Sports writer, JASON OLIVER, looks over all 16 teams and previews this weekend’s Rugby League action with his NRL tips for all Round 20 matches.
|Reuben Garrick||1||James Tedesco|
|Pio Seci||2||Daniel Tupou|
|Morgan Harper||3||Paul Momirovski|
|Dylan Walker||4||Joseph Manu|
|Alfred Smalley||5||Joseph Suaalii|
|Kieran Foran||6||Luke Keary|
|Daly Cherry-Evans||7||Sam Walker|
|Taniela Paseka||8||Jared Waerea-Hargreaves|
|Lachlan Croker||9||Sam Verrills|
|Kurt De Luis||10||Lindsay Collins|
|Ethan Bullemor||11||Angus Crichton|
|Andrew Davey||12||Nat Butcher|
|Jake Trbojevic||13||Victor Radley|
|James Segeyaro||14||Connor Watson|
|Sean Keppie||15||Egan Butcher|
|Martin Taupau||16||Drew Hutchison|
|Morgan Boyle||17||Matthew Lodge|
History: Played 37, Sea Eagles 20, Roosters 17
Last Meeting: Round 2, 2022: Roosters 26 def. Sea Eagles 12
Final Thoughts: An understrength Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles side struggled to click throughout their 20-6 loss to the Dragons in Round 19. The Sydney Roosters, on the other hand, continued to improve as they thrashed the Knights 42-12.
Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Tolutau Koula, Josh Aloiai, Haumole Olakau’atu, Toafofoa Sipley and Josh Schuster have stood themselves down, forcing Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler into mass changes. Trent Robinson had it much easier on Tuesday by being able to name Joey Manu and Lindsay Collins. Terrell May and Adam Keighran drop out of the side.
This game turned on its head on Monday afternoon when seven Manly players ruled themselves out. What once looked like a potential epic between two teams fighting for the Top 8 now looks like a walk in the park for the Roosters. They’ve come into some superb form and added Manu and Collins to the squad this week. The new-look halves pairing will be better for the 80 minutes last week, too. While there is still some punch to this Sea Eagles pack, their backline leaves a lot to be desired. Even if they can compete in the middle – which will be tough against a stacked Roosters pack – it’s difficult to see them scoring enough points to keep this one close. Christian Tuipulotu and Jason Saab’s unavailability only adds to the likelihood that the Roosters dominate in the air on the last tackle in good ball, too. Round 19 produced some exciting matches, but Round 20 looks set to start with a one-sided 80 minutes.
|Reece Walsh||1||Nick Meaney|
|Dallin Watene-Zelezniak||2||Dean Ieremia|
|Marcelo Montoya||3||Marion Seve|
|Adam Pompey||4||Justin Olam|
|Edward Kosi||5||Grant Anderson|
|Chanel Harris-Tavita||6||Cameron Munster|
|Shaun Johnson||7||Jahrome Hughes|
|Addin Fonua-Blake||8||Jesse Bromwich|
|Wayde Egan||9||Harry Grant|
|Tohu Harris||10||Nelson Asofa-Solomona|
|Euan Aitken||11||Felise Kaufusi|
|Josh Curran||12||Kenneath Bromwich|
|Jazz Tevaga||13||Josh King|
|Freddy Lussick||14||Tyran Wishart|
|Bunty Afoa||15||Tui Kamikamica|
|Eliesa Katoa||16||Alec MacDonald|
|Jackson Frei||17||Jordan Grant|
History: Played 48, Warriors 16, Storm 30
Last Meeting: Round 7, 2022: Storm 70 def. Warriors 10
Final Thoughts: The New Zealand Warriors played out one of their better first halves of the 2022 NRL season in Round 19. However, they returned to their typical form in the second to fall to the Raiders 26-14 in Canberra. Not so typical is the Melbourne Storm’s four-game losing streak following a 24-12 loss to the Rabbitohs.
