Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, looks over all 16 teams and previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 19 matches.
Parramatta Eels v Canberra Raiders @ Cbus Super Stadium
|Clint Gutherson||1||Jordan Rapana|
|Maika Sivo||2||Harley Smith-Shields|
|Will Penisini||3||Jarrod Croker|
|Waqa Blake||4||Sebastian Kris|
|Blake Ferguson||5||Semi Valemei|
|Dylan Brown||6||Matt Frawley|
|Jake Arthur||7||Sam Williams|
|Reagan Campbell-Gillard||8||Josh Papalii|
|Reed Mahoney||9||Josh Hodgson|
|Junior Paulo||10||Emre Guler|
|Isaiah Papali’i||11||Corey Harawira-Naera|
|Ryan Matterson||12||Hudson Young|
|Nathan Brown||13||Ryan Sutton|
|Marata Niukore||14||Tom Starling|
|Shaun Lane||15||Matthew Timoko|
|Oregon Kaufusi||16||Iosia Soliola|
|Will Smith||17||Joseph Tapine|
History: Played 35, Eels 15, Raiders 20
Last Meeting: Round 6, 2021: Eels 35 def. Raiders 10
Final Thoughts: The Parramatta Eels have won four of their last five. All four of those wins have come by 13+ with their 26-8 win the closest any of the losing teams have come. Meanwhile, back-to-back wins have the Canberra Raiders on the up as they look to get their NRL season back on track.
Mitchell Moses is out for the Eels with a back fracture leaving Jakob Arthur to start in the halves. Tom Opacic and Haze Dunster are also out with Will Penisini to make his NRL debut in the centres and Blake Ferguson recalled to the wing. Similarly, the Raiders lose Jack Wighton and Xavier Savage for this one. Jordan Rapana drops to fullback, Harley Smith-Shields is onto the wing and Matt Frawley is the new five-eighth.
Only the Panthers have managed to beat the Eels in recent weeks. For the most part, nobody has been able to keep close to the blue and gold as they run the opposition off the field. However, we’ve seen enough out of the Raiders to be optimistic. They put 30 points on a depleted Sea Eagles side and comfortably handled the Sharks scoring another 34 points last week. While those two teams aren’t at the same level as the Eels, the improvements of Josh Hodgson, Joseph Tapine and Corey Harawira-Naera can still translate into a strong 80 minutes on Thursday night. It’s make or break time for the Raiders. Expect them to come out firing and at least keep it close.
Sydney Roosters v Newcastle Knights @ Sunshine Coast Stadium
|James Tedesco||1||Kalyn Ponga|
|Daniel Tupou||2||Dominic Young|
|Billy Smith||3||Kurt Mann|
|Joseph Manu||4||Enari Tuala|
|Matt Ikuvalu||5||Hymel Hunt|
|Drew Hutchison||6||Jake Clifford|
|Sam Walker||7||Phoenix Crossland|
|Jared Waerea-Hargreaves||8||Jacob Hunt|
|Sam Verrills||9||Jayden Brailey|
|Isaac Liu||10||Daniel Saifiti|
|Angus Crichton||11||Tyson Frizell|
|Sitili Tupouniua||12||Mitchell Barnett|
|Victor Radley||13||Connor Watson|
|Lachlan Lam||14||Sauaso Sue|
|Nat Butcher||15||David Klemmer|
|Egan Butcher||16||Josh King|
|Siosiua Taukeiaho||17||Brodie Jones|
History: Played 43, Roosters 30, Knights 13
Last Meeting: Round 8, 2021: Roosters 38 def. Knights 4
Final Thoughts: The Sydney Roosters continue to work through their injury issues. Although, their slow start before beating the Cowboys 34-12 last week came as a surprise. The Newcastle Knights, on the other hand, never got started as they watched the Storm run in 48 points on Saturday night.
James Tedesco returns to fullback with Joey Manu back into the centres. Surprisingly, Billy Smith has kept his spot on the edge over Josh Morris. Angus Crichton is also back into the Roosters starting side. Mitchell Pearce remains sidelined for the Knights but Kalyn Ponga and David Klemmer have been named after failing HIA’s last week.
The Roosters were run off the park early last week. However, they’re a good enough side to wrestle back control and go on a run of their own against the lesser teams. Trent Robinson will be looking for an improvement to the start of the game for his side this week, though. An uncharacteristically poor defence needs tightening up as well with Robinson sending a signal to his team with the dropping of Josh Morris to the reserves. While Kalyn Ponga is an attacking machine of his own, he needs to be put in positions to dominate. It’s difficult to imagine Jake Clifford and Phoenix Crossland achieving that often enough for the Knights to score enough on Friday evening. The Knights have struggled without Pearce this season. That looks set to continue this week.
