All posts by RickE

NRL Round 2 preview

Canterbury Bulldogs captain and back-rower Josh Jackson

Canterbury Bulldogs v North Queensland Cowboys @ ANZ Stadium

This game of Rugby League to open round 2 on Thursday night will be like no other.

The Bulldogs and Cowboys run out onto an empty ANZ Stadium with games from this weekend to be played without fans in attendance for the first time in the game’s 112 year history.

Both teams are coming off first up losses in round one.

The Bulldogs went down to the Eels in a low scoring arm wrestle and the Cowboys going down to the Broncos in their Queensland derby despite a late fightback in the first game at their new stadium.

After missing the top eight last season, respective coaches Dean Pay and Paul Green will be drumming home the importance of getting in the winner’s circle this week.

Canterbury Bulldogs youngster Jake Averillo

TEAM NEWS: Just one change for the Bulldogs this week with Kerrod Holland being ruled out with a knee injury and rookie outside back Jake Averillo named to make his NRL debut via the bench.

A positive inclusion for the Cowboys with Origin forward Josh McGuire named to return from injury and a suspension which carried over from the end of last year.

McGuire will run out in the front-row pushing John Asiata to the pine and Corey Jensen out of the side.

KEY MATCH-UP: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak v Valentine Holmes

With both teams struggling to generate any quality attack for most of their round one matches, it could be one of these two all-action ball runners that proves the difference on Thursday night.

Watene-Zelezniak was one of the Bulldogs best last week with 198 metres, 6 tackle busts and a line-break.

Canterbury Bulldogs fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak

Holmes had a bit of a mixed bag last week with a try, try-assist and 181 metres, whilst making a couple of errors and at times seemingly limping on his ankle.

That being his first game back from 12 months out of the game, he’s sure to be better for the run this week.

RECENT HISTORY: The Cowboys hold a slight 3-2 edge in the last five played including a 15-8 victory at home the last time they met. Kyle Feldt and Coen Hess have both crossed for three tries in their last five matches against the Bulldogs.


St George Illawarra Dragons v Penrith Panthers @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium

After opening their season with a loss despite holding a halftime lead at Win Stadium on Sunday night, the Dragons would have been buoyed at the prospect of playing at their other spiritual home this week.

But, of course, that will now hold little significance in an empty stadium.

St George Illawarra Dragons utility back Zac Lomax

The Red V will have their work cut out for them bouncing back as they run into a Panthers team who were very impressive in downing the defending premiers at the foot of the mountains first up.

Panthers Coach Ivan Cleary will be confident heading into this one but also wary that consistency will be key to how his team’s season unfolds in 2020.

TEAM NEWS: Winger Mikaele Ravalawa has been ruled out after picking up a knock on his thigh last Sunday night.

Zac Lomax shifts to the wing and Matt Dufty getting another crack at the Red V number one jersey.

Tariq Sims copped a one match suspension for a high shot with Tyrell Fuimaono starting in the second-row and Jacob Host joining the bench.

Penrith Panthers back-rower Viliame Kikau

After starting from the bench last week, Viliame Kikau has been named to start again switching places with Liam Martin.

Despite an impressive win last week, the Panthers have further re-jigged their back-row with James Fisher-Harris named at lock and Isaah Yeo in the second-row with Kikau.

The final change for the mountain men sees Billy Burns join the interchange in place of the suspended Jack Hetherington.

KEY MATCH-UP: Ben Hunt v Nathan Cleary

Expect the battle of the number sevens to prove pivotal here.

Hunt had a self-confessed disappointing opening to his season missing 5 tackles as well as a couple of errors.

St George Illawarra Dragons half Ben Hunt

This included a shocker of a kick which sprayed off the side of his boot, well over the side-line on the full.

Despite an off night, he still showed glimpses of his class and will be looking to swiftly bounce back with a strong showing here.

Cleary seemed to relish the responsibility of this now being his football team after the departure of James Maloney and steered the ship perfectly for his men last week.

Kicked well all night and laid on the match-winner taking the line on before offloading for big Viliame Kikau to score.

RECENT HISTORY: The Dragons hold a slight 3-2 lead in the last five, but the Panthers have won their last two against the Dragons by a combined margin of 48.


Brisbane Broncos v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ Suncorp Stadium

One of last year’s biggest talking points and most hyped matches was when Anthony Seibold and Wayne Bennett’s charges locked horns after the two coaches switched clubs in the lead-up to season 2019.

That moment in time ensures there should be plenty of feeling whenever these two clash in the near future.

Both teams are coming off strong performances to open their campaign.

Brisbane Broncos back-rower David Fifita

The Broncos scored an impressive victory over North Queensland with young tyros Payne Haas and David Fifita again living up to the hype and they could well end up being one of the best forward pack duos seen in recent times.

The Rabbitohs were dominant for much of their win over the Sharks but will need to notch a strong 80 minutes here after letting the Sharks back into the contest in the final quarter last week.

TEAM NEWS: With Tevita Pangai Junior to sit out the next four weeks after being suspended, rookie forward Jamil Hopoate gets a chance to start in the second-row.

Skipper Alex Glenn still appears to be at least another week away from returning.

Young prop Ethan Bullemor will debut from the bench.

South Sydney Coach Wayne Bennett has named an unchanged 17.

Brisbane Broncos prop Payne Haas

KEY MATCH-UP: Payne Haas v Liam Knight

Despite running out in different positions on the team sheet, these two impressive young forwards both ply their trade through the middle third and will see plenty of each other come Friday night.

Unsurprisingly, Haas was simply brilliant in the opening game of the season running for 213 metres whilst busting 7 tackles in an 80 minute performance.

He looks set to back up his stellar breakout season from last year.

Moving to the back of the scrum this year, Knight was also impressive to open the season playing with plenty of physicality and showing the ability to offload in traffic.

South Sydney Rabbitohs prop Liam Knight

He also came up with a monster hit late in the contest to force the ball free from the Sharks when all the momentum was going against his team.

Expecting him to take the fight right up to Haas and co in what should be a ripping battle through the middle.

