Rabbitohs vs Roosters
Bench/Extended Bench: Tom Amone/Mawene Hiroti.
Starters: Joseph Manu, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Isaac Liu.
Bench/Extended Bench: Zane Tetevano/Sitili Tupouniua, Poasa Fa'amausili.
Sio Siua Taukeiaho is out injured this week, after coming off the bench for the Roosters in their past two games. For context, Taukeiaho has played 18 games this season and started 16 games before missing a few games and coming back into the Roosters team via the bench where he still managed to offer plenty of impact. In his first outing off the bench vs Dragons, Taukeiaho had 8 runs for 92m @ 11.5m/run in 33 minutes with a tackle bust and an offload.
Taukeiaho then played 23mins last week vs Panthers and had 8 runs for 62m @ 7.75m/run which was a bit of a dip but the blueprint is still there. Isaac Liu is doing a nice job starting at prop and had 11 runs for 117m @ 10.63m/run vs Panthers, so Roosters coach Trent Robinson won't be rushing Taukeiaho back into the starting team as long as Liu is doing his job as a starter. Like all Roosters forwards, Liu has dabbled in a bit of everything, but with Taukeiaho either out injured or being eased back in, Liu has started the last three games at prop and played 43+ minutes in all three games.
Eels vs Sea Eagles
Starters: Dylan Brown, Manu Ma'u, Marata Niukore.
Bench/Extended Bench: Brad Takairangi/Peni Terepo, Josh Hoffman.
Starters: Martin Taupau.
Bench/Extended Bench: Taniela Paseka.
Parramatta Eels have lost their last two games and while Dylan Brown isn't to blame for the Eels losing, I am curious about any trends or notes that emerge from Brown's stats. While he's maintained his running game with 8 runs vs Bulldogs followed by 10 runs vs Broncos, Brown didn't manage a tackle bust in either game as well as having two of his busiest weeks tackling. I view this as a wee bit more pressure being put on Brown, as teams are aware of his running ability and take care in wrapping him up as well as making him do more defensive work.
Last week in the golden point loss to Broncos, Brown kinda went missing with just 30 touches to Mitchell Moses' 50 touches, along with just 1 kick to Moses' 12 kicks. Chuck in Brown making 26 tackles while Moses made just 11 tackles and there's a loose connection between that increased defensive work and decreased production with the footy. This week Brown comes up against Manly Sea Eagles and the Eels desperately need Brown to take some heat off Moses, posing a threat with his attacking funk.
Storm vs Cowboys
Starters: Jahrome Hughes, Jesse Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Kenny Bromwich.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Starters: Jordan Kahu, Jason Taumalolo.
Bench/Extended Bench: Peter Hola.
Brandon Smith is rested this week having played 20 games this season and averaging a low key whopping 42.3mins/game as a middle forward. Coach Craig Bellamy has also stuck with Jahrome Hughes in the halves, with Brodie Croft coming in to replace Cameron Munster which will make for a bit of intrigue given that Croft and Hughes have operated on the right edge and Munster on the left; Hughes will likely stick to the right.
Even though Melbourne dismantled Manly, Hughes played a basic halves role. Hughes had just 6 runs, 31 touches and 4 kicks which is a supreme case of Hughes doing his job and not over-playing his role. I suspect this week, without Munster and against his former club, Hughes may get more footy and have a greater influence on the game.
There is also the juicy battle between Jesse Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona against Jason Taumalolo. All three of whom were emphatic in their performances last week and if we stretch out of the #KiwiNRL perspective, how Dale Finucane goes about stopping Taumalolo will be mandatory viewing, along with Jordan McLean facing off against his former Storm comrades.
Raiders vs Warriors
Starters: Bailey Simonsson.
Bench/Extended Bench: /Joseph Tapine, Jordan Rapana.
Starters: All but Blake Ayshford, Blake Green.
Bench/Extended Bench: All but Lachlan Burr, Adam Keighran/Josh Curran.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has rested a bunch of his #KiwiNRL folk with Charzne Nicoll-Klokstad, Jordan Rapana and Iosia Soliola all out this week - although Rapana is named on an extended bench. Joseph Tapine has also been named on the extended bench, ideally with the chance to get some footy in prior to the finals.
