Tigers vs Rabbitohs
Starters: Esan Marsters, Benji Marshall, Josh Aloiai.
Bench/Extended Bench: Elijah Taylor, Michael Chee-Kam.
No Ben Matulino in the Tigers middle, joining Russell Packer on the outer under Tigers coach Michael Maguire. Both have been rumoured as options to move on as the Tigers shuffle their roster, a group that also included Elijah Taylor who is now back in the top-17 on the bench. While it is a bummer to see the experienced #KiwiNRL forwards unable to crack the Tiger team, this presents opportunities to someone like Josh Aloiai who now starts as a middle forward after a strong outing for Samoa.
Dragons vs Cowboys
Bench/Extended Bench: /Jordan Pereira.
Starters: Jordan Kahu, Jason Taumalolo.
Bench/Extended Bench: /Peter Hola, Emry Pere.
New signing Scott Drinkwater slots straight into fullback, allowing for Jordan Kahu to play centre where he should gather some momentum with consistent selection. Kahu has had to do a bit of everything since arriving at the Cowboys and while all the funk in his move north sat with the possibility of Kahu establishing himself as an NRL fullback, it didn't quite click for the Cowboys and they now usher in Drinkwater. As long as Kahu is playing the same position consistently, he'll be in a good spot.
Roosters vs Storm
Starters: Joseph Manu, Zane Tetevano, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Isaac Liu.
Bench/Extended Bench: Sitili Tupouniua/Poasa Fa'amausili.
Starters: Jahrome Hughes, Jesse Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Kenny Bromwich.
Bench/Extended Bench: Brandon Smith.
Melbourne Storm signed Solomone Kata from Aotearoa Warriors, although Kata hasn't been selected in the Storm's squad of 21. Nor has Kata been named for either of the Storm's feeder teams with a low key funky note being whether Kata plays for Easts Tigers or Sunshine Coast Falcons in Queensland's Intrust Super Cup; Albert Vete plays for Easts Tigers for what it's worth.
This is mandatory viewing for #KiwiNRL nerds as the Roosters and Storm are the two strongest #KiwiNRL teams, led by their exceptional quality in the forwards. Zane Tetevano missed out on Aotearoa Kiwis selection, so he'll be eager to make an impact against the Storm's trio of Jesse, Kenny Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona. The Roosters are also unearthing a new wrinkle to their all-#KiwiNRL middle trio as Tetevano replaces Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, joining Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Isaac Liu.
I'm also eager to see how Sitili Tupouniua moves through this second stanza of the NRL season having made his debut for Tonga last weekend. Tupouniua deserved that call up via his strong showings for the Roosters and what he does with that taste of international footy will tell us a lot about his scope as a up and coming forward.
Titans vs Sea Eagles
Starters: Jesse Arthars, Moeaki Fotuaika.
Bench/Extended Bench: /Kevin Proctor.
Starters: Martin Taupau.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Having talked up Moeaki Fotuaika a fair bit around this Aotearoa vs Tonga Test, Fotuaika comes up against the Sea Eagles duo of Addin Fonua-Blake and Martin Taupau again. Gold Coast Titans went down to Sydney and defeated Sea Eagles 36-18 back in round 11 and it was an emphatic performance from Fotuaika that led the way; 57mins, 21 runs/207m, 91pcm and 2 tackle busts.
Manly will turn it up, aiming for revenge and the absence of Jai Arrow also throws a layer of intrigue in Fotuaika's performance. Jarrod Wallace backs up his Origin trip to Perth and will most likely take on the bulk of responsibility of the action in the middle, but the real oomph and grunt that Arrow offers will fall to Fotuaika and his post contact metres will be crucial to the Titans success.
Knights vs Broncos
Starters: Shaun Kenny-Dowall, James Gavet.
Bench/Extended Bench: Herman Ese'ese/Mason Lino.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
There appears to be something with Jamayne Isaako at Brisbane Broncos, adding to a weird ol' situation with Isaako that I've been pondering over the past week. Some of this is purely down to me being a super #KiwiNRL nerd, so bare with me as Isaako was widely acknowledged for making a move from Aotearoa Kiwis to Toa Samoa, apparently following Martin Taupau in a permanent move back to rep Samoa. That's cool, although Isaako's move was slightly different as he was behind Ken Maumalo, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and then probably Jordan Rapana and maybe even Reimis Smith.
