New Zealand Warriors (10th) v Penrith Panthers (9th)
The Warriors have had a week to recover their demoralizing 4-point loss to the Sea Eagles in Perth. It was a disappointing finish for a team that started the game positively, jumping out to a 16-nil lead after 18 minutes. Plenty of momentum was on their side throughout this period and once that swung against them, the class of their opponents prevailed. A late try gave them a fighting chance in the last 15 minutes, yet it wasn’t meant to be. Surprisingly, their measured play was again present, completing at 86%, committing just 7 errors and missing 24 tackles; it is a matter of turning this effort into wins before it’s too late. Time is also running out for the Panthers, although they carry winning form from a 16-8 win over the Sea Eagles at home last week. Their opponents were without some quality due to injury and representative selection, with plenty of noise made by their opponents about several refereeing decisions. Whether or not that impacted the result is another thing; the Sea Eagles had their opportunities to win the match and nothing can be taken away from an improved effort from the Panthers. Experience was present throughout as they completed at 84% with 53% possession and made just 7 errors; unfortunately they were poor in defence again, missing 45 tackles and allowing numerous opportunities for second phase play. Sitting 4-points out of the Top 8, this game is important in remaining in Finals contention, while the loser may perhaps have their chances ended sooner rather than later.
Warriors = Issac Luke (injury) has a timely return at hooker, to cover for the player which replaced him, Nathaniel Roache (injured). Solomone Kata (injury) returns to the centres, pushing Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad out of the team, while Sam Lisone replaces Albert Vete (injured) on the bench.
Panthers = James Fisher-Harris (injury) returns on the bench in place of Sitaleki Akauola, who moves back to the reserves.
Overall = Warriors 14 Draw 1 Panthers 19
Last 5 Matches = Warriors 1 Panthers 4
At Mt Smart Stadium = Warriors 59% Panthers 47%
Form = Warriors 1 loss – Panthers 1 win
These two teams met for a dramatic game at Penrith in Round 10 that saw the Panthers claw back a 28-6 HT lead from the Warriors to win36-28; the Warriors will have revenge on their minds for this game and will not want to let the same happen again here. It is yet to be officially confirmed (as of Friday morning), but Matt Moylan is expected to be ruled out of this game (this will be posted via Twitter). With this news floating around, the Panthers have moved to outsiders in this game, as many believe that Moylan is the attacking spark, which ignites the struggling team. This thought is not too far from the truth and with the Panthers missing an average of 35.7 tackles per game (2nd in the league), they should be pressured from start to finish here. The news isn’t overly convincing for the Warriors though; they sit on the same amount of competition points as their opponents, have a scored less points and have conceded more on defence. To make matters worse, the Warriors have only beaten the Panthers 3 times in their past 10 meetings. The home team will be hoping that their record here this season can count for something; they’ve won 6 from 8, while the Panthers have just won 3 of their 9 road matches. Neither has been overly convincing throughout 2017 and plenty of trust is involved with this investment; this is suggesting that perhaps a game like this one is worth staying away from. Then again, if you cannot withstand the temptation to have a flutter, the Warriors to win by more than a try should be comfort enough. The measured ball movement that has been a highlight of their play thus far should be enough to make the Panthers play for their errors (11.2 per game – 4th in the league) and just about end the chances of the Panthers for 2017.
Warriors -3.5 @ $1.80
Back to form = David Fusitua FTS and/or LTS @ $10 – Despite no scoring since Round 9, Fusitua is still the leading try scorer for the Warriors so far this season. He is a damaging ball carrier and showed signs of returning to his best against the Sea Eagles. Shifting to the wing opens up more opportunities, especially from kicks.
