Brisbane Broncos (6th) v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (4th)
The Broncos returned to their winning ways last week with a strong effort over the Eels. While it was hardly a win to write home about, the effort returned some much-needed confidence to their team. It also brought back attacking flair that had been absent since their dominating start to the season. It would be foolish to get carried away at this point though, as there are still plenty of areas to improve upon, most notably their 72% completion rate and 12 errors. The Bulldogs also carry winning momentum into this match, after prevailing in dramatic circumstances against the Sea Eagles last week. The match went to Golden Point and it was an error from the opposing fullback that lead to the deciding try being scored. Even for their sub-par performances, they are doing a good job of maintain winning form. They’ve won 7 of their past 10 matches and have climbed the competition ladder to sit comfortably inside the Top 4. For all the years they have acknowledged it, this season could be the year where the Bulldogs are “flying under the radar”. Still, winning form is good form and their power is hard to overcome in matches. When they’re vulnerable though, teams need to strike and the Broncos will be ready for the challenge that this match offers.
Broncos = Jordan Kahu (injury) returns on the wing at the expense of Jonus Pearson.
Bulldogs = Greg Eastwood (injury) returns to the back row, pushing Raymond Faitala-Mariner back to the bench.
Overall = Broncos 19 Draw 1 Bulldogs 15
Last 5 Matches = Broncos 3 Bulldogs 2
At Suncorp Stadium = Broncos 60% Bulldogs 47%
Form = Broncos 2 wins – Bulldogs 3 wins
Both teams have struggled for consistency recently with the Broncos winning just 4 of their past 10 and the Bulldogs recording small-margin victories against struggling opponents. They sit inside the Top 4 of the competition, although this is their biggest test since they faced the Cowboys in Round 20. They’ve done enough in their past wins to overcome their opponents, yet it is difficult to erase the memory of that fixture. The Broncos win last week was desperately needed, mainly because it returned confidence to their halves. Prior to that, their direction in attack left plenty to be desired and without a pack of forwards controlling the middle, the halves struggled further. The Broncos will be out for revenge too, as the Bulldogs hammered them 40-14 back in Round 16 when several of the Broncos players were suffering greatly from the representative period. That was the second highest points the Bulldogs have scored this season and a surprising performance in the sense that they are a team that consistently plays to the level of their opponents. As poor as the Broncos halves have been, so too have the Bulldogs and in the past 5 matches, 4 of which were against teams outside the Top 8, they managed to score an average of 18.6 PPG, compared with the Broncos 21.6 PPG. Fact is, this should be the difference between the two teams, with the Bulldogs struggles in this area to continue without a dominating performance to regain their confidence. Expect this game to be tight, with a Finals-intensity being set and the loud home crowd lifting their team over the line.
Broncos 1-12 @ $2.75
Penrith Panthers (7th) v Wests Tigers (10th)
The Panthers kept to the script last week, producing an impressive display against the Knights in Newcastle. There were some reservations heading into the match given how other results had played out, as well as their poor record at the ground. Rising above the challenges, the way in which the Panthers won the contest was most pleasing. They controlled the speed of the match at the ruck and never allowed their opponents too many attacking opportunities. The Tigers didn’t achieve the same result though, who went down to a field goal that was converted with the last play of the game. It was a tough way to lose for them, as they were on a 4-game winning streak and appeared to be growing in stature. There were signs that their previous weeks match against the Cowboys had taken out a lot of their energy and they failed to capitalize on several attacking opportunities. It also put a major dent in their Finals aspirations, with the requirements now to have them win all of their remaining matches to stay alive. This will be no easy task, although they have an 8-point victory over the Panthers back in Round 17 to spur them on. On the other hand, the Panthers team they faced then is very different to the one that will take the field here.
Panthers = Unchanged.
Tigers = Luke Brooks (injury) returns at halfback, while Jordan Rankin named at fullback for James Tedesco (injured).
