Brisbane Broncos (5th) v Sydney Roosters (15th)
The Broncos put away any concerns that they were fading away in the run towards the Finals, with a dominating win last week over the Storm in Melbourne. Concern was growing about the way they were executing and even with victories, there was the suggestion that they were behind the better sides. The fact that their forwards won the battle in the middle of the field and continually pressure the Storms halves, allowed for an impressive display. Their scramble in defence also returned and they individuals that had been underperform took greater responsibility for their performance. Here, they will be out for revenge against the Roosters; a team that embarrassed them 32-16 in Round 21. The Roosters are destined to finish in either 15th or 14th positions, so there is little for them to play for and much like their efforts last week, if they start to get behind on the scoreboard, they may struggle for motivation. It wasn’t that they had a poor attitude to their 37-12 loss over the Sharks, they were leading 12-nil after 21 minutes but failed to score another point. They simply didn’t have the class to continually compete against a better team. Pride is on the line for them here, as well as forcing another loss on a team that is desperate to clinch a home fixture in Week 1 of the Finals.
Broncos = Unchanged.
Roosters = Ryan Matterson will start in the second row and Isaac Liu at lock, in place of Boyd Cordner and Sio Siua Taukeiaho (both injured). Mittchell Frei and Nat Butcher come onto the bench.
Overall = Broncos 17 Roosters 15
Last 5 Matches = Broncos 2 Roosters 3
At Suncorp Stadium = Broncos 61% Roosters 57%
Form = Broncos 4 wins – Roosters 1 loss
Given that the Roosters defeated the Broncos in their last meeting, there is a suggestion that they can come out and do the same here. While that isn’t impossible, the Broncos are a different team to the one that took the field in that contest. The fact that the Roosters were unable to lift when needed last week suggests that the task here may also be beyond them. The Broncos rightly head into this game as favorites and will be out to again make a statement. Their improved in play has lead to increased confidence; meaning that their attack is more likely to great scoring opportunities. With that in mind, they should be able to win this game comfortably. While the Roosters have improved recently in some matches, their averaging losing margin in their past 4 losses still sits at 18.3 points and all of those were against teams in the Top 8. Fact is, when they get behind, they seem to struggle for motivation. In the same period, the Broncos have averaged a 13-point winning margin and should have the same ease here with the applied pressure.
Broncos -14.5 @ $2
New kid on the block = Tim Opacic FTS and/or LTS @ $10 – Opacic not only scored first last week, but grabbed a double. Since debuting earlier this season, he has proven himself to be a tough player. He has what it takes to trouble defensive lines and often beats his opponent 1-on-1. With the Roosters weak right edge, this rookie may again find himself with clear room to move.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (6th) v South Sydney Rabbitohs (13th)
The Bulldogs hosted the Cowboys last week and like their previous match against the Broncos, they went down to a superior opponent. Yet again, they were let down by their attack, with little creativity coming from the halves, due to the pressure that their forwards were under. The Bulldogs not have only score above 20 points once in their past 5 matches (against the Knights) and are limping towards the Finals. The quality simply isn’t there for them and the difference between the top teams and them has been evident in the past 2 weeks. If anything, they would like to swap places with the Rabbitohs who are on a 3-game winning streak and looking like a completely different team. Their 22-point demolition of the Knights last week was an effort that most teams can be jealous of. All of sudden, they’re dominating contests the same way that they did when they won the competition. This reversal of form has coincided with a restructure of their defence but the way they are finishing the season is progressing them well for 2017. Even if they are playing for pride, disrupting the momentum of a Top 8 team and making amend for their 30-points loss to the Bulldogs in Round 4 will be spurring them on here.
Bulldogs = Unchanged.
Rabbitohs = Unchanged.
