With the NRL coming through the very strange but certainly successful stand-alone State of Origin weekend, we now kick straight back into the regular swing of things with a full round of fixtures and a near-normal period of rest for the players. Still, some teams have made the early decision to rest their rep heroes, with the English and Kiwi players from the Denver test match most likely to miss out.
Friday’s fixtures in particular have very real and very important finals stipulations, with all four teams (Storm, Roosters, Warriors and Sharks) featuring all but guaranteed places in the 8. In fact, the way I see it, the teams competing in the finals will not change, I can’t see anyone else making a run at this stage. There are four points between the Broncos and Raiders and I don’t think Canberra nor anyone below them have the talent to catch up.
New Zealand Warriors vs Cronulla Sharks
Shaun Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Tohu Harris were the high profile names to turn down the Denver Test against England and remain that home. I daresay this was fuelled by the belief they can make the top 4. All three have battled injuries at some stage this year, so it could prove to be a master stroke them remaining at home. The Sharks have also been banged up all year, but weren’t overly affected by Origin or the rep round. This should be a physical game, but the Warriors will prove too strong.
Gun: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck ($18.7m)
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has been one of the standout fullbacks all season long, and is the Warriors strongest performer with an average of 1312. The Sharks’ inexperienced edges are usually their weakness, and RTS swinging around as the third receiver should see him posing a threat all night. Shaun Johnson can be up and down, but RTS’ base stats make him a safer choice.
Dud: Valentine Holmes ($19.6m)
Valentine Holmes has been one of the hottest fantasy players in the past month as he has finally shown ability in the fullback role. That being said, he still is not a natural at the position and has proven that he should not be a full time fullback over the past 18 months. The Sharks know it too, having shifted Josh Dugan there and put Holmes back on the wing. The hot run has got to come to an end and the Warriors surprisingly have been very solid defensively. Shouldn’t be heaps of points scored and Holmes needs that for his scoring.
Point of Difference: Simon Mannering ($18.8m)
Simon Mannering has had a confusing year, seeing him drop in and out of the starting side, shuffling between positions and not registering the monster scores we associate with him. That being said, he is far too good to continue this form, and the extended break should do him the world of good. He’s rest and back in the 13 jumper, which means plenty of work against a big Sharks pack. I think he’s a really good pick.
Sydney Roosters vs Melbourne Storm
Many would have pinned this as the Grand Final to be before the season started, and it could well still be. More importantly, it is Cooper Cronk’s first game against his former club. They certainly have struggled to fill his void, with heir to this throne Brodie Croft being dropped for Ryley Jacks after a lacklustre start. The Roosters have had to adjust their game through the season as well, with James Tedesco rendered irrelevant through the first couple of months, failing to find a combination with his new halfback. Both teams appear to have ironed out their issues in recent weeks, so this meeting comes at a delicious time.
Gun: Cameron Smith ($23.7m)
It’s hard to look past Cameron Smith here even at that price. The Storm captain will be fresher than he has been in over a decade not featuring in Origin, and will be hellbent on ensuring his team move closer to a top 4 berth. In what could prove to be a real arm wrestle, Smith will be racking up plenty of tackles and will be looking to apply a lot of pressure with forced drop outs. He’s a safe pick and has been on fire lately.
Dud: Any rep players
I have a feeling there could be a few late withdrawals in this one, with both coaches kings of mind games and desperate to keep the other guessing. Billy Slater in particular is one I feel could miss out, and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves even more so. In rounds like this where things can be a little bit iffy, stay connected to the news or steer clear of anyone with a cloud over their head.
Point of Difference: Daniel Tupou ($14.8m)
I had Daniel Tupou as one of my best PODs of the year at the start of the season, but a pectoral injury derailed what could have been. Now he is back, and the early signs have looked great. Cooper Cronk is aware of the behemoth he has on the wing, and we’ve seen an agenda to give the 6’8 Tupou a chance to go and out-leap his opponent. His base stats are also really strong, which makes him a safer choice. Potential to score tries may be lower against a tight Storm defence but definitely one to keep in your considerations going forward.
