North Queensland Cowboys (3rd) v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (4th)
The Cowboys enjoyed a week off following a 14-point loss to the Raiders in Canberra. While the result wasn’t ideal, it was a spirited effort from a team that was missing a host of quality players via representative selection and injury. While other sides would’ve struggled further, the young Cowboys players proved the future is bright with the talent coming through their ranks. The week-off came at an ideal time for them as they had several players involved in Origin and the entire squad has a chance to refocus their goals towards the Finals. The fact that as reigning Premiers they’ve been able to perform this well thus far says something about their talent and motivation. As for the Bulldogs, they too enjoyed a week away from the game with a win, although their 10-point victory over a depleted Tigers outfit was far less convincing. The Bulldogs have developed a habit of playing to their opponents level in recent years and this has worked well against superior teams. On the other hand, when they have played in matches they should dominate and win easily, they’ve been less than convincing, thus raising further questions about their potential in 2016. As it stands though, they sit inside the Top 4 on the competition ladder and with a powerful pack of forwards leading the way; most sides will consider them a danger in matches. Teams will have to pressure areas where they are vulnerable, with several exposed in recent weeks.
Cowboys = The 5 Origin stars are back, with Jonathan Thurston (halfback), Matt Scott (prop), James Tamou (prop), Gavin Cooper (second row) and Justin O’Neill (centre) all to start, with Ben Hannant and Scott Bolton dropping back to the bench. The other players have dropped out of the team altogether. Michael Morgan (injury) is also named to return at 5/8, while Javid Bowen will start on the wing for Kyle Feldt (suspensed).
Bulldogs = Josh Jackson (Origin) will start in the second row, while David Klemmer (Origin) will start at lock. Asipeli Fine drops out of the team and Tim Browne is relegated to the bench.
Overall = Cowboys 11 Bulldogs 17
Last 5 matches = Cowboys 3 Bulldogs 2
At 1300Smile Stadium = Cowboys 85% Bulldogs 20%
Form = Cowboys 1 loss – Bulldogs 4 wins
The Cowboys are deserved favorites in this game and should win, although the outcome isn’t as straightforward as it may appear. As bad as they can be in matches, they can also rise to the challenge of the better teams in the competitions and they’ve beaten both the Broncos and Storm, while losing by 2-points to the Sharks. The Cowboys record at home does speak for itself and heir average winning margin here in their past 5 matches sits at 15.4 points, while they average 34.2 points. This could mean trouble for the Bulldogs but they appear to have a relatively strong defensive structure, averaging 17.6 points, while scoring 24.1 points. With this in mind, the match may be closer than most people are thinking. Other teams who had large involvement in the final Origin match showed plenty of signs of fatigue in their last match and it may impact upon the Cowboys here to some extent. It shouldn’t stop them from winning but this game should deliver a relatively close contest.
Cowboys 1-12 @ $2.80
Slow starters = Cowboys Try (First Scoring Play) @ $2.05 – The last time the Bulldogs scored first in a match was back in Round 13 and is a habit that has crept into their game. On home soil, the Cowboys will also be tough to stop early.
Brisbane Broncos (5th) v Penrith Panthers (9th)
The Broncos grabbed a much-needed win over the Rabbitohs last week by 20-points, although many thought the margin of victory could’ve been higher had the Broncos played to their potential. There has been a noticeable slide in form for them through the representative period and they need to refocus towards the concluding rounds of the competition. While that performance could’ve been better, they appeared to manage several obstacles of injury and suspension heading into that game and will be out to make amends for the upset 1-point loss they suffered to the Panthers in Round 3. They return home on a Friday night, bringing some regularity back into their team but the Panthers have more than enough motivation as they aim to push themselves into the Top 8. A 4-point win against a struggling Eels last week is hardly anything to get excited about, as a team with their potential failed to execute to a level required of a Top 8 team. Perhaps their inexperience within their team has lead to this, nevertheless their recent performances have been disappointing and far beyond what is expected. This is the toughest test that they have faced recently and if they’re not careful, they’ll again be caught out and another loss will only pile further pressure on their squad with games running out.
Broncos = Corey Parker (suspension) returns at lock, while Tom Opacic (injury) replaces Jordan Kahu (injured) in the centres.
Panthers = Unchanged.