RECENT HISTORY: In last year’s battle of the coaches, it was the wily old Bennett who gained the upper hand winning both encounters.

Bronco’s winger Corey Oates has crossed the stripe on six occasions in his last five games against the Bunnies.


New Zealand Warriors v Canberra Raiders @ Cbus Super Stadium

Unable to return home due to New Zealand’s self-isolation laws enforced on people re-entering the country amidst COVID-19, the Warriors have setup camp in Kingscliff this week and will call the Gold Coast home for this match.

After a disappointing on-field showing going down to the Knights last Saturday, life got a whole lot more complicated for the Warriors.

Unless they can band together and forge some level of siege mentality, they’ll find it tough coming up against last year’s grand finalists.

New Zealand Warriors fullback and captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

The Raiders looked strong in downing the Titans in round one and will be looking to put the foot on the pedal here as they continue to build off their strong season last year.

TEAM NEWS: With Patrick Herbert and Peta Hiku flying home to New Zealand to be with their families, Adam Pompey and Adam Keighran come into the side at wing and centre respectively.

After impressing off the bench on debut last week, Eliesa Katoa has earned a run-on jersey on an edge which sees Adam Blair move to lock and Isaiah Papali’i to the bench.

No real changes for the green machine with Corey Horsburgh to suit up at lock and Joseph Tapine on an edge. They played those roles last week despite being named the other way around.

Canberrra Raiders fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad

KEY MATCH-UP: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck v Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad

If ever there was a game a skipper needed to stand up and lead from the front, it’s this game and it wouldn’t surprise to see an RTS masterclass this week.

He didn’t get many chances in attack last week as his halves failed to pose too many questions with the ball in hand.

You would expect him to take the game by the scruff of the neck and call a lot more ball himself this week.

After sitting behind the New Zealand fullback for years at the Warriors, Nicoll-Klokstad enjoyed a breakout year in 2019 and proved a vital cog in the green machine’s march to the grand final.

Canberra Raiders forward Josh Papalii

He didn’t get off to the best of starts in 2020 after going off and failing to pass a HIA late in the first half.

He will be looking to bounce back with a strong showing against his former club on Saturday.

RECENT HISTORY: The Warriors hold a 3-2 lead in their last five including an upset 24-20 victory in Canberra in the penultimate round last year.

Raiders prop Josh Papalii has scored a try in each of his last three appearances against the Warriors.


Sydney Roosters v Manly Sea Eagles @ Leichhardt Oval

Two of the more fancied teams in this year’s competition will both be looking to bounce back from first up losses in the second installment of Super Saturday.

The back-to-back defending champions fell at the hands of the Panthers in a tough fought contest.

The Sea Eagles also played out a hard tussle with the Storm for most of the contest before failing to match strides with their arch rivals in the final quarter.

Sydney Roosters fullback James Tedesco

It will be a rare occasion with the Roosters running out onto the Tigers home ground from the home sheds and will be a strange feeling for former Tiger James Tedesco in particular.

TEAM NEWS: Sitili Tupouniua is out after a picking up a knee injury in round one. Angus Crichton returns to take his place in the second-row.

Manly will line up with the same 17 that went down to the Storm last week.

KEY MATCH-UP: James Tedesco v Tom Trbojevic

Teddy versus Turbo – What a mouth-watering match-up between two of the attacking stars of the premiership.

The New South Wales team mates go head to head after having somewhat quiet performances in round one – at least by their high standards.

Manly Sea Eagles fullback Tom Trbojevic

Neither managed to notch an attacking stat last week and it’s hard to recall a time either player has had two games like that in a row. Look for an attacking masterclass by both men in this one.

RECENT HISTORY: The Roosters hold a 3-2 lead in the last five played including coming out victorious in the last three encounters.


Cronulla Sharks v Melbourne Storm @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium

The Sharks will host their first home game at Kogarah on Saturday night against bitter rivals Melbourne.

This shapes as a new chapter in their recent rivalry following the retirement of club stalwart Paul Gallen.

Cronulla Sharks coach John Morris

A bit slow out of the blocks to start the season, coach John Morris’ men will be looking to quickly build off a second half comeback against the Rabbitohs where they came within four points of notching an unlikely win.

They run into a Storm outfit who’ve barely missed a beat again over the off-season.

Craig Bellamy’s charges played out a tough opening 60 minutes against Manly away from home before putting the foot down late to overpower their opposition.

TEAM NEWS: Both the Sharks and Storm have named the same 17 as last week.

Cronulla Sharks prop Andrew Fifita

KEY MATCH-UP: Andrew Fifita v Jesse Bromwich

Ever since the 2016 grand final when both men crossed the stripe for second half tries, these two bookends have played a key hand in their team’s chances in what has been an intense rivalry between the two clubs.

Fifita has reportedly been strong with his leadership during the off-season but on the field he looked well short of a gallop in the opening round as he struggled to get through just 39 minutes.

He’ll need to lift a couple of gears if the Sharks are to cause an upset here.

Melbourne Storm prop Jesse Bromwich

Bromwich meanwhile looked typically strong against the Sea Eagles as he ran for 184 metres with 3 offloads.

He’ll be looking to get one over his old foe in this one.

RECENT HISTORY: The Sharks hold the advantage in the last five with a 3-2 advantage. All of them clashes have been tight affairs except for their last match when the Storm ran out comfortable 40-16 victors.


TIGERS v KNIGHTS @ Leichhardt Oval

This won’t have the same Sunday afternoon at Leichhardt feels it normally would, but it still looms as an intriguing contest between two first round winners who look to be on the up in 2020.

The Tigers showed plenty of promise with a squad that looked to have plenty of attack in them as they downed the Dragons in Wollongong on Sunday night despite the absence of halfback Luke Brooks.

The Knights also looked the goods in their season opener with a shutout victory over the Warriors built on the back of an off-season where defence and mental toughness were high on the agenda.

Wests Tigers veteran half Benji Marshall

TEAM NEWS: Just the one change for the home team with Paul Momirovski named in place of Michael Chee Kam on the bench.

