NRL Finals Preview: Week 1

NRL finals preview - fantasy NRL picks

For the first time potentially in my lifetime we head into an NRL finals series that’s really no closer to finding out who the premiers will be and really without a clear indication of who will be playing on the last weekend of September.

The Roosters stormed home to the minor premiership and appear to be the team to beat, however the Rabbitohs, Storm, Sharks and Broncos all offer just as much intrigue and promise. Below them, even the bottom three sides are capable of brilliant football, with both Penrith and the Dragons at one stage topping the ladder, while the Warriors could be the most deadly team in the competition when they’re on. This will be a fascinating month of football.

Let’s take a look the matchups and top daily fantasy picks from each contest.

Melbourne Storm vs South Sydney Rabbitohs

These two teams just a month ago, when South Sydney used a late surge to overcome their more experienced and fancied rivals. The Rabbitohs for the majority of the season were the best side in the competition, winners of nine straight and only losing grip on a top 2 finish with three consecutive losses at the end of the season. They are capable of truly overwhelming football, and will need to be at their absolute best to set up a preliminary final berth. An away trip to Melbourne in the finals is almost always fatal, with very, very few teams over the past decade finding anything resembling success. This is not the same Storm team, and I have never been less confident in them, but doubt them at your peril.

Gun: Damien Cook ($21.2m)

The no.2 fantasy player this season, and only thanks to an absurd final month of footy from James Tedesco. Damien Cook will go close to winning the Dally M medal, he should take out the most improved player and potentially the fan’s player of the year, and maybe he can add a premiership to all of that. What a turnaround for a guy who was backing up an aging Robbie Farah just 12 months ago. He absolutely torched the Storm for nearly 2000 the last time they played and he is the perfect hooker to exploit their infamous issues defending around the ruck. He’s a must-have for me.

Dud: Cameron Smith ($22.2m)

Cameron Smith’s decline as a fantasy superstar has been quite steep this year. He has been completely dominated by Damien Cook, Cameron McInnes and Jake Friend among hookers, yet he’s still more expensive than any of them. His role in the team appears to have been lessened slightly, which is surprising given the departure of Cooper Cronk, and I just think there are much better options in the form of the aforementioned three.

Point of Difference: Greg Inglis ($17.6m)

Greg Inglis has somehow managed to rebuild himself into a viable fantasy option again, after I wrote him off earlier this year. His average is above 1300 and he is situated at the heart of that deadly left edge Rabbitohs attack. He will be defending by Curtis Scott, who was absolutely trampled by baby Inglis Waqa Blake last week, so I’m backing the real thing to go even better.

Penrith Panthers vs New Zealand Warriors

The most unpredictable game of the weekend. The Panthers plummeted out of the top 4 on the back three consecutive losses, that threatened to see them drop to eighth. Fortunately for them, the Storm rested a bunch of players last week and Penrith were able to take advantage, taking a big win and pushing them into a home final position. I don’t trust either of these teams, but the experience of James Maloney for me gives the chocolate soldiers a slight edge. Let’s hope this is an absolute points fest.

Gun: Tohu Harris ($16.8m)

In a game that really is difficult to read, I’m going to take the ball-playing forward over the exciting outside backs as my gun. Tohu Harris is the key to the Warriors’ attack, providing a secondary playmaking option, taking pressure off Shaun Johnson and exploiting the space he creates. An average of over 1300 despite the ups and downs of injuries and the general fiasco that is the Warriors, Harris could wreak havoc against an inexperienced and unproven Panthers left edge. I can see him giving big Bill Kikau nightmares.

Dud: Shaun Johnson ($17.9m)

Shaun Johnson has had his worst fantasy season of the past five years, failing to really notch up any of those absurd games where he has three or four try assists, a couple of line breaks and a try himself, on top of a bunch of goals. Whether it has been injury related or if teams are getting better at defending him on the edges, Johnson has burned fantasy owners countless times this year and the Panthers aren’t awful defensively. Not for me.

Point of Difference: Waqa Blake ($14.3m)

Waqa Blake has proven to be one of my favourite PODs of the season. An immense physical talent, Blake in recent weeks looks to be really learning the position, beating his opponent with more than just his genes and vastly improving his positioning both in defence and attack. A 1311 average despite the streakiness of his team’s attack, Blake should have plenty of chances against an unconvincing Warriors side.

