The NRL now returns to full normalcy with no further threats of players missing due to Origin camps or being rested as a result of any representative games. That means owners have a full slate of players at their disposal who should be relatively fit and ready for the run home.
As I have mentioned in previous weeks, I can’t see any of the teams outside the top 8 making a run and leapfrogging anyone ahead of them, so as far as I’m concerned we are locked into our finals teams. But with just three wins between 1st and 8th, everything is up for grabs where it counts and there are a series of high-implication games this weekend, particularly a Broncos-Panthers Friday night clash and a Warriors-Storm Sunday afternoon meeting that pique the interest.
It looks set to be a fascinating weekend of footy as we move closer to the finals, so let’s dive into our top picks so you can gain an edge in your daily fantasy NRL games.
Cronulla Sharks vs Canberra Raiders
Cronulla are red hot at the moment and have shaken off the early season form that had them in serious danger of ruling themselves out of meaningful footy before the Origin break. Winners of three of their last four, and boasting a strong 6-3 record at Shark Park has them in pole position to keep the pressure on the top 4 to hold serve. They come up against a Raiders side devastated by the loss of captain and points scoring machine Jarrod Croker, as well as the suspension to their best forward Joseph Tapine. You know Canberra will compete for the entire 80 minutes but I can’t see this going any other way than Cronulla.
Gun: Andrew Fifita ($20.7m)
After an extremely lacklustre month or so of footy by his lofty standards, Andrew Fifita skyrocketed back into form with a 1389 last week, a sign of intent he wants to help carry his side back into the finals and help mount an assault on the top 4. He is the crown jewel of props in fantasy footy and I wouldn’t be deterred by what would have been a difficult period away from a NSW team he has been a fixture of for years. This will be a forward’s battle and Fifita will be key.
Dud: Nick Cotric ($17.5m)
Nick Cotric I feel is the biggest loser of Jarrod Croker’s injury (other than Croker himself) as he is now stuck on the wing outside Michael Oldfield, a player once of immense pace and try-scoring touch but not someone known for ever passing the ball. The decision to play Cotric outside Oldfield makes no sense to me, as is the continual decision not to play Cotric at fullback, but nonetheless he will sorely miss Croker’s playmaking ability and won’t be in my team for the rest of the season.
Point of Difference: Scott Sorensen ($6.5m)
Scott Sorensen has taken up Luke Lewis’ starting role on the right edge and he has fit in seamlessly, banging out a 1385 last week and proving to be a real handful running off Matt Moylan and around Valentine Holmes. Any starting option that can be purchased for $6.5m should be someone that is in your side.
Brisbane Broncos vs Penrith Panthers
This is one of the more interesting games of the week, where an in-form but still untrustworthy Broncos side host a young Panthers team that has just about got through the Origin period unscathed. The Warriors toweled Brisbane up at Suncorp last weekend, and I think the Panthers can do the same. They have similar athletes to New Zealand and the wide open spaces of the best rugby league stadium in the world will give both sides plenty of opportunity to attack. This should be an absolute ripper of a Friday night curtain.
Gun: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak ($15m)
James Maloney and Nathan Cleary returning to the side, combined with the welcoming back of Josh Mansour will all benefit Dallin Watene-Zelezniak. He has really impressed filling in for Dylan Edwards at the back this year and with the aforementioned big field at Suncorp, I expect plenty of chances for DWZ to run off his halves and work off the powerful kick returns of Mansour to run for 200m+ and a couple of line breaks. He is a big body who has excellent timing, and while he hasn’t yet developed the ball skills to play the no.1, I have faith he will be heavily involved in this one.
Dud: Anthony Milford ($19.1m)
I really believed Anthony Milford would be a winning option for those who picked him at the start of this season, but until recently he has been a complete disappointment. To his credit, he’s found a better run of form during the Origin period, particularly after his dumping following the opening game, but against a Panthers side that is one of the top 3 defences in the league, I can’t see justifying nearly $20m on a player who relies on attacking stats.
Point of Difference: Sione Katoa ($8.2m)
If you watched the Warriors dismantle Brisbane last week you would have seen Isaac Luke at the center of everything, carving up the Broncos pack through the middle with quick darts out of dummy half and linking up with his athletic outside backs. While Katoa is in no way Luke, I believe he could find similar spaces against this team, and is playing in a much stronger side to allow him to do so. He hasn’t been a fantastic scorer, but he absolutely would be a POD and could be a real difference maker.
