WHERE IT WILL BE WON OR LOST – A LOOK AT THE 16 NRL SQUADS FOR THIS WEEKEND’S NRL AUCKLAND NINES.
BRISBANE: Darius Boyd, Corey Oates, Jamayne Isaako, Tom Opacic, Carlin Anderson, Darren Nicholls, Sam Scarlett, Sam Thaiday (c), Andrew McCullough, Adam Blair, Alex Glenn, Jai Arrow, Keegan Hipgrave, Francis Molo, Caleb Timu, Joseph Ofahengaue, Todd Murphy, Jonus Pearson.
Comment: Forwards heavy in star power, but severely lacking in playmaking stocks and relying on young legs for raw speed. Keep an eye on former Junior Kiwi Jamayne Isaako.
CANTERBURY: Tyrone Phillips, Jarrod McInally, Chase Stanley, Craig Garvey, Matt Frawley, Kerrod Holland, Dane Chisholm, Danny Fualalo, Adam Elliott, Tim Browne, Tony Williams, Sam Kasiano, Greg Eastwood (c), Pat O’Hanlon, Shaun Lane, Reimis Smith, Ruebenn Rennie, Brad Abbey.
Comment: Will hardly make a ripple in Auckland with just four regular first-graders and no recognised orchestrator in the squad, although Warriors recruit Brad Abbey is a one-man highlight reel.
MANLY: Jayden Hodges, Matt Parcell, Tim Moltzen, Brayden Wiliame, Jamie Buhrer, Nathan Green, Isaac John, Tony Satini, Tom Symonds, Tom Trbojevic, Brenton Lawrence, Fabian Goodall, Jorge Taufua, Wof Lavaka, Jake Trbojevic (c), Feleti Mateo, Blake Leary, Jesse Ramien.
Comment: Is there any life left in summer signing Tim Moltzen? Can Jamie Buhrer’s knees and Brenton Lawrence’s back hold up? Big questions for a decent squad that includes the talented Trbojevic two-some.
WARRIORS: Roger Tuivasa Sheck, Ryan Hoffman, Jacob Lillyman, David Fusitu’a, Solomone Kata, Tuimoala Lolohea, Shaun Johnson (c), Charlie Gubb, Henare Wells, Konrad Hurrell, Ben Matulino, Ken Maumalo, Jonathan Wright, Jeff Robson, Sam Lisone, Blake Ayshford, Albert Vete, Ata Hingano.
Comment: The pressure is squarely on the hosts, armed with feared pair Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, to take out the silverware. Arguably the strongest line-up of the weekend.
MELBOURNE: Curtis Scott, Young Tonumaipea, Richie Kennar, Cameron Munster, Marika Koriobete, Blake Green (c), Brodie Croft, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Ben Hampton, Mark Nicholls, Kenny Bromwich, Tohu Harris, Dale Funicane, Nafe Seluini, Jeremy Hawkins, Dean Britt, Joe Stimson, Tony Tumusa.
Comment: No big three, but not without a chance. Breakout star Cameron Munster, old hand Blake Green and rookie Curtis Scott will have plenty of space behind the likes of NRL regulars Tohu Harris, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Dale Finucane.
PARRAMATTA: Corey Norman (c), Semi Radradra, Vai Toutai, John Folau, Bureta Faraimo, Luke Kelly, Mitch Cornish, Junior Paulo, Cameron King, Peni Terepo, Manu Ma’u, David Gower, Tepai Moeroa, Bevan French, Matt Woods, Ryan Morgan, Kelepi Tanginoa, Cody Nelson.
Comment: The big-name signings have been left at home but in Corey Norman, Semi Radradra, John Folau and fullback-in-waiting Bevan French, there’s enough to challenge for the crown.
SYDNEY ROOSTERS: Latrell Mitchell, Daniel Tupou, Brendan Elliot, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Joe Burgess, Braith Anasta (c), Tyler Cornish, Isaac Liu, Ian Henderson, Abraham Papalii, Vincent Leuluai, Eloni Vunakece, Nat Butcher, Connor Watson, Joseph Manu, Nathan Smith, Joey Lussick, Omar Slaimankhel.
Comment: Old man Anasta will dust off the boots to lead a squad that, beyond first-graders Daniel Tupou and Shaun Kenny-Dowall, is barely recogniseable. Fullback-in-waiting Latrell Mitchell and Pommy winger Joe Burgess can burn some turf though.
SOUTH SYDNEY: Alex Johnston, Michael Oldfield, Bryson Goodwin, Ed Murphy, Cameron McInnes, Cody Walker, Damien Cook, John Sutton (C), Thomas Burgess, Kyle Turner, Jason Clark, Paul Carter, Chris Grevsmuhl, John Olive, Kirisome Auvaa, Hymel Hunt, Jack Gosiewski, Zane Musgrove.
Comment: The defending champions have sent a competitive squad that includes 12 players expected to start for Michael Maguire in round one. New signing Damien Cook is the kind of dummy-half dynamo that could slice defences to bits.
