Panthers vs Sea Eagles
Starters: Jarome Luai, Sione Katoa, James Fisher-Harris.
Bench/Extended Bench: Moses Leota/Caleb Aekins
Starters: Martin Taupau.
Bench/Extended Bench: /Zach Dockar-Clay.
Penrith Panthers had a good win over Parramatta Eels last week and will be eager to back that up this week, with Jarome Luai in the halves. Interestingly, as Nathan Cleary stepped up to command New South Wales selection, Luai registered no runs in 45 touches and 2 kicks; Cleary had 11 runs and 14 kicks.
Luai was played the distribution role and how he builds on that now playing alongside James Maloney will be interesting vs Sea Eagles. Making 2 errors and conceding a penalty, Luai's only real impact on this game was shifting the footy around or making a mistake and while that's not good, there's great room for Luai to develop during this Origin period.
There was however far greater involvement from Sione Katoa, starting at hooker with 3 runs for 32m out of dummy half and 3 kicks for 116m in 69mins. That's where Katoa should be each week and it's taken time for him to settle into the consistency of running, which has held the Panthers back. Luai should take some kicking responsibility off Katoa, yet much of what Penrith does starts with Katoa making time and space for his halves.
Also, Dean Whare is absent via injury again this week after returning to the field a few weeks ago and the hardest thing for Whare at the moment is staying healthy.
Eels vs Rabbitohs
Starters: Josh Hoffman, Manu Ma'u.
Bench/Extended Bench: Marata Niukore/Brad Takairangi.
Starters: Mawene Hiroti.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Marata Niukore is a victim of Parramatta's loss to Penrith, moving to the bench and making way for Manu Ma'u to start on an edge - convenient timing for Ma'u considering he's been playing middle but will likely play edge for Tonga. Niukore had just 42m from 7 runs last week and led the Eels non-hooker forwards with missed tackles (3) as well as 2 penalties conceded, a standard Eels coach Brad Arthur ain't having.
Especially with the Eels coming up against the Rabbitohs left edge, sans Cody Walker where Ma'u will be tasked with a defensive job against John Sutton. Keep an eye on Mawene Hiroti for the Rabbitohs on their wing as Hiroti has played two games and both outings have seen Hiroti run for less than 100m, which is some type of benchmark for wingers. Hiroti has been dangerous, with a try, 2 line breaks and 4 tackle busts vs Raiders for 96m, then 1 tackle bust in 79m vs Tigers.
Any time someone like Hiroti enters the league, especially under a coach like Wayne Bennett, there are low key things to watch out for. Keep a focus on Hiroti and try to suss out what he does well as a winger, outside of carting the footy up.
Bulldogs vs Raiders
Starters: Reimis Smith, Kieran Foran, Jeremy Marshall-King, Corey Harawira-Naera.
Bench/Extended Bench: Raymond Faitala-Mariner.
Starters: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Bailey Simonsson, Siliva Havili, Joseph Tapine.
Bench/Extended Bench: Iosia Soliola/Ata Hingano.
Tongan fans should be tuned into this weekend's teeny weeny round of footy as we not only have Manu Ma'u starting on an edge, Siliva Havili is starting at hooker which is his projected role for Tonga vs Aotearoa. Havili has been playing as a middle forward up to this point, but with Josh Hodgson out, now Havili gets his chance to start at dummy half; key points are his running and kicking.
There's also an enticing start for Joseph Tapine on an edge. While Jason Taumalolo was going bonkers with 20runs/251m for Cowboys vs Raiders, Tapine churned out 35m from 4 runs in 35mins and that doesn't resemble what Tapine is capable of. Now Tapine comes up against the Bulldogs and should have greater opportunities to have a greater influence on the game.
Titans vs Cowboys
Starters: Jesse Arthars, Moeaki Fotuaika, Kevin Proctor.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Starters: Jordan Kahu, Jason Taumalolo.
Bench/Extended Bench: /Peter Hola, Emry Pere.
In sticking with the theme this week, the battle between Moeaki Fotuaika and Jason Taumalolo is enticing after both showcased their talents last week. Taumalolo's effort helped lead the Cowboys to a win over Raiders, while Fotuaika lined up against Addin Fonua-Blake and Martin Taupau to lead his Titans to an upset win over Sea Eagles.
Fotuaika had 21runs/207m and a whopping 91 post contact metres in 57mins, which isn't quite on Taumalolo's level for efficiency but is damn impressive for a young toko. Fotuaika should be in Tonga's squad to face Aotearoa and after stepping up to battle Fonua-Blake, Fotuaika now lines up against Taumalolo and who gets the upper hand here will go a long way to determining the outcome.
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Peace and love 27.