It's the last weekend before the big bye fortnight hits, with head-to-head Dream Team coaches to sit out Rounds 17 and 18 while overall points coaches scrap together something resembling a team in both those weeks. Those weeks are going to be crucial for the overall players, particularly those in the chasing pack who will have a big chance of closing the gap on the leaders with some half-decent scores.
But before that, there's another big round of head-to-head action in another bye-affected week, with the Sharks and Warriors out of action.
If you're focusing on head-to-head (and the vast majority of you are), then now's not the time to panic. Trades are down to a minimum for a lot of teams, so you need to make every one count. Keep in mind that you should be focusing on the long term, not just this weekend – if there's a trade that can help you win this week but isn't part of a long-term plan, don't do it. Plan out what you want your final 17-man team to be, and make sure every trade gets you closer to that line-up.
The next few weeks are the perfect time to cash out your middle-of-the-road players so you can bring in those genuine keepers who will win you the big games at the end of the year.
Before I get to this week's questions, some massive news on the injury front this week – Corey Parker has been cleared to play, just nine days after suffering a horror cut to the leg that was predicted to sideline him for three weeks. The indestructible Bronco will start at lock as usual on Friday night, although whether he'll kick goals and play the full 80 minutes remains to be seen.
Josh McGuire had been named at lock but will instead start in the front row for Brisbane, where he'll still get plenty of action after Ben Hannant was ruled out with a thigh strain.
There are also good signs for Dragons front-rower Trent Merrin, who is starting for the Dragons with a lack of specialist props on the bench. He's already a great worker but should get big minutes as well this week.
Meanwhile Matt Ryan's run as a Dream Team gun is just about over, with Ben Smith playing the full 80 minutes last week and Nathan Hindmarsh also putting in big stints every week. Ryan did still play more than an hour last weekend, and remains handy for teams struggling to field a full side in the next few weeks, but he's ripe for the trade out when you can.
From Stuart Mansfield on Twitter:
Will Issac Luke get less minutes with Peats on the bench? Should I look to trade him out for Cameron Smith?
Issac Luke was a bit of a letdown last week, spending just 51 minutes on the park and scoring 38. With South Sydney bench hooker Nathan Peats in the 17 again this week, expect another lowish score from the Rabbitohs No.9.
The same goes for Jake Friend at the Roosters, who has interchange hooker Anthony Mitchell as the first name on the bench. Friend played 48 minutes last week and you can expect more of the same while Mitchell is there.
But Peats and Mitchell are no certainty be there in the long term for the Bunnies and Roosters, so don't write off Luke as a keeper just yet. Souths obviously have some big names to come back into the side (including Sam Burgess) while Mitchell is keen on making a mid-season switch to the Cowboys.
From Tim Vogel on Facebook:
The Dragons team list says Chase Stanley at centre? Is that a typo? Any word on Kyle Stanley?
Kyle Stanley's out for a couple of weeks with a groin injury – it's time to cash him out or upgrade him now if you haven't already. His brother Chase is replacing him in the centres this week, as he did for the second half of last week's game.
From Adam Skinner on Twitter:
Good time to trade Fulton out?
It's probably time to sell Liam Fulton, whose ribs injury will keep him out until round 18. Fulton's been a terrific scorer and many will see him as a keeper, but with Gareth Ellis returning in Round 20 the Tigers' pack will be back to full strength – probably relegating Fulton to the bench.
From a few of you:
Who should I pick as captain this week?
Doubts over Parker's fitness and the absence of Paul Gallen this week mean this is a wide open question once again. Here's my quick rundown of the contenders.
Cameron Smith – He's made the switch to five-eighth to cover for the absence of Billy Slater (with Gareth Widdop moving to fullback) but his scores will remain pretty constant – the loss of a few tackles is just about balanced out by a rise in kick metres. Like last week, he'll start the game in the halves and switch back to hooker as the match progresses. He's scored back-to-back 77s (although last week's included a try) and is probably the safest bet.
Corey Parker – Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if he still plays the full 80 and kicks goals after making another miracle comeback from injury. The man can't be stopped – cut his leg off and he'll still be back in a couple of weeks. Still, there have to be massive doubts about the effects of that horror gash to his leg suffered in Origin II. A safe move would be to avoid, but if you haven't got many other options he's still not a bad bet.
Benji Marshall – Always a risk, but Marshall could produce a big one on Monday night against Newcastle. The Tigers are expected to both win and score plenty of points against the Knights. Wests have won games while scoring 20 or more points on five occasions this season, and in those games Marshall has posted scores of 94, 44, 50, 95 and 72.
Johnathan Thurston – Could do a Benji against the Raiders this week.
Cooper Cronk – Was relatively quiet in a tough win over Manly, and the Storm have another tough one away to the Bulldogs this week. Could be one to avoid.
Daly Cherry-Evans, Jarryd Hayne – Both these guys are a bit of a lottery; could hit the mid-40s again or produce a big one. Consider if you're out-matched in your head-to-head clash and need to gamble.
Issac Luke – Avoid with Peats on the Rabbitohs' bench this week.
Kevin Kingston – Will he get his usual 50 tackles against the struggling Eels?
Robbie Farah – Obviously a risk, as he's not a confirmed starter yet, but if he does play he could have a blinder against the Knights. Not a bad option if you have a safe bet to give the vice captaincy to as back-up.
Shaun Fensom – Fresh from a week off and taking on the impressive Cowboys in Townsville, you can bet the Raiders will need to do plenty of defending – which is great news for the NRL's busiest tackler.
That's all for now, good luck for the weekend!
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