The strangest NRL season of my lifetime took another turn last week as the near unbeatable Dragons were humbled by the unpredictable South Sydney, while the surging Cowboys and Broncos were both soundly beaten by teams on the slide. If you’re a betting man or woman, it be best you stay away from rugby league results until someone shows some kind of consistency.
Round 11 kicks off with the Tigers and the Panthers, two of the better teams (for now) in the competition who managed to live up to that billing last week, with Thursday’s blockbuster to give us a great indication of where both teams are placed.
Friday night sees the mess that is the Parramatta Eels play the Warriors coming off easily their worst performance of the season, while the team that thrashed them 32-0, the Roosters, host Brisbane who were flogged by a terrible Manly side. It’s worth repeating again, this is the strangest NRL season of my lifetime.
Penrith Panters vs Wests Tigers
These two western Sydney rivals go head to head with both so delicately placed that a loss could see them tumble down the ladder. Penrith have withstood the loss of young star Nathan Cleary and have thrived with the single playmaker system of James Maloney pulling the strings and adding strike runners around him. The Tigers have earned their position on the back of a simplistic, mistake-free scheme that earned them two wins over Melbourne in the season’s first month, but have tailed off since then. This would be the win they need to right the ship.
Gun: James Maloney ($18.2m)
It’s hard to go away from James Maloney right now. Everything the Panthers do goes through him and right now they are rolling. Penrith are the fourth-highest scoring team in the NRL and are 4-1 at home. His NSW position is now certainly in contention with the standout performances of Luke Keary among others, so Maloney will need to keep producing the way he is to keep his club team in the top 2 and his spot in his state’s best 17.
Dud: Alex Twal ($15.2m)
Plenty of experts pinpointed Alex Twal as a future gun given his off the charts points per minute numbers last year but he has failed to build on that so far. An average of just over 1000 is far from tempting and against a young and powerful Panthers pack that can match his athleticism, I can’t see value at over $15m.
Point of Difference: Luke Brooks ($15.5m)
I have been very critical of Luke Brooks throughout his career. I used to work for the Tigers and saw him coming through the grades, the early calls comparing him to Andrew Johns made absolutely no sense to me and his first few years in the NRL can undeniably be labelled a failure. He was the most expendable of the Tigers big 3 but has arguably had the best season since they split. I’m not convinced by the Panthers defense and Brooks has scored well this season. If it’s a high scoring game, the diminutive half could go big.
Parramatta Eels vs New Zealand Warriors
This is will either be one of the most interesting or most forgettable games of the season. Parramatta are virtually playing for their season every week and should they find any semblance of last year this could be the turning point. More likely, it’s a low scoring, ugly match you wish you didn’t race home from work to watch.
Gun: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck ($20.3m)
RTS has been one of the most consistent scorers this season, and arguably the better play than Tom Trbojevic and James Tedesco for this reason. Eels have shown no reason to trust their edge defence and RTS will likely have a field day against them.
Dud: Mitchell Moses ($15.8)
Mitch Moses has failed to build upon a promising start to his Parramatta career and I think will be in for a very long day against a monster Warriors team. Moses is infamous for his poor tackling and I predict NZ’s big boppers will be targeting him all game, hitting him late, picking him out in the line and generally making his life miserable.
Point of Difference: Manu Ma’u ($12.9m)
Manu Ma’u is averaging over 1250 and is priced below $13m. That should be all you need. But, if it isn’t, he’s been moved to lock which means increased base stats and more ball. Seems a no brainer to me.
Sydney Roosters vs Brisbane Broncos
The Roosters dismantled the Warriors last week, returning the favour from the reverse fixture earlier in the season. The Broncos meanwhile were embarrassed at home by a mess of a Manly team. Both these teams should be top 8 locks but I don’t trust either. Should be an interesting one.
Gun: Boyd Cordner ($19.9m)
The Roosters captain hasn’t been at his best this year but as Origin draws nearer I expect to see the best out of Boyd Cordner. He is averaging just a tick under 1200 despite an underwhelming start to the season by both him and his team, and against a shaky Broncos edge defence I can see Cordner combining to prove a constant danger on Sydney’s deadly left edge.
Dud: Anthony Milford ($19.7m)
Anthony Milford showed flashes of what we all know he’s capable of last week, but it was still not enough to help carry the Broncos against a Manly team that couldn’t plug a pinhole with a plunger. He is infamous for his inflated scores at home and lesser tallies away, and even despite a long home run, he is still averaging under 1000 for the season. The Roosters may have found their footing this year, and have been watertight defensively. Milford makes no sense.
Point of Difference: James Roberts ($17.9m)
James Roberts is one or two more standout games from an Origin debut. In recent weeks the fastest man in the NRL (I’d love to see him race Josh Addo-Carr, still taking Roberts personally) has seen a new role that sees him popping up across the field, using his speed and change of direction close to the line to influence both sides of the field. I believe that continues as he continues his quest for a sky blue jersey. It’s not the ideal matchup, but I think he is hellbent on playing for his state and will at least have enough of the ball to be an interesting play at $17.9m.