Parramatta Eels (8th) v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (13th)
The Eels had to wait 16 rounds before having their first bye and it couldn’t have come at a better time following their 14-point win over the Dragons in Round 15. Against a team missing their representative stars, the Eels came out and won as expected, although it comes at a cost with several players ruled out for the season through injury. Nevertheless, that win means they have now won 3 out of their past 4 matches and sit on the edge of the Top 8. The challenge ahead is staying there. A 78% completion rate is below their best but a good starting point, while they will have to fix their defence as they missed 45 total tackles, well up on their season average of 31.1 per game. This is the first of two matches before another bye for the Eels, so it is important that they make the most of this opportunity. The Bulldogs may not pose the same challenge as other teams in the competition, sliding down the ladder after yet another disappointing loss. This time around, the Warriors handed them a 7-point loss, with a 77th minute try to the visitors flattering them on the scoreboard. Again, the statistics in the match weren’t a clear indication, they made 10 errors, completed at 77% and missed 28 tackles; the problems for the Bulldogs come down to their inability to score points and build pressure with their attack. They lack direction through the middle, with their once dominant forward pack lacking penetration around the middle of the ruck. Frustration is building at this club, especially considering they average the least amount of points in the competition (13.9 per game); fans are not hesitant to voice their opinion and this is bound to be affecting the playing group. Much was made about their internal meeting weeks ago which resulted in a win over the Dragons, yet that was just 1 win from their past 7 matches. Pressure is building and the rivalry between these two clubs only enhances the difficulty of winning this match.
Eels = Cameron King is named at hooker in place of Kaysa Pritchard (injured), while Tepai Moeroa and David Gower come onto the bench for Beau Scott (injured) and Siosaia Vave.
Bulldogs = Brett Morris (rested) returns on the wing, with Kerrod Holland making way. Sam Kasiano replaces James Graham (injured) at prop, while David Klemmer (rested) returns for Greg Eastwood (injured) at lock. Francis Tualau and Matt Frawley come onto the bench
Overall = Eels 16 Draw 1 Bulldogs 20
Last 5 matches = Eels 2 Bulldogs 3
At ANZ Stadium = Eels 45% Bulldogs 57%
Form = Eels 1 win – Bulldogs 1 loss
The Bulldogs have a dominating recent record over the Eels, winning 9 out of the past 11 meetings between the two sides; since then, the two teams have swapped roles, with the Bulldogs fast becoming the club that is plagued by poor form and off-field drama. The further loss of two key forwards hampers a team that is already struggling for winning form. The recent performances of the Bulldogs have been nothing short of disgraceful, lacking attacking execution when it matters and failing to build pressure on both sides of the ball. This has the Eels heading into this game as favorites and after their first break this season with the bye; they should be ready to fire. The loss of Pritchard at hooker hinders their chances, mainly because King is an unknown contributor to this team. The Bulldogs point scoring woes are well documented, the Eels are ahead of them with an average of 18.8 points per game; while their defence concedes more on average (Eels 21.2 PPG & Bulldogs 17.9 PPG). Despite this, having not scored more than 18 points in a game since Round 11 poses plenty of issues, especially considering the players missing as well as players horribly out of form. This game should be a close encounter given their standing on the ladder, yet the Bulldogs have leaked too many points in recent weeks; furthermore, the Bulldogs average just 2.9 line breaks per game (2nd least in the competition) and 1.7 try assists per game (2nd least in the competition). Given the average winning margin of victory sits at 13.2 points in the past 5 meetings, this game could be more one sided than most are anticipating to a team with a greater chance of making the Finals.
Eels -6.5 @ $1.90
Winning in Comfort = Eels 13+ @ $2.65 – It is no secret that the Bulldogs struggle to score points. This has been a limiting factor on their performance, while the Eels have not achieved this consistently either. Nevertheless, they are more capable than their opponents and with Corey Norman on the verge of a representative position, expect him to showcase all his talents here.
A key to success = Clint Gutherson FTS and/or LTS @ $9 – Gurtherson is the leading try scorer for the Eels and has proven his versatility. This week, he moves back to fullback, giving him greater freedom to roam the field and search for attacking opportunities. Expect him to be a handful for the Bulldogs in this game.
