Origin is all over for another year (sad face), and we’ll move on without mentioning the result. Straight into Round 18, where the interstate hangover will still be felt as players are rested or play smaller roles for their NRL teams. Things kick off on Friday at 6pm with the North Queensland Cowboys (2nd) hosting the Cronulla Sharks (4th) at Queensland Country Bank Stadium. If it weren’t for the Cowboys large Origin contingent this would be a mouth-watering clash. Less appealing is the 7:55pm game, where the Parramatta Eels (6th) welcome the New Zealand Warriors (13th) to CommBank Stadium. Neither team has much Origin representation to worry about, and the Warriors are dealing with sickness in the squad this week.

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Team News

This is subject to change, but the Cowboys have four definite changes with Taulagi (covid), Nanai, McLean (hamstring) and Holmes all left out after their involvement in Origin. Presumably Tom Dearden will also be rested after he was a late call-up for Queensland (and played great!), and possibly Tom Gilbert for the same reason. In come Brendan Elliot (wing), Connelly Lemuelu (second-row), Jake Granville and Ben Hampton (bench utilities). Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow is promoted back into the starting side (centre) and I assume Hampton will end up starting in Dearden’s place (five-eight). That will leave an empty spot on the bench for a forward like Ben Condon. If Gilbert is out then Leilua should start (second-row) with yet another young forward added to the bench. With Reuben Cotter still missing, this is nowhere near a full-strength Cowboys team.

The Sharks two changes are mighty helpful, with last week’s COVID outs Nicho Hynes (halfback) and Toby Rudolf (prop) slotting straight back in. Braydon Trindall and Briton Nikora are out, with Teig Wilton promoted to start (second-row) and Andrew Fifita demoted to the bench. Sifa Talakai is lurking in the reserves after Origin, but his inclusion would just be a handy bonus with Connor Tracey more than capable at left centre.

The Eels have two named changes. Junior Paulo is named to come back in after Origin, with Makatoa demoted to the bench and Nathan Brown forced out of the team. We’ll see if any of that ends up happening after a gruelling Origin game just two nights ago (and against a weak opponent). The other change is a straight swap between Tom Opacic (out) and Jake Arthur (in) as bench utility. Apart from Ryan Matterson this is the Eels best team.

Finally the Warriors lost Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to COVID, but regain Reece Walsh from the same. Edward Kosi replaces DWZ (wing), and Chanel Harris-Tavita shifts from fullback to the halves, where he replaces young Ronald Volkman who also has a virus. Jack Murchie replaces Bayley Sironen as a bench forward. Apparently Jazz Tevaga is also sick but should play, and head coach Stacey Jones is in COVID protocols. It’s not good news for a severely outgunned Warriors outfit, but in reality they still have all their most important players on board.

Betting Odds

Cowboys $1.85 v Sharks $1.95

Eels $1.13 v Warriors $6.20

Bet now at Ladbrokes!


I agree completely with he odds on the second game, a full-strength Eels over a slightly weakened Warriors outfit with a fill-in coach, in Sydney…not much to argue with. However, I think the Sharks should be big favourites to start the night with a win. If the Cowboys were full-strength I’d probably still slightly favour the Sharks, but with the players rested I’d make them $1.50 or so. Some degree of Sharks stack into some Eels seems like a solid starting point.

Love It - Teig Wilton $12,420

We’ll start with an easy play. Wilton is a very good young edge forward, and averages about 50 points in the role. Since Wade Graham has returned, he’s spent 5 of the last 6 games starting on the bench and playing limited minutes. With Briton Nikora suspended he should be back to close to 80 minutes in his preferred position. The price has of course come tumbling down, so he’s extremely difficult to ignore.


Love It - Ronaldo Mulitalo $13,630

Sticking with my Sharks love, Mulitalo is a little more tenuous but still has more than enough ceiling to pay off his price tag in a big way. After a 9 week run averaging 50, his last 3 games have cooled off, with all 3 in the 31-36 range. With a softer opponent than most realise, I see this as a great opportunity for him to get back to the ceiling scores while his ownership might be a little lower. Wing mate Sione Katoa is equally viable with his own run of strong form going at the moment.


Love It - Addin Fonua-Blake $14,490

I said the Warriors aren’t missing any important players, and that’s highlighted by a strong forward pack of AFB, Harris, Curran and Aitken. All of them are ~50 point players on Draftstars at the moment, but Fonua-Blake is considerably cheaper than his teammates. That has a lot to do with a recent injury seeing him miss 3 games and then start slow in his return. Last week he managed to punch out a solid 50 off the bench, and now back in the starting role I expect he can do something similar. 60+ would be very helpful for a winning line-up, and even though we’ve only see it once this season he has a long history of being a player with a big ceiling. It’s nowhere near as strong as the Wilton play, but I still like it plenty.


Hate It - Reece Robson $21,700

I’ve singled out Robson a number of times this year, which probably stupid because he’s clearly a gun and still so young. But, I’m going to do it again, because I’m daft like that. With at least one utility on the bench, a massive price tag, and a game environment that could get out of hand if the Sharks control the things the way I expect, there is plenty of downside risk for the Cowboys hooker. In his best season so far he still hasn’t posted anything over 70, which I think means he won’t kill you at this price tag even if he does continue his scoring spree.


Hate It - Euan Aitken $18,340

I’ll pick one another fantasy gun, with Aitken getting a price rise after a strong 70 last week. He was looking on shaky ground in the weeks previous with an almost move back to centre and a couple of games with less minutes, but he’s undoubtedly a 50 point player since moving to the second-row last season. He’s even got a huge ceiling, with last weeks 70 being just his 3rd highest score of the season (80 & 90!!). I’m not making a strong case for fading him, but both of his previous big scores were followed by quieter weeks and I think against a strong Eels team he’s likely to find it harder to do much damage on the edge of the field in this one. Play him if you want to though!


Who Knows - Connelly Lemuelu $10,580

Now things get mighty interesting. Lemuelu averages around 30 in the NRL, but nearly all of that is as a centre. He played as a bench forward in rounds 13-15, and put together some nice scores thanks to a couple of tries and an injury requiring him to play big minutes. He’s never played the starting forward role, but he was impressive in a preseason game and those bench games suggest his scoring rate will be adequate. Like most second-rowers, I’d project him for around 70 minutes and close to 40 points, which makes him a very strong play in the OB position, particularly in cash games.

Draftstars Suggested Team

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