Overall = Bulldogs 21 Draw 1 Rabbitohs 10
Last 5 Matches = Bulldogs 2 Rabbitohs 3
At ANZ Stadium = Bulldogs 58% Rabbitohs 53%
Form = Bulldogs 2 losses – Rabbitohs 3 wins
Considering the respective standings on the competition ladder, t is no surprise to see the Bulldogs as favorites for this game. Their team has been remarkably better than the Rabbitohs throughout 2016 but now they find themselves in a hole. The Bulldogs attack isn’t firing and they have minimal direction around the field. This is proving problematic as their attacking play are predictable; to the point where they are relying too much on their forwards. They only average 17.4 PPG in their past 5 matches, well below their season average of 21.7 PPG. Expect the Rabbitohs to be ready for the challenge that this match offers but their motivation in the last match of the season is sure to be questioned. The Bulldogs recent record is still 3 losses from 10 matches and those have come against the Cowboys (twice) and Broncos; teams that are much more difficult than what they will face here. The Rabbitohs do boast a victory over the Sharks but wins against the Knights and Warriors is hardly anything to be excited about. With more to play for, the Bulldogs should win this game and gather confidence heading towards next week; if they don’t, they may find their season over quickly after the Rabbitohs. Taking a team on hope is never a good situation to be in and aside from staying away from this game completely, invest around a tight contest as the Bulldogs need to prove they have changed before you can back them with confidence.
Either team under 6.5 points @ $2.80
St George-Illawarra Dragons (11th) v Newcastle Knights (16th)
It is very hard to get excited about this contest in the last round of the competition, as two of the worst teams to watch face off in a match that means nothing. While the Dragons can finish lower with a loss, the Knights will be striving for just their second win of the year and will sound a sigh of relief once this horror season ends. The Dragons were outplayed on Monday by the Eels, with late points making the margin appear more respectable. Fact is, they were woeful and are hoping that a few retiring players will increase support and attendance at this match. The Knights performance last week clearly demonstrated that they are searching for the end of 2016. Their was a lack of creativity from the back and minimal fight in the forwards; to the point where it is puzzling to see where the path ahead leads for this team. Something has to drastically change for this club and it will be difficult for their squad to get motivated here for this game. Stranger things have happened though and with little to play for, this game could turn out to be and exciting match.
Dragons = Ben Creagh is named to start in the second row, with Joel Thompson relegated to the bench. Taane Milne is named in the centres for Tim Lafai, while Will Matthews comes onto the bench for Tariq Sims (injured).
Knights = Daniel and Jacob Saifiti are named to start at prop, with Josh King and Sam Mataora moved back to the bench.
Overall = Dragons 22 Knights 10
Last 5 Matches = Dragons 4 Knights 1
At UOW Jubilee Oval = Dragons 63% Knights 43%
Form = Dragons 2 losses – Knights 17 losses
Unfortunately, this is another ugly game for punters looking to win some money. On one hand, the woeful Dragons have proven to be one of the worse teams in the competition in attack (and to watch!) and they play a team that has just one win to their name so far this season. Looking at the facts though, the Knights haven’t beaten the Dragons at this ground in the past 3 attempts. The last time these two sides met, the Dragons had an unconvincing 12-point victory over the Knights; although the Dragons did allow their opponents back into the contest towards the end. The home team is capable of turning on an impressive display and perhaps this ground brings out their best with two wins from 3 matches there this year. The Knights simply do not have the require quality that the Dragons offer and nothing appears to be changing from last week following their loss to the Rabbitohs. In the end, the Knights players will probably want the siren to sound and finish off a season to forget.
Dragons -10.5 @ $2
Breathing fire = Dragons 13+ @ $2.20 – Sure, the Dragons are one of the worst attacking teams in the competition but the Knights defence is diabolical. The Dragons should have what it takes to pile on the points, with the Knights averaging losing margin in their past 5 losses sitting at 22.4 points.
North Queensland Cowboys (4th) v Gold Coast Titans (8th)
The second Cowboys win in as many weeks came in Round 25 against the Bulldogs, an effort on the road that suggests they’re getting close to their best. Thurston dominated the game at halfback, while their forwards were impressive with their power and speed at the line. There was the thought that the Bulldogs may challenge them in this area, yet their opponents were unable to match the intensity they delivered. Heading home, the prospect offered for them is to win to keep themselves inside the Top 4. The Titans have much more to play for, needing to win here to cement their spot in the Finals after a 1-point loss to the Panthers last week. Just when the hype was building around this team, they have stumbled; things haven’t gone to plan for them and they’re finding it difficult to rediscover their winning formula. The prospect ahead of them is simply and they certainly have what it takes to cause an upset, it is just a matter of ensuring they fire when needed. If anything, that has not been an issue for the Titans this year and perhaps if they had performed better in games where they were favorites, they wouldn’t be playing to keep their season alive.