Gold Coast Titans (14th) v St George-Illawarra Dragons (6th)
The Titans won last week as expected over the Tigers in Sydney, recording a 26-14 win that could’ve easily been more had a few more opportunities been taken. While their quality of opponent was questionable at best, it was an important win to regain confidence in their playing group. With 54% possession, the Titans completed at 81% and missed just 18 total tackles, one of their best defensive efforts of the year. Sitting 6-points out of the Top 8, that win was important as it broke a 4-game losing streak that was threatening their Finals aspirations. The pressure around this still applies and it is one or two more losses could halt their chances. The Dragons also take winning form into this game, albeit questionable following a 4-point win over the Knights. They were made to work for their victory, heading into HT down 28-10 after their opponents scored 5 tries in 15 minutes. Pleasingly, they didn’t panic and relied upon their attack to build pressure on the Knights defensive line. In the end, the 55% possession got the better of their opponents, as they went on a scoring raid of their own. Their defence was also impressive in the second half, keeping their opponents scoreless during this time and missing 23 tackles for the match. The Dragons have dropped out of the Top 4 in recent weeks and pressure is on them to remain in the Top 8, with this game posing another tough opportunity to reaffirm that should be recognised as one of the better teams in the competition.
Titans = Tyrone Roberts (injury) returns at 5/8 and Chris McQueen (injury) at lock. Max King shifts back to the bench, while Jamal Fogarty and John Olive drop back to the reserves.
Dragons = Kurt Mann shifts to halfback, with Josh McCrone relegated to the bench. This allows Euan Aitken (injury) to return at centre, while Leeson Ah Mau starts at prop for Paul Vaughan (injured). Jack de Belin (suspension) returns at lock, pushing Tariq Sims back to the bench.
Overall = Titans 6 Dragons 11
Last 5 matches = Titans 3 Dragons 2
At Cbus Super Stadium = Titans 48% Dragons 63%
Form = Titans 1 win – Dragons 1 win
Given the respective standings of each team on the competition ladder, it is surprising to see them so close in the odds; in fact, most markets cannot split the two sides. Many believe that the Titans are on the verge of a revival and the inclusion of Roberts at 5/8 only stablises their halves. On the other hand, the Dragons have had well-documented troubles in recent weeks, struggling to score more than 16-points in their past three matches before their win over the Knights. Their form last week has also narrowed the market, as has the relegation of McCrone to the bench. They are a team that is appearing to tire as teams figure out a way to overcome their early season success. It appears that the more defensive pressure that is applied to their halves, the more trouble the Dragons have. Perhaps the smarter investment in this contest is taking the match to be decided by 6 or less points; this has happened on 10 out of the 17 meetings between the two sides, including 5 games by 2 points or less. It makes sense given their attack prowess is so similar; the Dragons average 21.9 points per game, slightly ahead of the Titans with 21.6 PPG. The major difference is in defence; the Dragons concede an average of 17.5 PPG compared with the Titans 26.4 PPG, although if last week anything to go by, perhaps the Dragons have lost confidence in their structure. Either way, providing they can limit their opponents scoring opportunities and effectiveness in strong positions, the Dragons deserve more respect ahead of a team that lies 8-points below them on the ladder.
Either Team Under 6.5 Points @ $2.75
Brisbane Broncos (3rd) v Melbourne Storm (1st)
This game is arguably the match of the round with two of the leading teams in the competition facing off for the second time this year; 2-point win to the Storm back in Round 3 was sealed with a 76th minute try to the home team. The Broncos head into this game on following a pleasing 10-point win over the Raiders on the road. On the back of Origin, the Broncos were outsiders for the match yet dictated the game from start to finish. Their class was evident compared with their opponents; they completed at 86% with 55% possession and made just 8 errors. The Raiders could not compete with this level of execution, with the Broncos reaffirming their quality even with questions around their halves combination. The Storm were not as lucky with players affected from Origin, going down to the Roosters by 1-point in Golden Point. The result was not ideal but pleasing for a young team that chose to rest 4 of their 5 Origin stars, most notably the Big 3; Craig Bellamy wants to ensure their longevity with September approaching, yet he would’ve also had a focus on this game. For the second consecutive week, less experienced players made a name for themselves to ensure that the future of this club is in good hands. They completed at 85% for the match, making 7 total errors and missing 20 tackles; teams executing like this can consider themselves unlucky not to have won. Still, the Storm were annoyed with the result despite the circumstances around the match and will be out to find winning form again. Unfortunately for them, this loss narrowed their lead at the top of the competition ladder to just 2-points, 4-points ahead of the 3rd placed Broncos. This game promises to be a thrilling contest and one that is a preview of what is to come in September.
