Melbourne Storm (1st) v Newcastle Knights (16th)
The Storm earned their week off last week following an 8-point win over the Rabbitohs in Perth to conclude Round 11. Again, their trademark defence was on display as they limited their opponents to just 6-points for the match, as the weight of possession was against them (46%). This meant that they were forced to make 60 more tackles than their opponents, an area that undoubtedly increased their effectiveness in attack. With the Sharks hot on their tails, the Storm will want to stay up the top of the competition ladder for as long as possible, although this will cause minimal disruption to the bigger picture which is looming at the end of the year. They will be hoping that they can also come out and make amends for their uncharacteristic 37 missed tackles and 13 errors last match. The Knights weren’t so fortunate in their match against the Panthers; heading into HT with a 14-nil lead, hopes were high that they could cause an upset. A barrage of points by their opponents in the second half put a stop to that thought, with a 79th minute try flattering them on the scoreboard. Reality is that they were poor when it matter, ending the game with a 64% completion rate, 13 errors and 33 missed tackles; statistics that you do not want to work against you when you have just 42% possession. As they languish at the bottom of the ladder, time during these matches is crucial to them building confidence and combinations for beyond 2017. There are positive signs ahead but facing the Storm in Melbourne is by far one of their biggest recent challenges.
Storm = Jesse Bromwich (stood down) returns at prop, pushing Jordan McLean back to the bench and Mark Nicholls out of the team.
Knights = Nathan Ross returns to the wing for Brendan Elliot. Josh Starling (prop) and Mitchell Barnett (second row) return to the starting team, pushing Luke Yates to lock, Sam Stone and Daniel Saifiti to the bench.
Overall = Storm 21 Knights 15
Last 5 matches = Storm 3 Knights 2
At AAMI Park = Storm 74% Knights 22%
Form = Storm 1 win – Knights 1 loss
The Knights have been struggling all season to produce performances that upset their opponents. This is another match that they are not expected to win, made even more difficult by the fact that they have to travel to Melbourne; the Knights have won just 2 matches in 9 attempts at AAMI Park to give them a 22% record. The Knights are not without hope, surprisingly, they have a decent record against the Storm overall. If the Storms representative players are not able to return for this game, the disruption should be minimal to their chances. They still have a host of quality players including Billy Slater, that have more class than their opponents. The Storm are sitting up the top of the competition for a reason and the Storm will want to regain momentum and confidence within their attack since they struggled somewhat against the Rabbitohs. Nevertheless, the difference in this game will come down to defence and the ability of the Storm to shut down the Knights attacking options. They allow and average of just 15-points per game; with the Knights only managing to score 16.7 points and conceding 26.6 points per game, the writing is on the wall for a dominating victory in favor of the home team. Surprisingly, the last time the Storm beat the Knights by 13 or more points was back in Round 23, 2013; this is just once in their past 5 wins with an average in this period of 6.2 points. That aside, you have to delve into markets to search for value in this match before you can find something worth investing your money on.
Storm 19+ @ $2.25
Out to make his mark! = Billy Slater FTS and/or LTS @ $8 – He was sensationally left out of Origin on Wednesday and the impact he can have on games is enormous. After his team lost, Slater will be out to remind selectors what he is capable of and that means getting to the try line as much as possible (something the Maroons need!).
Parramatta Eels (9th) v New Zealand Warriors (13th)
The Eels halted a 2-game losing streak last week against the Rabbitohs, with that result extremely important for them in terms of maintaining touch with the Top 8. The win moved them into 9th, which could also be 6th if it wasn’t for a -32 points difference courtesy of a few poor defensive efforts. Nevertheless, that win was a step back in the right direction and one of their best this season statistically; they completed at 80% and missed 29 tackles for the match, building pressure through consistency in attack. Their win could also be attributed to the lapses by their opponents, yet it was a strong side that this team is building with key players injured and no one missing through the Origin period. They will need plenty of momentum to halt their opponents, who are coming off a win over the understrength Broncos in New Zealand. It is no secret that the Warriors have struggled so far this season, enhanced by the caliber of player they have within their team. In the end, the 18-point victory was perhaps their most dominant of the season; their stats during matches this season have been better than expected and they were finally rewarded for this. They completed at 86%, made just 6 errors and missed 25 tackles; if this is a sign of things to come then the Warriors could further up the ladder. That win brought them within 2-points of the Top 8 and the challenge ahead is maintaining their momentum as quality returns for their opponents in coming weeks.
Eels = Nathan Brown (injury) returns at lock, forcing Beau Scott back to the bench. Suaia Matagi is named to start at prop with Siosaia Vave relegated back to the bench.
