The Origin series is decided following the Blues heroics in Game 2 as Round 15 of the NRL comes into the spotlight. State of Origin is not completely finished though, with a dead-rubber Game 3 still to take place in 3 weeks time. As we are in the midst of the representative season, several clubs are having a bye weekend, with some even experiencing their first in 2014. A lot of attention has revolved around Origin but club coaches will be the first to tell you that their job has not stopped during their period. Teams are quickly realizing that time is running out for them to make a spirited charge towards the Finals, while others are attempting to cement their spot within the Top 8. It was excitement a plenty on Wednesday night and the interest is only going to be maintained as several questions are left unanswered.
Canberra Raiders v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Friday night football takes a rare trip down to Canberra this week, as the Raiders host the Bulldogs in a cold climate. Normally reserved for Pay-TV, the Raiders organization will relish the chance to feature on free-to-air TV. Their performances this season have not warranted that exposure either, as they are languishing in 14th spot on the competition ladder. They are only 6 points out of the Top 8, but they have the third-worse points difference (-110) to contend with. Things have not gone to plan for them so far and pressure is building on their squad and their coach, Ricky Stuart. A lack of consistency is at the core of their troubles and they need to attempt to salvage something out of this season. The Bulldogs have avoided similar problems, as they have dominated majority of opponents this season. The last two weeks though have been ones to forget for them, suffering consecutive losses and slipping to 6th on the competition ladder. Those performances has seen them continually pressured in the forwards and weaker in their defensive structure. Player availability is making things difficult for them, but excuses can only be used for so long. The returning players need to get things back on track for them as they aim to cement their place in the Top 8. This match isn’t promising to be the most intriguing contest of the weekend, but with only one match on, attention will be firmly focused on this match and the outcome of another 80 minutes of rugby league.
Coming back from a week off, the Raiders are this week without Josh Papalii and Paul Vaughan. Papalii’s injury also ruled him out of Origin and he isn’t expected back until at least Round 18, with Jake Foster named to start in his place in the second row. Kyle O’Donnell, who is a youngster with plenty of potential, takes Vaughan’s spot on the bench. In the backline, Matt Allwood is into the team for Reece Robinson on the wing and will hopefully provide plenty of support for the Maroon’s squad member, Anthony Milford. The week around more experienced members in the league will undoubtedly improve his match and Raiders fans will be hoping that he can transfer that to club level.
Things went from bad to worse last week for the Bulldogs, with Sam Perrett and David Klemmer both ruled out with injury. Mitch Brown moves to fullback, while Dury Low takes his place on the wing. Krisnan Inu is moved to the centres and like last week Corey Thompson will feature on the wing. The NSW halves return, forcing Michael Ennis back to hooker. Reni Maitua has been named on the bench, holding onto his bench spot after featuring last week. Lloyd Perrett has been named as 18th man, but is likely to miss out if all players are fit. The forwards are a strength of the Bulldogs, but last week we saw just how valuable the halves are to their game. They lacked direction and execution at the end of attacking sets that would otherwise build pressure on their opponents.
Overall = Raiders 26 Bulldogs 24
Last 5 games = Raiders 3 Bulldogs 2
At GIO Stadium = Raiders 12 Bulldogs 8
TAB Sportsbet = Raiders $2.40 Bulldogs $1.60
Centrebet = Raiders $2.30 Bulldogs $1.65
Sportsbet = Raiders $2.28 Bulldogs $1.65
Betfair = Raiders $2.50 Bulldogs $1.63
Despite their form this season, several factors are working in favor of the Raiders. They have had minimal disruptions to their squad and are building a strong combination between their halves. In saying that, they have had multiple chances to put together consistent performances and have been unable to produce when it has mattered most. The Bulldogs would prefer to head into this game under a different set of circumstances but will deal with the ones that they have been dealt. They appear to be too strong in the forwards for the Raiders, with their halves buoyed by the confidence they developed with an Origin series victory. On top of this, they need to get their season back on track, following consecutive losses. This match will be tight and the Bulldogs will have to step up the intensity continually throughout the contest to shut out this Raiders outfit. Playing at home will benefit them but as is generally the case in rugby league, they will also need to execute and with what we have seen this season, that still appears to be a major flaw in their development.
