Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, looks over all 16 teams and previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 7 matches.
|William Kennedy||1||Reuben Garrick|
|Sione Katoa||2||Jason Saab|
|Jesse Ramien||3||Brad Parker|
|Siosifa Talakai||4||Morgan Harper|
|Ronaldo Mulitalo||5||Christian Tuipulotu|
|Matt Moylan||6||Kieran Foran|
|Nicho Hynes||7||Daly Cherry-Evans|
|Toby Rudolf||8||Toafofoa Sipley|
|Blayke Brailey||9||Lachlan Croker|
|Aiden Tolman||10||Taniela Paseka|
|Briton Nikora||11||Haumole Olakau’atu|
|Teig Wilton||12||Andrew Davey|
|Cameron McInnes||13||Jake Trbojevic|
|Braydon Trindall||14||Dylan Walker|
|Jack Williams||15||Karl Lawton|
|Royce Hunt||16||Ethan Bullemor|
|Andrew Fifita||17||Kurt De Luis|
History: Played 33, Sharks 10, Sea Eagles 23
Last Meeting: Round 20, 2021: Sea Eagles 40 def. Sharks 22
Final Thoughts: The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks pushed the Storm a lot further than their 34-18 final defeat suggests in Round 6. Meanwhile, the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles picked up another Tom Trbojevic-less win with a 26-18 victory over the Titans.
Dale Finucane and Braden Hamlin-Uele miss this one for the Sharks. Cameron McInnes starts at lock and Aiden Tolman into prop. Sione Katoa and Briton Nikora also make their return. Morgan Harper is back for the Sea Eagles with Tolutau Koula to the reserves. Josh Aloiai’s injury has ruled him out bringing Ethan Bullemor back into the 17.
The Sharks weren’t that far off last week. Sione Katoa could well have pulled them to within a try or two of the Storm if he was available. Regardless of the result, they look like one of the best teams in the NRL right now and will be eager to prove as much in this one. While Trbojevic remains sidelined, the Sea Eagles have impressed without him. They’re beginning to find ways to score without relying on their fullback with Daly Cherry-Evans and Haumole Olakau’atu, in particular, linking up exceptionally well. The expectation is for this one to be close. Both sides work well through the middle and Cameron McInnes v Jake Trbojevic poses as one of the more unexpected exciting battles this season. That ball-playing will test the edge defences where the Sharks have an advantage. It’s been an area of concern for the Sea Eagles all season and few teams are better at exposing dodgy edge defences than the Sharks.
|Te Maire Martin||1||Matt Dufty|
|Corey Oates||2||Brent Naden|
|Kotoni Staggs||3||Aaron Schoupp|
|Herbie Farnworth||4||Jake Averillo|
|Selwyn Cobbo||5||Josh Addo-Carr|
|Tyson Gamble||6||Matt Burton|
|Adam Reynolds||7||Kyle Flanagan|
|Corey Jensen||8||Luke Thompson|
|Cory Paix||9||Jeremy Marshall-King|
|Payne Haas||10||Paul Vaughan|
|Kurt Capewell||11||Corey Waddell|
|Jordan Riki||12||Tevita Pangai Junior|
|Kobe Hetherington||13||Josh Jackson|
|Billy Walters||14||Brandon Wakeham|
|Rhys Kennedy||15||Joe Stimson|
|Thomas Flegler||16||Max King|
|Keenan Palasia||17||Ava Seumanufagai|
History: Played 45, Broncos 26, Bulldogs 18
Last Meeting: Round 2, 2022: Broncos 16 def. Bulldogs 10
Final Thoughts: The Brisbane Broncos started well but were no match for the Panthers on their way to falling 40-12 in Penrith. Similarly, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs scored the first but couldn’t keep up with the South Sydney Rabbitohs to lose 36-16.
