St George-Illawarra Dragons (12th) v Brisbane Broncos (6th)
These two teams head into this match desperate to break the currently losing streak that they are on. Both have played poorly during the current run of form and only have their roster to blame. The Dragons went down to the Bulldogs by only 3-points in the end, although they allowed their opponents to lead 13-nil at HT. The fact that they kept them scoreless in the second half could be something to take away from a very dour and boring contest. Nevertheless, their point scoring struggles continue and they are showing no signs of improvement. The Broncos story was far worse, given how they were playing earlier on in the season. The second-last Roosters surprised them with intensity and power, leaving the Broncos searching for answers in their 32-16 loss. Poor 5th tackle options, loose defence and a 69% completion rate are all to blame; and their appears to be no end in sight. They should come out and dominate this contest given their superior standing over the Dragons, but with poor form comes a lack of confidence and currently, the entire team are struggling to overcome their current situation. Not even a “no-try-howler” can overshadow their steep decent.
Dragons = Tyrone McCarthy has been named on the bench for Will Matthews. Tyson Frizell (suspended) was named but will miss out and a replacement is yet to be named.
Broncos = Josh McGuire (suspension) is named at prop; Sam Thaiday (suspension) will start in the second row alongside Matt Gillett (injury). Their returns relegate Jai Arrow, Jaydn Su’A and Alex Glenn back to the bench.
Overall = Dragons 14 Broncos 21
Last 5 matches = Dragons 1 Broncos 4
At WIN Stadium = Dragons 63% Broncos 58%
Form = Dragons 4 losses – Broncos 2 losses
Despite their current form, the Dragons are still with a chance of making the Finals, although they will need to dramatically turn around their form if they’re to make it. This should motivate them to some point but ultimately; the Broncos appear to be superior in almost every area of the match. The returning players will boost the quality of their team and build the confidence of those players around them. Better still, they face the Dragons at an ideal time; whereby their opponents struggles could be used to rebuild their play that relies upon the halves leading the team after the forwards have built momentum. This is exactly what has been missing in recent weeks and could hold the key to them winning here. As for the margin, the Broncos have enjoyed a strong recent record over the Dragons, with the Dragons only managing to win one out of the past 10 meetings between the two sides. Of their past 5 wins, two have been by less than 2 converted tries, while the average margin of victory sits at 15.6 points. Their Round 6 meeting earlier this year was a 26-nil drubbing and if the Broncos return to that form, there is no limit to what they can achieve. Then again, conditions are expected to be very wet, cold and windy; certainly not conducive to scoring plenty of points and this should keep the Broncos within 2 converted tries of the Dragons.
Broncos 1-12 @ $2.75
Parramatta Eels (14th) v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (11th)
The Eels were spirited against the Tigers on Saturday afternoon, athough much more was needed from them to grab a win. In the end, they still only scored one try and went the entire second half without scoring a point. Lack of possession didn’t help their cause, but with their fate sealed for 2016, it was a somewhat motivated effort. The Sea Eagles enjoyed greater consistency, overcoming the Knights by 20-points in a one-sided match that stretches their winning streak to 4 games. They will be disappointed that they allowed their opponents to score so many points, especially being up 36-nil; the relaxed approach after this point can be explained but for a team that needs to improve their “for and against”, they missed a unique opportunity to claw back some much needed points. Majority of their attack ran through Tom Trbojevic at the back, with DCE coming back into form and leading his team strongly. It is no secret that the Sea Eagles forward pack has also improved; with their hopes only slim at this stage, winning is a great motivating factor to keep their 2016 campaign alive. They should be able to handle the Eels in this game, but their opponents will also be motivated by the opportunity to pile misery on the Sea Eagles with a loss.
Eels = Michael Jennings (injury) is named in the centres, Beau Scott (injury) in the second row and Manu Ma’u (injury) at lock. Kenny Edwards and Peni Terepo are relegated back to the bench.
Sea Eagles = Unchanged, with Nate Myles and Matt Parcell on an extended bench.
