Round 8 of the 2022 NRL season is upon us and so is ‘Your Edge’. This week we’re looking at Jackson Hastings and Siosifa Talakai as outliers, how AJ Brimson’s game can change at the back, checking in on the net yardage numbers, and highlighting the best value plays of the weekend.
Hastings Handling The Ball
The Wests Tigers have looked much improved since Jackson Hastings returned from his suspension in Round 6. With one-point wins over the Parramatta Eels and South Sydney Rabbitohs, Michael Maguire’s side have pulled themselves off the bottom of the NRL ladder and are in search of their first three-game winning streak since Round 6, 2018. They’ve defended well and the effort is clear on both sides of the ball, but it all starts with the control Hastings is providing from halfback.
He has averaged 96 touches per game in the two he has played since returning…
It’s an incredible number and made all the more mind-boggling when you put it beside the average touches per game for halves in recent years.
As good as Hastings has been, when you think “influential halfback” you think of Nathan Cleary who has averaged 62.9 touches per game since 2018. For better or worse, everything went through Mitchell Pearce before he left the Newcastle Knights but he only managed 62.8 touches per game. These numbers don’t only highlight how much more Hastings is touching the ball than we’re used to seeing, but that his current levels are more than likely unsustainable.
That 96 touches per game is going to come down. Probably this week. Now that teams are starting to click on to the fact that the ball follows Hastings, defenders will also do the same. His role has put the Tigers’ season back on track and provided them with the control they sorely lacked to start the year, but it won’t be long before he’s forced to adjust.
Justin Holbrook is desperate to get the Gold Coast Titans back on track and has moved AJ Brimson into the #1 jersey for this week. Playing at five-eighth to start the year with Jamayne Isaako and Jayden Campbell slotting into fullback, Brimson hasn’t been able to impact the game in ways we’re accustomed to seeing.
Beau Fermor highlighted what they’ve been missing from Brimson during the week:
“I think it just unlocks his running game a bit more. That’s probably the biggest thing that we’ve lost with AJ moving to No. 6. When he’s at fullback, he’s making line-breaks and I think it’ll just unlock his running game a bit more.”
Fermor’s comments show in the numbers. The difference between Brimson the fullback and Brimson the five-eighth is clear with his running game massively – and unsurprisingly – impacted by the move forward.
The Titans attack is struggling and as noted last week, David Fifita can’t do everything. It’s going to take the rest of the side to pick up the slack and create opportunities for themselves and others outside of the rampaging backrower. Perhaps those opportunities come more often with Brimson at fullback?
Centre Of Attention
Siosifa Talakai is the man of the moment. What can be said about his incredible performance in Round 7 already has, but one visual highlights just how dominant he has been since moving into the centres four games ago.
He’s in a world of his own as he runs riot while also passing teammates into promising positions. His two tries and three try assists last week blow the numbers out a bit, but right now, there is no denying the fact that he is one of the most dominant players in the NRL right now. His battle with Kotoni Staggs on Thursday night is set to be a ripper and could well decide who is given a spot in the New South Wales Blues squad for the upcoming State of Origin series.
Run Off The Park
Net running metres is a regular point mentioned here. Winning the middle is crucial to winning the match and yardage is a factor that often separates the good teams from the bad over the course of an NRL season. In Round 7, we saw three huge beat-ups in the yardage game as the Knights, Raiders and Warriors failed to keep close to their opponents while being thrashed by 37, 30 and 60 points, respectively.
Again, the Round 7 numbers blow things out a little bit, but the Warriors, in particular, are struggling for yardage and it isn’t new. It’s an issue they’ve faced all season. Even while winning games – and it was much the same with the Dragons throughout their promising start to the 2021 NRL season – the yardage numbers suggested it wouldn’t be long before the results started to reflect their position in the net running metres rankings.
While nobody expected them to finish over 1,200 metres and 60 points behind the Storm on ANZAC Day, it somewhat follows the trend of their 2022 season.
The Warriors are now last in net running metres through seven rounds. Concerningly for the Brisbane Broncos they’re only marginally ahead while the Canberra Raiders and Titans are also struggling.
Going back-to-back in the NRL is incredibly difficult. However, the Penrith Panthers are putting themselves in a position to do so with how easy they’re doing it in yardage. Whether it’s their back three or barnstorming middle, Ivan Cleary’s side is getting up the field for the Panthers to once again lead the NRL in tackles inside the opposition 20-metre line with 36.4 per game.
NRL Value Plays
Toby Rudlolf, step on up…
Against a Broncos side that has a history of letting in soft tries through the middle, Rudolf’s $101 at TAB stands out as an appealing roughie on Wicky’s Try Scorer Value Finder tool. More likely, though, is Alex Johnston’s $8.25 to cross the line first against the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles on Friday night. Everybody saw what the Sharks did to their right edge last week, and while the South Sydney Rabbitohs are still searching for form, they’re likely to look left to find it.
Payne Haas sustained a shoulder injury in Round 7 but is expected to play this week. However, there is a chance he comes into this one a little bit underdone which opens the door for Corey Jensen to take on more minutes. He’s a risk given Kevin Walters sent him out there for only 20 minutes last week, but the Draftstars NRL Stats Bible has picked him out as a value play at $11,020 and could be a point of difference if Haas is limited. Matt Moylan is another option in the same game at $9,000. He has been excellent for the Sharks this season and the newfound focus on Siosifa Talakai could open things up for Moylan’s running game on Thursday night.