The team list announcements on Tuesday sent a shockwave through the thinking of NRL fantasy players with a series of young rookies dropped, stars benched and a plethora of key injuries. Adam Keighran of the Warriors, Dylan Brown of the Eels and Braidon Burns of the Rabbitohs among those not featured this weekend, forcing players into a re-shuffle in their thinking. It will be a key round for PODs, with much more research required to find the most cost-effective options for each team. I expect Tom Trbojevic’s staggering return from injury and James Tedesco’s other worldly performance will help quell some of the fire though.
Let’s breakdown each match.
Manly Sea Eagles vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs
The Sea Eagles got on the board last week with a thrashing of the Warriors at Brookvale, largely thanks to the return of their all-world fullback Tom Trbojevic. He is everything to this team, and potentially the most damaging player in the NRL. He’ll need to be at his absolute best against the undefeated Rabbitohs who continue to impress under Wayne Bennett. They and the Roosters appear the two teams to beat at the moment, but at Manly’s fortress anything can happen. This is a must-watch game with plenty of fantasy potential.
Gun: Cody Walker ($12.4m)
Both Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds have been the beneficiaries of the Rabbitohs’ red hot start to the season with both averaging nearly 500 on the season. Manly are the worst defensive team in the competition and even at home I can’t see them keeping the Rabbitohs below 30. Walker plays on the deadliest edge in the NRL and has been on fire this season with attacking stats, so I’m backing him to continue. Either half would be an astute choice.
Dud: Daly Cherry-Evans ($15.6m)
Priced as an absolute premium in the position but Daly Cherry-Evans is hugely dependent on attacking stats for his scores and against a solid defensive team and at that cost I don’t see the value. Last week his combination with Tom Trbojevic was unstoppable last week but this isn’t the Warriors. I don’t think there’s any justifying spending that much money on a team that could be in for a long night against a quality opponent.
Point of Difference: Corey Allen ($5.7m)
With Greg Inglis ruled out again, Corey Allen emerges as a top line budget buy again this week after a strong 310 last week without major attacking stats. Manly’s horrific defence means Allen will have plenty of opportunity to rack up points on the Rabbitohs’ deadly left edge. If you can get a starting outside back at a low price in a premium attacking team you do it every time.
North Queensland Cowboys vs. Canberra Raiders
The Cowboys were extremely disappointing last week after two impressive opening showings. They were dismantled at home by a Sharks team that has looked constipated through its opening rounds, and the absence of Jason Taumalolo really shone through as they were unable to get ahold of the Cronulla pack. Luckily for them they face a Canberra side that have lost plenty of last year’s forward grunt, so they shouldn’t face the same issues. expect a big game out of the Cowboys’ versatile forwards.
Gun: Jordan McLean ($11.6m)
Jordan McLean has emerged as a premium front row forward in his second season with the Cowboys and particularly in the absence of Jason Taumalolo, he is a prime candidate for any side. He’s seen a minutes increase with Taumalolo gone and appears to be harnessing the immense talent he’s shown throughout his career while increasing his work rate and decreasing his errors. He’ll threaten Origin this year, and with a 535 average he’s an absolute gun.
Dud: Josh Papalii ($14m)
Josh Papalii continues to struggle in the front row role as his minutes and impact decrease exponentially from the standard he has set over the past few seasons. His damaging edge runs have disappeared, instead becoming much more containable for the big men in the middle. You cannot justify the money on Papalii until Canberra wake up and send him back out to be Jarrod Croker’s bodyguard.
Point of Difference: Jake Granville ($10.3m)
Jake Granville continues to have hugely low ownership and it needs to stop. The livewire Cowboys hooker has clearly been given much more of a role to run this year, largely due to the retirement of Johnathan Thurston who demanded quick service and didn’t want Granville jumping out of dummy half lessening his influence. Michael Morgan is the opposite, an elite support play half with immense speed, their combination has proved huge this season and Granville in particular is benefitting, averaging a monstrous 579. Start picking him people.
Parramatta Eels vs. Cronulla Sharks
The Eels were brought crashing back to earth last week as the Roosters reminded them of where they really stand in the NRL. Nonetheless they will be buoyed by their opening half against the premiers and will be confident they can put in a good showing, even in the absence of superstar rookie Dylan Brown. The Sharks will be looking to build on last week’s shock result over the Cowboys, with Shaun Johnson’s performance particularly impressive. A shake-up in the spine sees Josh Dugan the fullback in the absence of Matt Moylan, so Johnson’s role will become even more important given Dugan’s lack of playmaking ability. He’s my gun.