Cowboys = Matt Scott (injured) has been replaced in the starting team by Scott Bolton, with Ben Hannant (injury) returning to fill the vacant spot on the bench.
Titans = Unchanged.
Overall = Cowboys 8 Titans 8
Last 5 Matches = Cowboys 3 Titans 2
At 1300Smiles Stadium = Cowboys 84% Titans 25%
Form = Cowboys 2 wins – Titans 1 loss
The task is simple for the Titans, win here and guarantee themselves a spot in the Finals or lose and allow their fate to be controlled by another team. It will be no easy task, the Cowboys are finding their best form again and have extra recovery time following a strong performance against the Bulldogs. This ground is also tough for away teams to win at; they’ve only lost one game there this season and will be pressuring the Titans from the opening minutes. The last 4 Cowboys victories over the Titans at this ground have been by an average of 18 points and it doesn’t appear as though the home team will be easing up any time soon. On top of that, the Cowboys have only scored less than 20 points on two occasions at home this year (against the Storm (L) and Broncos (W)) and score an average of 31.4 PPG. If the Titans can just fall short of the Panthers, they will find it difficult here. It is no secret that their long season has taken a toll on them, very rarely have they had matches where they’ve dominated from start to finish for an “easy” win. Furthermore, the return of Taylor adds stability, but he, along with Tyrone Roberts, are still finding the best way to work with Jarryd Hayne. Don’t be surprised if they bring a strong intensity early, nevertheless the Cowboys will have too much power for them in the forwards to enable this to become an issue.
Cowboys -10.5 @ $2
Points aplenty! = Cowboys 13+ @ $2.20 – The Cowboys have no issues scoring points at home and while the Titans will be desperate given what is at stake, it will still not be enough. The home team also wants to finish inside the Top 4 and in doing so, give themselves a greater shot at back-to-back Premierships.
Melbourne Storm (1st) v Cronulla Sharks (2nd)
This game is the showdown for the Minor Premiership, an outcome that many believed would be decided last week. Unfortunately, things didn’t go to plan for the Storm, as they were upset at home by the Broncos. It wasn’t the fact that they lost that was so surprising, more so the way that it occurred. For one of the first times this season they appeared vulnerable and unable to answer the intensity of their opponents. Their play decreased with the amount of pressure that their halves received and the intensity had their defence scrambling. It isn’t panic stations for them yet, although perhaps the Broncos unearthed a winning formula against this team. The Sharks has an opposite outcome, breaking a 3-game losing streak with a commanding win over the Roosters. Things were looking worrying early though, being down 12-nil after 21 minutes and momentum firmly with their opponents. Impressively, the Sharks demonstrated patience in their play and belief in a game plan that has worked well for them so far in 2016. The fact that they not only won the game, but put aside any hope that the Roosters could come back into the contest sent a statement that they are ready to fire ahead of the Finals.
Storm = Nelson Asofa-Solomona (suspension) has been replaced on the bench by Christian Welch and Matt White, with one of those players likely to miss out.
Sharks = Unchanged.
Overall = Storm 20 Sharks 10
Last 5 Matches = Storm 4 Sharks 1
At AAMI Park = Storm 73% Sharks 0%
Form = Storm 1 loss – Sharks 1 win
It is amazing that after 25 Rounds of the competition, the Minor Premiership comes down to this match. While the money on offer doesn’t truly reflect the achievement of winning the J.J. Giltlinan, both sides will be desperate here. This game will parallel what lies ahead in the Finals and could be a possible GF preview. Unfortunately for the Sharks, they have to travel down to Melbourne and play at AAMI Park, a ground they haven’t won at in in 6 attempts. Furthermore, the Storm enjoy a strong record here and will be out to make amends for their home loss last week to the Broncos. There was evidence last week that the Storm were vulnerable against unstructured play that was direct, something that the Sharks can do very well at times. Whether or not they can here with the increasing intensity of their opponents remains to be seen, but the Sharks have what it takes to cause an upset. They’re outsiders for this game, yet these two sides are closer than the odds are suggesting. This suggests that the best investment on this game would be on a close contest and let the two teams fight out for the result. The past 3 wins the Storm have recorded over the Sharks have been blowout score lines, however that was against a different team than they will face here. In terms of making a call on the result of this game, the Sharks will lift to another level here and combat what the Storm have, regardless of the relentless pressure. They can absorb that better than most others in the competition and it should serve them strongly towards the back end of this match.
