Saturday 20 January 2018 / 12:19 PM


Reaction, analysis and talking points from the Round 12 team lists

The Headlines

Depth Test 

‘Baby Broncos’ is the usual term thrown around at this time of year. And while, yes, this is a side missing a host of representative stars, the list they’ve managed to assemble in their absence is quite impressive.

Jordan Kahu is safe at the back in Darius Boyd’s absence, with plenty of experience and even international caps at fullback, with Kahu and Oates’ spots being filled by David Mead, a starting-caliber winger, and Jonus Pearson, a young prospect who impressed deep into Brisbane’s finals run.

Their forward pack is understrength, but not to be underrated – Herman Ese’esse, Jaydn Su’a, Jai Arrow and Joe Ofahengaue are all bursting with potential and will jump at the opportunity for major minutes.

Missing Andrew McCullough (concussion) really hurts this week. Aside from losing his consistently outstanding output, without their six rep players, the leadership and direction the veteran hooker brings would have been invaluable. The return of Ben Hunt should soothe that blow a tad, but fresh from a layoff, he may endure some rust before getting back to full fitness.

Benji Marshall and Travis Waddell have been named at five-eighth and hooker respectively, with the magnificently in-form and versatile Kodi Nikorima in the No.18; expect some reshuffling.

If anything, this game in Auckland presents Master Wayne and co. a golden chance to evaluate these young prospects while burdened with bulk of the responsibility. With them all impressing in limited time, a good showing might secure a bench spot as the Broncos gear up for a deep run.


Worried Warriors

The Warriors’ favourite period of the season gets underway, and they have plenty of ground to make up after an appalling second half a fortnight ago at Penrith led into a dreadful showing against the Dragons. Only missing Jacob Lillyman, whose void is filled by the returning Simon Mannering and Albert Vete, finds them at pretty much full-strength.

Under-pressure coach Stephen Kearney resisted the urge – or perhaps didn’t have the bottle – the swing the selection axe, despite several of his charges’ subpar performances last week and the fact the club’s ISP outfit is sailing along at the top of the table.

They catch a big break getting the red-hot Broncos without their core players, but this is a danger game nonetheless. They need to compete, and for the whole 80. Anything less, especially considering the short-handed opposition, is simply unacceptable. As mentioned, the Broncos will come out fast; if they put forth an effort like they’ve put out recently they will find them out of the game, fast.

More Origin fallout 

The Sharks have picked Fa’amanu Brown at No.6 for James Maloney, which places the bulk of the playmaking duties in the hands of Chad Townsend. This is a role he’s struggled with in the past, so it’ll be intriguing to see the strides he’s made in this department.

The Roosters have opted to shift the versatile Mitch Aubusson into the centres and push Joseph Manu to the flank in Blake Ferguson’s absence. This sees them run out a fresh back-row of Ryan Matterson, Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Zane Tetevano. Connor Watson fills in for Mitchell Pearce in the halves, Kane Evans replaces Dylan Napa in the front-row. While these are all decent replacements, it comes at a heavy expense to their bench rotation, which now features a host of untested talent.

Their opposition, the Canberra Raiders, only lose Josh Papalii to Origin, with Luke Bateman covering his absence and Dave Taylor on standby. This nearly shapes as a must-win for Canberra. If they have top-four aspirations, which they absolutely should, they need to get the ball rolling now.


Testing times for

The Burgess boys – Fun fact; there hasn’t been a single game this year without a Burgess knock-on. That’s crazy, and with nine(!) in the past three games between Sam and Tom, it’s getting out of hand. Drops have put Souths under a mountain of pressure time and time again. Need to be better.

Valentine Holmes – In good form, growing each week after taking over in the fullback role, and a surprise omission from the Queensland team. Without the Origin stars, Holmes is provided a stage to prove the selectors wrong. The Sharks’ acquisition of Dragons fullback Josh Dugan adds another layer of intrigue to Holmes’ performances in the No.1 for the rest of 2017. Loves a big game, so expect him to come out firing.

Matchup of the week

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Kane Evans come up against Junior Paulo and Shannon Boyd in a barnstorming forward showdown. JWH, Paulo and Boyd are three of the more formidable big men in the game, but Kane Evans is fast growing a reputation as one of the hardest chargers in the game, particularly with space to wind up. He plays fearless and will relish the challenge of the Raiders pack.

Paulo is in scintillating form, averaging 155 meters per game, fourth among props, and has to be the best kick-off returner in the league. Both teams are deadly with momentum, and this battle will go a long way in deciding which of the league’s most potent attacks gets the the win. Will be a great clash, quite literally. 


Stray Observations

  • Nat Butcher was named in the Roosters squad. For the uninitiated, Butcher captained the NYC premiership-winning Roosters team (taking home the Jack Gibson Medal) and is one of the highest-rated prospects in the game. The Roosters should really consider giving him a crack this week, and if not sooner rather than later.
  • Timely return for Brad Takarangi, who slots into the centres for the injured Michael Jennings. Fair to assume he will start on his preferred right side, with Auva’a swinging to the left.
  • Everyone’s rooting for Benji to have a blinder, right?
  • In Josh McGuire’s absence, Korbin Sims shifts into the ‘third-prop’ role at lock that has become increasingly popular across the league. McGuire has provided so much value for from this spot, and Sims is mobile enough to pull it off. He’s no stranger to the back-row, having played much of his early career there. Expect a big game.
  • If Kurt Capewell is able to impress filling in for Wade Graham, he will go close to securing the final spot on the Sharks’ bench. Utility value like his has multiple benefits, and he’s looked competent in each role he’s been asked to fill thus far.
  • Michael Lichaa throws the highest amount of ‘flat’ passes in the game. Not sure if it’s system or player, but it looks awkward. I guess that sentence could be applied to anything involving the Bulldogs’ attack.
  • Aiden Tolman and James Graham versus Chris Heighington and Matt Prior is intriguing. The antithesis of the Roosters/Raiders prop showdown, two pairs of tradesmen going head-to-head. If the Dogs pair can’t get well over the top, it will provide further proof that this side isn’t cut from the elite cloth.
  • Don’t be surprised to see Dave Taylor called into the Raiders side. A nice replacement as a poor man’s Papalii

Add Comment

About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

More nrl News

Special Features