Raiders vs Rabbitohs
Starting: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Jordan Rapana, Iosia Soliola, Joseph Tapine.
Bench/Extended Bench: Bailey Simonsson/Siliva Havili.
Bench/Extended Bench: /Mawene Hiroti.
Canberra Raiders appear to have the full crew ready for this semi-final, meaning that Bailey Simonsson slides back to the bench thus keeping Siliva Havili outside the top-17. Simonsson has signed a new deal to stay with the Raiders until the end of 2023 and this is a timely reminder that Simonsson only arrived in Canberra on a train and trial deal with no certainty around his involvement this season.
Things get even funkier when pondering that Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad also recently signed on until the end of 2023. Take it up a notch; Simonsson was officially signed in late December while Nicoll-Klokstad's move from NZ Warriors to Raiders was sealed in early February. That means that the Raiders made two key additions to their squad in the summer and both Simonsson and Nicoll-Klokstad have offered immense value for Canberra.
The Raiders had a week off after beating Melbourne Storm and there were a few little stats that tickling my toes from that epic upset. I'll start with Nicoll-Klokstad who quietly racked up 15 runs for 141m @ 9.4m/run with just 1 tackle bust and no line breaks etc. Unlike Simonsson who blow up with 19 runs for 182m @ 9.57m/run via 6 tackle busts, Nicoll-Klokstad seemed to make his metres the hard way, or in a low key way where you're not expecting such big numbers from his running stuff. The Rabbitohs are unlikely to give Nicoll-Klokstad many tackle-busting opportunities via their strong kick-chase, organisation and effort and that's all good because Nicoll-Klokstad has shown that he can still offer impact without huge tackle busts. However, Nicoll-Klokstad averages 3.1 tackle busts/game and if he's putting up 3-6 tackle busts in this semi-final, the Raiders will be flying.
That win over Storm also only featured 19 minutes of Iosia Soliola. There may have been an injury or something we don't know, but this coincided with Josh Papali'i coming off the bench along with big minutes from Joseph Tapine (69mins) and Corey Horsburgh (43mins). Soliola averages 37.9mins/game this season, so that was a notable dip in his game time and I'm rather intrigued as to how coach Ricky Stuart uses Soliola vs Rabbitohs.
Canberra's mobility is a strength against the Bunnies and Soliola provides plenty of that, while also leading the energy and intensity of the Raiders. I suspect Soliola will hit a nek level in this outing and given that Tapine only had 9 runs for 70m in his 69mins vs Storm, the Soliola/Tapine combination could be hugely influential while Papali'i gets deserved attention.
Roosters vs Storm
Starting: Joseph Manu, Isaac Liu, Sio Siua Taukeiaho.
Bench/Extended Bench: Zane Tetevano/Sitili Tupouniua.
Starting: Jahrome Hughes, Jesse Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Kenny Bromwich.
Bench/Extended Bench: Brandon Smith.
My eyes are fixated on the battle of the big boppers here, even though Jared Waerea-Hargreaves won't be playing. The Roosters merely promote Sio Siua Taukeiaho to their starting middle group and Taukeiaho's last outing saw him score a try with 15 runs for 156m @ 10.6m/run. Taukeiaho is no stranger to starting either, having started 16 of his 19 games this season and the beauty of the Roosters is that they can partner Taukeiaho with Isaac Liu who had 11 runs for 129m @ 11.72m/run vs Rabbitohs; two under-stated middle forwards who will offer great efficiency once again.
Taukeiaho and Liu will come up against Jesse Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona, with all the attention on big NAS. Understandably so given that Storm coach Craig Bellamy has Asofa-Solomona firing at the right time of the season; 3 tries in last 4 games (5 tries total), a line break in 3 of last 4 games, 4+ tackle busts in 5 of last 6 games and 2+ offloads in 3 of last 4 games. The impact of Asofa-Solomona will attract a fair amount of inspection from the Roosters and they will be eager to dampen the Wellingtonian's influence on this encounter, perhaps providing more intrigue as to how Bromwich performs.
These are the games where you expect Bromwich to lead the way. Bromwich has established himself as one of the best middle forwards in the world through his efforts in big games and there is a chance that Bromwich will look to take advantage of Waerea-Hargreaves' absence. Bromwich has the young fire-cracker in Asofa-Solomona alongside him, so Bromwich can go about his business and that situation feels ideal. Also kinda notable is that Bromwich only has 13 offloads this season so far, which is the fewest offloads from Bromwich in any season since 2011.
Brandon Smith averages 42.7mins/game as a middle forward this season and there is a rather clear split in his workload across the season. Between rounds 1-15, Smith played 13 games and played less than 50mins in all 13 of those games. Since round 15, Smith has played 9 games and played 50+ minutes in 5 of those games while played 40+ minutes in the other 4 games. Coach Bellamy has obviously invested more in Smith as the season hits a climax, which has come with a slight dip in Smith's impact but the plan is evident and I'd suggest that Bellamy has been preparing Smith for Finals footy.
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Peace and love 27.