Cowboys vs Broncos
Starters: Jason Taumalolo.
Bench/Extended Bench: /Peter Hola.
Starters: Jamayne Isaako, Alex Glenn.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
With what has got to be, or is close to a full strength forward pack on deck, the Cowboys face the Broncos young forwards and this presents an interesting little gauge of where Jason Taumalolo is at in 2019. Overall this season, Taumalolo is averaging 18.4 runs for 192m and that is still excellent with high production combined with efficiency in his work and Taumalolo also leads the Cowboys with 4.2 tackle busts per game; no other Cowboy averages 3+ tackle busts per game.
The Cowboys probably need a few outside backs busting that many tackles, however this shows Taumalolo's prowess. Taumalolo is on a three game streak of missing 2+ tackles and the Cowboys have lost their last three games. Stretch that out further and the Cowboys have lost six of their last seven games, with Taumalolo playing at least 50mins in all seven of those games. Taumalolo has played more than 70mins in four of the seven games and Taumalolo has not run for 250+ metres in any of those seven games, despite the big minutes. Coming up against a big, mobile Broncos pack, I'm curious to see how Taumalolo's minutes impact his performance, as well as how his defence stacks up against the Broncos in the middle.
Warriors vs Sea Eagles
Starters: All but Blake Ayshford, Blake Green, Lachlan Burr.
Bench/Extended Bench: All but Adam Keighran/Josh Curran.
Starters: Martin Taupau.
Bench/Extended Bench: Taniela Paseka.
If Josh Curran sneaks on to the bench prior to the game, this will be the most Australians in a Warriors team this year. Blake Ayshford has only recently enjoyed steady game time, joining regulars Blake Green and Lachlan Burr, while Adam Keighran hasn't been sighted a whole lot since being cut earlier in the season. Four Aussies still feels like a season high and Curran could make it five.
Panthers vs Sharks
Starters: Dean Whare, James Fisher-Harris.
Bench/Extended Bench: Sione Katoa, Moses Leota.
Starters: Sosaia Feki, Shaun Johnson, Briton Nikora.
Bench/Extended Bench: Braden Hamlin-Uele/Sione Katoa.
Sione Katoa returns to the Panthers team after being dropped to reserve grade and the Wellingtonian is coming off a reserve grade loss to the Bulldogs, just like his NRL comrades. Katoa played 80mins at hooker last weekend in Canterbury Cup and scored a try, although Katoa only had 4 dummy half runs for 24m which ain't exactly dynamic. Perhaps limited minutes off the bench could force Katoa into being a spark out of dummy half and the Panthers will need to offer speed, footwork around the ruck to trouble the Sharks.
Dragons vs Titans
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Starters: Jesse Arthars, Kevin Proctor.
Bench/Extended Bench: Moeaki Fotuaika.
Jesse Arthars is back in the Titans team after being out of favour for a few weeks, conveniently Arthars was absent around the time he signed with Brisbane Broncos for next season. The Titans signed English centre Kallum Watkins, despite having Arthars in their system prior to Arthars signing with the Broncos and that was a bit strange, now Arthars is plugging a hole on the wing.
With the Titans getting smoked by Roosters last week, Moeaki Fotuaika was still among the Titans best players. Playing 42mins off the bench, Fotuaika had a solid 14 runs for 125m and also had 48 post contact metres, which was the most of any Titans player. Fotuaika is averaging 45mins, with 13 runs for 127m in a mediocre team at 19-years-old and that's bonkers; reinforcements come in the form of Jai Arrow this week.
Eels vs Knights
Starters: Brad Takairangi, Dylan Brown, Manu Ma'u.
Bench/Extended Bench: Marata Niukore/Greg Leleisiuao, Peni Terepo.
Starters: Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Mason Lino.
Bench/Extended Bench: James Gavet/Jirah Momoisea, Danny Levi.
We still have Greg Leleisiuao and Jirah Momoisea lurking on extended benches for Eels and Knights, nearing a possible debut this season. It feels like Leleisiuao is waiting for an injury or suspension in the outside backs, while Momoisea won't want his Knights to maintain their losing streak, but Knights woes could present opportunities to Momoisea in the forwards.