The Knights will go in unchanged.

KEY MATCH-UP: Benji Marshall v Mitchell Pearce

These two experienced halves are pushing 600 top grade appearances between them and they are both sure to play pivotal roles in the outcome of this one.

In the absence of the Tigers regular number seven, Benji put in an absolute masterclass of halfback play to steer his side home last week.

He scored a try and set two up but it was the wizardry of his short kicking game that proved vital forcing repeat sets at will as he built pressure on the Dragons defensive line.

Newcastle Knights halfback and captain Mitchell Pearce

Pearce led from the front in the Knights first up win with his long kicking game and the willingness to put his body on the line defensively key to their success.

He will know he needs to lift his 5th tackle options when in the Tigers half to match the brilliance of his opposite on Sunday with that area being one of the few negatives in the Knights game in round one.

RECENT HISTORY: The Tigers hold a 4-1 advantage in the last five including a thumping 46-4 victory late last season which was the final nail in the coffin of former Coach Nathan Brown’s tenure in the Hunter.


TITANS v EELS @ Cbus Super Stadium

In the final match of a historic round 2, last year’s wooden spooners host the team many are tipping for a serious premiership tilt this year.

It was ominous signs early in round one for the Titans as their defence let in a couple of rapid fire tries.

They at least showed a bit of resolve to not let the score-line blowout too much against the Raiders and will be looking for a better opening to this contest.

Parramatta Eels winger Blake Ferguson

The Eels got the job done in the season opener, but look to have a lot more work to do as they only notched the one try against the Bulldogs.

It was a good hit-out against a physical Canterbury pack last week and they should be a lot better for that outing.

TEAM NEWS: Brian Kelly has been named in the centres switching places with Tyrone Peachey who drops to the bench.

Moeaki Fotuaika has been named to return from injury via the bench replacing rookie forward Jaimin Jolliffe.

Gold Coast Titans centre Brian Kelly

The Eels have named the same 17 that accounted for the Bulldogs in round one.

KEY MATCH-UP: Jai Arrow v Nathan Brown

These two lock forwards both lead from the front on a consistent basis for their packs and play with a high work rate and physical nature that many can’t match.

Both with the ability to bust a tackle and offload make this an enticing battle through the middle.

RECENT HISTORY: The Eels have won the last three between these sides by an average margin of 20 points.

Gold Coast Titans lock Jai Arrow

Fantasy Watch Round 2

With round one done and dusted, fantasy coaches are now in the midst of assessing many members of their 21 man squad.

As we weigh up whether to burn early trades or sit tight for another week, we see if players who were a little underwhelming in round one can bounce back with a decent round two score.

One thing to consider with trades in mind is what effect COVID-19 could have on the fantasy season.

As it stands right now, the footy will go on, but that could change at any second.

When considering trades, be sure to have the casualty ward handy, particularly if you’re looking at a player whose covering for another injured player.

Wests Tigers forward Zane Musgrove

If the competition was suspended for any amount of time, it could effectively change the round that player is due back in. Eg:

Hypothetically, if the comp was to go on hold for two months and a player was listed to return in round 9, by the time the comp re-started that player would be ready to go again and you may well have burned a trade.

Anyway, enough about the crazy world we’re currently living in.

Let’s have a look at who’s in the firing line, ones to whack on your watch list and my base stats buys of the week.

IN THE FIRING LINE

Zane Musgrove – With just 26 minutes of game time and a score of 13, Musgrove who is owned by 17.3% of coaches could be one to consider giving the hook.

He still has a break even of 20 so still is every chance of making some money but there’s certainly a few other cheap options that look more likely to gain you some early increases based on the evidence of round one.

Warriors forwards Eliesa Katoa and Jamayne Taunoa-Brown and Shark Toby Rudolf could be ones to have a look at as alternatives.

Brayden Wiliame – With many of his 26.6% of owners starting him in the tricky centre position, Wiliame’s lowly 16 points counted to their overall score.

He still carries the same break even of 17 and is only a try or 2 away from gaining some price rises so is probably a hold for now – at least until a better option comes along.

St George Illawarra Dragons utility back Brayden Wiliame

Warriors winger Adam Pompey is perhaps the only other option in the same price bracket but he only averaged 17 fantasy points in his five games last year.

Joe Stimson – With a score of 24 in 69 minutes of game time, Stimson is one to consider parting ways with early on, especially if he’s used in your starting 17.

He’s been named to start again this week so is still a chance of notching you a solid score and making some cash with his break even still at 29.

Has showed fantasy promise in the past but it’s probably worth considering he was getting amongst the tries at times playing at the Storm.

THE KING’S CULL

Latrell Mitchell – The one player I’d be absolutely looking to offload if he was in my squad this week is Mitchell.

The 16.3% of coaches who took the punt on him hitting the ground running this season were left sadly disappointed as he scored just 14 and was taken off after just 55 minutes by Coach Wayne Bennett.

South Sydney Rabbitohs fullback Latrell Mitchell

There’s obviously a plan to ease him into the custodian role and it’s unclear at this stage how long it will be before he’s playing out the 80 again.

Sitting on a price tag of 624k and a break even of 66, I’d be getting him out now to free up space in your cap.

THE TRAPS

Named to start in the second-row this week, both Jamil Hopoate 231k and Tyrell Fuimaono 252k would have raised a few eyebrows when coaches were reading the team sheets this week.

Hopoate gets his chance for the suspended Tevita Pangai Jr but be prepared for Broncos skipper Alex Glenn to come into his position next week.

Similar story at the Dragons with Fuimaono filling in for Tariq Sims who will serve a one game suspension.

Brisbane Broncos forward Jamil Hopoate

Both are capable of making more money off the bench particularly if they post a big score this week.

Just don’t buy them anticipating they’ll be part of your scoring 17 beyond this round.

THE REVERSE TRAP

After a solid score of 43 at fullback, Zac Lomax has unfortunately been named on the wing to cover for the injured Mikaele Ravalawa with Matt Dufty getting another chance at the back.