Te Maire Martin makes his Broncos debut and plays in his first game since April 2019 by replacing Tesi Niu at fullback. Herbie Farnworth is back into the centres, Payne Haas to prop, Tyson Gamble to five-eighth and Billy Walters to the bench. Jake Turpin has been dropped for Cory Paix. Two changes for the Bulldogs: Braidon Burns and Chris Patolo have been sidelined with injuries with Aaron Schoupp to the centres and Corey Waddell to the edge.
Walters has seen what Michael Maguire did with the Tigers and is hoping his own shuffling of deck chairs will inspire a victory. However, what the Broncos need is consistency. Another rotation of the spine doesn’t make things easy for Adam Reynolds, particularly when the fullback hasn’t played first-grade football for three years. Still, there is enough in this side to get the job done on Friday. The pack will hold its own and provide a platform for this superior backline to find points. They won’t need many. The Bulldogs are the worst attacking team in the competition, and while they’re improving, points aren’t likely to pile up in this one. Matt Burton will run at a dodgy Broncos right edge defence so there is hope for the Bulldogs. There isn’t much else to rely on with the ball, though. If the Broncos get into the grind, hold onto the football and allow Reynolds to control things by passing teammates around the field and kicking into space, they will end their losing streak.
|Scott Drinkwater||1||Jamayne Isaako|
|Kyle Feldt||2||Phillip Sami|
|Valentine Holmes||3||Brian Kelly|
|Peta Hiku||4||Patrick Herbert|
|Murray Taulagi||5||Greg Marzhew|
|Tom Dearden||6||AJ Brimson|
|Chad Townsend||7||Toby Sexton|
|Jordan McLean||8||Moeaki Fotuaika|
|Reece Robson||9||Erin Clark|
|Coen Hess||10||Isaac Liu|
|Heilum Luki||11||David Fifita|
|Jeremiah Nanai||12||Beau Fermor|
|Jason Taumalolo||13||Tino Fa’asuamaleaui|
|Jake Granville||14||Will Smith|
|Tom Gilbert||15||Sam Lisone|
|Reuben Cotter||16||Jaimin Jolliffe|
|Griffin Neame||17||Jarrod Wallace|
History: Played 27, Cowboys 16, Titans 11
Last Meeting: Round 21, 2021: Titans 36 def. Cowboys 14
Final Thoughts: The North Queensland Cowboys bounced back from a disappointing two weeks to beat the Raiders 18-12 last week. The Gold Coast Titans, on the other hand, continue to struggle following their 26-18 defeat at the hands of the Sea Eagles.
Griffin Neame is back for the Cowboys with Jordan McLean to start and Reuben Cotter to the bench. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow has been named in the reserves and is a chance at returning. Strangely, Justin Holbrook has named the same Titans 17. Although, Jayden Campbell has been listed among the reserves.
Todd Payten is slowly putting things together in North Queensland. When they get it right, this is one of the better attacking sides in the competition and one that can score points in a hurry. Some of their defensive issues from the 2021 NRL season remain, though. Scott Drinkwater’s reintroduction to the side – even at fullback – hasn’t helped in that regard. However, they’ve closed the gap between attack and defence well enough to beat the bad teams in the competition more often. The Titans have looked like one of those bad teams in recent weeks. Their attack is poor and too reliant on David Fifita. He’s a freak and will find his side points, but not enough on his own. Jayden Campbell’s inclusion could change things but he’s not certain to return after being named in the reserves. The Cowboys are a tough side at home and the Titans haven’t shown enough recently to suggest they have the 80 minutes in them to win in Townsville. A massive battle in the race for the Top 8, the Cowboys should be too strong in this one.
