Broncos vs Panthers
Broncos: Kodi Nikorima, Jordan Kahu, Benji Marshall, Adam Blair, Alex Glenn.
Panthers: Dean Whare, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Corey Harawira-Naera.
Broncos: Herman Ese'ese, Jamayne Isaako.
Panthers: Sione Katoa, Moses Leota, James Fisher-Harris, Jarome Luai, Sitaleki Akauola.
My hype for the #KiwiNRL fullback funk-a-thon last week was a bit over-stated and I'm sorry y'all, these NRL coaches love to mix things up late in the piece. Uncle Wayne put Kodi Nikorima back to the bench, starting with David Mead at fullback which was a wee bit weird and then understandably, Panthers coach Anthony Griffin pushed Dean Whare back to centre to allow the return of Dylan Edwards.
Whare is locked in to start at centre here, while Nikorima is named at fullback. Mead's still been given a bench spot though and last week Mead started the game, then came off after 20 minutes in a straight swap for Nikorima. Nikorima was then among Brisbane's best, chiming in at fullback to throw a last pass on the edges in a sweeping backline move and many fullbacks would love to put up 112m from 9 carries, 1 try assist, 4 tackle busts, 2 offload and a line break assist; Nikorima did it all in 60 minutes.
Nikorima is perfectly suited to Darius Boyd's role as a play-maker out on the edges as Nikorima's speed allows him to force defenders into a decision, then Nikorima's history as a half graces him with the ability to throw all sorts of passes, accurately. Expect Nikorima to be busy in this regard as Brisbane will throw their razzle dazzle at Penrith's edges, which aren't fantastic defensively.
Many people talk about Adam Blair's lack of metres as a prop and as Blair nears an official move to the Warriors - I've learned to not analyze this stuff until it's official - but he offers a different skillset than barnstorming carries; Blair still averaged 9m/carry last week. Brisbane can get away with Blair and Sam Thaiday not making 10+ carries (Thaiday still averaged 10m/carry) because they get great usage out of other players, such as Alex Glenn. Glenn was huge against the Chooks, with 130m from 14 carries and a couple tackle busts, as an edge forward. Look for Glenn to stay busy through the middle, popping in-field to attack the ruck area and use his speed and low key power to keep Brisbane rolling forward.
I was super intrigued by Benji Marshall's performance last week as he and Blair were solid, doing many good things but they both also made a few costly errors. Marshall finished with 2 try assists, offset by 2 errors and a penalty against him, but what really caught the eye was Marshall's kicking duties. The Corey Oates try after Blake Ferguson desperately tried to save a 40/20 came from a Marshall kick and Marshall had 12 kicks in this game, compared to Anthony Milford's 4 kicks and a single kick from Ben Hunt. Milford's kicks were mostly short kicks, while Marshall was in charge of the long kicking, so look for Marshall to once again put Penrith under pressure with his long kicking game.
That Oates try came from Marshall hooking the ball back from the right edge, to the left-hand sideline where Ferguson was. Marshall also did a bomb like this - from the right edge to the left corner - and this is a fairly difficult task to execute. Not many players can kick as accurately as Marshall did last week when kicking down the same edge, let alone hooking it from one side of the field to the other.
Nothing crazy stood out from Penrith's win over Manly, other than the late injection of Sione Katoa. Katoa came off the bench for the last 8 minutes, with Peter Wallace still on the field, thus giving Penrith a middle forward trio of Katoa, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Bryce Cartwright. That's not a huge middle trio, however they are mobile, skillful and funky, which helped Penrith create opportunities with the game on the line; imagine your only game time coming with the game hanging in the balance.
Eels vs Cowboys
Eels: Brad Takairangi, Kirisome Auva'a, Manu Ma'u.
Cowboys: Antonio Winterstein, Te Maire Martin, Jason Taumalolo.
Eels: Kenny Edwards, Suaia Matagi, Peni Terepo, Josh Hoffman.
Cowboys: Braden Uele.
Who is Kirisome Auva'a!?
We won't shy away from Auva'a's domestic abuse history. He made a few mistakes but has obviously turned his life around as he endured a stint out of the NRL and would have had to have ticked many boxes before making his return. He was a gun at centre for the Rabbitohs in their Championship season after a junior stint with Melbourne Storm. Auva'a made his way to Australia after growing up in Otahuhu, South Auckland and he's got a rather illustrious history in Australian rugby union.
Auva'a was mainly a centre, but in his last chance at an NRL gig, he snapped up an opportunity to get NRL game time on the wing for Parramatta. Since playing his first game for Parramatta in round 6, Auva'a has been keeping Josh Hoffman out of the Eels team and there'll be a bit of a log-jam with Hoffman sniffing for NRL minutes and Bevan French coming back from injury next season.
Manu Ma'u was his dynamic self against Melbourne, however he cost the Eels a few penalties via some silliness. Ma'u was joined by Daniel Alvaro in conceding two penalties, while no Storm player conceded more than one and Finals footy requires discipline, especially with the type of penalties Ma'u conceded.
Parramatta will again need Suaia Matagi to do what he does best; 116m from just 10 carries, with 2 tackle busts and an offload, in 37 minutes. The only Parramatta forward to run for more metres was Nathan Brown (15 carries/135m) and he did so in 63 minutes.
Many Cowboys stood up against Cronulla, don't sleep on Antonio Winterstein though as the Samoan international saved his best game of the season for week tahi of the Finals. Winterstein's stats were boosted by 10 minutes of extra-time, nonetheless, he was a force all game as he took 21 carries for 158m. For some context, the most carries Winterstein had prior to this game was 14 and the most metres was 150m. Winterstein is effectivley a senior player in this Cowboys team, a leader and his performance against Cronulla reflected that.
You may not have noticed Te Maire Martin on the field last week, thanks to the dominance of Michael Morgan and Lachlan Coote. That's a positive because the Cowboys beat Cronulla without much involvement from Martin, who enjoyed a lovely evening in the company of Luke Lewis and Jack Bird. Martin only kicked once, while Morgan kicked 16 times and Coote kicked 7 times, plus Martin ran just 6 times compared to Morgan's 22 runs and Coote's 17 runs from fullback.
I don't know if we should expect Martin to be more involved this week against Parramatta as he's merely doing his job in the Cowboys system and if the ball doesn't go his way, so be it. Coote offers plenty of play-making down the Cowboys left edge, so Martin's job could be based around executing plays for Coote. However, it's a nice little boost to have this week as the Eels can add another wrinkle to their game simply by getting Martin more footy.
Peace and love 27.
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