The Reece Walsh dropping only lasted a week as he returns to fullback. Meanwhile, the Warriors have moved Chanel Harris-Tavita back into the halves, Marcelo Montoya to centre, Ed Kosi to the wing and Jackson Frei joins the bench. No such changes for the Storm with the same starting side named for this one. Jordan Grant replaces Tom Eisenhuth on the bench.
While the Warriors return home to Mt Smart Stadium where they can expect a little boost from the crowd, the rocket the Storm will have received from Craig Bellamy during the week could blow this game up. They won’t hang 70 points on them again, but the Storm are due an improved performance. Being “due” isn’t something you can expect for every side. The Storm, however, have proven too good for too long not to expect an uptick sooner rather than later. It won’t take much. The Warriors have improved almost every week since Nathan Brown left the club but they’re far from an 80-minute side. Even with a 14-0 lead last week, it became clear early into the second half that it wouldn’t be enough. The Storm are out of form. The Warriors, meanwhile, haven’t ever been in form this season. It’s unlikely to all come together for long enough this week to take the chocolates.
|Clinton Gutherson||1||Dylan Edwards|
|Maika Sivo||2||Taylan May|
|Will Penisini||3||Izack Tago|
|Waqa Blake||4||Robert Jennings|
|Bailey Simonsson||5||Brian To’o|
|Dylan Brown||6||Sean O’Sullivan|
|Mitchell Moses||7||Nathan Cleary|
|Reagan Campbell-Gillard||8||Matthew Eisenhuth|
|Reed Mahoney||9||Apisai Koroisau|
|Junior Paulo||10||James Fisher-Harris|
|Shaun Lane||11||Viliame Kikau|
|Isaiah Papali’i||12||Liam Martin|
|Ryan Matterson||13||Isaah Yeo|
|Makahesi Makatoa||14||Jaeman Salmon|
|Bryce Cartwright||15||Scott Sorensen|
|Oregon Kaufusi||16||Spencer Leniu|
|Marata Niukore||17||Charlie Staines|
History: Played 46, Eels 22, Panthers 24
Last Meeting: Round 9, 2022: Eels 22 def. Panthers 20
Final Thoughts: The Parramatta Eels barely got off the bus in Round 19 as they fell to the Broncos 36-14 at home. Meanwhile, the Penrith Panthers overcame a slow start to come back from 10-0 down to beat the Sharks 20-10.
Jakob Arthur won’t need to deal with the ordinary fans in the stands booing his presence on the Eels bench. He has been replaced by Bryce Cartwright. As expected, the Panthers will be without Stephen Crichton this week. They’ll be without Jarome Luai, too. Robert Jennings and Sean O’Sullivan take their place while Charlie Staines has been added to the bench in place of the injured Mitch Kenny.
Almost every week you can look at the Eels 17, ignore their form, and talk yourself into a Parramatta win. Not this week, though. Their lack of patience throughout the season and regular poor periods in a match are recipes for disaster this week. No team is better or more willing to patiently wait for the opposition to crumble under the pressure of their charging middle and Nathan Cleary’s kicking game. While they have beaten them once this year already – in Penrith, no less – the Eels haven’t been consistent enough since then to assume they will go close to doing the same in this one. Luai is a loss but one the Panthers should be able to cover enough to keep their left side piling up points. Given Parramatta’s edge defence this year, it’s a good week for Cleary to introduce a new half to the side.
|AJ Brimson||1||Xavier Savage|
|Sosefo Fifita||2||Nick Cotric|
|Phillip Sami||3||Matthew Timoko|
|Brian Kelly||4||Sebastian Kris|
|Patrick Herbert||5||Albert Hopoate|
|Tanah Boyd||6||Jack Wighton|
|Toby Sexton||7||Jamal Fogarty|
|Moeaki Fotuaika||8||Josh Papalii|
|Aaron Booth||9||Zac Woolford|
|Tino Fa’asuamaleaui||10||Joseph Tapine|
|David Fifita||11||Hudson Young|
|Beau Fermor||12||Elliott Whitehead|
|Erin Clark||13||Adam Elliott|
|Jayden Campbell||14||Tom Starling|
|Herman Ese’ese||15||Ryan Sutton|
|Isaac Liu||16||Emre Guler|
|Jaimin Jolliffe||17||Corey Harawira-Naera|
History: Played 28, Titans 13, Raiders 15
Last Meeting: Round 3, 2022: Raiders 24 def. Titans 22
Final Thoughts: The Gold Coast Titans had their moments throughout their loss to the Bulldogs last week but the 36-26 flattered them in the end. Similarly, the 26-14 win over the Warriors didn’t come that easy for the Raiders who played out a terrible first 40 minutes.