Resting Nicoll-Klokstad gives Bailey Simonsson a crack at fullback and this will be an exciting opportunity for Simonsson to flex. Having done a job at fullback, wing and bench throughout the season, Simonsson has been one of the undercover additions to the Raiders squad this season and I'm curious as to whether Simonsson could find himself in the Kiwis mix. Simonsson was born and raised in Sydney, but has played sevens rugby union for Aotearoa and in limited opportunities this season has shown that he's a classy runner of the footy who wouldn't look out of place with higher honours.
Bulldogs vs Broncos
Starters: Morgan Harper, Reimis Smith, Kieran Foran, Jeremy Marshall-King, Corey Harawira-Naera.
Bench/Extended Bench: Renouf To'omaga, Raymond Faitala-Mariner/Fa'amanu Brown, Ofahiki Ogden.
Starters: Jamayne Isaako, Alex Glenn.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
My #KiwiNRL mind has been blown with Morgan Harper named to make his debut at centre alongside Reimis Smith. I've talked about Harper a fair amount on these pages and he finally gets a crack at NRL footy after doing an almighty job in reserve grade where he helped the Bulldogs win the Canterbuy Cup last year, then made Junior Kiwis. Harper hails from Ngaruawahia in Waikato and was signed by the Bulldogs having played men's footy for Ngaruawahia Panthers and then for Waikato.
It's kinda weird how similar Harper and Smith are as they are both tall, slender outside backs who should play centre but can do a job at wing. Smith has primarily operated as a winger in the NRL, so for him to come back from suspension and slot right into centre via Will Hopoate moving to fullback to replace Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, is a beautiful synchronicity. Bulldogs fans and #KiwiNRL fans can look forward to these two lanky outside backs playing a lot of NRL footy in the coming years.
Titans vs Dragons
Starters: Jesse Arthars, Kevin Proctor.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Bench/Extended Bench: Nada.
Not much doing here, probably best to skip this game unless you love Jesse Arthars and/or Kevin Proctor.
Tigers vs Sharks
Starters: Esan Marsters, Benji Marshall.
Bench/Extended Bench: Elijah Taylor, Michael Chee Kam.
Starters: Sosaia Feki, Shaun Johnson, Briton Nikora.
Bench/Extended Bench: Braden Hamlin-Uele.
Massive game to determine who finishes in 8th spot and this will place all sorts of intrigue around the performances of Benji Marshall and Shaun Johnson. Here are how their season averages compare...
Marshall: 1 try assist (per game), 3.7 runs for 31m, 0.3 line breaks, 0.5 offloads, 1.2 tackle busts, 6.5 kicks, 1.8 missed tackles, 1.4 errors.
Johnson: 0.9 try assists, 4.6 runs for 40m, 0.4 line breaks, 0.6 offloads, 1.9 tackle busts, 8.3 kicks, 1.8 missed tackles, 1.4 errors.
The Sharks will need Braden Hamlin-Uele to be at his efficient best against the Tigers, especially now that Hamlin-Uele is sharing the bench with Andrew Fifita. In the loss to Raiders, Hamlin-Uele played 29mins while Fifita played 37mins and while they both put up decent production numbers, Hamlin-Uele could only average 8.08m/run and Fifita 9m/run. For context, Hamlin-Uele averages 9.8m/run throughout the season and if he can get up around that 10m/run mark from 10-15 runs, along with the funk offered by Fifita, then the Sharks have a bench that can blow away a smaller Tigers pack.
Panthers vs Knights
Starters: Dean Whare, Moses Leota, James Fisher-Harris.
Bench/Extended Bench: Jarome Luai/Sione Katoa.
Starters: Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Mason Lino.
Bench/Extended Bench: Herman Ese'ese/Jirah Momoisea, Starford To'a.
Among all the drama for the Knights, two #KiwiNRL prospects have been given front-row seats to all the shenanigans. Now, both Jirah Momoisea and Starford To'a are named on the Knights extended bench for their last outing of the season which probably won't result in any game time for either of them. It does show that middle forward Momoisea and outside back To'a are on the cusp of NRL footy, which is especially funky considering both went to St Pauls College in Auckland.
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Peace and love 27.