Raiders +4.5 @ $1.90
New Zealand Warriors v Brisbane Broncos
Super Saturday action kicks off at 5:30pm EST this week over in Auckland, with the Warriors hosting the Broncos. This is an intriguing contest that features two teams that have lacked reliability in their performances, yet have been just as brilliant at other points. After the halfway point of the season, they are both firmly in control of their destiny. The Warriors enjoyed a week out of the spotlight last week as they had the bye, a well deserved break after a tough loss to the Rabbitohs in Perth. It was a disappointing outcome for the Warriors, after a strong start suggested that they were capable of going on with the job and causing an upset. It wasn’t to be though, meaning that they are still 2 points out of the Top 8. The Broncos also enjoyed a week off in Round 14, coming at a perfect time, as several of their star players away on Origin duty. They are 4-points ahead of the Warriors on the ladder, sitting in 5th spoth and appearing to grow stronger with each effort. Traditionally though, they struggle post-Origin as players battle fatigue and a arduous road trip across the ditch is only going to make things more difficult for them. Luckily for them, they have another week off in two rounds time, meaning that they can make the most of this match and throw everything at the Warriors. These two teams appear to be evenly matched in this contest and ultimately, the more consistent team over 80 minute should capture the 2-points.
New Zealand Warriors
The Warriors are lucky to avoid any serious disruptions to their team so far this season, with only Jacob Lillyman featuring on Wednesday night. He is named to start at prop in this match and will look to carry his team forward. Ben Matulino has unfortunately been ruled out with a knee injury, with Simon Mannering shifting into the second row and Sebastine Ikahihifo being promoted from the bench to lock. Charles Gubb takes his place on the interchange, while Siliva Havili has made way for Ben Henry. This Warriors team appears to have a variety of strengths, none more so then their outside backs. They are at their best when the forwards dominate the middle of the field and are given extra room to move. Question marks still linger around Chad Townsend at 5/8 and he will have to compliment their attacking movements, while allowing Shaun Johnson to control the ball.
Anthony Griffin has taken the interesting step of only naming Ben Hunt from Origin on Wednesday night. Of course, he didn’t take the field and they will wait to assess the fitness of the other players first, before officially including them in the team, so pay attention to the final teams named. This has caused a major reshuffle of personnel, with Ben Hannant, Corey Oates and Todd Lowrie named to replace Thaiday, Parker and Gillett in the forwards. Andrew McCullough has also been ruled out with an injury and Jake Granville takes his place in the starting team. In the backline, Dale Copley has replaced Justin Hodges, while Lachlan Maranta is the new face on the wing. On the bench, the Broncos have a new set of players, with David Stagg, Jarrod Wallace, Dave Hala and Francis Molo all named. Undoubtedly, one of those players will make way if any of the Origin players are fit for this match.
Overall = Warriors 14 Broncos 19
Last 5 games = Warriors 3 Broncos 2
At Mt Smart Stadium = Warriors 9 Broncos 7
TAB Sportsbet = Warriors $1.45 Broncos $2.85
Centrebet = Warriors $1.48 Broncos $2.70
Sportsbet = Warriors $1.48 Broncos $2.72
Betfair = Warriors $1.40 Broncos $2.88
Traditionally strong at home, the Warriors appear to have the best chance of winning this match. However it must be pointed out that the outcome of this match is going to be effected by the inclusion of the Brisbane representative players. If they are included, the Warriors are going to have a very tough time attempting to win this match but without them in the Broncos lineup, they could dominate several areas of this match. Watch for the prices to dramatically change if they are included too. Still, the Warriors are capable of winning this match regardless of who they face and a disappointing second half against the Rabbitohs in their last match will act as a catalyst here. They let that match slip through their grasp and needed to be more consistent across 80 minutes. Their forwards need to continually pressure the Broncos defensive line and allow Johnson to control the speed of the match. It will be a close match in the initial stages, although the Warriors should pull away as the match wears on, to win by a narrow margin.