Canberra Raiders (11th) v St George-Illawarra Dragons (7th)
Round 17 delivered yet another loss to the Raiders, this time a 31-18 loss to the Cowboys in Canberra. That result was disappointing in many ways, although they were somewhat victim of their opponents fantastic effort which limited them to just 41% possession. Nevertheless, the Raiders still only completed at 60% and made 13 total errors. The signs of discontent within the team were evident with players arguing with one another and frustration growing with their performance. The loss means that the Raiders have won just 2 out of their past 9 matches and are 6-points away from the 8th placed Eels. The Dragons are in a similar predicament, yet not as dire; they have won just 1 of their past 4 matches and have dropped down the ladder to sit in 7th. Round 17 wasn’t a great result for them either as they went down by 10-points to the Titans in a game where they struggled for attacking momentum. This resulted in their first try being scored after 57 minutes, putting them back within striking distance of their opponents. It wasn’t to be though, with 2 of their 11 penalties being converted to hand the home team a somewhat comfortable victory. The rivalry between these two teams has been a highlight in recent seasons and with both teams desperate to regain winning form, the stakes are high yet again.
Raiders = Josh Hodgson (injury) returns at hooker, pushing Kurt Baptise to the bench and Scott Scorensen out of the team.
Dragons = Jason Nightingale is named at fullback with Josh Dugan (Origin) only named in the reserves. Taane Milne comes into the centres in place of Euan Aitken (injured), pushing Kurt Mann to the wing and Josh McCrone is named at halfback. Tyson Frizell (Origin & injured) is a notable omission after playing on Wednesday, with Tariq Sims named to start in the second row and Jacob Host and Matt Dufty filling the vacant spots on the bench.
Overall = Raiders 16 Draw 1 Dragons 10
Last 5 Matches = Raiders 1 Dragons 4
At GIO Stadium = Raiders 52% Dragons 56%
Form = Raiders 4 losses – Dragons 1 loss
The Raiders are favorites for this game and it is a little confusing considering their standing on the competition ladder and their recent form. Still, many believe that they can get the job done here against a Dragons team that has some notably omissions. The loss of Frizell loosens the middle somewhat and they are hoping that Paul Vaughan can be a late inclusion to offset his loss. Dugan is expected to backup following Origin, although he will be going into this game with a groin injury and may be away from his best. Aside from Josh Papalii, who played limited minutes, the Raiders take a fresh set of players into this game; this means they have enough quality to overcome their opponents and it is a matter of execution above all else. This let them down in their most recent match, made more difficult by their lack of possession. Nevertheless, they have the opportunity here to keep their slim Finals chances alive, while as poor as it may sounds, the Dragons can afford to drop this game in their run home with 5 of their remaining 7 matches against teams outside the Top 8. With that in mind and key players missing, the Raiders appear the ideal choice in this game and it is a matter of how much they can win by in temperatures that are expected to test both sets of players. They have won 4 games this season at home by an average of 18-points, this is skewed due to their 40-points win over the Tigers and this is their only win by more than 12-points at home; take that victory out of the equation and the Raiders have won by 10.7 points in their other 3 matches. Winning by less than 2 converted tries appears the right way to go, considering the Dragons allow 17.7 points per game to their opponents compared with the Raiders 20.7 per game.
Raiders 1-12 @ $2.85
Newcastle Knights (16th) v Brisbane Broncos (5th)
The Knights experienced yet another heartbreaking defeat in 2017, giving up two tries in the final 5 minutes to suffer defeat at the hands of the Bulldogs. The game should never have gotten to this point had the visitors demonstrated experience to close out the match, rather it was a case of limited experience hampering their efforts. Completing at 83% with 48% possession was evidence of their potential and they can consider themselves unlucky to finish the game in the manner in which they did. They will face a tough test here against the Broncos, a team which they haven’t beaten since Round 25, 2013. The visitors will be out to make amends for their poor showing in Round 17 which saw them comprehensively beaten 42-12 by a superior Storm team. It was a typically uncharacteristic effort from the Broncos and despite the difference in execution, they were their own worse enemies; they completed at just 59%, missed 31 tackles and committed 13 errors. Injuries have not been ideal for them either, although just about every other team in the competition has this issue at one stage or another and the Broncos certainly have a roster of players that is better than most. Unfortunately, that loss also means they drop out of the Top 4 based on points difference and have a great opportunity to address that issue here against the last placed team in the competition.
