Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, looks over all 16 teams and previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 12 matches.
|Nick Meaney||1||Reuben Garrick|
|Dean Ieremia||2||Jorge Taufua|
|Marion Seve||3||Morgan Harper|
|Justin Olam||4||Tolutau Koula|
|Xavier Coates||5||Christian Tuipulotu|
|Cameron Munster||6||Kieran Foran|
|Jahrome Hughes||7||Daly Cherry-Evans|
|Jesse Bromwich||8||Josh Aloiai|
|Harry Grant||9||Lachlan Croker|
|Tui Kamikamica||10||Toafofoa Sipley|
|Felise Kaufusi||11||Haumole Olakau’atu|
|Kenneath Bromwich||12||Andrew Davey|
|Josh King||13||Jake Trbojevic|
|Brandon Smith||14||Dylan Walker|
|Tyran Wishart||15||Josh Schuster|
|Trent Loiero||16||Ethan Bullemor|
|Alec MacDonald||17||Sean Keppie|
History: Played 40, Storm 24, Sea Eagles 15
Last Meeting: Finals Week 1, 2021: Storm 40 def. Sea Eagles 12
Final Thoughts: A trip to North Queensland to play the Cowboys is tough for any side at the moment but injuries or not, nobody saw the Melbourne Storm’s 36-6 loss coming. Meanwhile, the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 22-20 loss to the Eels wasn’t the worst loss for Des Hasler in Round 11.
Tom Trbojevic is unlikely to feature again for the Sea Eagles this season, replaced by Reuben Garrick at the back. Jorge Taufua takes Garrick’s spot on the wing while Ethan Bullemor is in for Marty Taupau. For the Storm, Jahrome Hughes returns which pushes Harry Grant back to hooker and Brandon Smith to the bench.
The Hughes inclusion is huge for the Storm. His influence on the attack is obvious. He’s one of the best halfbacks in the NRL and goes a long way to making up for the absence of Ryan Papenhuyzen. However, it’s defensively that he will have a significant impact given the issues they’ve faced on the right side in recent weeks. The Cowboys ripped through them on that side last week and it will surely be a target for the Sea Eagles in this one. Although, Manly’s strength without Trbojevic has been through the Daly Cherry-Evans/Haumole Olakau’atu combination on the right side. The pair have linked up well throughout the year and will be relied on heavily if the Sea Eagles are to keep up on the scoreboard this week. That seems unlikely, though. The Storm returns home following a poor fortnight and they’re not a side that engages in losing streaks. Craig Bellamy will be desperate to return to the winner’s circle and prepare accordingly. In Manly and with Trbojevic, you give the Sea Eagles a chance. However, it feels as though they’re walking into a storm this week.
|Dylan Edwards||1||Scott Drinkwater|
|Taylan May||2||Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow|
|Izack Tago||3||Valentine Holmes|
|Stephen Crichton||4||Peta Hiku|
|Brian To’o||5||Murray Taulagi|
|Jarome Luai||6||Tom Dearden|
|Nathan Cleary||7||Chad Townsend|
|Moses Leota||8||Jordan McLean|
|Apisai Koroisau||9||Reece Robson|
|James Fisher-Harris||10||Reuben Cotter|
|Viliame Kikau||11||Tom Gilbert|
|Liam Martin||12||Jeremiah Nanai|
|Isaah Yeo||13||Coen Hess|
|Mitch Kenny||14||Jake Granville|
|Scott Sorensen||15||Heilum Luki|
|Spencer Leniu||16||Jamayne Taunoa-Brown|
|Jaeman Salmon||17||Griffin Neame|
History: Played 38, Panthers 20, Cowboys 18
Last Meeting: Round 1, 2021: Panthers 24 def. Cowboys 0
Final Thoughts: The Penrith Panthers continue to play in a tier above everybody else and come into this one off a 32-12 win over the Roosters. The fact this game is being played at 6pm on a Friday sums up how little was expected of the North Queensland Cowboys this season. They’ve won six in a row with their latest a 36-6 thrashing of the Storm.
