Roosters v Wests Tigers: Mitchell Pearce v Luke Brooks
We may be looking at the current NSW halfback facing off against his successor. Brooks' potential State of Origin debut is a few years off yet but he's already shown he's a talented playmaker and his duel with the more-structured Pearce will be a highlight in this contest.
Both players have five try assists so far this year, although as you'd expect from the youngster he has more handling errors (10-6) and missed tackles (43-30). Yet he's not afraid to get involved: his two tries is two more than his more-established opponent and he has more runs (66-51). Pearce's most dominant stat is his line break assists – a league-best 12 (Cooper Cronk is next with 10), compared to five for Brooks. It will be fascinating to see how the contrasting styles of the two playmakers affect their respective sides' fortunes.Cowboys v Broncos: Michael Morgan v Ben Barba
The respective No.1s came into Round 1 with the spotlight shining brightly on their performances but for vastly different reasons. Morgan was handed a Cowboys jersey with a completely foreign number following the season-ending knee injury to new recruit Lachlan Coote at the Auckland Nines, while attention on Barba centred around the stability of his life away from football and whether his 2012 Dally M-winning form could ever be recaptured.
The good news for both sets of fans is that after a cautious start, both men are now hitting their straps. Morgan's skills from his past life in the halves have contributed seven try assists while scoring four himself, while Barba's three try assists and drought-breaking try in Round 7 have been complemented by a league-leading 11 try saves at the defensive end. Both are playing as second five-eighths for their teams and whichever fullback can have the greatest influence in this clash will help their side get home.
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Tiny yet tenacious, these are two of the competition’s most deadly men with ball in hand. Both fullbacks have a history in the halves, which shows when they sweep into the backline; Milford has four try assists, while Tomkins has seven line break assists to his name.
Both stand at less than 1.8 metres and weigh below 90kg, but are always challenging to bring down. Tomkins is averaging four tackle breaks a game and Milford five.Titans v Rabbitohs: Ashley Harrison v Sam Burgess
It’s the tackling machine coming up against the metre-eater at Robina on Saturday night. Both lock forwards are crucial cogs in their respective teams for vastly different reasons. For the Bunnies, English warhorse Burgess is the undisputed king of running metres in the NRL this season, churning out a whopping 1404 metres at an average of 175 metres per game. His extraordinary output is 117 metres more than the next forward, Bulldog Aiden Tolman, who has made 1287 metres. Burgess's numbers this season are vastly superior to last season, where he averaged 147 metres. His influence will need to be stemmed and the man who can achieve this colossal task is Ashley Harrison.
Harrison has always been known as a tackling machine and his numbers for the Titans prove this. The 32-year-old has averaged 34 tackles per game this season, second only behind Nate Myles at the Titans who averages. Harrison's tackle count has risen steeply this season after only managing 27 per game last year. The Titans' lock rarely misses his tackles either, averaging only two misses per match. If he can stop the go-forward of Burgess and his brothers Luke and George, then the Titans will be well on their way to victory.Storm v Sea Eagles: Billy Slater v Brett Stewart
With Cronk v Cherry-Evans looking unlikely at this stage, the battle of the fullbacks looks to be the next best of Saturday night’s individual battles. Brett Stewart has averaged 111 metres and is ranked first with Cooper Cronk for the most try assists (11), despite playing just five games this season. Manly will lean heavily on Stewart’s leadership and creativity given the absence of other key personnel.
Slater on the other hand has been building towards the Billy of old. The Kangaroos' No.1 has averaged 226 metres in his past two NRL games, recorded two try assists and had a hand in a third during last Friday’s Anzac Test. Billy is returning, Stewart has been sensational and this match-up should be full of highlights.
Get your ticket to NRL Round 9Knights v Panthers: Jarrod Mullen v Jamal Idris
"But they don't even play the same position?" we hear you saying. That's very true - and while they are not likely to come together at many points throughout the game, both men are important for their side's fortunes. Both men didn't take their place in these sides' Round 1 showdown – and it showed. The beauty of the NRL is that these men were Country Origin teammates last Sunday and will be opponents the next.
Idris, off the back of a man-of-the-match performance for Country, has produced 12 offloads, 29 tackle breaks (15th in the NRL, having missed a game) while averaging 154 metres per game for the Panthers. Meanwhile, having only played three games in 2014 following a major hamstring tear, Mullen has already managed a line break, two line break assists and 11 tackle-breaks. His average of 488.7 kick metres per game is a testament to his importance to the Knights.Dragons v Bulldogs: Mitch Rein v Michael Ennis
While Mick Ennis' withdrawal from last week's City-Country clash saved Laurie Daley and Trent Barrett from an uncomfortable coin-toss as to which rake to take into the Origin trial, the Dragons' Mitch Rein can add weight to the opinion he is a representative hooker of the future with a strong showing against the Bulldogs veteran.
Rein was particularly impressive in setting up two tries and a line break against the Warriors a few weeks back and is amongst the game's best so far out of dummy-half, running for 378 metres out of acting half this year. Right behind him is the Bulldogs skipper with 339 dummy-half metres, plus the added bonus of over 200 games' experience and the fortitude to stare down a rampaging Sam Burgess and belt him into next week.Eels v Sharks: Joseph Paulo v Paul Gallen
If Chris Sandow and Todd Carney are the match-winning magicians for their respective outfits, then Joseph Paulo and Paul Gallen are the entertaining sideshows.
Often parked in the middle of the field in defence, the ball-playing duo aren't afraid to drift into the backline in attack, often creating second-phase play that befuddles opposition defences. Keep an eye on their short, creative passing in the middle third – good metres are gained that way.