Broncos +6.5 @ $1.90
Margin it up = Warriors 1-12 @ $3 – The Warriors are expected to win this match but by a smaller margin due to several inconsistencies that can surface within their performances. If you are looking for more value compared to the suggested bet, then this is an option that you should consider.
The “other” guy = David Fusitua FTS and/or LTS @ $9 – In his short time in the NRL, Fusitua is making quite the name for himself. Normally the attention is reserved for Vatuvei or Hurrell in the Warriors backline, but this guy is not to be overlooked. He has also proved a handy candidate for grabbing either the first or last try for his team and the match.
Cronulla Sharks v Many-Warringah Sea Eagles
The second and final match on Super Saturday is a battle of the beaches, with the Cronulla Sharks hosting the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles at Remondis Stadium. Traditionally a tough contest, the Sharks are going to have a very difficult time holding out their opponent in this match. 2014 has been a season to forget for them thus far, with several reasons to blame for their placing on the competition ladder. They head into this match in 15th spot, with the worse points difference in the league (-135) demonstrating just how difficult it has been. They are on a 4-game losing streak and the end doesn’t appear to be in sight. Even with a bye week in Round 14, player availability is still going to hamper their efforts and detract away from the competitiveness of this contest. The Sea Eagles also enjoyed a break last week and will be aiming to build on their 22-point demolition of the Bulldogs in Round 13 at Brookvale Oval. They are beginning to flex their premiership muscle and will prove difficult for any team to overcome. They have a strong forward back that is complimented by skillful outside backs that are distributed the ball by two very talented halves. On top of this, they have a wealth of experience at their disposal that allows Geoff Toovey to keep his players fucssed. They do have the tendancy to rise to an occasion, although at the same time they are guilty of “playing down” to their opponents level. Their fans will be hoping that they avoid that here and hand the Sharks another loss to all but confirm their fate for the 2014 campaign.
The Sharks have a host of top-line players returning to their team this week. In saying that, there is some doubt around the inclusion of Luke Lewis and Paul Gallen, as they both featured in the victorious NSW team and are undoubtedly worn down by that. They should play, but as a cover Tinirau Arona has been named as 18th man. Elsewhere, the Sharks welcome back their halves pairing of Todd Carney and Jeff Robson, to hopefully breath some life into their attacking movements. Michael Lichaa has been named at hooker, as it has emerged that John Morris has a bulging disc in his neck and could have his career ended this season. On the bench, Fa’amanu Brown, Anthony Tupou and Sam Tagataese are named, with Chris Heighinton also featuring after shifting back to accommodate the inclusion of Gallen. This is arguably the strongest team the Sharks have named this season and it will be interesting to see if they can use that to their advantage or continue to struggle against their opponents.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
The Sea Eagles have originally named their Origin stars to take the field in this match, although they will be without Anthony Watmough, who was given a 4-game suspension for his lifting tackle on Nate Myles. The likely solution here would include Tom Symonds moving into the starting team and James Hasson featuring on the bench. DCE is expected to play after proving his fitness for the Maroons, then again Toovey may opt to give his star playmaker a little more time on the sidelines. To cover for this, Jack Littlejohn has been named as 19th man and could be called into the team. This Sea Eagles team is looking very strong currently and a major contender at the end of the season. This is a game that they have to continually outplay their opponents and look to exspose their weaknesses.
