Storm vs Broncos
Starters: Jahrome Hughes, Jesse Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Kenny Bromwich.
Bench/Extended Bench: Brandon Smith.
Starters: Jamayne Isaako, Kodi Nikorima, Alex Glenn.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
We should all spark one up in honour of the footy gods as they have blessed us with Jahrome Hughes at fullback! An unfortunate injury to Scott Drinkwater has opened up the door for Hughes and I'm frothing to see what Hughes can do with some a decent stint at fullback. The Storm also have the nek level middile duo of Jesse Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona, while another injury, this time to Joe Stimson has meant a shift to edge for Kenny Bromwich; I reckon his best role is through the middle.
Fairly standard for the Broncos, just keep a close eye on Kodi Nikorima's work in the halves with Anthony Milford as we try to suss out the influence of new coach Anthony Seibold.
Knights vs Sharks
Starters: Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Danny Levi, James Gavet.
Bench/Extended Bench: /Herman Ese'ese.
Starters: Sosaia Feki, Sione Katoa, Briton Nikoria.
Bench/Extended Bench: /Braden Hamlin-Uele.
The major funk here is a #KiwiNRL debut for Briton Nikora, who benefits from an injury to Wade Graham. I highlight that these lads are getting a crack via injury because the window of opportunity has opened for them and they need to impress, before likely making way for the regular starter. Nikora is from Tauranga, was a 2017 Junior Kiwi and is what I like to call a 'north-south' edge forward who tends to rely on running holes/lines.
Danny Levi and James Gavet get early starts for Newcastle, while Herman Ese'ese will have to play his way into the top-17. Low key good situation for Ese'ese as he has to command that promotion.
Roosters vs Rabbitohs
Starters: Joseph Manu, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Sio Siua Taukeiaho.
Bench/Extended Bench: Isaac Liu/Poasa Fa'amausili.
Bench/Extended Bench: /Mawene Hiroti.
No #KiwiNRL Rabbitohs in this game, continuing their trend of minimal #KiwiNRL contributors. We do have a strong Roosters crew and my eye wanders down to the bench where Isaac Liu and Zane Tetevano will offer a second wave alongside Angus Crichton. You'll struggle to find a better bench impact than that and I advise to keep an eye on Liu's footwork after around the Burgess bros.
Warriors vs Bulldogs
Starters: All but Blake Green and Lachlan Burr.
Bench/Extended Bench: All but Blake Ayshford and Karl Lawton.
Starters: Reimis Smith, Kieran Foran, Raymond Faitala-Mariner.
Bench/Extended Bench: Jeremy Marshall-King, Corey Harawira-Naera/Ofahiki Ogden.
Raymond Faitala-Mariner is back in action for the Bulldogs, as is Kieran Foran. Faitala-Mariner was impressive to start last season and with Corey Harawira-Naera's arrival there is some hefty competition at edge forward for Faitala-Mariner to fight off. These two are in the wider Kiwis mix as well and their battle within the Bulldogs will be a fun narrative throughout the season.
Tigers vs Sea Eagles
Starters: Esan Marsters, Benji Marshall, Ben Matulino, Elijah Taylor.
Bench/Extended Bench: Russell Packer, Josh Aloiai, Michael Chee Kam.
Starters: Martin Taupau.
Bench/Extended Bench: Toafofoa Sipley.
The Tigers will roll out seven #KiwiNRL players, almost half of their top-17 and this continues their trend of being the #KiwiNRL leaders in terms of numbers. Everything in the starting team is fair play, while the bench gets funky with Russell Packer and Josh Aloiai both set to add impact through the middle. Michael Chee Kam's usage will be interesting, most likely at edge but his versatility is an asset.
Cowboys vs Dragons
Starters: Jordan Kahu, Te Maire Martin, Jason Taumalolo.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Starters: Jordan Pereira.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Three #KiwiNRL Cowboys, all with plenty of intrigue surrounding their performances...
Jordan Kahu: What can he do at fullback, knowing it's his spot to lose?
Te Maire Martin: What can he do in the halves alongside Michael Morgan, knowing it's his spot to lose?
Jason Taumalolo: How does he add to his game and sustain his high quality performances?
Panthers vs Eels
Starters: Dean Whare, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Sione Katoa, James Fisher-Harris.
Bench/Extended Bench: Moses Leota/Jarome Luai, Malakai Watene-Zelezniak.
Starters: Brad Takairangi, Dylan Brown, Marata Niukore.
Bench/Extended Bench: /Josh Hoffman.
The Panthers roll out a predictable #KiwiNRL crew and while I don't want to overlook the impressive #KiwiNRL Panthers, I'm more enticed by Dylan Brown and Marata Niukore for the Eels. First and foremost we've got Brown coming up against James Fisher-Harris in a funky Northland batte - expect a late shot from Fisher-Harris to fire up the Northlanders!
Brown is an exciting prospect, we just haven't seen him in the NRL cauldron yet and there is always pressure on a young Parramatta half. This is will the first chance for many #KiwiNRL fans to watch Brown and that's reason alone, along with all the other factors to make this mandatory #KiwiNRL viewing. Niukore on the other hand is far more low key and has won a starting edge spot. With Manu Ma'u out injured, Niukore and Shaun Lane will be competing for the future starting spot alongside Ma'u and #KiwiNRL nerds should be keeping a close eye on Niukore's work.
Titans vs Raiders
Starters: Kevin Proctor.
Bench/Extended Bench: Moeaki Fotuaika.
Starters: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Bailey Simonsson, Iosia Soliola, Joseph Tapine.
Bench/Extended Bench: Siliva Havili.
The craziest #KiwiNRL selections for round one are Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad at fullback for Canberra Raiders and Bailey Simonsson on the wing. Both were late arrivals over the summer to Canberra and have slotted straight into the starting team.
Nicoll-Klokstad has been the focus on immense buzz and excitement at the Raiders with how he has trained/played since arriving. This is a low key nod to how Aotearoa Warriors trained over summer as Nicoll-Klokstad appears to have taken that Mt Smart vibe with him to Canberra, snatching up the vacant fullback spot.
Simonsson joins the Raiders have recently played for Aotearoa Sevens and provincial rugby in Aotearoa. He must be doing something right if he's the one tasked with starting while Jordan Rapana is injured, so we wait to see what he can do on #KiwiNRL debut.
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Peace and love 27.