The NRL Fantasy form guide and all the key team changes heading into round 18.
Penrith Panthers v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, Friday 6pm at Panthers Stadium
Panthers: Jarome Luai (98) and Tyrone May (59) both starred last week in the absence of NSW halves Nathan Cleary and James Maloney and they've been named to start again, with Cleary, Maloney and fellow Blues star Tyrone Peachey in Penrith's reserves. Caleb Aekins replaces the injured Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (hamstring, three weeks) at fullback. Viliame Kikau is coming off his first 80-minute game since round 10 and he looks a potential keeper again after making 65 including a try (although he did score just 29 in 75 minutes a week earlier). James Fisher-Harris remains a solid 18th-man option with at least 40 points in each of his past three games.
Sharks: Wade Graham is out of the casualty ward and back in the second row, bumping Scott Sorensen out of the Cronulla side. Andrew Fifita is coming off scores of 32 and 44 with his minutes dropping from around 65 to 50 in his past three games, but he still has the best season average of any prop in Fantasy. Paul Gallen is in basically the opposite situation – he had been sluggish this year before reeling off scores of 90, 54 and 62 in his last three. Aaron Woods' minutes could continue cutting into Fifita's and Matt Prior's – Woods played 38 minutes in his first game in Sharks colours, his first sub-40-minute game in more than a year and his first one not involving an injury in recent memory.
Newcastle Knights v Parramatta Eels, Friday 7.55pm at McDonald Jones Stadium
Knights: Mitchell Pearce returns in place of Jack Cogger in the halves while Nick Meaney and Danny Levi start for Kalyn Ponga (hamstring, round 19-20) and Slade Griffin (knee, season). Nathan Ross is the new man on the bench. Herman Ese'ese has a three-game average of 56 and his minutes could increase after being named at lock this week – he's a borderline keeper for the run home at $726,000.
Eels: Tepai Moeroa is back from suspension on the bench in place of Will Smith. Nathan Brown is one of the best buys under $800,000 among established keepers, with a three-game average of 61 and a season average approaching 55.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v South Sydney Rabbitohs, Saturday 3pm at ANZ Stadium
Bulldogs: Canterbury have uncovered two of the best Fantasy gems of the season in Rhyse Martin and Lachlan Lewis, with Martin just about a must-have with a monster 103 (including a hat-trick) last week and a season average of 61 to go with a still cheap price tag of $655,000. He's actually made a season-high $427,000 in price rises in 2018 and his value is still going up. Lewis is proving to be the best of the late-season cashouts, scoring 99 points in two games. He's a great 18th man option at this point, and don't be surprised if he's used as a starting half in some Fantasy sides while his scoring continues.
Rabbitohs: Origin stars Damien Cook, Angus Crichton and Dane Gagai are named to back up, with Hymel Hunt replacing the injured Greg Inglis (thumb) in the centres and Mark Nicholls replacing the suspended Jason Clark. Souths rested all their Origin players in round 14 following game one, but that was on a two-day turnaround and they just managed to get past the Titans on that occasion. They're a good chance of playing as named this week.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Melbourne Storm, Saturday 5.30pm at Lottoland
Sea Eagles: No changes. Tom and Jake Trbojevic have been backing up from Origin this year so expect both of them and Daly Cherry-Evans to play this week unless they pick up an injury on Wednesday night. All three are among the best scorers in their position, while Martin Taupau could be the leading prop in Fantasy in the run home. Manase Fainu will continue to play for Manly despite facing criminal charges.
Storm: Melbourne's Origin stars are back, along with Jesse Bromwich who returns from a hamstring injury. Jahrome Hughes moves from fullback to halfback with Cheyse Blair, Young Tonumaipea, Ryley Jacks, Brodie Croft, Tui Kamikamica and Albert Vete dropping out. It seems an age ago now that people were trading out Cameron Smith following a couple of low scores, with the Storm skipper returning to his status as the most reliable captaincy option in Fantasy these days. Melbourne were very slick in attack against the Dragons – in a game missing several Origin stars – and they'll be favoured to win most of their games from here on in.
