With trades running low and tempers running high—not to mention many crucial head-to-head matches taking place to decide playoff brackets—it has never been more important to ensure you get your best 17 on the paddock.
It’s a timeless lesson that I’ve mentioned several times this season, but now more than ever (particularly with sides running multiple nuffs) you should set your starters/reserves based on who is playing early in the round. If someone is ruled out, you do not want to automatically cop an AE because the players who can cover your out are locked or you can’t move the reserve flag to a decent alternative option.
Round 21 has already thrown some curveballs by way of injuries and the judiciary (which continues to be one of the most controversial issues this season), so read on the find out where the question marks lie this round.
New Zealand Warriors vs Manly Sea Eagles, Friday 6:00pm (Mt Smart Stadium)
The Warriors will be without Blayke Ayshford, who failed to train during the week and was subsequently ruled out Thursday night. This will shift Gerard Beale in from the wing and land Adam Pompey his second start.
No changes are expected for the Sea Eagles. Brendan Elliott and Lloyd Perrett dropped out Thursday night.
Penrith Panthers vs Cronulla Sharks, Friday 7:55pm (Panthers Stadium)
James Maloney was found guilty of a grade one tripping charge at the judiciary, meaning he will miss one game and be replaced by rookie Matt Burton in Luai of Jarome (boom tish), who is out with an eye issue that may be worse than initially thought. Brent Naden is also in doubt after failing to complete training due to a leg issue, which could pave the way for debutant centre Stephen Crichton, younger brother of the Bulldogs’ Christian Crichton. Frank Winterstein was the other man to miss out Thursday night.
For the Sharks, Matt Prior was in doubt with a shoulder complaint which had implications for Andrew Fifita moving back into the starting side, however Billy Magoulias (and Blayke Brailey) dropped from the extended bench 24 hours out which suggests that Prior will be right to play.
St George-Illawarra Dragons vs Gold Coast Titans, Saturday 3:00pm (Netstrata Jubilee Stadium)
Both Blake Lawrie (concussion) and Zac Lomax (hamstring) will be hoping to prove their fitness during Friday’s captain’s run to be late inclusions into the 17, with no other changes expected for the Red V.
In a sad turn of events for the Titans, Ash Taylor has again been demoted to reserve grade to deal with his ongoing personal issues and may not play at the top level again this season. I wish him the best of luck in overcoming his demons. This will shift Tyrone Peachey to the halves. AJ Brimson and Jai Arrow haven’t suffered any setbacks and should return for the struggling side. Nathan Peats however will be out with a knee injury and will likely be replaced by Mitch Rein.
Parramatta Eels vs Newcastle Knights, Saturday 5:30pm (Bankwest Stadium)
Perennially busted lock Nathan Brown picked up an ankle injury in last week’s win and didn’t train on Wednesday, however is still a chance to play if he makes it through Friday’s captain’s run. His omission could shift Tepai Moeroa into the starting side with Peni Terepo joining the bench.
For the Knights, Kurt Mann picked up a knee injury in round 20 but the club expects him to play. Danny Levi is also set to be a shock inclusion to the starting side with James Gavet missing out through injury, which would shift Connor Watson back to the interchange with Coach Brown wanting to use him as an impact player in shorter stints at dummy half.
Canterbury Bulldogs vs Wests Tigers, Saturday 7:35pm (ANZ Stadium)
Josh Aloiai has been ruled out for the Tigers which shifts Thomas Mikaele to starting pop, with Chris McQueen receiving NRL permission to be added to the bench.
The Bulldogs are expected to run out 1-17.
Canberra Raiders vs Sydney Roosters, Sunday 2:00pm (GIO Stadium)
Ricky Stuart confirmed that BJ Leilua has been given the all clear on the health front, however the coach stated that ‘team dynamic’ is going to be the deciding factor in whether he returns from injury this round for the Raiders. Stuart said a call would be made at the end of the week, with in form centre Bailey Simonsson the man to make way with Nick Cotric shifting back to the wing should he be a late inclusion. That they are playing the premiers and Stuart specifically cited team cohesion (with the Raiders in sublime form) leads me to believe he may give Leilua another week off. Ryan Sutton must also tick some final boxes to return from a calf injury.
The Roosters have no concerns in their named 17 so should run out unchanged.
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Melbourne Storm, Sunday 4:05pm (Central Coast Stadium)
Miraculously, Sam Burgess was able to have his hit on Matt Moylan (who is sitting out this round because of it) downgraded and is free to play this week. The Bunnies have no other concerns and should be 1-17.
Jahrome Hughes has been ruled out with back spasms and the NRL has granted permission for Nicho Hynes to be added to the 21 man squad. Ryan Papenhuyzen should start at fullback. Brodie Croft failed to finish last week’s Suncorp massacre with a shoulder complaint but is tipped to play.