Sea Eagles vs Tigers
Starters: Martin Taupau.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Starters: Esan Marsters, Benji Marshall, Michael Chee-Kam.
Bench/Extended Bench: Elijah Taylor.
Tommy Talau has been named in the centres for Wests Tigers and Tommy is the son of former Kiwi Willie Talau. While Willie hails from Taranaki, Tommy has spent the bulk of his younger years in Sydney and thus Tommy has represented New South Wales age group teams as well as Australian Schoolboys. There doesn't appear to be any connection to Aotearoa, or wanting to represent Aotearoa so I won't be including Talau in the #KiwiNRL Encyclopedia yarns, just a heads up that he will debut this week.
Along the same line, Tevita Funa has been named on an extended bench for Manly Sea Eagles. Funa and Manase Fainu were in the same Taurahere group back in 2016 as NZRL started holding camps for players in Australia who are eligible for Aotearoa, both made the 2016 Taurahere Merit team as well - Funa at centre, Fainu in the halves. I don't expect Funa to go down the Kiwis route though and he will likely add to Tonga's depth once he establishes himself in the NRL.
Let me go down a slightly related tangent; Lee Turner was named on the wing of that 2016 Taurahere Merit team and his brother Paul was named on the bench. Paul caught some buzz this week via these highlights for Aotearoa Warriors reserves and this saw Paul earned NSWRL Canterbury Cup Team of the Week selection at fullback, the same week in which Lee was named at centre for the QRL Intrust Super Cup Team of the Week playing for Tweed Heads.
Titans vs Eels
Starters: Jesse Arthars, Kevin Proctor.
Bench/Extended Bench: Moeaki Fotuaika.
Starters: Brad Takairangi, Dylan Brown, Manu Ma'u.
Bench/Extended Bench: Peni Terepo, Marata Niukore.
Marata Niukore continues to make a huge impression with Parramatta Eels, even though he has been pushed back to the bench. Now operating primarily as a middle forward, Niukore's size and mobility gives the Eels plenty of impact and as Peni Terepo has snuck back into the Eels top-17, the Eels have quietly assembled a hefty forward pack. Last week in the win over Newcastle Knights, Niukore got through 40 minutes off the bench, with 14 runs for 135m, a tackle bust and an offload; a decent workload for a bench forward.
Broncos vs Panthers
Starters: Jamayne Isaako.
Bench/Extended Bench: /Alex Glenn.
Starters: James Fisher-Harris.
Bench/Extended Bench: Sione Katoa, Moses Leota/Dean Whare.
In a strong display vs Cronulla Sharks last week, James Fisher-Harris played all 80mins and got through plenty of work with 23 runs for 188m, 2 tackle busts and 2 offloads. Fisher-Harris made 40 tackles, although he also missed 9 tackles but Fisher-Harris wasn't the worst Penrith tackler and we kinda need to expect missed tackles from a middle forward playing 80mins.
I'm not sure how sustainable this is for Fisher-Harris and he has quite clearly benefitted from the arrival of Ivan Cleary, who is putting immense faith in the Northlander. The same can't be said for Sione Katoa, who was on the bench vs Sharks but didn't end up playing as Mitchell Kenny started at hooker and spent the whole game on the pitch. Katoa is again named on the bench for this week, but we'll have to wait and see what impact he ends up having. I'm also curious about the Dean Whare situation, having played reserve grade last week and not named to start this week; just curious to see how it plays out heading into finals footy.
Knights vs Cowboys
Starters: Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Mason Lino.
Bench/Extended Bench: Herman Ese'ese/Jirah Momoisea, Danny Levi.
Starters: Jordan Kahu, Jason Taumalolo.
Bench/Extended Bench: /Peter Hola.
Jordan Kahu is back on the wing for Cowboys and given that Kahu moved north from Brisbane to take up a vacant fullback spot, then went into the centres and is now on the wing, this doesn't seem to have played out as expected. Scott Drinkwater was signed to play fullback and for whatever reason, Cowboys coach Paul Green is rolling with Coen Hess as a centre and I'm not convinced that Tom Opacic is a better centre than Kahu either. Kahu is coming back from injury though and may be easing into his footy again, after yet another injury.
There has been a few stories - one a while ago, one recently - about Kahu returning to rugby union as he played union before moving to Australia. Right now, it feels like Kahu's move to Cowboys has left him in a similar spot to what he was in at the Broncos and the weird vibes from the Cowboys could be pushing Kahu towards union.
