The first of the big byes rounds has been and gone, and not without a healthy sprinkling of controversy and outrage on the Late Mail front. A bout of the sniffles for Viliame Kikau and Dean Pay doing Dean Pay things basically ‘Thanos finger snapped’ months of meticulous bye round planning and converted many SuperCoaches to be head-to-head only. To add salt to the wounds, John Bateman returned early from injury to cover the bye after most of us had sold him but a few short weeks earlier and used our trades for the round. Bedlam.
But as they say, out of the frypan and into the fire and brimstone that is the post-Origin round, which is the grand stage for us Late Mail reporters with what feels like half the league in doubt or whose status is completely unknown. It’s only Thursday night at time of writing but I already feel like I’ve had player news raining down like matrix code in a coffee-fuelled flurry of updates and Tweets. Despite this, there is still so much that we likely won’t know until an hour before kick-off for many SuperCoach relevant players.
Keep in mind that much will unfold after this article goes live, so the best way to stay up to date will be to follow me on Twitter @AStilesAuthor where I’ll be pumping out the latest as it becomes known.
With that said, strap yourselves in for the wildest edition of Late Mail so far this season.
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Newcastle Knights, Friday 6:00pm (ANZ Stadium)
There are mass changes at the Rabbitohs, but probably not the ones you were expecting heading into the round. Miraculously, Damian Cook, Cameron Murray and Dane Gagai are all confirmed starters. However, Adam Reynolds is out for at least a few weeks with a small back fracture and Cody Walker is being rested with minor niggles. This will see Adam Doueihi partner Connor Tracey in the halves with the former a good chance to take over goal kicking as he did last season when Reynolds was out. Despite Cook playing, Billy Brittain is still on the extended bench and there is a chance he sneaks into the 17 to give Wayne the option of spelling Cook if the game is in hand. Sam Burgess has been playing with a shoulder injury and this will be his last game before undergoing surgery. He will have a 5 weeks recovery but with the byes he should only miss 2 games if everything goes well. Bayley Sironen and Rhys Kennedy were omitted Thursday night.
In another hugely relevant out, Kalyn Ponga will not back up after Origin. This will see Kurt Mann move to fullback and Mason Lino come into the halves. Tautau Moga was originally flagged for the callup but I understand he was not picked on form. David Klemmer remains after the first cut but is still considered questionable. Josh King and Jacob Saifiti drop out 24 hours out, meaning Pasami Saulo would be the man to replace Klemmer if Coach Brown opts to rest him.
Wests Tigers vs Canberra Raiders, Friday 7:55pm (Bankwest Stadium)
Moses Mbye is the only Tiger returning from Origin duty and seems set to play, despite news coming out Thursday that the club was planning to drop him in round 11 were it not for an injury ruling him out anyway. This will be a situation to watch in the coming weeks. Coach Maguire has also axed Robert Jennings and Paul Momirovski 24 hours out in favour of Mahe Fonua and David Nofoaluma in a backline shakeup. Momirovski remains on the extended bench for now with Elijah Taylor joining Jennings as the men to drop out officially. Chris Lawrence is expected to be welcomed back and may move straight into the starting side at the expense of Chris McQueen.
For the Raiders, Nick Cotric was in doubt with a knee injury he sustained in Origin however he seems set to play, as are Josh Papalii and Jack Wighton despite none of them taking part in the captain’s run after Wednesday’s clash. Royce Hunt and Sebastian Kris drop out of the side 24 hours out.
New Zealand Warriors vs Melbourne Storm, Saturday 3:00pm (Mt Smart Stadium)
No Origin, no concerns for the Warriors heading into this one with the team expected to run out 1-17.
Craig Bellamy said it looks “reasonably positive” that the Storm’s Origin quartet of Cameron Munster, Will Chambers, Felise Kaufusi and Josh Addo-Carr will back up this weekend and all have flown over to Auckland in preparation for the match. Chambers is the most in doubt of the four, with Justin Olam on standby should he be ruled out. Christian Welch is tipped to be the other late inclusion after training strongly during the week, with Joe Stimson the man most likely to make way.
