Melbourne Storm (2nd) v Brisbane Broncos (7th)
The Storm have started the season strongly by winning their two opening matches, both of which were on the road. That has placed them second on the competition ladder and they now return home for the first time this season. They managed to overcome horrendous conditions to beat the Warriors, not allowing the lack of quality possession to deter them. Despite everything, they still had an 83% and missed just 18 tackles; sounding a warning to the rest of the competition that their squad has the quality and will only improve as players return. The Broncos will have a difficult task backing up from a bruising Golden Point loss to the Cowboys. They were pushed to the limit over 80 minutes, with extra time required to separate the two teams. Their set up leading to a FG was puzzling, going to the wrong side of the fielding and making the task increasingly difficult. This brings into question their direction within the halves, although for as poor as they were in this instance, there were pieces of fantastic play by Hunt and Milford, which kept them in the contest. The Broncos did manage to improve on their Round 1 effort though and will take confidence in that despite losing. It will be a tough task to turn it around too, with fatigue levels expected to be high following a draining performance.
Storm = Billy Slater (injury) is named at fullback to make his long awaited return. His inclusion pushes Cameron Munster back to 5/8 and Ryley Jacks out of the team. Tim Glasby is named to start at prop, with Christian Welch moving back to the bench.
Broncos = Unchanged.
Overall = Storm 26 Draw 1 Broncos 13
Last 5 Matches = Storm 3 Broncos 2
At AAMI Park = Storm 74% Broncos 43%
Form = Storm 2 wins – Broncos 1 loss
Both teams have to contend with a short turnaround following matches last Friday, although the Broncos are expected to struggle towards the end of this game given their efforts in Round 2. This should work in favor of the Storm, who have the return of Slater to boost their cause, which also supports Cronk in the halves with the movement of Munster. The Broncos have potential, though there are still several question marks being raised about their credentials. The production from their forwards is inconsistent and their halves can dominate matches, but can also be their downfall. This is where the experience of the Storm should prevail over their opponents. Many are expecting this game to be close but looking into the past meetings tells a different story; the average margin of victory to the Storm in their past 10 wins over the Broncos sits at 17.1 points, with 5 of those victories being by 20 points or more. Of their past 4 wins over the Broncos at home, the average margin sits at 21.5 points. Sure, these two teams appear close on paper but the quality in key areas is evident. The Broncos will look to take the game to the Storm in the forwards, although as they demonstrated against the Warriors, they are a pack that knows how to fight. Expect the Storm to be able to cover the line and get home comfortably.
Storm -4.5 @ $1.95
Storming home = Storm 13+ @ $3.25 – As mentioned above, the Storm have a history that suggests when they beat the Broncos at this ground, it is by a large margin. Given their numerous strengths, this could add more value to your investment.
Welcome back = Billy Slater FTS and/or LTS @ $10 – This is more of a sentimental bet than anything, but in case you’ve forgotten how great Slater can be, he has a 61.9% chance of scoring in a match, amassing 172 tries from 278 appearances at club level.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (13th) v New Zealand Warriors (11th)
The Bulldogs have experienced consecutive losses for the first time under Des Hasler and it has caused them to begin their season behind majority of the competition. Last week was not too dissimilar to their Round 1 match; they struggled to score points and their defensive edges, most notably their right side, were pressured relentless and failed to rise to the task. Several of their players are not producing to the level that is expected of them and pressure is rising on the entire squad, as well as coach Des Hasler. Despite scoring the opening two tries, it was a period between the 10th minute and the 50th minute that they really shut down. Perhaps this wasn’t the best time to choose to take a home game “on the road” to New Zealand and face the Warriors, who themselves are aiming to bounce back from a loss. Things didn’t go to plan for them, as they were hampered by poor weather and limited attacking penetration. They looked lost on the edges when RTS went off with an injury and failed to return. Their first half was providing hope that they would push the Storm until the end but the same team failed to come out in the second half. Kearney has a big battle on his hands to rid the Warriors of their lapses in focus and he turn around their performance. The battle between these two packs is expected to be a physical one, with both teams aiming to set a high intensity in the middle of the field.
Bulldogs = Brad Abbery has been named at fullback to cover for Will Hopoate (injured), while Marcelo Montoya will cover for Kerrod Hollan (injured). Both NRL debuts in this game, although some extras on the bench have been named.
Warriors = Manu Vatuvei (injury) has been named to return on the wing, with Tuimoala Lolohea moving to fullback for RTS. Bodene Thompson and Jacob Lillyman start, pushing Bunty Afoa and Charlie Gubb back to the bench.
