South Sydney Rabbitohs (13th) v Parramatta Eels (10th)
The Rabbitohs have a very short turnaround to contend with here following the decision to take their Round 11 match across to Perth. Fatigue is destined to impact upon their performance here and heading home without a win will not aid their cause. Their effort and application in that game was great and if not for a few crucial mistakes, the eventual margin could’ve been a lot closer. Fact is, they were not offering too much in attack to penetrate the Storm’s rigid defence. Even when they did break them, it was through the middle; it was disappointing to see them move away from this play, especially when their forwards were relishing the challenge. Nevertheless, they have a chance to take the positive momentum built from that game into this match; with the Eels also unsuccessful last week. Much more was expected from them given their poor showing against the Roosters in Round 10 that ended in a 38-point loss. Coming up against a Raiders team desperate for a win to break a losing streak was always going to be tough, as was playing without Corey Norman. Mitchell Moses was slotted into the fold and he was somewhat underwhelming given the relatively short preparation time prior to that match. The Eels managed to turn a few things around, contributing to a strong performance that forced their opponents to score the last two tries in the match to grab the win; they completed at 86% and made just 8 errors, well down on their previous weeks effort. Unfortunately, defence was still an issue as they missed 45 tackles and were forced to make more tackles than the Raiders, despite having a larger share of possession. The form of both teams has reduced the impending impact during the Origin period and what should be delivered is two desperate teams clinging onto their hopes and fighting for a win here.
Rabbitohs = George Burgess (suspension) returns to the bench, forcing Zane Musgrove back to the reserves.
Eels = Brad Takairangi replaces Michael Jennings (injured) in the centres, with Mitchell Moses officially named at halfback.
Overall = Rabbitohs 13 Draw 1 Eels 14
Last 5 matches = Rabbitohs 3 Eels 2
At ANZ Stadium = Rabbitohs 53% Eels 40%
Form = Rabbitohs 1 loss – Eels 2 losses
Despite the concerns surrounding the short turnaround, the Rabbitohs head into this game as favorites. There is no doubt that their recent performances have caught the eye of fans and the application of their team as a whole has had a positive affect on their performance. Minus Greg Inglis and a few other bench players, the Rabbitohs are just about at full-strength and appear to have greater quality than the Eels, who are without two of their key attacking weapons in Jennings and Norman. Bringing Moses into the team was always going to be challenging and he should benefit from spending another week with the team. Nevertheless, his defensive ability is bound to be targeted, just as it was two weeks ago when he played for the Tigers against the Rabbitohs (he will play them 4 times this season). The Eels are set to take the challenge to the Rabbitohs in the middle of the field; both possess strong packs capable of continually penetrating the advantage line. The difference between these two teams comes in the outside backs, where the Rabbitohs still have plenty of class. This is combined with several of their players out to prove a point; Farah and Reynolds after being overlooked for Origin and Walker for a contract. Motivation should be high for them, although with fatigue a concern, the final margin may be closer than the home team would like. Of the Rabbitohs past 5 wins over the Eels (they have won the past 9 out of 11 matches), they have an average winning margin of 12.4 points, with two matches decided by 2-points and the rest by more than 18-points. Then again, the fatigue scenario is far different and the margin should be right on that average, with the Rabbitohs getting home by less than 2 converted tries.
Rabbitohs 1-12 @ $2.90
New Zealand Warriors (14th) v Brisbane Broncos (2nd)
The Warriors woes continued last week, this time at the hands of the Dragons, who went into the match as underdogs. Without their key players and attacking leaders, the Dragons sprung a 16-point upset on the home team. Yet again, questions are raised at just how the current Warriors team is performing given their wealth of talent. Their completion rate was great (82%) and they made just 7 total errors, however let themselves down on the other side of the ball by missing a massive 57 tackles over 80 minutes. Many were expecting them to bounce back after losing to the Panthers in Round 10 in dramatic fashion. It wasn’t meant to be though and they are now left languishing at the bottom end of the competition ladder. The Broncos had no such issues in their dominating 36-nil win over the hapless Tigers. It was a dazzling display from the Broncos who showed their class compared with a lower ranked opponent, especially considering their completion rate wasn’t great (69%) and their errors were the same as their opponents (11). Now, they face a new challenge of performing without their Origin stars; thankfully their two byes come when they would be in a similar situation. Nevertheless, missing 6 players provides another opportunity for young and less experienced players to stand up and make a name for themselves. Combine this with a road trip over to NZ and the home team will sense an opportunity to capitalize and hopefully begin to contest for a spot in the Top 8.
Warriors = James Gavet starts at prop for Jacob Lillyman (Origin), joined by Simon Mannering (injury), who returns at lock. This pushes Bunty Afoa to the bench, where Albert Vete replaces Charlie Gubb.