This game also features Dylan Bron vs Mason Lino. Both are second-fiddle halves to more dominant forces, but play key roles in offering variety and support. Here is how their game averages compare...
Dylan Brown: 5.6 runs, 62m, 1.1 tackle busts, 2.3 kicks, 1.8 missed tackles, 1.4 errors.
Mason Lino: 3.9 runs, 25m, 0.6tb, 4.4 kicks, 2.7mt, 1.3 errors.
Bulldogs vs Tigers
Starters: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Reimis Smith, Corey Harawira-Naera.
Bench/Extended Bench: Jeremy Marshall-King, Renouf To'omaga, Raymond Faitala-Mariner/Ofahiki Ogden.
Starters: Esan Marsters, Benji Marshall, Josh Aloiai, Michael Chee-Kam.
Bench/Extended Bench: /Elijah Taylor.
As someone who appreciates what Ofahiki Ogden has done at the Bulldogs, it's been a bummer to see him drop out of the Dogs' top-17 in recent weeks. This has come via Renouf To'omaga enjoying a promotion, adding another Wellingtonian into the #KiwiNRL mix and while Ogden averages more efficient run metres and more minutes than To'omaga, the difference could be To'omaga's defence. Here's another cheeky #KiwiNRL game average comparison....
Ofahiki Ogden: 30.5mins, 7.5 runs, 72m, 0.8tb, 0.6 offloads, 1.5mt.
Renouf To'omaga: 21.8mins, 5.5 runs, 47m, 0.3tb, 0.3 offloads, 0.3mt.
Both are competing for similar roles and with Raymond Faitala-Mariner now on the bench for his first game since round 14, this could be interesting competition for spots from a #KiwiNRL perspective. Ideally, all three of these lads are on the bench with Jeremy Marshall-King, giving the Bulldogs a full #KiwiNRL bench. Oh and while Marshall-King has been 'dropped' to the bench, he has played 53 and 51 minutes in his last two games.
Raiders vs Roosters
Starters: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Bailey Simonsson, Jordan Rapana, Iosia Soliola, Joseph Tapine.
Bench/Extended Bench: Siliva Havili.
Starters: Joseph Manu, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Isaac Liu.
Bench/Extended Bench: Zane Tetevano, Poasa Fa'amausili, Sitili Tupouniua
No Sio Siua Taukeiaho for the Roosters, however this is still a delightful contest in the forwards for two of the best teams in the NRL. The Raiders have Iosia Soliola and Joseph Tapine, both of whom racked up hefty running stats in their demolition of the Warriors and along with the rest of the Raiders forward pack, they will be confident of matching the Roosters in the middle.
Taukeiaho's absence allows Isaac Liu to start again, at prop. Zane Tetevano, Poasa Fa'amausili and Sitili Tupouniua are on the bench again and the Roosters were as dominant vs Titans as the Raiders were in Auckland with the majority of either team's forwards averaging over 10m per run. I like the Roosters bench and the impact they could provide, while the battle between Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and James Tedesco will be a low key sizzler.
Rabbitohs vs Storm
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Starters: Jahrome Hughes, Jesse Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Kenny Bromwich.
Bench/Extended Bench: Brandon Smith.
Melbourne Storm were another big winner after their touch up of the Broncos and now they face a stiffer challenge against the Rabbitohs Of all the match ups and battles, I'm intrigued by Kenny Bromwich lining up against Sam Burgess; Bromwich on Melbourne's left and Burgess on the Rabbitohs right. I suspect Burgess will be eager to target Cameron Munster and this will force Bromwich into a fair amount of defensive work, but the Storm's best weapon in this game will be their speed, footwork and skill.
Bromwich has the ability to shift Burgess around and make the Rabbitohs defenders miss-read a situation. Along with Munster, the Storm won't be throwing big bodies at Burgess, they will be running plays and isolating Burgess with quicker, more nimble jokers. Bromwich is one of those options and his shimmy/skill combo could pose threat. Also; Kenny and Jesse Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona have played all 19 games for Melbourne Storm this season.
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