Storm vs Raiders
Starters: Jahrome Hughes, Jesse Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Kenny Bromwich.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Starters: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Jordan Rapana, Iosia Soliola, Joseph Tapine.
Bench/Extended Bench: Bailey Simonsson/Siliva Havili.
The debut of Nicho Hynes at fullback for Melbourne Storm understandably got the bulk of the attention from the Storm's win over South Sydney Rabbitohs. I'm not going to go hundies into celebrating Jesse Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona's performances vs Rabbitohs when the Bunnies were without their best forward, although it's a whole lot easier to make your debut at fullback when the middle men are rolling out these performances...
Jesse Bromwich: 58mins, 1 try, 18 runs for 156m, 1 tackle bust, 2 offloads.
Nelson Asofa-Solomona: 45mins, 14 runs for 137m, 4 offloads.
Asofa-Solomona has enjoyed a minor resurgence, most likely planned by Storm coach Craig Bellamy as his minutes have steadily increased into the climax of the season. First and foremost, the Bromwich bros and Asofa-Solomona have played every game for the best team in the NRL this season, but Asofa-Solomona played less than 40mins in each of the first five games of the season. During the middle phase of the season, Asofa-Solomona came off the bench for three games with game time hovering around that 40-minute mark (three above, five below). The last six games have seen Asofa-Solomona play more than 40mins in every game and at least 45mins in four of those six games; Bellamy is winding up big NAS.
Rabbitohs vs Bulldogs
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Starters: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Reimis Smith, Corey Harawira-Naera.
Bench/Extended Bench: Jeremy Marshall-King, Renouf To'omaga, Raymod Faitala-Mariner/Morgan Harper, Kieran Foran, Ofahiki Ogden.
The Bulldogs #KiwiNRL crew is the deepest in the NRL and could get even deeper with Morgan Harper named on an extended bench. Harper was scouted by the Bulldogs from Ngaruawahia Panthers/Waikato where he was playing for the men's team as a teenager and has enjoyed a steady rise through the grades to establish himself as one of the best centres in Canterbury Cup. Last year Harper played at centre for the Junior Kiwis and is extremely similar to Reimis Smith as a tall, athletic centre/wing with speed and skills.
Harper is on the extended bench this week along with Kieran Foran and Ofahiki Ogden. Harper will offer outside back cover and the Bulldogs are enjoying a solid patch of footy, which could provide a platform to give Harper a debut. In the win over Tigers, Jeremy Marshall-King again came off the bench to play the majority (43mins) of the game at dummy half, while another Bulldog who has impressed recently has been Renouf To'omaga and he churned out 6 runs for 61m in 21mins as an impact forward vs Tigers.
Roosters vs Warriors
Starters: Joseph Manu, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Isaac Liu.
Bench/Extended Bench: Zane Tetevano, Poasa Fa'aumausili, Sitili Tupouniua.
Starters: All but Blake Green.
Bench/Extended Bench: All but Adam Keighran, Blake Ayshford.
No one really wants to appreciate the work of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves for some reason, but the Roosters big bopper still resides among the best middle forwards in the NRL and should be a lock for the Kiwis end of season footy. Against a strong Raiders pack, Waerea-Hargreaves played 46mins with 15 runs for 164m (10.93m/run!) which is an almighty combination of production and efficiency. This season, Waerea-Hargreaves averages 51mins and 13.9 runs for 127m, which sets the tone for the Roosters forward pack and that baseline allows for the more dynamic forwards to do their thing.
Sitili Tupouniua has rightfully earned some attention for his development, do not overlook Poasa Fa'amausili though who was super efficient in limited game time vs Raiders. Playing just 12mins, Fa'amausili had 3 runs for 39m which comes out to 13m/run and his season average is bang on 10m/run - averaging 5 runs for 50m.
Sharks vs Dragons
Starters: Sosaia Feki, Shaun Johnson, Briton Nikora.
Bench/Extended Bench: Braden Hamlin-Uele.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
All we know for certain is that trying to make a connection between Shaun Johnson's performances and his team's success is a tricky task, unlikely to result in any major conclusion. Just like his time at the Warriors, when the Sharks lose it tends to be Johnson's fault although that wasn't the case in the loss to Panthers as Johnson ran 14 times, had 2 line breaks, 2 try assists, 5 tackle busts and an offload. Johnson was decent in that game and in a local derby vs Dragons, expect Johnson to rally behind an energetic forward pack who will be eager to bounce back.
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