Eels vs Titans
Eels: Brad Takairangi, Kirisome Auva'a, Manu Ma'u.
Titans: Kevin Proctor.
Eels: Kenny Edwards, Suaia Matagi, Peni Terepo, Frank Pritchard, Josh Hoffman.
Titans: Nathaniel Peteru, Leivaha Pulu, Paterika Vaivai, Eddy Pettybourne.
Lost among all this Gold Coast Titans drama is our toko Konrad Hurrell, who has been out injured while shit flies towards the fan. As I write about the Warriors a fair bit, it's always funny to watch folks rip into the club for under-performing given they have the Kiwis spine and all, conveniently ignoring that the Kiwis spine hasn't actually played together much at the Warriors this season; Shaun Johnson's currently injured, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck missed a few early games via concussion and Kieran Foran's been in and out ... and Foran's been out the door.
So with that in mind, it's been funny to see all the experts rip on the Titans' performances recently and not give Koni any credit. Koni went off injured in the round 20 game vs Penrith and the Titans lost that game, followed by three more losses and a few hefty losses in the last two weeks. Prior to Koni getting injured, Gold Coast had three wins in a row and let's not overlook the fact that despite not playing in the last three games, Koni is still 3rd in runs and metres, 1st in tackle-busts and 5th in offloads for Gold Coast.
Not too many teams have a centre who offers so much with the footy, take Koni out of the Titans team and you've got a fairly ho-hum team that can't punch through the ruck area. I wouldn't sleep on Koni's impact on the squad in terms of good vibes and his enthusiasm, off the field and on it. The most important bloke at the Titans could very well be Konrad Hurrell and no one is giving him the credit he deserves.
Rabbitohs vs Warriors
Rabbitohs: Bryson Goodwin.
Warriors: All but Blake Ayshford, Jacob Lillyman, Ryan Hoffman.
Rabbitohs: Zane Musgrove.
Warriors: All dem boys.
If I were to decide on one #KiwiNRL player who the average joker wouldn't know is as good as he is, it's Zane Musgrove and the Mangere East junior continues to shine with the Rabbitohs. Musgrove had 118m from 10 carries last week against the Bulldogs in 44 minutes and after watching Musgrove and the Burgess boys this season, I reckon there is more upside in Musgrove than either of the Burgess twins. Musgrove is far more mobile and resembles a young Jesse Bromwich, he'll be playing with a chip on his shoulder against the Warriors as well after Musgrove was overlooked as a junior in Auckland.
Broncos vs Dragons
Broncos: Jordan Kahu, Kodi Nikorima, Adam Blair, Alex Glenn.
Dragons: Jason Nightingale, Leeson Ah Mau.
Broncos: Herman Ese'ese, Benji Marshall.
Dragons: Taane Milne.
Warriors fans want offloading?
Here are Adam Blair's offloads since round 13:
3, 2, 4, 3, 1, 4, 3, 3, 3.
Blair is 8th in offloads (no Warrior is in the top-20) and Blair has 13 offloads in the last four weeks, which is more than any of the seven players ranked ahead of him in the same period.
Knights vs Storm
Knights: Shaun Kenny-Dowall.
Storm: Jesse Browmich.
Knights: Danny Levi.
Storm: Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Jahrome Hughes, Kenny Bromwich, Tohu Harris.
Imagine my joy last week when Jahrome Hughes started in the halves alongside Cooper Cronk!?
First off; Jahrome's name starts with Jah. So my love for him is automatic, he's also been in great form this season, to such an extent where Craig Bellamy couldn't leave him out and opted for Hughes over Brodie Croft and Ryley Jacks. This week Cameron Munster is back though and Munster demands a halves spot, now Melbourne's spine is full-strength, Hughes has to make way.
There is still a bench spot for Hughes, just don't go all-in on Hughes having that bench spot come game time though. Tohu Harris has been named on an extended bench and I'm fizzing to see Harris back in action for Melbourne after missing much of the season through injury. Harris can't waltz back into the team though because Joe Stimson has been doing a solid job at left edge in Harris' absence, but expect Harris to come off the bench.
Whether Harris comes in for Hughes or Slade Griffin, will be the funk. Griffin is a better option as he's a middle-man and offers stronger defence, but Hughes is x-factor; Bellamy loves him some defence. Fingers crossed for Hughes though and for Harris, if both make the bench then Melbourne will boast an all-#KiwiNRL bench and a swashbucklin' one at that.
Roosters vs Tigers
Roosters: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Isaac Liu.
Tigers: Esan Marsters, Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, Tuimoala Lolohea, Matt McIlwrick, Elijah Taylor.
Roosters: Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Joseph Manu.
Tigers: Michael Chee-Kam, Josh Aloiai, Ava Seumanufagai.
