NRL Fantasy

The first NRL Preliminary Final will see the winners of the past three premierships going head-to-head for a place in the decider, as the Melbourne Storm take on the Penrith Panthers at Accor Stadium. The Panthers have won both clashes between the teams this season, now can they make it three wins on the trot, or will the Storm cause a massive boilover and get back to the Grand Final?

Draftstars has a $15,000 guaranteed contest for the Panthers and Storm, with several other contests available, there’s something for everyone, so get involved and make this game even more exciting!


Team News

The Panthers had the week off last week, and are set to realise the benefits of this, with two of their superstars set to come back for this week’s matchup. Jahrome Luai is set to return from a dislocated shoulder, pushing Jack Cogger to the bench, and Tyrone Peachey relegated to 18th man. The Panthers also welcome back Izack Tago, pushing Luke Garner to the bench, and Zac Hosking to the reserves. No other changes for the Panthers.

As for the Storm, they also welcome back one of their best, with Jahrome Hughes named to return at halfback, pushing Tyran Wishart to the bench and Bronson Garlick to the reserves. No other changes to the 17 that won last week over the Roosters. Like last week, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Grant and Welch benched to start the matchup, with big Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Tyran Wishart starting in their place.

Betting Markets

Penrith Panthers ($1.19) vs Melbourne Storm ($4.75)

Total O/U - 39.5

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These teams met in the Preliminary Final two years ago, in a matchup that could be described as a passing of the torch moment, as the Panthers held on in a classic finals’ type matchup, winning 10-6. The Storm won basically every statistic, but the Panthers just refused to concede against a Storm team that had been the pinnacle of the sport for over a decade. After the win, the Panthers went on to win the 2021 Premiership, before going back-to-back last year, and are now considered the best team in the competition.

I don’t see another matchup like this eventuating. The Panthers get a huge advantage coming into this matchup, with the extra week of rest, and the fact the Storm have to travel to Sydney. The Storm were in a dogfight last week, trailing late before a magical try by Will Warbrick got them home. The Panthers have dominated the Storm in 3 of the past 4 meetings between these sides, and I fully expect them to do so again, culminating in the Panthers reaching their 4th straight Grand Final.

Love It – Stephen Crichton - $14,630

How about the form of Stephen Crichton at the back end of his final season with the Panthers? It’s difficult, in my opinion, to make a case that doesn’t involve Crichton being the best centre in the game right now, and he always steps it up in the big moments. There aren’t many bigger moments than this one, as the Panthers aim to make their 4th Grand Final in a row. Whilst Crichton has struggled a little against the Storm in the two games this season (41.5, 45.9), I expect him to be heavily involved in this game, as the Panthers target the left edge of the Storm.

Love It – Nathan Cleary - $26,630

Cleary is so expensive, but he’s also almost impossible to leave out of your team. Of course, I’ll have a couple of contrarian teams that will not involve Cleary, but for this purpose I can’t leave him out. With two straight 100+ scores, and a 3-round average of 103.3, you leave the Panthers halfback out at your own risk. In his only clash with the Storm this season, Cleary managed 84.4 on the back of 2 try assists and line-break assists. Over the past 3 games, Cleary has been taking control on both sides of the ruck, and with Jahrome Luai not at 100%, expect Cleary to have his hands on the ball more than he usually does.

Love It – Nelson Asofa-Solomona - $11,020

As mentioned above, I expect NAS to start this game, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the hulking forward on the edge during this game. The Storm will know they have to score points here, and big Nelson has already shown this season he can score against the Panthers, with a 4-pointer in the Storm’s round 18 loss to the Panthers. NAS is a boom or bust selection for the Storm, but fortunately he’s not overly expensive. With 7 scores over 50, including four scores over 60, if the Storm are to have any chance, they need NAS to provide a spark.

Hate It – Will Warbrick - $9,760

Warbrick has had a tremendous rookie season, culminating in the try that got the Storm into this Preliminary Final. However, he has really struggled against the Panthers this season. The Panthers’ left edge defence is the best in the competition, and it’s not particularly close, conceding just 16 tries all season (next best is 29). With scores of 13.4 and 2.2 in his matchups with the Panthers this season, it’s an easy fade of the Storm winger.

Hate It – Eliesa Katoa - $15,540

Much like Warbrick above, Katoa will be attacking the airtight Panthers left edge defence. The one concern I have over this selection, is the high likelihood that Katoa will be looking to isolate Jahrome Luai in attack. With Luai surely favouring his good shoulder, there’s a chance Katoa can take advantage. I’ll bet on the Panthers organising their defence in a way that helps Luai enough to shut Katoa and the right-side attack of the Storm down. Katoa has high upside, with a high score of 82 this season, so if you’re looking for a high upside play, I don’t hate it. It’s just a lot of money to offload on a guy who won’t score above 40 without a try.

Who Knows – Izack Tago - $18,120

Tago is easily the most expensive OB in this game, and it’s easy to see why. With a 3-round average of 81.5 before his injury, Tago was one of the form players in Draftstars. Tago came back in the final week of the regular season, where he looked solid, but only managed 60 minutes, before again missing out on playing in week 1 of the finals. I cannot guarantee Tago gets through the 80 minutes here, however if his pec injury is no longer affecting him, he could easily be the highest scoring OB, if not highest scoring player in this entire game. Hard to pledge this sort of coin on something so unknown though.

Draftstars Suggested Lineup



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