Unsurprisingly, the Panthers have named the same 17 for the fourth consecutive week. The Cowboys haven’t been so lucky. Kyle Feldt is out for six weeks and replaced by Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow. Jason Taumalolo is also sidelined with Coen Hess to start at lock.
We all thought that the Panthers taking on the Storm in Magic Round would be one of the games of the season, but this might be it. The defending premiers taking on a Cowboys side that has surprised almost everybody and is looking to add the Panthers to that list on Friday. Todd Payten’s side is on fire with the ball. They’ve scored 36 points in each of the last three games and 35 points in the game prior to average 26.1 points per game this season. The Panthers aren’t too shabby themselves to be second in the NRL in scoring at 29.3 points per game. However, this game is all about defence. The Panthers and Cowboys rank 1st and 2nd in the competition in points conceded per game. Their current numbers of 11.6 points conceded and 11.9 points conceded rank in the top six in NRL history. While all of the build-up will be centred around high-powered attacks and sweeping shifts out wide, we’ve got two coaches with an eye for detail without the ball who will prepare their sides to handle whatever is thrown at them. It might not be a pretty match. Anticipate an early grind, few errors and long kicks to start. From there, the result will likely be decided by one or two missteps in defence.
|Te Maire Martin||1||Jayden Campbell|
|Corey Oates||2||Corey Thompson|
|Kotoni Staggs||3||Brian Kelly|
|Herbie Farnworth||4||Esan Marsters|
|Selwyn Cobbo||5||Jamayne Isaako|
|Tyson Gamble||6||AJ Brimson|
|Ezra Mam||7||Toby Sexton|
|Corey Jensen||8||Moeaki Fotuaika|
|Billy Walters||9||Erin Clark|
|Payne Haas||10||Jarrod Wallace|
|Kurt Capewell||11||Isaac Liu|
|Jordan Riki||12||Beau Fermor|
|Patrick Carrigan||13||Tino Fa’asuamaleaui|
|Cory Paix||14||Tanah Boyd|
|Kobe Hetherington||15||Jaimin Jolliffe|
|Thomas Flegler||16||Sam McIntyre|
|Keenan Palasia||17||Sam Lisone|
History: Played 31, Broncos 21, Titans 10
Last Meeting: Round 8, 2021: Broncos 36 def. Titans 28
Final Thoughts: The Brisbane Broncos have won five on the bounce as they continue to surprise to start the 2022 NRL season. Their 36-12 win over the Knights last week was never in doubt. The Gold Coast Titans, on the other hand, scrambled late but ultimately fell to the Sharks 25-18.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, there are no changes to the 17 this week. Adam Reynolds is still sidelined with a hamstring injury. For the Titans, Brian Kelly replaces Phillip Sami while Jaimin Jolliffe takes Herman Ese’ese’s spot on the bench.
The Broncos continue to surprise this season and while Reynolds isn’t available this week, they’ve proven themselves to be capable of playing at a level that should handle the Titans relatively comfortably. Their middle is performing well and laying a solid platform to attack from. Even without their first-choice halfback their backline remains dangerous and is laden with individual talent that will be provided with plenty of opportunities close to the line. The Titans have the squad to compete. They have done all season, really. Their issue is doing it across the full 80 minutes and making the most of the opportunities their inconsistent spine creates. AJ Brimson and Jayden Campbell are still working out their combination and Toby Sexton isn’t a halfback that will drag a team to victory. It’s been a long time since the Broncos have been in such a dominant position against their little brother club but they should be far too strong at home on Friday night.
|Reece Walsh||1||Kalyn Ponga|
|Dallin Watene-Zelezniak||2||Edrick Lee|
|Viliami Vailea||3||Dane Gagai|
|Adam Pompey||4||Enari Tuala|
|Marcelo Montoya||5||Dominic Young|
|Chanel Harris-Tavita||6||Anthony Milford|
|Shaun Johnson||7||Jake Clifford|
|Ben Murdoch-Masila||8||David Klemmer|
|Freddy Lussick||9||Chris Randall|
|Jazz Tevaga||10||Daniel Saifiti|
|Euan Aitken||11||Tyson Frizell|
|Tohu Harris||12||Lachlan Fitzgibbon|
|Jack Murchie||13||Mitch Barnett|
|Taniela Otukolo||14||Phoenix Crossland|
|Aaron Pene||15||Jacob Saifiti|
|Bunty Afoa||16||Leo Thompson|
|Eliesa Katoa||17||Mat Croker|
History: Played 43, Warriors 22, Knights 20
Last Meeting: Round 15, 2021: Knights 10 def. Warriors 6
Final Thoughts: Things keep going from bad to worse for the New Zealand Warriors who again struggled throughout their 24-18 loss to the Dragons. While the Newcastle Knights kept things close in the first half, the Broncos ran away to win 36-12 in Round 11.