The ultimate scenario here is Lomax moving back to fullback next week when Ravalawa returns.

There’s always the chance of course Dufty has a cracking game and retains his place but even so, with a break even of 17 Lomax is a hold for this week.

WATCH LIST

One of the golden rules in fantasy is to never get excited by one good week, but there’s certainly a few worth keeping your eye on this week.

Isaah Yeo 2RF
Base stats 74

Played through the middle in an 80 minute performance last week where he made 33 tackles, ran for 170 metres and busted 7 tackles.

Yeo is well priced at 595k and has a break even of 11 which almost make him a buy right now.

The only thing holding me back at this stage is the fact he’s been named to shift back onto an edge this week.

Penrith Panthers back-rower Isaah Yeo

Last week, James Fisher-Harris started on an edge and has been named at lock this week.

It’s hard to see why Ivan Cleary would tinker with a winning formula that saw his team down the defending premiers so it will be interesting to see where they play once the game kicks off.

Jesse Bromwich FRF
Base stats 50

A former fantasy gun who has been disappointing in the last few seasons for fantasy scores but could he be ready to recapture his best?

Scored 50 in round one all in base stats and with a price of 554K and a break even of 28, he could turn into a solid mid-range option if he can continue to produce the numbers he did last week.

George Williams HLF
Base stats 56

This English half’s style of game always looked suited to fantasy but his awkward price and the unknown of how he’d adapt to the NRL held most coaches back heading into round one, but after a very impressive 64 he’s certainly one to consider.

Busted five tackles on the weekend showcasing his willingness to run the footy, with his 29 tackles and 206 kick metres providing valuable points to his total.

BASE STATS BUYS OF THE WEEK

David Fifita 2RF
Base stats 64

If you weren’t one of the 42% who started with this devastating back-rower in round one, you’ll want to get on now before his price tag skyrockets.

With 150 metres and 8 tackle busts, the all action running forward is sure to post plenty of big numbers this season, even when he’s not scoring 70 metre solo tries!

Brisbane Broncos back-rower David Fifita

His price of 717K is still unders but a break even of 28 means his price will continue to soar in the coming weeks.

Corey Horsburgh FRF/2RF
Base stats 59

After being named to start on an edge last week, Horsburgh ended up playing through the middle third.

Joseph Tapine instead played the edge role and they have been named to start that way again this week.

A solid work ethic in tackles and run metres means he has a strong base.

Canberra Raiders forward Corey Horsburgh

He also has the ability to post consistent offloads and tackle busts which are keys to the best fantasy forwards posting strong scores.

Priced at 499K with a break even of 15, he looks set to make some nice coin in the coming weeks.

The only possible negative is the return of John Bateman to the Raiders pack in a month or so.

I’m willing to take the punt he holds the 13 jersey with Tapine the man to make way when the Englishman returns.

NRL Fantasy watch

It’s that time of the year again folks!

Whilst the NRL premiership doesn’t officially get underway until Thursday night, for the footy nerds like myself, the season started at 4pm Tuesday afternoon.

The moment when the first round teams dropped into our orbits and the mad scramble to rejig our teams in order to roll out a competitive fantasy squad began.

We’ll do our best this season to roll out all the relevant fantasy news ahead of each round and hopefully give out a handy tip or two along the way.

To kick things off this week, we’ll give our take on whether to splash the cash on Payne Haas as well as looking at some of the many value picks on offer and potential cash cows to start the season.

HAAS OR PASS?

Payne Hass (FRF) – 999k
2019 season average – 67.8
Base stats – 62

At a whopping 999k, Payne Haas starts the season as the most expensive player in fantasy history after the most remarkable breakout season the world of fantasy has ever seen.

Starting last year at basement price, Haas quickly went from a solid cash cow prospect to gun keeper.

The question is; do you splash the cash now or wait and hope that his price drops somewhat before snapping him up?

With a strong base and the attacking potential that gives him a high ceiling, you’d be taking a big risk leaving him out of your team in round one.

Brisbane Broncos prop Payne Haas

Plenty will be slapping the C next to his name as well – leaving you vulnerable to potentially giving up a huge score if you’re aiming to compete for overall points.

It’s also worth considering the injury toll on the Broncos forwards which could mean an even bigger workload early on for Haas.

Fellow bookend Matt Lodge looks set to miss the majority of the season whilst Alex Glenn and Joe Ofahengaue will miss at least the opening round.

Also, the Broncos have named both Andrew McCullough on the bench with only two forwards.

WHO REPRESENTS THE BEST VALUE?

When you’re considering which players bring the most value to your squad, you’ll want to be sure that player ticks a couple of boxes.

Firstly, you’ll want them to be players that can rise significantly in value by 100k plus (many refer to these as mid-range cash-cows). You’ll also need them to be making solid scores on a consistent basis as they will be part of your top 17 scoring players.

Mostly, these players will be priced between 400k-600k but that can vary a little.

Here’s a few worth considering:

Ryan Papenhuyzen (WFB) – 600k

2019 season average (in 80 minute games) – 68.3
Base stats – 52

After playing just the 6 games for the full duration at the back for the Storm last year, Papenhuyzen sneaks in at a very cool 600k.

He has had the benefit of a full pre-season working his combinations with the likes of Munster and Smith which will only add to his potential of posting regular attacking stats.

Holds similar base stats to James Tedesco but is almost 300k cheaper to start the year. Looks to be an absolute steal.


Apisai Koroisau (HOK) – 493k

2019 season average – 31.9

Splitting minutes with Manase Fainu at Manly last season, Koroisau is expected to slot into an 80 minute roll at the foot of the mountains.

This should see both his scoring and price boost rapidly to start the year.

He starts the year priced at 493k with a break even of 34 and has shown he can hit consistent scores around 50 in previous years as an 80 minute rake.


Patrick Carrigan (FRF/2RF) – 430k

2019 season average (33 minutes) – 29.6
Base stats – 28

After breaking into first grade last season, Carrigan has impressed in the off-season snaring a starting spot at lock forward.

