NRL Round 12 Preview

NRL Round 12 Preview

Saturday

Sydney Roosters v Gold Coast Titans @ Sydney Cricket Ground – 3 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Roosters: Ryan Hall is back onto the wing for the injured Brett Morris as the only change to the Roosters side that beat the Warriors last week.
  • Titans: Keegan Hipgrave is back into the second row for Sam Stone while Sam Lisone replaces Jai Whitbread on the bench. AJ Brimson has been named in the reserves and is a chance of making his 2020 debut.

Key Factor: Titans Start

The Gold Coast Titans are heavy +20.5 underdogs when they take on the back-to-back defending premiers on Saturday afternoon. As we know, a betting line that big doesn’t bode too well for the underdog. If the Titans are to keep the game close, or better yet, win it, they need to start strong. That means sneaking in a few tries against this elite Sydney Roosters outfit.

Average opposition fist-half tries in 2020

No team concedes fewer tries in the first half of a game than the Roosters at 0.9 per game. They start strong and get on the front foot from the opening whistle. If the Titans can’t match them through the middle, concede fewer than their second-worst 2.2 tries in the first half, and shock the Roosters by scoring early, it could be a long afternoon and even longer flight back to the Gold Coast for the Titans.

READ: Lining Up Underdogs via ‘Your Edge’

North Queensland Cowboys v Canberra Raiders @ Queensland Country Bank Stadium – 5:30 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Cowboys: Daejarn Asi is already an early withdrawal forcing Mitch Dunn into the halves. Jordan McLean is back pushing the impressive Francis Molo to the bench. John Asiata is a chance of suiting up, possibly in the halves, after being named in the reserves.
  • Raiders: The big news: John Bateman is back! The Englishman returns to the right edge with Curtis Scott also earning a recall in the centres. Jordan Rapana replaces the injured Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad at fullback while Corey Harawira-Naera makes his Raiders debut off the bench.

Key Factor: Raiders Right Side

Curtis Scott was brought to Canberra to replace Joey Leilua in the centres. He’s had big wraps on him throughout his junior career and spent years under the tutelage of Craig Bellamy. However, per Fox Sports Lab, Scott has registered seven try causes, seven line break causes, nine errors and two penalties in just eight games. He’s been a liability.

John Bateman’s return is huge for the Raiders. He offers them some versatility in attack on the edge and is one of the toughest defenders in the NRL. He needs no introduction to the fellow Englishman in the halves beside him, so that combination is less of a concern. It’s what he can do for Scott that will determine how the Raiders right side goes this week. In attack, the former Storm centre can play off Bateman and pop up when necessary.

In defence, Scott has no reason to turn in and help his inside man with Bateman unlikely to be beaten by his opposite.

Without any glaring weaknesses across the field and against a side that is limited in attack at the best of times, a competent display from this new edge pairing should be enough for the Raiders to take the chocolates.

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Penrith Panthers @ Lottoland – 7:35 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Sea Eagles: Sean Keppie takes Jack Gosiewski’s spot on the bench as the only confirmed change. Dylan Walker is a chance of returning from injury after being named in the reserves.
  • Panthers: Viliame Kikau is back pushing Tyrone May to the bench. Named in the reserves, Zane Tetevano and Api Koroisau may receive a late call up.

Key Factor: Panthers Opening 20

Average opposition points per game in 2020

The Penrith Panthers are one of the best defensive teams in the NRL. While they allow the third-fewest tries in the second half at 1.1 per game, it’s in the first 20 minutes that they’re winning matches. Unlike Panthers teams of the past, they’re playing games from in front.

Penrith hasn’t conceded a point in the first 20 minutes of a match since Round 1 this season. Scoring 74 points themselves in that period and an average of two first half tries per game, the Panthers are flying out of the blocks. The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles will need to match Penrith early given their limitations in reeling in a lead without Tom Trbojevic at fullback.

Sunday

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Parramatta Eels @ ANZ Stadium – 2:00 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Bulldogs: Tim Lafai is straight into the side. He replaces Kerrod Holland in the centres. Meanwhile, Jack Cogger and Sauaso Sue replace Brandon Wakeham and Renouf To’omaga on the bench.
  • Eels: Kane Evans and Oregon Kaufusi return to the bench in place of Brad Takairangi and Stefano Utoikamanu. Ryan Matterson only lasted 15 minutes last week, but the 10-day turnaround should see him run out on Sunday.

Key Factor: Timoteo Turning It Around

As the worst attacking team in the NRL, the Bulldogs are desperate. So desperate they have brought Timoteo Lafai back to the club after four seasons at the Dragons.

Lafai’s career-best season came for the Bulldogs in 2014 when he scored 14 tries, handed out 13 try assists, broke the line 12 times and ran for 102 running metres per game (25 games). Following a couple of down years, Lafai produced the goods in 2017 for seven tries, 11 try assists, nine line breaks and 130 running metres per game (24 games). However, as it’s clear to see in the above visuals, Lafai is once again at a low point in production. He managed just two tries, five try assists, five line breaks and 94 running metres per game in 2019 (21 games).

If the Bulldogs are to turn things around in attack, it’s going to come through astute signings like Lafai. He needs to get straight into his work on Sunday for the Bulldogs to compete against the best defence in the NRL.

Melbourne Storm v Newcastle Knights @ Sunshine Coast Stadium – 4:05 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Storm: Marion Seve replaces Brenko Lee in the Storm centres while Tom Eisenhuth replaces Paul Momirovski on the bench.
  • Knights: Riddled with injuries at dummy half, Chris Randall starts at hooker with Andrew McCullough and Connor Watson both unavailable. Phoenix Crossland and Josh King join the bench.

