Dragons vs Storm
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Starters: Jahrome Hughes, Jesse Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Kenny Bromwich, Brandon Smith.
Bench/Extended Bench: Albert Vete.
Having played as a middle forward when coming off the bench, Brandon Smith gets a crack to start in the middle. This gives Melbourne an all #KiwiNRL middle forward trio and Smith slots in nicely among the size of Jesse Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona, as well as Albert Vete, Tino Faasuamaleuai and Tui Kamikamica who are all of the larger variety. The difference for this game is that Smith won't be injecting himself into the game and will need to rip in through the opening exchanges, while maintaining the buzz that makes him so effective.
Vete is back via a number of Origin absences, playing his second NRL game for the Storm. Christian Welch and Dale Finucane will come back into the Storm team, as will Felise Kaufusi who could then push Joe Stimson back to the bench, all of which limits Vete's opportunities when the Storm have their full crew. Should Vete offer immense impact of the bench though, he could start to build a case for further selection as the season wiggles into Finals footy.
Tigers vs Roosters
Starters: Esan Marsters, Benji Marshall, Josh Aloiai.
Bench/Extended Bench: Elijah Taylor, Michael Chee Kam/Russll Packer.
Starters: Joseph Manu, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Zane Tetevano, Isaac Liu.
Bench/Extended Bench: Poasa Faamausili, Sitili Tupouniua.
Michael Chee Kam has established himself as one of the best bench operators this season and has a few clutch plays to enhance that reputation. Chee Kam scored a match-winning try last week vs Rabbitohs, playing 32 minutes and racking up 8 runs/114m and 3 tackle busts in that limited game time. The versatility and mobility offered by Chee Kam makes him the perfect bench option and along with Elijah Taylor, these two will need to counter the influence of Angus Crichton, Poasa Faaumausili and Sitili Tupouniua who are all on the Roosters bench.
The most likely scenario is that Tupouniua was injured last week and Sio Siua Taukeiaho is injured this week, although it feels like some wise coaching from coach Trent Robinson. Tupouniua made his debut for Tonga and then missed last week's loss to Storm, while Taukeiaho played vs Storm in Waerea-Hargreaves' absence and is now out this week - conveniently when Waerea-Hargreaves returns. Zane Tetevano has been rotated between bench and starting in recent times as well to offer more depth to this idea and I reckon Robinson is wisely using his forwards, ensuring that everyone is ready for late season footy.
Knights vs Warriors
Starters: Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Mason Lino, James Gavet.
Bench/Extended Bench: Herman Ese'ese.
Starters: All but Blake Green, Karl Lawton.
Bench/Extended Bench: All but Lachlan Burr.
Mason Lino is quietly snapping up his opportunities with Newcastle Knights and rolled out another strong display last week in the big win over Broncos. Lino set up a try, then scored one and as you'd expect Lino to play a second-fiddle role to Mitchell Pearce, Lino chimed in with 4 kicks to Pearce's 10 and 28 touches to Pearce's 66. It's all about playing the role and Lino looks to be a fine assistant to Pearce at this stage.
This has come with Connor Watson playing at hooker and now with Danny Levi back at hooker, Watson moves to fullback. Obviously Kalyn Ponga's the big dawg fullback and this is curious because of where Lino fits in, when/if Newcastle get their best spine available. There is scope for Lino to command further selection in the halves, which would then lead to a niggly battle between Watson and Levi for hooking duties assuming Ponga slots back in at fullback.
Sharks vs Broncos
Starters: Sosaia Feki, Shaun Johnson, Briton Nikora.
Bench/Extended Bench: Braden Hamlin-Uele.
Starters: Alex Glenn.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
I've got a simmering idea lurking in my loins after Shaun Johnson hit some deja vu as the Sharks lost to Bulldogs and Johnson received similar attention to what he often got at the Warriors. Johnson wasn't overly terrible, not any worse than his comrades; Matt Moylan had 5 errors and Johnson had 3, which is a lot but on par with the rest of the team. Johnson only missed one tackle, got plenty of touches and shared usage with Chad Townsend nicely (Johnson 54 touches, Townsend 56) and most importantly Johnson ran 18 times with 11 tackle busts.
The number of touches and runs, is crucial for Johnson as the combo is a key indicator for his involvement. Regardless of what Johnson does well, he's a lightning rod for the mistakes he makes and much of the criticism Johnson receives can often be shared among his team mates - either at the Warriors or Sharks. This is a wee bit unfair, although the only common factor is Johnson himself and for whatever reason, Johnson attracts this unwanted attention.
Braden Hamlin-Uele didn't end up starting vs Bulldogs and is named on the bench this week. He did however get through 11 runs/111m in 44mins, which is another whopping performance from the young middle forward. I reckon Hamlin-Uele will relish the chance to come up against Mathew Lodge and Payne Haas this week and expect Hamlin-Uele to put up some similar numbers.
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Peace and love 27.