Overall = Bulldogs 16 Draw 2 Warriors 12
Last 5 Matches = Bulldogs 4 Warriors 1
At Forsyth Barr Stadium = Never played at this ground
Form = Bulldogs 2 losses – Warriors 1 loss
Several injuries have severely impact the Bulldogs chances in this game, with two new debutants being named and a new goal kicking option required. Altering a team this much in a short period of time will cause plenty of pressure on other members of the squad to adjust quickly. As it stands, the form of the Bulldogs hasn’t been great in the opening rounds either; their late flurry of points last week could be put down to their opponents switching off rather than their own improvement. While the Warriors have also had their issues (increased since the withdrawal of RTS), parts of their game were pleasing to the point of suggesting that improvement was ahead; they had an 86% completion rate and made just 7 errors in difficult conditions. This suggests that they are slowly improving as a team and should be capable of holding what the Bulldogs throw their way. Unfortunately for them, their defence has issues that will take longer than a week to fix. Their ability to turn a performance around is not being questioned, just their aptitude with some notable absences. The promise of a ferocious encounter in the middle of the field between two strong packs of forwards is interesting, with the Bulldogs big men needing to improve after being swept aside last week. Here, the difference appears to be Issac Luke and what he offers his team in getting them over the advantage line. The match will still be close though, the Bulldogs do not normally lose many by more than 2 converted tries (just 4 in 2016), so expect the Warriors to have to work hard to shut their opponents out of the game.
Warriors 1-12 @ $2.90
Gold Coast Titans (14th) v Parramatta Eels (1st)
Things went from bad to worse last week for the Titans as they travelled down to Newcastle, suffered more injuries to key players and went home winless. It isn’t a great start to their season and their issues only appear to be compounding. Their depth is about to be tested in a large way and whether or not they can overcome them will outline how the remainder of their season will pan out. An inferior lack of possession during the match, combined with a 69% completion rate lead to their demise and they will be aiming to bounce back here. It is a tough ask though, they face an Eels outfit that has won their first two matches and is looking strong. Their level of play against the Dragons was exciting; they scored some amazing tries and continually pressured their opponents into mistakes. The challenge for them is to now maintain this strong level they have set and not allow anything to derail their season. The Eels certainly cannot listen to any suggestions that they could feature in the Finals; it is too early to judge their credentials and for the time being, they need to play a consistent brand of football that has worked for them in the opening two rounds of the competition.
Titans = Tyler Cornish is named to start at fullback for Jarryd Hayne (injured). Will Zillman (injury) returns on the wing for Anthony Don (injury), with Dan Sarginson shifting to the centres. Tyrone Roberts will start at hooker, with Joe Greenwood dropping back to the bench, along with Ryan Simpkins who comes into the 17.
Eels = Jeff Robson is named at halfback for Corey Norman (injury).
Overall = Titans 10 Eels 5
Last 5 Matches = Titans 3 Eels 2
At Cbus Super Stadium = Titans 49% Eels 25%
Form = Titans 2 losses – Eels 2 wins
The Titans have a whole host of troubles to deal with, most notably, fielding a team of capable players for this week’s fixture. With around 12 players injured from their squad, the Titans are stretched, although some quality does remain. Their chances will rest on these players lifting and motivating other around them to do the same. The Eels chances took a blow with the injury to Norman, yet having Robson come into the team and provide stability while other players can resume their jobs, should work as a benefit. This doesn’t automatically mean a quick transition, as the remaining players, particularly the forwards, will need to gather momentum in the middle. Having this match played at home will assist the Titans in their preparation but event then their record isn’t great, although it is remarkably better than the Eels. If the Eels proved one point last week, it is that history means little now for this team as they overcame a poor record against the Dragons. Expect a strong showing from the visitors here, with the Titans lifting from last weeks poor showing. Looking at it from a different perspective, perhaps the exclusion of Hayne from this match will force others to lift within the team. With that considered, the Eels should still be too strong, although will not dominate as much given the short time to prepare and recover from their last match.
Eels 1-12 @ $2.90
Newcastle Knights (8th) v South Sydney Rabbitohs (9th)
Both teams put a poor showing in Round 1 behind them to produce a win as underdogs in their respective matches. The Knights were always going to find it tough this season but one thing is for sure, their attitude is going to get them through each match. For the past two weeks, it has been a highlight of their play and at the end of the day, it could be the difference between winning and losing matches. The Knights home ground advantage was certainly on their side too last week and they will be hoping that their loyal fans can arrive for this game. The Rabbitohs are riding high after their bounce-back win over the Sea Eagles. It was always going to be a difficult task, especially given it was at Lottoland and they were adjusting to the season without GI. Other players stood up and filled the void left by their superstar and if they can make this a habit, there should be minimal cause for concern moving forward. Their defence improved out of sight, missing just 23 tackles compared with 42 the week before; while their attack also improved, they completed at 85% against the Sea Eagles. The control and poise in which they played with served them well and they will need to face the Knights on their merits, because if not, they will be caught off-guard and find themselves again scrambling to a loss.
