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Rep Round Questions: Schedule switch? Tonga, Maroons do it again? Blues aim up? Expand women's Origin?

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22nd June, 2022
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Representative Round is back, briefly, after a two-year hiatus with eight games to make up for the full round of NRL.

With the State of Origin series set to return to three Wednesday nights next year as part of the new broadcast rights agreement, rather than the two Wednesdays and one Sunday format of recent seasons, this could be the last mid-year Rep Round for a while.

An international window in October and November makes sense on a number of levels but the return to three mid-week Origins means further disruption to the NRL draw.

Particularly when coupled with the introduction of the Dolphins as the 17th franchise and the weekly bye that comes with having an odd number of teams.

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Like most things in rugby league, there is no perfect system and it will change every few years when enough people complain that there has to be a better way.

Here are the burning questions for Representative Round.

Thursday, June 23

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Women’s U19 State of Origin: 5.45pm at Leichhardt Oval

Men’s U19 State of Origin: 7.45pm at Leichhardt Oval

Will enough viewers tune in? The big question for Thursday night is will enough people watch to make these games a worthwhile TV product? The under 19 women’s game will be broadcast on Nine Gem with the men’s match on Nine’s main channel while both are on Fox League. The lure of watching stars of the future will be enough to get the tragics to tune in but the casual league viewer will be less enthusiastic. The NRL tried to spice up the game with a ‘marquee rule’ to allow each state to pick a couple of under-20 players but that fell flat, with Raiders forward Trey Mooney the only overage player selected in either team. With one game under his belt, he is also the only player with NRL experience.

SUNSHINE COAST, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 13: Yasmin Meakes of the Blues is tackled by Shaniah Power of the Maroons during the Women's State of Origin match between Queensland and New South Wales at Sunshine Coast Stadium on November 13, 2020 in Sunshine Coast, Australia. (Photo by Dan Peled/Getty Images)

Yasmin Clydsdale. (Photo by Dan Peled/Getty Images)

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Friday, June 24

Women’s State of Origin: 7.45pm at GIO Stadium

Should the three-game series be brought forward? As it stands, the winner of this match will get the shield but also have a massive advantage next year, with a two-game contest planned. That makes this fixture effectively the first in a three-game, two-year series – if you win in Canberra, you only need to split the series next year to retain the shield. With NRLW rapidly expanding from six to ten teams instead of the previously planned two-team addition, the ARL Commission might as well do the same and accelerate the inevitable switch to a three-game series to next year.

Saturday, June 25

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Kiwi Ferns v Mate Ma’a Tonga Women: 1.10pm (AEST) at Mt Smart Stadium

Can Tonga’s women emulate the men’s team? After playing in the 2003 and 2008 World Cups, the Tongan women’s side was dormant for more than a decade but is making a revival. They will not be one of the eight teams at this year’s World Cup in England but with the majority of players in this squad having NRLW experience, they could quickly become a force in the international arena.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 22: Jesse Bromwich of the Kiwis (C) is tackled during the Oceania league test between the Kiwis and Mate Ma'a Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium on June 22, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Jesse Bromwich is tackled in the 2019 Test between the Kiwis and Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

New Zealand v Mate Ma’a Tonga: 3.20pm AEST at Mt Smart Stadium

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Have you seen a Kiwis pack this strong? Brandon Smith at hooker with a starting middle trio of Jesse Bromwich, James Fisher-Harris and Joe Tapine, plus Isaiah Papalii and Kenny Bromwich on the edges. Then they have Moses Leota, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Briton Nikora coming off the bench. There was drama a few years ago when several Kiwis were deserting the team to represent their Pacific heritage but this line-up is their strongest since their 2008 World Cup champions, particularly with skill out wide in the form of halfback Jahrome Hughes and Joey Manu at fullback.

Can Tonga regain their spark? They don’t seem to be as strong as they were three years ago. Pre-pandemic times feel like a lifetime ago but the 2019 team which beat Great Britain and Australia will be a hard act to follow. Mate Ma’a Tonga is listed as a heavy underdog for this game and their hopes of upsetting the Kiwis will lie with how their rising stars adapt to Test football, particularly Manly forward Haumole Olakau’atu, Rabbitos second-rower Keaon Koloamatangi and Dragons playmaker Junior Amone, who will need to be the chief organiser with a natural ball-runner in Kotoni Staggs as his halves partner.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - NOVEMBER 02: Tonga celebrate their win over Australia during the Rugby League International Test match between the Australia Kangaroos and Tonga at Eden Park on November 02, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Tonga celebrate their win over Australia at Eden Park on November 2, 2019. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Samoa v Cook Islands: 5.40pm at Campbelltown Sports Stadium

Is Charlie Staines a fullback? More to the point, is he an NRL-standard fullback? The young Panther has had a spectacularly up and down three-year career to this point – he scored six tries in his first two games and has 22 in 32 appearances for Penrith but has not been able to nail down a spot while playing almost exclusively on the wing. He gets his chance in the No.1 jersey for Samoa and while Dylan Edwards has a mortgage on the spot at Penrith, he can show a potential suitor that he is up to the task at NRL level.

Will Davvy Moale be a game-changer for Bunnies? He was elevated from Jersey Flegg straight into the NRL squad last season and after making two top-grade appearances, has impressed in another six this year. One of only a handful of current NRL players in the Cooks team, he was also selected to play for NSW under 19s but is representing his family’s heritage. Rabbitohs junior coach John Sutton has likened him to Payne Haas and the New Zealand-born 19-year-old middle forward has rugby league eligibility tug-of-war written all over him in future years.

Papua New Guinea v Fiji: 7.50pm at Campbelltown Sports Stadium

Is PNG any chance of becoming the NRL’s 18th team? On first glance you’d be forgiven for writing off their ambitious bid to succeed the Dolphins as the NRL’s next expansion location. The PNG Hunters’ success in establishing themselves in the Queensland Cup in recent years, lifting the trophy in 2017, is a step in the right direction and as admirable as it is for PNG to start formulating a business case, strategically it’d be hard for the ARL Commission to justify taking a punt on a franchise in Port Moresby ahead of Perth or another team in New Zealand.

Can Fiji just throw it wide, please? Don’t listen to any of that mumbo jumbo about winning the middle, forwards laying the platform – just spin it wide. When you’ve got Maika Sivo, Mikaele Ravalawa, Semi Valemei and Waqa Blake as your outside backs, play to your strengths. Tell Viliame Kikau to roam wide as well. Of course, the Fijians do now have a pack that can do the grunt work with Tui Kamikamica a more-than-formidable presence. 

Maika Sivo of the Parramatta Eels

Maika Sivo. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

Sunday, June 26

State of Origin II: 7.50pm AEST at Optus Stadium

Will the Blues take the right options? For all the hullabaloo, brouhaha and snafu (three great words) about the referee’s rulings in Origin I, NSW plain and simple lost the match with their own actions. They were passive too often when they needed to be aggressive, indecisive when the opposite was required and came up with the wrong play at crucial times. Destiny is in their own hands in Perth, not the referee’s.

Can Munster’s support cast step up again? There’s no doubt he’s the alpha male of this Maroons team and as great as he was in game one, their 16-10 triumph was a collective effort, with Valentine Holmes coming up with big plays, Kalyn Ponga twice breaking the Blues with short-side raids and unheralded forwards like Reuben Cotter and Patrick Carrigan not giving a XXXX in true Queenslander fashion about the reputations of their higher-profile opponents in the forwards. 

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