Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, looks over all 16 teams and previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 8 matches.
|Te Maire Martin||1||Will Kennedy|
|Corey Oates||2||Sione Katoa|
|Kotoni Staggs||3||Jesse Ramien|
|Herbie Farnworth||4||Siosifa Talakai|
|Selwyn Cobbo||5||Ronaldo Mulitalo|
|Tyson Gamble||6||Matt Moylan|
|Adam Reynolds||7||Nicho Hynes|
|Corey Jensen||8||Toby Rudolf|
|Billy Walters||9||Blayke Brailey|
|Payne Haas||10||Aiden Tolman|
|Kurt Capewell||11||Briton Nikora|
|Jordan Riki||12||Teig Wilton|
|Kobe Hetherington||13||Dale Finucane|
|Cory Paix||14||Jack Williams|
|Rhys Kennedy||15||Cameron McInnes|
|Thomas Flegler||16||Royce Hunt|
|Keenan Palasia||17||Andrew Fifita|
History: Played 43, Broncos 26, Sharks 17
Last Meeting: Round 24, 2021: Sharks 24 def. Broncos 16
Final Thoughts: The Brisbane Broncos started poorly in Round 7 but came good to thrash the Bulldogs 34-14 in a dominant second-half display. In contrast, the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks did enough in the first half to sit back and relax in the second while beating the Sea Eagles 34-22.
Kevin Walters has named the same Broncos 17 from last week. Notably, Billy Walters keeps his spot at hooker. Craig Fitzgibbon has done similar but welcomes back Dale Finucane from injury to start at lock with Cameron McInnes to the bench and Braydon Trindall out of the side.
The Broncos – for whatever reason – look like a different team at home. Their pack looks lively on both sides of the ball, Kotoni Staggs finds super strength in attack, and the whole side completes the orders Adam Reynolds gives them. Once finally clicking into gear last week, the Broncos played like a genuinely good football team. The challenge this week is doing it from the opening whistle against a Sharks side that knows how to fire from the siren. Fitzgibbon spied a weakness in the Sea Eagles defence last week and played straight for it. Expect him to send Siosifa Talakai at Staggs early and perhaps ask the Broncos centre to make a few tackles and therefore negate some of his effectiveness with the ball. But also expect some variety in how the Sharks use Talakai. It’s their specialty at the moment and it won’t be a surprise to see them feed Teig Wilton once or twice on the excellent lines he has run in recent weeks. The Broncos play well at home but the Sharks have proven to be a top tier team and haven’t taken a backwards step all season. They won’t take this one lightly and should pick up their sixth win of the 2022 NRL season.
|AJ Brimson||1||Dylan Edwards|
|Philip Sami||2||Charlie Staines|
|Brian Kelly||3||Izack Tago|
|Patrick Herbert||4||Stephen Crichton|
|Greg Marzhew||5||Taylan May|
|Will Smith||6||Jarome Luai|
|Toby Sexton||7||Nathan Cleary|
|Moeaki Fotuaika||8||Matthew Eisenhuth|
|Erin Clark||9||Api Koroisau|
|Isaac Liu||10||James Fisher-Harris|
|David Fifita||11||Viliame Kikau|
|Beau Fermor||12||Liam Martin|
|Tino Fa’asuamaleaui||13||Isaah Yeo|
|Tanah Boyd||14||Soni Luke|
|Sam Lisone||15||Scott Sorensen|
|Herman Ese’ese||16||Spencer Leniu|
|Kevin Proctor||17||Jaeman Salmon|
History: Played 22, Titans 7, Panthers 15
Last Meeting: Round 10, 2021: Panthers 48 def. Titans 12
Final Thoughts: The Gold Coast Titans are a shambles at the moment. Always set to struggle while travelling to Townsville, they didn’t turn up to lose 30-4 to the Cowboys. Meanwhile, the Penrith Panthers continued to dominate as they handled the Raiders with relative ease to win 36-6.