Newcastle Knights vs Gold Coast Titans
Mitchell Pearce’s return has added a touch of experience and class to a Knights side that, while talented, really has completely lacked direction since his early season pectoral injury. Unfortunately for them, Kalyn Ponga is still out and the two cannot continue to work on what could be a fruitful combination, so instead the failed Origin half will attempt to ride Newcastle into good habits for next season. The Titans were unable to beat a Roosters side missing James Tedesco and Cooper Cronk last week, amongst others, and I can’t see how they keep finding the motivation to turn up every week.
Gun: Aiden Guerra ($19m)
I’ve been tooting the Aiden Guerra horn all year. The former Roosters back rower has really found a home and a role in Newcastle, leading a very young pack and racking up fantastic scores along the way. His 1350 average leads the team, and has him just outside the top 25 scorers in the game, yet his ownership is still low. Despite him still qualifying as a POD, Guerra deserves to be this game’s gun.
Dud: Nathan Peats ($14.7m)
It’s been something of a fall from grace for Nathan Peats that really has nothing to do with him in the last year. He was one of NSW’s best players last year and looked built for the Origin arena, but he found himself completely out of the conversation for the side this year, largely due to the black hole that is the Titans. Once a strong fantasy player, Peats’ average petering around the 1000 mark just makes him too irrelevant, and even on the high-end of things he doesn’t have the offensive capabilities to make him worthwhile.
Point of Difference: Danny Levi ($10.2m)
I had Danny Levi pencilled in to my team from week 1 this year, but for whatever reason Newcastle started the season with Slade Griffin, a hugely conservative decision from the conservative Nathan Brown. Levi, however, has forced his way back into the rotation and now into the starting lineup, where he banged out a 1440 last week. He is the ideal fantasy player, electric with the ball and strong enough with base stats that he won’t hurt you if he lacks the former. At $10.2m he’s the best budget option in the position.
Wests Tigers vs South Sydney Rabbitohs
Winners of nine-straight, the Rabbitohs look completely unstoppable right now. They’ve scored the most points of any team in the competition and have let in just the fourth most. They are for real. The Tigers have gone in the complete opposite direction, starting the year on fire but completely losing their way. Losers of three of their last four, I can’t see how this one is even close.
Gun: Damien Cook ($20.1m)
Damien Cook has officially dethroned Cameron Smith as the best hooker in fantasy footy and I can’t see anyone overtaking him for the foreseeable future. His 1656 average is second only behind a rampant Valentine Holmes, and he has smashed the 1800 barrier more than five times this season, proving he can single-handedly win you a game any time he steps on the field. It’s him or Danny Levi every week for me.
Dud: Matthew Eisenhuth ($18.4m)
Still priced in the premium bracket, Matthew Eisenhuth has experienced a year of ups and downs that has settled on him sitting on the bench for a team on the decline. His 1200 average is dropping as a result of his decreased role, and I can’t see that turning around. The Rabbitohs’ expansive style of play should see his defensive work rate negatively impacted when he is on the field, and the Tigers will be chasing points meaning there’ll probably be less runs for him to. Not for me.
Point of Difference: Robert Jennings ($15.6m)
Robert Jennings in all likelihood will finish the leading try scorer this season because of the electricity of this South Sydney attack. He is on the end of the most lethal edge in footy, the Rabbitohs’ left, and has been a consistent and reliable source of tries all year. It’s a breakout year for Jennings, who had to fight to even be a part of this team early on, but now he’s locked into it and averaging north of 1300 as a result.
North Queensland Cowboys vs St George Illawarra Dragons
I feel like this is something of a danger game for the Dragons, who really have struggled through the last couple of months. Early on they were the unquestioned team to beat in the competition, but having 5 stars featuring in Origin and repeated terrible starts to games has seen them fall from first to third and have people questioning their legitimacy. If you look at this game on paper, St George should win by 20+, but I think this will be a nervy opening until they’ve got a decent lead.
Gun: Paul Vaughan ($20.2m)
Paul Vaughan nearly single-handedly willed the Dragons back into the game against the Tigers last week with a superhuman second half on the back of a hugely exhausting Origin period. Vaughan is a top 3 front row option, and now he’s through the rep period he should be on your radar every week. Thrashed out 1555 last week off the back of the midweek game for NSW. Superstar.