Overall = Sharks 23 Draw 2 Sea Eagles 58
Last 5 games = Sharks 1 Sea Eagles 4
At Remondis Stadium = Sharks 15 Sea Eagles 18
TAB Sportsbet= Sharks $3.15 Sea Eagles $1.38
Centrebet = Sharks $3.30 Sea Eagles $1.35
Sportsbet = Sharks Sea $3.30 Eagles $1.35
Betfair = Sharks Sea $3.35 Eagles $1.34
Over the years, the Sea Eagles have had the edge over the Sharks. You only have to look at the overall statistics to see that. On top of that, the Sharks have only won 1 game from the past 10 matches; unfortunately a trend that looks set to continue. As is the trend for several matches this weekend, the outcome will depend on the final teams that are named. The Sea Eagles have several attacking options that will expose the Sharks flaw. For starters, their outside backs are vulnerable to attacking threats and will have their efficiency questioned. The Sharks strength lies within their forwards and they should look to keep the match there for as long as possible. The return of Carney will spark something in attack, but it will not be enough. Do not expect miracles from him straight away, he was flat upon his return from injury earlier this season. As for the margin, the Sharks will keep it close and the home fans will look to give them the extra edge that they need.
Sharks +10.5 @ $1.80
Melbourne Storm v Parramatta Eels
The first match on Sunday afternoon, kicking off at 2pm, heads down to AAMI Stadium, as the Melbourne Storm hosting the Parramatta Eels. This match shapes as an interesting contest, with the Storm desperate to get themselves back into consistent form. They have found recent weeks difficult to contend with, as player’s availability and injuries have impacted upon their combinations. Now, they are fortunate to have several players back for their use and will be hoping that they are able to build on the positive performance in MNF. With an understrength team, the Storm caused an upset against the Titans on their home turf. The Eels were also able to cause an upset in Round 14, as they outplayed the Bulldogs over 80 minutes to grab a vital 2-points. Missing their attacking spark, Jarryd Hayne, other players like Corey Norman and Chris Sandow came into their own. It is pleasing to see, as sometimes teams can rely too much upon one or two players to catalyse their performance. While their attack was pleasing, their defense also aimed up and pressured a very big Bulldogs pack. This match is another challenge for them to face and one that they should relish, while the Storm players will be out to put two victories together and claw their way back into contention.
The Storm have named all of their SOO players to feature in this match. They are expected to take the field, with this match being the first back since Billy Slater suffered an injury in Game 1. He replaced Cameron Munster at fullback, while Cameron Smith is included at hooker and Ryan Hinchcliffe moving back to lock. This forces Kenny Bromwich back to the interchange, who is joined by Tohu Harris, as he makes way for Ryan Hoffman. The halves remain the same, but there is some speculation around that Smith may move to halfback, forcing Ben Roberts out of the team. Will Chambers inclusion at centre, just like last week, forces Kurt Mann back to 20th man, alongside Joel Romelo (19th) and Tim Glasby (18th). They are leaving their options open, but Craig Bellamy will have no hesitation throwing his representative players into the game, as this match against the Eels will mean so much if they can capture 2-points on their home ground.
Like their opponents, the Eels have chosen to name both of their Origin stars. Jarryd Hayne is named at fullback, pushing Ken Sio out of the team, while Will Hopoate’s inclusion at centre relegates Ryan Morgan to NSW Cup. Both players are expected to play and the Eels haven’t named any extra players on their bench to cover for them. In the forwards, Pauli Pauli has been promoted to the starting side to cover for the injured Manu Ma’u in the second row. Luke Kelly, providing another attacking option for Brad Arthur, takes the vacant space on the bench. The Eels will have their work cu tout trying to hold the Storm, but it is a task that is not beyond them. They have proved several times this season that if they dominate the speed of the match, they can set a strong platform for their halves to work off.
Overall = Storm 16 Eels 11
Last 5 games = Storm 3 Eels 2
At AAMI Stadium = Storm 2 Eels 0
TAB Sportsbet= Storm $1.60 Eels $2.40
Centrebet = Storm $1.62 Eels $2.35
Sportsbet = Storm $1.62 Eels $2.35
Betfair = Storm $1.66 Eels $2.50
If the Storm’s Origin players take the field, then they are going to prove difficult to stop. Similarly, the Eels hopes rest upon the shoulders of Jarryd Hayne and his inclusion. After Game 1, he was a notable omission from the Eels team and there is some speculation around that the same could happen here. In saying that, the only thing that should effect is the margin in the contest. The Storm appear to be more capable of winning this contest, proving last week that their forwards are strong and can only benefit from added direction in their play. The line (-3.5) is too good to refuse here, with the Storm capable of putting points on in a hurry if the Eels are not up to the contest in the early stages. The hardest decision is settling on the margin, perhaps it is better to steer clear and just go for a Storm victory.