Overall = Broncos 19 Draw 1 Panthers 11
Last 5 matches = Broncos 2 Panthers 3
At Suncorp Stadium = Broncos 60% Panthers 30%
Form = Broncos 1 win – Panthers 1 win
The Broncos are too short in this match given the form that they have been in recently. That being said, they will be boosted by the return of several players that should have a positive affect on their performance. As indifferent as the Broncos have been, the Panthers have struggled far worse and their form in recent weeks has been lackluster. Some of their younger players are looking tired in a busy NRL schedule and they’re making errors on both sides of the ball. That being said, the hyperactive environment that is on offer at Suncorp is bound to lift their team to some degree; although it will have to be dramatically if they’re to cause an upset here. That is not beyond them, with the Broncos win against the Rabbitohs not convincing enough to suggest that they’re back on track, rather they are making amends for their current slump. Here, they should have too much power for their opponents who are coming of a very short preparation having played on Sunday. They average 26.6 point at home in their past 5 games, while the Panthers struggle to score at the best of times, averaging just 20.3 PPG. That suggests that the Broncos should win strongly, although it isn’t with any confidence that you can say the final margin will be a dominating one.
Broncos 1-12 @ $2.75
Canberra Raiders (6th) v New Zealand Warriors (8th)
The Raiders enjoyed a week-off last week following their 14-point victory over a depleted Cowboys team at home. It was a pleasing effort in the end, although the victory was a lot less comfortable than they were perhaps expecting. Still, this talented team remains in the Top 8 and is a genuine threat to most other teams, although they will need to improve their consistency for a number of reasons. That has always been an issue for the Warriors, who faced Manly in Perth last week for yet another loss. They are yet to win a match in 8 visits to the city, proving how difficult the travel must be to the destination. Regardless of the 1-point loss in Golden Point, the Warriors remain within the Top 8 for now and will be aiming to test the Raiders credentials. Back in Round 11, the Raiders travelled across to face the Warriors and left with a commanding 26-point victory; although since then, their opponents have turned their season around and used the representative period to their advantage. Whether or not they’ve provided themselves with false hope is an unanswered question at this point, but this game will feature two teams desperate to prove themselves worthy of a spot in the Finals in the closing weeks.
Raiders = Luke Bateman (suspension) is named on the bench for Clay Priest. Josh Papalii (Origin) will start in the back row, with Sia Soliola relegated to the bench.
Warriors = Jacob Lillyman (Origin) returns at prop for Charlie Gubb.
Overall = Raiders 15 Warriors 16
Last 5 matches = Raiders 1 Warriors 4
At GIO Stadium = Raiders 42% Warriors 60%
Form = Raiders 3 wins – Warriors 1 loss
Form suggests that the Raiders should be able to handle the Warriors; a team who is coming off a loss and a difficult road trip to Perth. Not only that, the home side also has the advantage of already recording a win against them in 2016. The difference this time out is that the Warriors have improved somewhat since the last time these two teams met, although their loss last week to the Sea Eagles appeared to be a step backwards in their development. The Raiders are favorites in this game and rightly so, nevertheless, they too are not without their inconsistencies over 80 minutes; you only have to look back at the Knights game to see how fragile they can be in failing to execute. Still, they should have enough power to overcome the Warriors over 80 minutes; offering far greater challenges than that of the Sea Eagles and currently playing with a high level of confidence. In terms of a winning margin, while they’ve lost just the two games at home all year, the Raiders have failed to completely dominate opponents. In their past 4 matches they’ve score an average of 29.3 points, with an average winning margin of 10.5 point (the reason not to include the 5th game was that it was a 60-6 win against the Tigers). On the other hand, the Warriors concede and average of 23.2 PPG compared with the Raiders overall of 20.6 PPG. This game will be high scoring but the Raiders should win by less than 2 converted tries.
Raiders 1-12 @ $2.85
One for the exotics = Total points Over 46.5 points @ $2 – The Raiders have a unique ability to score plenty of points while both teams have a defensive approach that needs improvement. If it is wet, this may be in danger of not delivering so pay attention to Twitter for a final word on this investment.
Roping Ropana = Jordan Ropana FTS and/or LTS @ $8 – The Warriors have conceded plenty of tries this season on their edges and there is none more potent than the Raiders right edge. Moving away from Joseph Leilua ($11), Ropana has been seeing quality ball with his centre attracting two defenders when in possession. This opens up a host of opportunities, while he is also lethal in the air.