Key Factor: Continuing the streak

Knights since the NRL season restarted: D/W/L/W/L/W/L/W/L

The Knights need to continue the streak if they’re to stay comfortably inside the Top 8. Depending on how other results go this week, a loss on Sunday could see the Knights just one point inside the Top 8 with the Rabbitohs and Tigers closing in.

Total forced drop outs in 2020

Newcastle must build pressure against the Storm on Sunday. Currently 14th in the NRL in forced drop outs, Mitchell Pearce, in particular, needs to improve his kicking game. At 29th in the NRL with only four forced dropouts in ten games this season, his finishing of Newcastle’s sets has been well below par. The Storm plays a patient game and aims to wear the opposition down. That becomes difficult if the opposition maintains possession and forces repeat sets. The Knights attack hasn’t been up to scratch for over a month now. It’s up to Pearce to earn his side opportunities to improve it in good ball areas.

Thursday

St George-Illawarra Dragons v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium – 7:50 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Dragons: Ben Hunt is back in the halves with Adam Clune missing this one while Cameron McInnes reverts back to hooker. Jackson Ford will start at lock, Jordan Pereira on the wing and Tariq Sims in the backrow. Tyrell Fuimaono and Tristan Sailor find themselves on the bench this week.
  • Rabbitohs: Another week, another Rabbitohs reshuffle. Latrell Mitchell has served his suspension and moves straight back into fullback pushing Alex Johnston to the wing. Liam Knight and Patrick Mogo also return to the side replacing Jack Johns and Hame Sele.

Key Factor: Dragons Spine Reshuffle

Both the St George-Illawarra Dragons and South Sydney Rabbitohs have made adjustments to their spine this week. For the Dragons, it’s not one Paul McGregor will have been all that keen on making. They’ve played their best footy with Ben Hunt at hooker. After starting the season 0-4 to look like genuine wooden spoon contenders, the Dragons have won four of their last seven with Hunt returning to form as an 80-minute hooker over the last three weeks (2-1).

Dragons averages per game by Ben Hunt’s position in 2020

While the stellar play of Matthew Dufty has contributed to the massive improvements, part of that can be put down the opportunities afforded to him in good ball areas that Hunt would have otherwise demanded in the halves. Dufty’s best work has come as a ball-player close to the line. Hunt will be looking to make his mark on the game this week in similar areas. Will the switch back into the number seven jersey undo all of the good work Dufty, Hunt and the Dragons have achieved over the last two months?

Friday

Wests Tigers v New Zealand Warriors @ Sydney Cricket Ground – 6 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Tigers: Finally, Alex Twal is back in the Tigers 13 jersey. Luke Garner is in the back row while Oliver Clark will start at prop for the yet again suspended Russell Packer. Josh Reynolds has served his suspension but has been named in the reserves for this one.
  • Warriors: The Warriors have been forced to put their new loan players straight into the 17 with George Jennings starting on the wing and Daniel Alvaro coming off the bench. Jennings replaces Ken Maumalo, Patrick Herbert moves out to the wing for David Fusitu’a, and Alvaro pushes Isaiah Papali’i off the bench.

Key Factor: Warriors Back-Three

Average running metres of Warriors Fullback and Wingers in 2020 (min. 3 games)

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, despite only having one try and one try assist to his name in 2020, is one of the best fullbacks in the NRL. However, it’s been the play of the two wingers that flank him that has allowed him to win a Dally M Medal and dominate the position over the last few seasons. But the back-three that has won the Warriors games and kept them in others is no longer. Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu’a have both returned home to New Zealand leaving Tuivasa-Sheck on his lonesome.

Maumalo and Fusitu’a have both led the competition in try-scoring over the last two seasons, but it’s their work in hard sets that the Warriors will miss most. Maumalo has been one of the most prolific metre-eaters in the NRL over the last four seasons while Fusitu’a is an equally willing ball-runner from within their own half. With the Warriors middle struggling already this season, Patrick Herbert and George Jennings (both named on the wing this week) are under pressure to fill a massive void left by two excellent wingers.

Brisbane Broncos v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks @ Suncorp Stadium – 7:55 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Broncos: Anthony Milford’s time at fullback has once again come to an end for the time being. He replaces the injured Brodie Croft with Darius Boyd named to wear the number one. In better news, Jake Turpin is back at hooker with Issac Luke on the bench. Herbie Farnworth moves into the centres with Richie Kennar onto the wing.
  • Sharks: Josh Dugan has been named to return this week and replaces Bryson Goodwin in the centres. Chad Townsend is the latest Sharks player to go down, though. Connor Tracey takes his spot in the halves.

Key Factor: Johnson vs Broncos

The Brisbane Broncos are in a rut. Their 12.9 points per game is 14th in the NRL and it doesn’t look like any reshuffle of the spine can fix it. A combination of Darius Boyd, Anthony Milford, Tom Dearden and Jake Turpin is the latest foursome named to inspire a sudden change. But one number really highlights just how poor the Broncos have been in 2020: 13 try assists.

Total try assists in 2020

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks five-eighth Shaun Johnson (16) has more try assists in 2020 than the entire Broncos squad (13). He’s commanding one of the best right-edge attacks in the NRL and is at the forefront of Cronulla’s 2nd-ranked 25.8 points per game. The Broncos must not only find a way to shut down the Kiwi international, but find a way to send teammates over the line themselves.

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