Round 20 NRL Preview

Round 20 NRL Preview


New Zealand Warriors Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles @ GIO Stadium – 2:00 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Warriors: Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will miss the last game of the season due to injury. Peta Hiku takes his place at fullback while Hayze Perham moves into the centres and Patrick Herbert onto the wing. Eli Katoa is back with Jack Murchie dropping to the bench. Meanwhile, Jamayne Taunoa-Brown returns from suspension with Tom Ale and Josh Curran out of the 17.
  • Sea Eagles: Tom Trbojevic only lasted an hour in his latest return from injury. He’s out again with Tevita Funa shifting to fullback and Reuben Garrick onto the wing. Abbas Miski starts on the other wing and Albert Hopoate falls to the bench. Taniela Paseka has been named to start at prop with Morgan Boyle to come off the bench while Corey Waddell takes Jack Gosiewski’s spot in the back row. Haulome Olakau’atu has been named on the bench.

Key Factor: The Peta Hiku Experience

Peta Hiku: Running metres per game at fullback

Peta Hiku is in some of the best form of his career. The defensive fades aren’t as prevalent, and they’ve been replaced with palms to the chest of opposition defenders and silky smooth offloads out the back. This week, he has been tasked with replacing Roger Tuivasa-Sheck at fullback.

Hiku has been named to start at fullback 18 times throughout his career to average 156.3 running metres per game. He has scored five tries, handed out six try assists and broken the line six times throughout the 18 games. There is little doubt that Hiku is up to the task given his history at the position and his current form. While he won’t be able to completely fill the shoes of his inspirational captain, Hiku can do a good enough job for the Warriors to end a long 2020 season with one last upset win.

Value Plays: Jake Trbojevic ($14,330)

He’s been a staple of the Sport Tech Daily Value Plays all season so it’s fitting that Jake Trbojevic lands here once more to finish the 2020 season. In a week where players, particularly forwards, may take it easy or spend more time on the bench than normal, Trbojevic is somebody to rely on. Likely to play the full 80 and give it a red hot crack, our predictive model projects the Manly lock to score 59 points in this one.

St. George-Illawarra Dragons v Melbourne Storm @ McDonald Jones Stadium – 4:05 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Dragons: Corey Norman has been dropped for the season finale which allows Jayden Sullivan to start beside Adam Clune in the halves. Ben Hunt’s season is over due to suspension too. Max Feagai takes Jordan Pereira’s place on the wing while Euan Aitken returns to force Brayden Wiliame out of the side. Jacob Host will start in the back row for Tariq Sims who joins Eddie Blacker and Kaide Ellis on the bench.
  • Storm: Like the Raiders, the Storm are sending out an unrecognisable team. Out: Josh Addo-Carr, Suliasi Vunivalu, Brenko Lee, Justin Olam, Cameron Munster, Jahrome Hughes, Cameron Smith, Jesse Bromwich, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Felise Kaufusi, Kenny Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona. In: Sandor Earl, Issac Lumelume, Ricky Leutele, Paul Momirovski, Ryley Jacks, Cooper Johns, Brandon Smith, Christian Welch, Tui Kamikamica, Tom Eisenhuth, Chris Lewis and Max King. Ryan Papenhuyzen’s return means Nicho Hynes joins Darryn Schonig, Albert Vete and Aaron Pene on the bench.

Key Factor: Dragons limiting yardage

The Dragons have no problems getting up the field. Their 1,797 running metres per game ranks 5th in the NRL through 19 rounds. The Storm, meanwhile, are two spots below at 1,714 metres. But this isn’t a typical Storm side. Without Josh Addo-Carr, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Jesse Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi, they have lost some of their best forwards and yardage men in the side.

It allows the Dragons to correct their biggest issue all season: 1,842 metres conceded per game. While the Dragons get up the field perfectly fine, they allow the opposition to push them back further in defence. It’s arguably the largest contributing factor to their poor 2020 season.

The Dragons have a better pack on paper this week. They should be able to dominate the middle and end their season on a high.

Value Plays: The youngsters

Cooper Johns has played just one first-grade game while Jayden Sullivan makes his debut on Sunday. Still, they’ve been circled as value try-scorer options in this one.