North Queensland Cowboys v Melbourne Storm @ 1300SMILES Stadium
|Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow||1||Nicho Hynes|
|Kyle Feldt||2||Dean Ieremia|
|Murray Taulagi||3||Reimis Smith|
|Connelly Lemuelu||4||Justin Olam|
|Kane Bradley||5||Josh Addo-Carr|
|Scott Drinkwater||6||Cooper Johns|
|Tom Dearden||7||Jahrome Hughes|
|Francis Molo||8||Jesse Bromwich|
|Reece Robson||9||Brandon Smith|
|Jordan McLean||10||Christian Welch|
|Shane Wright||11||Chris Lewis|
|Mitchell Dunn||12||Kenny Bromwich|
|Jason Taumalolo||13||Tui Kamikamica|
|Tom Gilbert||14||Aaron Booth|
|Heilum Luki||15||Aaron Pene|
|Coen Hess||16||Nelson Asofa-Solomona|
|Jake Granville||17||Ryan Papenhuyzen|
History: Played 41, Cowboys 10, Storm 31
Last Meeting: Round 18, 2020: Storm 36 def. Cowboys 20
Final Thoughts: Just for a change, the North Queensland Cowboys showed glimpses of decent football before losing to the Roosters 34-18. Playing the full 80 minutes looks impossible for this group. It was more of the same for the Melbourne Storm last week, too. They’ve won 14 games on the trot – 11 of which they’ve cracked 40 points.
Kane Bradley has been named to make his NRL debut on the wing with Murray Taulagi moving into the centres for the injured Javid Bowen. Heilum Luke replaces Peter Hola on the Cowboys bench. Ryan Papenhuyzen is finally back for the Storm along with Josh Addo-Carr and Christian Welch. However, Dale Finucane, Cameron Munster and Felise Kaufusi are all being rested.
North Queensland’s $10.20 to win says it all, really. This one isn’t expected to be close and Melbourne look set to extend their winning street to 15 games. With the Storm’s Total Points line set at 37.5, there is a good chance they will crack 40 points for the 12th time in 15 games. It will take the Cowboys playing their best game in 2021 to stay within touching distance of the Storm, but with Jason Taumalolo finding his feet and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow looking right at home in the #1 jersey, there is always hope. Scott Drinkwater can manufacture points if his pack can put him in good ball opportunities often enough, too. But, even with the Cowboys middle and playmakers dominating, they still need to find a way to close up the worst right edge defence in the NRL…We’re going back to the well after he cashed in last week.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v New Zealand Warriors @ Sunshine Coast Stadium
|Latrell Mitchell||1||Reece Walsh|
|Josh Mansour||2||Dallin Watene-Zelezniak|
|Dane Gagai||3||Adam Pompey|
|Campbell Graham||4||Euan Aitken|
|Jaxson Paulo||5||Marcelo Montoya|
|Cody Walker||6||Kodi Nikorima|
|Adam Reynolds||7||Chad Townsend|
|Mark Nicholls||8||Addin Fonua-Blake|
|Damien Cook||9||Jazz Tevaga|
|Thomas Burgess||10||Matthew Lodge|
|Keaon Koloamatangi||11||Jack Murchie|
|Jaydn Su’A||12||Bayley Sironen|
|Cameron Murray||13||Josh Curran|
|Taane Milne||14||Taniela Otukolo|
|Jacob Host||15||Eli Katoa|
|Patrick Mago||16||Bunty Afoa|
|Jai Arrow||17||Leeson Ah Mau|
History: Played 34, Rabbitohs 17, Warriors 17
Last Meeting: Round 6, 2020: Rabbitohs 40 def. Warriors 12
Final Thoughts: A lethargic South Sydney Rabbitohs made it difficult for themselves in their unexpectedly close 32-24 win over the Bulldogs to wrap up Round 18. Meanwhile, it couldn’t have been more difficult for the New Zealand Warriors in their 30-16 loss to the Panthers as key figures hobbled off the field to leave the Kiwi club without a bench for the second half.
Alex Johnston won’t be on the Rabbitohs wing this week after suffering a hamstring injury. Jaxson Paulo takes his place while Josh Mansour will line up on the other wing with Taane Milne dropping to the bench. Latrell Mitchell and Jai Arrow also return. Tohu Harris and Wayde Egan are out for the season and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Rocco Berry won’t be available this week after all four failed to finish in Round 18. Kodi Nikorima is into five-eighth, Adam Pompey to the centres, Jazz Tevaga to hooker and Jack Murchie to the edge.