Chanel Harris-Tavita is back and straight into five-eighth. Addin Fonua-Blake is out for a lengthy period with Jazz Tevaga to start at prop and Freddy Lussick at hooker. Taniela Otukolo is onto the bench. The Knights have lost Bradman Best for a few weeks with Enari Tuala coming into the centres. Jake Clifford returned to footy through reserve grade last week and replaces Adam Clune for this one.
Nathan Brown faces his former club this week and is under huge pressure not to make the Warriors another former club in the not too distant future. He has some injury excuses to fall back on and Fonua-Blake adds to the list this week, but this side is somehow getting worse every week and is grossly underperforming their preseason expectations regardless of how low Brown talks them down with every loss. Terrible in yardage, the Warriors put themselves under constant pressure defensively. They’re beaten up in the middle every week, and while the Knights aren’t particularly strong in yardage overall, their middle can lay a platform this week. We’ve seen Kalyn Ponga produce some nice moments when on the front foot in recent weeks. He will run at a poor Warriors right edge defence on Saturday afternoon, too. With how bad the Warriors attack is right now, it will only take two moments of Ponga magic for the Knights to put themselves in a position to win this one.
|Blake Taaffe||1||Daine Laurie|
|Alex Johnston||2||Asu Kepaoa|
|Jaxson Paulo||3||Starford To’a|
|Campbell Graham||4||Brent Naden|
|Taane Milne||5||Ken Maumalo|
|Cody Walker||6||Luke Brooks|
|Lachlan Ilias||7||Jackson Hastings|
|Tevita Tatola||8||James Tamou|
|Damien Cook||9||Jake Simpkin|
|Thomas Burgess||10||Zane Musgrove|
|Keaon Koloamatangi||11||Luke Garner|
|Jai Arrow||12||Luciano Leilua|
|Hame Sele||13||Joe Ofahengaue|
|Liam Knight||14||Kelma Tuilagi|
|Mark Nicholls||15||Alex Twal|
|Siliva Havili||16||Fa’amanu Brown|
|Kodi Nikorima||17||Stefano Utoikamanu|
History: Played 39, Rabbitohs 22, Tigers 17
Last Meeting: Round 7, 2022: Tigers 23 def. Rabbitohs 22
Final Thoughts: It still isn’t clicking for the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Another slow start saw them fall to the Raiders 32-12 in Dubbo. Meanwhile, the Wests Tigers did what they needed to do to beat the Bulldogs 36-22 at Leichhardt.
Mark Nicholls returns from injury as the only change for the Rabbitohs. Although, Cameron Murray has been named in the reserves and is a chance at returning. The Tigers welcome back Daine Laurie and Luke Brooks this week; Starford To’a moves to the centres while Tyrone Peachey and Jock Madden drop out of the side. Asu Kepaoa replaces Junior Tupou on the wing and Jake Simpkin is into hooker for Jacob Liddle.
