Tigers vs Cowboys
Starters: Esan Marsters, Benji Marshall, Josh Aloiai, Michael Chee-Kam.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Starters: Jason Taumalolo.
Bench/Extended Bench: /Peter Hola.
Esan Marsters is currently rolling through an up and down patch of his season, with his output falling below is usual high standards. Having started the season with seven straight games in which Marster ran over 100m, had at least 1 offload and 3+ tackle busts per game, Marsters has been more inconsistent in his last six outings. Marsters has run for 52m, 85m, 177m, 77m, 134m and 45m in this six-game stretch and recording more than 2 tackle busts in just one of those games, partly due to Marsters having less than 20 touches in each of those six games.
To start the season, Marsters have 16+ touches in all of the first seven games and 20+ touches in three of those games. Recently, Marsters has had less than 10 touches twice and it seems like Marsters' performances are a reflection of what the Tigers are up to as the battle away in the middle of the ladder. There is a chance that Marsters will line up against Coen Hess who as been named at centre and that could present an opportunity for Marsters to get back to his best as his nimble feet and offloads could trouble the bigger Hess.
Warriors vs Raiders
Starters: All but Blake Green.
Bench/Extended Bench: All but Lachlan Burr/Karl Lawton, Josh Curran.
Starters: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Bailey Simonsson, Jordan Rapana, Iosia Soliola, Joseph Tapine.
Bench/Extended Bench: Siliva Havili.
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad returns to Auckland and does so as one of the hottest players in the NRL, riding the Raiders wave this season. Here is how Nicoll-Klokstad stacks up among fullbacks across the competition....
4th in average runs per game and metres per game.
13th in average line breaks (0.5).
7th in average tackle busts (3.4).
9th in average offloads (0.7).
Those are solid numbers, but Nicoll-Klokstad is also a safe option at the back. Three fullbacks have more run metres per game than Nicoll-Klokstad, but Nicoll-Klokstad is the only one of those fullbacks to average less than 1 error per game and Nicoll-Klokstad isn't even close with 0.4 errors per game. It's quite the list of players when you consider that Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Tom Trbojejic and James Tedesco are the three fullbacks with more run metres and more errors than Nicoll-Klokstad.
Broncos vs Storm
Starters: Alex Glenn, Jamayne Isaako.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Starters: Jahrome Hughes, Jesse Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Kenny Bromwich.
Bench/Extended Bench: Brandon Smith.
As time rolls on, we are learning more about Jamayne Isaako's situation with his father taking up a recent battle against cancer. This saw Isaako miss a few games and since he returned to the Broncos team, they are unbeaten in their last three game (draw, win, win) and while the two wins came against Bulldogs and Titans, Isaako was near his best with over 150m in both of those wins. This week Isaako is up against Josh Addo-Carr, although Isaako's work will likely come through the middle and then he will be tasked with containing Addo-Carr and his speed; Melbourne Storm will through different shapes and schemes to test Isaako's defence.
Sandor Earl did a podcast with Jesee Bromwich, which is mandatory listening for #KiwiNRL fans:
Bromwich has been super consistent for the Stom this season (as always) and while he is averaging 12.8 runs and 116m per game, his output in the last eight games has been immense. Bromwich has run over 100m in seven of those eight games, with the romp over Titans seeing Bromwich chill a bit and not take on so much work. Five of those eight games have featured Bromwich running 150+ metres. With Bromwich setting the standard, it feels like Nelson Asofa-Solomona is starting to heat up as his last three games have seen up have 1+ tackle busts, 1+ offloads and 140+ metres.
Sea Eagles vs Knights
Starters: Martin Taupau.
Bench/Extended Bench: Taniela Paseka.
Starters: Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Mason Lino.
Bench/Extended Bench: James Gavet/Jirah Momoisea.
Newcastle Knights have a bye in reserve grade this week, meaning that Danny Levi and Herman Ese'ese won't be playing footy after being dropped. This does however result in Jirah Momoisea being named on an extended bench and the forward from St Paul's College in Auckland having only dabbled in league while playing 1st 15 rugby union. Momoisea has been playing steadily in reserve grade and has quickly emerged as one of the best #KiwiNRL forward prospects. While unlikely to play this week, Momoisea is obviously making an impression at the Knights and is in a similar spot to Peter Hola at Cowboys as they are both being named on extended benches, waiting for their chance.