Overall = Panthers 16 Tigers 12
Last 5 Matches = Panthers 2 Tigers 3
At Peppers Stadium = Panthers 54% Tigers 38%
Form = Panthers 2 wins – Tigers 1 loss
The Tigers Finals campaign took a major dive last week, not only for the result of the match but also losing Tedesco for the season. This is a must-win game if they’re to keep in contention and will hope that a short turnaround for the Panthers will work in their favor. Nevertheless, the Panthers hardly found themselves strained against the Knights and that match strengthened their combinations and enhanced their confidence. Home ground advantage is everything, although the last time the Panthers beat the Tigers at this ground was Round 7, 2010. Regardless, the Panthers should still be too strong for the Tigers, given the maturity that is developing within their team. It will be a tough fight though, with the inclusion of Brooks increasing the visitor’s chances of causing an upset. Along with that, they would have to take the contest to their opponent’s forwards and allow for pressure to build there. The Panthers are deserving favorites for this game, although the margin being offered in favor of the Tigers is borderline ridiculous. The Panthers still sit second on the ladder for errors and missed tackles and lack consistency; while this exists within their team, a dominating victory, similar to the one last week, can not be expected from them in a contest such as this.
Tigers +10.5 @ $1.85
Keeping the theme = Panthers 1-12 @ $2.85 – Most people are expected a one-sided win to the home team but the fact is that in their 11 wins so far this year, only 3 have been by a margin of more than 13 points, two of which were in the last two weeks. That is great form, although they were against a weaker opponent with a lot less to play for than the Tigers.
Newcastle Knights (16th) v Gold Coast Titans (8th)
The Knights losing record stretched again last week, this time with the Panthers clicking into gear in the second half. The home team was unable to compete at this level, disappointing to some extent as they went into the break ties up at 6-all. There isn’t much to be happy about at the Knights but those players with uncertain futures will want to prove a point on the field. The Titans have a second trip down to Sydney in consecutive weeks, after narrowly overcoming the Tigers last week in Campbelltown. It took a last second field goal by none other than Jarryd Hayne who stood up when needed. The fact that the result was so close pointed towards the fatigue of the Titans and they are somewhat lucky that their opponents goal kicking was off during that match. Had things gone as planned, the Titans may very well have had their fate decided well before the final play of the game. That isn’t the way the game went though and the win was valuable in keeping the Finals hopes of the Titans alive. They are improving each week and continue to surprise and this is a match that they will want to move through with ease, while at the same time, improving their points difference.
Knights = Nathan Ross (injury) returns on the wing, along with Jeremy Smith (injury) being named at lock. This forces Pat Mata’utia and Mickey Paea back to the bench, along with Josh King, who comes in for Chris Adams.
Titans = Unchanged.
Overall = Knights 9 Titans 6
Last 5 Matches = Knights 3 Titans 2
At Hunter Stadium = Knights 58% Titans 38%
Form = Knights 15 losses – Titans 1 loss
There is little hope that the Knights can cause an upset. Each week when they look set to be competitive, they are unable to go to the same level of their opponents. Their only hope may be the home ground advantage, as the Titans have a poor record at this ground and have only won 2 out of the past 5 matches there. Then again, they are a team that is desperately chasing a spot in the Finals and will want to build on their victory last week. The Knights have demonstrated in their 4 losses (two of which were at home) that they tend to switch off once the contest is lost, losing by an average of 25.5 PPG. The opportunity, aside from winning, that lies ahead of the Titans is a chance to improve their point’s differential and move higher it competition points are equal. This looks possible, with the Titans average 21.5 PPG in attack compared with the Knights 12.4 PPG, while their opponents concede 33.9 PPG. With the Titans averaging 21.1 PPG in defence, things look set to get ugly for the Knights and this match could be over well before the final quarter of it.
Titans -13.5 @ $1.90
Gunning for more = Titans 19+ @ $2.60 – The Titans difference at the moment is +8, although there are 5 other teams that they could possible end up with the same points as. Two of those have point’s difference greater than 30+ heading into this week and if they end up level, the Titans will want the edge.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (12th) v Melbourne Storm (1st)
The Sea Eagles Finals hopes were extinguished last week in Golden Point, with a mistake at the back leading to a Bulldogs try. Mathematically, they are still alive but divine intervention would be more helpful. This will bring into question the motivation of the squad, a team that was travelling strongly until they lost to the Eels in Round 22. Even with their season on the line last week, much more was expected and they failed to deliver. This week will be a tough test, as they face a Storm team that is coming off a loss in Canberra. They are faced with another different road trip, especially considering that their last match was only played on Monday. Their fatigue levels are sure to be high also, as the Raiders took a stance in the forwards and brutally defended their line. This halted the momentum of the Storm, which affected the production of points from their halves. Even with the loss ending their 6-game winning streak, they still sit at the top of the competition ladder and they are a team to be feared. The Storm will have learnt from their match last week and be prepared for what the Sea Eagles offer; more so considering they were upset on home turf in Round 8 by 2-points.