The Rabbitohs are still a tough team to read at the moment. One moment they seem to be on the right track, the next they’re being dominated by a fairly inconsistent Raiders side. It’s no coincidence that those moments on the right track coincide with the rare occasions they’re able to hold onto the ball. South Sydney’s NRL-high 13.5 errors per game continue to act as a handbrake on their 2022 season. One area they typically perform well in is yardage. Despite coughing the ball up so often, the Rabbitohs earn 33.7 tackles inside the opposition’s 20-metre line per game – the 2nd most in the NRL. It’s only a matter of time before the butter is wiped off their fingers and they start to put teams away. The Tigers are improving and look like a different team with Jackson Hastings organising the attack but they still concede a lot of points and score just 14.7 points of their own per game. Wests are a good chance at keeping it close early. A few Rabbitohs errors may even provide them with a lead. However, the Tigers still struggle to get through a full game and when the Rabbitohs run, they run. One period of piling on points will do it for Souths on Saturday.
|William Kennedy||1||James Tedesco|
|Sione Katoa||2||Daniel Tupou|
|Connor Tracey||3||Paul Momirovski|
|Siosifa Talakai||4||Joseph Manu|
|Ronaldo Mulitalo||5||Joseph Suaalii|
|Matt Moylan||6||Sam Walker|
|Nicho Hynes||7||Luke Keary|
|Toby Rudolf||8||Jared Waerea-Hargreaves|
|Blayke Brailey||9||Drew Hutchison|
|Royce Hunt||10||Lindsay Collins|
|Briton Nikora||11||Angus Crichton|
|Wade Graham||12||Nat Butcher|
|Cameron McInnes||13||Siosiua Taukeiaho|
|Aiden Tolman||14||Connor Watson|
|Braydon Trindall||15||Fletcher Baker|
|Teig Wilton||16||Sitili Tupouniua|
|Andrew Fifita||17||Terrell May|
History: Played 42, Sharks 16, Roosters 26
Last Meeting: Round 5, 2021: Roosters 26 def. Sharks 18
Final Thoughts: The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks beat the Titans 25-18 but did it more comfortably than the scoreboard suggests. As for the Sydney Roosters, they weren’t able to keep close to the Panthers after going into the sheds down 18-0.
Will Kennedy is back for the Sharks with Lachlan Miller named as 18th man. Sitili Tupouniua makes his return for the Roosters off the bench in place of Egan Butcher.
This one shapes as a beauty. While the Roosters haven’t played their best football throughout 2022, the Sharks are somewhat inconsistent as they adjust to being one of the better teams in the NRL. The two teams match up relatively even. The Sharks average 22.2 points per game (5th) to the Roosters’ 21.2 points (6th). Similarly, the Sharks concede 16.9 points (5th) to the Roosters’ 18.2 points (6th). Yardage is always a consistent measure of rugby league and they line up there, too. Toby Rudolf, Royce Hunt, Cameron McInnes and company get the Sharks up the field for 1,692 running metres per game (4th) while Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Lindsay Collins and Siosiua Taukeiaho do the same for the Roosters and their 1,676 metres per game (5th). They match up in the right areas statistically but go about their business in attack differently. Where the Sharks set up their slingshot attack to shift the ball wide on long-side shifts, the Roosters search for advantages in the numbers and scheme for short sides. It’s a mouthwatering head-to-head battle with the ball. Both sides have stumbled once or twice this season but if they’re both on their game on Saturday night, this could be a sneaky contender for Game of the Season.
|Matt Dufty||1||Cody Ramsey|
|Jacob Kiraz||2||Mathew Feagai|
|Aaron Schoupp||3||Moses Suli|
|Jake Averillo||4||Zac Lomax|
|Josh Addo-Carr||5||Mikaele Ravalawa|
|Matt Burton||6||Talatau Amone|
|Kyle Flanagan||7||Ben Hunt|
|Luke Thompson||8||Francis Molo|
|Jeremy Marshall-King||9||Moses Mbye|
|Paul Vaughan||10||Blake Lawrie|
|Corey Waddell||11||Jack Bird|
|Max King||12||Tariq Sims|
|Josh Jackson||13||Jack de Belin|
|Zach Dockar-Clay||14||Andrew McCullough|
|Tevita Pangai Junior||15||Aaron Woods|
|Chris Patolo||16||Michael Molo|
|Raymond Faitala-Mariner||17||Tyrell Fuimaono|
History: Played 42, Bulldogs 26, Dragons 16
Last Meeting: Round 14, 2021: Bulldogs 28 def. Dragons 6
Final Thoughts: The myth of the new coach bounce has again been debunked as the Bulldogs lost to the Tigers 36-22 without ever looking likely of taking the two competition points. While it wasn’t pretty, the St. George-Illawarra Dragons hung on to beat the Warriors 24-18 last week.
