With Origin now fully in the rear vision mirror, the rugby league’s attention returns back to the NRL and a finals race that for the first time in a long time seems already settled. A three-win gap between the eighth-placed Warriors and ninth-placed Raiders seems insurmountable, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing to play for.
The top 8 absolutely is up for grabs, and Friday’s opener between the Panthers and Sharks has massive implications. Penrith are fighting for the minor premiership with what feels like 4 or 5 teams, while Cronulla are one of four teams on 22 points playing for the home final.
Penrith Panthers vs Cronulla Sharks
The Origin fallout could wreak havoc on this game, particularly the Panthers, so it will be important to keep an eye on any late changes. Maloney and Cleary both have not been named, while Holmes and Peachey have. I don’t expect either to play. Penrith are primed for an assault on the minor premiership, or at the very least locking themselves into the top 4. Their sustained success even in the face of injuries and representative duties is a credit to the foundations Phil Gould and the club have built over the past 5 or so years. Cronulla have used their elite defence to climb their way back into the finals positions, but still have real issues scoring points. If Penrith can score three tries you feel like that might be too much.
Gun: Paul Gallen ($20m)
Paul Gallen, despite myself and many others completely writing him off, has made himself very fantasy relevant again and I think he’s the best gun option in this game. He’s not in the top 10 for averages, an astonishing turnaround, and is banging out regular scores of 1500+. In a game that should be very, very defensive, Gallen should get through a mountain of work and is a great choice.
Dud: Matt Moylan ($14.2m)
Matt Moylan has surprisingly been quite strong in PlayON scoring, which threw me a bit when I was researching this week. However, in a game that I suspect will be low scoring and will be missing Valentine Holmes’ burst off Moylan’s second receiver, I don’t see the value in spending $14m on him. His 950 average makes him one of the better scoring halves, but this one just doesn’t make sense to me.
Point of Difference: Waqa Blake ($12.7m)
After a season up until now completely destroyed by injury, Waqa Blake has returned to Penrith and looks fantastic. He has been touted as a Greg Inglis-level talent, and when you see him in full flight you can see why. Let’s hope he can remain healthy, because the Panthers may have a special talent on their hands. He threw up 1355 on his return last match and I think he’s a very intriguing POD going forward.
Newcastle Knights vs Parramatta Eels
Without Kalyn Ponga, this match and really this fixture doesn’t carry much interest. Both these teams will likely play out seasons that could have taken such different paths if a couple of things had gone different. For the Eels, if they didn’t lose what felt like their first 10 games maybe they’d be in the hunt. For Newcastle, if Mitchell Pearce hadn’t gone down and Ponga hadn’t done his hamstring, maybe they’d too be in the hunt. Either way, I wouldn’t be delaying your Friday night plans to watch this one.
Gun: Nathan Brown ($22.3m)
Like a number of last year’s best, Nathan Brown started the season very slowly but has rebuilt his season and is again a top 25 scorer. His average has ticked up to around 1350, and his return to playing 80 minutes has seen consecutive scores above 1400. He’s the most reliable option in this one, which isn’t saying a whole lot.
Dud: Lachlan Fitzgibbon ($18.7m)
To put it simply, without Kalyn Ponga I don’t think Lachlan Fitzgibbon has any value. He’s built himself into a fantastic young player this season and a very strong fantasy scorer, but Ponga does so much for his game, running fantastic lines off the freak youngster, and he doesn’t carry nearly the same threat without him. Base stats aren’t quite strong enough to be worth nearly $19m.
Point of Difference: Aiden Guerra ($19m)
Aiden Guerra’s ownership is still very low and I don’t know why. He’s averaging above 1250 and is capable of knocking out scores above 1400 purely with his work rate. He’s certainly not the cheapest POD but as far as reliability goes Guerra is right up there, and in a game that should be bereft of defence, if he can find a hole or two he could go massive.