Gold Coast Titans v North Queensland Cowboys @ Cbus Super Stadium – 2:00 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Titans: Sam Lisone takes Sam Stone’s place on the bench as the only confirmed change for the Titans this week.
- Cowboys: Michael Morgan makes his long-awaited return, taking Jake Clifford’s place in the halves. Tom Opacic also returns to play at centre with Justin O’Neill moving out to the wing. Josh McGuire has served his latest suspension to shift Francis Molo back to the bench while Jake Granville and Emry Pere have both been called up to the bench. Shane Wright, Gavin Cooper and John Asiata are all out of the side.
Key Factor: Closing The Defensive Line
Both the Gold Coast Titans and North Queensland Cowboys rank poorly in line breaks conceded. Only the Broncos have conceded more than the Cowboys’ 4.9 per game while the Titans are only just behind at 4.8 per game.
Anthony Don is a threat for the Cowboys to consider. The veteran winger might not be the quickest or most agile player on the field, but he knows where to be an when. In contrast, the speedy and fleet-footed Reece Robson is still learning when to make his mark out of dummy half. He can misjudge an opportunity from time to time, but he’s still managed to break the line six times while scoring five tries this season.
Team defence is a work in progress for these two teams. Both have seen a significant turnover in outside backs which slows down the development of edge combinations further. Nonetheless, the team that can sellotape their line up together best more than likely takes the chocolates.
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Parramatta Eels @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium – 4:05 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Sharks: Once again, Josh Dugan has been named to play his 200th game. Just as flakey, Matt Moylan has been named to partner Shaun Johnson in the halves. Johnson’s partner outside him has also changed with Briton Nikora dropped for Siosifa Talakai.
- Eels: Ray Stone takes Brad Takairangi’s place on the bench as the only confirmed change for the Eels this week.
Key Factor: Sharks Producing Against Top 8 Quality
The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks are towards the top of the list in many key attacking stats. Most notably, their 26.7 points per game ranks second in the NRL.
But we can’t read into their numbers too much just yet. The Sharks haven’t produced against enough quality teams to know whether or not this blistering attack is real. As touched on in ‘Your Edge’ this week, the Sharks have been blessed by the schedule-makers. They’ve played just three Top 8 teams through the first 12 rounds of the season. Beaten by all three, the Sharks averaged just 17.3 points per game. Against Bottom 8 teams, on the other hand, the Sharks have won seven of their nine games scoring 29.7 points per game.
This week, the Sharks face the best defensive team in the NRL. The Parramatta Eels have conceded just 12.5 points per game in 2020. While also blessed with a relatively Top 8-free draw to date, the Eels have only conceded 15.5 points per game in the four they have played against finals-bound opposition.
READ: Record v Top & Bottom 8
St George-Illawarra Dragons v Sydney Roosters @ WIN Stadium – 7:50 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Dragons: Paul McGregor has dropped Corey Norman from the side with Adam Clune returning to the halves. Trent Merrin is also back, taking Jacob Host’s place on the bench.
- Roosters: Josh Morris is out for the second weekend in a row, with Sitili Tupouniua taking his spot and Nat Butcher starting in the second row. Kyle Flanagan is a surprise exclusion with Trent Robinson confirming the young half has been dropped for Lachlan Lam.
Key Factor: Fullback Battle
James Tedesco needs no introduction. He’s undoubtedly the best fullback in the game and arguably the best player in the world right now. The Sydney Roosters number one leads the NRL in total tackle breaks (77) and line break assists (13) while his 240.8 running metres per game is more than any other fullback in the competition. He’s a freak of nature and a player nobody in rugby league can emulate.
However, Matthew Dufty is playing an excellent brand of football himself and is in career-best form. While he’s not the ball-runner and tackle-breaker Tedesco is, he’s found an outstanding long-ball in his locker to be 10th in the NRL with nine try assists and only behind Clint Gutherson (11 try assists) amongst fullbacks. The Dragons rely a lot more on Dufty to score points than the Roosters do Tedesco. Dufty at least needs to match Tedesco’s output, if not outplay him, for the Dragons are to be a chance this week.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v New Zealand Warriors – 6 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Sea Eagles: Tevita Vuna replaces Brad Parker this week while Cade Cust returns to the side in place of Dylan Walker (foot).
- Warriors: Blake Green completed his mid-season move to the Knights giving Chanel Harris-Tavita a chance to start at halfback.
Key Factor: The Yardage Game
Neither the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles or New Zealand Warriors have been able to consistently produce points this season. The shuffling of the halves for both sides this week only make things more difficult. With a few extra opportunities likely necessary to score points on Friday night, the yardage game is increasingly important.
Getting up the field is one thing. Somewhat surprisingly given the superior talent Manly sends out through the middle, it’s the Kiwi club averaging more metres at 1,677 per game. Their issue is the 1,769 metres they let through the other way for a minus-92 metre differential. Again, a little bit of a surprise, Manly’s 1,621 metres ran and 1,793 metres allowed is worse still for a minus-172 metre differential.
