Round 15 NRL Preview

Round 15 NRL Preview

Saturday

Gold Coast Titans v Canberra Raiders @ Cbus Super Stadium – 3 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Titans: Kevin Proctor’s suspension opens up a spot in the back row. Meanwhile, Anthony Don and Phillip Sami return to the wings with Young Tonumaipea shifting into centre for Dale Copley and Corey Thompson to the reserves. Jai Arrow is out with a shoulder injury; Jarrod Wallace starts at prop and Moeaki Fotuaika at lock.
  • Raiders: Hudson Young’s return pushes Ryan Sutton to the bench as the only change.

Key Factor: Titans Edges

The combination between George Williams and John Bateman on the right side of the Canberra Raiders attack is proving lethal. The pair have played together more than people realise, and it’s showing in how quickly they’re linking up in try-scoring situations. Meanwhile, Williams is also floating over to the left side to give Jack Wighton more time and space to run the ball.

How the Gold Coast Titans defend the edges will determine whether or not they’re competitive in this one.

Missed tackles per game in 2020

It’s unconfirmed at the time of writing, but Tyrone Peachey may slot into the vacant back rower position. If that’s the case, the Gold Coast’s three worst outside backs in missed tackles per game will all be occupying the edges against an improving Raiders attack. Brian Kelly and Young Tonumaipea are both strong attacking centres and Peachey can break a game open with his footwork. But it’s their defence that is most important to the Titans on Saturday.

Wests Tigers v Sydney Roosters @ Leichhardt Oval – 5:30 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Tigers: Alex Twal update! Sort of…He’s named in the reserves and may return for this one. The Tigers are otherwise unchanged.
  • Roosters: There is still no sign of Boyd Cordner and Angus Crichton. Mitchell Aubusson and Luke Keary will join them on the sideline for this one too. In better news, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Brett Morris have both been named while Kyle Flanagan has been given another chance in the halves.

Key Factor: Battle of the big boys

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves v Josh Aloiai shapes as a mouthwatering head-to-head battle. For the Roosters, Waerea-Hargreaves’ dominance will lay the foundations for the Roosters attack to do what many expect on Saturday. For the Tigers, Aloiai needs to be one of the best players on the field if they’re to cause an upset and keep their finals hopes alive.

Josh Aloiai running metres: Loss v Wins in 2020

As covered in ‘Your Edge‘ this week, Aloiai has averaged 177 running metres in the six games Wests have won in 2020 compared to just 123.1 metres in the eight they’ve lost. There is obviously more to winning a game than Aloiai hitting a magic number. However, it’s clear that the Tigers play their best football when he’s at the forefront of their yardage game.

Meanwhile, we also highlighted the importance of those players missing for the Roosters 17 last week. Only Siosiua Taukeiaho (9.8%) accounts for a higher proportion of Sydney’s running metres than Waerea-Hargreaves (7.5%). He’s a massive addition to the side this week and can be the one to counter the expected go-forward of Aloiai.

READ: Race For The Top Eight, The Broncos Fall Of A Cliff & Can The Roosters Go Back To Back To Back?

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles @ ANZ Stadium – 7:35 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Rabbitohs: Bailey Sironen comes into the back row for Liam Knight. Jack Johns was originally named to come off the bench but has since gone into surgery for a hand fracture. Jed Cartwright may make his Rabbitohs debut in Johns’ place.
  • Sea Eagles: Another week, another reshuffle for the Sea Eagles. Brendan Elliot is the latest to go down with Reuben Garrick shifting into fullback and Jorge Taufua returning to the wing. More promising, Marty Taupau returns to push Jake Trbojevic back to lock and Corey Waddell to the bench.

Key Factor: Looking to the locks

Jake Trbojevic is quietly putting together an excellent year as he looks to drag the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles as far as he can while waiting for his brother to return from injury. Cameron Murray, on the other hand, has just been quiet.

While Murray plays fewer minutes than Trbojevic, the South Sydney middle man’s involvement rate is still considerably lower and has dropped further in recent weeks. Murray averages just 18.41 touches per game to Trbojevic’s 29.19 per game. More recently, and despite playing 80 minutes twice, Murray hasn’t touched the ball more than 14 times in a game over the last three weeks.