Penrith Panthers vs Manly Sea Eagles
A large number of New South Wales’ heroes collide in what could be a very entertaining game. Manly have been diabolical defending and there’s no reason why that should change here, but it will be fun to see Tom Trbojevic unshackled from the wing, where he can no longer fly in and leave his man wide open for tries. I expect James Maloney and Nathan Cleary to seamlessly slide back into club footy and lead a destruction of the hapless Eagles, despite the Trbojevic brothers.
Gun: Jake Trbojevic ($24.2m)
The third highest scorer of anyone in the game, Jake Trbojevic is a weekly lock. He will be relatively fresh given his reduced minutes in Origin, and will need to get through an absolute mountain of work if Manly are to even keep this close. Look for his short passing game around the ruck against the monstrous Panthers forwards, particularly as they tire. As safe a pick as it comes, even in a loss.
Dud: Nathan Cleary ($16.3m)
The only reason I am featuring Nathan Cleary here is that it appears as though he has lost the kicking duties for at least the rest of the season. Penrith don’t want any added stress on the knee of their young super duper buper star, and James Maloney is so good there is no reason to. I can’t see him getting them back in 2018, so it certainly harms his value.
Point of Difference: James Fisher-Harris ($13.6m)
James Fisher-Harris has cemented himself in Penrith’s best XIII, something I didn’t think he would do this season. He has been his typical brutal and destructive self, wreaking havoc by bursting out of tackles and sliding out to the edges where he can link up with the Panthers’ speed men. He’s brought his average up to 1050 despite playing low minutes earlier in the year and I am backing him to top that in this one.
Newcastle Knights vs Canterbury Bulldogs
The big news through the week was Aaron Woods packing up and leaving to the Sharks in what is one of the more stunning turn of events in recent memory. Once an Australian and NSW prop, Woods was the marquee signing in a bitter tug-of-war last year, but the two were such a bad fit Woods escaped for his mental health. The Dogs have also lost Moses Mbye, who trodded off to the Tigers. They are a complete mess. Oh, also, Kalyn Ponga is going to be the greatest rugby league player of all time.
Gun: Kalyn Ponga ($18.8m)
I have never been more impressed by a young footballer in my life than I am Kalyn Ponga. What he did being thrown into lock and playing 50 minutes in the middle of the park in his first Origin game when he has barely played a full season of NRL footy and has spent his career on the wing or at fullback, I just cannot explain how impressed I am with him. You should go out of your way to watch every Knights game you can because this is going to be one of the greatest players in the history of the game, and I say that without a shadow of a doubt.
Dud: Any Bulldog
Just totally avoid this team, OK? They are a complete and utter mess, and outside of David Klemmer not a one of them deserves your time of day. So let’s move on.
Point of Difference: Herman Ese’ese ($13.9m)
This will be the last time he is featured in this category, but I have noticed his ownership is still lower than it should be. At that price, and being one of the top 30 scorers in the game, there is no excuse for not picking Herman Ese’ese right now. He has become arguably Newcastle’s best metre eater and is a tackle breaking machine. Pick him.
Brisbane Broncos vs Canberra Raiders
There is 4 points between the 8th place Broncos and 9th place Raiders and I cannot see that being filled in. Brisbane have had a particularly disappointing year given their always lofty expectations, but should have just enough quality to scrape in to the 8. Canberra have had another predictable season, showing glimpses of ability but eventually finishing around 10th. It’s the same story for them every year. This will be a forgettable match.
Gun: Corey Oates ($17.6m)
Corey Oates is about as good as it gets for wingers in fantasy footy. He has great base stats supplemented by a consistent threat to go huge with line breaks and tries. He is the best source of points for the Broncos and they know it, and he has a golden combination with Anthony Milford, particularly at home. Averaging nearly 1300, don’t look past him here.