Storm -3.5 @ $1.80
Whack Waqa = Sisa Waqa FTS and/or LTS @ $9 – Normally targeted in attack, Waqa has been very quiet for the Storm recently without the direction and guidance of the more experienced players. With all but Cronk returning to their team, expect Waqa to come back into contention in this exotic bet.
Gold Coast Titans v St George-Illawarra Dragons
The feature game on Sunday afternoon head to the sunny Gold Coast as the Titans host the travelling Dragons. On paper, this match appears to be a dull contest at best and may struggle to gather the support the NRL would desire for a game in this timeslot. Unfortunately, it is the teams’ placing’s on the ladder that has forced the fans into this predicament. The Titans are attempting to back up from MNF at the same ground, where they were upset by the understrength Melbourne outfit. Things didn’t go to plan for them and on top of missing several first grade regulars; they had a few injuries early on that halted their original game plan. Still, they were in a position only a few weeks ago where they were inside the Top 8 and producing some exciting football. The Dragons were also there at the beginning of the year, although now finding themselves 2-points behind the Titans on the ladder and struggling for consistency. Unlike the Titans who have declined in recent performances, the Dragons will take confidence from their narrow loss to the Panthers and domination of the Sharks in the Round 13. Controversy has plagued their season and they are hopeful of heading in a new direction under the guidance of interim coach Paul McGregor. If the Titans do not improve, John Cartwright may find himself looking elsewhere for a job and despite the lack of interest from fans, both clubs with desperately want to win this match to silence the critics for one more week.
Gold Coast Titans
There is again several changes for the Titans this week, with a rumor that recent signing, Daniel Mortimer, may feature in this match. He was acquired from the Roosters during the week and could take his place at halfback in the lineup. As for the team, Brad Takairangi (5/8) and Maurice Blair (halfback) are named in the halves. James Roberts comes into the team in the centes to cover for Takairangi’s move into the halves. In the forwards, Greg Bird has been included into this team at second row; while the other two Origin players, Nate Myles and Dave Taylor, have been included on an extended bench. Ashley Harrison is named at lock and Mark Minichiello will partner Bird in the back row. Caleb Binge and Ben Ridge are also on the extended bench, but could be excluded if the Origin stars are fit.
St George-Illawarra Dragons
The Dragons have named both Josh Dugan and Trent Merrin to feature in this contest, following their involvement in Origin. Charly Runciman has shifted out to the wing, while Peter Mata’utia has been pushed back to NSW Cup. There is some speculation that Dugan may be a late exclusion, but he will be given right up until KO to prove his fitness. Tyson Frizell suffered an injury in the Dragons last outing and he is expected to be out for at least 6-8 weeks, with Merrin taking his place at lock. The bench remains the same and the Dragons will be hoping to compliment their strong defensive effort last week with a little more direction and spark in attack. Their execution was lacking at several stages but that can be put down to the relatively new combination of Marshall and Widdop still working one another out.
Overall = Titans 4 Dragons 8
Last 5 games = Titans 3 Dragons 2
At Cbus Super Stadium = Titans 2 Dragons 3
TAB Sportsbet = Titans $1.65 Dragons $2.30
Centrebet = Titans $1.60 Dragons $2.40
Sportsbet = Titans $1.65 Dragons $2.30
Betfair = Titans $1.66 Dragons $2.36
Even with the players that the Titans have returning to their team, it is surprising to see them favored so much at the odds. They were unable to prevail against a weakened Melbourne outfit. Really, those same questions are still lingering over their heads and the uncertainty around their halves will set them back. If Mortimer does play, it will take a few matches for him to “gel” with his 5/8 partner and outside backs. Despite being beaten by the Panthers last week, the Dragons have several positives to take away from that contest. Their halves combination is slowly coming together and creating several more attacking opportunities. There is no reason why they cannot go on with that effort here against a team that is still struggling for consistency and momentum. It is a tricky selection though, but with the value on offer around the Dragons, it is too good to refuse.