Josh Addo-Carr returns from his week off with Jayden Okunbor making way. Corey Waddell is also back and takes Joe Stimson’s place on the edge. Meanwhile, the Dragons welcome back Andrew McCullough via the bench. Cody Ramsey keeps his place at fullback.
It’s difficult to take positives out of any Bulldogs performance at the moment. Their attack is dire and the lack of impact they have with the ball translates into poor performances without it. Matt Burton is being asked to do too much in order for the Bulldogs to be competitive. At times, sending the ball into orbit with a 5th tackle kick is all the Bulldogs offer as a threat. The Dragons are only marginally better but are more consistent in defence and have Ben Hunt to orchestrate things in attack. Hunt is leading the Dragons around the field and only one point of the lead in the Dally M standings at the moment. He’s the lifeblood of the side and they’re sneaking past enough bad teams to keep arms distance from the wooden spoon many tipped them to win this season. After juggling his team and moving players in and out, Anthony Griffin may have finally landed on a first-choice 17. Cody Ramsey at the back is an interesting one. He will be exposed by the better teams with better halfbacks, but the Bulldogs aren’t one of them. Instead, we’re likely to see this limited but experienced Dragons pack tuck the ball under their arm and wait for the defence to crack. In Ramsey, Hunt, Zac Lomax and Moses Suli, the Dragons have the individual players to find points. Against a Bulldogs side scoring just 10.7 per game, the Dragons won’t need many.
|Xavier Savage||1||Clinton Gutherson|
|Nick Cotric||2||Waqa Blake|
|Jarrod Croker||3||Will Penisini|
|Matthew Timoko||4||Tom Opacic|
|Jordan Rapana||5||Bailey Simonsson|
|Jack Wighton||6||Dylan Brown|
|Jamal Fogarty||7||Mitchell Moses|
|Josh Papalii||8||Reagan Campbell-Gillard|
|Zac Woolford||9||Reed Mahoney|
|Joseph Tapine||10||Junior Paulo|
|Hudson Young||11||Shaun Lane|
|Elliott Whitehead||12||Marata Niukore|
|Adam Elliott||13||Isaiah Papali’i|
|Tom Starling||14||Makahesi Makatoa|
|Ryan Sutton||15||Ryan Matterson|
|Sebastian Kris||16||Oregon Kaufusi|
|Corey Horsburgh||17||Nathan Brown|
History: Played 36, Raiders 21, Eels 15
Last Meeting: Round 19, 2021: Raiders 12 def. Eels 10
Final Thoughts: The Canberra Raiders have finally started to play half-decent football with their 32-12 win over the Rabbitohs their best of the season. The Parramatta Eels, on the other hand, were made to work hard for their 22-20 victory over the Sea Eagles.
Jamal Fogarty will make his Raiders debut while Jarrod Croker is also back from injury. Brad Schneider is out and Seb Kris drops to the bench. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, however, is out and replaced by Xavier Savage. The Eels welcome back Waqa Blake while Maika Sivo is also a chance of returning.
The Canberra Raiders have found some form and the return of Jamal Fogarty is a big positive. However, losing Nicoll-Klokstad is a bigger issue than most realise. He started the season poorly by his standards but has returned in fine form and is a major reason behind Canberra’s improved defence. They’ve conceded only 26 points since their capitulation against the Warriors in Round 8. They need to keep that level of defence up for this week against an Eels side that can pile up points in a hurry. When the Eels get up the field, plug the edges and play direct, they’re one of the best teams in the NRL. Their ball playing across the field can cause havoc for the Raiders who aren’t a particularly fast or mobile football side. We saw how the change of angles broke down the Panthers in Round 9 and the Eels should be looking to do the same here. Parramatta’s defence hasn’t been at the same level as their attack, though. They’ve conceded 20+ points in each of the last four games and in six of their last seven. The Raiders are returning to the grinding ways they’ve been most successful in recent years. It’s the best recipe to frustrate the Eels into swaying away from their game plan and causing an upset on Sunday.