The third and final Origin-affected round is upon us, and it is infinitely less welcome given the series is already over. New South Wales have more than deserved their 2-0 lead, and while fantasy players collectively congratulate them for their effort, we also shake our fists at the scraps they have left with us to work with.
There are a set of mouthwatering early fixtures nonetheless, and even without a plethora of representative stars. The Storm host the Dragons on Thursday night, in a scheduling snafu that must have the NRL banging its head against the wall. These are two teams widely expected to be in the semi finals come late September, and having them face-off without more than half a dozen big names makes zero sense. Penrith then host the Warriors on Friday night, another game with huge finals implications. What were you thinking Greenberg?
Melbourne Storm vs St George Illawarra Dragons
This would be the game of the round and one of the games of the year had both teams be at full strength, instead we have to settle on the few remaining names who either have retired from rep footy or belong to other countries. The Dragons required a stunning comeback to knock off the hopeless Eels at home last week, while a Cameron Smith field goal earned the Storm a 9-8 win over the Roosters in Adelaide. The lack of Origin stars in the team makes selections this week a lot easier.
Gun: Cameron Smith ($23.7m)
Queensland’s loss has certainly been out gain through this period, as Cameron Smith has carried the load for a lot of owners. His 1550 in a dire low scoring match last week was welcome to those left reeling by a short turnaround following Origin II, and you should look no further again. After a very uncharacteristic start to the season, Smith has seen his average spike above 1400 now and there really isn’t anywhere else to go in this one.
Dud: Gareth Widdop ($18.5m)
Still my favourite for the Dally M, but Gareth Widdop has not seen his brilliance translate for PlayON coaches, and without the vast majority of his league-best pack, I can’t see that changing. Melbourne are as rigid as it gets at the back, so scoring opportunities will be low as it is for the Dragons, and with four esteemed members of his starting forwards missing, along with his halves partner, There isn’t much hope for Widdop to beat his 850 average.
Point of Difference: Leeson Ah Mau ($15.1m)
The obvious thing to do here is the smartest thing to do, find the forward most likely to fill the large void left by Jack De Belin, Paul Vaughan, Tariq Sims and Tyson Frizell. Leeson Ah Mau is that man. Ask any Dragons fan who their unsung hero has been this year and they will almost all say Ah Mau. He has given them huge work off the bench, combining a penchant for making strong runs with dangerous offloads and allowing their bigger names to rest without the team losing any go-foward. He could even play 80 in this one. I think he’s close to a must-have.
Penrith Panthers vs New Zealand Warriors
Another game with all the sting taken out of it due to those missing through Origin, but the Warriors will likely be laughing all the way to the bank. They’ve masterminded this period, keeping their guns out of the very questionable Denver Test and keeping them fresh for games like this one. They were poor at home against the Sharks last week, throwing away a big early lead, but their away record is astonishing. The Warriors are 6-1 on the road, the best mark of the league, and with James Maloney and Nathan Cleary out for the Panthers, there’s no reason why that can’t be 7-1.
Gun: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck ($18.8m)
When the Warriors fire, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is usually heavily involved. The safer play about RTS than Shaun Johnson in games like this is, if the Warriors turn in a poor performance, his base stats are such that he won’t punish you nearly as much as SJ will. RTS is the finisher for this team, and has struck up a deadly combination on the left with Blake Green. He averages 1350 and rarely dips too far south of that. He could really worry the inexperienced Panthers edge defence.
Dud: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak ($14.9m)
The man with the greatest name in all of rugby league should not be in your plans this week. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has actually been a pleasant surprise at fullback, not the precipitous drop-off I thought it may be when the monstrously underrated Dylan Edwards was injured. However, he certainly relies on scoring stats to really get his scores going and while missing both his halves, I can’t see that happening. His base stats are decent, but at $14.9m you should look elsewhere.
Point of Difference: Isaiah Papali’i ($10m)
Rookie Isaiah Papali’i has grown and grown this season, so much so he has adopted the old Ryan Hoffman role as a devastating weapon on the left edge. In and out of the team early on, Papali’i is now one of the first names on the team list and coming off a 1400+ priced at just $10m he should probably be one of the first on yours.
Canterbury Bulldogs vs Canberra Raiders
The Bulldogs are an unrecognisable team from the one that was being sold to everyone as a genuine contender at the beginning of the year. Kieran Foran is again stricken by injury, Aaron Woods at the Sharks and Moses Mbye is a Tiger. They are also close to the most unwatchable team in the league, but somehow, despite all that, managed to thrash a decent Newcastle side last week. The Raiders put in a pathetic second half against the Broncos, being run down from a 16-0 lead. This game might be a real stinker.
Gun: Rhyse Martin ($8.9m)
At $8.9m, Rhyse Martin is easily the cheapest player I’ve featured as a gun this year. But there are no two ways about it, he really is the closest thing we’ve got a gun in this one. This is another of those games that could see 80 points scored or 8 points scored. Either way, Martin will put up a score. He smashed 1400 out last week and will need even more required of him with David Klemmer missing with NSW. An absolute must have every week at that price.
Dud: BJ Leilua ($16.4m)
BJ Leilua appears to have really hit a wall in Canberra. Two years ago he was the absolute must have centre in the game, but things have slowly unravelled over the past 18 months and with a matchup against the Morris twins, I can’t see how his fortune changes here. If you take the risk you’re banking on BJ adding to a high scoring game, but I don’t trust him nor either of these two teams. Avoid.
Point of Difference: Adam Elliott ($12.7m)
Adam Elliott was in many ways last year’s Rhyse Martin, giving huge scores off the bench, winning a starting role and promising so much. This year he has not had it all his own way, but through injuries and rep duty, he has the chance to rack up a huge score here and lock himself into the no.13 jersey. HIs base stats are phenomenal when given the time, and he should get close to 80 in this one. A safe, cheap pick.
Gold Coast Titans vs Brisbane Broncos
Another ridiculous scheduling decision by the NRL, the Titans so seldom attract decent crowds and they might have just reached half their capacity if their local rivals were in town, even if it were purely opposition fans. Brisbane got out of jail last week against a Canberra team that I think officially ruled themselves out of finals contention. The Titans toweled up the Tigers, but even a win over the Broncos would leave them two wins behind and I just don’t think they have the class to really pressure those above them.
Gun: Ryan James ($21.6m)
Ryan James is averaging over 1500 and is the hottest player in the game right now. Pick him.
To be honest, I don’t see anyone screaming out to be picked here. The majority of those who would even qualify in the conscience for owners are in relatively good form and this game presents the likelihood of plenty of points, so I wouldn’t warn you strongly away from anyone.
Point of Difference: Ashley Taylor ($15.3m)
I like to try and stay away from halves as best I can because their games are so often undervalued by the scoring of PlayON, but I feel like Ashley Taylor could be a fantastic pick for those feeling brave this week. The former Bronco prodigy not only made the huge decision to walk out on the club, but rejected their advances last year to remain on the Gold Coast. Now I’m picking him to further twist the knife and remind them what they lost. To be honest, I’m stunning he’s not playing Origin. He’s got an average 100 points higher than Gareth Widdop, and the Broncos are a mess defensively. I like Ash Taylor a lot.