Knights = Unchanged.
Rabbitohs = Unchanged.
Overall = Knights 13 Rabbitohs 12
Last 5 Matches = Knights 0 Rabbitohs 5
At McDonald Jones Stadium = Knights 57% Rabbitohs 25%
Form = Knights 1 win – Rabbitohs 1 win
For a team that once enjoyed a dominating record over their opponents, the Knights haven’t beaten the Rabbitohs since Round 26, 2011. On the back of their win last week, hopes are high that the Knights can make it consecutive victories, although they may find this more difficult than last week. The Titans had their issues and lack of personnel didn’t aid their cause; even with the right attitude in their match, they would require several other factors to go their way in order to cause an upset. The Rabbitohs took a major step forward to improving their chances this year with a strong display and it was no surprise that it was boosted by the return of Reynolds. He, along with Farah and Walker, added stability towards the end of their attacking sets. This builds plenty of pressure on their opponents and that will be crucial again here. The Knights were vulnerable when the Warriors pressured them in Round 1 and the Rabbitohs need to ensure that their defence holds up. If the Sea Eagles had converted their tries last week, it could’ve been a different outcome. You can expect an improvement though and with their high completion rate, they should be too strong for the Knights.
Rabbitohs -5.5 @ $.190
New breed = Robert Jennings FTS and/or LTS @ $15 – Jennings opened the scoring last week for the Rabbitohs and he looked effective every time he had the ball in hand. There is no doubt that he could potential have the same class as his brother. With one try from just 2 games, he has a pretty good strike rate to again feature here.
Penrith Panthers (10th) v Sydney Roosters (3rd)
The Panthers came out and performed as expected last week from a team that was considered a contender for the title. They were rolled in Round 1 of the competition by an inferior opponent but had a reversal of form against the Tigers. Their attack generated 36-points, with errors (11) and missed tackles (33) both down on the previous week. The fact that they were able to keep the Tigers tryless over 80 minutes demonstrated a vast improvement in attitude. The Roosters have set a high standard for themselves and the rest of the competition, making it consecutive victories to start the year with their win over the Bulldogs. They always appeared in control of the result, although allowing the Bulldogs to close the gap by scoring 3 tries in the final 30 minutes compared with the Roosters 1. The performance of the halves is perhaps the most impressive part of their play; with Keary and Pearce appearing to have the perfect balance together to complete attacking sets. Teams will undoubtedly grow weary of their combination and the potential dangers in a match; the Roosters can expect plenty of pressure in this area in coming games. Without discrediting their opening two opponents too much, the Panthers are expected to be a far tougher ask than the Roosters have faced previously. Nevertheless, the same can be said for the Panthers and this game will be a great measure of where both teams are at moving forward.
Panthers = Unchanged.
Roosters = Joseph Manu is named in the centres for Blake Ferguson (injury), while Isaac Lui (injury) returns to the team and will come off the bench.
Overall = Panthers 17 Roosters 17
Last 5 Matches = Panthers 3 Roosters 2
At Pepper Stadium = Panthers 54% Roosters 53%
Form = Panthers 1 win – Roosters 2 wins
This is arguably the hardest game to pick over the weekend and as the odds suggest, the teams are very difficult to split. For as good as the Roosters have been, they haven’t faced a quality team this year that has pressured them in most areas. In equal measure, the Panthers have shown lapses in their form and need greater consistency in their play. One thing is for sure, if both teams are firing, this will be a thrilling encounter. The attacking potential of both teams is enormous and their defence may well separate the two teams. The Panthers was improved from Round 1, whereas the Roosters have been solid. Thus far, they have missed the second least amount of tackles. Compare that with the Panthers, who missed the second most, as well as making the second most errors also. With average run metres almost identical (9.06m per carry), the rigid defence appears to have the ability to shut down the Panthers attacking threats. Rather than declaring a clear winning for an investment, choose this game to be decided by less than a converted try in favor of their team. For the sake of tipping competitions, side with the Roosters, although it was very hard to overlook the Panthers in their first game at home this season.
