Big Match-ups Round 20
Knights v Roosters: Robbie Rochow v Boyd Cordner
Robbie Rochow will need to lift this weekend – especially considering he goes head-to-head with Australian and New South Wales representative Boyd Cordner on Friday night. Fresh off one his best games this season against the Panthers last weekend, Cordner is averaging 27.1 tackles and 116.3 metres per game. Such efforts from Cordner demonstrates a solid reflection on his additional eight tries, eight line breaks and 23 tackle breaks this season. Rochow, who has a lone Country representative cap next to his name, has produced three tries, four line breaks and 18 tackle breaks this season and while he may only be averaging 91 metres, he beats out Cordner by making 0.1 of a tackle more per game. Expect a bright contest when these two collide.
Broncos v Storm: Ben Hunt v Cooper Cronk
He was given an insight into what it is like to walk a mile in Cooper Cronk's Origin shoes when he was brought into camp prior to Game Two this year but if Ben Hunt really wants to prove he is a player of that calibre, Friday night is his time to shine. Although his kicking game has varied between sublime and ordinary throughout the season, Hunt has been able to put up Cronk-like numbers in what is proving to be a breakout year for the former under-20s player of the year. His eight tries are equal with Johnathan Thurston and Shaun Johnson for the most by a halfback this season, his 15 line breaks are six more than the next best, his 16 try assists trail only Thurston and James Maloney and he is the only half to have kicked more than 200 times in general play. Despite his injury-interrupted season, Cronk has still managed to lay on 14 try assists and 12 line break assists from just 11 games and loves nothing more than the big occasion. It's too early for any passing of batons but it's certainly a chance for Hunt to stake a future claim.
Panthers v Sharks: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak v Jacob Gagan
Two members from the rookie class of 2014 go head-to-head in what is sure to be an interesting match-up of kids. Gagan has been all class since debuting back in Round 13, showing the kind of promise and poise expected from the former Australian Schoolboy and earning himself a new two-year deal with the Sharks last week. His opposing winger this weekend sent tongues wagging with a match-winning double on debut back in Round 5, but hasn't featured heavily in his two games since. On what is primed to be a dry track in front of the good folk in Bathurst, the teenage flyer could finally explode in the NRL. Whatever you do, don't blink.
Titans v Eels: The battle of the halves
Inexperienced Titans duo Brad Takairangi and Daniel Mortimer face a stern test heading into their second match as a halves pairing when they take on the established Parramatta pairing of Corey Norman and Chris Sandow. With the Titans in the midst of a deep injury crisis, Takairangi was shifted to five-eighth against the Knights to partner Mortimer, with moderate success. John Cartwright will look towards the same experimental pairing to get the job done against the Eels for Saturday night's must-win game. After a brief flirtation with Chris Sandow at fullback during the Origin period to cover Jarryd Hayne's absence, Parramatta coach Brad Arthur reunited Sandow with Corey Norman in the halves against Souths last Friday. Although they didn't get the two points against the Rabbitohs, they still remain the best halves pairing the Eels have to offer. Their settled combination gives the Eels a huge advantage over the Titans, but whether they can exploit this is another question.
Bulldogs v Cowboys: Moses Mbye v Johnathan Thurston
Both grew up in Queensland, both were passed over by the Broncos as prodigiously talented teenagers, and both made their way to Sydney to get a start with the Bulldogs. Mbye, 20, in just his fourth game in the top flight, will take on the man that a decade ago blazed the same path he is now treading, and one of the game’s hottest young properties faces the biggest test of his fledgling career when he shapes up to the Kangaroos and Maroons stalwart. Thurston was dubbed the best player in the world in 2013, becoming just the third player to win the Golden Boot award twice, and with a league-leading 18 try assists and eight four-pointers of his own he’s hardly slowed down so far in 2014. Mybe, who returned from a foot injury last week against the Tigers, impressed with his footwork and willingness to take on the line when he faced off against Origin-experienced Mitch Pearce back in Round 11, but JT’s another step up again, and he’ll need to be at his best against one of the game’s genuine superstars.
Warriors v Sea Eagles: Sam Tomkins v Brett Stewart
Two experienced custodians who have hit fine form over the last few weeks. While previously more noted for their try-scoring talents – Tomkins scored 144 tries in six seasons with Wigan and Stewart sits on 142 to date in his career – it is their assist frequency in 2014 which makes them stand out. Stewart leads the NRL with 18 assists in 14 games, while Tomkins has eight try assists and 13 line break assists from his 17 matches.
Wests Tigers v Dragons: Benji Marshall v Luke Brooks
The old and the new; the former prodigy and the next big thing; insert your own cliché here. Marshall won a competition with Wests Tigers in 2005 and is now attempting to help the Dragons repair a damaged 2014 campaign while the Concord hierarchy will be hoping Brooks can lead the new wave of youngsters to a title of their own. Two of the most mercurially talented playmakers to have burst onto the scene in the modern era, Marshall’s resume is there for all to see but he is not the force he once was, while Brooks is still proving himself but going about it in promising fashion. Crucially, both are playing pretty good footy and are integral to their team’s fortunes week to week. Marshall started his return to league looking more than a little rusty but is controlling proceedings well of late. Brooks is simply starting out in league full stop but was one of many Tigers youngsters on fire last week. A mouth-watering battle for sure.
Raiders v Rabbitohs: Anthony Milford v Greg Inglis
Both of these men are crucial to their respective side’s chances each week. Physically, they couldn’t be more different, with the Broncos-bound custodian (178cm, 88kg) rather bizarrely giving up both 17cm and 17kg to his South Sydney counterpart (195cm, 105kg). Statistically though, these two are equally as impressive. Milford – eight tries, 10 try assists, 15 line breaks, 10 line break assists, 89 tackle breaks, and 2055 run metres this season. Inglis – six tries, 10 try assists, nine line breaks, 12 line break assists, 65 tackle breaks, 2110 run metres in 2014. Regardless of the result, we should be in for a treat on Monday night.