Given the Warriors’ struggles to score in 2020 (13.6 points per game) and the introduction of a young half with only 19 games of first-grade experience, they need to make the most of their advantage in the yardage game if they’re to cause an upset.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v Brisbane Broncos @ ANZ Stadium – 7:55 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Rabbitohs: The Rabbitohs are unchanged. Although, Adam Reynolds may have a question mark over him after failing to finish the game last week.
- Broncos: Anthony Milford is out for up to a month allowing Brodie Croft a free path back into the side. Meanwhile, the battling Broncos receive a big lift with David Fifita named for the first time since Round 2. Joe Ofahengaue makes way by moving to the bench.
Key Factor: Left v Right
One side of the field may determine the outcome of this game.
For the Broncos, their right side defence is the worst in the NRL. Per Stats Insider’s ‘Try Scoring Analysis’, no team has allowed more tries through their right side than Brisbane’s 28 tries. With 11 try causes in just six games, Kotoni Staggs is the worst defensive centre in the competition. He’s letting through more tries than he’s scoring despite crossing the line seven times himself already this season.
Meanwhile, the Rabbitohs left-side attack is coming along nicely. Only the Panthers and Knights have scored more down that side of the field with the Rabbitohs’ 23 left-edge tries making up 55% of their total tries this season. With Cody Walker coming into form and Latrell Mitchell growing more comfortable in his role at fullback, the Rabbitohs left edge attack will decide this one.
Melbourne Storm v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs @ Sunshine Coast Stadium – 3 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Storm: Cameron Smith and Ryan Papenhuyzen both miss this one. The Storm will cope, though. Brandon Smith and Nicho Hynes are two of the best back-ups in the NRL.
- Bulldogs: Ofahiki Ogden and Sione Katoa move into the starting side with Aiden Tolman and Jeremy Marshall-King dropped to the bench. Reimis Smith takes Jack Cogger’s place on the bench too.
Key Factor: Bulldogs Defence
Forget about the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs trying to score too many points. They’re the worst attacking team in the NRL and won’t crack a Melbourne Storm side conceding just 12.7 points per game.
The key for Canterbury is stopping the points coming back the other way. They’re known for their grit and grind attitude in defence with a genuine lack of talent the reason for defeat more often than not. However, with Cameron Smith out of the Storm side for this one, the Bulldogs have a chance to ruffle a few feathers. The Bulldogs kept the Eels scoreless for the remaining 53 minutes of the game after going down 18-0 behind in Round 12. If they can capture that defensive intensity from the opening whistle and maintain it through to the second half, they’re a chance at an upset.
Newcastle Knights v Wests Tigers @ McDonald Jones Stadium – 5:30 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Knights: Blake Green moves straight into the halves after arriving from the Warriors earlier in the week. Kurt Mann shifts to hooker to make way. With Bradman Best injured and Tautau Moga dropped, Gehamat Shibasaki and Starford Toa come into the 13.
- Tigers: Strap yourselves in, the Tigers are sending out a different team this week: Harry Grant is out with Moses Mbye into hooker; Matt Eisenhuth replaces Alex Twal at lock; Tommy Talau shifts into the centres for Asu Kepaoa to debut on the wing; Luke Brooks is back in the halves with Billy Walters back on the bench; Joey Leilua returns from suspension pushing Chris Lawrence to the bench; Russell Packer takes Ollie Clark’s spot at prop; Luke Garner has been dropped for Sam McIntyre.
Key Factor: Cohesion
So much can go wrong for these two teams on Saturday.
With the Newcastle Knights introducing Blake Green into the halves, they now have two high-usage players in key play-making positions. As we touched on in ‘Your Edge‘ this week, Mitchell Pearce and Green make up two of the top three players in the NRL in the proportion of total team receipts in 2020 amongst halves that have played 11 or more of the 12 games. It’s going to take more than two training sessions to carve out their new roles.
Meanwhile, the raft of changes to the Wests Tigers 17 bring plenty of question marks in defence with them. So much of team defence is about experience and communication with your inside man; developing an understanding and trusting what they will do is paramount. It’s an area the Tigers will struggle in given the new faces in different places this week.
READ: Newcastle’s New Balancing Act
Penrith Panthers v Canberra Raiders @ Panthers Stadium – 7:35 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Panthers: Malakai Watene-Zelezniak replaces Charlie Staines (hamstring) as the only change to the side this week.
- Raiders: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad has been named to return, pushing Jordan Rapana to the wing and Semi Valemei out of the side.
Key Factor: Big Middle’s
As big-minute middle forwards become more important in the game, we’ve got two of the best packs going head-to-head in this one. The ball-playing ability and big-minute masters in James Fisher-Harris and Isaah Yeo take on the brute strength and crash and bash style of Josh Papalii and Dunamis Lui.
Fisher-Harris playing at the line and sending the ball wide early will be something the Raiders have covered during the week. They’ve been able to find space on the edges coming out of their own end which, in turn, allows the heavies in the middle to conserve some energy. Meanwhile, Papalii’s late footwork, tackle break and offload ability will be on the whiteboard for the Panthers. It was only a fortnight ago that he tormented the Roosters through the middle of the field.
While both sides will turn up with elite players in key play-making positions and top draw attacking weapons outside them, it’s in the middle where this game will be decided.