Parramatta Eels v Sydney Roosters
Things were looking very positive for the Eels in the opening stages of their match against the Sharks last week. Further off-field issues plagued their preparation; regardless, they looked like they were going to cause one of he upsets of the season as they lead their opponents 18-nil after 22 minutes. Their lead was quickly rounded up though and even with a HT lead, the power of the Sharks became too much for them. Nevertheless, it was a spirited performances and one, which proves that this group of players is very talented and well coached, with the Eels producing future superstar in Bevan French. The Roosters also surrendered a lead against the Bulldogs, eventually stumbling their way to a 4-point loss despite having more possession. Their downfall was mistakes, completing at 72% and committing 11 total errors, leaving their fans to ponder another missed opportunity. There were positives though, with the return of Pearce in the halves providing stability and direction that was clearly lacking in previous weeks. This is the first time these two sides have faced off in 2016 and regardless of their standing or impending points deduction, there is plenty to prove out on the field, as well as play for pride with their Finals hopes all but diminished.
Eels = Brad Takairangi (injury) returns in the centres for Michael Jennings (Origin), while new recruit, Jeff Robson, will make his return to the Eels at halfback, relegating Kenny Edwards to the bench and Corey Norman back to 5/8. Tim Mannah (injury) also returns at prop.
Roosters = Joseph Manu comes onto the wing for Blake Ferguson (Origin), while Aidan Guerra (Origin) is replaced in the second row by Issac Lui. Chris Smith comes onto the bench to fill the vacant spot.
Overall = Eels 11 Draw 1 Roosters 18
Last 5 Matches = Eels 1 Roosters 4
At Pirtek Stadium = Eels 60% Roosters 57%
Form = Eels 1 loss – Roosters 3 losses
The Eels appear to have what it takes to overcome the Roosters here, especially given the players that are missing for the visitors. Sure, the Eels have troubles of their own but their playing squad has been able to detach themselves from that while on the field; evidence in how well they played at times when pushing the competition leaders. While the Roosters have been improving, they have hardly proven that their quality is worthy of more respect. Their score line last week was respectable, although better teams would’ve capitalized on the amount of possession and quality field-position they enjoyed; the fact that they were unable to use this to their advantage demonstrates how far behind their competitors they are. The Roosters have a strong recent record over the Eels and this is the first time the Eels will return to Pirtek Stadium since their Round 11 loss to the Storm, while they haven’t won here since their Round 6 36-6 victory over the Raiders. In a season where they’ve struggle, the squad of players recognizes how important it is to reward their home fans. Expect the home team to combat what the Roosters have to throw their way and grab a win. As for the winning margin, the Eels average a 10-point winning margin in their past 5 matches, while the Roosters losing average in their past 5 losses has been 16.8 points; although this is skewed by the 46-nil loss to the Storm and they’ve only lost 3 out of 5 times by more than 12 points (Storm and Titans). This points to the eventual margin being less than 2 converted tries, but comfortable enough for the Eels to have the contest decided well before the closing minutes of the match.
Eels -2.5 @ $1.90
Margining value = Eels 1-12 – As mentioned above, the Eels have what it takes to win this contest by less than 2-converted tries. The Roosters defence has been questionable in recent weeks and the Eels can pile on enough points when needed. After all, they were able to push the competition leaders last week.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Wests Tigers
The Bulldogs eventually prevailed 24-20 against the Roosters last week, although it was an ugly 80 minutes of rugby league. They will be disappointed in several areas of their game, most notably the way they allowed their opponents to dominate with possession weighed in their favor. It was a stark contrast to what they produced the previous week against the Broncos and perhaps they were guilty of not respecting their opponents enough. If they do the same here, they could very well be on the wrong side of the score line, as the Tigers will be confidence following their win against the Panthers in Round 17. The final score flattered their opponents, with two late tries closing a margin that should been well beyond the eventual 8-points. Their play was electric at times and they didn’t panic after falling behind by 12-points after 20-minutes. They built pressure in the middle and battled the Panthers pack, allowing extra room for their outside backs. This side of the Tigers hasn’t been seen enough this year to warrant respect; rather their standing on the competition ladder reflects their inconsistency. They also have their embarrassing 36-4 defeat by the Bulldogs back in Round 10 to motivate them here, as well as a chance that they can still push towards a shock-spot in the Finals.
