PlayON Sunday NRL Picks

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Penrith Panthers vs. Parramatta Eels

The two western Sydney rivals kick-off their seasons in a grudge match that I can only see going one way. Parramatta, for what feels like the tenth consecutive season, are in a transitional phase as they look to recover from claiming yet another wooden spoon last year. They face a Panthers team that really are in grand final or bust mode. Anything less will be a failure, and with the salary cap set to force them to squeeze out some of their young stars, they need to win now or face wasting one of the best collections of youth the NRL has seen in recent memory.

Gun: Nathan Cleary ($14.2m)

Nathan Cleary, following a year of finals footy and State of Origin, is ready to become the game’s best halfback. He has been an elite fantasy scorer over his early years in the NRL and that should only increase as this team shapes around him. It’s his year and it will be fascinating to watch him grow. The Panthers will go as far as he can take them, and you should look no further if you want a premium half.

Dud: Blake Ferguson ($14.1m)

Priced like he’s still a Rooster, Blake Ferguson will not see the same kind of open pasture he experienced in Bondi and therefore should be avoided until his price decreases. He has a wonderful work rate and a knack for finding the try line, but the Eels are just too much of a mess to contemplate spending $14 million on a winger who may struggle to get the ball. Let the price drop then re-consider. Or don’t, because Parramatta are awful.

Point of Difference: Josh Mansour ($10.6m)

Once one of the first outside backs you would pick, a series of injuries has removed Josh Mansour from the collective thinking of fantasy players but I guarantee that will change should he stay healthy. One of the best base stat collectors of any back, Mansour should see plenty of opportunities to cross the try line at the edge of a star-studded Panthers back line and with the infamous ball hog Tyrone Peachey moving to the Titans. Get him while his ownership is low and thank me later.

Gold Coast Titans vs. Canberra Raiders

We bookend the opening round with what could be the highest scoring affair of the week. The Titans and Raiders are two teams that have little interest in defending, instead preferring to win every game 36-30, and I’m not complaining. The Titans in particular will be extremely interesting to watch after bringing in a number of borderline representative players as they look to emerge from the shadows of the other Queensland sides. The Raiders have shifted Jack Wighton out of the fullback role and into the even more confusing position of five-eighth, and I think he may struggle early days. Titans should win in a fun one.

Gun: Jai Arrow ($13.7m)

Jai Arrow is set to lock himself in as one of the top 5 fantasy forwards this year, and his move to lock is all the more pleasing. A classic work horse, Arrow consistently knocks out scores over 1200 and is capable of going beyond 1500, usually without any attacking stats. Should he add a few tries and offloads to his game he will be a winning play all year.

Dud: Jack Wighton ($11m)

Much like Mark Gasnier’s move into the halves a decade ago, Jack Wighton in the no.6 role makes no sense to me. He was a relative failure at fullback because of his lack of playmaking ability, so moving him into a more pass-oriented position makes even less sense. We all seem to know his best position is in the centres except for Ricky Stuart. Wouldn’t touch with a 10ft pole.

Point of Difference: Moeaki Fotuaika ($8.3m)

Probably more of a play for the future but Moeaki Fotuaika needs to be in your plans at some stage should we see his role increase. A base stats monster who is a constant tackle bust and offload threat, Fotuaika has all the makings of a baby Jason Taumalolo. Not worth the $8.3 million investment just yet, but watch and enjoy him this weekend, and make sure you have alerts on your phone should he ever make the move into the starting side.

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