Warriors = Solomone Kata (injury) returns to the centres, pushing David Fusitua to the wing and Charnze Nicoll-Klockstad out of the team.
Overall = Eels 20 Warriors 15
Last 5 matches = Eels 1 Warriors 4
At ANZ Stadium = Eels 43% Warriors 38%
Form = Eels 1 win – Warriors 1 win
Both teams will take plenty of confidence from their wins last week and will be out to ensure the momentum is carried into this week. Each team has their own areas to improve upon, although you could make a case for the Warriors being better prepared for this match than the Eels. If the home team had a full-strength squad, they would be a far better chance of winning this game than they currently are. Betting markets are suggesting that the Eels can overcome this and have posted them as favorites for this match. The Warriors generally have a poor record on the road and playing at this ground is no different, they have won 38% of matches played at this ground. To make matters worse, they are yet to win on the road this season. The key for them winning this contest is ensuring that the forwards are able to produce the same power they played with last week. This created a strong platform for Shaun Johnson to work off and the rest of the outside backs benefitted from this. Things appear to be aligning for them and if they produce the same level as last week, they should be able to cause an upset. The Eels form against the Rabbitohs is somewhat false given how poor their opponents were in that match. As for the margin, the Warriors have beaten the Eels by an average of 18.6-points in their past 5 wins over their opponents; yet when they have won on the road against them, the margin drops to 10-points. Given the Warriors are still a team that is improving, it doesn’t appear likely that they will come out and produce an overly convincing victory; they still need to come out and play consistently before you can invest on them with confidence. Be cautious with a match like this, nevertheless, it appears that there is value in taking the visiting team.
Warriors @ $2.10
St George-Illawarra Dragons (3rd) v Wests Tigers (15th)
The Dragons enjoyed a week off after a tough 16-point win over the Warriors on the road. Missing a host of players, the visitors were expected to struggle but it mattered little, as they were great in all areas of the game, completing at 85% and having strong defence, missing just 22 tackles for the match. The Dragons have surprised many this year with their form and that was yet another sign that they are to be taken seriously. This is a game that they should win here regardless of the players available, with a win only going to consolidate their standing in the Top 4. The Tigers will have a difficult time trying to alter the course of this match, their 36-nil result against the Broncos was yet another low point for them this year. They were completely outclassed by a team with more quality and a higher level of execution and enthusiasm. The Tigers looked lost for answers and their were not assisted by the withdrawal of their halves in the lead up to the match. Nevertheless, other players within the team needed to take responsibility for the teams performance and they were unable to deliver. The Tigers are in a dangerous situation whereby they are focusing on salvaging pride and building momentum towards 2018. Performances like the one against the Broncos will only hamper such efforts and they are afforded the chance to bounce back here. Whether or not that is possible against the Dragons remains to be seen; it appears that a lack of quality within their team is only the beginning of the problems this club is currently experiencing.
Dragons = Tyson Frizell and Josh Dugan (both Origin), have been named on the bench. Tariq Sims will start in the second row, Jason Nightingale (injury) at fullback and Jacob Host on the bench.
Tigers = Tuimoala Lolohea (club debut) is named to start at 5/, pushing Jack Littlejohn to halfback. Ava Seumanufagai (suspension) returns at prop to cover for Sauaso Sue (suspended), while Chris Lawrence starts in the second row for Josh Aloiai (injured). JJ Felise fills the vacant bench spot.
Overall = Dragons 18 Tigers 15
Last 5 matches = Dragons 3 Tigers 2
At ANZ Stadium = Dragons 48% Tigers 43%
Form = Dragons 1 win – Tigers 3 losses
The Tigers appear as though they are going to be outclassed by yet another superior opponent this week. The Dragons will be hoping that their Origin stars return for this match, although even if they don’t the home team should still be too strong. The Tigers are expected to bounce back here but to dramatically change their form to cause an upset here would be surprising to say the least. Effort is simply not a part of their play and even with improvements expected in attack, their defence still has plenty of issues; they have the highest average of missed tackles per game (36.6) and concede 26.4 points per game (3rd highest in the league). The Dragons have reinvented their attacking structure and it is appear as dynamic as ever; they were fantastic in their last start win over the Warriors whereby they scored 30 points. It is evident that the Tigers have just about given up hope of playing Finals in 2017 and are building towards 2018 and beyond. Ivan Cleary will want an effort here with more application and enthusiasm but that will only take them so far. The question around this game is how much the Dragons win this game by, with or without their Origin stars. In the past 2 games, the Tigers have conceded 54 points and scored just 8; admittedly their attack has struggled and looks set to do the same here. The Dragons score an average of 24.5 points per game, the most of any team in the competition. This spells trouble for the visitors and there is no telling whether or not the Dragons attack will be able to be stopped over 80 minutes.