|Daine Laurie||1||Blake Taaffe|
|David Nofoaluma||2||Alex Johnston|
|James Roberts||3||Taane Milne|
|Starford To’a||4||Campbell Graham|
|Ken Maumalo||5||Josh Mansour|
|Luke Brooks||6||Cody Walker|
|Jackson Hastings||7||Lachlan Ilias|
|James Tamou||8||Tevita Tatola|
|Jake Simpkin||9||Damien Cook|
|Zane Musgrove||10||Hame Sele|
|Kelma Tuilagi||11||Keaon Koloamatangi|
|Luciano Leilua||12||Jai Arrow|
|Joe Ofahengaue||13||Cameron Murray|
|Jock Madden||14||Thomas Burgess|
|Alex Twal||15||Jacob Host|
|Thomas Mikaele||16||Davvy Moale|
|Luke Garner||17||Liam Knight|
History: Played 38, Tigers 16, Rabbitohs 22
Last Meeting: Round 21, 2021: Rabbitohs 38 def. Tigers 22
Final Thoughts: The Wests Tigers finally ended the losing streak with an outrageous 21-20 win over the Eels but now face a South Sydney Rabbitohs side putting it together after beating the Bulldogs 36-16 in Round 6.
As expected, Michael Maguire has named the same 17 that beat the Eels. Jake Simpkin is expected to play despite leaving the field in a bad way last week. The Rabbitohs are much the same again for this one with Davvy Moale replacing Isaiah Tass on the bench.
The celebrations are over for the Tigers. It’s time to get to work as they prepare to host a Rabbitohs side that is slowly starting to click into gear. They scored 36 points last week while Cody Walker continues to struggle for form which is a scary prospect for the rest of the NRL. If he can begin to recreate even half of the attacking output he did in 2021, the Rabbitohs will have too many points in them this week and beyond. What does work in the Tigers favour is the fact the Rabbitohs still lead the NRL in errors per game. Wests frustrated the Eels into 13 errors last week and thrived on the back of them. Their middle wasn’t particularly strong but they gave themselves enough opportunities with the ball by forcing the Eels to hand it over. It’s the best approach they can take into this one with the Rabbitohs often falling into the trap of playing down to their opposition. The Tigers scrambled well in defence last week but need to tighten up their middle. Damien Cook and Cameron Murray are in superb form and will rip through what is often a lethargic middle defence if Maguire hasn’t prepared them. The start is important for the Tigers, but expect the Rabbitohs to finish on top by the end.
|Kalyn Ponga||1||Clinton Gutherson|
|Edrick Lee||2||Hayze Perham|
|Dane Gagai||3||Will Penisini|
|Bradman Best||4||Tom Opacic|
|Enari Tuala||5||Bailey Simonsson|
|Jake Clifford||6||Dylan Brown|
|Adam Clune||7||Mitchell Moses|
|David Klemmer||8||Reagan Campbell-Gillard|
|Chris Randall||9||Reed Mahoney|
|Daniel Saifiti||10||Junior Paulo|
|Tyson Frizell||11||Shaun Lane|
|Brodie Jones||12||Isaiah Papali’i|
|Kurt Mann||13||Nathan Brown|
|Phoenix Crossland||14||Makahesi Makatoa|
|Jacob Saifiti||15||Ryan Matterson|
|Leo Thompson||16||Oregon Kaufusi|
|Sauaso Sue||17||Jakob Arthur|
History: Played 41, Knights 22, Eels 19
Last Meeting: Finals, Week 1: Eels 28 def. Knights 20
Final Thoughts: The Newcastle Knights have lost all their early-season form to lose three on the bounce. Their latest: an ugly 21-16 loss to a hapless Dragons outfit. Meanwhile, the Parramatta Eels will be desperate to bounce back from their shock defeat to the Tigers last week.
Adam Clune returns for the Knights which pushes Phoenix Crossland to the bench and Simi Sasagi to 18th man. The Eels have been forced into a couple of changes but to welcome back Junior Paulo. Marata Niukore is out and replaced by Will Penesini in the centres while Hayze Perham is the latest name on the wing.
