St George-Illawarra Dragon (8th) v Gold Coast Titans (9th)
Both teams needed a week off to regroup after suffering losses in Round 17. For the Dragons, they were ambushed by the Sea Eagles on the road, a team that for their standing on the competition ladder surprised many. Still, the opportunity was available for the Dragon to win and make a statement that they should be taken seriously and they missed out. For the Titans, their momentum was halted with a sickening injury to debutant Karl Lawton. While that would’ve had a negative affect on the team, the players still have a responsibility over the 80 minutes. They still started the game slowly and allowed the bigger Warriors team to grab momentum in the middle of the field. This was always going to make it tough for them to wrestle away from their opponents, although they were not without their chances. Now, the result of this game is crucial for both sides also, with a spot in the Top 8 possible for the eventual winners of this contest.
Dragons = Tyson Frizell is named to start at prop, swapping with Jacob Host, who will feature in the back row. Leeson Ah Mau drops back to the bench, while Kurt Mann returns at the expense of Tim Lafai (dropped). Josh Dugan (injured) was named but will withdraw following a broken jaw, while Benji Marshall (injured) is also out.
Titans = Ashley Taylor (injury) is back at halfback. David Mead (injury) is named at fullback, allowing Josh Hoffman to move back to the centres in place of Karl Lawton (injured). Konrad Hurrell is named to partner him, allowing Chris McQueen to return to the back row which forces Agnatius Paasi back to the bench. Nathan Friend and Eddy Pettybourne are also named on an extended bench.
Overall = Dragons 11 Titans 5
Last 5 Matches = Dragons 3 Titans 2
At UOW Jubilee Oval = Dragons 63% Titans 67%
Form = Dragons 1 loss – Titans 2 losses
The withdrawals the Dragons have had over the past few days is going to make things extremely difficult for them here. Even with their team at full-strength, it was going to be a tough ask but now they find themselves against, what appears to be, a superior opponent. The Titans will have to work hard for victory though, too often this year a game has been there for the taking and they have let an opportunity slip away from them. Fact is, the Dragons struggle at the best of times and rightly so, the Titans will head into this game as favorites. Their record at this ground shouldn’t limit them either, while a 2-game losing streak has taken away their momentum, this is the type of opponent they need to regain some momentum. Further motivation for the Titans will be making amends for their 5-point loss to the Dragons back in Round 7. The Titans are the way to go and from there, anything is possible. They should be able to cover the line and given that the Dragons only average 13.4 PPG compared with the Titans 20.9 PPG, the margin of victory should be within 2-converted tries.
Titans -2.5 @ $1.95
Within 2 = Titans 1-12 @ $2.85 – The 2 converted tries margin appears to be the ideal selection, with the Titans experiencing some defensive lapses thus far in 2016. They concede and average of 22.4 PPG, while the Dragons allow 21.3 PPG.
Welcome, Konrad! = Konrad Hurrell FTS and/or LTS @ $11 – It has been a few weeks since Hurrell made his move from the Warriors. When he is at his peak, Hurrell is one of the most damaging ball runners in the game. He has waited a few weeks for his start and now that it has come, he should be ready to fire.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (13th) v New Zealand Warriors (7th)
The Sea Eagles turned out their best performance of the season in their last game, delivering the Dragons a 36-6 loss. It was no coincidence that their improved performance correlated with the return of quality players to their team. Still, injuries have again struck them, although their last match in Round 17 will go a long way to increasing their confidence and momentum. It will be needed here too, against a Warriors team that has powered its way into the Top 8. They too enjoyed a week off last week, with a 9-points victory to ease their worries. They played some exciting football at times, although affording their some opportunities over the 80 minutes is something that they’ll have to get out of their game. This period of the season is traditionally a time when they improve, the challenge ahead of them is now assuring themselves of a position in the Top 8, especially with the difficult task of heading to Brookvale Oval against a Sea Eagles team that wants to end the season on the right note.