Dud: Coen Hess ($18.9m)
Coen Hess has really slowed down after a start to the season that was truly terrifying in every sense of the word. He didn’t feature much in Origin, and failed to make an impact in the limited minuets he did get, and his NRL points scoring average has slipped to just above 1100. This week he comes up against the best forward pack in the competition, and is opposite Tyson Frizell who is as good as any edge back rower on earth. Can’t see him turning his fortunes this week.
Point of Difference: Tyson Frizell
Tyson Frizell was one of New South Wales’ best and this year he has carried that form across to his club team, something that has been a criticism in years gone by. Not only has he been brilliant for the Dragons this year, but his fantasy scoring has made him one of the better in the game, with a 1331 average seeing him sit just outside the top 30. He comes up against the Loch Hess Monster, a huge human being but not the most mobile, and I think the Friz’s lethal footwork could cause him huge problems.
New Zealand Warriors vs Melbourne Storm
This is the game of the week for me, where two teams that have forged an interesting rivalry over the past 5 or so years with their annual Anzac Day match becoming one of the more looked forward to features of the season. The reason it’s become a rivalry is because the Warriors more than hold their own against the Storm, and have proved to be the great Craig Bellamy team’s bogey side in recent memory. Their speed and sideways play unsettles a rigid Storm defence and often they run out of ideas trying to stop it. NZ’s home record is terrible for a team hopeful of a top 4 finish, so they will need to sort that out if they want to go anywhere. Or not, they could just keep winning away from home and win the grand final.
Gun: Shaun Johnson ($18.6m)
Shaun Johnson usually saves his best for the Storm. Who will ever forget that stunning run, dummy and offload to Lewis Brown to score in the corner in the preliminary finals in 2011 and send the Warriors to the GF. Or a couple of years later when he stepped his way through the entire Melbourne team. He loves playing at home in front of his fans, and he loves coming up against the big purple wall. I’ve got no statistics to lend to it, but I love Johnson here.
Dud: Isaac Luke ($16m)
One thing is for sure, Craig Bellamy will not be allowing Cameron Smith to wreak havoc on his team like he did to the Broncos last week. The message will be clear, wrestle wrestle wrestle. Slow down the play the ball and stop Luke from those quick, one-handed scoop and runs. Don’t chase last week’s points or the Storm’s game-planning will hurt you.
Point of Difference: Simon Mannering ($18.6m)
Simon Mannering’s ownership is still very low after an injury-interrupted season, but he is slowly finding the form that made him a top, top option last year and he is now a wonderful and reliable POD. He smashed out 1462 last week and his average will be well north of 1200 after this week in a game where Melbourne will surely try to wear down the athletic Warriors. He’s a great play and will be in my side.
Manly Sea Eagles vs Sydney Roosters
The last game of the round has the potential to be chock full of points, with a Roosters team that has maintained success even without its Origin stars coming up against a Manly team that has no interest in defending and just want to get the ball back. James Tedesco and Cooper Cronk return well-rested and ready to put up 30+ on a side that just can’t get out of its own way.
Gun: James Tedesco ($21.6m)
I’m predicting James Tedesco to go 2000+ here. Not many players have managed that this year, but he is one and this Sea Eagles team are just so bad defensively and he will be full of confidence after being the best player in his first full Origin series (I don’t care what the biased judges said, Billy Slater wasn’t close to the best player). The Roosters are Tedesco’s team now, it took them longer than it should have to figure it out but they have and he will be involved in everything here. Tries, try assists, line breaks and line break assists. 2000+, I’m calling it.
Dud: Daly Cherry-Evans ($16.9m)
DCE has been a popular pick with a lot of people this week after a strong performance in Origin, but he just relies way too much on attacking stats for my liking and against the best defensive team in the competition I cannot justify picking him.
Point of Difference: Manase Fainu ($11.3m)
Manase Fainu has replaced the injured Api Koroisau as the Manly no.9 and he’s done a pretty solid job, including last week’s electric 1500 against Cameron Smith and the Storm. It’s all about finding value for money, and he presents that in the form of $11m for a starting hooker. Trent Hodkinson likely will spell him off the bench, but he is hardly a hooker, and if Fainu is doing a decent job he should still see at least 60 minutes, which could see another 1200 for the youngster.