Canberra Raiders v North Queensland Cowboys, Saturday 7.35pm at GIO Stadium
Raiders: Canberra have lost prop Shannon Boyd (calf) for three weeks and Brad Abbey (concussion) this week with Nick Cotric shifting to fullback, Jordan Rapana returning on the wing and Junior Paulo starting up front. Jarrod Croker was on fire against the Bulldogs with 11 tackle breaks and 81 Fantasy points, Siliva Havili had a last hurrah in the starting side with 50 points and Cotric scored a try for the eighth straight game (he has 10 tries in his last 10) but still couldn't crack 40.
Cowboys: John Asiata returns from a pec injury and bumps Francis Molo out of the 17, with Corey Jensen on the bench. Jason Taumalolo is a must have for the top Fantasy sides.
Brisbane Broncos v New Zealand Warriors, Sunday 2pm at Suncorp Stadium
Broncos: Brisbane's Origin stars return so Tevita Pangai jnr, Kotoni Staggs and Joe Ofahengaue move back to the bench with Jonus Pearson dropping out. Anthony Milford scored 59 in Brisbane's big win over the Titans and he looms as an interesting prospect for the run home, with Shaun Johnson quiet last week in a poor Warriors side (more on that below) and no other established half scoring consistently above 50. It's time to upgrade Jaydn Su'A and Pangai, while Jamayne Isaako is probably worth hanging onto as a very handy backup WFB/CTR.
Warriors: Ken Maumalo is out with a knee injury with Gerard Beale on the wing and Anthony Gelling joining the bench. The alarm bells were ringing when the Warriors were belted by an under-strength Panthers side on Friday night, and the poor performance was reflected in their Fantasy scores. No Warrior scored more than 40, with Shaun Johnson hitting a season-low 19 and Peta Hiku making just 10. Johnson is a hold, Hiku isn't.
St George Illawarra Dragons v Wests Tigers, Sunday 4.10pm at Jubilee Oval
Dragons: The Origin stars are back while Jason Nightingale has earned back his wing spot and pushed Kurt Mann to the interchange. Cameron McInnes (53) and Euan Aitken (49) remain the main men for St George Illawarra in Fantasy, with seven Dragons topping 40 points in a tryfest against the Storm last week but McInnes the only one to score more than 50.
Wests Tigers: Benji Marshall returns but Josh Reynolds is out injured, meaning Robbie Farah is pretty much guaranteed another 80-minute game. Farah has a three-round average of 68 and is still excellent value at $650,000 – provided he holds onto an 80-minute role all season. Fellow mid-season recruit Moses Mbye has a three-game average of 56 and is making a lot of tackle breaks these days. David Nofoaluma returns on the wing in place of Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, while Ben Matulino starts at prop with Chris McQueen dropping out of the 17.
Gold Coast Titans v Sydney Roosters, Sunday 6.30pm at Cbus Super Stadium
Titans: Dale Copley is out with a season-ending hamstring injury so Konrad Hurrell starts at centre with Jack Stockwell joining the bench. Jai Arrow and Jarrod Wallace are named to back up from Maroons duty. Ryan James managed "only" 40 as the Titans were routed by Brisbane on Sunday but he still is scoring well and should be among the elite Fantasy forwards in the run home, having played the full 80 minutes in six of his last eight games. Jai Arrow is a must-have player for just about everyone, with a better average than James at $100,000 cheaper.
Roosters: Blues skipper Boyd Cordner has been left out of the side but James Tedesco and Latrell Mitchell have been named to back up. Victor Radley has been named despite his one-game suspension, with the Roosters seemingly trying to use Wednesday night's under 20s Origin game as a way of having him avoid missing an NRL game. Ryan Matterson is named in the reserves so shouldn't be far away from a return. Tedesco's best score of the season came all the way back in round two when he made 70 against the Bulldogs – that's unless you count his 100-point effort against Queensland in State of Origin I. Still, he's been very consistent for a fullback with just one sub-40 score since round three, and there's still hope he can produce some mega scores against the Titans this week with matches against bottom-four teams Manly, North Queensland and Parramatta still to come.
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