Sea Eagles = Lewis Brown shifts to the centres for Dylan Walker (injured), with Matt Parcell coming onto the bench. Nate Myles and Blake Leary are also named on the interchange.
Storm = Unchanged.
Overall = Sea Eagles 13 Draw 1 Storm 15
Last 5 Matches = Sea Eagles 3 Storm 2
At Brookvale Oval = Sea Eagles 65% Storm 33%
Form = Sea Eagles 2 losses – Storm 1 loss
With both teams heading into this game with defeats, the Storm appear to have more at stake with an undesired result. If this was the Sea Eagles last game at home for the year, you could expect an inspired performance with the impending retirement of Jamie Lyon, they’ll be back here next week and while there is no love lost between these two rivals, motivation may be lacking for the home team. The Storms fatigue and overall performance will be affected by their match on Monday; it was a very physical encounter and it will take longer to recover from than intended. This will limit what they offer here, but the visitors should still have what it takes to prevail. At the end of the day, they cannot afford another loss if they intend to take out the Minor Premiership. This is a match that they should win and win well. The last two weeks have been uncharacteristic performances from them and while there is the sense that they have focused towards bigger accomplishments, they will not want to take the Sea Eagles easy. Due to fatigue, expect this game to be closer than expected as the Storm pack attempts to wrestle dominance away from their opponents.
Storm 1-12 @ $2.75
North Queensland Cowboys (5th) v New Zealand Warriors (9th)
The Cowboys finger is lingering over the panic button with their 4th loss in their past 5 matches. It was another trip to Sydney that saw them come out on the wrong side of the scoreboard, with the bottom-of-the-table Roosters ambushing their opponents. The Cowboys won’t be too worried at this stage and there is no doubt that this team is aiming to peak during the Finals, not 3-4 weeks prior to that point. In equal measure, the Warriors sounded alarm bells with their shock-loss to the Rabbitohs at home. No one really saw such a performance coming, with a match against the Titans perhaps taking more out of their side than expected. Then again, their opponents took the contest to them in the middle of the field and the Warriors were unable to match their power and intensity. It was disappointing to the point that the Warriors failed to improve upon their point’s difference and lost plenty of momentum in that effort. Not only that, they dropped out of the Top 8 and are now in danger of missing the Finals altogether with a tough road trip across to Townsville ahead of them. With their two remaining games at home, fixtures are in their favor but a loss here could end their chances prior to that point and they need to be desperate here.
Cowboys = Antonio Winterstein (injury) returns on the wing at the expense of Javid Bown, with Coen Hess coming onto the bench.
Warriors = David Fusitu’a is named at fullback for Tuimoala Lolohea (dropped), forcing Blake Ayshford to be promoted to the centres. James Gavet and Bunty Afoa come onto the bench.
Overall = Cowboys 16 Warriors 15
Last 5 Matches = Cowboys 3 Warriors 2
At 1300Smile Stadium = Cowboys 83% Warriors 40%
Form = Cowboys 3 losses – Warriors 1 loss
With the Warriors desperately hanging onto hope that they can produce a Final appearance, there is the thought that they could cause an upset in this match. If this game was played anywhere else other than Townsville, they would be a chance but the Cowboys record at this ground is phenomenal. They’ve lost just once there this year and twice since July 2015. They appeared tired in their last two efforts and consecutive trips down to Sydney can do that; not to mention how the quality of opponent they were facing would lead to a relaxed approach. The Warriors will be desperate and with their increased desperation should come a better performance. The start is crucial to their chances because as the Cowboys have proven in the past, once they gather momentum, they are a difficult team to stop. The Warriors have won just 1 out of the past 4 matches at this ground, with 2 of the margins in being by 20+ points in favor of the home side, at an average of 21.3 PPG. On top of that, they’ve won just 2 out of their past 5 matches on the road, with one of those matches being against the Knights. If the Warriors are not careful, things could get ugly for them; the last time the Cowboys came off a loss and returned home they beat the Bulldogs 36-nil. They are still a week or two away from finding their best, but it would be surprising to see the Cowboys beaten, although this match is expected to be closer than most think.
