Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, looks over all 16 teams and previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 20 matches.
Sydney Roosters v Parramatta Eels @ BB Print Stadium
|James Tedesco||1||Clint Gutherson|
|Daniel Tupou||2||Maika Sivo|
|Josh Morris||3||Tom Opacic|
|Adam Keighran||4||Waqa Blake|
|Joseph Manu||5||Blake Ferguson|
|Drew Hutchison||6||Dylan Brown|
|Sam Walker||7||Jake Arthur|
|Jared Waerea-Hargreaves||8||Reagan Campbell-Gillard|
|Sam Verrills||9||Reed Mahoney|
|Isaac Liu||10||Junior Paulo|
|Angus Crichton||11||Isaiah Papali’i|
|Sitili Tupouniua||12||Ryan Matterson|
|Victor Radley||13||Nathan Brown|
|Lachlan Lam||14||Bryce Cartwright|
|Nat Butcher||15||Shaun Lane|
|Egan Butcher||16||Oregon Kaufusi|
|Siosiua Taukeiaho||17||Will Smith|
History: Played 36, Roosters 22, Eels 13
Last Meeting: Round 9, 2021: Eels 31 def. Roosters 18
Final Thoughts: The Sydney Roosters handled the Knights with relative ease to win 28-8 in Round 19. Although, it came at a cost. Meanwhile, the Parramatta Eels haven’t done anything to quell their reputation as flat-track bullies following a 12-10 loss to the Raiders.
Josh Morris is back and will take up a spot in the Roosters centres alongside Adam Keighran. Joey Manu continues his role as Mr Fix It and has been named on the wing this week. Tom Opacic returns for the Eels with debutant Will Penisini to make way.
The hits keep coming for the Roosters, but, as usual, they continue to respond. James Tedesco is a match-winner on his own and the playing group around him always know where to be and when. Parramatta, on the other hand, suffered an “as usual” of their own last week in going down to the Raiders. As the going got tough, the Eels couldn’t find the answers in attack. They’ll struggle to do so again this week without Mitchell Moses. Creativity is an issue without him. Their crash and bash approach through the middle only gets them so far. If there is one area this injury-ravaged Roosters side can hold firm, it’s in the middle. This should be the sort of clash you expect from 4th vs 5th on the NRL ladder.
Wests Tigers v New Zealand Warriors @ Suncorp Stadium
|Daine Laurie||1||Reece Walsh|
|David Nofoaluma||2||Dallin Watene-Zelezniak|
|Moses Mbye||3||Adam Pompey|
|Tommy Talau||4||Euan Aitken|
|Ken Maumalo||5||Marcelo Montoya|
|Adam Doueihi||6||Peta Hiku|
|Luke Brooks||7||Sean O’Sullivan|
|Stefano Utoikamanu||8||Jamayne Taunoa-Brown|
|Jacob Liddle||9||Taniela Otukolo|
|James Tamou||10||Ben Murdoch-Masila|
|Shawn Blore||11||Eli Katoa|
|Luciano Leilua||12||Bayley Sironen|
|Joe Ofahengaue||13||Josh Curran|
|Alex Twal||14||Kodi Nikorima|
|Tom Amone||15||Bunty Afoa|
|Tukimihia Simpkins||16||Kane Evans|
|Michael Chee Kam||17||Jazz Tevaga|
History: Played 32, Tigers 16, Warriors 16
Last Meeting: Round 11, 2021: Warriors 30 def. Tigers 26
Final Thoughts: Wests Tigers couldn’t take their performance in Round 18 through to Round 19 as they copped a 44-24 hiding from the Sea Eagles. It pales in comparison to the Warriors, though. They won’t be able to forget the 60 points South Sydney hung on them any time soon.
Luke Garner and Thomas Mikaele are both out for the Tigers, replaced by Shawn Blore and Joe Ofahengaue. Moses Mbye is back in the starting side for Junior Pauga while Tom Amone, Michael Chee Kam and Alex Twal are all on the bench. The Warriors team list is a mess. Peta Hiku returns from injury to start at five-eighth while Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Chad Townsend, Matt Lodge, Addin Fonua-Blake, Leeson Ah Mau and Jack Murchie are all out.
The history of these two teams – both recent and long-term – suggest anything could happen in this game. While favourites, it’s difficult to trust the Tigers to get the job done on Friday night. They’ve displayed an unwillingness to defend while their attack is still finding its feet as Michael Maguire shuffles around his halves and outside backs. Meanwhile, the Warriors can’t catch a break. With Roger Tuivasa-Sheck now gone, they lack genuine quality in the side. This is a wooden spoon-calibre side on paper. It’s one the Tigers should win comfortably, but few will be confident of them doing so. It will only take a strong start from the Warriors to begin sowing seeds of doubt into the Tigers and Nathan Brown’s side will surely respond to the hammering last week. The opening 20 minutes will decide this one.