Broncos = Darius Boyd, Corey Oates, Anthony Milford, Matt Gillett, Josh Maguire and Sam Thaiday (all Origin) are out of this match. Jordan Kahu starts at fullback for Boyd, Jonus Pearson on the wing for Oates and Benji Marshall for Milford in the halves. He will partner Ben Hunt (injury), who forces Kodi Nikorima to the bench. In the forwards, Travis Waddell replaces Andrew McCullough (injured) at hooker; Jaydn S’ua starts in the second row for Gillett, partnering Alex Glenn, Korbin Sims moves to lock for Maguire and Herman Ese’ese starts at prop. George Fai and Jai Arrow fill the vacant bench spots.
Overall = Warriors 18 Broncos 17
Last 5 matches = Warriors 2 Broncos 3
At Mt Smart Stadium = Warriors 59% Broncos 29%
Form = Warriors 2 losses – Broncos 5 wins
Due to the players missing for the visitors, the Warriors head into this game as strong favorites; this is a situation they have been in previously, yet failed to deliver. Missing 7 top-line players, 3 of which make up their spine, as well as their power in the forwards, takes plenty away from the Broncos. If the Warriors are still serious about contending for a spot in the Top 8, this is a game that they must win and win comfortably. The Broncos will not be without hope though, they still have plenty of experience and talent to draw upon with Hunt, Roberts and Blair leading the way for this team. The difference between the two sides will come when the bench players are injected into the match; not suggesting that the Warriors will be superior by any large measure, just that there will be a noticeable difference in the Broncos during this point compared with recent weeks. The Broncos do not enjoy the trip across the Tasman either; they have just a 29% record at this ground, winning 5 games from 16 attempts. In the Warriors last 4 victories over the Broncos on home soil the average margin is 9.8-points, with 3 of those wins being by 10-points or less. There is no doubt that the Warriors have attacking potential that can pile on points, problem is that it hasn’t been evident as much this year as it has in the past; they are averaging just 3.5 line breaks a game and just 5.5 offloads. Everything suggests that the Warriors will be too strong for the weakened Broncos outfit but with terrible current form, there is no certainty of this being produced. Don’t forget, they have a spine that will contest the World Cup later this year for New Zealand; sooner or later they are going to have to build momentum. There is no telling whether or not this will be the game for it to happen and given the Broncos rigid defence this season, take the home team by less than 2 converted tries.
Warriors 1-12 @ $2.90
Cronulla Sharks (3rd) v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (9th)
The Sharks won yet another grinding contest last Thursday, this time against the Cowboys, a game where they were clearly below their best. Finding themselves down 14-nil at HT, the Sharks came out a better team in the second half and piled pressure on the Cowboys, minus JT. Their statistics for the season tell a different story and many would be surprised that they are sitting equal second on the competition ladder. Despite this, they are ranked second for missed tackles (35.2 per game), first for errors (12.1 per game), conceded the most penalties (7.9 per game), yet have allowed the least amount of points (13.3 per game) compared with any other team. They will face a tough task winning at home without their stars, but would be thankful that not all of them are unavailable this weekend. The Bulldogs have a few stars missing too as they are out to make amends for their 6-point loss to the Roosters last Sunday. After scoring early, it appeared as though the Bulldogs were about to halt their slide down the ladder; it wasn’t meant to be in the end as the visitors piled on pressure in the first half and with that game plenty of points. The jury is definitely well and truly out as to whether or not they have credentials to make the Top 8 and without their stars, the task ahead of them becomes harder. Hopefully the Sharks can overcome their poor record at home, where they have only won 2 games out of 5 this year.
Sharks = Jack Bird, James Maloney, Andrew Fifita and Wade Graham (all Origin) are out of this match. Gerard Beale is named to start in the centres for Bird, with Fa’amanu Brown is named at 5/8. Matt Prior (prop) and Kurt Capewell (second row) start the match.
Bulldogs = Brett Morris, Josh Jackson and David Klemmer (all Origin) are out of this match. Marcelo Montoya is named on the wing for Morris, Greg Eastwood starts in the second row for Jackson and Danny Fualalo starts at lock for Klemmer. Asipeli Fine and Francis Tualau fill the vacant bench spots.
