Mid-season player transfers and the effect of the representative round means there are plenty of NRL Fantasy talking points heading into round 16 of the NRL Telstra Premiership.
St George Illawarra Dragons v Parramatta Eels, Thursday 7.50pm at WIN Stadium
Dragons: Tyson Frizell will be rested after Origin II but England stars Gareth Widdop and James Graham are named to play, along with Origin players Ben Hunt, Paul Vaughan and Jack de Belin. Cameron McInnes is among the best options for next week's bye round with three-game average of 58 and a season average just under 54.
Eels: Mitch Moses is back from a knee injury while Manu Ma'u (cheekbone) and Reed Mahoney (suspension) are out. The return of Moses in the halves means Clint Gutherson moves back to fullback and Bevan French is on the wing, with Siosaia Vave and Marata Niukore into the starting pack and Will Smith the bench utility. Daniel Alvaro is averaging 62 in his past three games but Nathan Brown is a cheaper and probably better option. George Jennings is set to pass $300,000 in price rises next week. Gutherson is coming off back-to-back 40s and is a potential value buy at the back.
New Zealand Warriors v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, Friday 8pm (6pm AEST) at Mt Smart Stadium
Warriors: New Zealand's loss has been NRL Fantasy coaches' gain with Shaun Johnson and Tohu Harris fine to play this week after sitting out the Kiwis' Test against England in Denver. Those two are must-haves for coaches chasing overall points considering the Warriors are one of eight teams playing next round. New Zealand representatives Issac Luke, Peta Hiku and Ken Maumalo are all named in the reserves and look unlikely to play, while Simon Mannering will get a rare start in place of the suspended Adam Blair. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck appears good value at $580,000 for a likely keeper at the back.
Sharks: Aaron Woods is straight into the Cronulla 17 after signing with the club on Tuesday, with Scott Sorensen and Kurt Capewell starting in the second row for injured duo Luke Lewis (calf, round 20) and Wade Graham (cheekbone, round 19). The arrival of Woods will surely have some impact on a Cronulla pack that now includes four middle forwards with representative experience, now that Matt Prior is also a NSW player. The worry is Woods takes minutes off Andrew Fifita but a more likely scenario is the Paul Gallen gets more of a rest – although he's in top form after scores of 48, 90 and 54. Gallen had looked like a buy this week but the cut-price-veteran-gun-of-the-week now looks like Robbie Farah at the Tigers considering he's $116,000 cheaper. Valentine Holmes is in the middle of his best Fantasy purple patch of the season, averaging 56 in his past three games.
Sydney Roosters v Melbourne Storm, Friday 7.35pm (7.55pm AEST) at Adelaide Oval
Roosters: The Tricolours are missing both first-choice second-rowers with Ryan Matterson still sidelined and Boyd Cordner joining him due to concussion. Victor Radley and Nat Butcher start with Mitch Aubusson in the centres in place of the suspended Joseph Manu. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is only named in the reserves after the Denver Test with Siosiua Taukeiaho named to start. Fantasy coaches will be hopeful Latrell Mitchell translates his Origin form for NSW into more dominant performances at club level in the second half of the season.
Storm: Billy Slater's return at the back bumps Jahrome Hughes to the bench and Sam Kasiano out of the side, while Ryan Hoffman is back in the starting side as Joe Stimson slides back to the bench. Cameron Smith is once again the most expensive player in Fantasy and should be fired up for a big performance after a week off and seeing his old Queensland teammates go down in Origin II.
Penrith Panthers v Manly Sea Eagles, Saturday 3pm at Panthers Stadium
Panthers: Reagan Campbell-Gillard is out with a broken cheekbone but cash cow of the year™ Viliame Kikau is back in the starting side with Corey Harawira-Naera to miss a week with a groin injury. James Tamou starts for RCG with Moses Leota joining the bench. James Maloney's goal-kicking was the difference for the NSW Blues on Sunday night and if he keeps the kicking duties at Penrith it's hard to see Nathan Cleary becoming a consistent 50-point player again. James Fisher-Harris hasn't scored a 50 since April and Isaah Yeo actually has the best Fantasy average at Penrith this year with 45.3.
Sea Eagles: Rookie Manase Fainu has been named at hooker once again with Jackson Hastings officially released by the club, bumping Matthew Wright to the interchange. With Hastings now out of Manly's 30-man squad it appears they will now be able to play Fainu, presenting a nice cash-out option for Fantasy coaches. Update: As of Thursday Manly had been granted an exemption to play Fainu this round, but he was still not in the club's 30-man squad.
