Saturday 19 August 2017 / 04:12 AM

TEAM TALK: NRL ROUND 18

Reaction, analysis and talking points from the Round 18 team lists.

The Headlines

Skeleton Storm

The Origin period is a difficult time for any team with rep players, and Melbourne usually feel the sting most. After their spectacular torching of the Broncos, the Storm have lost six players to next week’s decider, including their entire spine. They are so short-handed, Riley Jacks is Melbourne’s most experienced spine player. Yet, they still boast class across the park — their forward pack (despite missing three — Welch, Mclean, Glasby — regular contributors) is still top-tier and will keep them in the game, giving these excellent prospects a platform to once again shock the league. This team is simply ridiculous.

Their ability to inject players with that ‘Secret Storm Serum’ is going to be exposed if Nate Myles miraculously returns to form. I’m kidding (kind of), but whether Melbourne’s magic can instantly rejuvenate the hardy veteran will be fascinating.

Dogs strike luck in must-win situation

Another loss could see Canterbury drop to 14th, but that wouldn’t matter as much as losing another game at Belmore (0 from last 4), not to mention going down to the cellar-dweller Knights might cause riots.

But without their Origin players and inspirational skipper James Graham the team list looks awfully dull. Danny Fualalo, Raymond Faitala-Mariner and Francis Tualau are fine as back-ups, but aren’t scaring anyone as your primary options. Sam Kasiano has never maintained his impact when starting. Their spine is dreadful, and their attack is as exciting as painting a room beige. However, they are playing the Knights, which means they’ll probably win. Lucky break.

Hodkinson get one last chance

Despite an uninspiring, heavily criticised outing against the other worst team in the league, Trent Hodkinson has held onto his spot for what seems like the last straw. Coach Nathan Brown outright declared last week’s attacking performance the ‘worst of the season’, and his words didn’t miss — many calling for the former NSW half’s head. The youth movement is in full effect in the Hunter, and the questions as to whether Brock Lamb, who was really good in reserve grade last week, has now overtaken Hodkinson are more than justified. Just the fact that it’s a discussion signifies an alarming fall from grace.

Eyes on Rooster halves

Connor Watson gets what may be his last chance in 2017 to prove he is worth the hype. The combination with Luke Keary isn’t a natural one, and if the Rabbitohs forward pack, who go unchanged, can replicate their middle domination that underpinned their victory against the wayward Panthers, it’s hard to see either half getting time to operate. Not only does he need to justify his rumoured contract for next year at Wests Tigers, Watson has to earn his utility bench spot heading into the finals — one that he has underwhelmed in. Overall, the Roosters are understrength, and the Rabbitohs’ season hangs by a thread. Danger game for the Chooks.

Intriguing matchup of the week

Suliasi Vunivalu v Semi Radradra – I mean, this requires very little explaining. Arguably two of the best three flankers in the competition, the form of these two has been stellar, and fireworks may ensue when they come head-to-head. Radradra does the majority of his muscling work down-low, whilst Vunivalu dominates the aerial battle. The Fijian stars will test each other defensively.

Bonus – DCE vs the entire Queensland selection panel (And maybe playing group?). You know why. The Panthers are set to be the unwitting fall guys as Cherry-Evans vents his frustration.

Stray Observations

  • The Origin period only further illustrates the value of genuine utility players. Plenty of teams would kill to have the likes of Mitch Aubusson.
  • Penrith need to be better, all round. Easily the biggest disappointment in 2017 thus far, Canberra included. When you’re desperately awaiting the return of Mitch Rein, you know how downhill this year has headed.
  • Manly will really miss Jake Trbojevic — not only is he a terrific player, he is their only reliable strike in the back row. Now both Lewis Brown and Curtis Sironen are going to miss time.
  • Manu Ma’u has been named, but is in doubt with a knee problem — it’s crazy to think any omission will hurt considering the state of the Storm’s roster, but they are really that damn good.
  • I mean seriously, the Storm back-row might be the best in the league. Without any Origin players. Like I said, ridiculous.
  • Once and interesting prospect (and legitimate challenger to Jimmy Maloney’s penalty crown) Darcy Lussick will start at lock. Let’s see what he’s got.
  • Brad Arthur has nailed this selection, leaving ‘the Guth’ at fullback. Excellent footballer, excellent season. Deserving of all the praise.
  • Danny Levi’s dreadful 80 last week put forth a contender for Konnie Hurrell’s outing a few weeks back for worst of the year. Can you say growing pains?
  • Talks are that Kenny Bromwich will spot minutes at hooker when rookie Griffin fatigues. Yes, Kenny-B is versatile for a back-rower, but he is totally miscast as a rake. Scratch that, I trust Bellamy.
  • Nathan Ross has been fun at fullback.

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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.

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