Sea Eagles = Matt Wright and Lewis Brown are the new centre pairing, in place of Dylan Walker (injured) and Brayden Williame (suspended). Bradley Parker (NRL Debut) is named on the wing, while Blake Leary and Siosaia Vave are named on an extended bench.
Warriors = Ryan Hoffman (injury) returns to the back row, pushing Charlie Gubb back to the bench. Ben Matulino is named at prop, while Manu Vatuvei (injury) returns on the wing, relegating Tuimoala Lolohea back to the bench.
Overall = Sea Eagles 18 Warriors 8
Last 5 Matches = Sea Eagles 4 Warriors 1
At nib Stadium = Never played at this venue
Form = Sea Eagles 1 win – Warriors 1 win
Back in Round 6, the Sea Eagles travelled over to New Zealand and upset the Warriors by 16-points. Now, there is every chance that the Warriors could do the opposite, although they have to travel across to Perth for this game; a ground that has previously caused them issues due to the amount of travel that is involved. This has punters wary that the “home” team could cause an upset and shock the Warriors. That is always possible considering how inconsistent the Warriors can be; nevertheless, they have shown improvement in the middle stages of the season and they will be hoping that their early season jitters are behind them. Fact is, despite the Sea Eagles improving performance last week, it was only a win against the Dragons and a higher level of execution will be needed here. The Warriors have a larger and more powerful pack of forwards, as area that the Sea Eagles have proven to be vulnerable in throughout 2016. Given the uncertainty around the Warriors though, deciding upon a margin of victory is a tough task and the best thing to do would be to just invest on them to cover the line and not much else.
Warriors -2.5 @ $2
South Sydney Rabbitohs (12th) v Brisbane Broncos (6th)
The Rabbitohs season plummeted further in their Round 17 loss to the Cowboys, whereby their failed to register a point against the Cowboys in 80 minutes of play. This team appears to be vastly different to the one that started the season so strongly, yet the same players are featuring suggesting that there is more to their struggles than just form. They are all but out of contention for the Finals and this squad will be tested as they play for “pride”. The Broncos have been struggling recently also, with or without their Origin stars, winning has appeared to be a difficult task. Their form of losing 6 out of their past 8 matches has meant that they have fallen down the ladder and if not for the Eels penalty, they could find themselves close to slipping out of the Top 8 altogether. Their most recent performance was a 48-6 hammering by the Storm in Brisbane, where the result was decided by HT. Any angle that Wayen Bennett attempted to play wasn’t working and to put it simply, his side is underperforming. Other teams are in the same position as they and yet they have managed to keep their winning form and stay atop of the competition ladder. If they are to re-gather momentum, this is the perfect opportunity against an inferior club who themselves are currently struggling far worse than that of the Broncos.
Rabbitohs = George Burgess (injury) returns on an extended bench. A replacement for Greg Inglis (suspended) following Origin is yet to be confirmed.
Broncos = Jordan Kahu (injury) returns on the wing for Lachlan Maranta, while Sam Thaiday (suspension) is named in the back row.
Overall = Rabbitohs 7 Draw 1 Broncos 16
Last 5 Matches = Rabbitohs 3 Broncos 2
At ANZ Stadium = Rabbitohs 53% Broncos 50%
Form = Rabbitohs 5 losses – Broncos 2 losses
Surely, this is the game that will get the Broncos season back on track. The Origin period has ceased and now there is no excuse for this team to underperform. During that time, it was in fact the non-representative players that were away from their best and with the Rabbitohs struggling with a host of issue of their own, they should be less than competitive. The loss of Inglis after Origin hurts them further, especially as he is one of their major attacking weapons. This club is not a happy place at the moment and points are proving difficult to come by for a number of reasons. Most notably, their forwards are not winning the battle in the middle of the field and this is placing greater pressure on others within the team. The only saving grace may be that the Rabbitohs create a “siege” mentality but that should only last so long against a team that has the quality of their opponents. They’ve been forced to call a few inexperienced players into the team to fill the void of others and this should be an area that the Broncos look to target. The Rabbitohs will be competitive to some point, but once they’re broken down, the Broncos will have the chance to run away with this result. They concede and average of 23.8 PPG, while the Broncos score 23.5 PPG.