Overall = Eels 15 Sea Eagles 14
Last 5 matches = Eels 4 Sea Eagles 1
At Pirtek Stadium = Eels 60% Sea Eagles 29%
Form = Eels 3 losses – Sea Eagles 4 wins
If the Eels were at full strength, there is no doubt that they would be favorites for this game; the Sea Eagles have won just 1 of the past 5 meeting between the two sides and struggle at Pirtek Stadium (29% win record). Thankfully for the visitors, the Eels are down on numbers and confidence. This should be a match where they improve yet again and enhance their Finals aspirations. The Eels have promised a lot this year, however since they’ve lost Corey Norman, the final straw of a horror season, they’ve appeared to be a different team. They will be motivated enough in the opening stages, as well as have a strong game plan to combat the weaknesses of players that Brad Arthur knows well. In the end though, the Sea Eagles should prevail. Their attacking flair was impressive last week and their key players in their spine are growing with confidence. With this added to their play, as well as young players firing, it should be a comfortable victory.
Sea Eagles -7.5 @ $1.85
Soaring past them = Sea Eagles 13+ @ $2.45 – The Sea Eagles did lose the second half to the Knights last week but you can be sure that they will not want that to happen again. The Eels will fight but with a notably lack of class, the Sea Eagles should be able to flex their muscles and win easily.
Newcastle Knights (16th) v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (5th)
The Knights again struggle through 80 minutes of rugby league, this time it was at the hands of the Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval. As has been the theme of their recent matches, they were able to salvage some pride by scoring points and reducing the margin between the two sides, although some of that can be attributed to their opponents reducing their own intensity. They face the Bulldogs at an ideal time too, they could use the confidence after struggling in the past few weeks to develop momentum. Despite having one of the biggest and most powerful packs in the competition, they’ve been unable to create room in the middle, while their halves have also struggled to create genuine attack opportunities. Plenty of excuses have been made to explain their flaws but fact is, they’re not appearing to be a genuine Top 8 team. They need to win this match by dominating from start to finish and rebuild the confidence within this team that will help them in the closing weeks of the competition.
Knights = Jarrod Mullen (injury) is named at 5/8, while Sam mataora (suspension) comes into the team at prop. He joins Daniel Saifiti, with Korbin Sims moves back to the bench, alongside Pat Mata’utia.
Bulldogs = Raymond Faitala-Mariner will start in the second row for Greg Eastwood (injured), allowing Tony Williams to come onto the bench.
Overall = Knights 16 Draw 1 Bulldogs 14
Last 5 matches = Knights 3 Bulldogs 2
At Hunter Stadium = Knights 58% Bulldogs 36%
Form = Knights 13 losses – Bulldogs 1 win
Despite the recent struggles of the Bulldogs and their poor record in Newcastle, this should be a game that they win comfortably. The Knights simply do not have the quality to counter what the Bulldogs will send their way over 80 minutes and the hardest this will be deciding on the margin. In the Bulldogs past 4 wins over the Knights, they have only an average winning margin of just 8 points; then again, the quality of those teams was far improved on what is on offer here. The Bulldogs also have a history of bullying those teams that are far weaker than them; against the Rabbitohs, Tigers, Roosters, Sea Eagles (start of the season) and the Dragons, the Bulldogs have an average winning margin of 16.9 points. On the other hand, the Knights have lost their past 5 matches by 14.4 points, 3 of which were by 12 points or less; then again, their average losing margin in the past 13 losses sits at 24.4 points. The improvement in their recent matches is evident and the struggles of the Bulldogs will not exactly evade them immediately. Look for the Knights to cover the line, but the Bulldogs to win by more than 2 converted tries. This makes finding value difficult, but there are a few options available.
Bulldogs 13-18 @ $4.50
Cronulla Sharks (1st) v Canberra Raiders (3rd)
The Sharks amazing winning streak came to an end on Monday, unable to be separated from the Titans after 90 minutes of rugby league. The game descended into “field-goal chaos” at a certain point, meaning that the Sharks moved away from a formula that has worked well for them all season. There were signs that they were also vulnerable as the Titans targeted certain players; although that will be a minor factor moving forward and the result is certain to make them hungrier for this game. The Raiders travel back to Sydney after demolishing the Rabbitohs last Sunday by 50-points, with every chance that the score line could’ve been increased had the Raiders felt the need to do so. They had some impressive passages of play and their confidence level was at its highest. The Raiders were rewarded with a win and 2 competition points, which carried them into the Top 4 on the NRL ladder. The challenge for them is to now remain here and capture a “second-chance” during the NRL Finals. This match is promising to be a very exciting and tough encounter.
