Boy, oh boy, were we treated to some incredible footy last week. Matt Thompson of Channel Nine said it was the best opening week of footy he could remember, and I think I agree with him. Barring only the Panthers game, every match was a classic.
The Dragons obviously were the surprise of the week, throwing up 48 points against the Broncos in Brisbane despite a plethora of injuries to key players. They are rewarded with a match with South Sydney, who three times won the game against Melbourne before finally losing it. The Sharks host the Panthers in the other final, but all eyes will be on the historic battle between the two most successful clubs in rugby league history.
Let’s break down this weekend’s action and see who you should consider locking into your daily fantasy NRL lineups.
Cronulla Sharks vs. Penrith Panthers
The Sharks arguably were the better team in their qualifying final with the Roosters last week, but some uncharacteristic errors and a couple of moments of magic from Easts was enough for them to get through and the Sharks to play again. Crushingly they lost Wade Graham yet again to injury, and even worse it was an ACL. That takes a huge amount of the attacking ability out of Cronulla. They face a Panthers team no one believes in and who appear to be on borrowed time. I wonder whether that could work in their favour. There will be some twists and turns in this one.
Gun: Valentine Holmes ($21m)
Even against the best defence in the competition last week, Valentine Holmes still put up 2105 points. I’m done doubting the guy, and the outside back position is one of the hardest to choose from. Pick him every week he plays. I also do not trust the Penrith defence, so there’s no reason why he won’t go huge again.
Dud: Waqa Blake ($13.9m)
A POD favourite of mine all year, but Waqa Blake likely will be the victim of typically low scoring finals games and particularly a matchup against the very defensively astute Sharks. Blake is fulfilling the talent we all know he’s had, and will be ripe for the picking next season again, but after a starring month or so of footy, last week’s 600 was evidence the value probably isn’t there any more. I think there’ll be under 40 points scored in his one and the Sharks will clamp down on the freakish talented Blake.
Point of Difference: Scott Sorensen ($7.4m)
Perfectly priced and promoted to the starting team in the place of the injured Wade Graham, Scott Sorensen is a no brainer. He produced north of 1000 last week and he will do better than that here. He racked up the points when filling in at various times throughout the year and the workaholic should be in every side.
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs. St George Illawarra Dragons
What a privilege this is. The two greatest clubs we have in rugby league, the teams with the most premierships, the most immortals, the most history, the largest traditional fanbases, and a deep-seeded rivalry built on respect. It’s shocking we’ve been treated to this, with the Dragons pulling off one of the more shocking results in recent memory, particularly given they spent prolonged periods of the game without Gareth Widdop and nearly the entire game without James Graham. They were unstoppable last week, playing a brand of footy that saw them jump to early premiership favourites. They will believe they can beat the Rabbitohs, but it will be won in the forwards. They need to match the early Burgess onslaught, and if they can get out of the opening 20 minutes or so level or even ahead, they will fancy themselves. The Roosters await the winner, just to make it that little bit more special.
Gun: Sam Burgess ($20.5m)
Sam Burgess rose to the challenge last week, as he often does, and nearly led his side past the Storm in Melbourne in what would have been one of the best wins in the club’s recent history. Burgess was immense, throwing up 1505 points in a performance that showed he is willing to sacrifice his body to get the Rabbits back to a grand final. This will be a forward’s match, and I’d be surprised if Burgess gets much rest. A safe pick to go big.
Dud: John Sutton ($18.5m)
The dangerous back rower has been critical to South Sydney’s lethal left side attack this year, but this week is not the matchup for him. John Sutton comes up against All-Universe edge forward Tyson Frizell, who has had the season of his career. He was one of if not the best player on the park last week for the Dragons, putting in a starring role combining a wonderful offensive display with rock solid defence. He will keep Sutton quiet offensively, and worry him defensively.
Point of Difference: Robert Jennings ($14.7m)
I don’t think people quiet understood how important a seemingly irrelevant winger was until Robert Jennings was injured. The Rabbitohs’ attack stifled in his absence, and while that obviously was not solely because of him, there is no doubting he has discovered a perfect sense of timing and support with Greg Inglis and Cody Walker on the left. The reason I’m taking him here is because he is playing opposite Nene MacDonald and Zac Lomax. MacDonald is a freak athlete capable of scoring some of the best tries you’ll ever see, but he is inconsistent at best as a defender and Dragons fans know well his tendency to leak points. Lomax was wonderful last week and is a solid defender, but rather inexperienced. I can see Jennings having joy down the left.
That’s all for this weekend’s NRL games, now be sure to get your lineups in.