The form guide hasn’t shifted too much following the Rabbitohs’ close win over the Bulldogs. They went out with an understrength side and underdone mentally with the worst team in the NRL standing opposite them. While Johnston is a considerable loss, Mitchell’s return ensures the Bunnies left edge is still the most dangerous in the competition. Johnston’s replacement won’t be short of opportunities in the corner. The Warriors, on the other hand, are without two of their best players and have a total of one NRL game’s worth of experience among their full-time hookers this week. While the Warriors pack can match the Rabbitohs in the middle, the attacking output of the two teams isn’t close.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Wests Tigers @ Suncorp Stadium
|Tom Trbojevic||1||Daine Laurie|
|Jason Saab||2||David Nofoaluma|
|Brad Parker||3||Junior Pauga|
|Morgan Harper||4||Tommy Talau|
|Reuben Garrick||5||Ken Maumalo|
|Kieran Foran||6||Adam Doueihi|
|Daly Cherry-Evans||7||Luke Brooks|
|Taniela Paseka||8||Stefano Utoikamanu|
|Lachlan Croker||9||Jacob Liddle|
|Marty Taupau||10||James Tamou|
|Haumole Olakau’atu||11||Luke Garner|
|Josh Schuster||12||Luciano Leilua|
|Jake Trbojevic||13||Thomas Mikaele|
|Dylan Walker||14||Joe Ofahengaue|
|Josh Aloiai||15||Alex Twal|
|Sean Keppie||16||Tukimihia Simpkins|
|Toafofoa Sipley||17||Moses Mbye|
History: Played 31, Sea Eagles 17, Tigers 14
Last Meeting: Round 7, 2021: Sea Eagles 40 def. Tigers 6
Final Thoughts: To win without Tom Trbojevic and Daly Cherry-Evans will fill the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles with a lot of confidence. While a 32-18 win over the Dragons isn’t season-defining, it’s encouraging. Encouraging in its own right, Wests Tigers managed to get past the Broncos 42-24 at Suncorp.
Tom and Jake Trbojevic are back for the Sea Eagles along with Daly Cherry-Evans. Josh Aloiai is back on the bench as well. Reuben Garrick is back to the wing, Josh Schuster to the edge with Moses Suli and Karl Lawton out. Unsurprisingly, Michael Maguire has named the same Tigers 17 that beat the Broncos last week.
The Sea Eagles have named arguably their best 17 of the 2021 NRL season. This after beating the Dragons last week without four of their best. While the Tigers picked up a much-needed win in Round 18, it came more as a result of the Broncos losing it than the Tigers winning it. Wests were dominated early. If Brisbane could hold onto the ball and display any sort of game management, it would have been close to over by halftime. Instead, the Tigers showed promising resolve to hang in the contest and make the Broncos pay for a litany of errors. Resolve won’t win it for Wests this week, though. Their effort against Brisbane won’t even keep this one close. Without a massive improvement from the Tigers, the Sea Eagles will do it comfortably.
Penrith Panthers v Brisbane Broncos @ Suncorp Stadium
|Dylan Edwards||1||Tesi Niu|
|Charlie Staines||2||Corey Oates|
|Stephen Crichton||3||Kotoni Staggs|
|Matt Burton||4||Herbie Farnworth|
|Brian To’o||5||Jamayne Isaako|
|Jarome Luai||6||Tyson Gamble|
|Tyrone May||7||Brodie Croft|
|Moses Leota||8||Thomas Flegler|
|Api Koroisau||9||Jake Turpin|
|James Fisher-Harris||10||Payne Haas|
|Viliame Kikau||11||Alex Glenn|
|Kurt Capewell||12||Jordan Riki|
|Isaah Yeo||13||Kobe Hetherington|
|Mitch Kenny||14||Cory Paix|
|Scott Sorensen||15||Rhys Kennedy|
|Spencer Leniu||16||Keenan Palasia|
|Liam Martin||17||TC Robati|
History: Played 38, Panthers 14, Broncos 23
Last Meeting: Round 6, 2021: Panthers 20 def. Broncos 12
Final Thoughts: It wasn’t pretty, but the Penrith Panthers outlasted an injury-ravaged Warriors 30-16 in Round 18. Conversely, the Brisbane Broncos tripped over themselves and threw away two competition points as the Tigers ran out to a 42-24 victory.
Jarome Luai is back for the Panthers. Somehow, Tyrone May has retained the #7 jersey with Matt Burton into the centres and Brent Naden relegated to the reserves. Cory Paix is the only new face in the Broncos 17 this week.