Brisbane Broncos v North Queensland Cowboys @ Suncorp Stadium
|Tesi Niu||1||Jake Granville|
|Corey Oates||2||Kyle Feldt|
|Kotoni Staggs||3||Murray Taulagi|
|Herbie Farnworth||4||Connelly Lemuelu|
|Jamayne Isaako||5||Kane Bradley|
|Tyson Gamble||6||Scott Drinkwater|
|Brodie Croft||7||Tom Dearden|
|Keenan Palasia||8||Francis Molo|
|Jake Turpin||9||Reece Robson|
|Payne Haas||10||Jordan McLean|
|Alex Glenn||11||Shane Wright|
|Jordan Riki||12||Mitchell Dunn|
|Kobe Hetherington||13||Jason Taumalolo|
|Danny Levi||14||Tom Gilbert|
|Rhys Kennedy||15||Heilum Luki|
|Ethan Bullemor||16||Coen Hess|
|TC Robati||17||Ben Hampton|
History: Played 51, Broncos 32, Cowboys 18
Last Meeting: Round 9, 2021: Cowboys 19 def. Broncos 18
Final Thoughts: The Brisbane Broncos let two competition points slip when losing 18-12 to the Panthers last week. Their inability to execute when it matters keeps them in the wooden spoon race. The North Queensland Cowboys, on the other hand, will take a lot of confidence out of their 20-16 loss to the Storm.
Thomas Flegler is out with Keenan Palasia to start and TC Robati joining the Broncos bench. Danny Levi is also on the bench. Meanwhile, the Cowboys will start the same 13 with Ben Hampton taking Daejarn Asi’s spot on the bench.
Plenty will tell you the Broncos put in a good performance to push the Panthers close last week. In reality, they did everything they could to lose it and there aren’t many positives to take out of the 80 minutes overall. The same issues plagued the side. Most notably, an ineffective attack. It’s an area the Cowboys can dominate with what Scott Drinkwater and Reece Robson provide with the ball. With two strong centres and a pack that can roll through the middle, the Cowboys should have an advantage in the yardage game, too. Once the Broncos are on the back foot, they tend to stay there.
These two clubs always produce a thrilling contest. While the current squads are nothing to write home about on paper, this game still might be.
St. George-Illawarra Dragons v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ Browne Park
|Tyrell Sloan||1||Latrell Mitchell|
|Mathew Feagai||2||Josh Mansour|
|Corey Norman||3||Dane Gagai|
|Talatau Amone||4||Campbell Graham|
|Gerard Beale||5||Jaxson Paulo|
|Jayden Sullivan||6||Cody Walker|
|Ben Hunt||7||Adam Reynolds|
|Josh Kerr||8||Mark Nicholls|
|Andrew McCullough||9||Damien Cook|
|Poasa Faamausili||10||Thomas Burgess|
|Billy Burns||11||Keaon Koloamatangi|
|Tyrell Fuimaono||12||Jayden Su’A|
|Tariq Sims||13||Jai Arrow|
|Adam Clune||14||Blake Taaffe|
|Jaiden Hunt||15||Liam Knight|
|Jackson Ford||16||Patrick Mago|
|Kaide Ellis||17||Jacob Host|
History: Played 34, Dragons 17, Rabbitohs 17
Last Meeting: Round 12, 2020: Rabbitohs 32 def. Dragons 24
Final Thoughts: The St. George-Illawarra Dragons continue to struggle in the wake of Paul Vaughan’s BBQ party that saw 12 players suspended. They never looked likely in going down 32-10 to the Titans. For the South Sydney Rabbitohs, their 60-22 win over the Warriors was never in doubt.
Tyrell Sloan is in for the Dragons with Matt Dufty dropped. Corey Norman returns but Jayden Sullivan keeps his spot at five-eighth with Norman into the centres. Jack de Belin, Jack Bird and Blake Lawrie will serve their bans with Poasa Faamausili, Billy Burns and Tyrell Fuimaono to start in their place. Cameron Murray will sit this one out for the Rabbitohs with Jai Arrow to lock. Campbell Graham also returns to replace Taane Milne.
The Dragons are struggling to hang onto their place in the Top 8 and nothing short of their best performance in 2021 will win them this one. In fact, they’ll need their best just to keep close. The Rabbitohs are on fire with the ball in hand. Left and right or through the middle, they’re finding gaps and scoring points. While the Bunnies left edge is still the best in the business, they’ve been exploring down the right edge more and more in recent weeks. Expect them to go wide early and often with Talatau Amone and Corey Norman tasked with defending in the Dragons centres this week. Souths have looked vulnerable when they’re made to work hard in the middle and require patience in attack. However, the Dragons don’t have the pack to trigger that vulnerability. This could get ugly.
