Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, looks over all 16 teams and previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 18 matches.
Gold Coast Titans v Parramatta Eels @ Cbus Super Stadium
|AJ Brimson||1||Clinton Gutherson|
|Phillip Sami||2||Maika Sivo|
|Brian Kelly||3||Tom Opacic|
|Patrick Herbert||4||Waqa Blake|
|Corey Thompson||5||Haze Dunster|
|Ashley Taylor||6||Dylan Brown|
|Jamal Fogarty||7||Mitchell Moses|
|Jarrod Wallace||8||Reagan Campbell-Gillard|
|Erin Clark||9||Reed Mahoney|
|Moeaki Fotuaika||10||Junior Paulo|
|Kevin Proctor||11||Isaiah Papali’i|
|David Fifita||12||Ryan Matterson|
|Tino Fa’asuamaleaui||13||Nathan Brown|
|Tyrone Peachey||14||Marata Niukore|
|Sam Lisone||15||Shaun Lane|
|Jaimin Jolliffe||16||Oregon Kaufusi|
|Beau Fermor||17||Bryce Cartwright|
History: Played 20, Titans 11, Eels 9
Last Meeting: Round 2, 2020: Eels 46 def. Titans 6
Final Thoughts: The Parramatta Eels scored 36+ points three weeks on the bounce before losing to the Panthers 13-12 in Round 16. Meanwhile, the Gold Coast Titans bounced back from a horror fortnight in Round 14 and 15 to thrash the Raiders 44-6 in Round 16.
Provided Moeaki Fotuaika, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and AJ Brimson back up from State of Origin III, the Titans will send out the same 17 for this one. For the Eels, they’re hoping the same for Junior Paulo and Mitchell Moses but do have the positive news of Reed Mahoney’s return.
While the Titans looked a lot better in their last run, the attack still can’t be trusted. They’ve played one good game and followed it up with multiple poor performances too often already this season. The Eels, on the other hand, have been relatively consistent all season. Moses may be missing for this one, but so too could key figures in the Titans side. Reed Mahoney’s control will add plenty to the direction of Parramatta’s attack too. With or without Origin players backing up, Parramatta looks too good.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v St. George-Illawarra Dragons @ Cbus Super Stadium
|Tom Trbojevic||1||Tyrell Sloan|
|Jason Saab||2||Cody Ramsey|
|Brad Parker||3||Jack Bird|
|Morgan Harper||4||Brayden Wiliame|
|Reuben Garrick||5||Gerard Beale|
|Kieran Foran||6||Corey Norman|
|Daly Cherry-Evans||7||Ben Hunt|
|Taniela Paseka||8||Blake Lawrie|
|Lachlan Croker||9||Andrew McCullough|
|Martin Taupau||10||Jack de Belin|
|Haumole Olakau’atu||11||Josh Kerr|
|Josh Schuster||12||Tariq Sims|
|Sean Keppie||13||Jackson Ford|
|Dylan Walker||14||Poasa Faamausili|
|Karl Lawton||15||Jamayne Taunoa-Brown|
|Kurt De Luis||16||Josh McGuire|
|Toafofoa Sipley||17||Billy Burns|
History: Played 31, Sea Eagles 10, Dragons 21
Last Meeting: Round 3, 2021: Dragons 38 def. Sea Eagles 12
Final Thoughts: So, here we are again. The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles played a game without Tom Trbojevic and struggled to compete as they fell 30-16 to the Raiders. The St.George-Illawarra Dragons, on the other hand, are preparing for 2-4 weeks without 12 of their best. While the 19-18 win over the Warriors kept them in the Top 8, the celebrations came at a cost.
Tom Trbojevic has been named to start for Manly but there is a high chance he will be rested. Josh Schuster returns this week which pushes Karl Lawton to the bench. St. George-Illawarra’s Matt Dufty, Tyrell Fuimaono and Kaide Ellis have been nominated to serve their one-game suspension this week. Tyrell Sloan will slot into fullback, Jack de Belin to prop and Jackson Ford to lock. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown is on loan from the Warriors and will come off the bench alongside Poasa Faamausili.
So much clearly depends on whether or not Trbojevic backs up after Origin. The Manly attack doesn’t fire when their fullback isn’t exactly where he needs to be every time he needs to be there. While the Dragons are also without their first-choice fullback, we should see a response from the side overall. In the headlines for all of the wrong reasons, expect at least a strong start for the Red V. Ben Hunt is in good form and will be looking to direct what is a big Dragons pack up the field. While they might struggle to turn possession into points, the Dragons can force the Sea Eagles into an arm-wrestle to start. Top teams can get a roll-on. Few do it better than Manly. However, this is set up to start with a grind.
