut out for them if they’re to find any points over the weekend. The injuries keep coming (Joel Thompson the latest ruled out for the season) and so too do the losses. For the Wests Tigers, it’s just the losses that keep coming. Each one forces a new reshuffle by Michael Maguire with Adam Doueihi moving into the centres and Moses Mbye to fullback this week.
While the Sea Eagles have little to get excited about on the edges, they hold an advantage through the middle. The Tigers lack yardage. If Josh Aloiai isn’t one of the best players on the field in any given game, the Tigers are unlikely to be competitive. With Addin Fonua-Blake, Marty Taupau, Jake Trbojevic and Taniela Paseka making up a powerful and consistent metre-eating middle, it’s difficult to see how the Tigers earn the go-forward required for Harry Grant and Benji Marshall to create opportunities in attack. Neither side offers a lot of confidence given their recent form. Manly is the most trustworthy of the two, though.
Canberra Raiders v Sydney Roosters @ GIO Stadium
|Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad||1||James Tedesco|
|Jordan Rapana||2||Daniel Tupou|
|Jarrod Croker||3||Josh Morris|
|Curtis Scott||4||Joseph Manu|
|Nick Cotric||5||Brett Morris|
|Jack Wighton||6||Luke Keary|
|George Williams||7||Kyle Flanagan|
|Josh Papalii||8||Jared Waerea-Hargreaves|
|Siliva Havili||9||Jake Friend|
|Ryan Sutton||10||Siosiua Taukeiaho|
|John Bateman||11||Boyd Cordner|
|Elliott Whitehead||12||Sitili Tupouniua|
|Joseph Tapine||13||Isaac Liu|
|Tom Starling||14||Freddy Lussick|
|Dunamis Lui||15||Lindsay Collins|
|Hudson Young||16||Nat Butcher|
|Corey Harawira-Naera||17||Sonny Bill Williams|
History: Played 38, Raiders 13, Roosters 25
Last Meeting: Round 10, 2020: Raiders 24 def. Roosters 20
Final Thoughts: You may hear a little bit about this game during the week. The return of Sonny Bill Williams to the NRL is the talk of the town and will override the conversation in the buildup to Saturday and into Sunday. However, he’s unlikely to have too much of an impact on the result in his first game back off the bench. It’s the return of Luke Keary that pegs the Sydney Roosters as favourites for this one. Following on from an unopposed training session last week, the Roosters will be rested and ready to take on the side they beat in the 2019 NRL Grand Final.
While the Canberra Raiders aren’t the premiership hopefuls they were this time last year, they’re proving a tough side to beat. They’re defensively sound and the unearthing of Tom Starling at dummy half and return of John Bateman has added to their attack in recent weeks. So long as Josh Papalii is out there, the Green Machine have a strong enough middle to compete against any team in the competition.
But as you look down the team lists, its the consistent quality the Roosters have across the field that seperates them. Their backline is the best in the business while their pack is the most consistent if not the best again. The Roosters should take the two competition points, but we know better than to count the Raiders out of a big game.