Gold Coast Titans (7th) v Parramatta Eels (14th)
The Titans continue to surprise many with their success so far in 2016, with their most recent performance being a dominating display against the Dragons. The 20-point victory was one that was needed against a struggling opponent, but also reiterated the quality that lies within this team when they fire. Many sides have tussled with the Dragons defensive structure but that proved as no limitation for the Titans, producing some exciting play. More importantly, their defence was rigid in limiting the Dragons attacking opportunities. For the Eels, it was another spirited effort on the back of a troubled week, an familiar theme for the struggling team. That loss spelt an end to their Finals aspirations and with pride on the line for the remainder of the season, the motivation of the playing squad will be questioned. They had their opportunities against the Panthers, with several players again stepping up in the 4-point loss. That being said, this team has been through a lot already in 2016 and with little to play for, their intensity may dip and understandably so. Then again, coach Brad Arthur has built a strong attitude at the club and he doesn’t appear as though he will let his team slip as the end of this season could be crucial for the beginning of the next. The Eels can take confidence from their Round 14 win against the Titans, a 10-point victory that caught many by surprise. However this time the Titans are at home, while again having winning form to take into the game.
Titans = Greg Bird (suspended) is replaced at lock by Agnatius Paasi, with Nathaniel Peteru occupying the vacant spot on the bench.
Eels = Brad Takairangi returns in the centres for Michael Jennings (injured). Kenny Edwards starts in the second row, while Peni Terepo is relegated back to the bench.
Overall = Titans 9 Eels 5
Last 5 matches = Titans 3 Eels 2
At Cbus Super Stadium = Titans 50% Eels 29%
Form = Titans 1 win – Eels 1 loss
The Eels have proven plenty of times this year that they are capable of putting a tough set of circumstance behind them and playing quality football for 80 minutes. They did it last time out against the Titans, although the home team should be better prepared here after extra time to prepare. Last time, they were caught out on a road trip after already having one difficult game prior. That wasn’t the case this time around and the Titans will take plenty of confidence out of their last win over the Dragons. That factor is most important for their halves, who are still forming their relationship on the field; the fact that they have a strong forward pack to play behind is also assisting them. The Eels were good last week, but with no hope of making the Finals their motivation as a team may begin to decrease. The average margin of victory in the Eels past 10 matches sits at 8.6 points, while in their past 5 losses the average margin is slightly above that at 8.8 points. Fact is, they are always ensuring their opponent works hard to overcome them and this match should be no different. Then again, the Titans average margin of victory in their past 5 wins, only 2 of which were at home, sits at 13 points. Put two and two together and you can conclude that the Titans should win this game, covering the line but not completely blowing their opponents away.
Titans -6.5 @ $1.90
Melbourne Storm (2nd) v Sydney Roosters (15th)
The Storm came out and took care of the Knights last week by 4-points, a closer margin than most were expecting given the struggles of the team coming last. It voided them of the opportunity to build a lead and rest their representative players, rather they were locked in a fight for the entire 80 minutes. That isn’t a sign that this team is struggling, just that they were able to do what was required of them for a win. Thankfully for them, they face another team at the bottom of the competition ladder that has little to play for. That is the opposite for the Roosters, who face the team coming second in the competition after losing to the Sharks in MNF. The 79th minute try to their opponents clouded what was a much closer match, with the Roosters being in with a chance of leveling the scores in the closing stages. It wasn’t to be tough, further proving that with their declining performance, the Roosters squad has forgotten how to close out matches and pressure their opponents into mistakes. Still, with little to play for, the Roosters could prove themselves to be a difficult opponent for teams if their motivation is right. The short turnaround will be difficult for them, although they will also be out to make amends for the 46-nil thrashing handed to them by the Storm in Round 14; perhaps one of the most lackluster performances seen by the Roosters in 2016.
Storm = Unchanged.
Roosters = Unchanged.
Overall = Storm 17 Roosters 14
Last 5 matches = Storm 3 Roosters 2
At AAMI Park = Storm 73% Roosters 40%
Form = Storm 3 wins – Roosters 5 losses
There appears to be only one outcome in this fixture and that is a win to the Storm. They have a fantastic record at home, while the Roosters struggles this season are enough to rule them out of a chance of winning this game. The lackluster effort from the Storm last week was perhaps overshadowed by the fact that they had so little of the ball (44%) and only completed 79% of their sets. Getting back to familiar surroundings against a team with reduced preparation time and the momentum appears to be on the side of the home team. There is a sense that should the Storm get out to a comfortable lead that Bellamy may look to rest some of his key players; however such is the attitude of this club, they would probably prefer to be out on the field for the duration of the contest. The Storm’s average margin of victory in their past 10 wins sits at 21 points, while 50% of those victories have been by a margin greater than 18-points. If the Roosters are not careful, things could get ugly for them, just like the last two times these sides met.