Dragons 13+ @ $2.10
Sydney Roosters (5th) v Brisbane Broncos (4th)
The Roosters 2-game winning streak was brought to an end last Sunday at the hands of the Raiders. It was a result that they were not going to give up easily and despite missing a host of representative stars, they were competitive with plenty of quality. The loss meant they dropped out of the Top 4, yet this will hardly cause alarm within the squad given the talent that is returning for a big clash against the Broncos. They cannot be content with their current standing though; they made the second most errors (11.5 per game) and are ranked 4th for missed tackles (32.3 per game). These are two areas the Broncos will no doubt exploit if they get the opportunity. They too are coming off a similar loss in Round 12; they headed over the New Zealand to face the Warriors and had the most players unavailable due to Origin selection and injury. With so much talent missing from their team, the Broncos struggled to gain momentum at any stage during the match and were comprehensively beaten 28-10. Much like the Roosters, there were positives to take away from that game and the return of Ben Hunt to the team is only going to offer further support for the players in the spine. In terms of their execution, there was a lot to be desired as they completed at 59%, missed 45 tackles and committed 15 errors; these are all uncharacteristic for the Broncos and definitely do not reflect a team that is sitting in the Top 4 of the competition. Nevertheless, this game is expected to be a great contest between two sides that usually have a healthy rivalry; it is a shame that this match was not held outside the Origin period when both were at their best.
Roosters = Blake Ferguson (wing), Mitchell Pearce (halfback), Dylan Napa (prop), Boyd Cordner (second row) and Aidan Guerra (bench) return from Origin. This forces Kane Evans and Ryan Matterson back to the bench and a host of others, including Connor Watson and Zane Tetevano, out of the 17.
Broncos = Darius Boyd (fullback), Corey Oates (wing), Anthony Milford (5/8), Sam Thaiday (second row) and Matt Gillett (second row) are back from Origin. Herman Ese’ese and Alex Glenn move back to the bench, while a host of other players, including Benji Marshall and Kodi Nikorima, are out of the 17. Andrew McCullough (injury) returns to start at hooker.
Overall = Roosters 15 Broncos 19
Last 5 matches = Roosters 2 Broncos 3
At Allianz Stadium = Roosters 63% Broncos 65%
Form = Roosters 1 loss – Broncos 1 loss
Each team will be waiting to see how their Origin stars pull up following a bruising encounter on 4-days prior; this is amplified for the Broncos, who have a 6-day turnaround on the back of this match. Player availability has a large outcome on this match because both teams were unsuccessful last week with players missing. It appears as though Pearce will miss this game after suffering concussion and the Roosters halves will be the same as last week. In equal measure, Anthony Milford is also in doubt for the same reason, yet the Broncos appear more capable of covering his loss than their opponents. The Roosters are strong favorites for this match although it was only back in Round 6 that the Broncos beat the Roosters by 24-points at Suncorp Stadium. The teams from that day are similar to those that will take the field here and some may argue that the Roosters lose direction without Pearce. There were signs during that game that the Broncos are a more mature team that will be up for the challenge of this big match; they controlled the speed of the ruck very well and allowed the Roosters attacking weapons little room to maneuver. Home ground advantage is important, with the away team winning just 3 times in the past 10 meetings; while the Broncos have lost 4 out of their past 5 matches against the Roosters in Sydney. Be careful prior to investing on this match, with a key indicator being the teams that are released 1-hour prior to KO (follow them via Twitter and they will be retweeted once released). If things go according to plan, then the Broncos look set to cause an upset, albeit by a very narrow margin.
Broncos @ $2.25
North Queensland Cowboys (7th) v Gold Coast Titans (12th)
The Cowboys have had plenty of time to prepare for this game, after they were defeated by the Sharks in the opening match of Round 11. They scored all of their points in the first half and were unable to stem the flow of their opponents once they gathered momentum in the second half. It was a pleasing performance to some extent, as they were never expected to perform so well missing a host of quality players. That game was also concluded a 2-game run of matches in Sydney and they will relish the chance to return home. The Titans were also unsuccessful in their match against the Sea Eagles at home, handed a 20-point loss in a game they were expected to win. There wasn’t a clear catalyst for this effort, although missing 35 tackles and committing 11 errors contributed to the result. Unfortunately for them, it was the first time since the early stages of the season that their team looked lost for direction and lacked execution at the end of attacking sets. The momentum created by their opponents became too much and they dominated from start to finish. For a team averaging the most tries in the competition, it was disappoint that they were affected to this extent; it highlighted how much the Titans need to improve on the other side of the ball.