Either Team Under 6.5 points @ $2.70
North Queensland Cowboys (4th) v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (15th)
The Cowboys scraped home in another thriller last week against the Broncos, with that win making it two from two in Golden Point matches. The way they are able to close out these tight matches is a sign to the class that this team has. Throughout the match, they were not without their flaws, although they can consider themselves unlucky with a “forward” pass that was overlooked which lead to a try. Nevertheless, they would be please to come away with the win, despite appearing to be heavily fatigued at times during the match. They haven’t left the state of Queensland yet for a match and this will assist with their recovery, yet they will have a tough time replacing Matt Scott who is out for the season. The intensity in this game should be far less than what they are accustomed to in the opening weeks; as the Sea Eagles are struggling for momentum following consecutive losses. Saturday’s effort against the Rabbitohs sent alarm bells ringing, with someone needed to take control of this team. DCE is touted as the man to lead them forward but it was difficult for him on the weekend playing behind a badly beaten pack of forwards. Their effectiveness was limited once several players became unavailable, yet this is also a sign towards their distinct lack of depth as a team. As much as the team will not admit it, pressure is building on their coach, although their playing squad needs take responsibility for their performance.
Cowboys = Kalyn Ponga is named at fullback for Lachlan Coote (injured), while Javid Bowen replaces Antonio Winterstein (injury) on the wing. Matt Scott (injury) is out for the season and is replaced in this game by Patrick Kaufusi, allowing Sam Hoare to come onto the bench. Shaun Fensom is expected to come into the team with Jason Taumololo (suspended) ruled out late on Wednesday.
Sea Eagles = Shaun Lane comes onto the bench for Bill Bainbridge, who moves to the reserves.
Overall = Cowboys 12 Sea Eagles 13
Last 5 Matches = Cowboys 5 Sea Eagles 0
At 1300Smiles Stadium = Cowboys 85% Sea Eagles 20%
Form = Cowboys 2 wins – Sea Eagles 2 losses
The Cowboys appear more than capable of winning 3 consecutive matches to open the season, with the Sea Eagles needing a drastic reversal of form to cause an upset. History isn’t on their side either, the last time the Sea Eagles beat the Cowboys was in Round 7, 2014; while the last time they won in Townsville was a year earlier. Their efforts last week were disheartening to say the least and aside from lacking direction in key areas, their forwards failed to stand up. They will need a reversal of form to overcome the Cowboys stars, even without Scott and Taumololo; as usual they will establish their game here and allow the halves and outside backs to dominate from there. That being said, it will not be as convincing as expected and you should see player unavailability and fatigue get the better of the home team. That isn’t to suggest that the game will be close; the Cowboys are still capable of getting home easily in this game, but it would be surprising to see the margin be a major blowout. Surprisingly enough, their average margin of victory over the Sea Eagles has been 11.2 points and it is expected to be around this margin again.
Cowboys 1-12 @ $3
Remember the name = Kayln Ponga FTS and/or LTS @ $10 – Plenty of hype surrounds the million dollar man after his publicised move to the Knights in 2018 but such is his value, the Cowboys have chosen to hold onto him rather than release him early. Ponga now has a chance to find a regular spot for himself and you can expect the Cowboys to use his talents as much as possible.
Canberra Raiders (16th) v Wests Tigers (12th)
The Raiders headed home full of confidence following their Golden Point loss to the Cowboys in Round 1, although the level of fatigue experienced in that match was severely overlooked. Despite going into the match against the Sharks as favorites, the Raiders struggled and limped to a 42-16 hammering by the reigning Premiers. They were always going to struggle with just 43% of possession, yet they didn’t assist their cause in completing 70% of attacking sets, having 12 errors and missing 30 tackles. For a team that were one of the favorites heading into the competition, sitting last after 2 rounds is not a great start. The Tigers are also aiming to bounce back from their effort last week and similarly to the Raiders, they too reversed their form from Round 1. Piling 34-points on the Rabbitohs in Round 1 appears to be a distant memory, as they remained scoreless against the Panthers. A choice to take the penalty goal from a penalty in the 28th minute when they had momentum on their side was perhaps the catalyst for their performance. Their display also highlighted the level of improvement that is still left within this relatively young and inexperienced team. Now, they face yet another tough test as the Raiders will be hoping to grab their first win and reward their home fans.
Raiders = Jarrod Croker (injury) is named to return in the centres, pushing Elliot Whitehead back to the second row and Iosia Soliola back to the bench. David Taylor and Clay Priest (suspension) are named on the bench.
Tigers = Michael Chee-Kam is named in the centres for Jamal Idris (dropped), with Tim Grant filling the vacant bench spot.