The Gold Coast Titans are shuffling things around again. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui is into prop and Erin Clark to lock. Corey Thompson has also been dropped with Patrick Herbert out to the wing and Brian Kelly back into the centres. Meanwhile, Ricky Stuart has done the opposite and named the same 17 again this week.
There isn’t a lot to like about the Titans at the moment. They have some talented players throughout the 17 but don’t have the pieces to link them together. Regular changes to the spine haven’t helped either. While this version of the Titans spine looks like their best available, they’re still working things out and struggling for points. All tries are worth the same, but points from kicks don’t always translate into the following week. The Raiders have similar issues to the Titans in their inability to play out the full 80 minutes. Falling asleep for periods as they did last week have been a feature of the Raiders for years now and the Titans suffer the same. However, Stuart’s side are better prepared to make the periods of the match they’re awake count. The middle is getting up the field and the edges are finding points. Corey Harawira-Naera and Matt Timkoko, in particular, are proving dangerous. Like last week, “there is the Raiders factor to consider.” However, also like last week, they should be able to overcome that to beat a poor opposition.
|William Kennedy||1||Latrell Mitchell|
|Connor Tracey||2||Alex Johnston|
|Jesse Ramien||3||Jed Cartwright|
|Siosifa Talakai||4||Isaiah Tass|
|Ronaldo Mulitalo||5||Jaxson Paulo|
|Matt Moylan||6||Cody Walker|
|Nicho Hynes||7||Lachlan Ilias|
|Toby Rudolf||8||Tevita Tatola|
|Blayke Brailey||9||Damien Cook|
|Royce Hunt||10||Daniel Suluka-Fifita|
|Briton Nikora||11||Keaon Koloamatangi|
|Wade Graham||12||Jai Arrow|
|Dale Finucane||13||Cameron Murray|
|Teig Wilton||14||Kodi Nikorima|
|Cameron McInnes||15||Davvy Moale|
|Braden Hamlin-Uele||16||Siliva Havili|
|Andrew Fifita||17||Thomas Burgess|
History: Played 34, Sharks 18, Rabbitohs 16
Last Meeting: Round 10, 2021: Rabbitohs 32 def. Sharks 22
Final Thoughts: The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks flew out to an early 10-0 lead over the Panthers before the defending premiers turned the screws and clawed their way to a 20-10 win. Meanwhile, the South Sydney Rabbitohs added more pain to Craig Bellamy’s side to earn a rare 24-12 win over the Storm.
Craig Fitzgibbon named an unchanged Sharks side but Dale Finucane has since been suspended for two weeks. The Rabbitohs will be without Mark Nicholls for this one, replaced by Daniel Suluka-Fifita.
We learned a little bit about the Sharks last week. They’re prepared to get into the grind and play tough. However, manufacturing points against the best defence in the NRL proved to be a struggle, as expected. While the Rabbitohs are in winning form and starting to climb the NRL ladder, Jason Demetriou’s side does leak a few points. They gave up 28 points to the Knights and Bulldogs in back-to-back weeks before limiting the Storm to 12 in Round 19. It’s an area of their game that hasn’t really improved following the return of Latrell Mitchell. With the ball, however, the Bunnies are back to their best. The left edge is firing, Mitchell is producing moments of magic and Cody Walker has struck form at the right time. As we saw last week, if the Rabbitohs attack is piling up points, anything is possible. The Sharks are similar. They have found regular success down the edges and look like one of the most dangerous teams in the competition when it is all clicking. Given what both teams are capable of in attack, defence will define this one. Winning the middle and limiting the opportunities the opposition has to attack in good ball will go a long way to determining the winner. With no clear advantage for either team, expect a close one.
