Saturday’s and Sunday’s slate of games gives us another interesting set of fixtures compromising of a heavyweight showdown by the top two teams in the league contrasted by another game that could be used as torture in Guantanamo Bay. The Dragons and Panthers finally face off, and with plenty on the table as both sides are set to make up large portions of the NSW team. The Warriors and Rabbitohs offers a match between two of the hottest teams in the league, while the round is bookended by the Tigers hosting the Bulldogs, a game I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.
Sydney Roosters vs Gold Coast Titans
Luke Keary looks set to be rewarded for his wonderful 18 months of football with an Origin debut, despite admitting years ago he wanted to play for Queensland not NSW. Rather concerning if you ask me. This game lacks any real lustre, the Roosters trio of Keary, Blake Ferguson and even Latrell Mitchell look locked into Origin places with doubts over anyone else. The Titans are the same, Jarrod Wallace will be there, the rest aren’t worth a second thought.
Gun: Blake Ferguson ($19.4m)
The Roosters winger started the season absolutely on fire, with an average north of 1500 after a string of tries. Those have since dried up a tad, but his base stats for a winger are superb and he is still averaging just below 1350 a game. The Titans have at times looked like a club side defensively and there’s no reason to believe that will stop against a Roosters team that are slowly starting to look like a unit.
Dud: Ryan Matterson ($17.3m)
Perhaps the first place to feature as both a gun, dud and point of difference, Ryan Matterson has seen his scoring dry up a bit in recent weeks, compounded by a below 1000 score last week. He will himself be wearing a sky blue jersey one day but for the time being it’s worth spending the money elsewhere until he becomes a focal point of the Roosters attack again.
Point of Difference: Boyd Cordner ($20.1m)
The Roosters and former/current/future? NSW captain looks to have shaken off the injuries that hampered his early season form and has made himself a valuable fantasy commodity, just in time for Origin. His monster 1610 last week pushed his average beyond 1250 for the first time and I am backing him to beat that against a wobbly Titans side and with one final game left to convince Freddy not to wipe his representative slate clean.
New Zealand Warriors vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
Surprisingly this is one of the feature games of the round with both teams in fantastic form and both playing an exciting brand of footy. The Rabbitohs have roared into the top 4 while the Warriors have stunned everyone with their consistency, planting themselves at the top and staying there throughout the season. Home ground advantage might be all that separates them.
Gun: Tohu Harris ($19.1m)
Tohu Harris returns to the gun category after his 1390 effort last week. The hugely versatile Harris has seen his role shifted around the pack in recent weeks but his ability to spark the Warriors has not and he is a top line selection each week. Mason Lino’s injury cloud means Harris may have to take on even further playmaking roles, something he has thrived with in the past. I wouldn’t be worried what happens with Tohu.
Dud: Cody Walker ($18.1m)
After a lightning hot start to the year, Cody Walker has failed to make an imprint in recent weeks, seeing his average plummeting towards 1000 and last week barely scraping past 800. The Warriors surprisingly have had a watertight defence so far this year, particularly at home, and Walker has relied heavily on streaky attacking points to notch up his scores. For $18m you can do better.
Point of Difference: Simon Mannering ($18.6m)
Simon Mannering has not had the start to the year many would expect, due to his own and other injuries at the club. That will not last though, as Mannering is a proven gun that you can safely put your house on every week when he is fit. He is currently averaging 1128 but that will continue to climb as does his minutes and his defined role. The Rabbitohs will likely look to their battering Burgess trio away from home to set the tempo and the former Warriors captain will have a mountain of work to do, which suits him just fine.
Penrith Panthers vs St George Illawarra Dragons
The Saturday night game that usually is the afterthought for rugby league fans gets the week’s top billing as the first-placed Dragons travel to the foot of the mountains to play the Panthers. Both sides are 3-2 in their last five which wouldn’t suggest they would be where they are, which shows how strong they started. Both of St George’s losses have come away from home while Penrith are 5-1 at Pepper Stadium. This one will be worth delaying going out.
Gun: Jack De Belin ($21.2m)
It is expected Jack De Belin will make his long awaited debut for NSW on Wednesday week but he will be looking to put in one final monster performance to cement that. He started slowly, but De Belin has been red hot in recent weeks, with few better performances in his career than his starring role against Canberra last week. The 1531 was impressive but the attacking mindset that has so often been absent from his game looks to be there now and that is what he needed to make the next step. He knows how close he is and he will be heavily involved in this one.