The Knights have done little to impress in recent weeks. Kalyn Ponga hasn’t provided a spark. If anything, the Knights attack has looked worse upon his return. Their middle disappointed last week, too. Injuries or not, a pack headlined by David Klemmer and the Saifiti brothers should be getting their side a lot further up the field in attack. They will need to against an Eels side that will surely go back to what works and play narrow and direct. They fell back into bad habits last week and tried to take the easy path around the Tigers defence. Brad Arthur will be pleading with his side to hit the tramlines, fashion splits in defence and hit short sides this week. If the Eels return to their pre-Round 6 form, this one won’t be close. They have allowed teams to hang in games through some poor defence but the Knights don’t have enough with the ball to keep up with the Eels if they’re firing. We’re going to learn a lot about Parramatta’s approach in the early stages of this one. If Shaun Lane and Isaiah Papali’i are being dropped back off to the middle and Mitchell Moses and Dylan Walker are getting downhill behind them, the Knights will struggle to keep them out for the full 80 minutes.
|Dylan Edwards||1||Jordan Rapana|
|Charlie Staines||2||Nick Cotric|
|Izack Tago||3||Matthew Timoko|
|Stephen Crichton||4||Semi Valemei|
|Taylan May||5||Xavier Savage|
|Jarome Luai||6||Jack Wighton|
|Nathan Cleary||7||Brad Schneider|
|Matthew Eisenhuth||8||Josh Papalii|
|Apisai Koroisau||9||Tom Starling|
|James Fisher-Harris||10||Joseph Tapine|
|Viliame Kikau||11||Corey Harawira-Naera|
|Liam Martin||12||Elliott Whitehead|
|Isaah Yeo||13||Ryan Sutton|
|Mitch Kenny||14||Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad|
|Scott Sorensen||15||Harry Rushton|
|Spencer Leniu||16||Adam Elliott|
|Jaeman Salmon||17||Corey Horsburgh|
History: Played 46, Panthers 24, Raiders 22
Last Meeting: Round 5, 2021: Panthers 30 def. Raiders 10
Final Thoughts: The Penrith Panthers continued their winning ways to make it 20 in a row at home with a 40-12 thrashing of the Broncos. The Canberra Raiders, on the other hand, continued their losing ways to fall 18-12 to the Cowboys.
For the fourth week on the bounce, Ivan Cleary has named the same Panthers 17. It’s a different story for Ricky Stuart and the Raiders. Jordan Rapana replaces Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad who moves to the bench. Xavier Savage gets a start on the wing while Harry Rushton will make his NRL debut.
The Panthers can do no wrong at the moment. They’ve won 20 in a row at home and did it relatively easy last week against a fast-starting Broncos outfit. Nathan Cleary is still working his way into the season but Isaah Yeo is doing more than enough as a leader to keep the Panthers firing. However, they do need to be wary of an ambush. Stuart gave his side a bake after their Round 6 loss and will have been into them all week about needing to improve against the defending premiers. They’ve been disappointing to start the season but have enough talent in the side, and a recent history of gritty wins in similar spots, to suggest they can keep this one close. It starts in the middle for the Raiders. They’re the worst yardage team in the NRL and won’t stand a chance without a significant improvement in that area. If they can hold their own through the centre-third and force the Panthers into their patient style of play that revolves around repeat sets and putting fatigue into the defence, the Raiders will give themselves a chance late in this one.
|Moses Mbye||1||James Tedesco|
|Mathew Feagai||2||Daniel Tupou|
|Moses Suli||3||Paul Momirovski|
|Zac Lomax||4||Joseph Manu|
|Mikaele Ravalawa||5||Joseph Suaalii|
|Jack Bird||6||Sam Walker|
|Ben Hunt||7||Luke Keary|
|Francis Molo||8||Jared Waerea-Hargreaves|
|Andrew McCullough||9||Sam Verrills|
|Josh Kerr||10||Lindsay Collins|
|Tariq Sims||11||Angus Crichton|
|Jaydn Su’a||12||Sitili Tupouniua|
|Jack de Belin||13||Victor Radley|
|Talatau Amone||14||Drew Hutchison|
|Blake Lawrie||15||Fletcher Baker|
|Josh McGuire||16||Nat Butcher|
|George Burgess||17||Siosiua Taukeiaho|
History: Played 45, Dragons 20, Roosters 24
Last Meeting: Round 23, 2021: Roosters 40 def. Dragons 22
Final Thoughts: The St. George Illawarra Dragons picked up a valuable win while beating the Knights 21-16 last week. The Sydney Roosters did similar. While far from their best, they did what they needed to do to get past the Warriors 21-16.
