Round 9 saw a mouthwatering set of fixtures that gave us a much stronger impression of who is for real and who are early season pretenders, and none of those games let us down. The Cowboys scraped past a fast finishing Panthers team that continue to impress despite their missing young star Nathan Cleary, the Tigers were reduced to four points by a clinical Warriors team that cemented themselves as the ‘best of the rest’ while the Eels were brought back down to earth by a Cronulla team too strong for their inconsistent play.
Round 10 offers similar interest, particularly the Thursday and Friday night games, with six teams again looking to prove themselves top 8-worth.
Wests Tigers vs North Queensland Cowboys
The Tigers have cooled off in recent weeks after their red hot start saw them undefeated through the first month of the season. Three straight losses has seen them tumble down to seventh and the premature talk about Luke Brooks making the NSW Origin team subside. Their Thursday night clash at home to the Cowboys offers them a fantastic chance to steady the ship but also the very real possibility of a fourth consecutive loss. The Cowboys slowly seem to be getting things together, but with Origin on the horizon they are set to lose Michael Morgan and Coen Hess, among others, which may disturb their steady rise once again.
Gun: Jason Taumalolo ($24.5m)
If, like me, you swore off Jason Taumalolo after the first three weeks then you have severely missed out. The bowling ball with legs is now averaging just south of 1500 points per week after a hugely slow start that appeared to signal a decline in his fantasy offering. The addition of Jordan McLean, the return of Matt Scott and increase in minutes for Coen Hess looked to have lessened the influence of Taumalolo early on, but he has found his role in the last month and is now the superstar he was throughout last season. Pick him and forget about it. I’m sorry for doubting you Jason.
Dud: Michael Morgan ($16.3m)
Michael Morgan’s finish to 2017 was about as impressive as you will ever see from any player. He single handedly carried an injury-ravaged Cowboys team through the finals, past some of the most favoured teams in the competition before eventually hitting the brick wall that is the Storm. He thrived as the lone signal-caller for the North Queenslanders, but the return of living legend Johnathan Thurston has derailed that influence and also his fantasy scores. An average of 852 isn’t terrible, but the pair have not yet found the combination that looked so deadly before Thurston’s injury. He will certainly become a top level option later in the season but leading up to Origin I can’t see value in Morgan.
Point of Difference: Elijah Taylor ($13.7m)
Elijah Taylor retains the hooker role for the Tigers in what could be a real grinding affair between the two big forward packs. That plays directly into the hands of Taylor, who is a tackling machine. He really doesn’t offer much else, he is much too hesitant to run the ball at times and, despite having good ball skills, rarely gets involved with the attack. That limits his output, but he’s still averaging over 1100, mostly because of his defensive work rate. He’s a cheap option and should guarantee you 1100+.
Newcastle Knights vs Penrith Panthers
This, to me, is the most fascinating game of the week. The Knights haven’t appeared to have been too effected by the loss of chief playmaker Mitchell Pearce, and still are threatening to be a finals team even without the former NSW halfback. They face a still Nathan Cleary-less Penrith team, who have surged on despite their missing superstar. This will be a great indicator of how good Newcastle can be without Pearce and whether the Panthers can go and grab a big win on the road in a hostile environment.
Gun: Lachlan Fitzgibbon ($19m)
I pinpointed this kid as one to watch earlier this year and he has earned his status in the gun category. Early on he was relying heavily on attacking stats and that is still a big part of his scoring, but his work rate has increased and he is becoming a sound weekly pick. The Panthers edge defence has looked shaky at times this year, particularly with the constantly rotating back row and centre roles due to injury, so he may be able to find room running off the absurdly talented Kalyn Ponga. The 1245 average isn’t top line yet but he is on his way.
Dud: Isaah Yeo ($18.8m)
I have to feature my beloved Isaah Yeo in this category again because his immense versatility is crippling his value. Yeo is averaging north of 1200 as a back rower but much lower than that when asked to fill in at centre. He starts there this week and it significantly decreases his time spent in the middle making runs and tackles, which is where all his points come from. Great pick when he’s in the back row but avoid when he’s stuck filling in at centre. Sorry Isaah.
Point of Difference: Shaun Kenny-Dowall ($14.8m)
There are few that have been bigger critics of Shaun Kenny-Dowall than I and his sideways running, ball losing, mind numbingly confusing decision making but he seems to have found his place and a solid combination with his Newcastle teammates after making the move north last year. SKD has become the try scoring strike player for the Knights and turning their right edge with Nathan Ross into one of the more potent in the competition. Averaging just under 1000 but that total is on the increase, should he jag another four-pointer that will exceed four figures and earn his owners some valuable points.
Canterbury Bulldogs vs Parramatta Eels
These two teams continue to disappoint and confuse fan bases and fantasy owners alike. The Eels were rolling with two blowout wins in a row before looking impotent against a Cronulla team ravaged by injury. The Bulldogs were robbed of a chance at golden point by a Darius Boyd milking last week, but their blowing of a strong first half lead didn’t earn them any benefit of the doubt. I think the Eels are much more talented than the Bulldogs who I cannot see making the finals unless things drastically turn around, but given the inconsistencies of both anything could happen in Friday’s late game.
Gun: Clint Gutherson ($16.9m)
Clint Gutherson showed some of the agility and game-breaking prowess last week that saw him surge in the Dally M rankings last year before his untimely injured ended his season. I think it will probably take a few months for Gutho to return to his best, as ACL injuries need a solid six months to find any normalcy, but he showed me enough against the Sharks to warrant a gamble. He really is everything to this team, Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses just have not been able to find a combination, and if the Eels are to get back into the finals places it will be down to their star fullback. He may not be at his athletic peak but his understanding of the game makes him a solid pick at a reduced price against a bad team.
Dud: Aaron Woods ($20.7m)
Aaron Woods has featured in the dud category a few times this year and in recent weeks he has seen a decline in scoring and minutes. There’s no clear indication why that is, but as someone who has been perennially disappointed by his refusal to inject himself into Origin games, I’m not surprised. His 1200 average is obviously nothing to snicker at, but the Eels like to move the ball around a lot, shifting it from side to side and that will not aid Woods’ base stat output. I don’t think this game is in his best interests and you can send the money better elsewhere.
Point of Difference: Daniel Alvaro ($16.4m)
I’m going to keep featuring him here until more of you pick him. He’s earned a starting role and he has become Parramatta’s most reliable forward in the process. An 1163 average at just over $16m makes him one of the best value picks in the competition and I can only see that increasing as his influence and trust within the team skyrockets. If he can add a few more attacking points to his game I’ll be talking about him as a gun in the weeks to come.