|Tesi Niu||1||Daine Laurie|
|Corey Oates||2||Brent Naden|
|Kotoni Staggs||3||Starford To’a|
|Deine Mariner||4||Asu Kepaoa|
|Delouise Hoeter||5||Ken Maumalo|
|Ezra Mam||6||Adam Doueihi|
|Adam Reynolds||7||Luke Brooks|
|Thomas Flegler||8||James Tamou|
|Billy Walters||9||Fa’amanu Brown|
|Payne Haas||10||Joe Ofahengaue|
|Kurt Capewell||11||Alex Seyfarth|
|Jordan Riki||12||Kelma Tuilagi|
|Patrick Carrigan||13||Jackson Hastings|
|Cory Paix||14||Fonua Pole|
|Kobe Hetherington||15||Zane Musgrove|
|Corey Jensen||16||Austin Dias|
|Keenan Palasia||17||Tyrone Peachey|
History: Played 30, Broncos 21, Tigers 8
Last Meeting: Round 18, 2021: Tigers 42 def. Broncos 24
Final Thoughts: The Brisbane Broncos keep doing it. They’re not only winning games, but picking up a 36-14 win over a decent Eels side in Sydney adds further weight to their credentials as premiership contenders. As for the Wests Tigers, everybody knows what happened there…
Billy Walters returns for the Broncos this week but Deine Mariner is the big inclusion. He makes his NRL debut in the centres which pushes Brenko Lee out of the side. Alex Seyfarth is the only change to the Tigers starting side, replacing Luke Garner. Austin Dias joins the bench.
It’s time to consider the Broncos as a premiership contending team. No team is close to the Panthers, but somebody has to play them in the NRL Grand Final and there is no reason the Broncos can’t be the team to do it. They’re strong in the middle. Their back can both cart the ball up the field and shift it to the edges. Guided by Adam Reynolds, kicked out of trouble with his boot, and stacked with points on the edges, the Broncos don’t have many weaknesses. The Tigers, on the other hand, aren’t at that level. Their spine is a work in progress, the middle has been one-dimensional for much of the season and while Jackson Hastings is now at lock, it’s taking some time to adjust. There is potential to this new five-man Tigers spine. We saw as much last week as they kept up with – and arguably beat – the Cowboys. However, we’ve seen the Tigers produce encouraging performances in the past. They rarely back that up with another and it will be difficult to do so against the Broncos at Suncorp. Kevin Walters will be using North Queensland’s struggles last week to motivate his side and plead with them not to assume victory. A strong start in front of a home crowd should be enough to get the job done, though.
|Tex Hoy||1||Jake Averillo|
|Edrick Lee||2||Jacob Kiraz|
|Dane Gagai||3||Aaron Schoupp|
|Enari Tuala||4||Braidon Burns|
|Hymel Hunt||5||Josh Addo-Carr|
|Anthony Milford||6||Matt Burton|
|Adam Clune||7||Kyle Flanagan|
|David Klemmer||8||Max King|
|Jayden Brailey||9||Jeremy Marshall-King|
|Daniel Saifiti||10||Paul Vaughan|
|Tyson Frizell||11||Jackson Topine|
|Mitch Barnett||12||Corey Waddell|
|Brodie Jones||13||Josh Jackson|
|Phoenix Crossland||14||Zach Dockar-Clay|
|Jacob Saifiti||15||Tevita Pangai Junior|
|Pasami Saulo||16||Joe Stimson|
|Mat Croker||17||Chris Patolo|
History: Played 41, Knights 20, Bulldogs 20
Last Meeting: Round 10, 2022: Knights 16 def. Bulldogs 6
Final Thoughts: The Newcastle Knights are struggling and the end of the 2022 NRL season can’t come soon enough following another loss. This time, a heavy 42-12 defeat at the hands of the Roosters. The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, on the other hand, are only getting better and turned their promising form into two competition points with a 36-26 win over the Titans.