Broncos = Korbin Sims (injury) returns at prop, pushing Herman Ese’ese back to the bench and Joe Ofahengaue to the reserves.
Storm = Billy Slater (fullback), Will Chambers (centre), Cooper Cronk (halfback) and Cameron Smith (hooker) all return after being rested last week. Tim Glasby also returns to the starting team at prop, with Curtis Scott, Jahrome Hughes, Brodie Croft and Bradon Smith shifting back to the reserves.
Overall = Broncos 13 Draw 1 Storm 27
Last 5 matches = Broncos 2 Storm 3
At Suncorp Stadium = Broncos 62% Storm 75%
Form = Broncos 2 wins – Storm 1 loss
The Storm receive a massive boost ahead of this game with 4 Origin players returning to their team, 3 of which are arguably the best in the competition at their position. Unfortunately for the Broncos, they have lost 2 Origin players in Boyd and Milford and the Storm enjoy a strong record over them in general, especially on this ground. For starters, the Storm have won 11 out of the past 13 matches between the two sides, with those two wins coming in 2015 and 2016 respectively. At Suncorp Stadium, the Broncos haven’t beaten the Storm since 2009 and ironically enough, their last match at this ground was during Round 17, 2016, when the Storm hammered the Broncos 48-6. Odds suggest that this trend is set to continue with the Storm strongly fancied for this contest, although there is a whisper around that the visitors could rest some of their Representative stars to get the best out of them later in the season. Given the respective standings of each team on the ladder, it would be surprising to see the Storm make such a move. If this doesn’t happen, the Storm could be about to make a statement to the rest of the competition that they belong at the top of the ladder. Generally, a sign of a strong team is solid performances when their stars are missing; so far this season, they have performed when they have been without their leading players. The standard, which they set, is higher than most other teams and the Broncos effort last week following Origin, then a short turnaround into this game, is bound to limit their effectiveness of their own key players. Already being down on personnel, perhaps the difference in the winning margin of recent years may just see history repeat.
Storm -3.5 @ $1.90
History repeating = Storm 13+ @ $3.40 – As mentioned above, the Storm have a history of dominating the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium. Furthermore, the average winning margin in the past 5 meetings sits at 12.6 points and it will not take much for the visitors to gather attacking momentum, especially given their key players are fresh for this game.
Sydney Roosters (2nd) v Cronulla Sharks (5th)
The Roosters confirmed their standing at second in the competition with a spirited Golden Point win over the Storm in Adelaide. Given the players that were missing for the Storm, the Roosters were expected to have an easier time of winning but that wasn’t the case; in fact, it was the opposite as they made things very difficult for themselves. In making 12 errors and missing 46 tackles, the Roosters needed two tries in the final 8 minutes to level the scores and send it to extra time. The challenge is now maintaining their standing at the top of the ladder and improving to widen the gap between them and the teams below. They have that opportunity this week against the Sharks, a team that is coming off yet another loss at home. This time it was to the Sea Eagles 35-18 as they too were their own worst enemy; over 80 minutes, they completed just 65% of sets, missed 38 tackles and made 17 errors. If these statistics continue to remain high, the Sharks will find it difficult to compete with the top teams heading into September. Their lack of possession meant they were required to make 88 more tackles than their opponents and it showed towards the end of this game. It appears as though they will have a challenge covering the injury to rookie hooker Jayden Brailey, who went off with a broken jaw last week. With a bye following this game, a win could bring them level with the Roosters (24 points) and closer to the Storm (26 points). Ironically enough, given their high standing on the ladder, these two sides sit 1st and 2nd for most errors this season (Sharks 12.1 per game & Roosters 11.9 per game); this match could be a good starting point for each team to steady for a run towards the Finals and beyond.