Storm 13+ @ $2
Storming to victory = Storm 19+ @ $2.85 – The Storm have a habit of winning matches with authority and returning home with extra time to prepare should work into their favor. The Roosters hardly have the defensive structure to limit their opponents points, so unless there is a dramatic overhaul within a week, this match looks set to be a blow out.
Right Nightmare! = Marika Koroibete FTS and/or LTS @ $7 – The Roosters left edge was horribly exposed early in MNF but it is their right edge that is the real issue. The defensive structure there is diabolical and with the Fijian flyer itching for possession, you can be sure that the Strom will strike there as much as possible.
Cronulla Sharks (1st) v Newcastle Knights (16th)
The Sharks survived a minor scare last week against the Roosters on MNF, prevailing by 12-points eventually to ensure that their winning streak now stretches to 14-games. In a remarkable instance, they are ranked in the bottom half of completion rates in the competition yet still manage to lead the competition. Shane Flanagan didn’t hide the fact that he was disappointed with the way his team finished off the match, missing numerous chances to shut their opponents out of the game. Still, they are riding a wave of confidence and it doesn’t appear as though it will subside any time soon. This game offers them a chance to extend their winning streak, with the Knights struggling at the bottom of the ladder and already suffering a 62-nil loss to the Sharks back in Round 10. The Knights have improved somewhat since then, with their effort last week against the Storm in a 4-point loss suggesting that their next win wasn’t far away. In saying that, their opponents appeared to be away from their best and there is still a remarkable difference between the Knights and the other teams in the competition based on the quality they have within their team. If they were to cause an upset here, it would be one of the most remarkable wins against the odds in recent memory.
Sharks = Andrew Fifita (suspension) returns at prop, allowing Paul Gallen to move back to lock and Jayson Bukuya back to the bench.
Knights = Dane Gagai (injury) returns at fullback for Jake Mamo (suspended). Sam Mataora will start at prop for Robbie Rochow (injured), with Mickey Paea comings onto the bench. Pauli Pauli comes into the second row for Sione Mata’utia (injured), while Jacob Saifiti will start on the bench for brother Daniel (suspended).
Overall = Sharks 13 Knights 20
Last 5 matches = Sharks 3 Knights 2
At Southern Cross Group Stadium = Sharks 56% Knights 53%
Form = Sharks 14 wins – Knights 11 losses
Regardless of how you approach this game, it appears to be a foregone conclusion and a Sharks win. The Knights do not have the quality to compete with the bottom teams in the competition, let alone the team that is leading the league. This decision becomes a matter of how far the Sharks can win by and as confidence increases, so too does complacency. That has crept into their game somewhat as they only did what they had to against the Roosters. On the other hand, such an effort should’ve been expected with several players backing up from Origin. The Sharks should have everything their own way and one area they haven’t struggled with is scoring points against weaker teams. Last time out, the Sharks embarrassed the Knights and their opponents will not want to allow the same thing to happen. Regardless, they still concede and average of 33.5 points, while the Sharks average 26.2 points in attack; they will relish the extra room given by their opponents and will be out to put on a show for their home fans. They’ll cover the line and despite the Knights spirit, they win by more than 5 converted tries.
Sharks -24.5 @ $2
One-way Traffic = Sharks 30+ @ $2.45 – The Knights have shown improvement in recent weeks but last weeks effort wasn’t as good as many thought, with the statistics suggesting that a better team would’ve won. Once they get going, there appears to be little that will halt the Sharks momentum.
St George-Illawarra Dragons (10th) v Wests Tigers (12th)
The Dragons were terrible last week, reaching a low-point in their season with a 20-point loss at the hands of the Titans. To make matters worse, as usual they offered little in attack but even when in good field position with momentum, they found a way to halt it. Demonstrating how weak the middle teams in the competition are, the Dragons still remain close to the Top 8 and can easily get their season back on track with a win here. They are also ahead of the Tigers, a team that enjoyed the bye last week, after a spirted performance in a 10-point loss to the Bulldogs. They were without several representative players in that game, yet their attack proved how dangerous it can be with their dynamic halves combination. That may have swayed coach Jason Taylor’s mind in dropping Robbie Farah; another headline that has reignited the feud between star player and coach. If they win here, it may silence critics until their next game but for a match where they are playing to keep their season alive, they could’ve used a player of his quality. This game isn’t going to excited even the most optimistic rugby league fan, regardless it will be the feature match on Sunday.
Dragons = Taane Milne is named at centre for Tim Lafai (dropped). Jason Nightingale shifts back to the wing, with Adam Quinlan starts at fullback for Kalifa Faifai Loa (injured). Benji Marshall (injured) is named in the halves, while Tariq Sims will start at prop with Jacob Host shifting back to the bench.