Cowboys 1-12 @ $2.90
Canberra Raiders (3rd) v Parramatta Eels (14th)
The Raiders announced themselves as a genuine contender for the Top 4 this year with a controlling win over the Storm in Canberra. It wasn’t just the result, which was pleasing, it was the way they went about it. They pressured the Storm in the forwards and beat them up with bruising contact at the defensive line. Furthermore, it was a message that they will be able to compete on more than one level with the better teams. In a great sign moving forward, the win powered them into third on the competition ladder, with no signs of the Raiders easing their intensity. The challenge for the home team will be maintaining intensity and consistency, especially in a match against the Eels that they’re expected to win. The Eels travelled to Brisbane last week to be defeated by the Broncos; a match where they were competitive for some parts but once they got behind, their motivation faded quickly. The 22-point winning margin didn’t accurately point to the effort that was still within this team but at some point, the pride will dramatically fall away from their efforts. A trip down to Canberra in winter with little to play for offers the opportunity for the Eels players to “check out” for this game and if they’re not careful, they could be put to the sword.
Raiders = Kurt Baptiste is named at hooker for Josh Hodgson (suspended), with Adam Clydsdale filling the vacant bench spot.
Eels = Semi Radradra (injury) returns on the wing at the expense of Vau Touta, with Beau Scott (injury) named at lock. Danny Wicks moves into the front row, with Daniel Alvaro relegated back to the bench.
Overall = Raiders 15 Eels 12
Last 5 Matches = Raiders 3 Eels 2
At GIO Stadium = Raiders 56% Eels 40%
Form = Raiders 7 wins – Eels 1 loss
It was evident last week that the Eels motivation is beginning to decline dramatically. There is nothing to gain from this trip for them other than disrupting the momentum of their opponents and after last week, the Raiders will not want ease their intensity. They made a statement against the Storm last week and the best way to move ahead with that is by coming out and dominating again on home turf. Since Round 20, the maximum points the Eels have scored in a match has been 18, with an average of 13.2 PPG. In the same period of time, the minimum the Raiders have scored in 22 (against the Storm last week), with an average of 31.6 PPG. This spell trouble for the Eels and once the Raiders get momentum, the perfect daytime conditions will be conducive to free-flowing, attacking rugby league.
Raiders -13.5 @ $1.90
Winning with authority = Raiders 19+ @ $2.35 – The Raiders flexed their muscles last week, while the Eels struggled all the same. With motivation at a low point, the Raiders could get rolling and build a large tally on their opponents.
Rapana on points = Jordan Rapana FTS and/or LTS @ $7 – The battle between Rapana and Radradra is exciting, although the time away from the game will hurt the Eels flyer. His defence wasn’t a strength of his game and he only expected to struggle further against a team that is currently flying!
Sydney Roosters (15th) v St George Illawarra Dragons (11th)
The Roosters demonstrated just what they’re capable of against the Cowboys now that they’re back to full strength; beating their opponents comfortably by 22-10. With more intense matches ahead, there is the argument that the attention of their opponents in that match was focused elsewhere, although the Roosters made all the right moves on the field to relentless pressure their opponents. While it doesn’t drag them off the bottom of the ladder, it will give them plenty of hope moving forward. The Dragons also got the result they wanted, a commanding 32-18 win over the Sharks. It was the first time since Round 16 (against the Knights) that they’ve scored over 30-points in a match and their highest total in a match this season (and since Round 26, 2015). They had plenty of favors in that game, yet forced the Sharks to make a host of errors that they are not accustomed to making. While a superior possession statistic helped, they executed in a positive manner with an 84% completion rate and a staggering 18 offloads. The direction of the attack appeared different and with three “winnable” games ahead, they are still an outside chance of making the Finals. First, they will be out to replicate their Round 8 win over the Roosters and perhaps improve upon their points difference in the process.
Roosters = Unchanged.
Dragons = Both Leeson Ah Mau and Jacob Host have been included on the bench for Tariq Sims (injured).
