Saturday and Sunday see a series of mouth-watering fixtures including the four best teams so far this season all going head to head. The table topping Dragons host the second-placed Storm while surprise packets the Warriors and Tigers also face off. But it is the Eels Sharks game to finish Saturday’s fixtures that could prove to be the most interesting, with both needing a strong performance to justify their recent success.
Canberra Raiders vs Gold Coast Titans
The Raiders produced the best performance of the week in Round 8, going into North Queensland and totally outplaying the Cowboys. They must back that performance up with a win at home to the Titans if anyone is going to take them seriously. Gold Coast meanwhile continue to churn away, still a smorgasbord of talent that doesn’t seem to fit together. Both sit among the pack chasing the 8.
Gun: Jai Arrow ($15.2m)
This guy is an absolute must for your team every week. He is astonishingly low priced at just $15m averaging 1500. You will not find a better value for money. I don’t need to write anything else. Pick him.
Dud: Josh Papalii ($20.1m)
The human wrecking ball has had a slow start to the season and you’d think his chances of playing Origin this year are slim. If you’re paying for players in the $20m range you want to be getting more than 1050 points per game, but that is what Josh Papalii is currently offering. It won’t get any easier for him against a monster Titans pack. Avoid.
Point of Difference: Joseph Tapine ($14.6m)
Averaging over 1100 points per game and with all the talent in the world, Joseph Tapine is quickly becoming the player the league believed he could develop into. The rangy, skilful back rower is finding his feet in first grade and now has a clear role under Ricky Stuart, wreak havoc. You feel he has only scratched the surface on what he could achieve, but the signs are good and he is becoming a very enticing option at under $15m.
New Zealand Warriors vs Wests Tigers
Along with the Dragons, these two sides set the competition alight for the first month or two of the competition, stringing together impressive win after impressive win over the competitions best. The Warriors flogged the Roosters in Sydney while the Tigers TWICE beat Melbourne. Both have had a couple of blips since, but this match has the potential to be high scoring and one of the games of the season.
Gun: Esan Marsters ($18.6m)
I told you to keep an eye on this kid a few weeks ago, well he has now made his debut in the gun category. Averaging over 1200 points per game, he has broken the most tackles of any outside back and has the most offloads to boot. He is a base stat machine and he also kicks goals! He’s as good as it gets in the outside backs right now.
Honestly, as I look across this game I really don’t see too many duds. Everyone is pretty fairly priced and I think this game has the potential for high scoring, so I wouldn’t be warning you off anyone in particular.
Point of Difference: Ben Matulino ($16.8m)
At the beginning of the year I thought Ben Matulino would be one of the best left field choices of the season. He has failed to live up to that so far. However, in his first game against his former team, I think Matulino could be in for the game we have been waiting for. A disappointing average of barely over 1000 is not going to set your heart on fire, but Matulino is long overdue a monster score that we all know he is capable of.
Cronulla Sharks vs Parramatta Eels
This I think is as interesting a match as any of the top 4 showdowns. After two months the Eels have finally shown the promise that had people producing them to finish as one of the best teams in the competition, while Cronulla have shaken off a series of high profile injuries to work their way into a nice canter. This will be a ripper.
Gun: Andrew Fifita ($21.5m)
He had a bad one last week, but Andrew Fifita is a top 3 forward option every single week. His minutes and influence were way up on last year even before injuries to Paul Gallen, Wade Graham and Luke Lewis, so two of those three being absent can only mean more good things. Expensive, but worth it.
Dud: Josh Dugan: ($17.9m)
Averaging 1060 and seemingly swapping positions every week, Josh Dugan’s output is too hard to predict. The Sharks are not scoring enough points for him to be threatening in the attacking categories, and his base stats are down after moving from the Dragons. Not in my thinking and shouldn’t be in yours.
Point of Difference: Daniel Alvaro ($16.3m)
It’s probably time we all sit up and take attention of Daniel Alvaro. Quietly he has become one of the leaders of the Eels pack and one of the better forwards in the competition. For a fantasy perspective, his numbers are gold. Averaging just south of 1200 points per game, it seems the only way for Alvaro is up as he continues to earn more minutes with the team. Not exactly the cheapest, but he is becoming a very reliable option.
St George Illawarra Dragons vs Melbourne Storm
This is the game of the round no matter how you want to spin it. These are the clear two best teams in the competition. The Storm are proven, they’ve all been there and done it before. The Dragons are the opposite, they have everything to prove, even to themselves. A win on Sunday will go a long way to convincing everyone they are for real.
Gun: Paul Vaughan ($21.1m)
Paul Vaughan looks finally to be on the path to State of Origin. That should have happened last year, but the recognition is now there. He is the leader of the Dragons pack and rightfully so. The middle of the park for Melbourne is broken right now, with Jesse Bromwich the latest injury. Vaughan could absolutely pummel the Storm through the middle, which has historically been their weakest area.
Dud: Cameron Munster ($20.5m)
Cameron Munster has had a much more difficult time in the no.6 jersey in his second go at the position. He has struggled to find the same space he was afforded playing alongside Cooper Cronk, and is having to assume more playmaking responsibilities than he is probably suited or ready for. The Dragons halves meanwhile are in career best form and I can’t see Munster getting the best of his opposition.
Point of Difference: Tariq Sims ($16m)
It’s taken a little longer than people thought, but Tariq Sims looks to be on the verge of his first Origin appearance. He was touted as the next big thing coming through the system in North Queensland, and made several Emerging Blues squads, but never had the consistency to warrant selection. Until now. Averaging 2 points under 1100, Sims knows how close he is to a sky blue jersey and I am backing him to go hammer and nail in this one to impress Brad Fittler.
Sydney Roosters vs Manly Sea Eagles
If you can figure either of these two out, please let me know. Both could be top 4 sides, both could be bottom 4 sides. It makes no sense how the latter could be true given the rep talent on both, but that is where we are. Manly couldn’t stop a matchbox car with a police roadblock and the Roosters are having more trouble scoring than your drunk uncle keeping track playing Scrabble. This could and should be a classic, but more likely than not it’ll be unwatchable.
Gun: Martin Taupau ($21.9m)
The frightening Martin Taupau has become one of the most dangerous forwards in the competition with his offloads, as he currently leads the competition in the statistic. It makes the giant that much more dangerous with the ball in hand. Averaging over 1300 and $2.3m cheaper than Jake Trbojevic, he could save you a bit of money to spend elsewhere.
Dud: Jake Friend ($18.7m)
Victor Radley is taking his minutes, he seems to have stopped running the ball and the Roosters cannot score. This is the beginning of the end of Jake Friend. Once the queen to Cameron Smith’s king, the heavily-tattooed hooker should not be even remotely in your considerations any more.
Point of Difference: Addin Fonua-Blake ($12.2m)
This is a very odd selection even I’ll admit, but let me finish. Addin Fonua-Blake has well and truly earned his starting role, giving Manly a huge impact off the bench last year. He is incredibly low priced, yet is averaging 1048 points per game. There are guys nearer to $20m who aren’t putting those scores together. He’s also a proven threat near the line and loves to jag a try. He ticks all the boxes, so what are you waiting for?