North Queensland Cowboys v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles @ Queensland Country Bank Stadium – 6 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Cowboys: Josh Hannay has named an unchanged 17 for his first game as interim head coach. Although, Jordan McLean is a chance to force his way into the side from the reserves list.
- Sea Eagles: Addin Fonua-Blake provides the Sea Eagles with a big boost in the middle of the field following his two-games suspension. Taniela Paseka moves to the bench and Corey Waddell to the reserves.
Key Factor: Cowboys Coaching
We mentioned Paul Green might struggle to still be head coach of the North Queensland Cowboys at the end of the season last week. As it turns out, he had the fateful conversation with Cowboys brass just a day later.
A large reason for Green’s tenure coming to an end is due to their lack of development in attack. The Cowboys averaged 24.3 points per game in their premiership-winning 2015 season. However, that number dropped in each of the four following seasons to bottom out at 15.8 points per game in 2019. A change in personnel has the Cowboys scoring 20.5 points per game in 2020, but they struggle to crack half-decent defensive sides.
In playing a Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles outfit averaging just 15.5 points per game in 2020, the Cowboys have a chance to start the post-Paul Green era on the front foot. It will come down to what Hannay does during the week, though. Will he continue to adopt Green’s old-school and predictable style of attacking play, or look to play to their strengths and offer more second-phase through the middle with Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Daejarn Asi pushing up in support?
Brisbane Broncos v Melbourne Storm @ Suncorp Stadium – 7:55 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Broncos: Anthony Seibold has sent Anthony Milford to fullback in a bid to inspire an improved attack this week. Tom Dearden slots in beside Brodie Croft in the halves. Kotoni Staggs and Herbie Farnworth return to the side while Cory Paix takes over from the suspended Issac Luke at hooker.
- Storm: As expected, the Storm are unchanged from last week. Suliasi Vunivalu has been named in the reserves so is a chance for a late call up on game day.
Key Factor: The Yardage Game
If the Brisbane Broncos are to turn their season around and save Anthony Seibold’s job, it will start in the middle. That doesn’t look like happening this week, though.
While the Broncos allow opposing teams to concede 1,866 running metres per game, the Melbourne Storm concede the fewest at 1,516 running metres per game. Narrowed down further, opposing forwards only manage 89.6 metres per game against the Storm middle. Payne Haas leads the way for the Broncos with 170.5 metres per game. He’s good enough that Craig Bellamy will expect him to go close to that mark again on Friday night. However, Haas needs help. It’s the help that Bellamy will target.
New Zealand Warriors v Sydney Roosters @ Sunshine Coast Stadium – 3 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Warriors: Patrick Herbert, Wayde Egan and Agnatius Paasi have all been sidelined. Adam Pompey moves into centre, Karl Lawton to hooker and Jack Hetherington to prop. Jazz Tevaga will start at lock.
- Roosters: Angus Crichton and Nat Butcher miss this one with Mitch Aubusson into the back row and Isaac Liu at lock.
Key Factor: Warriors closing the gap in attack
Something as simple as points per game can tell strange stories. Just take West Tigers’ 24.5 points per game in 2020 for example. The number itself suggests they’re an elite attacking team, but the reality is that they’ve run up some massive scores against poor teams while struggling to get past the good ones. However, when it comes to the Sydney Roosters and New Zealand Warriors for this one, the gap between the two is summed up by the 16.1 point difference.
The Roosters are streaks ahead of the Warriors with the Kiwi club looking nothing like the exciting attacking side it once was. They’ve opted to change things up to turn Roger Tuivasa-Sheck into something he’s not and it hasn’t worked. Bookmakers have awarded the Warriors a massive 23.5-point headstart, but even that won’t be enough if they can’t find some way to close the gap in attack.
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v St George-Illawarra Dragons @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium – 5:30 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Sharks: Toby Rudolf starts and lock for Scott Sorensen while Siosifa Talakai replaces Briton Nikora in the back row. Jack Williams and debutant Teig Wilton have found a place on the bench this week.
- Dragons: Tariq Sims is back on the sidelines through suspension with Tyrel Fuimaono starting and Jacob Host joining the bench.
Key Factor: Johnson v Dufty
Shaun Johnson and Matthew Dufty have both been on the wrong end of some scorching criticism over the years, but as they prepare to go head-to-head on Saturday evening, the two are in impecable form.
Johnson has responded to the critics to hang an NRL-high 15 try assists on the opposition this season with ten coming in just the last six weeks. Meanwhile, this six-game stretch is the best of Dufty’s career. He’s scoring tries, handing them out, and finally using his speed to beat defenders by posing as a ball-playing threat and running into gaps. The Dufty that so many people have spent years claiming is first-grade quality is finally here and the Dragons have all of a sudden caught a sniff of the Top 8.
With both sides on the fringes of finals football and needing every win they can get over bottom eight teams, this battle between two maligned ball-players will go a long way to determining their clubs fate by the end of Round 20.
Canberra Raiders v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ GIO Stadium – 7:35 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Raiders: Jordan Rapana is into the centres after Michael Oldfield went down with a hamstring injury. Harley Smith-Shields is an exciting player to watch off the bench.