Another concussion has ruled Kalyn Ponga out for the Knights with Tex Hoy moving to fullback. Mat Croker joins the bench. Jake Averillo is back for the Bulldogs with Declan Casey dropping to the reserves. Raymond Faitala-Mariner has been ruled out which forces Josh Jackson to lock with Jackson Topine onto the bench. Corey Waddell misses this one to suspension.
This looked like a close match on the NRL calendar a couple of months ago. Two battling sides desperate for a win to avoid the wooden spoon. It’s a different story now given the Bulldogs’ form. They’re a genuinely decent attacking team which spells danger for the Knights. Newcastle’s 498 points conceded is the most in the competition. Regardless of the team they have on the field, their inability to defend has been evident all year. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have been able to score points consistently over the last two months. They’re playing an exciting brand of football which applies pressure to the edges all the way up the field and there is little hope of the Knights solving those shifts often enough to win this one. Even if the Knights find some starch in defence, their attack is the second-worst in the NRL and made worse still by the absence of Ponga. The Bulldogs are in a prime position to win back-to-back games in a season for only the second time since 2019.
|Moses Mbye||1||Scott Drinkwater|
|Mathew Feagai||2||Kyle Feldt|
|Jack Bird||3||Valentine Holmes|
|Zac Lomax||4||Peta Hiku|
|Tautau Moga||5||Murray Taulagi|
|Talatau Amone||6||Tom Dearden|
|Ben Hunt||7||Chad Townsend|
|Jack de Belin||8||Coen Hess|
|Andrew McCullough||9||Reece Robson|
|Blake Lawrie||10||Luciano Leilua|
|Billy Burns||11||Tom Gilbert|
|Jaydn Su’a||12||Jeremiah Nanai|
|Tariq Sims||13||Jason Taumalolo|
|Tyrell Sloan||14||Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow|
|Aaron Woods||15||Jake Granville|
|Francis Molo||16||Jamayne Taunoa-Brown|
|Josh McGuire||17||Griffin Neame|
History: Played 36, Dragons 17, Cowboys 19
Last Meeting: Round 14, 2022: Cowboys 31 def. Dragons 12
Final Thoughts: While plenty will argue the result, the history books say the North Queensland Cowboys beat the Tigers 27-26 in Round 19. The St. George-Illawarra Dragons picked up their 20-6 win over the Sea Eagles without the controversy to stay in the hunt for a Top 8 spot.
Cody Ramsey is out for two weeks which forces Moses Mbye into the Dragons #1 jersey. Jack Bird is into the centres and Tariq Sims to the backrow with Aaron Woods joining the bench. Tyrell Sloan will see his first action since Round 10 off the bench. The Cowboys have named an unchanged 17 for this week. Although, Reuben Cotter is a chance at returning after being named in the reserves.
The Dragons are a difficult team to pin down this season. In just the last two weeks they’ve been thrashed by the Roosters before picking up a well-earned win over the Sea Eagles. They’re capable but inconsistent. As many predicted before the NRL season started, they’re a perfectly middling side. Middling doesn’t get it done against the Cowboys, though. Especially after the scare last week. Todd Payten is a hard taskmaster and he will have reminded his team of their slow start and poor performance against a bottom-of-the-table team in Round 19. While the Dragons are a tougher opposition, they’re one the Cowboys should beat with relative ease. North Queensland hold the advantage in the middle which will go a long way to removing Ben Hunt’s dominance on the game. He’s dangerous at all times, but playing on the backfoot will limit his impact on Sunday afternoon. The Cowboys defence is one of the best in the NRL, too. They’ve proven to be a difficult team to crack and the Dragons haven’t always performed well with the ball. Should the Cowboys get into the grind early and return to their patient approach with the ball, they’ll end up on top.