Scoring at 0.84 points per minute in base stats last season, he would only need to lift his average minutes into the 50’s to become a solid 50 point scorer for your team.

With a break even of 30, he’ll be sure to make you a wad of cash along the way.


Aaron Woods (FRF) – 573k

2019 season average (44 minutes) – 39.9
Base stats – 38

Whilst most eyes are on fellow Shark Jack Williams’ fantasy potential this season, Woods is perhaps one flying under the radar at just 1.1% ownership.

Along with Williams stepping into the boots of Paul Gallen, Woods has also earned a starting birth in place of Matt Prior up front.

Cronulla Sharks prop Aaron Woods

With Gallen and Prior’s work rate missing in the middle, I’m expecting Woods to pick up a fair chunk of the slack and he’s a proven big minute player in years gone by.

I don’t necessarily expect him to stay in my team, but he only needs to play around 55-60 minutes to be a solid 50 point scorer whilst his price tag slowly heads north.


BEST CASH COWS

In what poses as a challenge for fantasy coaches this week, we’re not exactly flush with quality basement price options to kick-off the fantasy year.

I actually think the best money will be made by some of the many mid-range options – some of which I mentioned above.

You’ll still need to come up with as many cheapies as you can to put forward a competitive squad though so here’s a few worth considering.

Brandon Wakeham (HLF) – 340k

Played 3 games last year for an average of 29.7 and has a break even of 23.

He looks a touch too pricey when you consider Lachlan Lewis is likely to take on the bulk of the kicking duties.

The positive, is that he’s usurped the more experienced Jack Cogger which should boost his confidence and he would only need to lift his average to 35 to make some coin.


Caleb Aekins (WFB) – 335k

Boasts identical numbers to Wakeham above – 3 games last year averaging 29.7 and a break even of 23.

The good news? He showed more of his potential in his first grade debut the previous year when he ran for 303 metres and notched a sold fantasy score of 60.

Looks set to wear the number one for at least the first six weeks until regular fullback Dylan Edwards returns.

That should be enough time to make some good cash and one or two big scores could really accelerate his earnings.


Billy Walters (HLF/HOK) – 246k

Named to get first crack at the Tigers number 9 and likely to split minutes with Josh Reynolds who comes off the bench.

Scored 40 fantasy points in his first grade debut for Melbourne last season including 29 tackles defending in the halves.

Should get through enough defensive work in the middle even if he only plays half the game to put some dollars in the bank for your squad.


Jarome Luai (HLF) – 246k

After playing most of the season off the bench last year (which did nothing for his fantasy average), Luai will be given first shot at filling the void left by James Maloney in the halves.

Showed promise in 2018 when he played 4 games for an average of 40 and has a solid running game with tackle busting potential.

With a break even of 17, he looks set to make some steady cash.


Melbourne Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen

NRL Finals Week 1 Preview

Sydney Roosters back-rower Angus Crichton

Sydney Roosters v South Sydney Rabbitohs @Sydney Cricket Ground

The hallowed turf of the SCG will play host to these two bitter rivals.

Roosters Coach Trent Robinson would have been doing his best to ensure his players quickly licked their wounds from last week’s upset loss at the hands of the Rabbitohs.

The tri-colours had been on a seven game winning streak prior to last Thursday night’s loss and have only lost one game at the SCG all year – a round one loss, again at the hands of the Bunnies.

South Sydney looked in all sorts a month ago, but after losing three straight they bounced back with three wins, culminating in their confidence boosting performance against the Chooks.

Coach Wayne Bennett is a master at getting his team firing at the right time of year and he looks to have the Rabbitohs fine-tuned for another finals tilt.

Russell Crowe had the much fabled ‘book of feuds’ open out Redfern way this week and has likely written another chapter given Sam Burgess was outed by the judiciary for this contest.

Jared Warea-Hargreaves was found not guilty and free to play despite an ugly looking incident last week which left Rabbitohs bookend Liam Knight dazed and bloody.

Sydney Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary

TEAM CHANGES: The Roosters were resting a number of stars last week with Luke Keary, Brett Morris, Mitchell Aubusson and Siosiua Taukeiaho returning to the 17.

Their inclusions mean Billy Smith. Drew Hutchison, Lindsay Collins and Sitili Tupouniua drop out of the squad whilst Angus Crichton and Nat Butcher shuffle back to the bench.

With Sam Burgess out suspended, Tevita Tatola has been named to start up front. Dane Gagai has been ruled out with a hamstring strain, but strike centre James Roberts returns from suspension to replace him.

South Sydney Rabbitohs centre Dane Gagai

Roberts will likely line up on his preferred right side with Campbell Graham shifting back to the left.

Burgess twins Tom and George have been named in the 21 man squad with Tom named on the bench in place of Tom Amone and George in the reserves.

Both are expected to play on Friday night and there’s every likelihood one will end up starting.

KEY MATCH-UP: Luke Keary v Cody Walker

The absence of Keary was noticeable last week as the Roosters were unable to provide enough space for their normally lethal left-edge attack.

Walker meanwhile is just starting to hit his straps again after going into his shell a little following his failed state of origin stint earlier this year.

Respective halves Cooper Cronk and Adam Reynolds will be playing their roles in getting their troops around the park, but it will likely be a touch of Keary or Walker brilliance that ultimately decides the outcome.

South Sydney Rabbitohs five-eighth Cody Walker

RECENT HISTORY: The Rabbitohs have a 3-2 advantage in the last five clashes and were victorious in both encounters this year.

Campbell Graham and Cody Walker crossed for tries in both matches this year. In the last finals game played between the two, the Roosters triumphed in last year’s preliminary final.


Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders @AAMI Park

After claiming another Minor-Premiership, the Storm come into this encounter after winning four of their last five including a crushing victory over the Sea Eagles at Lottoland two weeks ago which was a real statement heading towards this finals series.

The one loss during that period did come at the hands of the Raiders who overcame an 18 point deficit and two players in the sin-bin to record a remarkable win which sent a warning shot to the rest of the competition that the Raiders were in fact the real deal in 2019.