Roosters = Unchanged.
Sharks = Fa’manu Brown is named at hooker in place of Jayden Brailey (injured). Matt Prior returns to the team at prop, swapping with Jayson Bukuya, who shifts to the bench, along with Jospeh Paulo who replaces Daniel Mortimer (released).
Overall = Roosters 20 Draw 1 Sharks 15
Last 5 matches = Roosters 0 Sharks 5
At Central Coast Stadium = Roosters 50% Sharks 0%
Form = Roosters 3 wins – Sharks 1 loss
Positive momentum and winning form is a highly rated commodity in the NRL and this has the Roosters as favorites for this game. This is somewhat surprising given the Roosters recent record against the Sharks; they have not beaten their opponents since Round 17, 2014 and have won just 3 out of the past 10 matches, with 1 draw. The Sharks effort last week was undoubtedly disappointing and they have several areas to improve upon, yet the Roosters effort was not as convincing as it should’ve been. The dramatic fashion in which they won has overshadowed areas in which they performed poorly in and the quality of the Tigers team in Round 14 is hardly anything to get excited about. That is not to discredit their talent, they have the ability to extend a run right up to the GF and it is just a matter of balancing out their team. This is arguably their most difficult test since they were 2-point winners against the Broncos in Round 13 and even that win had its issues. Home ground advantage has been taken out of the equation with the match moved to the Central Coast, the Roosters are on an 8-game losing streak here with the Sharks winless here from their solitary match. Defence is where this game will be won and notwithstanding their high missed tackle average, the Sharks concede the least amount of tries than any other team in the competition (2.5 per game); the Roosters are only slightly ahead of them conceding 2.9 tries per game and that could make all the different. The Sharks have proven this year that they are capable of rising for the tough contests away from home; in fact, they have won all 6 matches on the road this season. Given this is an away game for both teams; the Sharks may feel more comfortable than their opponents and slip home by less than 2 converted tries.
Sharks 1-12 @ $3.25
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (4th) v New Zealand Warriors (10th)
The Sea Eagles sent a warning to the rest of the competition last week with a dominating 35-18 win over the Sharks in Cronulla. In a game that was always going to test them, the Sea Eagles looked a class above their opponents and with that win, powered their way into 4th on the competition ladder. A Top 4 finish has proven valuable in the past for teams harboring aspirations of a Premiership win and the Sea Eagles were great in that display, yet are still capable of improving after completing at 78%, making 11 errors and missing 30 tackles. Their forwards are a key part of their play and carrying the ball for an average of 9.3m helped them continually pressure the middle defence of their opponents. The Warriors will have to head into this game with the same attitude as they did in their 21-14 win over the Bulldogs last week. There was cause for concern early as Kieran Foran was ruled out with injury, yet Shaun Johnson finally took control of this team and steered them around the park. Yet again, their statistics over the match were great and uncharacteristic of Warriors teams in the past; this saw them complete at 82%, commit just 9 errors and miss 27 tackles. Such areas have been consistent all year for the Warriors and they are yet to reap the rewards for their measured play. That win over the Bulldogs could be a step in the right direction, although this game will be a tough challenge as they head to Perth, a venue in which they have never won a competition game.
Sea Eagles = Curtis Sironen (injured) is replaced in the second row by Lewis Brown, with Cameron Cullen filling the vacant bench spot.
Warriors = Nathaniel Roache is named at hooker for Issac Luke (injured), with Kieran Foran (injury) named to return at 5/8. This forces Ata Hingano back to the bench, along with Bunty Afoa, who replaces Sam Lisone.