Anthony Griffin is persisting with the same Dragons 17 again in Round 7. For the Roosters, Paul Momirovski replaces Kevin Naiqama in the centres while Daniel Suluka-Fifita is replaced by Siua Taukeiaho on the bench.
The Dragons fought hard for their win last week but face a much tougher opposition in this one. Their clunky attack will struggle for points without an improvement around Ben Hunt who is doing everything he can for this side at the moment. Zac Lomax and Mikaele Ravalawa have plenty of points in them, but the Roosters defence will prepare for that side of the field. The Dragons need some variation in their attack and Moses Suli started to provide them with that on the left edge last week. However, the Roosters are threatening. Sam Verrills has a game under his belt and will be better for it. They’ve desperately lacked a genuine hooker and the attack will transform once he hits form. It’s James Tedesco that poses as a big threat this week, though. The Dragons middle defence is there to be carved up and Tedesco is the guy to do it. Damien Cook ripped through them a fortnight ago and a scheming Tedesco is likely to find success targeting lazy defenders around the ruck. The Roosters need a spark in attack and Tedesco could be it this week.
|Ryan Papenhuyzen||1||Reece Walsh|
|Nick Meaney||2||Dallin Watene-Zelezniak|
|Reimis Smith||3||Jesse Arthars|
|Justin Olam||4||Adam Pompey|
|Xavier Coates||5||Edward Kosi|
|Cameron Munster||6||Chanel Harris-Tavita|
|Jahrome Hughes||7||Shaun Johnson|
|Jesse Bromwich||8||Addin Fonua-Blake|
|Harry Grant||9||Wayde Egan|
|Nelson Asofa-Solomona||10||Matthew Lodge|
|Felise Kaufusi||11||Euan Aitken|
|Kenneath Bromwich||12||Bayley Sironen|
|Josh King||13||Josh Curran|
|Brandon Smith||14||Kodi Nikorima|
|Tyran Wishart||15||Bunty Afoa|
|Trent Loiero||16||Aaron Pene|
|Tepai Moeroa||17||Eliesa Katoa|
History: Played 47, Storm 29, Warriors 16
Last Meeting: Round 14, 2021: Storm 42 def. Warriors 16
Final Thoughts: The Melbourne Storm hosted an up-for-it Sharks side in Round 6 and handled them with relative ease to win 34-18. They face a New Zealand Warriors side arriving in Melbourne following a 22-14 loss to the Roosters.
The Bromwich brothers are back for the Storm which pushes Brandon Smith and Trent Loiero to the bench with Chris Lewis and Alec MacDonald dropping out. Matt Lodge is back for the Warriors alongside Jazz Tevaga.
The Warriors have a good history in this fixture. They’ve managed to keep it close on ANZAC Day more often than not but prepare to face a Storm side that is somehow getting better every week this time around. Ryan Papenhuyzen, Jahrome Hughes and Harry Grant are thriving together in the spine while Cameron Munster is in career-best form at five-eighth. They can attack across the field and spring into action at any moment. That’s a concern for a Warriors outfit that is vulnerable in defence given the big bodies they’re sending onto the field. Matt Lodge, in particular, has been caught out a couple of times at marker and a slow peel will be all Papenhuyzen needs to fly through the line. Shaun Johnson, Reece Walsh and Chanel Harris-Tavita are linking up well themselves. Johnson being in the side gives them a chance every week. However, it’s all looking like one-way traffic in this one. The Storm are stronger across the park, are rested following a lengthy recovery, and Craig Bellamy has had extra time to pick holes in the Warriors defence.