Rabbitohs vs Sea Eagles
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Starting: Martin Taupau.
Bench/Extended Bench: /Toafofoa Sipley.
Not much doing unfortunately in this fixture, other than Toafofoa Sipley lurking on the bench for Manly Sea Eagles. Sipley recently signed a new two-year deal with the Sea Eagles which is a nice sign of faith from Des Hasler as Sipley only just came back from a hefty knee injury and Sipley was rolled out for 16 minutes of footy in the win over Cronulla Sharks. With 37m from 5 runs and 2 tackle busts, Sipley showed glimpses of his oomph through the middle and Sipley will be hoping for a late change to Manly's bench that could see him get game time vs Rabbitohs.
Storm vs Eels
Starting: Jahrome Hughes, Jesse Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Kenny Bromwich.
Bench/Extended Bench: Brandon Smith.
Starting: Dylan Brown, Manu Ma'u.
Bench/Extended Bench: Brad Takairangi, Marata Niukore/Peni Terepo, Josh Hoffman.
Far more funk in this Finals game, led by Jahrome Hughes vs Dylan Brown in the halves. Everything went perfectly for Brown in Parramatta's big win over Brisbane Broncos last weekend, while Hughes did a solid job for Melbourne in their loss with 81m from 9 runs, 4 tackle busts and a try assist. Despite have almost half the touches of Cameron Munster (26 vs 42), Hughes and Munster had 5 kicks each which outlines Hughes' role in that came where he tended to run the footy or kick; compared to Munster who did everything.
How Hughes operates this weekend will be of great interest as the Storm look to find the perfect balance in using their play-makers. Hughes plays on the Storm's right edge and Brown on the Eels' left edge, meaning they will face off against each other in what is the best #KiwiNRL match up of Finals week rua. Hughes could pose a threat to Eels edge forward Shaun Lane and while Lane is excessively mobile for a lad his size, Hughes averages 3.1 tackle busts/game and I suspect Hughes will be out to isolate Lane with his running antics.
The flipside of that is Brown putting a target on Hughes, using Lane to run at Hughes and test his defensive prowess. Hughes is a fairly solid defender for a half, averaging 0.8 missed tackles per game, which is even more impressive when compared to Brown who averages 1.7 missed tackles per game. Both Hughes and Brown have nice running and kicking games, but the low key factor will be how they use the players around them to play off whatever they initiate.
Nelson Asofa-Solomona is understandably the beacon of attention in Melbourne's forward pack, which overlooks the likes of Jesse Bromwich and Brandon Smith. Bromwich was solid without being spectacular in the loss to Canberra Raiders, with 11 runs for 105m in 48mins which is hovering around his season average of 12.4runs for 114m. For the Storm to win though, Bromwich will need to roll out one of his 14-15 run games for 140m and lead the Storm through the middle. Bromwich's class is most evident in what he does in Finals footy and now that the Storm find themselves in knockout footy, Bromwich will most likely rise to that level.
Smith wasn't quite as effective in the loss to Raiders as he has been in his middle forward role this season, which is another low key factor in the Storm's loss. Playing 45mins, Smith had 6 runs for 46m and no tackle busts which was well below his season averages; 9.6 runs for 89m and 2 tackle busts. That can be chopped into Smith averaging 7.66m/run vs Raiders and averaging 9.27m/run across the season, which offers clarity around the dip in Smith's impact off the bench. Remember that Smith's job is to bring energy and funk off the bench, in typical Waiheke Rams fashion and that wasn't quite present last weekend. Expect Smith to be far more dynamic this round.
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Peace and love 27.