Brisbane Broncos v North Queensland Cowboys @ Suncorp Stadium – 7:50 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Broncos: Kotoni Staggs has been named at five-eighth for Thursday night with Jesse Arthars coming into the centres. Payne Haas returns after missing last week pushing Ben Te’o to the bench and Ethan Bullemor to the reserves. David Fifita’s latest injury allows Jordan Riki to start in the back row while Xavier Coates swaps spots with Corey Oates on the wing.
  • Cowboys: Josh McGuire has served his latest suspension with Jason Taumalolo also returning to start at lock. Corey Jensen and Francis Molo move to the bench and are joined by John Asiata with Emre Pere and Ben Condon dropping out of the 17.

Key Factor: Dearden v Clifford

Sure, it’s a dead game that is only interesting given the possibility that the Brisbane Broncos are left holding the wooden spoon by the end of it, but the head-to-head battle between the two young #7’s is one worth tuning in for on Thursday.

Tom Dearden is the future for the Broncos. He has already played Brodie Croft out of the side and is all but certain to start again in Round 1 next season. Dearden does his damage when taking on the line. Unlike Croft, he’s not afraid to engage defenders before shifting the ball wide to a teammate. Jake Clifford, on the other hand, is a traditional halfback. He steers the ship from afar and uses his pin-point accuracy on cross-field kicks to put Kyle Feldt into try-scoring positions. While not a battle between superstar names, the up and coming youngsters will play a big part in determining who walks into retirement with a win: Darius Boyd or Gavin Cooper.

Value Plays: Kyle Feldt

It’s one of those pin-point Jake Clifford cross-field kicks that makes Kyle Feldt such an attractive option as a first try-scorer.


Gold Coast Titans v Newcastle Knights @ Cbus Super Stadium – 6:00 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Titans: Brian Kelly returns to the centres with Treymain Spry moving to the wing and Corey Thompson out of the side.
  • Knights: Edrick Lee and Bradman Best link back up on the left side with Starford To’a and Gehamat Shibasaki dropping out. Kurt Mann has served his suspension and returns to hooker which forces Chris Randall to the bench and Phoenix Crossland out of the 17. Sione Mata’utia starts in the back row for the injured Lachlan Fitzgibbon.

Key Factor: Lee and Best back together

Round 20 marks the first time that both Edrick Lee and Bradman Best have both been on the field since Round 8. The pair combined for eight tries in five games before Lee went down.

Starting to develop into a lethal partnership, the duo hasn’t been able to stay healthy this season. But, now that the two have a week to iron out the kinks and reignite the flame that can burn through opposition defences, all eyes are on the Newcastle left side.

Value Plays: Looking Left

The first try-scorer value lies in Edrick Lee and Bradman Best’s left edge on Friday evening. In excellent form and having recently reverting back to playing wide down the left side, Kalyn Ponga is likely to facilitate the attack down that side of the field early with this game to be used as one to play the duo into form.

South Sydney Rabbitohs v Sydney Roosters @ ANZ Stadium – 7:55 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Rabbitohs: Dane Gagai is back from his suspension to take the place of Steven Marsters in the centres. Jaydn Su’A is the one to sit out suspended this week with Jed Cartwright to start and Patrick Mago joining the bench.
  • Bulldogs: James Tedesco, Jake Friend, Boyd Cordner and Siosiua Taukeiaho all return this week while Joseph Manu, Lindsay Collins and Isaac Liu are being rested. Angus Crichton slots into lock. Lachlan Lam replaces Drew Hutchison on the bench.

Key Factor: Middle Men

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Siosiua Taukeiaho make for one of the best starting prop duos in the NRL – if not the best. They pile up running metres and can play 70+ minutes if that what the game requires out of them. Liam Knight and Thomas Burgess, on the other hand, haven’t been so reliable. Knight has been somewhat disappointing in 2020. While some of that comes down to playing a ‘Mr. Fix It’ role and being shuffled around, he hasn’t offered the consistency Wayne Bennett will have hoped for this season. Burgess is playing out one of the best seasons of his career, but comes into this one off just 75 running metres last week – a season low.

Knight and Burgess will need to outplay their opposite numbers if the Rabbitohs are to cause an upset in this one.

Value Plays: Spreading the ball

Given the expected arm-wrestle through the middle, it’s likely that both teams will need to look out wide to score on Friday night.


Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Penrith Panthers @ ANZ Stadium – 3:00 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Bulldogs: The Bulldogs have named the same side that beat the Rabbitohs in Round 19.
  • Panthers: Dylan Edwards, Stephen Crichton and Viliame Kikau have been rested with Daine Laurie, Tyrone May and Kurt Capewell taking their spots. James Tamou and Api Koroisau return from their week off pushing Moses Leota to prop and Mitch Kenny to the reserves. Matt Burton and Zane Tetevano have forced their way onto the bench.