Justin Holbrook has hit the panic button and named another Titans spine. AJ Brimson moves to fullback and Will Smith into five-eighth. Meanwhile, Phill Sami returns to the wing which pushes Patrick Herbert to the centres and David Fifita to the backrow. Ivan Cleary, on the other hand, has named the same Panthers 17 for this week.
Desperation is setting in for the Titans as they experiment with new combinations in key positions. David Fifita can’t take all the blame. In fact, there isn’t much more he can do to put the Titans on his back and drag them to victory outside of a handful of tough carries. Instead, it’s up to those around him to pick up the slack. That slack is unlikely to be picked up this week against the defending premiers who are relentless in exposing weakness and driving points straight through them. Given the Gold Coast’s tendency to fall asleep for periods of a match, this one could get ugly fast. It will only take the Panthers scoring two or three unanswered tries before their defence settles in to win the match. The start is crucial for the Titans and the reshuffle to their spine doesn’t help. They’re unlikely to apply early pressure, and from there, the Panthers hit cruise control.
|Blake Taaffe||1||Reuben Garrick|
|Alex Johnston||2||Jason Saab|
|Isaiah Tass||3||Brad Parker|
|Campbell Graham||4||Tolutau Koula|
|Josh Mansour||5||Christian Tuipulotu|
|Cody Walker||6||Kieran Foran|
|Lachlan Ilias||7||Daly Cherry-Evans|
|Tevita Tatola||8||Sean Keppie|
|Damien Cook||9||Lachlan Croker|
|Thomas Burgess||10||Martin Taupau|
|Keaon Koloamatangi||11||Karl Lawton|
|Jai Arrow||12||Ethan Bullemor|
|Cameron Murray||13||Jake Trbojevic|
|Siliva Havili||14||Dylan Walker|
|Hame Sele||15||Ben Trbojevic|
|Davvy Moale||16||Kurt De Luis|
|Liam Knight||17||Toafofoa Sipley|
History: Played 41, Rabbitohs 20, Sea Eagles 21
Last Meeting: Finals Week 3, 2021: Rabbitohs 36 def. Sea Eagles 16
Final Thoughts: The South Sydney Rabbitohs are officially in a little bit of trouble following their 23-22 loss to the Tigers in Round 7. Similarly, the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles didn’t give themselves a chance to start their 34-22 loss at the hands of the Sharks.
The South Sydney Rabbitohs have been forced into a reshuffle with Isaiah Tass taking Taane Milne’s spot in the centres. Jacob Host’s should injury allows Siliva Havili to rejoin the side. The Sea Eagles lose Haumole Olakau’atu and Taniela Paseka for this one but welcome back Marty Taupau and Sean Keppie. Ben Trbojevic and Kurt de Luis are also back.
Is this the week it all comes together for the Rabbitohs? They showed some glimpses last week but many of their more promising actions in attack came against 12 men. The left edge isn’t what it used to be and Cody Walker is struggling for form. They need something different, but that something different is sitting on the sideline in the form of Latrell Mitchell. South Sydney’s fix starts with the error count. They’re second in the NRL in errors per game and it’s putting a handbrake on their attack and its development. As for the Sea Eagles, their leaky right edge defence was exposed time and time again last week. The game was over after 30 minutes with Manly’s second half resurgence to be taken with a grain of salt given the lead the Sharks had to sit on. This is still a fairly inconsistent footy side and one that is without an influential attacking figure in Olakau’atu this week. He has been their most reliable source of points and pressure with the ball and will be sorely missed on Friday night. It’s difficult to get a read on either side at the moment, but the Rabbitohs have a chance to get their season back on track against an understrength Sea Eagles outfit. Expect them to take it.