Gun: Shaun Johnson ($14.7m)
Shaun Johnson has acclimatised to life on Sydney’s southern beaches extremely quickly and has established the side as his own within a month of footy. The team is learning how to play around Johnson, which is so crucial given his unique style of play. Johnson, a superstar touch rugby player, tends to drift sideways a lot, looking for holes in the defence, to beat a man with a step and find a straight runner. It is imperative for his edge forwards and outside backs to play north and south, and the Sharks are getting there. He’s my best play in the halves this week.
Dud: Peni Terepo ($12.1m)
An intriguing prospect to the start the year but Peni Terepo appears to be far from earning a starting role and he is far too awkwardly priced to invest in. His base stats and points per minute make him a point of interest for fantasy players but unless he finds his back back into the starting back row, you can’t be spending $12 million Terepo.
Point of Difference: Jayden Brailey ($8.7m)
If you’re looking for a budget hooker, you could a lot worse than Jayden Brailey. The young no.9 appears to have taken a big step this year and is thriving playing off an elite half like Shaun Johnson. Brailey doesn’t seem to be hugely affected by the presence of his brother on the bench, averaging 533 on the year which puts him around that elite category. Won’t break the bank and offers real POD value.
Melbourne Storm vs. Canterbury Bulldogs
No matter who leaves the Melbourne Storm it appears the Melbourne Storm will always be the same Melbourne Storm. Atop the table, undefeated and comfortably beating everyone they’ve faced so far, it appears this dynasty is no closer to finishing, even with two-thirds of their legendary trio now departed. The Bulldogs are the complete opposite, and despite a shock win over the Tigers last week, for mine are still comfortably the worst team in the competition. I’d be stunned if they get on the scoreboard here.
Gun: Cameron Smith ($14.1m)
The old superstar is still rolling out mammoth scores, one of few players averaging north of 600 on the year. You feel like Cameron Smith still hasn’t had one of those games of complete dominance with several line break assists, try assists and a bunch of goals, yet still he’s averaging 614. He’s still the man as far as NRL fantasy goes and you’ll never go wrong picking him.
Dud: William Hopoate ($12.2m)
William Hopoate, particularly relegated to the centre role, is an irrelevant fantasy player unless he’s churning out attacking stats. His base stats is disappointing for a player of Origin pedigree and coming up against an elite defensive side and with Kieran Foran now out long term AGAIN Hopoate is a no go. Priced as a premium outside back but far from it. Avoid.
Point of Difference: Aiden Tolman ($12m)
He remains the only Bulldog I’d go near, but Aiden Tolman is well worth your consideration despite the dumpster fire he plays in and his ownership is extremely low for someone averaging 560. He’s a workaholic among a team with no leadership or direction, and if they’re to keep it remotely close he will need to get through a mountain of work, which he often does. He’s a most reliable weekly pick.
Newcastle Knights vs. St George Illawarra Dragons
The Dragons broke their duck last week but at a huge cost as skipper Gareth Widdop suffered a season and NRL career-ending shoulder injury. I actually think this will make St George better. No team is advantaged without a player of Widdop’s quality, but given the showing through the first three weeks of the three halves unable to play together, replacing a halfback out of position with a legitimate support-playing fullback will not only improve the play of Ben Hunt and Corey Norman but give the Dragons much more shape, space and fluency. The Knights have given in to pressure and moved Kalyn Ponga back to fullback after a failed experiment of him in the halves. This will be an absolute cracker, they always are when these teams play.
Gun: Kalyn Ponga ($13.8m)
Kalyn Ponga has finally been shifted back to the fullback role where he was nearly named the Dally M medalist in his first full season in first grade. He is one of the finest fantasy players we’ve seen in recent years playing at the back and he comes up against a Dragons defence no one believes in. It’s time for Ponga to return to being the fantasy stud we all know he is.
Dud: Mitchell Pearce ($12.2m)
Mitchell Pearce is having one of the poorest fantasy years of his career. Whether it was to do with accommodating Ponga in the halves or something else I don’t know, but either way he is averaging a HORRIFIC 72 on the year and you cannot go near him until he demonstrates something different. It’s one of the more shocking statistical numbers I’ve seen this season.
Point of Difference: Matt Dufty ($9.8m)
He’s been bottled up the first few rounds coming off the bench but Matt Dufty is ready to explode and I think he could thrive running off Corey Norman. Last year he showed flashes of being able to get his name into the elite fullback conversation and he will be all the better for another year of top grade footy. He’s been working on his ball playing all off season and Norman represents a player with more unpredictability than Widdop, which could suit the freakish speed and support play of Dufty. He’s underpriced for a player of his ability and in a top side. Could be a winning play this week.
That wraps up Round 4 – once you pick your team at PlayON, that is. Head to the Contest Lobby now and play for your share of guaranteed cash prize.