Bulldogs = Greg Eastwood (injury) returns in the back row, providing cover for Josh Jackson (Origin), with Danny Fualalo named at lock and Tim Browne coming onto the bench.
Tigers = Jordan Rankin is named at fullback for James Tedesco (Origin), with Josh Addo-Carr named on the wing. With Aaron Woods and Robbie Farah (both Origin) absent, JJ Felise, Joel Edwards and Michael Chee-Kam have been included on the bench.
Overall = Bulldogs 19 Tigers 11
Last 5 Matches = Bulldogs 3 Tigers 2
At ANZ Stadium = Bulldogs 57% Tigers 42%
Form = Bulldogs 3 wins – Tigers 1 win
The missing players for the Tigers limit the amount of quality they will be able to produce over 80 minutes, with Farah and Tedesco having significant contributions to their team, while Woods does a solid job of leading the pack in the middle. If the margin of victory was 32-points the last time they met with these players present (minus Tedesco), the Bulldogs may again find themselves home in this game comfortably. The same was expected last week against the Roosters, although they were guilty of switching off at numerous stages, while also being unable to wrestle momentum away from their opponents in that game. Expect an improved showing here, especially as the Bulldogs halves have greater room to move without the likes of JWH, Napa and Evans bearing down on them. With minimal disruption to their squad, we could be about to witness the best they have to offer. The only worry is that they will “switch-off” at times in this game and allow their opponents a chance to come back in the match. Des Hasler-coached teams have the ability to lift for big games but are also guilty of the opposite, although the quality of their opponent here should offer less resistance without their stars if their defensive record is any guide; so far in 2016 they concede 25.3 PPG and there is no sign that this will slow down any time soon.
Bulldogs 13+ @ $1.90
Forgotten Man No. 1 = Brett Morris FTS and/or LTS @ $6 – Since returning from injury, Morris has been great. He is slowly returning to playing with confidence and in doing so, raising the chance that he gets to the try line when possible. The Bulldogs halves know where to find him too, so expect plenty of quality ball to come his way.
Penrith Panthers (9th) v Cronulla Sharks (1st)
Going for 3-consecutive wins for the first time this season, the Panthers momentum and energy looked promising in the opening 20-minutes of their match against the Tigers. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be maintained and they were left with an eventual 8-point loss. The final score flattered them though, with two converted tries in the last 7-minutes making the loss seem more respectable. Still, they will be disappointed with their efforts, especially as that loss knocked them out of the Top 8. The Sharks had a scare in their match too, although their class as competitions leaders eventually prevailed as they handed the Eels a 10-point loss. Their maturity as a team showed, never panicking and instead relying upon each player to lift and take care of their job. With Origin upon them, they will need to rely on less-experienced players here to get the job done for them. It’ll be tough too, as the Sharks were only able to 2-point victory over the Panthers in Round 8, with the visitors on that occasion improving their play dramatically to push their opponents. The missing players will overshadow the result but with the Panthers locked in a tough fight for a Finals spot, they will be egger to make the most of the opportunity that presents itself here.
Panthers = Zak Hardaker has been named on the wing for Josh Mansour (Origin), with Will Smith coming onto the bench. Leilani Latu comes into the starting team at prop for Sam McKendry (injured), while Suaia Matagi is named to fill the vacant bench position.
Sharks = Valentine Holmes (injury) returns at centre for Jack Bird (Origin), while Fa’amanu Brown is named at 5/8 for James Maloney (Origin). With Andrew Fifita, Paul Gallen and Wade Graham (all Origin) missing, Sam Tagataese (prop), Jayson Bukuya (second row) and Chris Heighington (lock) start the match. This sees Kurt Capewell (NRL Debut), Matt McIlwrick and Jesse Sene-Lefao named on the bench.
Overall = Panthers 13 Draw 1 Sharks 16
Last 5 Matches = Panthers 1 Sharks 4
At Pepper Stadium = Panthers 53% Sharks 50%
Form = Panthers 1 loss – Sharks 12 wins
If the Panthers were serious about contending for a spot in the Finals, this is a game that they must win and do so with authority. Not only so that they bounce back from a game that they should’ve won but to also assert themselves over a team that is decimated due to Origin. Even with their absences, the Sharks will still be competitive due to the overall attitude that has developed within the club. This should make the game competitive enough, especially considering that the Sharks forwards will test out the defensive inabilities of their opponents. The Panthers have plenty of attacking flair but defence has been an issue; Flanagan will know that if he targets this area of the match that they will be within striking distance in the closing stages of the match. The Panthers should prevail in this match, although they will be pushed to earn victory. As for the margin, the Sharks have a strong structure in defence that should be able to combat what their opponents throw at them majority of the time; the main difference will be the 50/50 plays will go the way of the Panthers due to the amount of quality their opponents are missing. They should win by no more than 2 converted tries, given that their last past 5 wins have been by an average of 5.2 points; also meaning that they should cover the line.
