With Origin now fully in the rear vision mirror, the rugby league’s attention returns back to the NRL and a finals race that for the first time in a long time seems already settled. A three-win gap between the eighth-placed Warriors and ninth-placed Raiders seems insurmountable, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing to play for. The top 8 absolutely is up for grabs, and six of those teams feature on Saturday and Sunday. The most interesting game may prove to be Sunday’s opener between the Broncos and Warriors, who sit 7th and 8th but are still both within top 4 considerations. The scramble to make the 8 likely won’t happen but it’s going to be fascinating to see the order.
Let’s take a look at each game and find the best and worst fantasy picks.
Canterbury Bulldogs vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
The Rabbitohs have won 8 in a row and are the undisputed hottest team in the competition. The resurgence under new coach Anthony Seibold has been intriguing to watch, as it appears he has taken the shackles off guys like Inglis, Johnston and Cody Walker and allowed them to play their natural, free-flowing footy. The Bulldogs have given away some of their best and have totally given up on a season that never got going. This could get really, really ugly.
Gun: Angus Crichton ($21.7m)
Angus Crichton had a wonderful debut Origin series and showed he will be there for the next decade or longer. What a star. Because he didn’t play 80 in any game, Crichton should be fine with the extra day’s rest to play the full game here. His attacking stats have been slightly down this year, but his base stats up, and in a game where the Rabbitohs could put it on their opponents, a try for Crichton will see him top his 1450 average.
Dud: David Klemmer ($13.5m)
David Klemmer is one who I think could easily be a late withdrawal or at the very least see a significant drop in minutes. There is no point him forcing himself to back up if he’s not available or not 100% as their season is over, and if you believe the papers he may not even be there next season. He’s got a strong 1330 average but can’t see him getting near that here.
Point of Difference: Adam Reynolds ($15.1m)
Adam Reynolds’ fantasy output relies entirely on his team scoring a lot of points, so that’s why I’m featuring him here. Reynolds has been registering scores into four-digits lately, which is a good achievement for halves as the scoring does not favour them without base stats, and I’m picking him to jag a few line break and try assists to go with the conversions and top 1000.
Manly Sea Eagles vs Melbourne Storm
This fixture always requires a reference to the famous Battle of Brookvale when Glenn Stewart and Adam Blair absolutely went at it in front of the member’s stand at the famous oval. Cameron Smith and Billy Slater are the only two remaining from that game, and the latter is not guaranteed to take the field following a brutal Origin III. The Storm are fighting for the minor premiership, another incredible achievement given they lost star halfback Cooper Cronk, while the Sea Eagles will be ruing another season of what could have been.
Gun: Cameron Smith ($23.7m)
Cameron Smith is the safest choice here, ahead of the Trbojevic brothers because he isn’t backing up off Origin. What a luxury it’s been for fantasy players having Smith to choose from during the rep rounds. A 1463 average and a guaranteed 80 minutes is all you need to know.
Dud: Felise Kaufusi ($15.3m)
Felise Kaufusi saw huge minutes throughout the Origin period and totally looked at home. Unfortunately that means it’s likely he sees reduced minutes in this one. The Storm have a hugely versatile bench that can cover anywhere in the forward pack and that has me worried Kaufusi will not play the 80 minutes. He’s still a strong player in 65-70 minutes, but won’t be at his best.
Point of Difference: Suliasi Vunivalu ($17.8m)
Suliasi Vunivalu hasn’t had the same electric year he did last year but he is always a threat to absolutely go off and he’s got a history of doing it to Manly. The Sea Eagles are a total joke defensively and Melbourne could have a field day. Vunivalu nearly hit 1500 last time out and I’m backing him to score at least one here.
Canberra Raiders vs North Queensland Cowboys
The Raiders capitulation last week for me ended their season. The Cowboys’ has been over for a long time. There isn’t much else to say about either of these two.
Gun: Joseph Tapine ($16.8m)
Joseph Tapine looks to be the best bet here with Josh Papali’i coming off Origin and not guarantee to play normal minutes let alone the game. Tapine has proven one of very few bright spots on the year for the Raiders, finally getting the starting role fans have been clamouring he be offered for some time. He’s built himself into a top 20 scorer with an average just south of 1400. A strong play.
Dud: Any Cowboy not named Jason Taumalolo
They really are all irrelevant. The team obviously have completely given up on the year and are just ticking down the clock till they can go on holidays and forget this season ever happened. Kyle Feldt scores well when he crosses the line but otherwise they’re all irrelevant outside of Tauma.
Point of Difference: Alex Johnston ($16.6m)
I’ve been critical of Alex Johnston this year because his scores traditionally purely relied on attacking stats, but he’s built a fairly strong season for himself and has shown the capabilities of providing decent enough base stats to supplement his offensive prowess. This is a game where he shouldn’t have to worry about not breaking the line or crossing the stripe, as the Rabbits come up against a team that has given up. Johnston could be a look for one of the biggest scores of the round here, a very interesting POD.