Receipts per game in 2020

All of South Sydney’s ball-players finally getting onto the field together over consecutive weeks may have something to do with it. So too would the regular injuries and reshuffles forcing Murray to play on the edge. However, the Rabbitohs look their best when Murray is getting his hands on the ball through the middle to either promote a quick play-the-ball or engage the line before shifting wide.

We know the Sea Eagles will look to Trbojevic on Saturday night. Perhaps the Rabbitohs should do the same with Murray and play him where he’s named.

Sunday

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v New Zealand Warriors @ ANZ Stadium – 2:00 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Bulldogs: Will Hopoate has been named to return at fullback with Nick Meaney moving to the wing and Marcelo Montoya out of the side. Jeremy Marshall-King, Aiden Tolman and Matt Doorey have all been elevated to the starting 13 with Sione Katoa and Luke Thompson shifting to the bench and Dylan Napa suspended. Jake Averillo makes his return via the bench.
  • Warriors: Patrick Herbert is out this week with Adam Pompey moving to the wing and Hayze Perham slotting into the centres. Eli Katoa’s suspension gives Isaiah Papali’i a chance to play for his next contract while Jack Murchie has been recalled to the bench. With Chanel Harris-Tavita in doubt, Paul Turner may make his debut.

Key Factor: Where will the points come from?

Points per game in 2020

This game has the potential to be anything. Only the Broncos score fewer points per game than the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and New Zealand Warriors.

Raymond Faitala-Mariner wasn’t able to finish the game last week. Surprisingly, removing one half of Canterbury’s best-attacking combination didn’t kill their hopes. Kieran Foran still managed to dominate down his left edge and manufacture points. Meanwhile, Warriors scored 12 points in very limited opportunities against the Panthers last week after scoring 26 points in each of their two prior games. Despite the long view of these two playing with terrible attacks, both the Bulldogs and Warriors are improving with the ball in hand.

Will Hopoate’s return is a big boost for the Bulldogs after he started to work well with Foran earlier in the season. The challenge for the Warriors will be integrating Paul Turner should Chanel Harris-Tavita not be available. Given the relative limitations and inconsistency of the two sides, there is a good chance that only one strings together a competent attack on the day. However, this could be one of the more entertaining games of the round if both fire with the ball in hand.

Newcastle Knights v North Queensland Cowboys @ McDonald Jones Stadium – 4:05 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Knights: Daniel Saifiti has been lost to another injury with his brother Jacob named to start with Pasami Saulo to come off the bench.
  • Cowboys: Reuben Cotter has taken Jake Granville’s place on the bench as the only confirmed change for the Cowboys this week.

Key Factor: Kalyn Ponga

Less looks as though it may mean more for Kalyn Ponga with his touches and runs down and try assists up since Blake Green arrived.

He’s playing from deeper and wider with Green able to shift the ball with the consistency Kurt Mann couldn’t at five-eighth. With the extra room to move, Ponga is running the ball less but making more metres. He has caused the Tigers and Sea Eagles right side defence havoc over the last fortnight and now runs at one of the worst right side defences in the NRL.

Esan Marsters – one of the biggest culprits for their defensive struggles – isn’t in the side, but it’s still a significant area of weakness for the Cowboys. If they can’t shut down Ponga early and stop him from getting on the outside of his man, Kyle Feldt will add to his already NRL-high 18 try causes this week.

Thursday

Parramatta Eels v Melbourne Storm @ Bankwest Stadium – 7:50 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Eels: The Eels have named the same 17 again this week.
  • Storm: The Storm can’t take a trick with injuries at the moment. Suliasi Vunivalu and Dale Finucane are both out injured, replaced by Sandor Earl and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui with Albert Vete to come off the bench. Jahrome Hughes may also miss this one due to injury. Jesse Bromwich’s suspension likely means Nelson Asofa-Solomona will start.

Key Factor: Defence

We mentioned the Parramatta Eels cohesion last week. It could play more of a role this week given the injuries and rotation of players the Melbourne Storm are forced to deal with. If Jahrome Hughes is ruled out, just one player remains from the first-choice Storm spine with their attack likely to suffer. For all Craig Bellamy did against the Roosters in Round 14, Hughes was at the forefront. He’s a bigger loss than many will give credit and the Storm will struggle to replicate their output from last week. Instead, this one comes down to defence.