Dud: Josh Maguire ($17.5m)
As I mentioned previously, I feel like there could be a few late withdrawals this round and Josh Maguire is certainly one of those. He has had a slightly down year, averaging a very solid 1200 but you would have thought more after he shifted back into the lock role. I think there’s a good chance Wayne Bennett at the very least manages his minutes in this one. Not for me this week.
Point of Difference: Joseph Tapine ($16.6m)
There hasn’t been a more rapid riser in the past month than Joseph Tapine, who at long, long last has been given an 80 minute edge role for the Raiders. I don’t know what took Ricky Stuart so long to realise the talent he had, but at least he’s finally done so. He’s shot up to being a top 20 scorer, averaging 1345 per game and more than 1500 in the past 4 games. He has to be one of the first names you look to every week he remains in this position.
Wests Tigers vs Gold Coast Titans
These are the other two teams on the top 8 bubble, but I can’t see any way either of them make a real run at it. The Tigers have been overachieving all year, and the addition of Moses Mbye certainly will help, but I don’t think they have nearly enough in the forwards to really challenge. The Titans are the opposite, they have a great forward pack led by Jai Arrow, but the backs have constantly let them down. Oh, Robbie Farah is also a Tiger again.
Gun: Jai Arrow ($16.3m)
Jai Arrow is the second cheapest player in the top 20 scorers, behind only the Bulldogs’ Rhyse Martin. That should be all you need to know. $16.3m for a 1350 average = your team every week.
Dud: Corey Thompson ($15.1m)
Corey Thompson had attracted a decent amount of owners for his wonderful performances at the back for the Tigers this year. They have been a huge surprise to me and well done to whoever took advantage of his real POD status. Unfortunately for him, he has permanently lost the fullback role and his fantasy relevancy is now zero.
Point of Difference: Moses Mbye ($15.8m)
I’m actually a fan of Moses Mbye, and think he can be a real star for the Tigers in the fullback role. He has electrifying speed, strong ball skills and kicks goals. All the makings of a fantasy star. He has been that in the past but never appeared settled. Now he should have that peace of mind and he could be a real POD.
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs North Queensland Cowboys
This is the hottest team in the league facing off against one of the worst. It can only go one way. The Rabbitohs have springboarded themselves into second place with a stunning two months of footy where they have not been beaten. There is absolutely no chance that changes here. This could get really ugly.
Gun: Damien Cook (19.4m)
You might say to me, but Sam, you said don’t pick players coming off rep duties in case they are late withdrawals and Damien Cook played 80 minutes of brutal Origin footy? To that I say, well the Rabbitohs just released Robbie Farah so that would suggest they are 100% confident with Cook repeatedly playing these complete games. He is the second highest scorer in fantasy footy, with a sickening average of 1663, just ONE POINT behind Jason Taumalolo for the best. Pick him and move on.
Dud: Gavin Cooper ($16.6m)
Gavin Cooper looked completely out of his element in Game II and I would be stunned if he ever gets near the Origin arena again. He has been a loyal worker for North Queensland for a long period of time but he simply cannot influence games any longer. I think there’s a chance he doesn’t play his regular 80 minutes in this one and he won’t have the best time of it trying to contain Angus Crichton on the right edge.
Point of Difference: Coen Hess ($19.7m)
Coen Hess barely got a chance to influence Origin II, and for the life of me I will not understand why Queensland continue to use him so little while giving big minutes to washed up players like Gavin Cooper. I would predict Hess at the very least sees a huge increase in minutes for Game III, if he doesn’t start. He should be fresh and ready to absolutely tear into the Rabbitohs for 80 minutes. The Loch Hess Monster. Sorry, just wanted to write that.
That’s all for this weekend’s NRL games, now be sure to get your lineups in. Good luck!