Dud: Villame Kikau ($12.8m)
One of the most popular choices throughout the season but it seems Villame Kikau’s gun status is waning and even at his bargain price he is no longer a must have. Relegated to the bench for the second straight week and against one of the best defensive teams in the competition, Kikau just has no value. The money will continue to tempt even his biggest critic but it’s about time we start looking for a cheap buy elsewhere, this ship might have sailed.
Point of Difference: Isaah Yeo ($18.5m)
I’d be hesitant to pick any backs from this game as I believe both teams play it relatively safe and I can’t see many points being scored, so I’d be pressing for the high working forwards on each team and none better than Isaah Yeo. He is so important to this team both with and without the ball and now he is back in his settled edge position he will only benefit from it. If the Dragons have been most vulnerable anywhere it has been the organisation on the edges so the potential for attacking stats is there, but I would feel safe picking Yeo for his base stats even if you guaranteed me he won’t add to that.
Newcastle Knights vs Cronulla Sharks
The Sharks fifth consecutive win has seen them jump from the bottom of the table to just outside the top 4 in a short period of time, the only optimism Parramatta could have right now. They have overcome a turnstile of injuries largely thanks to the play of Andrew Fifita, whose Origin status is still very much in the air. The Knights have been equally impressive grading on a different scale, but it may be beyond them to stop an inform Cronulla side even if the game is on the north coast.
Gun: Andrew Fifita ($22.5m)
There really isn’t two ways about this. Kalyn Ponga would be the only other choice, particularly after his season record 1805 last week, but against a tight Sharks defence I can’t see him getting anywhere near that, so Andrew Fifita is the only option. An average near 1500 and a low that isn’t far off it, he’s a freak. I hope he gets another shot at Origin.
Dud: Connor Watson ($11.7m)
Connor Watson put up a staggering 1575 last week off the back of Kayln Ponga’s breathtaking performance, but there just is no way he gets near that again. A wonderfully talented player able of playing in and starring at all four spine positions, but I just can’t see the Knights being able to produce enough points to make Watson worthwhile even that that price.
Point of Difference: Valentine Holmes ($17.3m)
Valentine Holmes is one of a few players who appear to be in a real fight to secure their Origin jumper, battling a crowded group for a Queensland wing spot. He is long overdue high scoring game with two or three tries and this could be the week for it. He’s been moved back to his rightful wing position and I’m backing him to get on the end of at least a couple of sweeping Sharks set plays. Worth a punt.
Wests Tigers vs Canterbury Bulldogs
The bubble on the Tigers has finally burst, with the team slumping to just one win from their past five and their spot in the top 8 very much in jeopardy. I didn’t think their start was sustainable and what we have seen in recent weeks is more of a representation of who they are. The less I say about the Bulldogs the better. There really isn’t much close to an Origin player in either team, one or two may be named on reputation alone.
Gun: David Klemmer ($19.6m)
He has experienced an upturn in recent weeks but David Klemmer is one of the aforementioned players who, should they be picked for Origin, will be there on reputation alone. Klemmer has failed to inspire his team to any sort of notoriety this season which is disappointing for someone of his rep experience and general terrifying existence. However, he amassed 1580 last week and perhaps he has another similar performance for one last shot at retaining his Blues spot.
Dud: Any back for either team
I just can’t see there being any more than two or three tries in this game given how constipated both teams’ attacks are and there really is no value in inflated guys like Corey Thompson or David Nofoaluma nor Will Hopoate or Moses Mbye. Outside of the Eels, theres are the two lowest scoring teams in the competition. I’d avoid anyone that depends on tries being scored.
Point of Difference: Matthew Eisenhuth ($18.7m)
Matthew Eisenhuth has failed to live up to the lofty heights that saw him likened to a young Paul Gallen last year, but this could be the game to get him back on track. An average just below 1200 is pretty strong for someone who is anything but a household name, and in a game that is certain to be dire and played out in the forwards, Eisenhuth has the work rate to produce something worth considering. Price far from ideal but hey, I’ve got to give you something here. Don’t rush home to watch this one.
Good luck in this weekend’s games!