Knights = Dane Gagai (Origin) returns in the centres, pushing Joe Wardle to the bench and Mickey Paea to the reserves.
Broncos = Corey Oates (injured), David Mead (injured) and Herman Ese’ese (injured) are all out of this game. Jamayne Isaako (NRL Debut) starts on the wing, while the Origin players return; Ben Hunt starts at halfback, Matt Gillett in the second row and Josh Maguire at lock.
Overall = Knights 11 Draw 1 Broncos 21
Last 5 Matches = Knights 0 Broncos 5
At McDonald Jones Stadium = Knights 56% Broncos 53%
Form = Knights 6 losses – Broncos 1 loss
The Knights will have a very difficult time of winning this game; regardless of how many injuries to key players the Broncos have, they will still have a squad that is far superior to their opponents in just about every area. The fact that they were so close in winning last week was more of a sign towards how poor the Bulldogs are rather than the Knights improved application and execution. The recent history is not great for the home team either; the last 5 matches between these two sides have seen the Broncos win all by a staggering total score of 208-52. In their most recent meeting, the Broncos put their opponents to the sword 53-nil and you have to go back a long way to find their most recent victory. It is no surprise that the visitors head into this game as strong favorites, with many wondering just how the Knights will break down their opponents. The fact that the Broncos are also set to regain some form and improve their points difference spells trouble for the Knights. Their only hope is that the Broncos head into this game with a poor attitude based on the quality of their opponents; then again, with a spot in the Top 4 becoming increasingly important, it doesn’t appear likely that this will occur. This game is a matter of how much the Broncos will win by rather than if they are a chance of winning. The attacking momentum, which they are able to generate, has seen them average 21.4 points per game compared with the Knights 16.8 PPG; at the same time, the Broncos have concede 17.9 PPG, whereas the Knights are far worse off allowing a massive 27.3 PPG. The writing is on the wall for a one sided affair that returns confidence to the Broncos in their run home towards the Finals.
Broncos -9.5 @ $1.90
Adding value = Broncos 13+ @ $2.25 – The difference between these two teams is vast and if you’re after more value for your investment, perhaps you should consider this option. The Knights defence has been fragile this season and the Broncos will only benefit from the increased time to perform a play and make a decision at the line.
Gold Coast Titans (14th) v Cronulla Sharks (2nd)
Each team enjoyed a week off last week and take winning form into this contest following pleasing and, somewhat surprising efforts, in Round 17. The Titans headed into their game against the Dragons at home level with their opponents in most markets and quickly showed what they were capable of. In a dour contest, the Titans scored 3 tries to 1 and relied upon two penalty goals in the last 10 minutes to create a comfortable margin of victory. They gave themselves every chance of winning the match as they completed at 81% with 52% of possession and made just 8 errors over 80 minutes; missing 33 tackles is some area of concern and with timing running out to salvage their season, they will be more than pleased with the result. The Sharks powered their way back into 2nd on the competition ladder with a commanding 44-12 victory over the Roosters on the road. After a tense opening half where the two teams traded blows, a try with 3 minutes remaining gave the Sharks a 20-12 lead at the break. From that point onwards, it was all one-way traffic as the Sharks piled on 5 second half tries without a response from their opponents. It was a near flawless display by the Premiers, as with 60% possession the Sharks completed at 89%, made just 5 errors and missed 28 tackles. Their relentless pressure in attack was too much for the Roosters to handle and it was a sign of how good the Sharks can be when they are firing. More importantly, now they have beaten every team in the Top 8 except for Manly, who ambushed them at home in Round 16 and was undoubtedly motivation towards their Round 17 effort. With the Top 4 so tight, a win here is needed to keep in touch with this position, as well as the competition-leading Storm.
Titans = Unchanged.
Sharks = Kurt Capewell replaces Joseph Paulo on the bench.
