The key team changes, injury news and NRL Fantasy form guide heading into round 15 of the Telstra Premiership season.
Parramatta Eels v South Sydney Rabbitohs, Thursday 7.50pm at ANZ Stadium
Eels: Manu Ma'u is back with Marata Niukore being benched and Siosaia Vave back to the reserves. Nathan Brown played the full 80 minutes on Saturday in his second game back from injury and his first run in the starting side since round 5, and scored 76 including a whopping 73 in base stats (51 tackles and 221 run metres). He's emerged as a genuine gun option for the run home, and is currently in fewer teams than point-of-difference option Daniel Alvaro. Jarryd Hayne also made a welcome return in round 14 with two tries and 49 points in easily his best performance of 2018.
Rabbitohs: Origin stars Greg Inglis, Dane Gagai, Damien Cook and Angus Crichton return, with Cameron Murray and Adam Doueihi moving back to the bench and Robbie Farah, Hymel Hunt, Mark Nicholls, Tyrell Fuimaono dropping to the reserves. Farah could well end 2018 with the best Fantasy average of all players after making 64 and 61 in his two cameo appearances in Damien Cook's absence. Cameron Murray is a probable sell after returning to the bench, and Sam Burgess's scoring prospects aren't looking great either considering he hasn't made a 50 since round 7 (although he did pass 50 in four of his first five games of the season).
North Queensland Cowboys v New Zealand Warriors, Friday 6pm (8pm NZT) at 1300Smiles Stadium
Cowboys: The Cowboys have rung the changes with Michael Morgan, Kane Linnett, Javid Bowen, Scott Bolton and Coen Hess starting, Shaun Fensom and Sam Hoare moving to the bench and Justin O'Neill, Antonio Winterstein and Lachlan Coote out of the side. Ben Hampton joins the interchange. Enari Tuala is proving to be a super mid-season cheapie, grabbing tries in his first two games in the starting side for scores of 51 and 44. Jason Taumalolo's scoring dropped as expected with the Origin stars back on Saturday night but he still made a strong 58. Johnathan Thurston is averaging 26 in his past five and matched his season-low of 18 against the Eels and simply isn't a keeper this year.
Warriors: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck returns from an ankle injury with Peta Hiku going back to the centres. It was good to have Shaun Johnson back last round with a superb 71 including two try assists, five goals and a try of his own, and he looks far and away the best Fantasy option at half this season with neither Daly Cherry-Evans or Nathan Cleary kicking goals, while dual-position options Api Koroisau and Ryan Matterson are in the casualty ward. Likewise Tohu Harris is an excellent pickup ahead of the bye round after making a season-high 69.
Sydney Roosters v Penrith Panthers, Friday 7.55pm at Allianz Stadium
Roosters: Mitchell Aubusson gets a starting spot in the back row with Siosiua Taukeiaho moving back to the bench. Between his NSW and Roosters duties James Tedesco was worth 156 Fantasy points last week – unfortunately for Queensland fans 111 of those points came from his performance in Origin I – while Jake Friend and Blake Ferguson are both coming off 60+ efforts. Ryan Matterson is expected to return from minor wrist surgery in round 16.
Panthers: Viliame Kikau is out with a knee injury but could return in two or three weeks after initial fears of a long stint on the sidelines. Jack Hetherington replaces Kikau on the bench this week. Tyrone Peachey is a smoky keeper option at centre after making 56 last week, while the fact James Maloney has kept the goal-kicking duties lately is not good for Nathan Cleary's keeper prospects. Cleary made just 33 against Canberra – his worst 80-minute score of the season – but he also made 37 against the Tigers a few weeks back.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Gold Coast Titans, Saturday 3pm at Belmore Sports Ground
Bulldogs: Canterbury are unchanged apart from David Klemmer being named in the No.10 jersey as usual despite coming off the bench last week. That means cash cow Rhyse Martin remains outside the 17 in jersey 19 after playing (and starring) in the Intrust Super Premiership on the weekend. Moses Mbye looks more and valuable as an option at fullback following his 62 on Monday considering he can also cover the injury-hit halves position. Raymond Faitala-Mariner bounced back from a couple of low scores with a 64 on Monday.
Titans: Jack Stockwell starts for the suspended Jarrod Wallace while Will Matthews returns in place of Max King (shoulder) on the bench. Ryan James will be in high demand after his 105-point effort against the Rabbitohs on Friday night and he was in only 3.7% of teams last round, but beware only a fortnight ago he scored 29 in 80 minutes against Newcastle so isn't the most reliable option out there. Jai Arrow's 32 on Friday was his worst non-injury-affected score of the season, but that's understandable following an Origin debut.