|Reece Walsh||1||Jordan Rapana|
|Rocco Berry||2||Nick Cotric|
|Jesse Arthars||3||Matthew Timoko|
|Adam Pompey||4||Semi Valemei|
|Viliami Vailea||5||Xavier Savage|
|Chanel Harris-Tavita||6||Jack Wighton|
|Shaun Johnson||7||Brad Schneider|
|Addin Fonua-Blake||8||Josh Papalii|
|Wayde Egan||9||Tom Starling|
|Matthew Lodge||10||Joseph Tapine|
|Euan Aitken||11||Hudson Young|
|Bayley Sironen||12||Elliott Whitehead|
|Jazz Tevaga||13||Ryan Sutton|
|Taniela Otukolo||14||Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad|
|Bunty Afoa||15||Corey Harawira-Naera|
|Eli Katoa||16||Adam Elliott|
|Jack Murchie||17||Corey Horsburgh|
History: Played 42, Warriors 20, Raiders 22
Last Meeting: Round 24, 2021: Raiders 28 def. Warriors 16
Final Thoughts: Both of these sides must be desperate to get back on the field this week. The New Zealand Warriors are coming in off their worst loss in club history after being thrashed 70-10 by the Storm. For the Canberra Raiders, they were never close to the Panthers in their 36-6 defeat.
Nathan Brown has been forced into changes. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Josh Curran and Aaron Pene are all out. Unsurprisingly, Ed Kosi has been dropped. Rocco Berry and Viliami Vailea are on the wing with Jack Murchie and Eli Katoa into the starting side. The Raiders welcome back Elliott Whitehead with Harry Rushton making way.
We’re going to hear a lot about “bouncing back” this week. For the Warriors, in particular, it’s about all they have. They’re an otherwise underperforming and poorly coached side playing well below their potential. A pack featuring Adding Fonua-Blake and Matt Lodge shouldn’t struggle to get up the field like they are right now. We saw what Chanel Harris-Tavita and Shaun Johnson can do with the ball even last week while losing by 60 points. For the Warriors pair to do anything, the forwards must lay the platform. This week they play a Raiders side that is 16th in the NRL in yardage. If there is a week to lay the foundations for the Warriors attack, it’s this week. However, unlike the Warriors who kept it close in the first half last week, the Raiders looked improved to start against the Panthers. They hung with the Panthers without gifting them three easy tries and can take something out of the first 30 minutes. Ricky Stuart’s side are also in need of a bounce back, but not as far as the Warriors.
|Matt Dufty||1||James Tedesco|
|Brent Naden||2||Kevin Naiqama|
|Aaron Schoupp||3||Paul Momirovski|
|Jake Averillo||4||Joseph Manu|
|Josh Addo-Carr||5||Joseph Suaalii|
|Matt Burton||6||Sam Walker|
|Kyle Flanagan||7||Luke Keary|
|Luke Thompson||8||Jared Waerea-Hargreaves|
|Jeremy Marshall-King||9||Sam Verrills|
|Paul Vaughan||10||Lindsay Collins|
|Corey Waddell||11||Angus Crichton|
|Tevita Pangai Jr.||12||Sitili Tupouniua|
|Josh Jackson||13||Victor Radley|
|Bailey Biondi-Odo||14||Drew Hutchison|
|Joe Stimson||15||Fletcher Baker|
|Max King||16||Nat Butcher|
|Ava Seumanufagai||17||Siosiua Taukeiaho|
History: Played 45, Bulldogs 21, Roosters 24
Last Meeting: Round 17, 2021: Roosters 22 def. Bulldogs 16
Final Thoughts: The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs offered a glimmer of hope by taking a 10-0 lead before falling to the Broncos 34-14. Meanwhile, the Sydney Roosters don’t look like themselves at all following their 14-12 loss to the Dragons.
Brent Naden and Jake Averillo are back for the Bulldogs this week with Jayden Okunbor and Jacob Kiraz out of the side. Ava Seumanufagai also returns on the bench in place of Billy Tsikrikas. Daniel Tupou has copped a one-week suspension which brings Kevin Naiqama onto the Roosters wing.