Sharks = Unchanged.
Raiders = Brenko Lee comes onto the wing for Edrick Lee (injured).
Overall = Sharks 19 Raiders 14
Last 5 matches = Sharks 3 Raiders 2
At Southern Cross Group Stadium = Sharks 56% Raiders 40%
Form = Sharks 1 Draw – Raiders 5 wins
The short turnaround will make it very difficult for the Sharks to maintain a strong intensity for the duration of this match. On top of that, their last match was a bruising encounter and it would be surprising if the Raiders were going to drop the intensity on them. The Raiders will know how and where to target the Sharks but whether or not they are able to execute their plan properly is another thing altogether. Their past 2 trips to this stadium have been successful ones, winning by of them by an average of 7-points. Sure, this Sharks team is dramatically different and they have made this ground into a fortress in 2016; they haven’t lost there yet this year and the last time was back in Round 26, 2015. This game also features two of the top 4 sides in the competition currently and should be very tight. The initial odds being offered for the two teams are ridiculous. This game is much closer than the odds suggest and fatigue will be a major factor towards the end of this one. For the sake of naming a winner, value seems to lie in the Raiders and there is no reason why they cannot get it done. The Sharks are a tough team but the Titans show last week how to beat them. Even though returning home will lift them, the Raiders have what it takes to cause an upset.
Raiders +6.5 @ $1.90
Tri your luck! = Either team under 6.5 points @ $3 – Again, ridiculous odds for two teams that sit so high on the competition ladder. The Raiders have their flaws but as mentioned above, so will the Sharks after their match last week. Expect things to be very tight and only decided in the closing minutes of the match.
Melbourne Storm (2nd) v South Sydney Rabbitohs (13th)
The Storm flexed their muscles against the Cowboys last week, becoming the first team this season to beat them on their home turf. In saying that, the Cowboys were without JT in the halves and there is no doubt that his presence would’ve enhanced the chances of their opponents. Regardless, the Storm were strong; they dominated the speed of the ruck and scored some impressive tries. It still wasn’t enough to grab the top spot in the league, but they are chasing the Sharks with purpose. This game should be another win for them, with the Rabbitohs turning out one of the worst displays in recent years as they were beaten 54-4 by the Raiders. As hard as they tried to remain competitive in the opening minutes, the Raiders soon grabbed control of the match and never allowed their opponents a chance. The most disappointing factor for the Rabbitohs was that the attitude appeared poor in defence and several players have evidently reduced their application and intensity over the contest. If this continues, it is going to be a long couple of weeks ahead of them towards the end of the season.
Storm = Tim Glasby is named to start, swapping with Christian Welch, who will start from the bench.
Rabbitohs = Greg Inglis (injury) returns at 5/8 to replace Luke Keary (injured), with Joe Burgess back on the wing. Hymel Hunt (injury) returns in the centres, allowing Angus Crichton to move to the back row for Kyle Turner, who finds himself on the bench. Damien Cook starts at hooker for Cameron McInnes (injured), with Tom Burgess (suspension) returning on the bench.
Overall = Storm 21 Rabbitohs 4
Last 5 matches = Storm 4 Rabbitohs 1
At AAMI Park = Storm 73% Rabbitohs 0%
Form = Storm 5 wins – Rabbitohs 8 losses
The Rabbitohs effort last week was that of a team that has given up on their season; not only that, the players have lost the trust of those around them. They will be lucky to win another game this season, let alone get close. The trip down to Melbourne is difficult for any team, let alone one that is playing for nothing else other than pride. This game is not a matter of if the Storm win but by how much. Their match a few weeks ago against the Knights was meant to be the opportunity for them to build a lead and then rest a few of their key stars. They were afforded that and this game could very well provide that option. Expect the Storm to cover the line easily; in the Rabbitohs past 4 matches, they haven’t scored above 12 points and average a total of 6.5 PPG. Their average losing margin sits at 24.5 PPG, while 3 out of the 4 victories were by more than 20 points. At the same time, the Storm’s average victory margin on their 5-game winning streak is 15.8 points and there are no signs that they are going to ease up in their run home to the Finals. Hopefully, they have built up a large enough lead for them to still cover the line if they choose to rest a few of their players in the closing stages of the match.