Overall = Sea Eagles 19 Warriors 8
Last 5 matches = Sea Eagles 5 Warriors 0
At nib Stadium = Sea Eagles 100% Warriors 0%
Form = Sea Eagles Warriors 2 wins
It is no secret that the Warriors struggle on most road trips, yet it is the travel across to the Perth that gets the better of them more than anything. Thankfully for them, this match is not played later in the evening, thus impacting upon their body clocks and kicking off well into the evening compared to what they are accustomed to. Taking each team on face value, the Sea Eagles proved last week that they are in the right position to be a contender this season. Their win over the Sharks demonstrated class and power, factors that the Warriors could struggle to halt over 80 minutes. They too will struggle with the travel, this match comes on the back of a Sunday afternoon fixture and there is no doubt that preparation ahead of this game would be limited. Nevertheless, their ability to score points last week against one of the best defensive teams in the competition gave them plenty of credibility. The pressure they built through the middle was relentless and they forced defensive errors upon their opponents. The fact that they were able to generate so much momentum through the middle poses plenty of issues for the visitors. The Warriors win over the Bulldogs, a team that is struggling to say the least, isn’t anything to be excited about. For them, it is about transferring their measured play into success on a regular basis. The Sea Eagles game plan should disrupt this play, in fact they have conceded the third least amount of tries at an average of 3 per game. Expect them to have an easy time against the Warriors here and continue their strong record over the Warriors, that hasn’t seen them win since Round 13, 2013. As for the margin, the Sea Eagles have won their past 5 meetings between these two teams by an average of 12.4 points and will want more comfort than the 1-point win they experience against the Warriors in Round 19 last year.
Sea Eagles -6.5 @ $1.90
Canberra Raiders (11th) v North Queensland Cowboys (7th)
The Raiders found another way to lose a match last week against the Broncos, this time it was a poor showing in the second half that let them down. Having just 45% share of possession for the match, they were forced to make the most of their attacking opportunities, yet were unable to build pressure on their opponents in the second half. Completion rate (78%) and errors (9) were good, rather it was an inability to produce points in attack that lead to their demise. On the other side of the ball, the Raiders only had themselves to blame as they missed a total of 39 tackles and were continually exposed on each edge. That loss again showed their lack of class compared with the leading teams in the competition and having won just 2 out of their past 8 matches, time is running out for them to push their way into the Top 8. The Cowboys are a team that the Raiders are hoping falls flat and that may just be the case following the season-ending injury to Johnathan Thurston. However, the Cowboys showed minimal worry in their thrilling 2-point win over the Panthers in Townsville. They always knew that the rejuvenated Panthers team were going to give them a challenge and it took a 77th minute try by Kyle Feldt in dramatic fashion for them to overcome their opponents. Perhaps they could’ve been more dangerous with their playmaker present to make the most of attacking opportunities and pressure; in the match they completed at 86% with 58% possession and made 10 errors. Rather it was their defence that let the Panthers continually back into the match, as they missed 51 total tackles over 80 minutes. If the Cowboys can continue to produce such statistics in attack and develop their defence, they will cause plenty of trouble for teams facing them.
Raiders = Iosia Soliola is named at lock, pushing Luke Bateman to the bench, where Dave Taylor is named to replace Clay Priest.
Cowboys = Te Maire Martin (club debut) is named at 5/8, with Michael Morgan named at halfback and Kyle Laybutt dropping to the reserves.
