Broncos vs Eels
Broncos: Kodi Nikorima, Adam Blair, Alex Glenn.
Eels: Brad Takairangi, Kirisome Auva'a, Kenny Edwards.
Broncos: Herman Ese'ese.
Eels: Suaia Matagi, Frank Pritchard, Peni Terepo, Josh Hoffman.
Any possible Finals match up between these two teams will be a #KiwiNRL blockbuster, however there's no Jordan Kahu or Manu Ma'u here so this is more like the appetizer. Sans Ma'u, we're still going to be treated to Alex Glenn vs Kenny Edwards and Glenn's form so far this season has been so good, he's right there in the mix putting pressure on Ma'u for a Kiwis left edge spot. Edwards is an outside chance for the World Cup squad as well and if Edwards can churn through fine performances in a strong Parramatta Finals run, he'll have to come into contention.
I'm also intrigued by what Kodi Nikorima dishes up, partly because Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson have both been named for the Warriors. When I wrote about Nikorima's Kiwis chances earlier in the week, it appeared as though Foran was out for a while via injury but he's been named so if Foran finishes the season on the field, then that will raise the bar for Nikorima. In theory Nikorima is the fourth best half in this game, which could be a great platform for him to demand attention with a solid all-round effort; look for Nikorima to target Edwards and Tepai Moeroa on the edges with his running game.
Raiders vs Knights
Raiders: Jordan Rapana, Joseph Tapine.
Knights: Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Danny Levi.
Raiders: Jeff Lima, Erin Clark.
With Joe Wardle heading back to the Super League, Knights coach has slid Jamie Buhrer out to the edge and is starting with Danny Levi at hooker. This is of interest because some of Levi's best work this season came recently when Buhrer would start at hooker, allowing Levi to come off the bench and add some x-factor to the Knights around the ruck. Levi is capable of playing 80 minutes through the middle, but keep an eye on Buhrer moving into dummy half to give Levi a spell during this game, especially as Canberra's forwards will ensure Levi is kept busy defensively.
One of the more peculiar #KiwiNRL selections every week has been Ricky Stuart picking Erin Clark on the Raiders' extended bench, which is only peculiar because it's happened every week since Clark moved to Canberra. I don't think we'll see Clark play NRL footy this season, however it seems as though Clark is the next in line to cover Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer given the consistency of Clark's selection.
Tigers vs Cowboys
Tigers: Esan Marsters, Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, Tuimoala Lolohea, Matt McIlwrick, Michael Chee-Kam, Josh Aloiai.
Cowboys: Antonio Winterstein, Te Maire Martin, Jason Taumalolo.
Tigers: Ava Seumanufagai, Watson Heleta.
Six #KiwiNRL cuzzies named in the Tigers starting line up and that's without Elijah Taylor who misses this game via injury. Seven is the magic number for me, so anytime an NRL team's starting #KiwiNRL presence reaches seven (a majority) then I'll celebrate it like I celebrate sussing some herb. This week the Tigers are boosted by having Michael Chee-Kam and Josh Aloiai start, which isn't crazy given Chee-Kam and Matt McIlwrick are filling in for Taylor, but the return of Aloiai definitely caught my eye last week against the Roosters.
Chee-Kam has been doing a great job all season in covering a range of positions for the Tigers and could be settling into an edge forward role. Aloiai showed what a threat he is out on the edge with a powerful running game headlined by light footwork and with two athletic edge forwards, the Tigers could ask some questions of the Cowboys bigger edge forwards.
The battle between Lolohea and Martin will also be funky. Luke Brooks and Michael Morgan may be the match up of the round, however the #KiwiNRL perspective is zoned in on which supporting half can influence the game the most. A lot may depend on whether Lachlan Coote plays for the Cowboys or not as Martin will have to step up if Coote's still absent, while Coote's return would mean he takes on a large chunk of the play-making duties. Both Lolohea and Martin are runners, plus they will be operating down the same edge with Martin on the Cowboys left and Lolohea on the Tigers right.