Before last week’s upset loss to the Warriors, Ricky Stuart’s men faced off against the Roosters, Storm, Sea Eagles and Sharks in a gruelling month of football that make them the most battle-hardened outfit heading into this finals campaign.

Melbourne Storm winger Josh Addo-Carr

TEAM CHANGES: Both teams chose to rest a number of players in the penultimate round of the regular season.

For the Storm, Josh Addo-Carr, Cameron Munster and Brandon Smith all return at the expense of Sandor Earl, Brodie Croft and Harry Grant.

For the Raiders, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Jordan Rapana, Iosia Soliola and John Bateman return from their week off, whilst Joey Leilua and Joseph Tapine also return from suspension and injury respectively.

Rookie back-rower Hudson Young is the big out for the green machine after being handed an eight week suspension at the judiciary on Tuesday night. He will join Michael Oldfield, Siliva Havili, Emre Guler and JJ Collins watching from the side-lines this week.

Canberra Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson

KEY MATCH-UP: Cameron Smith v Josh Hodgson
The big match experience of these two men will be crucial in the outcome here.

Smith is the master of controlling the tempo of a match and Hodgson isn’t far behind these days. Expect one of these two to come up with the influential play that decides this one.

Melbourne Storm captain and hooker Cameron Smith

RECENT HISTORY: The Raiders will be full of confidence after their last start win over the Storm, but that won’t affect the psyche of this Melbourne team who’ve won four of the last five between the two teams.

Jarrod Croker scored a double in both games played between the two this year and Suliasi Vunivalu has crossed for six tries in his last four games against the Raiders.


Manly Sea Eagles v Cronulla Sharks @ Lottoland

After upsetting the Raiders in Canberra three weeks ago, the Sea Eagles were flying high and looked on track for a top four birth.

In the ensuing two weeks, they were comprehensively beaten by both the Storm and Eels, but the real story is the club being decimated by injuries and suspension that has left the Northern beaches side extremely thin on troops for the most important game of their season.

Still, Manly historically thrive when in these backs to the wall scenarios and Coach Des Hasler loves nothing more than flying under the radar coming into the big end of season games.

The Sharks meanwhile have been the sleeping giants of this

competition for most of the year.

With a squad stocked with representative stars, most people expected the Sharks to go on a run at some stage.

They have won three of their last four heading into this and the lone loss was a golden point thriller against the Raiders two weeks back.

Manly Sea Eagles lock Jake Trbojevic

TEAM CHANGES: Already missing Tom Trbojevic, Joel Thompson and Morgan Boyle to injury, things got a whole lot worse for the Sea Eagles in their last start loss.

Curtis Sironen and Taniela Paseka went down in what look to be season ending injuries and gun prop Martin Taupau was suspended for a high shot.

In somewhat of a reprieve to the injury crisis, they do welcome Jack Gosiewski and Toafofoa Sipley.

They also convinced the NRL to allow them a roster exemption with Tony Williams named in the reserves and expected to come into the game day 17.

Manly Sea Eagles back-rower Tony Williams and coach Des Hasler

Prop Sean Keppie has been named to replace Taupau up front in just his second NRL game.

Sharks Coach John Morris has selected Aaron Gray on the wing in place of the suspended Ronaldo Mulitalo.

Matt Moylan has again been named in the reserves and is rated a 50/50 chance of suiting up on Saturday night.

Cronulla Sharks fullback Matt Moylan

If he can prove his fitness, he would likely slot in at fullback with Josh Dugan moving onto the wing in place of Gray.

KEY MATCH-UP: Addin Fonua-Blake v Andrew Fifita

Fifita has been named on the bench, but if he’s promoted to the starting side as he was last week we could be in for a ferocious opening with these two going hammer and tongs.

Both players provide a rare x-factor up front for their respective sides with their ability to bust tackles and create second-phase play with their offloads.

Fifita is getting somewhere near his best at the right time of year after struggling with an ongoing knee injury for much of the season.

Fonua-Blake meanwhile is enjoying his most consistent season to date, but with no Taupau alongside him, needs to produce the game of his life to give the Sea Eagles a chance here.

Cronulla Sharks prop Andrew Fifita

RECENT HISTORY: It’s been well documented Manly hold a superior record over the Sharks and the recent history isn’t much different.

The Sea Eagles hold a 4-1 advantage in their last five clashers. Dylan Walker has crossed for a try in his last three games against the Sharks.


Parramatta Eels v Brisbane Broncos @ Bankwest Stadium

If the golden point thriller that was played out by these two teams at Suncorp Stadium two weeks ago is anything to go by, we should be in for a cracking contest to close out the opening weekend of finals action.

Both teams have won three out of their last five coming into this match and it was only a barnstorming charge from David Fifita and a Jamayne Isaako field goal that proved the difference in Round 24.

Brisbane Broncos young back-rower David Fifita

The Eels did score three tries to two on the night with goal-kicking letting them down.

In a contrast of styles, the Broncos play off their hungry young pack whilst the Eels seem to have more direction from their key men and more strike out wide.

TEAM CHANGES: Eels Coach Brad Arthur has lost Kane Evans to suspension and he will need to be replaced after being named in Tuesday’s team list prior to his failed judiciary hearing.

The likely scenario is Daniel Alvaro coming back into the starting side with one of Tepai Moroera or Peni Terepo joining the bench.

The Eels do however receive a big boost with their forward leader Nathan Brown returning from a two week suspension to lock the scrum.

Parramatta Eels lock Nathan Brown

The Broncos will also welcome back their regular lock forward with Joe Ofahengaue returning from injury.

His inclusion will push Patrick Carrigan back to the pine where he will be joined by centre Gehamat Shibasaki who’s earned a recall to the 17.

KEY MATCH-UP: Clinton Gutherson v Anthony Milford

Different styles of fullbacks, but both are just as important to their respective teams.

Gutherson is the ultra-consistent team man who has a knack for turning up at the right time with his exceptional support play.

Milford has all the talent in the world with his skillful kicking, passing and running games.

Parramatta Eels fullback Clint Gutherson

He’s been a little underwhelming since moving to fullback, but the stage could be set for him to deliver when his teams need it the most.