Storm -18.5 @ $1.90
Weak edges = Suliasi Vunivalu FTS and/or LTS @ $5 – It was very hard to go past Marika Koroibete ($7) for this option, as the Rabbitohs have very poor edge defence. Still, Vunivalu has been electric so far this season and you can be sure that the Storm will look to expose the Rabbitohs weaknesses on their right edge (as well as their left).
Gold Coast Titans (7th) v New Zealand Warriors (8th)
This game has been brought to the minds of most, after Jarryd Hayne chose to sign with the Titans for the next 3 years. His impact is sure to be felt on and off the field and has turned the focus on this game into somewhat of a circus. The Titans took a major leap forward in their campaign with a strong showing against the Sharks. It was especially impressive considering the players that were absent from their line up. Their game plan didn’t back away from targeting some perceived strengths in their opponents outfit, and at the same time highlighting weaknesses. While it was only a draw, they still remain inside the Top 8 and have a great chance to jump further ahead against a team that is hot on their heels. It’ll be tough for them though, their previous match was on a Monday and they have several players struggling with niggles. The Warriors will take plenty of confidence into this game, as they prevailed in yet another Golden Point match. This time though, the result went their way and it was some Shaun Johnson brilliance that got them over the line. All too often his inconsistent performance can negatively impact the rest of his team, although plenty of others are responsible for the Warriors unreliable efforts thus far. There was a notable difference in their execution, as they completed at 81% and missed just 26 tackles, yet still committed 13 errors. It will go a long way to developing confidence within their squad and after moving back into the Top 8, it is now up to them whether or not they are able to remain firm or find themselves yet again in a fight to return to Finals contention.
Titans = Nathan Peats (injury) returns at hooker, with Ryan Simpkins moving back to the bench. Jarryd Hayne will be included, just unsure where.
Warriors = Nathaniel Roache and Bunty Afoa have been added to an extended bench, with Jazz Tevaga (injured) missing out.
Overall = Titans 7 Warriors 12
Last 5 matches = Titans 1 Warriors 4
At Cbus Super Stadium = Titans 50% Warriors 56%
Form = Titans 3 wins – Warriors 1 win
This game has taken a dramatic turn since the inclusion of Hayne; although those people that are suggesting that he will have an immediate, positive impact on the Titans need to think again. He hasn’t played for almost 2 years now and he will be short of match fitness, let alone a match where the intensity will be increased as two teams fight it out for a position in the Finals. As a team, the Titans are coming off a tough match and a short turnaround; this will limit how effective they are, while the Warriors will relish the extra time to prepare. The Titans are favorites for obvious reasons but the Warriors are not without a chance of winning this match. There is the hint that the entire Hayne-saga may detract away from this teams performance and allow the Warriors a chance at stealing victory. You can build a case for them too; their record at this ground is strong and the Titans have only beaten the Warriors once in their past 10 meetings. Even without Hayne in their team, it was always going to be tough and fatigue could to kick in at the wrong time. A narrow Warriors upset appears to be on the cards.
Warriors @ $2.65
Line them up! = Warriors +4.5 @ $2 – If you don’t think the Warriors will get home, then take them with the line. They’re drifting in some markets but this match is bound to be close. There isn’t too much between these two teams and it could go down to the wire.
