Reaction, analysis and talking points from the Round 11 team lists
Slowly becoming a weekly fixture, once again there is a plethora of big-name players both returning from and succumbing to injury.
Look, there’s no such thing as ‘good’ injury news, but Manly dodged a bullet following the controversial injury to emerging talent Tom Trbojevic. Losing him for up to eight weeks definitely hurts, but initial fears that his season might be over means the bad news does have a slight positive tone.
Mathew Wright gets the nod at fullback over Jackson Hastings. He comes with some experience from filling in across his career, but is a substantial downgrade. Replacing the current leader in meters run is a tough ask, not to mention his stellar support play and ability to pose a scoring threat from anywhere within the opponents half. If Manly are to going to survive, their power running game from the back needs to be on. Tafua and Uate must step up and carry the load of the missing 190m Turbo Tom provides.
Moses the Eel
The Eels will be without their vital half Corey Norman for an extended period following a knee injury. The repercussions of this loss can’t be understated. The only genuine ball-player in their team, Norman is tasked with basically all the general playmaking duties, so much that Brad Arthur has been comfortable pairing him with pure ball-runners at five-eighth all season (Gutherson, Smith, Takairangi). His output will be tough to replicate. If that wasn’t enough, Gutherson, will be fighting to be fit following a concussion.
The return of Bevan French is a boost, though his effectiveness (along with the entire attack), is severely limited without Norman. Cue the highly-awaited grand entrance of new signing Mitchell Moses. It’s a case of baptism by fire for Moses, who will have the chief playmaking task thrown to him after less than a week of training. This coming fresh off a 38-point drubbing at the hands of the Roosters, with their opponents Canberra bristling from a disappointing loss against Newcastle. Parramatta face, undoubtedly, the biggest test of their season.
Woods’ Origin Bid
Aaron Woods has his eyes firmly set on Blues jersey, making a shock return from a hamstring injury. The Tigers missed his presence and don’t have the depth to compete up front without him. Hopefully he is 100% and isn’t pushing too hard to be back in time for selection.
No.7s Push For Early Return
Up north, Brisbane and North Queensland will both welcome back integral members of their team.
The Cowboys’ struggles without Thurston are well documented. Even though they were able to pull out a win last week, it’s hard to imagine that play being sustained without JT. Similar to Woods, there are serious concerns as to whether he is healthy, but you know that if he is remotely available, he will take the field.
Meanwhile, despite Kodi Nikorima improving week-to-week, Brisbane will be elated to have halfback Ben Hunt back in the fold. Hunt is instrumental to the team’s success and was hitting his straps right before his injury. Nikorima is comfortable, and effective, playing from the bench and David Mead will most likely make way as Hunt returns. While Hunt’s absence has been adequately covered, the Broncos haven’t been able to replace the electricity of speed demon James Roberts, who will return from a knee injury.
Testing Times For:
Robbie Farah – Despite not being the best hooker at his club and only having his first good game for the season against his former team, it seems Laurie Daley still believes he’s the man for the job, even against most recommendations. Looking competent against the paper-thin forward pack of the Tigers doesn’t exactly serve as the best Origin primer, and the stellar form of Peats, who had another blinder against Melbourne, apparently hasn’t been enough to dethrone him.
Farah has been toiling away on the bench for majority of the season whilst Peats has been vital to the Titans’ recent turnaround, with massive wins over Cronulla and Melbourne. Fortunately, Farah himself gets a shot at Melbourne – and Cameron Smith – this week, aiding the Peats comparison and giving him a golden chance to justify the unwarranted candidacy. At a very least, if Farah is the pick, one has to hope he can at least have some prolonged form heading into Game 1.
Canberra – Whilst no one is doubting their talent, or the likelihood of them finishing in the top eight, questions about their contention are starting to creep in. Assuming they will turn it around isn’t as easy after 10 games, and their reliance on running teams off the park isn’t translating into wins. With a top-four finish a necessity, they have a great chance to get back on track against the Norman-less Eels.
Paul Vaughan – Well ahead in the race for Buy of the Year honours, the Dragons hard-man has lifted the Dragons pack to another level, and was tremendous once again in a losing side. An Origin jersey is within reach now, and another showing like last week might solidify his claims.
- James Gavet has been close to the best non-spine player in the Warriors’ squad. Big leap in production and continues to bring great energy.
- Malakai Watene-Zelezniak was a late inclusion for the Tigers last week making his club debut. He was solid in a losing team and should be looked at as the option going forward. Chee-kam is needed in the forwards and hadn’t fully adjusted to the defensive reads out wide.
- After the last -minute reshuffle worked wonders for Souths last week, they’ve stuck to their changes, naming Cody Walker at fullback, Alex Johnston on the wing and John Sutton at five-eighth. Playing from the back allows Walker, who is in stellar form, to get his hands on the ball as much as possible. Sutton, while still offering up very little of anything, hurts the team less in the halves than in the back-row and Johnston, for all his talent, isn’t ready to take on a full-time custodian role just yet.
- Picked at lock, hopefully the Warriors give Bunty Afoa some decent game time this week. He possesses some potential that will surprise those unaware.
- If Manly were planning on using Jackson Hastings for anything, this week was the chance. His selection on the bench makes less sense every week, especially while he took up a spot watching Manly run out of steam and give up their lead to the Broncos. Lussick or Perrett make more sense in his spot given Lewis Brown can cover hooker well.
- Happy to see Viliame Kikau back. Needs more time.
- The Titans are sticking to the Roberts at fullback, Hayne at centre formation. If that’s permanent, Hayne needs to look for work rather than wait for it to present itself.
- Can we please wait more than one week before making judgements on players. Latrell Mitchell is a great prospect, but he is still so raw and has just return from a form-induced exile – Origin talk is downright ridiculous. Same goes for Robbie Farah….
- Parramatta’s edge defence got ripped apart against the Roosters, so the inclusion of Beau Scott is quietly super-important. The arrival of Moses means Scott will be on protective cover to help restore some stability out wide.
- Nelson Asofa-Solomona is a chance to return for Melbourne. Would really help in the absence of Bromwich.
- Brad Takairangi is close to making his return. A true footballer and his versatility always helps.
- Jake Granville is carrying a knock he suffered last week after returning from a broken leg. He has been named but will be monitored through the week.
- As mentioned Mitchell Moses has finally made the move to Parramatta, named on the extended bench. Despite naming him on the bench, Brad Arthur has confirmed he will start.
- Trent Hodkinson has been named in the Knights’ squad. Despite the win, they should without doubt move on from Feeney for the time being. He simply isn’t ready.