New Zealand Warriors v Parramatta Eels @ Central Coast Stadium
|Roger Tuivasa-Sheck||1||Clinton Gutherson|
|Adam Pompey||2||Maika Sivo|
|Hayze Perham||3||Michael Jennings|
|Peta Hiku||4||Waqa Blake|
|Gerard Beale||5||Blake Ferguson|
|Kodi Nikorima||6||Jai Field|
|Chanel Harris-Tavita||7||Mitchell Moses|
|Jamayne Taunoa-Brown||8||Reagan Campbell-Gillard|
|Karl Lawton||9||Reed Mahoney|
|Lachlan Burr||10||Junior Paulo|
|Jack Murchie||11||Shaun Lane|
|Tohu Harris||12||Ryan Matterson|
|Jazz Tevaga||13||Nathan Brown|
|Wayde Egan||14||Ray Stone|
|Adam Blair||15||Marata Niukore|
|Joshua Curran||16||Kane Evans|
|Isaiah Papali’i||17||Oregon Kaufusi|
History: Played 38, Warriors 16, Eels 22
Last Meeting: Round 19, 2019: Eels 24 def. Warriors 22
Final Thoughts: Neither the New Zealand Warriors or Parramatta Eels are playing to their expectations at the moment. For the Warriors, that’s a good thing. Widely tipped to win the wooden spoon, the Kiwi club has won four of their last five games to keep within touching distance of the Top 8 with just four rounds to play. The Eels, on the other hand, don’t look anything like the premiership contenders the talking heads were claiming no less than a month ago. Unconvincing against the Storm and playing out an awful loss to the Rabbitohs last week, the Eels attack has fallen off a cliff. They’ll struggle to climb all the way back up with Dylan Brown now out for an extended period.
Their team list doesn’t inspire all that much, but the Warriors will come into this with plenty of confidence. Young players in Jack Murchie, Hayze Perham, Adam Pompey and Chanel Harris-Tavita are revelling in the opportunities they’ve been given. Josh Curran will no doubt attempt to do the same off the bench this week too. Meanwhile, an Eels side full of big names look disjointed. The attack hasn’t fired and they’re sending the ball sideways in an attempt to reignite it far too often. This needs to be a week Parramatta looks to get up the field through the middle. There is no questioning Parramatta’s superior pack in this one.
Should the Eels look to get themselves back into form the hard way by grinding out a win through the centre-third, it’s still a game the Warriors can keep close.
North Queensland Cowboys v St. George-Illawarra Dragons @ Queensland Country Bank Stadium
|Valentine Holmes||1||Matthew Dufty|
|Kyle Feldt||2||Jordan Pereira|
|Justin O’Neill||3||Euan Aitken|
|Esan Marsters||4||Zac Lomax|
|Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow||5||Mikaele Ravalawa|
|Scott Drinkwater||6||Corey Norman|
|Jake Clifford||7||Adam Clune|
|Francis Molo||8||Blake Lawrie|
|Reuben Cotter||9||Ben Hunt|
|Jordan McLean||10||Josh Kerr|
|Gavin Cooper||11||Tyson Frizell|
|Mitchell Dunn||12||Jacob Host|
|Josh McGuire||13||Cameron McInnes|
|Daejarn Asi||14||Billy Brittain|
|John Asiata||15||Jackson Ford|
|Tom Gilbert||16||Tyrell Fuimaono|
|Corey Jensen||17||Kaide Ellis|
History: Played 32, Cowboys 16, Dragons 16
Last Meeting: Round 15, 2019: Dragons 22 def. Cowboys 14
Final Thoughts: An injury to Michael Morgan may yet benefit the North Queensland Cowboys in the short term. With Scott Drinkwater and Jake Clifford back in the halves and Valentine Holmes at fullback, this is the best looking Cowboys spine we’ve seen for weeks. The issue is the absence of Jason Taumalolo. The St. George-Illawarra Dragons, however, are without Paul Vaughan. They really missed him last week against a Titans middle that was there to be dominated given their respective outs.
The Cowboys haven’t won a game since Round 7. Although, they went close to beating the Rabbitohs in Round 14, kept the Knights to 12 points in Round 15 and rallied well to avoid embarrassment in their 28-12 loss to the Sharks in Round 16. They’re slowly improving and the reintroduction of their best halves pairing this season could be the change that inspires further improvements on Sunday. The Dragons, on the other hand, can look one-dimensional at times. While the Cowboys edge defence is awful, they’re going to know what’s coming with the Dragons often resorting to throwing the ball to Matt Dufty and hoping for the best.
With the Storm and Panthers to come over the next fortnight, the Cowboys need a win if they’re to avoid a possible playoff for the wooden spoon against the Broncos in Round 20. Expect a better performance from the home side in this one.