Raiders vs Sharks
Starters: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Bailey Simonsson, Jordan Rapana, Siliva Havili, Joseph Tapine.
Bench/Extended Bench: Iosia Soliola.
Starters: Sosaia Feki, Briton Nikora.
Bench/Extended Bench: Braden Hamlin-Uele/Shaun Johnson.
The #KiwiNRL crew for Canberra Raiders has low key overtaken their English contingent in the absence of Josh Hodgson and we now have a beautiful little all-#KiwiNRL back three in Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Bailey Simonsson and Jordan Rapana being rolled out. I continue to be enticed by the work of Rapana and another strong performance vs Sharks will put Rapana in a great position leading into Kiwis selection. Same goes for Joseph Tapine, who was fairly quiet in the big win over Wests Tigers as the other Raiders forwards stepped up to play big minutes.
Tapine only got through 40mins last week and again starts in the middle, this time against a Sharks forward pack who will be a lot tougher to break down than the Tigers. Tapine is in the mix for a Kiwis bench spot, although there is plenty of competition for those places and having been eased back from injury over the past two weeks, Tapine is likely to step up.
Briton Nikora appears to be the likeliest debutant for Kiwis and this week the Sharks edge forward will likely line up against John Bateman who has dominated since his arrival to the NRL. Like Tapine, Nikora didn't need to over-play his hand in Cronulla's big win over Parramatta and perhaps Nikora has plateaued a bit after a hot start to the season but the big test is Thursday night vs Bateman. Nikora won't just come up against a rugged defender in Bateman, he'll be up against a funky attacking threat who is going to throw something different at Nikora each time they come together. A strong effort from Nikora would be a key indicator that he'd be a nice Kiwis right edge forward to face Tonga.
Titans vs Warriors
Starters: Jesse Arthars, Moeaki Fotuaika.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Starters: All but Blake Green.
Bench/Extended Bench: All but Karl Lawton.
Another rather freakish game from Moeaki Fotuaika in the Titans derby win over Broncos last week; 56mins, 17runs/175m, 65pcm. Fotuaika is on a three game stretch of 150+ metres and is averaging 9.87m/run overall for this season, which tells us that those 150+ metre games are classy, efficient performances. Fotuaika also had the most post contact metres of any player in this game with 65pcm and that wiggles out to 3.82pcm/run - anything over 3pcm/run is pretty damn freaky.
Cowboys vs Tigers
Starters: Jason Taumalolo.
Bench/Extended Bench: /Peter Hola, Jordan Kahu, Emry Pere.
Starters: Esan Marsters, Benji Marshall, Ben Matulino, Michael Chee-Kam.
Bench/Extended Bench: Josh Aloiai/Elijah Taylor.
Despite the Tigers not looking so flash right now, Esan Marsters is still a certain Kiwis starter at centre. Marsters had a tough night vs Raiders with 4 missed tackles, which was well above his average of 1.8mt/game and was fairly solid in running the footy with 15runs/124m and 41pcm, plus 5 tackle busts. Marsters has effectively played every minute of every game this season and is currently 3rd in run metres for all centres, 9th in tackle busts and 3rd in offloads. This means Marsters is still among the NRL's upper echelon at centre.
Ummm, Jason Taumalolo's stats vs Sea Eagles (Cowboys lost 20-22): 80mins, 33run/311m, 112pcm, 4 tackle busts, 4 offloads. Absolutely bonkers.
Storm vs Knights
Starters: Jahrome Hughes, Jesse Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Kenny Bromwich.
Bench/Extended Bench: Brandon Smith.
Starters: Shaun Kenny-Dowall, James Gavet.
Bench/Extended Bench: Herman Ese'ese/Mason Lino.
Jahrome Hughes is back at fullback after a cheeky stint in the halves last week to cover for an injured Brodie Croft and now, Hughes will face Kalyn Ponga in an enticing battle of the fullbacks. All eyes will be on Ponga and he'll command attention, however for #KiwiNRL nerds, the work of Hughes is damn impressive as well and I'd advise to keep a close eye on Hughes' involvement around the ruck in the midfield, then where Hughes pops up as the Storm work into good ball.