Brisbane Broncos vs New Zealand Warriors
This is surprisingly the only game of the round that features two teams in the top 8 and two teams likely to make the top 8. Both have had very up and down seasons, which is indicative of their recent history. The Broncos have the experience but the Warriors have the flair. On a fast track in Suncorp (weather permitting) this could be a really expansive and fun game of footy.
Gun: Shaun Johnson ($18.6m)
The Broncos have the worst defence of any team in the top 8 and I’m backing Shaun Johnson to have a field day on the wide Suncorp pitch against a team that doesn’t really know who it is. Johnson hasn’t had his best month of footy and still looks to be playing himself back into form, but there are few if any capable of producing bigger scores on their day than SJ and he is long overdue a behemoth total.
Dud: Andrew McCullough ($19m)
Andrew McCullough is still a very expensive option at hooker and there are simply better choices (Damien Cook every week). After a brutal midweek Origin game, I can’t justify spending the money on McCullough, especially with an expansive Warriors team that will look to do more than just bash it at the no.9 through the middle.
Point of Difference: Joe Ofahengaue ($16.5m)
Joe Ofahengaue has been THE Broncos forward for the past month, overtaking gun youngster Tevita Pangai Jnr and he should absolutely be a part of your plans. His average has skyrocketed over 1300 and if last week’s 1696 is anything to go by then we know he is capable of monster scores as well. He’s cheap, has fantastic base stats and should be aided by Origin players on limited minutes. Stud.
St George Illawarra Dragons vs Wests Tigers
The Dragons have their gluttony of rep stars returned and ready to continue their quest for just a second premiership in 40+ years. The famous Red V have given their fans a reason to dream this year, but they are far from the finished product. They are tied first with the Rabbitohs but fall second on 7 points difference. They should be able to improve that against a Wests Tigers team that vastly overachieved earlier in the season but have since fallen off and losers of five straight.
Gun: Matt Dufty ($17.2m)
The spark plug Dragons fullback has been in electric form lately and looks a threat to go the distance every time the gets his hands on the ball. The Tigers watertight early defence seems to have evaporated and there should be plenty of chances for Dufty to feed off his representative forward pack and bust tackles. I think he’s a great option at home in this one.
Dud: Moses Mbye ($16.6m)
I’d hesitate to chase last week’s monster 1555 as I would expect the Dragons look to ramp up their defensive effort and prepare for finals games ahead by neutralising the opposition’s deadly playmaking fullback. Moses Mbye is the perfect rehearsal for that. He is all that makes the Tigers tick in terms of creativity and I would expect St George’s entire game plan is built around stopping him, using edge enforcers Tariq Sims and Tyson Frizell to allow the speedy Mbye zero space. I think it’ll be a miserable day for the Tigers.
Point of Difference: Cameron McInnes ($19.8m)
Cameron McInnes is one of the least used but most reliable hooking options. The sexier picks are obviously Smith and Cook, and with good reason, but McInnes is averaging 1362 and has several scores above 1500 proving he can go massive. With the Dragons pack likely to be a little tired, expect to see McInnes with more emphasis to run and he has proven he is extremely dangerous when he looks to get out of dummy-half.
Gold Coast Titans vs Sydney Roosters
The final game of the round pins a Roosters side in good form but on the outside of the top 4 looking in against a Titans side that have treaded water for what feels like the 10th year in a row. There isn’t much for Gold Coast to play for, but excitedly they have Tyrone Peachey joining the club on the horizon, so they will be looking to continue the rise of Ash Taylor and some of their other young stars in preparation for him. The Roosters have much larger ambitions and anything short of a Grand Final will be met with descriptions of failure.
Gun: James Tedesco ($21.6m)
Fresh off what should have been a Man of the Series performance in his first full Origin year, James Tedesco should be full of confidence and ready to lead the Roosters into the finals. The team has undergone a very obvious shift in tactics in recent weeks, allowing Tedesco more time and space to shimmy and shake his way through the opposition rather than having Cooper Cronk hold the ball and dictate play. There should be points against a Titans side that have leaked the second most in the competition. Teddy to go big.
Dud: Jai Arrow ($17.5m)
This one makes me nervous, but I would imagine with nothing to play that Jai Arrow sees reduced minutes after his starting debut in the front row for Queensland during the week. Arrow put his body on the line and looked completely at home in the Origin arena and will be there for years and years to come, and likely he still puts up a good score here, but in what should be a fast and expansive game and coming off those rep duties, I think he fails to reach his average and that’s why he’s in this category.
Point of Difference: Daniel Tupou ($14.7m)
I’m going to keep featuring Daniel Tupou here until I see his ownership as one of the highest in the outside back position. Tupou has fantastic base stats with his strong kick returns, tackle bust ability and offload tendencies, and in this revamped Roosters attack with a halfback who can finally kick the ball to him, he has the potential to go massive every single week. As I mentioned before, the Titans have allowed the second most points in the comp. Tupou will be in my team.