NEWCASTLE: Jake Mamo, Nathan Ross, Jaelen Feeney, Akuila Uate, Brock Lamb, Will Pearsell, Pauli Pauli, Tyler Randell (c), Daniel Saifiti, Korbin Sims, Robbie Rochow (c), Jacob Saifiti, Sione Mata’utia, Joseph Tapine, Tariq Sims(c), Chanel Mata’utia, Danny Levi, Pat Mata’utia.
Comment: If Jake Mamo wants to stamp his claim as a long-term fullback in the Hunter, then Auckland is the perfect stage to prove it. The three Mata’utia brothers is a nice touch, but it’s still one of the weaker playing groups of the weekend.
NORTH QUEENSLAND: Matthew Bowen, Kyle Feldt, Justin O’Neill, Kane Linnett, Antonio Winterstein, Lachlan Coote, Ray Thompson, John Asiata, Jake Granville, James Tamou, Gavin Cooper (c), Ethan Lowe, Jason Taumalolo, Michael Morgan, Rory Kostjasyn, Coen Hess, Matthew Wright, Gideon Gela-Mosby.
Comment: The reigning NRL champs are in it to win it, flying over 13 of their premiership-winning stars and pulling out club legend Matt Bowen for a Cowboys swansong. Then there’s tryscoring freak Gideon Gela-Mosby, a guaranteed future star.
PENRITH: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Joshua Mansour, Waqa Blake, Robert Jennings, Te Maire Martin, Sione Katoa, William Smith, Suaia Matagi, James Segeyaro, Jeremy Latimore, Bryce Cartwright, Isaah Yeo, Elijah Taylor, Corey Harawira-Naera, Benjamin Garcia, Zach Dockar-Clay, Chris Smith, Moses Leota.
Comment: James Segeyaro and Bryce Cartwright headline a squad that will fancy their chances in Auckland. There’s half a dozen senior and junior Kiwis that would be known to the locals as well, including Penrith’s playmaker-in-waiting, Te Maire Martin.
WESTS TIGERS: Chris Lawrence (c), Justin Hunt, Tim Simona, Kevin Naiqama, Josh Addo Carr, Jack Littlejohn, Josh Drinkwater, Ava Seumanufagai, Manaia Cherrington, Jack Buchanan, Kyle Lovett, Tyler Cassel, Sauaso Sue, Lamar Liolevave, Michael Chee Kam, Rod Griffin, Nathan Milone, Watson Heleta.
Comment: Little is expected of the Wests Tigers in the NRL, and that won’t change in the Nines. Kevin Naiqama is always good for a highlight reel moment though, and Kiwi squad member Manaia Cherrington gives them speed in the middle.
CANBERRA: Jordan Rapana, Kato Ottio, Jarrod Croker (c), Brenko Lee, Sisa Waqa, Lachlan Croker, Sam Williams, Shannon Boyd, Kurt Baptiste, Paul Vaughan, Jason Croker, Jarrad Kennedy, Luke Bateman, Thomas Cronan, Mitch Barnett, Jack Williams, Zac Santo, Rhys Kennedy.
Comment: At 42 years of age, Raiders legend Jason Croker will take the field with nephew Lachlan Croker. That’s more than enough reason to stay glued to the green machine, although, Jordan Rapana, Paul Vaughan and Sisa Waqa also gives them an outside shot.
CRONULLA: Ben Barba, Jordan Drew, Gerard Beale, Ricky Leutele, Mitch Brown, Jack Bird, Chad Townsend, Matt Prior, Matt McIlwrick, Sam Tagataese, Luke Lewis (c), Joseph Paulo, Chris Heighington (c), David Fifita, Kurt Capewell, Jayden Brailey, Josh Cleeland, Bessie Aufaga-Toomaga.
Comment: Last year’s finalists have again entered a strong squad for the Nines, led by rising star Jack Bird and veterans Luke Lewis and Chris Heighington. Prodigal Shark Chad Townsend will also get a run in Auckland. A fighting chance.
GOLD COAST: Anthony Don, David Mead, Nene McDonald, Brian Kelly, Greg Leleisiuao, Ashley Taylor, Tyrone Roberts, Agnatius Paasi, Matthew Srama, Jeff Lynch, Chris McQueen, Greg Bird, Lachlan Burr, Daniel Mortimer (c), Shane Wright, Nathaniel Peteru, Shannon Walker, Nathan Davis.
Comment: The Titans are the only team to send their top three healthy halves in Ashley Taylor, Tyrone Roberts and Daniel Mortimer. Australia Sevens representative Shannon Walker, once regarded as the league’s fastest man, will also look to revive his NRL career.
ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA: Josh Dugan (c), Reuban Garrick, Euan Aitken, Tim Lafai, Kurt Mann, Drew Hutchinson, Josh McCrone, Dunamis Lui, Mitch Rein, Jacob Host, Jake Marketo, Jack de Belin, Kiti Glymin, Kalifa Faifai Loa, Matt Duffy, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Jay Gallagher, Tyrone McCarthy.
Comment: If taking almost a dozen NRL stars over is anything to go by, coach Paul McGregor is serious about the Nines. New recruits Tim Lafai, Kurt Mann, Josh McCrone and Dunamis Lui join stars Josh Dugan and Mitch Rein in a strong 19-man squad.