Canberra Raiders v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks @ Cbus Super Stadium
|Xavier Savage||1||William Kennedy|
|Semi Valemei||2||Sione Katoa|
|Jarrod Croker||3||Connor Tracey|
|Sebastian Kris||4||Jesse Ramien|
|Jordan Rapana||5||Ronaldo Mulitalo|
|Jack Wighton||6||Braydon Trindall|
|Sam Williams||7||Shaun Johnson|
|Josh Papalii||8||Aiden Tolman|
|Josh Hodgson||9||Blayke Brailey|
|Emre Guler||10||Aaron Woods|
|Corey Harawira-Naera||11||Briton Nikora|
|Hudson Young||12||Teig Wilton|
|Ryan Sutton||13||Toby Rudolf|
|Tom Starling||14||Mawene Hiroti|
|Joseph Tapine||15||Siosifa Talakai|
|Iosia Soliola||16||Jack Williams|
|Ryan James||17||Braden Hamlin-Uele|
History: Played 44, Raiders 21, Sharks 23
Last Meeting: Round 2, 2021: Raiders 12 def. Sharks 10
Final Thoughts: Remarkably, the Canberra Raiders are still in the hunt for a spot in the Top 8. Losers of five of their last six before beating the Sea Eagles in Round 17, the Raiders are just one win out of a finals spot. The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks currently hold one of those spots after handling the Warriors with relative ease to win 20-12 on Sunday afternoon.
Jack Wighton and Josh Papalii have been named to return this week provided they get through Origin III unscathed. Matt Frawley and Dunamis Lui drop out of the Raiders squad. Meanwhile, Josh Hannay has named the same 17 that beat the Warriors in Round 17.
What to make of the Raiders…They’re starting to look better at times. But they’ve sold us a couple of dummies already throughout the 2021 NRL season. The Sharks, on the other hand, are starting to find their groove with Shaun Johnson and Braydon ‘tricky’ Trindall developing a nice partnership in the halves. Matching up well in the middle, the key playmakers will have a big say in the result of this game. With Josh Hodgson taking more control of the Raiders, they’ve begun to produce some good periods. Johnson showed last week that he’s prepared to play patient footy with a lead and kick his side to victory. If both of these teams turn up for the full 80 minutes, we’re in for a rare close game.
North Queensland Cowboys v Sydney Roosters @ Queensland Country Bank Stadium
|Valentine Holmes||1||James Tedesco|
|Kyle Feldt||2||Daniel Tupou|
|Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow||3||Josh Morris|
|Connelly Lemuelu||4||Joseph Manu|
|Murray Taulagi||5||Matt Ikuvalu|
|Scott Drinkwater||6||Drew Hutchison|
|Tom Dearden||7||Sam Walker|
|Francis Molo||8||Jared Waerea-Hargreaves|
|Reece Robson||9||Sam Verrills|
|Jordan McLean||10||Isaac Liu|
|Shane Wright||11||Angus Crichton|
|Mitchell Dunn||12||Sitili Tupouniua|
|Jason Taumalolo||13||Victor Radley|
|Jake Granville||14||Lachlan Lam|
|Tom Gilbert||15||Nat Butcher|
|Coen Hess||16||Egan Butcher|
|Peter Hola||17||Fletcher Baker|
History: Played 36, Cowboys 12, Roosters 24
Last Meeting: Round 10, 2021: Roosters 30 def. Cowboys 16
Final Thoughts: It looked for a moment like the North Queensland Cowboys could end their three-game losing streak in Round 17. Then the Rabbitohs caught fire and made it four defeats on the bounce for Todd Payten’s side. Meanwhile, the Sydney Roosters were asked to work a lot harder than anybody expected in their 22-16 win over the Bulldogs.
No major surprises for the Cowboys with Francis Molo, Val Holmes and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow named to back up after Origin. Peter Hola has joined the bench, though. James Tedesco and Angus Crichton have been named which pushes Joey Manu back into the centres and Billy Smith out of the side. Isaac Liu is into the front row with Siosiua Taukeiaho out of the side.
North Queensland’s biggest problem has been their consistency. They’ve not been able to complete one 80 minute performance. Instead, they play out good periods here and there and they’ve not even been able to do that recently. Last week started well enough, but it turned for the worse far too easily and a similar situation is a chance this week against a Roosters side that can still pile up points in a hurry, even with their injuries. With a strong pack capable of keeping Jason Taumalolo in check and a backline that can rip through this dodgy Cowboys edge defence, it will only take 20 minutes of dominance for the Roosters to start running away with this one.