Cowboys = Unchanged. Thurston has been named in the reserves and is some chance of featuring in this match.
Titans = Leivaha Pulu is named at lock, switching with Morgan Boyle, who moves back to the bench.
Overall = Cowboys 10 Titans 8
Last 5 matches = Cowboys 4 Titans 1
At 1300Smiles Stadium = Cowboys 75% Titans 17%
Form = Cowboys 1 loss – Titans 1 loss
The Cowboys team and their fans will relish a return back to Townsville, believe it or not it has been over a month since they took the field here (28th April) and even longer since they last won on this ground (22nd April). To make matters worse, they only have a 50% record here this year; thankfully, the Titans have not won at this ground since Round 1, 2012. Despite this, the Titans will pose plenty of challenges to their opponents over the 80 minutes. Their last start loss to Manly was extremely disappointing and not a true reflection of what this team is capable of. Whether or not they can turn it around here is another factor altogether; the quality within their team is evident and with Thurston only a slight chance of featuring, the Titans are arguably facing the Cowboys at the right stage of the season. The Cowboys are overwhelming favorites for this game, perhaps too short given the already mentioned factors; they also have a Round 4 win over the Titans by 6-points, with 2 tries in the last 5 minutes flattering the home team on that occasion. Then again, the Titans are a team that is ranked 5th for points scored (24.5 PPG) yet concede the 2nd highest amount on defence (26.5 PPG). Allowing so many points is where they become unstuck, although the Cowboys may struggle without their key playmaker; they will need to return to their play which saw them put 30 points on the Bulldogs back in Round 10. That game involved them dominating the middle of the field and allowing Jake Granville to create plays out of dummy half. The Cowboys recent record over the Titans is outstanding and they average a winning margin of 16.8 points in their past 5 wins over their opponents, 4 of which were at this ground. The days of the free-flowing Cowboys attack appear to be coming to an end; this year they are ranked 11th in the competition for points scored (19.4 PPG). Of their 6 wins this season, the Cowboys have only won 2 by 13 or more points and it doesn’t appear as though they will be able to achieve that here, especially if Nathan Peats doesn’t take the field at hooker following Origin.
Cowboys 1-12 @ $2.85
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (6th) v Canberra Raiders (8th)
It was only back in Round 8 where these two sides met one another down in Canberra in what was a very fiery encounter. There was no love lost between the two sides as the Sea Eagles kicked a penalty goal during Golden Point to seal the match. That loss was the beginning of a 3-game losing streak for the Raiders which was only saved last week with an 8-point win over the understrength Roosters team. With 54% share of possession and 81% completion rate, the Raiders failed to capitalize on the pressure they were building. Scoring points when in strong attacking position was once a strength of theirs and now it appears that they need someone to take control in similar situations. As for the Sea Eagles, they were victorious in their last match against the Titans, upsetting the home team by 20-points in a dominating display. Their defence was a cornerstone of their play, missing just 17 tackles for the match and ensuring that they made the most of their positive attacking position. Their recent efforts have seen them climb above the Raiders on the table. They have been dynamic with their second phase play created via their offloads, averaging 12 per game, the 3rd highest of any team in the NRL. With a new-found rivalry between these two teams, this is set to be a cracking encounter as the Raiders will be out to make amends for their loss to the Sea Eagles earlier in the season.
Sea Eagles = Unchanged.
Raiders = Josh Papalii (Origin) returns to the team to cover for Luke Bateman (injured) in the second row.
Overall = Sea Eagles 14 Raiders 12
Last 5 matches = Sea Eagles 2 Raiders 3
At Lottoland = Sea Eagles 63% Raiders 43%
Form = Sea Eagles 1 win – Raiders 2 wins
The Sea Eagles have much more momentum heading into this game than their opponents; they were successful in their last outing over the Raiders, sit higher than them on the ladder and a superior overall record at this ground. Nevertheless, the Raiders will take plenty from their most recent performances and attempt to regain the form that they displayed earlier this year. That being said, 2017 has not been kind to them at home, as they’ve won just one match from 6 attempts. They need to overcome this factor if they are to upset the Raiders, who are slight favorites for this match. They have scored the most points this season but in terms of averages, they are slightly behind the Sea Eagles (23.6 PPG) averaging 23 PPG. The defensive statistics are close also, with the Raiders allowing 17.3 PPG, compared with the Sea Eagles 18.4 PPG. This suggests that the overall margin will be close; the last game went to Golden Point and the previous time the Sea Eagles one before that, the margin was again 2 points. In terms of declaring a winner for this match, the Sea Eagles have plenty to like about them, but the Raiders will undoubtedly avoid the same mistakes they made last time against this team. For one reason or another, playing at home hasn’t been kind to them this year and pressure is on the Sea Eagles to overcome this. Side with the Raiders, but only just; the answer, in terms of an investment, lies within either team to win this match by less than a converted try.