Overall = Titans 7 Draw 1 Sharks 8
Last 5 Matches = Titans 2 Draw 1 Sharks 2
At Cbus Super Stadium = Titans 49% Sharks 40%
Form = Titans 2 wins – Sharks 1 win
The Sharks recent efforts have them heading into this game as favorites despite their record at this ground. Nevertheless, their display against the Roosters sent a message that they are a force this season and will aim to get better and better with each effort. The Titans win over the Dragons wasn’t anything to get excited about, a better opponent may have beaten the Titans in a game where they missed their fair share of tackles. The Sharks have stars returning from Origin level and they too will be out to prove a point as all but one player achieved the desired result. The Sharks still have hurdles to overcome as they average 11.6 errors per game (most in the league); thankfully, they are ranked second for line breaks (4.8 per game) and have conceded the least amount of points, allowing 15.1 per game to their opponents. This spells trouble for the Titans; they have allowed the third highest amount of points this season at an average of 25.4 points per game. If the visitors attacking ability in their last match is anything to go by, this looks like a major area of concern for the home team. With their hopes just about over for 2017 you will either see one of two things from the home team; they will either play with a freedom that troubles the Sharks almost causing an upset or their motivation will be questioned, leaving their opponents to run away with the contest. On their day, the Titans are a quality outfit, yet things have worked against them this season to leave them well off Finals contention. Perhaps with their season on the line they may find another level, yet the Sharks also have a spot in the Top 4 to play for and will not want to give that up without a fight.
Sharks -3.5 @ $1.90
Take notice! = Valentine Holmes FTS and/or LTS @ $10 – Holmes was at his dynamic best on Wednesday for the Maroons and that is just the effort he needs to head back to club level and dominate. It was a special showing from the youngster and moving back to fullback will only increase his involvement in matches.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (4th) v Wests Tigers (15th)
The Sea Eagles were unable to keep their 5-game winning streak alive, going down to the Panthers 16-8 on the road. In a game that took the headlines for the horrendous amount of penalties given against them and dubious calls made that swayed the outcome of the match, the Sea Eagles will know that they are a better team than that result suggested. It was always going to be tough for them with just 47% possession and completing at 76%, while their 36 missed tackles allowed too many opportunities to their opponents. Despite the loss, they still remain in the Top 4 and are a genuine chance to finish there with a good run home. They face an inferior opponent in the Tigers this week at home, a team they have not played since Round 2, 2016. The Tigers have had a week to bask in the glory of their 4th win of the season over the Knights 33-12. Jumping to a 20-nil lead at HT, they never let their opponents back into the game and made them wait until the 61st minute to score points. This was a performance that Tigers fans have been yearning for all season as their team showed some level of experience; they completed at 85% while controlling 54% possession and made just 8 errors. The fact that they missed 40 tackles causes some concern, yet with their Finals hopes all but over, that is just the type of performance they required to rebuild confidence and take into the preseason ahead of 2018.
Sea Eagles = Jake Trbojevic (Orign) returns and will start at lock. This pushes Darcy Lussick back to the bench and Brad Parker to the reserves.
Tigers = James Tedesco (injury) returns at fullback, pushing Malakai Watene-Zelezniak to the reserves alongside Alex Twal. He makes way from the team with Chris Lawrence (injury) returning in the second row and Joel Edwards moving back to the bench.
Overall = Sea Eagles 14 Tigers 9
Last 5 Matches = Sea Eagles 3 Tigers 2
At Lottoland Stadium = Sea Eagles 63% Tigers 9%
Form = Sea Eagles 1 loss – Tigers 1 win
Despite being the team to carry winning form into this match, the Tigers are large outsiders for this match. Their win over the last-placed Knights is hardly anything to be excited about and winning form aside, they will have a difficult time attempting to match the class of the Sea Eagles. The home team have appeared tired in recent weeks and the loss to the Panthers, as well as an extra day to prepare for this match, just may be the right combination to refocus themselves towards the run home. The Tigers are still making simple errors in matches; they average 11.1 errors per game, miss 36.3 tackles and are only capable of creating 3.3 line breaks per game. To make matters worse, they have a shocking record at this ground and have recorded just 1 win from 11 attempts. The stage is set for a commanding Sea Eagles victory, although a 44.4% win record at home this year does raise some concerns. Nevertheless, with the Tigers conceding an average of 25.5 points per game and only scoring 15.7 PPG, the Sea Eagles should have things their own way. In equal measure, the Sea Eagles score 23 PPG and allow 18.3 PPG. In terms of a margin of victory, the past 5 matches have all been one-sided contest and you have to go back to Round 2, 2012 to find a match that was decided by less than 10-points; the average in their past 5 matches sits at 18-points to the victorious team and this trend looks set to continue as the Tigers are brought back to reality and fight for pride more than anything else.
