Sam McPhee gets a head start on Round 8 by sharing who he is (and isn’t) targeting in this week’s fantasy games at PlayON.
The eighth week of the NRL season marks one of the most important on the rugby league calendar as the competition takes centre stage on the nation’s most important holiday, Anzac Day. The Dragons, fresh off their first defeat of the season, play the Roosters in their traditional April 25th encounter while the Storm host the Warriors in a cross-Tasman contest.
Through the opening two months of the season it does not seem we are even remotely closer to determining who will even be in the finals at the end of the year, let alone who will be premiers. The aforementioned Dragons and Warriors top the table with 6 wins and 1 loss each, but if you look down the table even to the last-placed Parramatta Eels, you could make the argument for all 16 teams still making the top eight. It is the most open and unpredictable competition of my lifetime.
St George Illawarra Dragons vs Sydney Roosters
The Dragons had their wakeup call in Auckland on the weekend, going down to a Shaun Johnson-less Warriors in a neutered performance that probably was overdue. St George Illawarra have dominated the competition through the opening six games, combining scintillating attack with airtight defence, but despite this were really yet to put together a complete 80 minute performance. Their inability to kill games off allowed opponents back into games and you felt they could be punished against a clinical team if that were to continue. It certainly did against the Warriors, but it should serve as a reality check for the Saints. The Roosters failed to convince anyone they have sorted out their issues, beating an equally as frustrating Bulldogs team 6-0 in one of the most forgettable games in recent memory. Their talent is undeniable but games are not played out on paper and right now they do not look like a top eight team. They will need to drag the game into the dirt to stop this Dragons side or they could be in for a long day.
Gun: Jack De Belin ($20.9m)
Ex players and pundits are almost in consensus that Jack De Belin will be one of the first players picked by Brad Fittler for his maiden State of Origin coaching journey next month, with the versatile lock not only one of the most reliable players in the game but also a hugely consistent fantasy option. Averaging 1228 despite a slow start to the season means JDB is a top line option and is ripe for the picking against a Roosters team that will likely look to its forward pack to dig their underperforming backs out of their rut. His work rate with the ball has improved, seeing him averaging nearly 120 metres a game alongside 11 offloads. His tackling numbers are slightly down with his minutes, but in the big games De Belin will be trusted by Paul McGregor to play an advanced role. The Anzac Day battles between these two teams are usually won and lost in the forwards, and that plays into JDB’s hands.
Dud: James Tedesco ($21m)
Through two months of the season the Wests Tigers have significantly improved with the loss of James Tedesco and the Sydney Roosters have exponentially declined with the addition of the NSW fullback. It is only a small sample size, but this is the perfect microcosm in a season where so little makes sense. His 1350 average does not lend to that narrative, and despite the obvious struggles he has still managed to translate the few good things he has done into high scores, but this matchup does not offer much hope for Teddy. The Dragons have allowed just 100 points this season, the third best in the NRL, and the Roosters have struggled to just 130 total points in attack. In a traditionally low scoring game, the ceiling for Tedesco seems much too low to justify spending $21 million.
Point of Difference: Tyson Frizell ($16.2m)
After featuring in this category a handful of times, Ryan Matterson can no longer be seen as a POD, instead is a borderline gun each and every week with a 1300+ average. So we will have to look elsewhere. Similarly priced to the Hulk-like edge rower is the equally impressive physical specimen that is Tyson Frizell. Dragons fans have been anticipating an increase in the Friz’s influence and impact for a couple of years now, especially following his performances in Origin in 2016. He has played 80 minutes three times and over 70 twice through seven games, signalling an enhanced role for the leggy back rower. His 1127 average isn’t yet in the gun category, but his potential to go big is there and this could be the game for him to combine base stats and attacking prowess.
Melbourne Storm vs New Zealand Warriors
The Warriors continue to surprise the competition and humiliate the analysis of experts after defeating another top line team without their star halfback Shaun Johnson. From start to finish the New Zealand side outplayed their previously undefeated opponents, and they didn’t have to compromise their style of play to do so. That suggests to me that this team are different than the disappointments that proceeded it. There are few bigger tests in rugby league than playing Melbourne in Melbourne, so we will have another chance to evaluate exactly how good this team is on Anzac Day. The Storm produced one of their better performances of the season knocking off the Broncos in Brisbane, the first time they have notched up back-to-back wins. The halves situation is still an issue for them, but their early season problems seem to be slowly straightening out.
Gun: Simon Mannering ($18.2m)
The Warriors’ inspirational forward will need to be at his best in the absence of key signing Tohu Harris who failed to recover from a concussion early in their victory over the Dragons. Mannering will likely see 80 minutes now he has a few games under his belt since returning from injury and will be asked to get through a tonne of work against a big Melbourne pack. He is as reliable as they come and currently underpriced given his interrupted start to the season.
Dud: Cameron Munster ($20.4m)
The loss of Cooper Cronk seems to have tightened up the influence of Cameron Munster, who is having to play a more structured game rather than his expansive running style he played alongside the champion halfback. His 1114 average is far from what you expect of a player of Munster’s supreme talent and at that price tag against a Warriors side that is big, mobile and has allowed just 104 points, it simply doesn’t make sense.
Point of Difference: Isaac Luke ($16.8m)
It’s taken a few years, but the Warriors are finally getting the best of Isaac Luke. A player that is just as likely to make you throw you television out the window as he is to make you stand on your couch in celebration, Luke has been a key cog in the Warriors 6-1 start and is averaging a staggering 1406 to go along with it. The blueprint to beating the Storm over the past decade has usually revolved around attacking them through the middle. Their sliding edge defence is almost impregnable, but they have shown fragility around the ruck and that is Luke’s greatest area of attack. With Jesse Bromwich out of the match, the Storm forwards become even less mobile and athletic, offering an even greater opportunity for the Kiwi hooker to wreak havoc. Underpriced and putting together one of the best years of his career.
Play in the $1,000 guaranteed NRL game on Anzac Day and receive a 2nd free bonus entry into the contest. Pick a team to get your 2-for-1 now.