Newcastle Knights v Canberra Raiders @ Suncorp Stadium
|Kalyn Ponga||1||Jordan Rapana|
|Enari Tuala||2||Harley Smith-Shields|
|Kurt Mann||3||Jarrod Croker|
|Bradman Best||4||Sebastian Kris|
|Hymel Hunt||5||Semi Valemei|
|Phoenix Crossland||6||Jack Wighton|
|Jake Clifford||7||Sam Williams|
|Jacob Saifiti||8||Josh Papalii|
|Jayden Brailey||9||Josh Hodgson|
|Daniel Saifiti||10||Emre Guler|
|Tyson Frizell||11||Corey Harawira-Naera|
|Mitchell Barnett||12||Elliott Whitehead|
|Connor Watson||13||Hudson Young|
|Sauaso Sue||14||Tom Starling|
|David Klemmer||15||Matthew Timoko|
|Josh King||16||Iosia Soliola|
|Brodie Jones||17||Joseph Tapine|
History: Played 40, Knights 19, Raiders 19
Last Meeting: Round 9, 2021: Knights 24 def. Raiders 16
Final Thoughts: The Newcastle Knights failed to capitalise on an injury-ravaged Roosters defensive line in what Adam O’Brien called “low-IQ” footy throughout their 28-8 loss. Meanwhile, the Canberra Raiders picked up an impressive 12-10 win over the Eels to give their finals hopes a significant boost.
Bradman Best returns for the Knights with David Klemmer also back in the side. Mitchell Pearce is a chance at returning after being named in the reserves. Jack Wighton and Elliott Whitehead are big ins for the Raiders while Hudson Young takes Ryan Sutton’s spot at lock.
The Raiders have finally turned up for the 2021 NRL season. Their win last week made it three in a row and adding Wighton and Whitehead to the mix will only add to their attack. With Josh Hodgson spending a lot of time at lock when Tom Starling is installed into the game, the prospect of Jack Wighton taking possession wider of the ruck and with room in front of him appeals against what is a leaky Knights right edge defence. It shouldn’t take too many points to get past the Knights on Saturday. Adam O’Brien referred to the “low-IQ” of his side after they failed to make the most of Sydney’s injury issues last week. Presented with a right edge defence of Sam Walker and Lachlan Lam defending beside each other, Newcastle barely tested them before the Chooks took over the game. A late call-up for Mitchell Pearce will bring these two sides closer together. However, without him, the Raiders are deserving favourites.
Melbourne Storm v Penrith Panthers @ Suncorp Stadium
|Nicho Hynes||1||Dylan Edwards|
|Dean Ieremia||2||Charlie Staines|
|Reimis Smith||3||Stephen Crichton|
|Justin Olam||4||Brent Naden|
|Josh Adoo-Carr||5||Robert Jennings|
|Cameron Munster||6||Matt Burton|
|Jahrome Hughes||7||Jarome Luai|
|Jesse Bromwich||8||Moses Leota|
|Brandon Smith||9||Mitch Kenny|
|Christian Welch||10||Liam Martin|
|Felise Kaufusi||11||Viliame Kikau|
|Kenny Bromwich||12||Kurt Capewell|
|Dale Finucane||13||Matthew Eisenhuth|
|Aaron Pene||14||Izack Tago|
|Tui Kamikamica||15||Scott Sorensen|
|Chris Lewis||16||Spencer Leniu|
|Ryan Papenhuyzen||17||J’maine Hopgood|
History: Played 37, Storm 27, Panthers 10
Last Meeting: Round 3, 2021: Panthers 12 def. Storm 10
Final Thoughts: The Melbourne Storm were made to work hard for the first time in months but snuck past the Cowboys 20-16. It was a similar case for the Penrith Panthers who struggled in their 18-12 win over the Broncos.
Cameron Munster, Felise Kaufusi and Dale Finucane are all back this week. Harry Grant is onto the Storm bench, too. Ryan Papenhuyzen will again come off the bench. Brian To’o, Tyrone May, Isaah Yeo and James Fisher-Harris all miss this one for the Panthers.