Melbourne Storm v Newcastle Knights @ AAMI Park
|Nicho Hynes||1||Kalyn Ponga|
|George Jennings||2||Dominic Young|
|Reimis Smith||3||Kurt Mann|
|Justin Olam||4||Enari Tuala|
|Josh Addo-Carr||5||Hymel Hunt|
|Cameron Munster||6||Jake Clifford|
|Jahrome Hughes||7||Mitchell Pearce|
|Jesse Bromwich||8||Jacob Saifiti|
|Brandon Smith||9||Jayden Brailey|
|Christian Welch||10||Daniel Saifiti|
|Felise Kaufusi||11||Tyson Frizell|
|Kenneath Bromwich||12||Lachlan Fitzgibbon|
|Dale Finucane||13||Mitch Barnett|
|Aaron Booth||14||Connor Watson|
|Tui Kamikamica||15||David Klemmer|
|Chris Lewis||16||Josh King|
|Aaron Pene||17||Brodie Jones|
History: Played 43, Storm 28, Knights 15
Last Meeting: Round 12, 2020: Storm 26 def. Knights 16
Final Thoughts: The Melbourne Storm have had a week to rest and recover following their 46-0 win over the Roosters. They remain the form team of the NRL through 17 rounds. The Newcastle Knights, on the other hand, are only just coming up to speed. A 38-0 win over the Cowboys in Round 16 has set them up nicely to finish the season strong and claw their way into the finals.
Craig Bellamy is taking a cautious approach with Ryan Papenhuyzen and Harry Grant and may do the same with Cameron Munster, Josh Addo-Carr, Dale Finucane, Felise Kaufusi and Christian Welch after Origin III. The Storm 17 could look a lot different on game day. The Knights, however, welcome back Tyson Frizell and Daniel Saifiti. Mitch Barnett shifts to lock and Sauaso Sue drops out.
The Knights have just started to look capable of a run towards the Top 8 but now face the favourites for the minor premiership. It is more than likely that their push to the finals will need to start in Round 19 with the Storm showing no signs of slowing down having won 13 on the bounce. They’ve scored 40+ points ten times in those 13 games. Bellamy may choose to rest some of his Origin players but that is unlikely to matter. The pack will still dominate the middle and it is Nicho Hynes, Brandon Smith and Jahrome Hughes doing most of the damage with the ball at the moment. Expect Justin Olam to get in on the action, too. The Knights right edge defence has conceded 36 tries so far this season – only the Cowboys have conceded more.
New Zealand Warriors v Penrith Panthers @ Suncorp Stadium
|Reece Walsh||1||Dylan Edwards|
|Dallin Watene-Zelezniak||2||Charlie Staines|
|Rocco Berry||3||Stephen Crichton|
|Marcelo Montoya||4||Brent Naden|
|Roger Tuivasa-Sheck||5||Brian To’o|
|Kodi Nikorima||6||Matt Burton|
|Sean O’Sullivan||7||Tyrone May|
|Addin Fonua-Blake||8||Moses Leota|
|Wayde Egan||9||Apisai Koroisau|
|Matthew Lodge||10||James Fisher-Harris|
|Eliesa Katoa||11||Viliame Kikau|
|Bayley Sironen||12||Kurt Capewell|
|Jazz Tevaga||13||Isaah Yeo|
|Josh Curran||14||Mitch Kenny|
|Leeson Ah Mau||15||Scott Sorensen|
|Bunty Afoa||16||Spencer Leniu|
|Kane Evans||17||Liam Martin|
History: Played 42, Warriors 16, Panthers 25
Last Meeting: Round 14, 2020: Panthers 18 def. Warriors 12
Final Thoughts: Another round, another loss for the New Zealand Warriors. Their 20-12 defeat to the Sharks makes it seven from their last eight games as they tumble down the NRL ladder. Things don’t get any easier for the Kiwi club this week as they prepare to face a post-Origin Penrith Panthers that managed to beat the Eels in Round 16 without Nathan Cleary.
Josh Curran is back in the side this week as Nathan Brown names the same 13 to start again this week. Kane Evans is another new face on the bench. The pair take the spots of Ben Murdoch-Masila and Jack Murchie. Dylan Edwards is back for the Panthers while Matt Burton and Tyrone May have been named in the halves. Brian To’o, Isaah Yeo, Kurt Capewell and Liam Martin have all been named to back up from Origin III.
The Warriors have lost seven of their last eight games. Nathan Brown is somehow avoiding pressure but isn’t helping himself by constantly rotating through his side. They’ve been impacted by injuries, but cohesion is suffering when it doesn’t need to and it shows in how aimless they are in attack. Once again, the Kodi Nikorima/Sean O’Sullivan halves combination failed to threaten in Round 17. While Tyrone May has hardly set the world on fire in the #7 jersey this year, he has Matt Burton, Dylan Edwards and Api Koroisau to shoulder the load. Penrith’s defence hasn’t suffered through the Origin period either. They’ve only conceded more than 12 points once since Round 8 and have yet to concede more than 19 points in a game once all season.