Cronulla Sharks vs Parramatta Eels, Saturday 5:30pm (PointsBet Stadium)
The Sharks receive a boost this round, with Wade Graham making it through training this week and only having to complete the captain’s run to be given the green light to return from his ACL injury. Shaun Johnson is likely to be given another round to rest given Cronulla play on Thursday night in round 14 and they don’t want to risk any chance of reinjury with a five-game turnaround. However, a call will be made after the captain’s run.
The only potential change for the Eels would be the welcome return of enforcer Nathan Brown, who needs to pass a final fitness test to return to the 17. He would likely be eased back via the interchange with Ray Stone the most likely to make way.
North Queensland Cowboys vs Manly Sea Eagles, Saturday 7:35pm (1300SMILES Stadium)
Michael Morgan has declared himself a certain starter for the Cowboys after getting through Origin unscathed. There is no word yet on Josh McGuire’s availability, but I believe he will take the field given the Cowboys’ growing body count. Corey Jensen would be the man to replace him if he is ruled out. For those waiting on a Scott Drinkwater update, his heralded mid-season switch to the Cowboys has hit a snag with the Storm demanding compensation if he were to leave.
For the Sea Eagles, Daly Cherry-Evans said after Origin that his ankle feels “pretty good” and could be a late inclusion into the side in place of Cade Cust or Kane Elgey, however both he and Jake Trbojevic will be assessed closer to the game. Tom Trbojevic seems to have ticked all the boxes needed during the week to make his return.
Brisbane Broncos vs Gold Coast Titans, Sunday 2:00pm (Suncorp Stadium)
In bad news for the Broncos, Joe Ofahengaue copped a laceration to his knee in Origin that will keep him sidelined between two to four weeks. Patrick Carrigan or Jadyn Su’a will replace him on the interchange. Corey Oates, Payne Haas, Matt Gillett and David Fifita are at this stage expected to take their places in the side given the longer turnaround, though the forwards may have their minutes managed depending on how they feel in the lead up.
The Titans received some sad news yesterday, with Ash Taylor granted indefinite leave from the cub to deal with personal issues. I will him all the best in his time away and hope he comes back stronger. Ryley Jacks will replace him in the halves. Jai Arrow is the only player in doubt after Origin and could be replaced in the 17 by Nathan Peats who has been cleared to return from injury. Coach Brennan has confirmed that Mitch Rein will retain the starting hooker role for now. It’s also been revealed that Michael Gordon has blood clots in his leg which could keep him out long term.
Penrith Panthers vs Sydney Roosters, Sunday 4:05pm (Panthers Stadium)
Nathan Cleary has declared himself fit for the Panthers and will come back into the halves at the expense of Jarome Luai. Viliame Kikau has overcome the illness that broke the hearts of many a SuperCoach during the bye round. Wayde Egan remains in some doubt with a shoulder injury, with Mitch Kenny on standby.
Boyd Cordner copped an early knock to his ankle in Origin but made it through the game, however is in serious doubt for the Roosters with Mitch Aubusson to replace him on the edge if needed. Latrell was a non-factor for the Blues which has caused speculation that he could be hampered by the groin injury he sustained a few rounds ago and it would not surprise me to see him rested with Ryan Hall coming back into the top squad. No news yet on whether James Tedesco or Angus Crichton are expected to back up, however Coach Robinson is apparently looking to rest two players this round and two the next. This says to me that Cordner and Latrell get a breather in round 13 with Tedesco and Crichton to miss round 14 but keep an close eye on final teams.
Canterbury Bulldogs vs St George-Illawarra Dragons, Sunday 4:00pm (ANZ Stadium)
Dylan ‘Forearms for Hands’ Napa played only 29 minutes for the Maroons so is a strong chance to come back into the squad given the Bulldogs play in the final game of the round. This would likely send Ofahiki Ogden back to the bench or out of the side. Really though, throw some darts at a team list and you probably won’t be far off who Dean Pay runs out on Sunday. They signed Joe Stimson during the week for next season, so Pay is one step closer to filling a starting 17 with edge-backrowers.
The Dragons’ Origin players—Ben Hunt, Tyson Frizell and Paul Vaughan—have been named in the reserves, with a final call to be made on their availability after the captain’s run on Saturday. Of the three, Frizell would be the most likely to get a rest after carrying several injuries through the season with Lachlan Timm to make his NRL debut should either Frizell or Vaughan be ruled out.