He’s not very forthcoming with journalists and is unlikely to offer much in the way of a response, but Trent Barrett won’t be able to dodge the fact that a loss this week would drop his winning rate as coach to 12.5% – equal as the worst in the club’s history. Surely, if the Bulldogs have anything else to throw at a defence, they throw it this week. The Bulldogs are the worst attacking team in the NRL and it’s not particularly close. They offer next to nothing in good ball outside of flicking it to Matt Burton or Matt Dufty and hoping for the best. Meanwhile, the Roosters have fallen grossly short of expectations to start the year. Sam Walker and Luke Keary are struggling to gel and the side lacks direction with the ball. Similar to the Bulldogs, if there is a quick fix for this, surely, that quick fix is applied this week. Neither side offered much in the way of a form guide. The Bulldogs are bad and the Roosters don’t look like themselves. However, unlike the Bulldogs, the expectation is for the Roosters to turn it around sooner rather than later. This week they face a side that will rarely trouble them defensively. One they can be patient against with the ball knowing 16 points will likely be enough to win. Don’t expect flashy, but the Roosters should look better and more controlled with the ball in this one.
|Clint Gutherson||1||Scott Drinkwater|
|Hayze Perham||2||Kyle Feldt|
|Will Penisini||3||Val Holmes|
|Dylan Brown||4||Peta Hiku|
|Bailey Simonsson||5||Murray Taulagi|
|Jake Arthur||6||Tom Dearden|
|Mitchell Moses||7||Chad Townsend|
|Reagan Campbell-Gillard||8||Jordan McLean|
|Reed Mahoney||9||Reece Robson|
|Junior Paulo||10||Coen Hess|
|Shaun Lane||11||Heilum Luki|
|Isaiah Papali’i||12||Jeremiah Nanai|
|Nathan Brown||13||Jason Taumalolo|
|Makahesi Makatoa||14||Jake Granville|
|Ryan Matterson||15||Tom Gilbert|
|Oregon Kaufusi||16||Reuben Cotter|
|Bryce Cartwright||17||Griffin Neame|
History: Played 41, Eels 20, Cowboys 20
Last Meeting: Round 23, 2021: Eels 32 def. Cowboys 16
Final Thoughts: The Parramatta Eels bounced back from their horror Round 6 loss to thrash the Knights 39-2. The North Queensland Cowboys also made easy work of their opposition while beating the Titans 30-4.
The Eels have named an unchanged 17 this week. Strangely, that includes Dylan Brown in the centres with Jakob Arthur to start at five-eighth. Todd Payten has done the same with the Cowboys naming the same 17 again for this one.
If you’d asked NRL fans whether or not Eels v Cowboys would make for an exciting Saturday night primetime game two months ago they’d have said no chance. However, the Cowboys have exceeded expectations to be one of the better-performing sides in the competition right now while the Eels are typically inconsistent. We’ve got two of the best yardage teams in the NRL going head-to-head in this one. The Eels rank 3rd at 1,777 running metres per game while the Cowboys are just behind at 1,699 running metres per game. Winning the middle comes up every week and is always a key indicator to predicting games, but there is little separating these two sides. The Eels play with more movement and passing but the Cowboys have found success in crashing the edges and looking for ruck speed. Both have plenty of points in them. The Eels are the better attacking side overall and have put points on better teams, but they’ve been forced to move Brown to the centres and he won’t have such an easy time of it this week. A full-strength Eels side would be expected to get this done. There are enough question marks around them to suggest the Cowboys can keep this one close, though.
|Kalyn Ponga||1||Ryan Papenhuyzen|
|Edrick Lee||2||Nick Meaney|
|Simi Sasagi||3||Reimis Smith|
|Bradman Best||4||Justin Olam|
|Enari Tuala||5||Xavier Coates|
|Jake Clifford||6||Cameron Munster|
|Adam Clune||7||Jahrome Hughes|
|David Klemmer||8||Jesse Bromwich|
|Chris Randall||9||Harry Grant|
|Daniel Saifiti||10||Nelson Asofa-Solomona|
|Tyson Frizell||11||Felise Kaufusi|
|Brodie Jones||12||Kenny Bronwich|
|Kurt Mann||13||Josh King|
|Phoenix Crossland||14||Brandon Smith|
|Jacob Saifiti||15||Tyran Wishart|
|Leo Thompson||16||Trent Loiero|
|Sauaso Sue||17||Tepai Moeroa|
History: Played 44, Knights 15, Storm 29
Last Meeting: Round 18, 2021: Storm 48 def. Knights 4
Final Thoughts: The Newcastle Knights have dropped five games on the bounce following their 2-0 start. They’re now backing up a 39-2 loss to the Eels with a game against a Melbourne Storm who just hung 70 points on a hapless Warriors side on ANZAC Day.