Titans vs Bulldogs
Titans: Agnatius Paasi, Kevin Proctor.
Titans: Nathaniel Peteru, Leivaha Pulu, Paterika Vaivai.
Bulldogs: Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Chase Stanley, Francis Tualau, Sam Kasiano, Greg Eastwood.
Forget all the fluff around this game - from Titans mayhem to Bulldogs mediocrity - and focus on Agnatius Paasi starting at prop and Leivaha Pulu coming off the bench. We've seen far too little from Paasi this season, which along with Konrad Hurrell's recent absence is slept on as reasons why the Titans haven't been so good and now Paasi gets the chance to start in Ryan James' absence. I'm eager to see what Paasi can do against Aiden Tolman, James Graham and David Klemmer as Paasi's skill and mobility could pose these three a few problems.
Warriors fans need to acquaint themselves with Leivaha Pulu, plain and simple. Get to know him and how he could fit into the 2018 Warriors team; look for offloads and effort through the middle, similar to Adam Blair just with a bit more oomph. This is especially relevant as the Titans don't have a whole lot to play for and effort, desire and attitude become more obvious in these situations.
Storm vs Rabbitohs
Storm: Jesse Bromwich.
Rabbitohs: Bryson Goodwin.
Storm: Kenny Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Tohu Harris, Jahrome Hughes.
Rabbitohs: Zane Musgrove, Siosifa Talakai.
So last week Nelson Asofa-Solomona played 32 minutes, had 13 carries with 171m, 8 tackle busts, an offload and a line break. I'm frothing to see him and the Bromwich Bros come up against the Burgess Bros and dominate them.
Sharks vs Roosters
Sharks: Sosaia Feki, Gerard Beale.
Roosters: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Isaac Liu.
Sharks: Sam Tagataese, Fa'amanu Brown.
Roosters: Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Joseph Manu.
With an offload like this, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is making it rather difficult to keep him out of a Kiwis World Cup squad.
Don't be surprised to see more minutes for Sio Siua Taukeiaho, which could come at the expense of Dylan Napa or Waerea-Hargreaves. Cronulla can match the Chooks' size through the middle, but Taukeiaho offers far more dynamic footwork and after playing 41 minutes last week (11 carries for 107m), Taukeiaho could be asked to play over 50 minutes to work over Cronulla's slower middle forwards.
Warriors vs Sea Eagles
Warriors: All but Blake Ayshford, Ryan Hoffman.
Sea Eagles: Martin Taupau.
Warriors: All the boyz.
Sea Eagles: Lewis Brown, Addin Fonua-Blake.
This could genuinely go either way, yet I'm fairly confident Foran will be a late withdrawl. Or maybe that's what I'm hoping for as I'm desperate to see Ata Hingano and Shaun Johnson get some game time together - I'll save that for the Diary though.
Panthers vs Dragons
Panthers: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Corey Harawira-Naera, James Fisher-Harris.
Dragons: Jason Nightingale, Leeson Ah Mau.
Panthers: Sione Katoa, Moses Leota, Dean Whare.
Dragons: Taane Milne, Kalifa Faifai Loa.
Starting at lock, James Fisher-Harris has an almighty battle on his hands coming up against Jack de Belin and this will be brutally fun to watch. There'll be offloads and footwork as both move like centres, plus the opportunities for Fisher-Harris to make a late run at a World Cup spot are decreasing every week, so a big shift against a low key impressive middle group like the Dragons have will help.
Same goes for Corey Harawira-Naera, who is likely to line up against Joel Thompson in another intriguing match up. They are both fine hole-runners and Thompson's an above-average edge forward, so how Harawira-Naera defends Thompson and the Dragons left edge which also features Tim Lafai, will offer a lovely gauge of how Harawira-Naera is tracking early in his career.
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