The Storm and Eels rank first and second in the NRL in points conceded per game.

Opposition points per game in 2020

Injuries and suspension present obvious issues for the Storm. They’ll be dealing with new defensive combinations on the edges and through the middle. For the Eels, there are still some question marks over how they defend against Top 8 teams. In their five games against Top 8 sides this season, Parramatta kept Penrith to ten points but allowed Sydney and Canberra to score 24 each. More recently, they handled Newcastle with ease to concede just four points while Cronulla managed 12 in a wet and wild night in Round 13. You can pick a few holes in those numbers, and while a strong defensive performance against an injury-ravaged Melbourne here won’t answer many questions, conceding 20+ would raise more.

Friday

Penrith Panthers v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks @ Panthers Stadium – 6:00 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Panthers: The Panthers are unchanged, although, Brian To’o has been named in the reserves. Tyrone May looks the most likely to lose his spot in the starting side with his versatility better served to coming off the bench ahead of pushing Brent Naden to the pine.
  • Sharks: Provided Shaun Johnson and Josh Dugan get through the captains run, the Sharks will send out the same 17 this week.

Key Factor: Sixes & Sevens

Receipts per game in 2020

Nathan Cleary’s development into arguably the best halfback in the NRL is what gives the Penrith Panthers faithful so much hope for a premiership. They’re an excellent and well-rounded side, but Cleary steers the ship. He leads the competition in receipts with 73.3 per game. Cleary isn’t trying to create something with every touch. Sometimes, his directing the side comes through passing players into the spots on the field he wants them.

Try assists per game in 2020

Shaun Johnson, on the other hand, leads the NRL in try assists with 20 in 14 games (Cleary has 8 in 12 games) while averaging over 14 fewer touches of the football than Cleary. When the ball gets into Johnson’s hands, the Sharks are looking for their five-eighth to manufacture an attacking play more often than not.

The Sharks will rely on Johnson a lot more than the Panthers do Cleary on Friday evening. However, it’s more than likely one of these two takes the three Dally M points while leading their side to victory.

Brisbane Broncos St. George-Illawarra Dragons @ Suncorp Stadium – 9:55 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Broncos: The hits keep coming for the Broncos. Payne Haas and Thomas Flegler are both unavailable with Joe Ofahengaue and Rhys Kennedy to start in the front row. Jake Turpin’s latest injury allows Issac Luke to start at hooker while Ethan Bullemor and Jamil Hopoate join the bench. In better news, Anthony Milford is named to return. He replaces Brodie Croft in the halves. Named in the centres, Jordan Kahu pushes Jesse Arthars out of the side and Herbie Farnworth to the wing.
  • Dragons: Tyrell Fuimaiono’s suspension will cause a reshuffle in the backrow. Meanwhile, Paul Vaughan’s return from quarantine pushes Tristan Sailor off the bench.

Key Factor: Replacing Haas

Playing with the worst attack and worse defence in the NRL through 14 rounds, the Brisbane Broncos need to find a way to clog up the middle, retain possession and get up the field if they’re to dig themselves out of this hole. They won’t begin to compete until they fix up the middle of the field. Unfortunately for them this week, Payne Haas and Thomas Flegler have been added to the growing list of bodies sitting on the sideline.

Haas is a freak of nature. While he’s not running for the 185 metres per game he averaged in 2019, few players in the competition would manage the 179 metres he’s averaged per game in 2020 while surrounded by this rabble. The Broncos will find out first-hand just how important he is to the side if nobody can fill the void.

The St. George-Illawarra Dragons have had struggles of their own this season. However, they rarely have a problem getting up the field. They have a strong middle to average 1,801 metres per game (5th in the NRL). It’s what the Dragons do with the ball inside the opposition 20-metre line that has been the issue. Despite their struggles, the Dragons will be presented with plenty of opportunities to attack in good ball areas if the Broncos don’t significantly improve in the yardage game.

READ: Bad, Bad Broncos

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