Levi's absence opens a spot for Mason Lino to come into the halves, with Connor Watson moving into hooker. The significance of this is that Lino is going to play in the halves, in the same team as Kalyn Ponga, Mitchell Pearce and Watson, which is partly due to the Knights mediocre form but also due to Lino taking his opportunities. It never seemed like Lino was going to be a starter in a full strength Knights spine, but now Lino could settle into that role.
Bulldogs vs Panthers
Starters: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Reimis Smith, Corey Harawira-Naera.
Bench/Extended Bench: Jeremy Marshall-King, Renouf To'omaga/Raymod Faitala-Mariner, Ofahiki Ogden.
Starters: Dean Whare, James Fisher-Harris.
Bench/Extended Bench: Jarome Luai.
The two Northlanders will do battle in the forwards here with James Fisher-Harris named to start in the middle for Panthers and Corey Harawira-Naera out on an edge for Bulldogs. Fisher-Harris was at his best last week in the Panthers loss to Raiders, playing 74mins with 15 runs for 155m and a try assist; a work-rate and efficiency combo that is kinda amazing.
Jeremy Marshall-King has suffered a recent demotion back to the bench, however last week Michael Lichaa started and only played 27mins, then Marshall-King came on to play 53mins. I've been impressed by Marshall-King over the past month or so as he has shown a clear intention to run and after a couple a whopping games in terms of run metres, Marshall-King's production has taken a dip with the move to the bench. In the loss to Roosters last week, Marshall-King had 3 runs for 42 and 1 scoot out of dummy half for 28m which is a great sign and I reckon the Bulldogs will be eager to upset the Panthers with Marshall-King's running game a key factor.
Sharks vs Rabbitohs
Starters: Sosaia Feki, Shaun Johnson, Briton Nikora.
Bench/Extended Bench: Braden Hamlin-Uele.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Briton Nikora is another #KiwiNRL joker who has settled into a bit of a plateau, after a hot start to the season that earned him a Kiwis debut. Five of the first six games saw Nikora put up over 100m, with line breaks in four of those games; since then Nikora has had just one line break in 11 games and has run for more than 70m in just one of the last six games. I don't expect these numbers to improve dramatically at this stage of the season as the Sharks near full-strength at the moment and that means Nikora may get less work which is all good.
Defensively, Nikora will feature on the Sharks right edge and come up against the Rabbitohs left edge where John Sutton and Cody Walker run riot. Shaun Johnson also lines up on the right for Cronulla and the Rabbitohs will flow between targeting Johnson and running their structure to get around the Sharks. Nikora has to help Johnson, while also making good reads to help those outside him and that's a massive defensive task.
Roosters vs Titans
Starters: Joseph Manu, Isaac Liu, Zane Tetevano.
Bench/Extended Bench: Poasa Fa'amausili, Sitili Tupouniua.
Starters: Kevin Proctor.
Bench/Extended Bench: Moeaki Fotuaika.
No Jared Waerea-Hargreaves or Sio Siua Taukeiaho for Roosters, which results in Isaac Liu and Zane Tetevano starting at prop with Poasa Fa'amausili and Sitili Tupouniua coming on to the bench. This is a great example of what I have talked about with the Roosters this season as coach Trent Robinson has rotated the use of his forwards, especially the younger lads and now with the two experienced forwards absent, it's a simple case of next man up.
Dragons vs Eels
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Starters: Brad Takairangi, Dylan Brown, Manu Ma'u.
Bench/Extended Bench: Marata Niukore/Josh Hoffman, Peni Terepo.
To account for the arrival of Waqa Blake and the return of Michael Jennings, Brad Takairangi is named on the wing for Parramatta. There is also the return of Shaun Lane, resulting in Marata Niukore dropping back to the bench, while Peni Terepo is lurking on an extended bench but has been named to start in reserve grade. Eels games for me though, are all about Dylan Brown and with Corey Norman, Gareth Widdop, Ben Hunt, Clint Gutherson and Michell Moses all on the field in this game, Brown will be under the radar. Perfect situation for Brown to showcase his talents.
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Peace and love 27.