Akuila Uate is out with a season-ending ankle injury suffered on Fiji duty on Saturday, with Brad Parker starting on the wing, while Dylan Walker starts at five-eighth with Trent Hodkinson shifting back to the bench. Martin Taupau only made it out of Denver airport on Tuesday afternoon (AEST) but should play. There are just 10 players scoring better than 55 points a game this season and Manly's forward pack has two of them, with Taupau and Jake Trbojevic elite scorers in 2018.
Newcastle Knights v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, Saturday 5.30pm at McDonald Jones Stadium
Knights: Sam Stone replaces the suspended Lachlan Fitzgibbon in the starting side with Jacob Lillyman on the interchange in Newcastle's only change. Kalyn Ponga played a very different role in Origin than he's used to at NRL level – defending in the front line with 29 tackles, more than he'd make in six club games – and he could be a little fatigued going into Saturday's contest. On the other hand, he did score a season-high 89 against Melbourne in round 15 so there's every chance he produces another big game.
Bulldogs: The Bulldogs have lost Moses Mbye and Aaron Woods in order to free up valuable cap space for future seasons while Raymond Faitala-Mariner's time as a high-scoring cash cow is over for now with the second-rower breaking his hand on New Zealand duty in the Denver Test. Matt Frawley, John Olive and Clay Priest have been dropped with Will Hopoate the new fullback, Rhyse Martin and Brett Morris returning to the starting side, Lachlan Lewis to make his debut at five-eighth and Ofahiki Ogden to debut on a new-look bench. Kerrod Holland is in the centres and will probably kick goals ahead of Martin.
Brisbane Broncos v Canberra Raiders, Saturday 7.35pm at Suncorp Stadium
Broncos: Tom Opacic replaces Sam Tagataese on the bench, with Tevita Pangai jnr named to play after recovering from the ribs injury that kept him out of Tonga's win over Samoa. Matt Gillett is still sidelined with a neck injury. Pangai's price has peaked for now after his injury-affected round 15 score but he appears to have secured a starting spot ahead of Alex Glenn and is worth keeping for next week's bye round if you're playing for overall points.
Raiders: Canberra have lost Luke Bateman to a knee injury for the next month, with Junior Paulo returning on the bench. Josh Hodgson and Sia Soliola are named to start after coming off the interchange last week. Josh Papalii has averaged 60 in his past three games, while the return of Hodgson coincided with strong scores for outside backs Joey Leilua (58), Nick Cotric (49) and Jarrod Croker (44) last round. Joseph Tapine scored 84 in round 15 and has a three-game average of 65, but is still probably a borderline keeper at best.
Wests Tigers v Gold Coast Titans, Sunday 2pm at Leichhardt Oval
Wests Tigers: The Tigers have pulled off a couple of big mid-season signings, and will field a new spine of Moses Mbye, Josh Reynolds, Luke Brooks and Robbie Farah this week. Farah's return to the club could be big news for Fantasy considering his $570,000 price tag and the potential of consistent 50+ scores, if he maintains an 80-minute role when Benji Marshall (calf, round 18) returns. His current average sits at 62.5 from two games at the Rabbitohs – ranking him second among all players behind Damien Cook – and although his scoring isn't likely to stay that high he could easily become a cut-price keeper or handy 18th man for the run home. Moses Mbye's arrival is also an interesting one, particularly if he threatens to take goal-kicking duties off Esan Marsters. I expect he won't, which is bad news for Mbye's Fantasy prospects if he's already in your side.
Titans: Jarrod Wallace's return bumps Jack Stockwell to the interchange and Morgan Boyle out of the side. Ryan James's Fantasy stocks rose when he was left out of the Blues' Origin II team and at this stage he's set to be available for the Titans' round 17 clash with Brisbane ahead of game three. Queensland forward Jai Arrow had his quietest non-injury-affected game of the season following Origin I so don't be surprised if is scoring is down again this week, although he and Wallace do have a seven-day turnaround for Sunday's game.
South Sydney Rabbitohs v North Queensland Cowboys, Sunday 4.10pm at Barlow Park, Cairns
Rabbitohs: Origin quartet Damien Cook, Angus Crichton, Greg Inglis and Dane Gagai and England's Burgess brothers have all been named, with Campbell Graham returning on the wing in place of Hymel Hunt in Souths' only change. There is a chance one or more of the rep stars are late withdrawals anyway after Anthony Seilbold rested his Origin players following game one, but a full week between matches suggests the Bunnies should be full strength. That's good news for Damien Cook but bad news for Cameron Murray.
Cowboys: Michael Morgan's season-ending biceps injury means Lachlan Coote is back at fullback, while Antonio Winterstein and Matt Scott return to the side for Javid Bowen and Sam Hoare. Jason Taumalolo was at his best for Tonga against Samoa on Saturday and his last three-game average is a superb 73.3. Coen Hess is the only other Cowboy averaging more than 40 this season.
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