Wests Tigers (10th) v North Queensland Cowboys (4th)
The Tigers winning momentum rolled on last week, this time it was a 15-point win over the Eels. Everything didn’t go their way though, Luke Brooks went down with a hamstring injury and will be sidelined for several weeks. They didn’t panic and Mitchell Moses did a great job of lifting his side over the line with some magnificent individual plays. Brooks’ injury did reignite the “Farah-Taylor feud”; nevertheless the winning ways of the Tigers are proving worthwhile for now. It’ll be a difficult game for them this week against the Cowboys, a team who are coming off their first home loss of the year to the Storm. It was always going to be difficult without Thurston in their side, although the Cowboys never let their star playmakers absence be used as an excuse. Instead, they combatted just about everything the Storm threw at them over 80 minutes and forced their opponents to score through some amazing plays. The quality is still their within the Cowboys rosters and they now rely on a host of players rather than the solitary one to deliver them a victory. The Tigers will be out to prove a point that they belong and there is no better platform than performing against a team like the Cowboys, even without JT.
Tigers = Jack Littlejohn comes into the team at halfback to replace Luke Brooks (injured).
Cowboys = Unchanged.
Overall = Tigers 16 Cowboys 15
Last 5 matches = Tigers 2 Cowboys 3
At Leichhardt Oval = Tigers 59% Cowboys 13%
Form = Tigers 2 wins – Cowboys 1 loss
The Tigers are riding high with their current form and rightly so, they’ve played some impressive football on the way. While they’re improving, their flaws in defence are still evident and the Cowboys set a different standard altogether. The Tigers will face a tough challenge, although they have some statistics on their side. The Cowboys winning record at Leichhardt Oval is terrible, although they haven’t played at this ground since before 2011 and the Cowboys were far worse back then. Now, they’re a force in the NRL with no more evidence needed than how they performed last week against the Storm without JT. They will be ready for what the Tigers have and have numerous answer for them. The Cowboys should be able to cover the line due to their opponents poor defensive structure so far this year; the Tigers concede and average of 24.1 PPG, where as the Cowboys allow just 14.2 PPG. Once they get ahead, there is no limit to what the Cowboys can achieve, especially with conditions expected to be dry after a very wet week in Sydney.
Cowboys -6.5 @ $1.90
Riding home = Cowboys 13+ @ $2.60 – Despite their recent form, the Tigers will find it tough to continually compete with the Cowboys over 80 minutes. The amount of points they’ve conceded aren’t kind to them and there is no reason why the Cowboys cannot run up a large tally here.
Penrith Panthers (9th) v Sydney Roosters (15th)
The Panthers went down narrowly last week to the Warriors in Golden Point, another frustrating loss that demonstrated the inexperience within this young team. That will improve with time, although it isn’t the best situation for them to be in when they’re chasing a spot in the Finals. It will be another difficult challenge for them here, a match that they should win against a rejuvenated Roosters team. Their win last week over the Broncos was one of their best performances so far this year and highlighted just what they’re capable of. Plenty of factors went their way during the contest and they ensured that the Broncos were continually pressured. It has been a long time coming, but their halves clicked together positively and worked well with the spine to put their team in a strong position at the end of their sets. With little else to play for other than pride, efforts like that towards the end of the year will be few and far between; nevertheless, there is a real sense that this club is building strongly towards next season.
Panthers = Unchanged.
Roosters = Unchanged.
Overall = Panthers 16 Roosters 17
Last 5 matches = Panthers 2 Roosters 3
At Pepper Stadium = Panthers 53% Roosters 57%
Form = Panthers 1 loss – Roosters 1 win
The Panthers just scrapped home with a 4-point victory in Round 7 and thankfully, they’ve improved since then. Problem is, so too have the Roosters in recent weeks and they will be out to make things difficult for their opponents. Most betting markets suggest that this game will be one sided, but you cannot be so sure. The Panthers have a habit of making things difficult for themselves; especially against opponents that they should be able to handle. They have what it takes to prevail here and it will be another strong test for their young team. Their past 5 wins have been by an average margin of 8.6 points. Continually causing their coach headaches, the Panthers struggle to close games out and, if they’re lucky enough, end up just prevailing. Their power in the middle should be too much for the Roosters though, who would be a different team with some key players back in their pack. This will be an exciting contest though and should go down to the wire.
Panthers 1-12 @ $2.45