With the two forward packs cancelling each other out in their recent match, it could be a bounce of the ball with one of these fullbacks on the spot that proves the difference.

RECENT HISTORY: The Eels hold a slim advantage in the last five played with the ledger reading 3-2. Michael Jennings and Corey Oates have both crossed for three tries throughout that period.

NRL Rd 24 Previews

North Queensland Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo

As we near the business end of the season, there is still plenty to play for whether it be finals spots, avoiding the spoon or pride. 

Enjoy a preview of all the games set to come in Rd 24:

COWBOYS v BULLDOGS @ 1300Smiles Stadium

Despite having little to play for in regards to their 2019 season, the Cowboys still have plenty of motivation when it comes to knocking off a rampant Bulldogs side on Thursday night.

Out of the finals equation, Paul Green’s men will run out onto 1300Smiles Stadium for the final time after 24 years of calling it home with a new stadium currently being built in time for the 2020 season.

In further motivation, the club has also paid tribute to retiring club legend Matt Scott who suffered a mild stroke two weeks ago by retiring his number eight jersey for this match.

Instead, Scott Bolton who is also departing the club at season’s end, will wear number 16 as he looks to go out a winner on his home turf.

The Bulldogs are on a remarkable late season surge winning six of their last eight including four on the bounce.

Mathematically, they can still sneak into the final eight if they win their remaining two games and other results fall their way.

TEAM CHANGES: The Cowboys will run out with the same 17 men that caused an upset over the Panthers last weekend.

Rookie half Jake Clifford is listed on the reserves but is considered unlikely to recover from an ankle injury in time.

The Bulldogs have made just the one forced change with early season sensation Jayden Okunbor coming onto the wing for the suspended Reimis Smith.

KEY MATCH-UP: Jordan McLean v Dylan Napa

RECENT HISTORY: The Cowboys have won three of the last five clashes but the Bulldogs have won the last two between the pair.


WARRIORS v RABBITOHS @ Mt Smart Stadium

Last week’s heavy loss at the hands of the Sharks has all but ruled the Warriors out of the finals race.

They do sit four points off the 8th placed Broncos, but would need to win both their games by 40 plus points to make up for a poor points differential, not to mention the teams above them needing to falter.

The Rabbitohs bounced back into form with a big win over the Broncos last Friday night and have it all to play for here.

Currently sitting 5th on the ladder and locked in a four-way battle to finish in the top four, Wayne Bennett should have his chargers up for another big performance.

South Sydney Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook

TEAM CHANGES: Mid-season recruit Kodi Nikorima has been recalled to the number six jersey with rookie Chanel Harris-Tevita dropping back to the bench.

Agnatius Paasi is back from injury and will start up front in his 100th NRL game – pushing Lachlan Burr back to the bench.

Bunty Afoa is listed as a reserve and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sneak into the game day 17.

South Sydney lose strike centre James Roberts to suspension forcing a backline reshuffle.

Alex Johnston returns from injury and has been named on the wing which pushes Campbell Graham to centre.

Skipper Sam Burgess has been named to return in the front-row with Junior Tatola pushing back to the bench, but the club are believed to be treading lightly with their most inspirational player in order to have him 100 per cent for the finals.

KEY MATCH-UP: Isaac Luke v Damien Cook

RECENT HISTORY: The Bunnies have won four of the last five encounters between these two sides. Souths’ five-eighth Cody Walker has scored seven tries in them games including four alone in their previous match this year.


BRONCOS v EELS @ Suncorp Stadium

The Broncos face a must win match here after going down to the Rabbitohs last week leaving them vulnerable in 8th spot just one point clear of the chasing pack.

They will be looking to thrive off what should be another big Suncorp crowd.

The Eels are still optimistic of securing a top four birth despite an upset loss against the Bulldogs last week.

Currently sitting 6th on the ladder, a win here is paramount if they’re a chance of getting a second bite of the cherry come September.

Parramatta Eels back-rower Manu Ma’u

TEAM CHANGES: Broncos Coach Anthony Seibold has named an unchanged line-up from last week.

The Eels have lost their forward leader in Nathan Brown who took the early guilty plea from his crazy shoulder charge last week and will miss the next two weeks.

Marata Niukore will move from the bench to lock.

In a plus for Brad Arthur’s men, Blake Ferguson returns from a knee injury for his first game in six weeks.

He will line up on the wing which pushes the versatile Brad Takaraingi to the bench.

KEY MATCH-UP: David Fifita v Manu Ma’u

RECENT HISTORY: The Eels hold a 3-2 advantage in the last five clashes. Corey Oates has crossed the stripe in his last three games against Friday night’s opposition.


KNIGHTS v TITANS @ McDonald Jones Stadium

Experiencing one of the more tumultuous weeks in club history following the immediate departure of former Coach Nathan Brown, the Knights playing group need to find a way to quickly band together to avoid another repeat of last week’s diabolical showing against the Tigers.

Still a chance to sneak into the eight if they win their remaining two, restoring pride in the jersey should be motivation enough here.

The Titans certainly aren’t faring any better and are now assured of receiving the dreaded wooden spoon.

They did show some grit despite going down to the Storm last Sunday and if they can replicate that performance, they could be a chance of notching their first win in ten weeks.

Gold Coast Titans lock Jai Arrow

TEAM CHANGES: The sudden departure of Brown on Tuesday meant there was little time to make any squad changes for the Knights.

Connor Watson does return from a minor knee injury at hooker replacing Danny Levi who picked up a knock to his ribs during last week’s loss.

For the Titans, Mitch Rein has been suspended with Nathan Peats to move back into his more natural position at hooker.

Jai Arrow moves to lock, Jarrod Wallace to starting front-row and Will Matthews joins the bench.

KEY MATCH-UP: Tim Glasby v Jai Arrow

RECENT HISTORY: The Titans hold a 3-2 advantage in the last five clashes and winger Phillip Sami has scored four tries in three games against the Knights.


