Big Match-ups Round 24
Bulldogs v Wests Tigers: Luke Brooks v Trent Hodkinson
Remember when some radicals were pushing for Brooks' insertion into the NSW team before Origin I, when Hodkinson was still considered a Bulldogs battler? We won't recount how Hasler's chief orchestrator went on to score the try – and kick the goal – that ended a Queensland dynasty, but there's no doubting he's been on a steep slide since. A match-up against the kid being groomed to take over sooner rather than later makes this anticipated one-sided contest just that little bit more interesting.
Eels v Sea Eagles: Corey Norman v Kieran Foran
One of Parramatta's unsung heroes versus one of the best players in the competition, full stop. Both of these players are absolutely key to their respective teams' fortunes. The extra control and direction provided by Norman is something that doesn't really show up on the stats sheet. He does have three tries, seven try assists and 11 line break assists but it is the pressure he takes off Hayne which has surely helped contribute to Hayne's stunning run which provides the intangible value. Foran himself is also one who tends to dominate games without dominating stats – that said, his six tries and eight try assists are also nothing to sneeze at. Both are capable of troubling the best defensive units on their day and while Foran's is the more decorated resume Norman is an underrated performer.
Broncos v Knights: Daniel Vidot v Chanel Mata'utia
While much of the focus after full-time last weekend against the Warriors was on younger brother Sione, Chanel Mata'utia has proven to be no slouch on the opposite wing for the Knights in his first four NRL games. The 22-year-old has scored two tries so far in his fledgling career, including one against Manu Vatuvei. However, 'The Beast' did cross for a double against Mata'utia and the rookie winger will have an equally challenging time marking Brisbane's bullocking winger Daniel Vidot. Although Vidot has only crossed for five tries this season, the extra ball-carrying work he has done to alleviate the pressure on Brisbane's forwards has been immense. The 24-year-old former Raider and Dragon is still ranked inside the NRL's top five for running metres, with 3035 metres at an average of 159 metres per match. He is behind only Jesse Bromwich, Jarryd Hayne and Sam Burgess in this category and has 41 tackle busts to his name also. He'll need to work on his finishing though after a rather costly bombed try against the Rabbitohs last Thursday when the game was in the balance.
Rabbitohs v Cowboys: Adam Reynolds v Johnathan Thurston
Polar opposites as far as halfbacks go, but both have struck rich veins of form over the past month, not so coincidentally coinciding with their respective team's rise as the two form units of said timeframe. The addition of Luke Keary to the Rabbitohs' backline has taken the pressure off Reynolds to spark their attack, which has seen the little fella look far more comfortable running the show with the type of composed performances we saw in 2012 when he claimed Rookie of the Year. Thurston meanwhile combines the best of both Keary's and Reynolds' games, directing the Cowboys around the park with aplomb while also keeping the defence on tenterhooks, always looking likely to crack the line with his trademark show and go or put a hulking back-rower into space. With nine line-break assists and nine try-assists in his last four games, Thurston is in rare touch for the visitors at the moment, and will need to produce more of the same if the Cowboys are to stop the South Sydney juggernaut from rolling right over them.
Warriors v Roosters: Manu Vatuvei v Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
Warriors v Roosters: Manu Vatuvei v Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
The two Kiwi flyers have been in sensational form throughout 2014, and this week they face off in an early trial for an end-of-year Kiwi Test jersey. In just his third season in the NRL ‘RTS’ returns to his city of birth having run for over 100 metres in every one of his 20 games this season. His impact on the flank and in the middle of the park during spells at fullback can’t be doubted. On the other side of the field Vatuvei continues to enjoy one of his finest campaigns in his tenth season, and after bagging a double last week has 16 tries to his name in 2014. In his last three games ‘The Beast’ has dotted down on six occasions and is averaging 169 metres per outing.
Sharks v Raiders: Paul Gallen v Josh Papalii
'Best friends' Paul Gallen and Josh Papalii will undoubtedly be keen to renew their acquaintance here, the first time they've met in club footy in almost a year. Not that they haven't already had their moments in 2014 - like in Origin I, when Papalii caught Gallen with a solid, albeit marginally late, shot when Gallen had his back turned. No hard feeling from the Sharks' enforcer though! With Gallen averaging 160.2 metres and 32.3 tackles per game this season up against Papalii's averaged 26.3 tackles and 88.5 metres it promises to be another solid showdown.
Dragons v Titans: Trent Merrin v Greg Bird
New South Wales Origin teammates Merrin and Bird hate dying with the footy in their hands and their success in creating second-phase play for their respective teams is likely to have a big bearing on this one. Ranked second in the NRL for offloads with 256, the Titans have not been afraid to push passes in their attempt to break up defensive lines while Merrin is unquestionably the offloader extraordinaire at the Dragons, with 13 more than the next best in Josh Dugan. Both boast season highs of four offloads in a single game and should have plenty of opportunity to promote the footy on a Sunday afternoon at Kogarah.
Panthers v Storm: Jamie Soward v Cooper Cronk
Jamie Soward did not play in Round 2 down in Melbourne and had to watch on as his counterpart slotted the winning field goal. He may not be accustomed to the No.7 but Soward has filled the void left by playmaker Peter Wallace well in the past six weeks, recording six line break assists and four try assists. He will face the game's most creative player though on Monday night. In the corresponding six-game stretch, Cooper Cronk has tallied eight try assists and a staggering 18 line break assists. Soward was dominant against Johnathan Thurston last Monday night and will need to repeat the feat against another champion in the incumbent Maroons halfback.