Sydney Roosters vs Cronulla Sharks

The game of the round for me. The Roosters were terrifyingly good in the second half of the season, culminating in an impressive win over the Rabbitohs a month ago that really felt like a grand final preview. It went off the rails slightly after that, with back to back losses to the Raiders and Broncos, before their righted the ship and demolished the Eels to take top spot. The Sharks have been lurking over post Origin period as well, flying up the ladder into the top 4 largely thanks to the excellent play of Valentine Holmes, who finished the NRL’s leading scorer. He’s going to need to be at his absolute best here, but I think the Roosters are just that bit too good for Cronulla.

Gun: Boyd Cordner ($19.4m)

The Roosters captain has been immense since Origin, leading his side to the minor premiership on the back of what appears to be a slightly enhanced role. If you’ve read this blog in recent weeks you will remember my noticing of a clear change in Cordner’s offensive direction, notably his placating to Latrell Mitchell. Cordner has taken on a role similar to that of his opposite Wade Graham, where he is facilitating his outside men, running short side plays and looking to move the ball quickly to his strike outside backs on the edge. It has given his game another edge, and brought line break and try assists into play. Base stats are strong so little risk.

Dud: Valentine Holmes ($20.6m)

Valentine Holmes is largely responsible for the Sharks clawing their way into the top 4, with his 24 tries leading all scorers and also owning more line breaks than anyone in the competition. This week he comes up against the best defence in the NRL in their stadium, and grading on his curve, I don’t think he’s the right investment this week. The Sharks will get another chance should they win or lose, and if it’s a loss he will likely host the Broncos and their leaky defence at Shark Park, where I’d like him a lot more. Roosters will keep it tight, and Val will go below his superhuman average.

Point of Difference: Victor Radley ($12.6m)

Victor Radley has forced his way into a forward pack filled with representative players and young stars and made the no.13 jersey his own. He is a staunch defender and destructive runner of the ball, and has a nose for the try line. At $12.6m there’s tremendous value in a starting player who is not only establishing himself in the top grade but also as a genuine fantasy star of the future.

Brisbane Broncos vs St George Illawarra Dragons

The Broncos may be the hottest team heading into the finals right now and the side no one wants to face. While their defence at times still looks shambolic, they are a team that are peaking at the right time and seem to have found the spark in the attack again. Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima are playing their best footy of the year, Corey Oates might be the best winger in the game, and their forward pack is just about holding up. The Dragons are the opposite. Gareth Widdop is a welcome return in the halves, but Jack De Belin may well miss out after appearing at training in a moon boot during the week. This team has been on a rapid decline since the Origin period and it’s hard to see how this one goes any other way than a Broncos rout.

Gun: Corey Oates ($18.2m)

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride with Corey Oates this season, but he’s about as good as it gets for outside backs this week. The Dragons defensively have been ropeable the last couple of months, while the Broncos’ attack has been clicking on all cylinders. Oates is the biggest beneficiary of stellar Brisbane play, and usually is their finisher down the left edge. I think he’s close to a lock to have a field day on St George and produce another monster score.

Dud: Jack De Belin ($19.5m)

The mail through the week has been despite the moon boot, Jack De Belin is likely to play. I fully expect that to be the case, and they’ll just pump him full of god know’s what and send him into the cauldron. Plus the bloke is much too tough to miss a finals game. All that being said, I don’t think there is a rational reason to pick him. At nearly $20m you want to be guaranteed of minutes and stats, and I don’t think you can demand that from a guy who hasn’t been able to walk properly. He might get near 50 or so minutes, but I think he has less of an impact and potentially has spells defending on the edge to keep him in shape. Avoid.

Point of Difference: Tyson Frizell ($16.9m)

Tyson Frizell has arguably had his best season at club level, and certainly his best ever fantasy output. Frizell has excelled playing outside Ben Hunt as opposed to the reprehensible Josh McCrone, terrorising defences with his footwork and edge running. In recent weeks he’s been defending through the middle thanks to injuries to James Graham and Paul Vaughan, which has helped his base stats further. He finished inside the top 20 scorers with a 1368 average and if the Dragons are to be any hope he will be heavily involved.

That’s all for this weekend’s NRL games, now be sure to get your lineups in.

Good luck!