Either team under 6.5 points @ $2.90
Wests Tigers (9th) v Canberra Raiders (3rd)
The Tigers dragged themselves off the canvas last week and shocked the rugby league world with an upset over the Warriors in New Zealand. In a game that many gave them little hope of winning, they produced a performance that they can be proud of, combating the power of the Warriors and making the most of attacking opportunities when provided with them. More importantly, it kept alive their hopes of Finals football and will know what is required of them here courtesy of previous fixtures. For the Raiders, it has been business as usual, collecting their 9th win in as many weeks with a 14-point win over the Sea Eagles. In the highest scoring match of the season, the Raiders played an entertaining brand of football, while at the same time having areas that they can improve upon. While they have rocketed to third on the competition ladder, they still have their flaws and can appear vulnerable in matches. Allowing 2 tries in 5 minutes last week when they should have put the game away in evidence of that. This points towards the inexperience of this team but with the confidence growing on the back of winning, they look like they’ve forgotten how to lose matches. A trip to Leichhardt Oval poses as a tough test but one thing is for sure, this game will be high-scoring an exciting.
Tigers = Chris Lawrence (injury) returns in the second row, pushing Kyle Lovett back to the bench.
Raiders = Unchanged.
Overall = Tigers 18 Raiders 13
Last 5 Matches = Tigers 2 Raiders 2
At Leichhardt Oval = Tigers 60% Raiders 50%
Form = Tigers 1 win – Raiders 9 wins
The picture ahead of this game will be a lot clearer 1-hour prior to KO and unfortunately, there is no way you can predict what teams will take the field here. What are clear are the scenarios you are left with; either the Raiders rest some players and the Tigers have a chance to win due to a Titans loss or the Raiders have a chance to sneak into second spot and play to their potential. You will need to pay attention to Twitter (@NRL_TheProfits) for the ultimate judgment on this game. If the Raiders rest players because of their situation, the Tigers will have the strength through the quality of players and lack of power in the Raiders forwards. If the Raiders are at full-strength, they may still find it tough to gather momentum initially; the Tigers proved last week how they can play with power and the Raiders are still missing Austin. Sure, their attack was fine without him last week but the Tigers will be a step up from the Sea Eagles. Below are two options and I stress, pay attention to Twitter for the teams and final decision on this match.
Option 1 = Raiders full strength
Raiders -4.5 @ $2 and/or Raiders 1-12 @ $2.90
Option 2 = Fighting Tigers
Tigers H2H @ $2.60 and/or Tigers 13+ @ $5.50
New Zealand Warriors (10th) v Parramatta Eels (14th)
The Warriors lost all hope of playing Finals football last week, with a disappointing 12-point loss to the Tigers at home when their season was on the line. Things were looking tight early but an inability to capitalize on favorable field position ultimately lead to their downfall. Yet again, the Warriors promise a lot and deliver little; leaving many to wonder what might have been for their season. Here, they’re playing for nothing more than pride against a team that has been doing that for a number of weeks. The Eels would’ve given anything to have been in the Warriors position last week, with a year from hell confining them to the bottom half of the ladder. Still, they gave their home fans something to be excited about last week with a pleasing win over the Dragons. Some of the individual play from certain younger players has provided fans with a focus moving forward, as well as hope that the years ahead will be different. If the Warriors had the same level of application, there is no limit to what they could’ve achieve but as it stands, we are left with a contest between two sides that will play their last game for 2016.