Either Team Under 6.5 Points @ $2.80
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (11th) v Penrith Panthers (10th)
A game between two of the more disappointing teams in the NRL is hardly anything to be excited about after the other matches that have taken place this week, although this match is a crucial one for the aspirations that each team have of playing Finals later in the year. They are currently only separated by points difference on the ladder, with the Bulldogs having played one more game than their opponents. That came last week as the Panthers had a bye, with the Bulldogs suffering a 1-point loss at the hands of the Sharks. It was a much-improved effort on their recent performances, yet they are still in the midst of a 3-game losing streak. During this time, their attack has struggled to produce anything that either produces points or builds pressure on their opponents; in fact their attack as a whole is poor, averaging 14.8 points per game (2nd lowest in the competition). The Panthers haven’t been much better though across the season, nevertheless, a dynamic display in the second half against the Warriors back in Round 10 appears to have acted as a catalyst for change. Since then, they have scored plenty of points and are on a 2-game winning streak, albeit against the Knights and struggling Warriors. Winning form will build confidence and that is exactly what this team needs if they are going to climb up the competition ladder. Unfortunately, their effort against the Knights had its flaw and after trailing 14-nil at HT, a dazzling second half was again needed. Thankfully they performed well, accompanied by an 85% completion rate and 8 total errors. With plenty to play for, this game is perhaps going to offer a lot more than most are expecting to close out the weekend.
Bulldogs = Brett Morris (wing), Josh Jackson (second row) and David Klemmer (lock) all return from Origin. They push Marcelo Montoya, Asipeli Fine and Francis Tualau out of the team.
Panthers = Matt Moylan moves to 5/8 to cover for Bryce Cartwright (injured), with Dylan Edwards named at fullback. Josh Mansour (injury) returns on the wing for Peta Hiku and Mitch Rein makes his club debut at hooker for Peter Wallace (injured). Isaah Yeo (injury) returns in the second row for Sitaleki Akauola.
Overall = Bulldogs 16 Draw 1 Panthers 17
Last 5 matches = Bulldogs 3 Panthers 2
At ANZ Stadium = Bulldogs 57% Panthers 39%
Form = Bulldogs 3 losses – Panthers 2 wins
The Bulldogs points scoring woes will be a major concern for them in this game against, especially if the Panthers find their momentum early on in this contest. While they score more points than the Bulldogs (20.2 PPG), the Panthers will need their defence to support them just as much. The Bulldogs are strong in this area, allowing their opponents an average of 17.3 PPG compared with the Panthers 21.2 PPG. This has the Panthers heading into this game as favorites, although the Bulldogs will be out to ensure that this doesn’t occur. They are a capable team on their day and have proven in the past that they can play to the level of their opponents; if their defence is at its best, the Panthers will have a difficult time building pressure. Given the little difference between the two games, this game could go down to the wire. Of the past 10 meetings between these two sides, only 3 times has the victory margin gone beyond 13 points, with an average of 9.2 points. The average for the Panthers when winning is 8.8 points and with this trend set to continue, an investment on the Panthers appears to be the right way to go. The Bulldogs are not producing enough power in the forwards, which is a by-product of the poor ruck speed and lack of awareness in this area. The Panthers need to play a quick game to fatigue the Bulldogs pack and have the right balance of power, speed and strength to do this. Ideally, this will flow onto the edges and they can strike out wide. Yet again, this is a game that you have to be cautious given the ability of both teams to produce a vastly difference performance than what is expected.
Panthers -2.5 @ $2
On the prowl = Panthers 1-12 @ $2.85 – As mentioned above, the Panthers have enjoyed a history of close matches with the Bulldogs. That trend is set to continue with the Bulldogs only losing 2 matches this year by 13 or more points. With so much to play for, this game is going to be a tough that could be decided in the final minutes.
Remember me? = Josh Mansour FTS and/or LTS @ $9 – Mansour returns for his first game since injuring himself at the end of last year on Kangaroos duty. His form last season was outstanding and while it may take a few games for him to return to his damaging best, you cannot forget how great he was in finding his way to the tryline.