This should have been a candidate for Game of the NRL Season but the Panthers are without too many of their best players. While the Storm struggled to beat the Cowboys last week, it’s a blip on their period of dominance – not the end. Their attack is still ruthless and it showed in the way they scored points in Round 19. Penrith’s attack is still one of the best in the NRL but it does suffer without Nathan Cleary. Conceding 10.3 points per game overall in 2021, the Panthers have allowed 19.3 points through them per game in the five Cleary has missed. His ability to build pressure and pin the opposition in their own end has been sorely missed. It will be missed on Saturday against a Storm side that, even when working out of their own end, explore down the edges and work up the field with ease. It’s the absences in Penrith’s pack that is the biggest concern. Melbourne will have too many opportunities inside the 20-metre line to be kept to less than 20 points.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Gold Coast Titans @ Cbus Super Stadium
|Corey Allan||1||AJ Brimson|
|Nick Meaney||2||Greg Marzhew|
|Will Hopoate||3||Brian Kelly|
|Aaron Schoupp||4||Esan Marsters|
|Jayden Okunbor||5||Corey Thompson|
|Jake Averillo||6||Ashley Taylor|
|Kyle Flanagan||7||Toby Sexton|
|Jack Hetherington||8||Jarrod Wallace|
|Jeremy Marshall-King||9||Mitch Rein|
|Luke Thompson||10||Moeaki Fotuaika|
|Corey Waddell||11||Kevin Proctor|
|Adam Elloitt||12||David Fifita|
|Josh Jackson||13||Tino Fa’asuamaleaui|
|Bailey Biondi-Odo||14||Tyrone Peachey|
|Dylan Napa||15||Sam Lisone|
|Ava Seumanufagai||16||Beau Fermor|
|Matt Doorey||17||Jaimin Jolliffe|
History: Played 19, Bulldogs 9, Titans 10
Last Meeting: Round 11, 2021: Titans 30 def. Bulldogs 20
Final Thoughts: The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs struggled to start in their 44-24 loss to the Sharks. While they fought back well, the damage had been done. David Fifita’s damaging runs headlined the Gold Coast Titans 32-10 over the Dragons. The game changed when he came onto the field.
Kyle Flanagan is back for the Bulldogs – he replaces Lachlan Lewis. Adam Elliott also returns with Luke Thompson into prop and Josh Jackson to lock. Fifita has been named to start for the Titans on Sunday with Beau Fermor back to the bench.
Two promising performances went to waste as the Bulldogs failed to turn up early last week. They allowed the Sharks to build a lead and never looked like reeling it in. While the Titans are well accustomed to blowing leads themselves, they’ve started to strike some form as they begin a charge towards the Top 8. Fifita is the obvious catalyst. His individual efforts have papered over a poor Titans attack, for the most part, this season. However, they displayed some variation in how they used him last week which offers some hope of improvement. With some variation in their use of Fifita, the Titans will open up opportunities for AJ Brimson on the edges, too. If the Titans are truly a Top 8 side they will prove it early on Sunday.
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles @ Moreton Daily Stadium
|Will Kennedy||1||Tom Trbojevic|
|Sione Katoa||2||Jason Saab|
|Will Chambers||3||Brad Parker|
|Jesse Ramien||4||Morgan Harper|
|Ronaldo Mulitalo||5||Reuben Garrick|
|Connor Tracey||6||Kieran Foran|
|Braydon Trindall||7||Daly Cherry-Evans|
|Aiden Tolman||8||Taniela Paseka|
|Blayke Brailey||9||Lachlan Croker|
|Aaron Woods||10||Marty Taupau|
|Briton Nikora||11||Haumole Olakau’atu|
|Siosifa Talakai||12||Josh Schuster|
|Toby Rudolf||13||Jake Trbojevic|
|Braden Hamlin-Uele||14||Dylan Walker|
|Royce Hunt||15||Karl Lawton|
|Jack Williams||16||Curtis Sironen|
|Andrew Fifita||17||Toafofoa Sipley|
History: Played 32, Sharks 10, Sea Eagles 22
Last Meeting: Round 7, 2020: Sharks 40 def. Sea Eagles 22
Final Thoughts: The good version of the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks turned up for long enough to beat the Bulldogs 44-24 last week. Meanwhile, the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles produced the same end result in their clash with the Tigers.
Shaun Johnson is out for the Sharks with Braydon Trindall and Connor Tracey linking up in the halves. Will Chambers is back into the centres. Curtis Sironen makes his long-awaited return for the Sea Eagles with Karl Lawton also back. Josh Aloiai and Sean Keppie are out of the side.
The Sharks may have piled up 44 points in Round 19, but a lot of it came through Shaun Johnson who won’t be out there on Sunday. He’s the catalyst for a lot of what they do in attack. While their pack can match it with Manly in the middle, Cronulla will struggle for points. The Sea Eagles have rarely struggled for points when Tom Trbojevic is on the field. He will be licking his lips at the prospect of going up against what is a flimsy Sharks middle defence. While strong in yardage, the Sharks struggle for speed and mobility in the middle of the field and Trbojevic can have a field day. Likewise, Lachlan Croker who is growing in confidence at dummy half and Dylan Walker who has found success in a middle role off the bench. The gap between 6th on the NRL ladder and the rest is the biggest it has ever been. This match is likely to prove it.