Broncos -6.5 @ $1.90
Galloping home = Broncos 13+ @ $3 – The Rabbitohs are a fragile football team currently and without the same talent within their team as the Broncos, things could get ugly. Don’t let the market sway you though, fans are hesitant given the Broncos recent struggles but they may also be forgetting what the home team offers.
Newcastle Knights (16th) v Melbourne Storm (2nd)
The Knights still sit at the bottom of the competition ladder, despite being able to push the Raiders to Golden Point for the second time this year. Unfortunately though, no points were gained from this outing and they were left to ponder what might have been after they gave up a 24-point lead. If they had of finished the match at HT, they would’ve walked away pleased with their efforts. Now, they face a tougher test against a Storm team that is chasing the Sharks for top position in the NRL. Their last effort was a dominating 48-6 win over the Broncos at Suncorp; an impressive display that highlighted how this team is still to be feared for the remainder of the year. The most remarkable difference from previous years is that the Storm now have a strong compliment of forwards dominating the middle of the field that allow Smith and Cronk to dictate the terms of the match. The other players in the team and supporting one another well and their appears to be improvement still left within this team. The Knights will hope that this is yet another week away as they search for just their second win of the year.
Knights = Jarrod Mullen (injury) returns at 5/8. Danny Levi is named at hooker for Tyler Randell (injured), with Mickey Para, Pat Mata’utia and Pauli Pauli named as potential covers on an extended bench.
Storm = Jordan McLean (injured) is replaced at prop by Felise Kaufusi, while Matt White is named in the vacant bench position.
Overall = Knights 15 Storm 20
Last 5 Matches = Knights 3 Storm 2
At Hunter Stadium = Knights 58% Storm 33%
Form = Knights 10 losses – Storm 2 wins
This game has only one likely outcome looking at the two sides and that is a Storm victory. The Knights do not have the quality to compete with most teams in the competition, let alone the team running second. The last time they hosted a team in the top tier, they were hammered 62-nil. The outcome of this game will be different though; the Storm will probably get out to a comfortable enough lead and then aim to rest their stars. The win for them will be at forefront of their minds but once they achieve that, there is no reason why they shouldn’t take advantage of their comfortable position. Be wary though, in the past 5 matches, the Knights have won 3, while the overall winning margin has been 6-points; meaning that for one reason or another, these two sides have a competitive history. That being said, the Knights are struggling to field a competitive team currently and while they will hold their own for the opening stages, eventually their opponents will wear them down with sheer power and class. Rather than this match being a complete rout, the possibility that the Storm may rest a few players towards the end of this match means that the final margin may not be as large as expected.
Storm 19+ @ $1.95
Penrith Panthers (10th) v Parramatta Eels (14th)
The Panthers delivered a very disappointing effort last week against an understrength Sharks team. Just when it appeared as though the Panthers were capable of pushing for a spot in the Top 8, they let themselves down with their efforts to continually pressure their opponents, eventually losing 26-10. Despite superior possession stats, they were outplayed as the Sharks managed more metres per carry with the ball. If they’re to alter opinions and prove that they belong as a contender in the competition, they need to act fast. For the Eels, they were finally handed down their penalties and points deduction that has seen them plummet down the ladder. Still, their effort to grab a win against the Roosters demonstrated how much fight lies within this team. Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse during the week as Corey Norman was charged with drug possession, yet again dragging them into the headlines and heaping further pressure on an already struggling club. It’s hard not to begin to feel sorry for the Eels the way things have gone for them in 2016. Even with all of their issues, 80 minutes of rugby league has been an outlet this year, whereby they can allow winning to take precedence. Now, without another star play maker and more noise about the impending return of Jarryd Hayne, the Eels have a fresh set of challenges to face as they play for an unlikely spot in the Finals.
Panthers = Matt Moylan (Origin) is named to return at fullback, as is Josh Mansour (Origin) on the wing which pushes Zak Hardaker back to the wing. Tyrone Peachey (injury) will return from the bench.