Panthers -4.5 @ $1.90
Close encounter = Panthers 1-12 @ $2.85 – As mentioned above, the Panthers have a habit of close matches. Their recent winning average is not much and they can make things difficult for themselves when they don’t need to be. Expect the Sharks still to have quality within their team, but not enough to make sure that this result goes their way.
Canberra Raiders (6th) v North Queensland Cowboys (3rd)
The Raiders avoided an embarrassing upset by the Knights last week in amazing circumstances, with a missed field goal being re-gathered for a try in Golden Point. As bizarre as it was, the Raiders should not let themselves become caught up in the result, rather how they allowed the Knights to dominate majority of the contest. At one stage before the end of the first half, they found themselves behind 22-nil and in desperate need of points. Injuries during the match didn’t help their cause and they will be the first to admit that it was a “lucky” win. The Cowboys didn’t have any issues in their 20-nil win over the Rabbitohs, with their team doing enough throughout the contest to prevail comfortably. Their momentum may just be halted this week though, with their depth to be tested with several players missing courtesy of representative selection or injury. The last time they featured during Origin, they narrowly lost to the Dragons; a team that has far less talent than the Raiders. Again, they will rely on some of their younger players stepping into fill the void, as well as Jason Taumololo, who has been in scintillating form. Combine the missing players with a trip south to Canberra in winter and the Cowboys appear heading for a loss, then again, stranger things have happened in rugby league.
Raiders = Sia Soliola is named in the back row to replace Josh Papalii (injured), while Luke Bateman (suspension) is replaced on the bench by Clay Priest.
Cowboys = Johnathan Thurston, Justin O’Neill, Gavin Cooper, James Tamou and Matt Scott (all Origin) are all unavailable. Rory Kostjasyn (5/8), Ben Hannant (prop) and Scott Bolton (prop) will start the match. Tautau Moga is also named to start in the centres, while Coen Hess will start in the back row. Ben Spina, Josh Chudleigh (NRL Debut) and Patrick Kaufusi come onto the bench.
Overall = Raiders 16 Cowboys 16
Last 5 Matches = Raiders 2 Cowboys 3
At GIO Stadium = Raiders 41% Cowboys 50%
Form = Raiders 2 wins – Cowboys 2 wins
If the two sides were even, this would be a dramatically different contest; but unfortunately that is not the case. Much like the Sharks, the Cowboys head into this game missing a host of quality players that generally lead the way for their team. This doesn’t mean victory isn’t achievable; it just becomes increasingly difficult for them. The last time they were faced with this prospect, they went down narrowly to the Dragons and the Raiders are expected to be a remarkably improved opponent compared to the Cowboys last game under these conditions. There is always uncertainty around the Raiders though; you only have to look back to their effort last week to see how they can make things challenging. Nevertheless, they are the favorites in this game for a reason and while the pride will be evident in their opponents, that will only last so long in these conditions. The Raiders should get out to a comfortable win here; their last 5 victories have been by an average of 12.4 points, with their largest coming against a defensively fragile Warriors outfit. This game shouldn’t be a complete whitewash, but the Raiders should get home comfortably in the end.
Raiders -10.5 @ $1.80
Comfort-zone = Raiders 13-18 @ $5 – The Cowboys still have plenty of quality within their team, although that will only work for them for so long in this match. Eventually, their opponents should break them down and due to the Raiders inability to play consistently for 80 minutes; their opponents will have a chance of keeping the final margin within this range.
Pick me! = Joseph Leilua FTS and/or LTS @ $10 – Despite his protests that he should be in the NSW Origin team, Leilua hasn’t crossed the line since Round 12. That hasn’t stopped the Raiders right edge from dominating and Leilua can take a lot of credit for that. With quality opponents missing, Leilua may just find the right conditions to return to his try scoring dominance.