Warriors = Ken Maumalo and Jonathan Wright have been named to start on the wings, in place of Manu Vatuvei (injured) and Solomone Kata (suspended). Tuimoala Lolohea has been moved to fullback, with David Fusitu’a named in the centres. Bunty Afoa comes onto the bench for James Gavet.
Eels = Unchanged.
Overall = Warriors 14 Eels 19
Last 5 Matches = Warriors 3 Eels 2
At Mt Smart Stadium = Warriors 58% Eels 33%
Form = Warriors 3 losses – Eels 1 win
If the Warriors played like they did last week when a spot in the Finals was on the line, such is the frustration of this team, they’re likely to come out here and record a dominating win. This is a game worth staying away from but it is likely to be highly exciting. One thing that has never stopped the Eels has been fight, something the Warriors could do with. They will be out to finish a poor season with a win and be left wondering what might have been without their troubles. The Warriors are strong favorites for this game and the Eels winning record of 33% isn’t helping their cause; in fact you have to go back to Round 1, 2011 to find their last victory here. Still, the Warriors don’t deserve to win this match and finish the season with a positive outlook, whereas the Eels do. Not that placing a bet in this manner is a great formula to go by but you cannot invest on the Warriors with confidence. The one thing that you can be confident of is a high scoring contest and that appears to be the only viable option.
Total match points over 46.5 @ $1.90
Back on the edge = David Fusitua FTS and/or LTS @ $9 – Fusitua has been moved back to centre this week, giving him a greater chance of getting to the line first (or last). With Kata out, they will need power on the edge and this is the right man for the job.
Penrith Panthers (7th) v Manly-Warrignah Sea Eagles (12th)
The Panthers scrapped home last week with a pleasing 1-point win over the Titans in the last play of their match. Again, they demonstrated a high level of maturity in their execution and forced their opponents into risky play. Assured of a spot in the Finals, the Panthers will enter into this match hoping to increase their momentum moving forward. Fact is, they cannot finish any lower on the ladder and a loss will only hamper their progress. The Sea Eagles appear to be the ideal candidate for this contest, they went down to the Raiders last week by 14-points at home and have little to play for. Throw in the fact that they’ve only won 4 out of their past 10 matches and things are looking dire. They failed to deliver yet against last week, with a few late tries making the score line respectable in some way. Here, they only have the option of upsetting the Panthers progress and their questionable motivation levels almost makes this contest a foregone conclusion.
Panthers = Jeremy Latimore comes onto the bench to replace Reagan Campbell-Gillard (injured).
Sea Eagles = Dylan Walker and Matt Wright both come into the centres. Apisai Koroisau shifts to 5/8, while Matt Parcell starts at hooker. Lewis Brown is relegated to the bench, with Blake Leary coming onto the interchanged.
Overall = Panthers 13 Sea Eagles 13
Last 5 Matches = Panthers 4 Sea Eagles 1
At Pepper Stadium = Panthers 54% Sea Eagles 33%
Form = Panthers 4 wins – Sea Eagles 4 losses
The Panthers have a chance to grab a home Final in Week 1 if they record a win over the Sea Eagles; that motivation alone should ensure that they power past their opponents. The Sea Eagles season has been disappointing to say the least and Penrith have too many attacking options for them to limit. They were evidently out of the contest last week and this squad of players is desperate for the season to end. This is the chance for the Panthers to build as much momentum as possible and build greater confidence within their attack. The recent efforts of the Sea Eagles have been disappointing too, losing by an average of 17-points in their past two matches, both of which were at Brookvale. Now that they move away from home and have nothing to play for, the eventual score line could be far more than most are suggesting.
Panthers -12.5 @ $1.85
Roaring success = Panthers 19+ @ $2.60 – The Panthers are firmly in control of this match even before taking the field. The Sea Eagles will probably struggle for motivation once they get behind on the scoreboard and the Panthers have no trouble piling on points.
Centre point! = Waqa Blake FTS and/or LTS @ $9 – Blake has been on fire recently, scoring in each of the Panthers past 4 matches. He has scoring from anywhere on the field too, further emphasizing his dangerous ability. With the Panthers looking to pile on points, expect them to go to this attacking weapon as much as possible.