Unlike Taupau, Isaako's 'switch' feels more like a matter of convenience where he was clearly not going to be selected for Aotearoa and then went the Samoa route. That's a bit annoying as I'm all about ride or die with your team, but even then, Isaako was singled out over others like Raymond Faitala-Mariner and Herman Ese'ese who were both in Kiwis squads last year and returned to the Samoa squad.
Now Isaako hasn't been selected for Brisbane Broncos due to personal reasons - hopefully everything is all good with Isaako first and foremost. Isaako hasn't been in great form this season and doesn't appear to have adjusted to new coach Anthony Seibold all that well as that is the only thing that has changed around Isaako's footy. Isaako hasn't been named in reserve grade, which is understandable and his replacement on the Broncos wing is Richard Kennar, who is a service-able wing and someone who is eager for an opportunity.
All of which, leaves me curious as to what happens next for Isaako. It's not automatic that he re-gains Broncos selection and this could fester into a weird little situation.
Eels vs Raiders
Starters: Brad Takairangi, Josh Hoffman, Dylan Brown, Manu Ma'u.
Bench/Extended Bench: Peni Terepo, Marata Niukore.
Starters: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Bailey Simonsson, Jordan Rapana, Joseph Tapine.
Bench/Extended Bench: Siliva Havili, Iosia Soliola.
Aotearoa's halves depth was on show around their Test vs Tonga as Benji Marshall and Shaun Johnson kept Kieran Foran out of the top-17, while the absence of Kodi Nikorima was absorbed fairly easily via the three OG halves. Jahrome Hughes came off the bench in that Test and can play halves, now we have the return of Dylan Brown to the halves for Parramatta Eels and Aotearoa has yet another half making their case for selection.
Brown also adds to the #KiwiNRL Northland crew that features Adam Blair, James Fisher-Harris and Corey Harawira-Naera. The main focus for Brown is helping his Eels team find some consistency and this is a great scenario for Brown to come into as his impact and influence is going to be rather easy to identify. We got a little taste of Brown early in the season and now we have the chance to learn more about Brown's game and what he can do alongside Mitchell Moses.
Warriors vs Panthers
Starters: All but Blake Green.
Bench/Extended Bench: All the boys.
Starters: Jarome Luai, James Fisher-Harris.
Bench/Extended Bench: Moses Leota/Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, Sione Katoa, Dean Whare.
No Nathan Cleary for Penrith Panthers means that Jarome Luai slides into the halves, after Luai played hooker for Samoa. Luai came off the bench to play hooker in the Panthers loss to Warriors in round 10 and a lot has changed at the Panthers since then, with confidence simmering. Now Luai has a chance to show what he can do in the halves with James Maloney with an opportunity for a few weeks in the halves opening up via Cleary's injury.
Bulldogs vs Sharks
Starters: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Reimis Smith, Kieran Foran, Corey Harawira-Naera.
Bench/Extended Bench: Ofahiki Ogden/Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Renouf To'omaga.
Starters: Sosaia Feki, Shaun Johnson, Braden Hamlin-Uele, Briton Nikora/
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Despite not looking all that slick in his NRL outings, Kieran Foran is still a strong contender to re-acquaint himself with Shaun Johnson as the Kiwis top halves combo. Foran was in Kiwis camp last week and how he carries those vibes into his work with the Doggies is going to be fascinating as the confidence and faith from Kiwis coach Michael Maguire may flow into Foran's NRL footy.
Hopefully we get to see Corey Harawira-Naera and Briton Nikora line up against each other on the same edge in a battle of the young #KiwiNRL edge forwards. Nikora has overtaken Harawira-Naera in the Kiwis ranks and it's now up to Harawira-Naera to see what he can do, ideally via consistent opportunities to start on an edge. If Harawira-Naera does line up on the Bulldogs' left, he'll also have to deal with Shaun Johnson and that Johnson/Nikora combo will offer a huge test of Harawira-Naera's defensive prowess.
Braden Hamlin-Uele is graced with the opportunity to start in the absence of Andrew Fifita, presenting a massive chance for Hamlin-Uele to prove he's not just an impact forward. Hamlin-Uele has been fantastic coming off the bench for Cronulla Sharks, averaging 10 runs/100m in just 34mins and for context, starting prop Matt Prior averages 10 runs/90m in 42mins. It's slightly easier for Hamlin-Uele to go hard for 30mins off the bench, compared to starting the game and getting into the grind, so how he deals with that and whether he can sustain (10m/run) such efficiency is going to make for an interesting sub-plot.
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Peace and love 27.