SEA EAGLES v STORM @ Lottoland

Another big test for Des Hasler’s side as they continue to prove themselves a genuine Premiership threat.

After defeating Saturday evening’s opponents in a golden point thriller a month ago, Manly notched another top four scalp when downing the Raiders in Canberra on Sunday.

They currently sit in 4th position on points differential but need to keep winning to ensure an all-important top four finish.

The Storm meanwhile have all but wrapped up yet another minor premiership to place in their already bulging trophy case.

Only back-to-back losses to finish the year would put them at risk of not finishing top of the table.

Even then, the Roosters would need a couple of big wins to swing the points differential in their favour.

After being a touch slow out of the blocks in defeating the lowly Titans last round, Craig Bellamy should have his side fired up for this one.

Manly Sea Eagles fullback Tom Trbojevic

TEAM CHANGES: Last week’s win came at a cost for Manly after losing second-rower Joel Thompson to a broken arm for the next month.

Fortunately for them, fellow edge forward Curtis Sironen makes his injury return and slots straight into Thompson’s spot.

Centre Moses Suli was also among the walking wounded on Sunday after injuring his ankle, but has been named to back up this week.

Brad Parker is also on the comeback trail listing in the reserves and could be a replacement if Suli can’t fully recover in time.

The Storm welcome back Will Chambers who missed last week through injury and Curtis Scott is the man to make way.

In the only other change, Tino Faasuamaleuai has been named on the bench in place of Tui Kamikamica.

Brodie Croft has been left out for the second straight week with Bellamy keen to get another look at Jahrome Hughes at half and Ryan Papenhuyzen at the back.

KEY MATCH-UP: Tom Trbojevic v Ryan Papenhuyzen

RECENT HISTORY: The Storm hold a 3-2 advantage in the last five played between the two.

Last month’s golden point match was the second time in a row where only one point separated these sides after the Storm won the corresponding match at Lottoland last year by the same margin.


ROOSTERS v PANTHERS @ Sydney Cricket Ground

The Roosters head into this encounter all but assured of finishing in second spot on the ladder.

Still a slim chance to put pressure on the Storm for top spot, they will know by the time they kick-off whether that scenario is still a possibility with Melbourne playing the game before them on Saturday.

Coach Trent Robinson has had the Tri-colours humming along nicely in recent weeks, but you get the sense they’re still only cruising in fourth gear.

Sitting one point out of the eight, the Panthers can basically be rest assured it’s do or die on Saturday night.

With the worst points differential out of all the teams still in contention, they can’t afford to slip up here.

After winning only one out of their last five matches, it’d be some turnaround if they were to knock over the Roosters in order to stay in contention.

Sydney Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary

TEAM CHANGES: The Roosters will welcome back gun centre Latrell Mitchell who was a late withdrawal last weekend.

Billy Smith drops out of the side after an impressive debut game against the Dragons.

Captain Boyd Cordner was named in the reserves for the second straight week and is firming to make his injury return.

Penrith back-rower Isaah Yeo has been ruled out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury that has disrupted a large part of his 2019 campaign.

James Fisher-Harris will lock the scrum in Yeo’s absence with Moses Leota joining the run-on side at prop.

Jarome Luai has been named to return from his eye injury on the bench along with Billy Burns who looks set to make his NRL debut.

KEY MATCH-UP: Luke Keary v James Maloney

RECENT HISTORY: Surprisingly it’s the Panthers who hold an edge in recent games here with a 3-2 advantage including an upset win over the Roosters in Round 13 this year.


SHARKS v RAIDERS @ Pointsbet Stadium

A sell-out crowd is expected in the Shire on Sunday afternoon with the home team coming up against the 3rd placed Raiders in a match that will have a big bearing on where both sides finish the season.

The Sharks can secure their position in the finals with a win and will also be buoyed by the occasion of farewelling club legend Paul Gallen in his last home game after 18 years plying his trade at the top level.

The Raiders will be looking to tie up a top four berth and face another stern test against the Sharks after facing three of the competition’s top teams over the last three weeks.

Win, lose or draw on Sunday, there won’t be a more battle hardened team once the finals come round in September.

Canberra Raiders back-rower John Bateman

TEAM CHANGES: The Sharks depth will be further tested after losing Sosaia Feki and Jack Williams to injury in last week’s win over the Warriors.

Sione Katoa comes in on the wing and the experienced Jayson Bukuya will fill the void on the interchange.

The Green Machine have lost Joseph Leilua to suspension just one game back from a serious neck injury after the mercurial centre dropped his knees into the back of Manly’s Rueben Garrick last Sunday.

Nick Cotric shifts to right centre, Bailey Simonsson to left wing and Siliva Havili re-joins the 17 via the bench.

KEY MATCH-UP: Wade Graham v John Bateman

RECENT HISTORY: The Sharks hold a slender 3-2 advantage in the last five clashes. Second-Rower Wade Graham and winger Jordan Rapana have each scored four tries in those matches.


DRAGONS v TIGERS @ Sydney Cricket Ground

The Dragons will take a rare home game to the SCG to conclude Round 24 and the Red V will have nothing but pride to play for after a disappointing back half of the season that sees them sitting second-last on the ladder.

The Tigers meanwhile have it all to play for.

Depending on how the Broncos fare on Friday night, Michael Maguire’s men could leapfrog them into the eight with a win and at the very least will need to win to stay in the race heading into the penultimate round.

St George Illawarra Dragons half Tristan Sailor

TEAM CHANGES: Paul McGregor has largely stuck solid with the team that went down to the Roosters.

Ben Hunt has been named in the reserves and looks likely to take his place at halfback on Sunday.

That would force a reshuffle to the backline with Gareth Widdop going to fullback and Tristan Sailor to the wing.

The Tigers have stuck solid with the 17 that convincingly got the job done last week.

Josh Reynolds has been named in the number nine, but expect him to revert back to the bench as was the case last week with Benji Marshall starting the game at dummy half.

KEY MATCH-UP: Tyson Frizell v Ryan Matterson

RECENT HISTORY: The Dragons hold a 3-2 advantage in recent battles between the two sides.