Brisbane Broncos v Wests Tigers @ Suncorp Stadium
|Tesi Niu||1||Daine Laurie|
|Corey Oates||2||David Nofoaluma|
|Kotoni Staggs||3||Fetalaiga Pauga|
|Herbie Farnworth||4||James Roberts|
|Xavier Coates||5||Ken Maumalo|
|Tyson Gamble||6||Adam Doueihi|
|Brodie Croft||7||Luke Brooks|
|Rhys Kennedy||8||Stefano Utoikamanu|
|Jake Turpin||9||Jacob Liddle|
|Payne Haas||10||James Tamou|
|Alex Glenn||11||Luke Garner|
|TC Robati||12||Luciano Leilua|
|Kobe Hetherington||13||Thomas Mikaele|
|Cory Paix||14||Joe Ofahengaue|
|Thomas Flegler||15||Alex Twal|
|Keenan Palasia||16||Tukimihia Simpkins|
|Jordan Riki||17||Moses Mbye|
History: Played 29, Broncos 21, Tigers 7
Last Meeting: Round 10, 2020: Tigers 48 def. Broncos 0
Final Thoughts: The Brisbane Broncos may not have wanted the bye in Round 17. Their 26-18 win over the Sharks in Round 16 is their best game of the 2021 NRL season so far and one that could mark a turning point in their rebuild. We’re still waiting for that moment from the Wests Tigers, though. Showing little signs of improvement all season, they barely threw a punch in losing 38-22 to the Rabbitohs last time out.
Much of the same for the Broncos again this week. Cory Paix and Tom Flegler join the bench in place of Jesse Arthars and Ethan Bullemor. Michael Maguire, on the other hand, is still desperately searching for his best 17. Unsurprisingly, the Adam Doueihi at centre experiment wasn’t a success – he’s back in the halves it Moses Mbye to the bench. Fetalaiga Pauga will make his NRL debut while Stefano Utoikamanu and Thomas Mikaele have been named to start with Alex Twal dropping to the bench. Tuki Simpkins will also make his NRL debut off the bench.
With the Broncos playing out a decent game in Round 16 and the Tigers naming one of their more appealing 17’s of the season so far, this is an unlikely candidate for match of the round. The Tigers thumped the Broncos 48-0 the last time these two met, but Kevin Walters has triggered some improvement out of this Broncos side since then. Still, it’s a lottery. As much as the Tigers middle looks promising and Doueihi is in the halves, they’ve done little to warrant any sort of faith they can put it together on the day. Meanwhile, the Broncos have shown a tendency to turn up and play well at Suncorp Stadium. It hasn’t happened often this season, but the Broncos are deserving favourites.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs @ Cbus Super Stadium
|Latrell Mitchell||1||Nick Meaney|
|Alex Johnston||2||Corey Allan|
|Dane Gagai||3||Will Hopoate|
|Campbell Graham||4||Aaron Schoupp|
|Taane Milne||5||Falakiko Manu|
|Cody Walker||6||Lachlan Lewis|
|Adam Reynolds||7||Jake Averillo|
|Mark Nicholls||8||Jack Hetherington|
|Damien Cook||9||Sione Katoa|
|Thomas Burgess||10||Luke Thompson|
|Keaon Koloamatangi||11||Corey Waddell|
|Jaydn Su’a||12||Josh Jackson|
|Cameron Murray||13||Renouf Atoni|
|Benji Marshall||14||Bailey Biondi-Odo|
|Liam Knight||15||Dylan Napa|
|Patrick Mago||16||Ava Seumanufagai|
|Jacob Host||17||Joe Stimson|
History: Played 41, Rabbitohs 17, Bulldogs 23
Last Meeting: Round 4, 2021: Rabbitohs 38 def. Bulldogs 0
Final Thoughts: With Latrell Mitchel and their State of Origin stars or without Latrell Mitchell and their State of Origin stars, the South Sydney Rabbitohs are doing it easy. They gave the Cowboys a 12-2 head start last week. Still, the result was never in doubt as they cruised to a 46-18 win. Meanwhile, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs put in a noble effort in defeat as they at least pushed the Roosters close for their 22-16 loss.
No surprises for the Rabbitohs with all of Bennett’s Origin stars named to back up in their usual spots. For the Bulldogs, Ava Seumanufagai is back onto the bench while Josh Jackson and Renouf Atoni swap places from how they started in Round 17.
Unsurprisingly – even with Canterbury’s impressive showing last week – South Sydney are massive favourites for this one. Their Origin stars are being given maximum time to rest before returning to club land which should mean most line up on Sunday evening. While the Rabbitohs would be favoured to win without them, there is still the slightest chance of a Minor Premiership win at stake this season. We saw the Rabbitohs explore down the right side a little more often last week. It looked like part of the game plan as they look to add some more variety to their attack as the finals approach. Expecting them to build a lead and once again put a focus on their right side attack late in the piece, Taane Milne is likely to add to his try scoring tally after bagging three last week.