Newcastle are one of the teams sizzling away during this second quarter of the season and their recent form has started with a rugged forward pack dominating their opposition. Jesse Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona won't let that happen, along with their pal Dale Finucane and they will have clear instructions to take the Knights forwards into deep waters. This will be great viewing as the two kiwi big boppers will likely feature for Aotearoa and I'm excited to see what level Bromwich and Asofa-Solomona are at prior to the Test vs Tonga.
Rabbitohs vs Panthers
Bench/Extended Bench: /Mawene Hiroti.
Starters: James Fisher-Harris.
Bench/Extended Bench: Jarome Luai, Moses Leota/Caleb Aekins, Malakai Watene-Zelezniak.
Panthers selections are a bit all over the show at the moment and while it was a great win over Roosters last weekend, for Tonga hopeful Sione Katoa it was the opposite as he lost his spot in the 17. Katoa has been named in reserve grade and appears to have lost his battle for selection to Mitchell Kenny and Wayde Egan, while Jarome Luai has again been named on the bench despite two hookers being selected. Luai didn't play a minute last week as Nathan Clearly was a late selection to partner James Maloney and that has me wondering where Luai will fit in if he does lace up.
Eels vs Broncos
Starters: Josh Hoffman, Manu Ma'u.
Bench/Extended Bench: Peni Terepo, Marata Niukore/Brad Takairangi.
Starters: Jamayne Isaako.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Broncos #KiwiNRL numbers are depleted with Alex Glenn dropping out via injury, leaving Jamayne Isaako to hold it down for Aotearoa. I don't quite have Isaako close to selection on the wing for Kiwis at the moment and a 9run/55m effort in the loss to Titans kinda reflects where Isaako is at as he settles into his second year of NRL footy. Averaging a solid 11runs/100m this season, Isaako has had three games in a row with less than 100m and Isaako will have a tough match up lining up against Maika Sivo (maybe Blake Ferguson).
Sea Eagles vs Dragons
Starters: Martin Taupau.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Bench/Extended Bench: /Jordan Pereira.
Even though Jason Taumalolo was emphatic in his performance coming up against his Tongan comrade Addin Fonua-Blake and Kiwis opponent Martin Taupau, Taupau wasn't too shabby himself. In a super efficient effort, Taupau got through 19 runs in 46 minutes for 190m and 71pcm, along with 6 tackle busts and 4 offloads. Considering the opposition, Taupau's 1 missed tackle in 25 tackles is fabulous and Taupau is averaging just 0.8mt/game overall.
Roosters vs Bulldogs
Starters: Joseph Manu, Zane Tetevano, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Isaac Liu.
Bench/Extended Bench: Sitili Tupouniua/Poasa Fa'amausili.
Starters: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Reimis Smith, Kieran Foran, Jeremy Marshall-King, Raymond Faitala-Mariner.
Bench/Extended Bench: Corey Harawira-Naera, Sauaso Sue/Fa'amanu Brown, Ofahiki Ogden.
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak gets his first crack as a Bulldog at centre, forming an intriguing centre combo with Will Hopoate to give the Bulldogs a greater threat on either edge. We'll have to see how they line up, but the Bulldogs have #KiwiNRL combos on both edges; Watene-Zelezniak will either play inside Reimis Smith, or outside Raymond Faitala-Mariner and Kieran Foran.
The Bulldogs got rolled by Dragons on Monday, however this was low key one of Jeremy Marshall-King's best games of the season at hooker. Playing 80 minutes, Marshall-King had 7 dummy half runs for 100m, as well as a total of 9 runs for 130m and made 47 tackles with just 1 missed tackle. There was a clear objective to run from Marshall-King and he's steadily improving as the season rolls on, even if his team isn't steaming on the front foot.
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Peace and love 27.