The Panthers are obviously a different team without Nathan Cleary and haven’t played their best football in recent weeks. However, the return of Jarome Luai will close the gap. He is capable of filling some of the Cleary role and will return Penrith’s left edge to close to its best. It’s an area the Broncos struggle to defend. Alex Glenn and Jordan Riki have both been poor defending on the edge while Kotoni Staggs isn’t known for his defensive prowess. They’re not at their peak, but the Panthers still have a fruitful avenue to explore down on Saturday.
St. George-Illawarra Dragons v Gold Coast Titans @ Cbus Super Stadium
|Matthew Dufty||1||AJ Brimson|
|Jordan Pereira||2||Greg Marzhew|
|Gerard Beale||3||Brian Kelly|
|Cody Ramsey||4||Patrick Herbert|
|Mathew Feagai||5||Corey Thompson|
|Jayden Sullivan||6||Ashley Taylor|
|Ben Hunt||7||Toby Sexton|
|Blake Lawrie||8||Jarrod Wallace|
|Andrew McCullough||9||Mitch Rein|
|Josh Kerr||10||Moeaki Fotuaika|
|Jack Bird||11||Kevin Proctor|
|Tariq Sims||12||David Fifita|
|Josh McGuire||13||Tino Fa’asuamaleaui|
|Adam Clune||14||Tyrone Peachey|
|Tyrell Fuimaono||15||Sam Lisone|
|Jamayne Taunoa-Brown||16||Jaimin Jolliffe|
|Jack de Belin||17||Beau Fermor|
History: Played 24, Dragons 16, Titans 8
Last Meeting: Round 16, 2020: Titans 14 def. Dragons 10
Final Thoughts: The St. George-Illawarra Dragons face a tough few weeks but will be somewhat happy to get out of Round 18 with a respectable 32-18 loss to the Sea Eagles. The Gold Coast Titans, on the other hand, continue to disappoint in 2021. Their 26-8 loss to the Eels is their 11th of the season.
The Dragons list continues to be a mess. Ben Hunt is the only player in the backline to start in the same spot this week. Jack de Belin also moves to the bench with Josh Kerr to prop and Josh McGuire to lock. Phillip Sami, Jamal Fogarty and Erin Clark are all out for the Titans. Toby Sexton will make his NRL debut for Fogarty, Greg Marzhew to the wing and Mitch Rein onto the bench.
Good luck getting a decent read on these two teams. The Dragons are rotating players in and out of the 17. Those that remain week-to-week are shuffling around different positions. Meanwhile, the Titans continue to be one of the most frustrating and disappointing teams in the NRL this season. They can look the goods one minute before David Fifita is hooked the next. One thing we do know is neither side is particularly strong defensively. While the Dragons have performed admirably in that department this season, the lack of cohesion is bound to have an impact.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks @ Cbus Super Stadium
|Nick Meaney||1||William Kennedy|
|Corey Allan||2||Sione Katoa|
|Will Hopoate||3||Connor Tracey|
|Aaron Schoupp||4||Jesse Ramien|
|Jayden Okunbor||5||Ronaldo Mulitalo|
|Lachlan Lewis||6||Braydon Trindall|
|Jake Averillo||7||Shaun Johnson|
|Ava Seumanufagai||8||Toby Rudolf|
|Jeremy Marshall-King||9||Blayke Brailey|
|Jack Hetherington||10||Aaron Woods|
|Corey Waddell||11||Siosifa Talakai|
|Josh Jackson||12||Teig Wilton|
|Luke Thompson||13||Jack Williams|
|Bailey Biondi-Odo||14||Mawene Hiroti|
|Dylan Napa||15||Royce Hunt|
|Joe Stimson||16||Briton Nikora|
|Ofahiki Ogden||17||Braden Hamlin-Uele|
History: Played 33, Bulldogs 19, Sharks 14
Last Meeting: Round 7, 2021: Bulldogs 18 def. Sharks 12
Final Thoughts: Lachlan Lewis brain fart aside, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs impressed in their 32-24 loss to the Rabbitohs. The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, like the Titans, are difficult to read. Their 34-18 loss to the Raiders is the latest head-scratcher.
Jeremy Marshall-King is the only major change to the Bulldogs side this week – Sione Katoa drops to the bench. Aiden Tolman will miss this one for the Sharks with Toby Rudolf to prop, Jack Williams to lock and Royce Hunt to the bench.
The Bulldogs have improved in recent weeks but can’t quite get themselves over the line. A lack of consistent attack and a Lewis brain snap cost them last week. While they have beaten the Sharks once before already, it’s unlikely that they pull off a second victory in this one. Cronulla struggled through last week but the prospect of their backline targeting the Canterbury edges appeals. Shaun Johnson should find some success when linking up with Jesse Ramien while Braydon Trindall and Connor Tracey are forming a dangerous partnership on the left edge. Expect a more focused Sharks side this week.