- Rabbitohs: Another week, another injury for the Rabbitohs in the centres. James Roberts is out for the season and joined by Ethan Lowe on the sideline. Campbell Graham makes a timely return while Bailey Sironen will start in the back row. Jack Johns has been named to debut off the bench.
Key Factor: Back-three Battle
The Canberra Raiders have become a side that can dig themselves out of a hole and, at worst, compete for the 80 minutes. It’s a trait they weren’t able to claim before last season. While their defence is accurately credited with triggering their turnaround, the work of their back-three has allowed them to work up the field for good ball threats like Josh Papalii to be more effective close to the line. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is 11th in the NRL in running metres with 188.9 metres per game while Nick Cotric offers another 117 metres off the wing. Bailey Simonsson provided 105 metres per game before his injury which leaves Semi Valemei to fill the void this week.
The Rabbitohs, on the other hand, have struggled for yardage out of their back three and will send out an unconvincing trio for this one. Alex Johnston – who plays his best footy on the wing – will line up at fullback. Corey Allan comes onto the wing after averaging just 69 metres per game in 2019. Meanwhile, the pressure has been heaped on 20-year-old rookie Jaxson Paulo to back up the 165 running metres he managed in his debut last week.
With the Raiders already carrying an advantage through the middle of the field into this one, the work of this makeshift Rabbitohs back three is vitally important on Saturday night.
Newcastle Knights v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs @ McDonald Jones Stadium – 2:00 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Knights: The Knights have the benefit of naming an unchanged 17 this week.
- Bulldogs: Jake Averillo has completed his quarantine period and returns to the centres pushing Marcelo Montoya to the wing and Christian Crichton out of the side. In a strange move, Sauaso Sue has been replaced on the bench by Brandon Wakeham.
Key Factor: Bulldogs Breaking The Line
With the focus on the number of points the Bulldogs scored last week, they equaled their season-high with 22 points against the Dragons. Up against a much tougher opponent in the Knights on Sunday, they’re going to need further improvement. It starts by breaking the line and forcing this active Knights defence to scramble.
Only eight Bulldogs players have broken the line this season for a total of 18 line breaks. Remarkably, Nick Meaney accounts for a third of them himself. He’s looked a lot more dangerous at fullback with his speed providing a handy target in support on second-phase. But the Bulldogs need to do more if they’re to compete with the Knights. Lachlan Lewis, in particular. The 23-year-old halfback is yet to send a teammate through a gap in six games this season. There isn’t enough happening around him, but Jake Averillo’s return offers hope. If Lewis and Averillo can link up on the left edge with the halfback putting the speedy centre through a hole or two, the Bulldogs might just be a chance.
Gold Coast Titans v Penrith Panthers @ Cbus Super Stadium – 4:05 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Titans: Dale Copley returns to provide some stability to the Titans edges slotting in at centre. He pushes Phillip Sami to the wing and Treymain Spry out of the 17. Kevin Proctor also returns from injury to replace Beau Fermor.
- Panthers: Nursing a few injuries, Caleb Aekins comes in for Dylan Edwards while Brent Naden takes Dean Whare’s spot in the centres. Malakai Watene-Zelezniak moves onto the wing. Meanwhile, Mitch Kenny has the impossible task of replacing Api Koroisau at hooker.
Key Factor: Titans Edge
Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and the Storm ran rings around poor Keegan Hipgrave last week. He finished the nightmare performance with 12 missed tackles. The Titans back rower hasn’t surrounded himself with good company in the list of Top 10 missed tackle matches since the beginning of 2018.
Hipgrave faces a tougher task again this Sunday whether he plays on the left or right edge.
If he lines up on the Titans right side, he’s presented with Viliame Kikau who is the key cog in one of the best left side attacks in the NRL. If Hipgrave switches over to the left, Nathan Cleary and Liam Martin are forming a bond that is only just beginning to realise its potential. Hipgrave will be a target no matter where he is on the field in this one. He will need to make significant improvements to his tackle technique during the week if the Titans aren’t to be exposed again on Sunday afternoon.
Parramatta Eels v Wests Tigers @ Bankwest Stadium – 7:50 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Eels: Mitchell Moses has been named to face his former club after missing the last three games through injury. Ryan Matterson has also been named to take part with his reported comments last week sure to add some fire if he’s fit. Blake Ferguson, Nathan Brown and Maika Sivo are also all under injury clouds but expected to play.
- Tigers: Michael Chee Kam replacing Luke Garner is the only change to the 17 from last week.
Key Factor: Superstar Halfbacks
In Benji Marshall, the Wests Tigers have their leader. The old head commands the side in the number seven jersey, and while the days of side-stepping through the opposition defence are past him, his football smarts allow him to dominate in other ways. He’s putting his teammates in positions to score with five try assists and five line break assists in his six games this season. Meanwhile, the younger Mitchell Moses is looking to do a lot of the damage himself. He targets the short side with his running game for 70.7 metres while being sure to complete Parramatta Eels sets through an astute kicking game. He leads the NRL with ten forced dropouts despite missing the last three weeks.
A 35-year-old all-time great in the twilight of his career goes head-to-head with a halfback ten years his junior and entering his prime in a battle that will go a long way to deciding the winner.