#KiwiNRL centre depth? Almost. Roosters coach Trent Robinson has dropped Joseph Manu to the extended bench after giving Ryan Matterson a promotion to the outside backs last week, only that Manu still made the Roosters bench. This week Matterson holds down a centre spot and Manu is surplus, which is weird but with both Boyd Cordner and Aidan Guerra starting as edge forwards, Robinson has Matterson and Mitchell Aubusson as surplus and he's fitting them in as centres.
That's likely to be a defensive ploy from Robinson, so fair play. It's just a bummer that we are unlikely to see two of the slickest #KiwiNRL young centres in action, in the same game. Esan Marsters has slotted in nicely at centre for the Tigers and is simmering away under the radar as a powerful ball-runner and with Manu more of a hot-stepper, these two have all bases covered. But yeah, Manu probably won't play and we'll be able to zone in on how Marsters competes against the grizzy veteran Aubusson.
Cowboys vs Sharks
Cowboys: Kalyn Ponga, Te Maire Martin, Jason Taumalolo.
Sharks: Sosaia Feki, Gerard Beale, Fa'amanu Brown.
Cowboys: Braden Uele.
Sharks: Sam Tagataese.
Oh kia ora Kalyn Ponga, how ya been bro? We haven't seen much of Ponga lately - as I predicted prior to the season coach Paul Green has slid Ponga down the depth chart slightly this season. Ponga starts on the wing, the left wing which is Te Maire Martin's edge and this will be one of few opportunities to see two exceptional young Maori footy players combine, so get hype.
We are obviously still waiting to hear which country Ponga will opt to represent in the future and I had marked down the Junior Test as a possible decision date, yet that came and passed without any word. Now I kinda think that Ponga won't make an official decision until he's rolled through consistent game time with Newcastle as there is little need for him to rush such a decision when he's not quite in contention for either.
Raiders vs Panthers
Raiders: Jordan Rapana, Joseph Tapine.
Panthers: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Sione Katoa, Corey Harawira-Naera, Moses Leota.
Raiders: Jeff Lima, Erin Clark.
Panthers: James Fisher-Harris, Dean Whare.
There's no shortage of #KiwiNRL edge forwards and the depth in this position is about to be put on display with Joseph Tapine and Corey Harawira-Naera going at it. They won't line up against each other as Harawira-Naera will have the task of marking Josh Papalii, however we will see two very good young edge forwards in the same game. I kinda prefer when they play on opposite edges because this allows you to focus on Tapine when it goes to one edge and Harawira-Naera when the ball goes to the other edge.
There are differences in how they go about their edge work as well; Tapine's more mobile with better footwork, a big fend and an offload while Harawira-Naera runs fantastic lines before receiving the ball and with ball-in-hand. Tapine is similar to Tohu Harris in that sense and Harawira-Naera is more like Kevin Proctor - that's four quality edge forwards and none of them play like Manu Ma'u.
Also, Sione Katoa is set to start with Tyrone May on the bench and Mitch Rein on an extended bench. Don't be surprised if Dean Whare returns from injury to start at centre, thus knocking Tyrone Peachey to his dynamic bench spot and taking May's spot, ideally none of this will impact Katoa's minutes or opportunity at hooker with Peter Wallace out. Katoa comes up against one of the better hookers in Josh Hodgson and this will give us a nice opportunity to gauge what Katoa is capable of, he'll be defending in the middle against Junior Paulo and Shannon Boyd as well.
Edge forward depth and wing depth on display with Jordan Rapana and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak on either team. They won't line up against each other, so this is exactly the same as Tapine vs Harawira-Naerea and will allow us to enjoy the battle between two possible Kiwis starters, or two Kiwis wingers competing for a spot.
Bulldogs vs Sea Eagles
Bulldogs: Chase Stanley.
Sea Eagles: Martin Taupau.
Bulldogs: Francis Tualau, Raymond Faitala-Mariner.
Sea Eagles: Lewis Brown, Addin Fonua-Blake.
The Bulldogs are in a spot of bother, not just with how their team is performing, not just with the drama in the boardroom and not just because their salary cap is royally fooked. They're suffering from a combination of all three and that is a nightmare as there's no easy way out and they will have to wiggle their way through this shit-storm, hoping for the best. That opens the door for Raymond Faitala-Mariner to enjoy greater relevance or importance as he is a young and cheap forward, who now becomes valuable as the Dogs try to offload some salaries to make the cap.
This could be the great Cap Dump of this decade and Faitala-Mariner is someone who the Dogs can promote as they go about trying to free up cap space. Keep an eye on Faitala-Mariner as he slotted into a starting edge spot last week to play 52 minutes and with not a whole lot left to play for, I suspect we'll see Faitala-Mariner given more consistent game time.
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