Overall = Sharks 10 Bulldogs 18
Last 5 matches = Sharks 2 Bulldogs 3
At Southern Cross Group Stadium = Sharks 57% Bulldogs 60%
Form = Sharks 3 wins – Bulldogs 2 losses
Both teams have a large group of players that are unavailable for this game; regardless of this, the Sharks will still head into the match as favorites, largely due to the Bulldogs failures in certain areas. Looking further into it though, losing Maloney means that the Sharks have less experience guiding their attack. Townsend has proven in the past that he is capable of filling this role, yet the Bulldogs will be aware of where they can pressure him in defence. The Sharks losses are not great, except they still have a wealth of talent and experience in their team. This is where they appear deserving favorites against a team that has underperformed thus far in 2017. Whether or not they will sense and opportunity to cause an upset remains to be seen. Playing at home has been an issue for the Sharks this season and up against the Bulldogs, it becomes even more difficult. The Bulldogs have won 8 of the past 11 matches between the two teams and 6 out of the last 7 at this ground; it must be stated that even with their good record, this is the first time in 6 years that they have played at this ground. The last two victories to the Sharks have been by 2-points and this trend looks set to continue as they rely on their defence to get them through this match. At the end of the day, the Bulldogs are still only averaging 15.5 points per game and will need an attacking spark to change this occurrence. With the Sharks having the slight edge, this game is likely to go down to the wire with the winner only emerging late in the match. With that in mind, take the option of the eventual margin being less than a converted try.
Either team under 6.5 points @ $2.80
Canberra Raiders (8th) v Sydney Roosters (4th)
The Raiders bounced back to winning form last week with a relieving win over the Eels in Round 11. In what loomed as a dangerous game for the struggling outfit, they were able to bounce back from a 6-point deficit early on in the second half. Scoring the final two tries in the match within the last 25 minutes allowed them to move past their opponents and secure a temporary spot in the Top 8. It was a pleasing win for a team, which had just 47% share of possession; yet there is still improvement left within this team as they completed at 79%, made 8 errors and missed 33 tackles. Thankfully, Origin has had a minimal impact on their team; unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Roosters, who have 5 players away on representative duty. Even with players unavailable, they carry momentum into this match having recorded a 6-point win over the Bulldogs. The final margin didn’t accurately depict how dominant they were over 80 minutes. Their lapses allowed their opponents back into the match; this is a sign of how much improvement is still left within this team, however they will be pleased that they currently sit within the Top 4. Their defence was strong, missing just 25 tackles over the match and relentlessly pressuring the Bulldogs into crucial errors. It was timely that some of their key players came into form when it matter, the challenge ahead for them is for the replacement players to fill the void and maintain their high standing. The Raiders have already proven themselves vulnerable at numerous points this season and can ill-afford to approach this match with a relaxed attitude towards their opponents; otherwise they will be again out of the Top 8.
Raiders = Iosia Soliola comes into the team in the second row for Josh Papalii (Origin), with Luke Bateman coming onto the bench.
Roosters = Blake Ferguson, Mitchell Pearce, Boyd Cordner, Dylan Napa and Aidan Guerra (all Origin) are out of this match. Mitchell Aubusson shifts to the centres, pushing Joseph Manu to the wing to cover for Ferguson. Connor Watson starts in the halves for Pearce. Kane Evans (prop), Ryan Matterson (second row) and Zane Tetevano (lock) all start the match. Issac Lui, Lindsay Collins, Chris Smith and Mitch Cornish come onto the bench to fill the vacant spots.
Overall = Raiders 11 Roosters 23
Last 5 matches = Raiders 2 Roosters 3
At GIO Stadium = Raiders 53% Roosters 30%
Form = Raiders 1 win – Roosters 2 wins
With a stronger team that only has a slight impact on it from Origin, the Raiders are expected to come out and deliver a strong victory over the Roosters. The odds also reflect this thought; nevertheless, there is plenty of doubt around the Raiders overall play. They cannot escape their poor level of execution that has plagued them in recent weeks; prior to their win over the Eels, they were on a 3-game losing streak that included a match against the Knights. For a dynamic team, they are 7th in line breaks (4.1 per game), 11th in offloads (9.9 per game) and 9th in missed tackles (29.9 per game). Their execution has to improve sooner rather than later and their opponents have shown how they can be beaten in recent weeks. If the Roosters were at full-strength, there is no doubt that they would be strong favorites for this match. Unfortunately for them, they’re not and their young team will have a difficult time of stopping their opponents, providing they show up for this match. The Raiders will need every bit of their home ground advantage that they have been recapturing recently; they have won their past 3 matches at home over the Roosters, all of which have been decided by 4 points or less. Those games featured two teams not impacted upon the representative calendar, a far cry from this game whereby one team has plenty of adjustment ahead of them. It would be surprising to see the margin this tight, and for that reason, the home team should be able to cover the line. In terms of the confidence surrounding their overall margin of victory, that still remains low and it is worth waiting for the Raiders to prove that they are getting back to their best.
Raiders -6.5 @ $1.90