Overall = Raiders 14 Tigers 18
Last 5 Matches = Raiders 4 Tigers 1
At GIO Stadium = Raiders 46% Tigers 33%
Form = Raiders 2 losses – Tigers 1 loss
Both teams have plenty to play for on the back of their efforts last week, with the Raiders desperate to open their home account for the year. Thankfully, they remain at home and despite their overall record not being pleasant in recent time, the Tigers are much worse. The extra time to prepare for this contest will aid their cause, especially after they appeared to be fatigued following their loss to the Cowboys in Round 1. The Tigers have plenty of answers to find and despite no scoring any tries last week, their attack wasn’t answerless. They had several attacking raids that came up short due to execution, as well as rigid defence. They can expect the latter from the Raiders here, as their big men will aim to dominate the middle of the field. The inclusions to their team this week only aid their cause, while the young Tigers will need greater cohesion and patience. Whether or not this leads to victory remains to be seen and given the large disparity in the odds, many are thinking that the Tigers will struggle in this meeting. Looking back at the previous two matches, this score could get very ugly. The Raiders have won both by a combined margin of 96-16; while just 1 of their past 5 matches was won by less than 12 points. A problem is that majority of the Tigers players that featured in those losses last year will play here and the scares will still remain. The Raiders need a spark and this is the perfect opportunity to get their season back on track. The Tigers will bring a strong intensity early but the Raiders need to match that and continue to pressure them for 80 minutes. If successful, the Raiders should be able to cover the line and then go on with the win from there.
Raiders -8.5 @ $2
Sound the horn = Raiders 13+ @ $2.40 – The Raiders average margin of victory in their past 5 wins over the Tigers sits at 26.6 points; obviously thrown out by their past two wins but this demonstrates the attacking class of their team. Should they find their groove early, the Tigers will be in for a long afternoon of defending.
Time to make a name = Nick Cotric FTS and/or LTS @ $10 – The opposite edge of the field gathers more headlines for their dynamic play but you cannot forget about this kid. The inclusion of Croker inside at centre increases his chances of scoring his first try in the NRL. He is showing plenty of promise and it is only a matter of time before he lives up to the hype.
Cronulla Sharks (5th) v St George-Illawarra Dragons (6th)
An old rivalry between two southern Sydney clubs closes out Round 3 and despite what the table suggests, the two teams couldn’t be further apart. The Sharks travelled down to Canberra last Saturday, following an opening round loss to the Broncos. Pressure was on them to perform as many questions lingered about the quality within their team with several players missing. What followed was an example of the Sharks getting back to their best, piling 42-points on a team that was considered favorites for the competition. They dominated in just about every area of the match and were not overawed by the bigger, Raiders pack. That sets a standard that the Sharks are ready to defend their title, regardless of the opponent. The Dragons took a few steps back in their match against the Eels, going down in Wollongong by 18-points. It was a ground that their opponents hadn’t won at in a considerable amount of time and the Dragons team failed to match up in defence. They found themselves behind 18-nil after 30 minutes and were always chasing points. Their attack had increased pressure on it, leading to a lack of quality possession as they were always chasing points. It left many fans worried that the performance the week before might’ve been a fluke rather than a sign for things ahead. Expect yet another tough challenge ahead of them here against a rival that has had confidence restored in their play.
Sharks = Unchanged.
Dragons = Unchanged.
Overall = Sharks 18 Draw 1 Dragons 19
Last 5 Matches = Sharks 2 Dragons 3
At Southern Cross Group Stadium = Sharks 55% Dragons 35%
Form = Sharks 1 win – Dragons 1 loss
The effort from the Dragons last week was more of what we are accustomed to seeing from them; it would be surprising if they could turn their form around quickly to cause an upset here. That would also require a lapse in focus from the Sharks and what we saw from them last week wasn’t anything to suggest this would happen. They played with poise and control that reminded many of their amazing winning streak in 2016. The Sharks forwards have what it takes to control the Dragons in this area, with their young hooker leading the way. The fact that they are unchanged, with the possibility of other players returning gives them a huge boost. The Sharks will also want to record their first win at home for their fans after going down in Round 1; ironically enough, the home team has won the past 5 meetings between these two sidse. The Dragons are sure to bring a high intensity early, but this attack will offer far more than they were capable of handling last week. The rivalry between these two sides will ensure a high intensity that lasts close to 80 minutes, although with weather expected to be poor for this clash, the scoring may be limited. The Sharks are favorites for this game for a reason and they should be able to handle what the Dragons throw their way. In terms of a winning margin, you cannot read too much into the history given what the Sharks have gone through in the past; nevertheless, the past two wins have been by 20 and 28 points, with an average margin of 14-points in their past 5 wins.
Sharks 13+ @ $2.80