Round 22 of the 2022 NRL season is here and so is Your Edge. This week we’re digging into some of the recent in-season player movements and looking ahead to one key move just confirmed for 2023.
Nofoaluma Storming Up The Field
The Melbourne Storm worked the phones desperately searching for a fullback and outside backs before ending up with David Nofoaluma on loan from the Wests Tigers.
Nofoaluma couldn’t crack the Tigers first-grade side for a variety of reasons before his move. However, it’s not difficult to see why Craig Bellamy was interested in a then-reserve grade winger.
Fourth in the NRL last season averaging 1,733 running metres per game, Melbourne’s 1,539 metres this year ranks 8th. The pack is ageing and they’re not being propped up by the back three as they were last year. George Jennings averaged 135 running metres per game with Josh Addo-Carr contributing 128 metres on the other side. Only Nick Meaney (118m) has averaged over 100 metres per game as a winger this year. Meanwhile, Xavier Coates (93m) and Dean Ieremia (98m) have struggled to make a dent in the yardage game.
Enter: David Nofoaluma.
In and out of a poor side and often tasked with returning the ball from difficult areas of the field, Nofoaluma averaged 129 metres per game across 12 appearances for the Tigers – considerably more than any of the wingers available to Bellamy and the Storm. In his first game for Melbourne in Round 21, Nofoaluma carried for a season-high 192 running metres. It’s the most metres Nofoaluma has managed in a game since Round 9 last year.
The Storm have struggled by their standards this season. They’ve not dominated as they have done in the past and a lot of that comes down to their lack of yardage. We’ve already seen in his Storm debut what Nofoaluma can do in a top team. Plenty don’t agree with him being in Melbourne at all, but he looks set to play a key role in their push to the premiership.
The Roosters Revival
The Sydney Roosters have finally started to come good.
Sam Walker and Luke Keary have switched jerseys and the Roosters attack looks a lot better for it. Connor Watson has started to have a positive impact after struggling into his role to start the year. Victor Radley has been able to stay on the field while Jared Waerea-Hargreaves made his return in Round 19. There are a few contributors to the Roosters’ uptick in form, but it’s their improvements in yardage that has had the most significant impact.
The Roosters worked their way through the first 17 rounds of the NRL season as a middling yardage team.
However, and while there is more to it than simply adding Matthew Lodge, his arrival has triggered a huge improvement.
The Roosters have led the NRL in net yardage over the last month. Signing Lodge hasn’t only allowed the Roosters to get through another period without Lindsay Collins and deal with the injury to Siosiua Taukeiaho, but to dominate the yardage game and play themselves into the sort of form seeing them mentioned as premiership smokies.
With that dominance in the middle, the Roosters playmakers have a platform. Walker and Keary are still figuring out how they will work in harmony but that transition is being made easier by the foundation they’re playing on. By getting up the field and pinning the opposition in their own end, the likes of Joey Manu, Joseph Suaalii and James Tedesco are able to do their best work in good ball.
Lodge left the Warriors on ugly terms. It’s not the first time a club hasn’t been disappointed to see him leave. However, signed only to the end of this season and with no commitment to him beyond 2022, the Roosters are getting the best version of Lodge without the worries of issues in the future.
In contrast, Oliver Gildart is yet to crack the squad since moving over on loan from the Wests Tigers. Gildart made a name for himself in the Super League and across impressive performances for England. He’s not been able to capture that form in the NRL, though. A defensive liability at the Tigers, it will be interesting to see how he performs at a top club in the Roosters if he is given the chance.
Luciano Lands In North Queensland Early
A different transfer to Nofoaluma and Lodge again, Luciano Leilua managed to force his way out of the Tigers to join the North Queensland Cowboys early. Not expected at Queensland Country Bank Stadium until 2023, Leilua made his debut for the club in Round 16.
Just like that, the Cowboys welcomed one of the best-attacking edge backrowers in the game.
Leilua is effective in yardage averaging over 100 metres per game. It’s a role he wasn’t often put into at the Tigers but the Cowboys have demanded more from him as a ball carrier. The 26-year-old averaged 101 running metres playing 76 minutes per game in the 12 he managed for the Tigers this season. However, playing only 58 minutes per game, Leilua has bumped his average up to 102 metres.
He is a big body that can get his arm free to throw an offload. Again, despite the fewer minutes, Leilua is still averaging an offload per game at the Cowboys just as he did for the Tigers to start the NRL season. That big body has already broken 23 tackles in five games since the move. Leilua broke only 28 tackles for the Tigers.
As he did with Jason Taumalolo, Todd Payten seems to be managing the way Leilua plays and is looking to get the most out of him with the ball without promoting defensive issues due to fatigue.
Sam Verrills To Titans
Finally, a more traditional move.
It has been confirmed that Sam Verrills will leave the Roosters for the Gold Coast Titans in 2023. The 23-year-old has played out an injury-affected 2022 NRL season to manage only ten games. However, with six consecutive games now under his belt and the key playmakers coming into form around him, we’re starting to see the best of Verrills.
Verrills doesn’t stand out in the numbers. Erin Clark is much-maligned at the Titans, but across his 16 games at hooker this season, he looks the better player on paper. The eye test, however, quickly confirms that is far from the case. Verrills provides superior service from dummy half and is developing into a more deceptive hooker. He is learning when to make the move himself and how to manipulate a defensive line to create opportunities for others. It’s a position that takes time to develop and one that unless your Harry Grant, Damien Cook or Brandon Smith, doesn’t always translate into big numbers.
Hooker is a position the Titans have struggled to fill reliably since the prime Nathan Peats years. In Verrills, they’ve at least upgraded at the position for 2023 and may have found their #9 of the future if he develops into the player many expect.
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