Eels = Michael Jennings (Origin) returns at centre, allowing Manu Ma’u to move to the back row and Kenny Edwards back to the bench.
Overall = Panthers 16 Eels 18
Last 5 Matches = Panthers 2 Eels 3
At Pepper Stadium = Panthers 53% Eels 44%
Form = Panthers 2 losses – Eels 1 win
The Eels have plenty of motivation for this game, with the Panthers stealing victory from them in the 80th minute in Round 5 when they won 20-18. The two teams have had a very different time since then, with the Panthers pushing for a spot in the Top 8, while the Eels have had a host of issues plague their season. Corey Norman has been the catalyst for some of their victories this year and without him in the team, the Eels may have finally have to succumb to losing. Rest assured, the “fight” this team has will be evident and the Panthers will have to work hard for victory. After last week, the Panthers turned plenty of people away from them. Regardless, they should have what it takes to win this game, based more on what their opponents are lacking rather than their own strengths. As for the eventual margin, the Panthers have a history of only just winning their matches; their largest win of the season was 12-points over the Warriors and they’re yet to win beyond 13+. Given their past 2 outings, confidence is low within this team and they will need to demonstrate a remarkable improvement before you can invest on them with confidence. Basically, this team is still learning how to win in the top grade and they will again find flaws over 80 minutes that limit them from having complete control over the Eels.
Panthers 1-12 @ $2.90
Sydney Roosters (15th) v Cronulla Sharks (1st)
The Roosters were unable to capitalize on the fragility of the Eels last week, suffering a 22-18 loss despite having majority of momentum over the contest. It appeared early on that this would be a match that the Roosters would be able to win, especially considering the positive affect Pearce was again having on his team. It wasn’t to be though, as simple errors and poor defensive decision allow the Eels to grab 2-competition points. There were no such issues for the Sharks however, who overcame a host of representative absences to power past the Panthers. They were lead by a rejuvenated Ben Barba and a team effort that saw them carry the ball for an average of 9.3m, compared with the Panthers 8.2m. In that performance, the Sharks made a statement that the overall attitude within the club is positive and they are determined to overcome any challenges that come their way. They have experienced good fortune thus far in terms of injuries but they have also made their own luck in matches. This is a game that they should win and unlike other teams that have Finals aspirations, they approach each game with the ideal attitude and determination to keep their club-record winning streak going.
Roosters = Ryan Matterson is named at 5/8 for Jackson Hastings (dropped), with Boyd Cordner named to start in the back row. Blake Ferguson and Aidan Guerra (both Origin) haven’t been named to back up but could be late inclusions.
Sharks = Paul Gallen (lock), Andre Fifita (prop), Wade Graham (second row), Jack Bird (centre) and James Maloney (5/8) have all been named to back up from Origin after their absence last week.
Overall = Roosters 20 Draw 1 Sharks 13
Last 5 Matches = Roosters 1 Sharks 4
At Allianz Stadium = Roosters 62% Sharks 47%
Form = Roosters 4 losses – Sharks 13 wins
The Roosters are a team that has forgotten how to win games of rugby league and there is no better example than their loss to the Eels last week. Now, against a team that is on a club-record winning streak, the chance of causing an upset appears to be well beyond their capabilities. The Sharks are firing in a number of areas and this should be another game that they dominate and win with authority. What they do over 80 minutes of a game is the reason why they’re leading the competition and they have a unique ability to dominate teams in the middle and create extra room for their exciting outside backs. Like most teams that face the competition leaders, they will be ready for the challenge that their opponents offer and there is no better stage for a young player to prove himself than in a game like this. The Sharks will be ready for this and know their weaknesses of their opponents well enough to expose them. If the Roosters get behind on the scoreboard and switch off, things could get ugly for them quickly.
Sharks -6.5 @ $2
Coasting home = Sharks 13+ @ $2.80 – As the Roosters have forgotten how to win, in equal measure the Sharks have forgotten how to lose (famous last words!). They were strong against the Panthers last week and they have proven that they can score points in bunches. Once they get over the Roosters, there is no limit to what they can pile upon their opponents.