Key Factor: Banished Bulldogs

It’s going to take something special for the Bulldogs to upset the Panthers this week. While it’s unlikely, that something special may come from Aiden Tolman, Tim Lafai and Sauaso Sue. The three Bulldogs, among others, have been told they aren’t required at the club beyond Round 20. They’re playing for their careers and what better way to put yourself in front of prospective employers than by leading your side to a win over the minor premiers.

Tolman is a toiler that will go close to replicating his 232 running metres and 46 tackles last week again on Saturday. Lafai’s attacking ability has never been in question. Meanwhile, Sue really needs to offer some punch off the bench if he’s to play a part in this result and earn a contract for next season.

In a dead game with what most consider an inevitable result, the banished Bulldogs need to be the ones to stand out in this one.

Value Plays: Under Dogs

Heavy underdogs have made a bit of a habit scoring first in recent weeks. Our model has highlighted the Bulldogs left edge as a value area in a game that is otherwise expected to be one-sided.

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Canberra Raiders @ Netstrata Jubilee Stadium – 5:30 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Sharks: Wade Graham replaces the injured Shaun Johnson in the halves, Nene Macdonald takes Sione Katoa’s place on the wing, Mawene Hiroti does the same with Josh Dugan in the centres, and Teig Wilton comes onto the bench for Royce Hunt.
  • Raiders: It’s all changes for the Raiders. Out: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Jarrod Croker, Jordan Rapana, Jack Wighton, George Williams, John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead, Josh Papalii and Joseph Tapine. In: Adam Cook, Harley Smith-Shields, Matt Timoko, Matt Frawley, Sam Williams, Hudson Young, Cory Harawira-Naera, Sia Soliola. Siliva Havili also moves to lock with Tom Starling to start at hooker. Kai O’Donnell, Darby Medlyn and Jarrett Subloo join the bench.

Key Factor: Simple Sharks

Despite Shaun Johnson’s absence, there is no doubting that the Sharks are sending the better list onto the field on Saturday evening. On paper, this isn’t a contest given the reshuffles the Raiders have made for this week. Form tells a different story, though. The Sharks don’t have a lot of good form to fall back on heading into this one. Instead, they need to knuckle down and complete the rugby league cliches: run hard with the ball and get your body in front in defence. If the Sharks do the little things right and build some pressure, they can get past this inexperienced Raiders outfit with ease.

Value Plays: Corey Harawira-Naera ($8,720)

Corey Harawira-Naera is one of the more experienced players to benefit from Ricky Stuart’s mass resting on Saturday afternoon. Just seven games into his Canberra career and yet to really make his mark, he has been named to start in the back row for this one with our predictive model projecting him to score 44 points.

Wests Tigers v Parramatta Eels @ Bankwest Stadium – 7:35 pm AEST

Team List Notes

  • Tigers: Luke Brooks returns from his suspension to retake his place in the halves. Josh Reynolds is out. Tommy Talau is into the centres for Joey Leilua. Alex Twal is back in a lock pushing Matt Eisenhuth to the bench while Tom Mikaele takes Josh Aloiai’s place at prop. Luke Garner starts on the edge for Sam McIntyre with Elijah Taylor, Michael Chee Kam and Shawn Blore onto the bench. Russell Packer and Jacob Liddle drop out of the 17.
  • Eels: Junior Paulo and Shaun Lane are back in the starting side with Kane Evans and Andrew Davey back to the bench.

Key Factor: Eels Attack

Benji Marshall and Chris Lawrence are waving goodbye to the Wests Tigers. That is likely to be the major talking point out of this game. However, the focus should be on the Parramatta attack. Awful going into their game against the Broncos in Round 19, to score 26 points is a slight improvement.

While 26 is significantly more than 12, the overall improvement is only slight given the fashion in which Parramatta scored most of their points. Still far from smooth in their attack, the tries they scored against the Broncos aren’t going to eventuate against the NRL’s best defensive teams. They still need to play themselves into form with the ball in hand. With the Tigers ranked 14th in defence conceding 25.1 points per game, the Eels have another chance to recreate their early-season scoring.

Value Plays: Tigers out wide

While the Eels attack is likely to be the largest contributing factor to the final result, it’s the Tigers outside backs that carry the value in the anytime try-scoring department.

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