The final post-bye round is finally in the rear-view mirror and I know I’m not the only one thinking ‘good riddance’. With players vanishing quicker than coaching options on the Goldie, Round 17 quickly became a case of ‘who’s left’ when selecting our best 17.
This round’s TLT saw a reprieve for many SuperCoaches with a cavalry of stars returning to the field including Ponga, Turbo, Cleary and Tedesco, which gives us the glorious burden of choice that has been sorely lacking these last few rounds.
As usual though, we have already been given some selection headaches with Ken Maumalo gone and a handful of other late outs set to create reshuffles around the grounds.
With trades dwindling and many of us hoping to put in last-ditch efforts to crack the top 1000, you simply cannot afford to be bringing in players who might not take the field. So read on the find out what’s in store for Round 18.
New Zealand Warriors vs Cronulla Sharks, Friday 6:00pm (Westpac Stadium)
Ken Maumalo has been ruled out for the Warriors after suffering a concussion in last week’s draw against the Broncos. Blayke Ashford will be the man to replace him, with Chris Satae also omitted Thursday night.
Aaron Gray (knee) is a late scratching for the Sharks and will be replaced by the best name in League, Ronaldo Mulitalo. In better news, Shaun Johnson, Matt Moylan and Paul Gallen all trained strongly and will take their places for the #SJBowl. Kyle Flanagan was the other player to drop off the extended bench. Although SJ was spotted in a moon boot after the last game, he is expected to retain the kicking duties.
Penrith Panthers vs St George-Illawarra Dragons, Friday 7:55pm (Panthers Stadium)
Nathan Cleary has declared himself 100% fit, crediting halves partner James Maloney for backing up after Origin to give him an extra week of rest. The star half should also regain the kicking duties for the run home. Brian To’o was in some doubt with an ankle injury but that looks to be allayed with his cover player Stephen Crichton dropping out on Thursday night along with Kaide Ellis.
The Dragons are expected to run out 1-17, with James Graham finally receiving the green light to return from his broken leg. Jacob Host and Jason Saab were omitted 24 hours out. I’ve seen a rumour surface that Frizell is unhappy with the Dragons over their handling of the JBD situation and has been linked to the Roosters.
Sydney Roosters vs Newcastle Knights, Saturday 3:00pm (Sydney Cricket Ground)
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves successfully appealed his dangerous contact charge at the judiciary and is free to play this weekend. Brett Morris has been named in jersey 17 but is tipped to drop out of the side in favour of Sitili Tupouniua. With Tyson Frizell being linked with the club, it is rumoured that Angus Crichton may be released next season to either another club, or Rugby Union. Robbo was quick to hose down rumours of Crichton being unhappy at the club. Liu and Collins drop out 24 hours out.
In huge news for the Knights, Kalyn Ponga and Kurt Mann have both been cleared to play during the week and Coach Brown confirmed that the team should run out 1-17. Guerra and King were cut on Friday afternoon.
Canberra Raiders vs Wests Tigers, Saturday 5:30pm (GIO Stadium)
Josh Hodgson copped a knee injury against the Dragons last round but should play, with no changes expected for Ricky Stuart’s side.
The Tigers are also expected to run out 1-17.
North Queensland Cowboys vs South Sydney Rabbitohs, Saturday 7:35pm (1300SMILES Stadium)
Michael Morgan owners—headlined by our own JT—were given hope when White Lightning was named on the extended bench, but he has been sent for further scans during the week after successive concussions and is highly unlikely to be a late inclusion. No other changes are expected so the side should run out 1-17.
Kyle Turner is in doubt for the Bunnies with a thumb injury and will be replaced by Bailey Sironon or Kurt Dillon if he is unable to suit up. Wayne Bennett confirmed Friday that his Origin stars are experienced and healthy, therefore he sees no reason to rest them from games moving forward after giving them time off this week from training. Sam Burgess had a drip inserted into his heart during the week to manage his post-surgery infection, but NRL Physio confirmed that this sounds worse than it is and he could return in the coming weeks.
Gold Coast Titans vs Melbourne Storm, Sunday 2:00pm (Cbus Super Stadium)
The Titans are expecting to be without Ryley Jacks due to a rib injury, which will see AJ Brimson shift to the halves and Michael Gordon make his long-waited return at fullback. Dale Copley and Jack Stockwell are also in doubt and must pass concussion protocols to take their place in the side. Coach Brennan is also a massive out, so it will be interesting to see how the minutes and game plan change moving forward, particularly with Jai Arrow eyeing a return next round. Players have already claimed an increased intensity at training this week in the wake of Brennan’s departure.
As much as I would love to see Joe Stimson run out in the halves as named on Tuesday, it is expected that Jahrome Hughes will partner Brodie Croft with Ryan Papanhuyzen to start at fullback, Stimson to the edge and Kamikamica to take his usual place on the interchange.
Manly Sea Eagles vs Parramatta Eels, Sunday 4:05pm (Lottoland)
Cade Cust must pass concussion protocols to line up on Sunday but at this stage is expected to play, with Lachlan Croker on standby. Jorge Taufua missed training earlier in the week with the flu but should take his place in the starting side.
Blake Ferguson hasn’t trained during the week with Brad Arthur opting to give the star winger some rest, though he Some footage has emerged of his walking around with a noticeable limp during the week which places him in doubt. If he plays, he could shift to the centres and Takairangi to the bench utility role to accommodate the debut of Ethan Parry with Sunday being his best chance to get a taste of first grade before Waqa Blake laces them up in Round 19. If Fergo is out, Parry would be a direct replacement.