Roosters vs Rabbitohs
Starting: Joseph Manu, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Isaac Liu.
Bench/Extended Bench: Zane Tetevano, Sio Siua Taukeiaho/Sitili Tupouniua.
Bench/Extended Bench: /Mawene Hiroti.
Joseph Manu rolled out a timely performance leading into Finals footy last week in the Roosters loss to Rabbitohs and although the Rabbitohs will suss out a defensive scheme to deal with Manu, the Roosters having options throughout their squad to counter any focus on an individual. That doesn't mean I expect Manu to repeat his 14 runs for 142m, 1 try assist, 1 tackle bust, 4 offloads effort from last week, yet I am eager to see if Manu can ride a wave of momentum.
Manu is third for total minutes played with the Roosters this season and along with Latrell Mitchell, the steadiness of these two is a slept on factor of the Roosters. For context on Manu's performance last week, we can compare it to his season averages; 11.2 runs and 97m, 2.5 tackle busts, 1.1 offloads per game. The tackle busts don't align because Manu only had a lone tackle bust last week, however this can be summed up by saying that when the Roosters go to the right edge and Manu gets the footy in some level of space, we should be expecting a tackle bust or an offload.
Don't take what happened last week in losing to the Rabbitohs too seriously as Sio Siua Taukeiaho was a notable absentee. Taukeiaho has come off the bench in recent weeks, swapping with Isaac Liu, so keep that in mind when pondering Taukeiaho's rather bonkers numbers from the season; 46.7mins, 13.4 runs for 138m, 1.6 tackle busts, 0.5 offloads. That gives the Roosters a middle forward who can play big minutes and combine high production with super efficiency. I don't expect Taukeiaho to 35+ minutes this weekend and that could be glorious as Taukeiaho will offer plenty of oomph off the bench, especially considering how mobile and dynamic the Otara Scorpions junior is.
Storm vs Raiders
Starting: Jahrome Hughes, Jesse Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Kenny Bromwich.
Bench/Extended Bench: Brandon Smith.
Starting: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Jordan Rapana, Iosia Soliola, Joseph Tapine.
Bench/Extended Bench: Bailey Simonsson/Siliva Havili.
In terms of a #KiwiNRL battle, this is the game that is mandatory viewing from Finals week tahi. Melbourne Storm are the best team from the season and only four Storm players have played all 24 games this season; Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Jesse Bromwich, Kenny Bromwich and Cameron Smith. That highlights how reliant the Storm have been on those three #KiwiNRL forwards to lead the forward pack and then we have Jahrome Hughes and Brandon Smith who have both played 20+ games. This means that the #KiwiNRL big-five in Melboure have all played 20+ games for the best team in the NRL.
Nelson Asofa-Solomona was at his best last week in the Storm's win over Cowboys, playing 42mins with a try, 19 runs for 190m, 1 line break, 6 tackle busts and 4 offloads. Asofa-Solomona will need to be near his best to help Melbourne break down the Raiders forward pack and he will come up against his Wellington homie Joseph Tapine, who starts at lock for the Raiders. The last time these two came up against each other in round 22, there was a bit of funky niggle and I'm fairly confident that they will be lining each other up again this weekend.
Tapine has been missing for a few weeks, however he slots straight back into the starting Raiders pack and that's a great sign of faith from coach Ricky Stuart. A Raiders forward pack with Josh Papali'i, Iosia Soliola and Tapine in the middle is exactly what is required to deal with the Storm's exceptional forward pack and the battle of either team's middle crews will be intense. I'd keep a close eye on Jesse Bromwich as he is someone who is still slept on for what he offers the Storm and while I expect him to churn out some impressive numbers, his work defensively alongside Dale Finucane could be a major factor in helping Melbourne grab the win.
Melbourne will have some kind of plan for Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, to put him under more or different kind of pressure to what he has seen throughout the season. Whether it's early kicks and finding turf to work Nicoll-Klokstad over, targeting him in the defensive line or simply keeping the footy away from the Cook Islands international; Melbourne will do something, somehow to isolate Nicoll-Klokstad. That puts the funk back on Nicoll-Klokstad, who has done a great job this season and now moves into a different realm where his job becomes far more important and that strong season won't mean much if the Raiders stumble in the Finals. I'm excited to see Nicoll-Klokstad play in this arena and see what he is capable of.
Sea Eagles vs Sharks
Bench/Extended Bench: Toafofoa Sipley.
Starting: Sosaia Feki, Shaun Johnson, Briton Nikora.
Bench/Extended Bench: Braden Hamlin-Uele.
Briton Nikora exploded last week with a try, 17 runs for 179m and 10 tackle busts in the must-win game vs Tigers. This hasn't been the norm for Nikora this season, even though Nikora burst on to the scene and commanded Kiwis selection earlier in the year. The first six rounds of footy saw Nikoria run for 100+ metres in five of those six games, yet this plateaued for Nikora to finish the regular season with nine games of 100+ metres from his total of 23 games played. Five in the first six rounds and then three games of 100+ metres in the last four games, so this yarn could be spun with Nikora starting the season strongly, then hitting a plateau before adjusting and finish the season near his best.
Braden Hamlin-Uele has been a wee bit more consistent and rolled out exactly what we have come to expect from the Glenora Bears junior. Playing just 34mins, Hamlin-Uele had 14 runs for 144m, with a tackle bust and an offload which is another remind of the immense impact Hamlin-Uele is having off the bench. These aren't out-liers either as Hamlin-Uele is averaging 10.4 runs and 100m across 20 games this season, meaning that over the course of the season, Hamlin-Uele has found a way to maintain his trademark efficiency.
Eels vs Broncos
Starting: Dylan Brown, Manu Ma'u.
Bench/Extended Bench: Brad Takairangi, Marata Niukore/Peni Terepo, Josh Hoffman.
Starting: Jamayne Isaako, Alex Glenn.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
I'm going to chuck it out there that Marata Niukore is the most under-appreciated #KiwiNRL performer from this season (notable mentions: Jesse Bromwich, Braden Hamlin-Uele, Reimis Smith, Moeaki Fotuaika). Niukore came off the bench in Parramatta's win over Manly, playing 44mins with 11 runs for 115m and an offload. For the season, Niukore has had major contributions to a strong Eels team with the Mangere East junior playing 23 games (six Eels have played 23+ games) and averaging a whopping 56 minutes of footy per game. Combine that reliability with 8.8runs and 82m per game, which is highly efficient work from a young middle forward and you have someone who has been utterly fabulous in 2019.
Now Niukore comes up against the famed Broncos forward pack. I'm extremely intrigued as to how Dylan Brown's work translates to Finals footy and how much of an influence he can have after 13 runs for 139m, 1 try assist, 4 tackle busts and an offload last week, but Brown's challenge to out-perform his opponents won't be as intense as Niukore vs the Broncos forwards. Niukore receives little recognition for his work outside of the Niche Cache and now he lines up in Finals footy against the best crop of young forwards in the NRL, a challenge that should see Niukore flourish.
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Peace and love 27.