Overall = Roosters 15 Draw 1 Dragons 19
Last 5 Matches = Roosters 3 Dragons 2
At Allianz Stadium = Roosters 62% Dragons 42%
Form = Roosters 1 win – Dragons 1 win
It is surprising to see that the winning form that these two sides carry into this match has people puzzled, while their own fans have been wondering where it has been all year! These two sides also have a recent history of close matches; in the past 4 meeting between the two (wins split equally), the average winning margin is 4.3 points. This game is expected to be similar to those matches, although last week suggests that both sides are willing to throw the ball around for points. The Roosters are enjoying a revival now that their team is back to full-strength and with Dragons needing to win this game to keep their Finals hopes alive. The Dragons win last week was good, although it must be noted that it was the first such result since they beat the Knights back in Round 16. The attacking faults are still presence and they managed to catch the Sharks off guard. It was a similar scenario for the Roosters, the only difference is that aside from a loss when losing players late against the Panthers, they’ve either beaten or been competitive against 4 teams inside the Top 8. There is a notable difference within their squad and the fact that an Origin player (Aiden Guerra) cannot make the starting team is an indication as to how they’re travelling. They should have enough power in the forwards to overcome anything that the Dragons throw at them, especially with their “new found” attacking movement.
Roosters -6.5 @ $2
Home to Roost = Roosters 13+ @ $2.85 – Despite many suggesting that this game will be close, the Roosters chanced their arm last week with success. They’re building into next year and with Trent Robinson willing to move attacking players around the field is only helping the dynamic within their team.
Cop that one! = Dale Copley FTS and/or LTS @ $11 – Copley has been in great form recently, scoring 3 tries in the past 3 matches. He went without one last week but now that he is getting back to full fitness, he is finding a nice fit in the Roosters backline.
South Sydney Rabbitohs (13th) v Cronulla Sharks (2nd)
The Rabbitohs travelled across to New Zealand last week and surprised many with their 41-22 win, their first such result since Round 11. It still means that they’ve won just 1 of their past 10 matches, although their two most recent efforts have showed signs of hope and improvement. It is no secret that their improving displays have coincided with controlling efforts from their forwards. Some players have managed over 100m per game and they’re taking the game to their opponents in the middle. It will be an interesting contest with a strong Sharks pack, as the entire team aims to snap a 2-game losing streak. No one would’ve thought a few weeks ago that the Rabbitohs would take winning form into this game and the Sharks would be struggling; nevertheless that is the situation after the Dragons outplayed the Sharks. They went down by 14-points in the end and it would be most disappointing for the Sharks that they allowed their opponents to score their highest total of the season against them. The withdrawal of Gallen prior to KO didn’t aid their chances, yet his inclusion would not have been enough to overturn the result. There is a genuine opportunity that they could get their season back on track here but the task will not be as easy as it seems. They need to get back to the formula that was so successful previous and avoid their poor completion rate, high error counts and missed tackles that have limited in their past two outings.
Rabbitohs = George Burgess comes into the starting team for for Zane Musgrove (suspended), with Nathan Brown coming onto the bench.
Sharks = Paul Gallen (injury) is named at lock, forcing Jayson Bukuya back to the bench. Gerard Beale moves to the wing for Sosaia Feki (injured) and Ricky Leutele is named in the vacant centre spot.
Overall = Rabbitohs 12 Sharks 16
Last 5 Matches = Rabbitohs 2 Sharks 3
At ANZ Stadium = Rabbitohs 52% Sharks 33%
Form = Rabbitohs 1 win – Sharks 2 losses
There was plenty to like about the Rabbitohs effort last week, as they broke a horror run of losses and demonstrated just what they’re capable of. With that fresh in the minds of fans, as well as the struggles of the Sharks last week, many are suggesting that the home team will push their opponents. That is valid to some extent, although the Sharks will want to get their momentum back on track after a few tough weeks. The game plan to beat the Sharks appears to be bringing the contest to their forwards and the Rabbitohs have what it takes to do that; nevertheless the Sharks enjoy any battle that includes this. In the past 5 meetings between these two sides, the average winning margin sits at 9.2 points; meaning that this match is likely to go the same way and be decided by less than 2 converted tries. The Sharks should have enough power, especially in the outside back where the Rabbitohs are weak. They simply got too far ahead of the Warriors last week that appeared to take a relaxed attitude into that game. The Sharks will not fall for the same mistake, especially considering the 2-game losing streak they’re on.
Sharks 1-12 @ $2.75
Yo, Homme! = Valentine Holmes FTS and/or LTS @ $7 – Prior to their play last week, the edges of the Rabbitohs had been woeful in defence. One win will not make that immediately disappear and Holmes will be out to recapture his form that contributed strongly to his teams success.