Dragons @ $2.40
Close for comfort = Dragons 1-12 @ $3.50 – If the Dragons are going to win this match, it would be surprising to see them prevail by more than 1-12. If you’re looking for value in your selection, then you may want to consider this finish to a close match.
Newcastle Knights v North Queensland Cowboys
MNF heads to the Hunter this week, with the Knights hosting the Cowboys at 7pm. The Knights are in plenty of trouble heading into this round, as they sit at the bottom of the competition ladder and are desperate for answers. 2014 has not been a memorable one for them and they risk falling further behind if they unable to overcome the Cowboys. It was a tough road trip last week to face the Roosters as they were handed a 17-point loss. The scoreboard didn’t directly reflect the amount of effort that went into that match, as the Knights had improved on their previous matches. Execution is still letting them down though, especially at the end of attacking sets and coming off their own line. Similarly, the Cowboys were disappointing in their last match, going down to the Eels on the road. The travelling troubles were again evident for all to see as a 2-point loss meant that they lost another match that they should’ve won. Paul Green has to come up with a plan that can overcome this; otherwise it will continue to plague their chances of winning matches. It is the same story every year, unless they have home field advantage in the Finals, they will have to learn to win big matches on the road. This match is shaping as a tricky contest and one that is a must watch to ease back into the working week.
The Knights have their Origin players back on board this week to hopefully increase their chances of winning this match. Darius Boyd is named at fullback, pushing Jake Mamo back to NSW Cup. Beau Scott is named in the second row, with Chris Houston moving back to the bench. Joey Leilua also returns from injury at centre, allowing James McManus to move back to the wing and Josh Mantellato out of the team altogether. Elsewhere, Joseph Tapine will wear jersey 18, while Clint Newton is named as 18th man. This is perhaps the last chance for the Knights to get things back on track and keep their very slim Finals hopes alive. The experienced players need to step up to another level and lead from the front, otherwise they can all begin to book their end of season trip.
North Queensland Cowboys
With the extra time to recover, the Cowboys have chosen to name their Origin players after their efforts in Game 2. Luckily for them, not too much changes, as they were afforded a bye last week when those players were meant to be missing. The only other change for them is the inclusion of Tariq Sims, who returns from suspension and forces Jason Taumalolo back to the bench. It will be a tough task ahead of the Cowboys, but they looked a lot better with Thurston and Thompson again in the halves. Still, consistency will be questioned and the forwards must establish a strong platform against a forceful Knights pack.
Overall = Knights 17 Cowboys 14
Last 5 games = Knights 1 Cowboys 4
At Hunter Stadium = Knights 11 Cowboys 5
TAB Sportsbet = Knights $1.73 Cowboys $2.15
Centrebet = Knights $1.75 Cowboys $2.10
Sportsbet = Knights $1.75 Cowboys $2.12
Betfair = Knights $1.82 Cowboys $2.20
Going on form, the Knights are going to have a tough time winning this match. That is even before considering the Cowboys terrible record on the road. It is amazing to think that they have even been able to manage 5 wins at the ground, let alone any. So many times before, people have been waiting for the Cowboys to take the next step forward and assert their dominance over the competition. As it is yet to happen, hope is a greater factor rather than certainty in fixtures like these. Still, it is hard to go past them due to the overall class of their team and the troubles that the Knights have had to date. It is surprising to see them favored at the odds but this just means that the line comes into play. That is the way to go, otherwise stay away from this contest people and save your money.
Cowboys +2.5 @ $1.90
All of the above are the opinions of the author and are not recommendations or advice. The author may not be taking every bet listed above. Bet at your own risk.
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