Overall = Raiders 17 Cowboys 17
Last 5 matches = Raiders 2 Cowboys 3
At GIO Stadium = Raiders 53% Cowboys 25%
Form = Raiders 3 losses – Cowboys 1 win
Heading down to Canberra in the middle of winter may just be the shock to the system that brings the Raiders into the match; aside from their 25% winning record, conditions are expected to dip below zero in this match, a far-cry below the moderate 24° they experience last Saturday afternoon at home. Without JT, it is no surprise to see the Raiders head into this game as favorites, although their recent form has been disappointing enough to suggest that these two teams are far closer than the odds are suggesting. They had every chance to beat the Broncos last week at home and only have themselves to blame through poor execution; there is no doubt of their potential each week, it is just a matter of playing consistently. If you were to take the Raiders, it would be on trust given their 6 wins this season a very disappointing predicament for a team capable of featuring in the Finals. With a tough run ahead, this is a game the Cowboys will have to make the most of and have the added incentive of a week of with the bye following this fixture. On top of the Cowboys 4-point win over the Raiders in Round 1, there are plenty of other statistics to suggest that this game will be close; they average a similar amount of missed tackles (Raiders 30.5 v Cowboys 30.3), similar errors (Raiders 10.6 v Cowboys 10.5) and line breaks (Raiders 4 per game v Cowboys 3.8 per game). The difference over the season is undoubtedly the Cowboys ability to use prominent attacking position, although this might be limited further with players missing. The Cowboys have proven that they are still capable minus a few stars but will have to again prove their doubters wrong. With plenty of factors working against them, it is too hard to go past them in terms of a selection, although given the close nature of the two sides, investing around a tight game appears to be the best option.
Either Team Under 6.5 Points @ $2.75
Newcastle Knights (15th) v Wests Tigers (16th)
Excitement is high for this game as each team faces off in a match that could decide who wins 2017’s dreaded wooden spoon. The Knights are still a team that is developing and it was frustrating for all involved to watch them give up a 28-10 HT lead last week against the Dragons. It was a scintillating display in the first half that saw them score 5 tries in 15 minutes, including a hat-trick to Nathan Ross. Unfortunately, their inexperience got the better of them in the second half and that is where their scoring stopped. They missed 56 tackles over 80 minutes and more often than not, that was all the Dragons needed to score points. Still there are signs to suggest that this young team is improving, they just have to learn to play the game for 80 minutes at this level. The Tigers head into this game off the back of a loss, this time to the Titans at home. Their losing streak now stretches to 7-games and there are no signs to suggest that it will be ending soon. A 72nd minute try to Sauaso Sue narrow the score to 26-14, yet that was flattering of their execution over the match. Their 13 total errors shows the remarkable difference between themselves and other teams in the competition, as it allowed their opponents more attacking opportunities (54% possession for the Titans). In a year where the Tigers are rebuilding for following seasons, a win here could be more important to their confidence, rather than their standing at the end of this season.
Knights = In a backline reshuffle, Nathan Ross moves to fullback, Dane Gagai to the centres and Brendan Elliot to the wing. Jamie Buhrer (injury) and Joe Wardle (injury) return on the bench for Luke Yates (injured) and Sam Mataora (dropped).
Tigers = James Tedesco (injury) returns at fullback, pushing Malakai Watene-Zelezniak out of the 17.
Overall = Knights 12 Tigers 11
Last 5 matches = Knights 3 Tigers 2
At McDonald Jones Stadium = Knights 56% Tigers 38%
Form = Knights 4 losses – Tigers 7 losses
For the first time this year, the Knights will head into this game as favorites and it is unknown just how this young team will handle the situation. There is no doubt that the effort and application of this young team is something that the Tigers can only dream of; they have improved in recent weeks with a change in playing personnel, yet there are still plenty of questions being raised as to where this team is without a proper preseason under their current coach. As for this contest, there is no clear indication of who will win. While the Knights effort has been great, they have failed to play majority of their games for 80 minutes, often giving up a HT lead. Better teams in the competition have been able to use this to their advantage and expose the Knights flaws. The Tigers have that capability, yet have failed to work to this level on a consistent basis. The combination within their halves is still developing and they rely heavily on the contribution of their two Origin players. If this is good, then the Tigers are going to be in a winning position; the Knights will also rely heavily on Dane Gagai and it was pleasing to see other leading players perform well in patches last week. Home ground advantage will mean everything for the Knights as both their wins this year have come at this ground; on the other hand, the Tigers have won just 5 games here in 13 attempts and their last being in Round 13, 2014. To make matters worse, the Tigers have a higher error rate (11.3 per game v Knights 10.1) and miss more tackles (36.1 misses per game v Knights 31.4), while also having fewer try assists (1.5 per game v Knights 2.1). This indicates that if the Knights get the balance right over 80 minutes, they could widen the gap between themselves and the Tigers on the competition ladder. In a worrying sign for the Tigers, the Knights average a winning margin of 15.5 points in their past 4 wins over the Tigers at this ground. Once they cover the line, there is no telling what tally they can put on their opponents.