Dane Gagai will miss a month with his fractured cheekbone and is replaced by Simi Sasagi in the centres with Sauaso Sue onto the bench as the only change for the Knights. Unsurprisingly, the Storm will run out with the same side this week. Tyran Wishart taking Chris Lewis’ spot on the bench is the only adjustment.
We’ve not had too many of these games throughout the 2022 NRL season, but it’s not a case of whether or not the Storm will win, but by how much. They made scoring 70 points look easy in Round 7. The Knights, on the other hand, are one of the worst attacking teams in the competition and their defence isn’t doing enough to keep them in games either. Kalyn Ponga’s return has hindered the Knights attack more than help it. Neither Adam Clune nor Jake Clifford are able to take on the role of a dominant halfback with Ponga popping up around the ruck and the Knights lack direction with the ball as a result. Meanwhile, everybody within the Storm system knows where to be and when depending on where they are on the field and what the defence is doing in front of them. They’re a well-oiled machine and it’s difficult to see the Knights keeping this remotely close. Perhaps they can slow things down in the ruck given what the rules now allow. Playing at home might inspire some fight early. However, expect the Storm to pull away in the end.
|Moses Mbye||1||Starford To’a|
|Mathew Feagai||2||David Nofoaluma|
|Moses Suli||3||Luke Garner|
|Zac Lomax||4||Oliver Gildart|
|Mikaele Ravalawa||5||Ken Maumalo|
|Jack Bird||6||Luke Brooks|
|Ben Hunt||7||Jackson Hastings|
|Francis Molo||8||James Tamou|
|Andrew McCullough||9||Jacob Liddle|
|George Burgess||10||Zane Musgrove|
|Tariq Sims||11||Kelma Tuilagi|
|Josh McGuire||12||Luciano Leilua|
|Jack de Belin||13||Joe Ofahengaue|
|Talatau Amone||14||Jock Madden|
|Blake Lawrie||15||Alex Twal|
|Aaron Woods||16||Thomas Mikaele|
|Tyrell Fuimaono||17||Alex Seyfarth|
History: Played 40, Dragons 20, Tigers 20
Last Meeting: Round 12, 2021: Tigers 34 def. Dragons 18
Final Thoughts: The St. George Illawarra Dragons put in an incredible performance to beat the Roosters 14-12 on Monday afternoon. Meanwhile, the Wests Tigers made it two in a row with their 23-22 win over the Rabbitohs.
Jack Bird has been named for the Dragons despite his arm injury last week. Josh McGuire takes the place of Jaydn Su’A on the edge with Tyrell Fuimaono joining the bench as the major change. For the Tigers, Starford To’a starts at fullback for the injured Daine Laurie with Luke Garner and Oliver Gildart to start in the centres. In positive news, Kelma Tuilagi is back on the edge.
Here we go again… The Tigers are looking to win their third consecutive game in a season for the first time since Round 6, 2018. We’ve been here a couple of times but they’ve always found a way to keep their winning streak to two. They face a Dragons side that impressed against the Roosters in Round 7 without playing particularly well. This one is shaping up as a grinding affair. Neither will want to provide the other with an easy way out and both have proven they’re willing to get into the grind and defend their way to victory. Two high-touch halfbacks in Ben Hunt and Jackson Hastings will decide this one. Hunt is in superb form and proved against the Roosters that he can put the team on his back and drag them to victory. Hastings’ 102 touches last week, on the other hand, surely can’t be repeated. The potential for the Tigers to be forced into an adjustment as the Dragons apply inside pressure and play to Hastings on the field isn’t something they’re likely to handle well. Especially with Daine Laurie not available. We’re relying on Anthony Griffin – who isn’t a noted tactician – to force a change in the Tigers. Still, it’s obvious enough and should disrupt the Tigers attack enough for the Dragons to finish up on top.