St George Illawarra Dragons v Manly Warringah Sea Eagles, Saturday 5.30pm at WIN Stadium
Dragons: Unchanged.Jack de Belin and Cameron McInnes are both back to the consistent mid-50s scores they produced in previous years although Tariq Sims topped them both with 65 on Monday. Gareth Widdop and Matt Dufty remain two of the Dragons' most popular Fantasy buys but neither look like season keepers.
Sea Eagles: Apisai Koroisau is facing eight to 10 weeks out with a foot injury and is a sell. Rookie hooker Manase Fainu starts in Koroisau's place and is a cashout option, while Moses Suli returns at centre and bumps Brad Parker to the bench. Frank Winterstein has been named to start with Shaun Lane, who has averaged 50 in his past three games, relegated to the interchange. If it wasn't clear already it is now that Martin Taupau is the real deal in 2018, with his 81 in round 13 taking his season average close to 59 points a game, ahead of Jake Trbojevic's 56.3. Tom Trbojevic had a quiet one against the Warriors with 29 but remains among the best options at WFB.
Cronulla Sharks v Brisbane Broncos, Saturday 7.35pm at Southern Cross Group Stadium
Sharks: No changes. Is Paul Gallen back as a Fantasy force? The Sharks skipper hit 90 on Sunday – far and away his best score of the year and just his second above 50, and at $639,000 he's a very cheap option having dropped $221,000 on his starting price this year. He remains a gamble considering his 2018 average is still under 44, but he's got a great Fantasy track record and could be a risk worth taking. Meanwhile centre Jesse Ramien is averaging 55 in his last three matches and 41 for the season after scoring five tries in his past four games.
Broncos: James Roberts is back in the side, bumping Tom Opacic to the reserves. Jamayne Isaako gave his price tag another kick along with 51 against Melbourne including his fifth try in the past month, while Tevita Pangai jnr managed 42 points in 52 minutes despite coming off the bench.
Newcastle Knights v Melbourne Storm, Sunday 2pm at McDonald Jones Stadium
Knights: Jamie Buhrer (knee) and Daniel Saifiti (foot) are in the casualty ward for Newcastle with Luke Yates replacing Buhrer on the bench this week. After making back-to-back 64s Connor Watson now has two scores in the 20s in the past three weeks, while Sione Mata'utia has hit a run of form with scores of 53 and 65 and tries in each of his last four games. Kalyn Ponga has been worth five points a game more than the next best winger/fullback in Fantasy, James Tedesco.
Storm: Jesse Bromwich will miss four to six weeks with a hamstring injury with Tim Glasby shifting to prop and Kenny Bromwich starting at lock. Billy Slater returns at fullback with Curtis Scott and Will Chambers back from suspension in the centres. Cameron Smith is coming off scores of 54, 97 and 76 and is going to make the weekly captaincy choice a difficult one, even for those Fantasy coaches who have Damien Cook in their squad.
Wests Tigers v Canberra Raiders, Sunday 4.10pm at Campbelltown Stadium
Wests Tigers: Plenty of changes here. Benji Marshall (hamstring) is out for the next six weeks and Tui Lolohea also drops out, with Corey Thompson shifting to fullback and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak on the wing, Robbie Rochow back in the starting side and Josh Aloiai bumped to the bench. Esan Marsters is seemingly doing the impossible in NRL Fantasy in 2018 – posting big scores while playing at centre without scoring tries. He's coming off a season-high 68 that included six tackle breaks, four goals, four offloads and 193 run metres, and he's averaging about 52 in his past five games despite finding the tryline just once in that time.
Raiders: At long last there is good news for Canberra fans, with Josh Hodgson named to make his return at hooker, although on the flipside Jordan Rapana (torn hamstring) is facing two months on the sidelines. Hodgson's return means Siliva Havili is back to the bench and probably a sell despite another 50+ score on the weekend, while Michael Oldfield replaces Rapana on the wing and Joseph Tapine returns from suspension in the second row with Dunamis Lui bumped from the starting pack to the bench. Josh Papalii took out his frustrations of an Origin II defeat with a season-high 74-point-performance in 80 minutes against the Panthers just two days later. Nick Cotric now has seven tries in his past seven games and will only be a more crucial part of the Raiders' attack with Rapana out.
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