Tigers = James Tedesco (Origin) will start at fullback, Aaron Woods (Origin) at prop and Robbie Farah (Origin) will have to bide his time on the bench. Tim Grant moves back there to accommodate the return of Woods.
Overall = Dragons 17 Tigers 14
Last 5 matches = Dragons 3 Tigers 2
At ANZ Stadium = Dragons 49% Tigers 43%
Form = Dragons 2 losses – Tigers 1 loss
The Tigers head into this game as favorites and appear to be well placed, with or without Farah, to win this match. Their strength is to produce points in matches and although their season average is lower than most (20.6 PPG), they score significantly more than the Dragons (13.4 PPG). With little trouble coming their way, the Tigers should be in a position to jump ahead of their opponents. Their struggles come when trying to limit their opponents attacking opportunities and the Dragons have failed numerous times this year to produce points with momentum. Don’t be surprised to see the Dragons improve on last week though, they are on level points with the Tigers and this game means just as much to them as it does their opponents. When their key players fire, they can be difficult for the lower teams in the competition and it has been a while since they’ve been in form. Considering this, the game over the 80 minutes may be closer than most people think; although based upon the superior ability of the Tigers to score points in attack, they should be able to deliver a win. The better investment option appears to be either team to win by less than a converted try.
Either team under 6.5 points @ $2.80
Testing Tigers = Tigers 1-12 @ $2.85 – If as expected, the Tigers win, it would be surprising to see the margin blow out. This is largely due to the fact that they struggle to limit their opponents attacking points regardless of who they’re playing.
South Sydney Rabbitohs (13th) v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (11th)
The Rabbitohs season continues to spiral out of control, now sitting at 6 consecutive losses after their 20-point drubbing by the Broncos. The issues within the club are numerous, yet on the field they only have themselves to blame. Last week they completed at just 63%, had 14 incomplete sets and committed 18 errors. Their fall from grace has been dramatic, although it is no surprise given how it has coincided with a dip in the form of their star players. The Sea Eagles will be full of confidence, after their Golden Point victory delivered them consecutive victories for the second time this year. They prevailed over the Warriors when it mattered most, shutting down numerous attempts by their opponents to steal victory away from them. The play of some individuals was impressive last week, with the future looking bright as many of their youngster are demonstrating experience well-beyond their years. While their Finals hopes are only slim, they will remain confident whilst they’re winning. This is a game that they should win but against a team with little to prove, if their attitude isn’t right, they could be surprised.
Rabbitohs = Bryson Goodwin (injury) returns in the centres, while Adam Reynolds (injury) is also named at halfback. John Sutton (injury) is named in the second row, with Dave Tyrrell to start at prop and Nathan Brown is relegated back to the bench.
Sea Eages = Brayden Wiliame (suspension) will start on the wing, while Nate Myles (injury) is named to return from the bench.
Overall = Rabbitohs 13 Sea Eagles 18
Last 5 matches = Rabbitohs 4 Sea Eagles 1
At Allianz Stadium = Rabbitohs 33% Sea Eagles 54%
Form = Rabbitohs 6 losses – Sea Eagles 2 wins
The form of the Rabbitohs is very poor at the moment and the likely outcome is that the Sea Eagles grab victory. That being said, the decision between these two sides isn’t as clear as it may seem. The Sea Eagles won last week but the result of the match could’ve easily gone the other way, in which case would’ve had people viewing the momentum of these two sides differently. The fact that it didn’t, see’s the Sea Eagles take favoritism into this match with the challenge ahead of the Rabbitohs. For what they have shown in the past few weeks, the Rabbitohs will be struggle. They are making too many simple errors in attack and are not managing to hold their opponents in defence. The Sea Eagles haven’t been much better; although things are looking brighter for them and at this late stage of the season, winning form is good form. That being said, while they should win due to the fact that the Sea Eagles should be able to hold what the Rabbitohs throw at them, you cannot confidently say that the Sea Eagles will win; meaning that you shouldn’t invest too much on this match. Perhaps a better option would be the points spread, with this game possibly being high-scoring as the Sea Eagles concede an average of 22.8 points, while the Rabbitohs average 24.1 points.
Total Points Over 42.5 @ $1.90
If you’re confident… = Sea Eagles 1-12 @ $2.75 – If you’re confident enough that the Sea Eagles can get the win, then this is the margin you should invest on. Sure, they’ve won their past two matches but their momentum can easily unwind given the struggles they have already experience this year, not to mention their fragile defensive structure.