Knights -1.5 @ $1.90
Winning the battle = Knights 13+ @ $3.75 – It is hard to go past recent history and the Knights ability to score more points than the Tigers this season. The inclusion of a few players for the Tigers will even the ledger, yet the Knights have more exciting, attacking players that are capable of creating points out of nothing.
Get on the Ross Dog! = Nathan Ross FTS and/or LTS @ $9 – He scored a hat trick last week within 12 minutes last week and has been given greater freedom moving to fullback. He is the Knights leading try scorer for a reason, double any other player in his team.
South Sydney Rabbitohs (12th) v Penrith Panthers (9th)
The Rabbitohs enjoyed a much-needed week off last week, following their 36-20 win over the Titans in Round 15. Heading into that game as favorites, alarm bells were ringing as they found themselves behind 20-10 at HT. Thankfully for them, they were able to halt their opponents scoring and turn on a dazzling display of their own courtesy of an impressive display from youngster Angus Crichton.; missing just 21 tackles for the match also assisted their cause. Nevertheless, they still have just 5 wins to their name and are on the verge of being ruled out of Finals contention with a couple of more losses. Surprisingly, the Panthers have just one more win than their opponents and are 2-point ahead of them on the ladder. They had their last match won until a try to the Cowboys in the 77th minute broke their hearts. The Panthers did remarkably well to compete in the match with just 42% possession, although a 69% completion rate, 47 missed tackles and 13 errors showed why this young and talented team are not sitting higher on the ladder. There is no middle ground for this team; they are either playing dazzling rugby league or suffering due to their mistakes on both sides of the ball. They are undoubtedly a team that thrives on confidence and winning their previous 4 matches provided them with a change of attitude that they needed. This needs to be addressed ahead of this game also, as they have never beaten the Rabbitohs at this ground in 6 attempts. A few more loss for them may also rule out competing in Finals football altogether.
Rabbitohs = Sam Burgess (injury) returns at lock for Kyle Turner, who drops out of the 17. Aaron Gray returns to the centres for Hymel Hunt (injured), while Dave Tyrell (injury) returns at prop, pushing George Burgess to the bench.
Panthers = Unchanged.
Overall = Rabbitohs 13 Panthers 14
Last 5 matches = Rabbitohs 3 Panthers 2
At ANZ Stadium = Rabbitohs 52% Panthers 41%
Form = Rabbitohs 1 win – Panthers 1 loss
Amazingly, the Panthers have never beaten the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium, yet the Rabbitohs have won just the solitary game at home this season. The visitors head into this game as favorites, with many believing that they are in a better position than the Rabbitohs. Fact is, they only have one more win than them at this stage of the season and were beaten 21-20 back in Round 6, sunk by a 79th minute FG from Adam Reynolds. The Rabbitohs last win over the Titans had its issues, yet winning form is hard to overlook; the same cannot be said for the Panthers who are a team that thrives on confidence more than most. Their loss to the Cowboys was related to poor execution above all else, with many in this Panthers team needing to play to their hype rather than believe it. They have a very favorable draw in coming weeks and need to win this game to take full advantage of it. They have what it takes to beat the Rabbitohs and gain revenge for their loss earlier in the season and this is largely due to their defence. The Panthers concede 19.1 points per game compared with the Rabbitohs 22.4 PPG. The Panthers also have their opponents covered when it comes to scoring points, average 21.1 PPG, well ahead of the Rabbitohs 18.4 PPG; they are also one of the few teams outside the Top 8 that have a positive points difference. Throw Matt Moylan back into the equation in the halves after he missed their last match in Round 6 and the Panthers attack should have too much power for their opponents. As for the margin, 3 out of the past 5 matches have been decided by 4-points or less, at an average of 7.4 points to the victor. This points towards yet another close contest, with the Panthers rebuilding confidence and the Rabbitohs fighting to keep their slim Finals aspirations alive.
Panthers 1-12 @ $2.85