Sea Eagles 13+ @ $1.67
Playing above the average = Sea Eagles 19+ @ $2.25 – As mentioned above, these two sides have avoided close contests. The strength of the home team suggests that this trend is set to continue, with many of the Tigers players hanging out for the end of the season when they can put 2017 behind them.
The (next) King of Brookey! = Tom Trbojevic FTS and/or LTS @ $7 – Tommy Turbo is in great form this season and his stocks are quickly growing. He is on the cusp of making himself a household name at this ground and take over from the try scoring achievements of Brett Stewart. There is also the added motivation of going up against NSW Fullback James Tedesco and keeping the pressure on him to perform.
South Sydney Rabbitohs (12th) v North Queensland Cowboys (6th)
Just as the Rabbitohs were building momentum in their season, their rivals, the Roosters, upset them 14-12. The loss was made even more frustrating as the home team were missing several key players to Origin duty. In a dour affair that reflected two sides wrestling for momentum but unable to build it, it took 49 minutes for the Rabbitohs to score their first points and a late try with 15 minutes remaining gave them a slight chance of stealing victory. It was a measured effort from them, with the major problem being their inability to turn good field position and possession into points; perhaps this is a reason why their season is set to finish early. The Cowboys enjoyed a week off to rest following an impressive 31-18 win over the Raiders in Canberra. In their first match without JT for the rest of the season, players like Michael Morgan and Jake Granville stepped up and took control of the team. It was a display that demonstrated the different in class, with the Cowboys undoubtedly a deserving Top 8 team, even without their star playmaker. They completed at 86%, controlled 59% possession and made just 7 errors on their way to victory. In defence, they may have missed 41 tackles but their ability to scramble across the pack was a stirring display of desperation; even with the conditions heavily favoring the home team, the Cowboys never panicked and were measured in everything they did. Thankfully, the Rabbitohs have chosen to take this game to Cairns, where the weather and fans should be very favorable to the visitors.
Rabbitohs = Robert Jennings (injury) returns in the centres, to replace Braidon Burns.
Cowboys = Unchanged.
Overall = Rabbitohs 12 Draw 1 Cowboys 16
Last 5 Matches = Rabbitohs 1 Cowboys 4
At Barlow Park = Rabbitohs 50% Cowboys 100%
Form = Rabbitohs 1 loss – Cowboys 2 wins
The most recent effort from the Cowboys is more of a sign towards their future rather than a once-off performance. Betting markets agree and have installed the “visitors” in this game as favorites. Remember, moving the game closer to the Cowboys is bound to aid them more than their opponents and they were successful in their only other venture to this ground. The Rabbitohs still have plenty of potential, although the execution at crucial stages and the killer instinct has been evidently absent from their play. This has caused them to slide down the ladder and leave their Finals chances hanging by a thread. If they were to lose here, it would signal the end of their season and this is bound to bring desperation out of them. That aside, the Cowboys have more positives that will ultimately lead to the downfall of their opponents. The week off to prepare for this match is bound to reduce fatigue, while their Origin stars will carry confidence from their performance on Wednesday. If there was any further evidence needed, the Rabbitohs have only beaten the Cowboys twice in the past 10 meetings. As for the margin, the Cowboys have averaged an 18-point margin in their past 5 wins. If that is anything to go by, they are more than capable of covering the line and winning this match by a comfortable distance.
Cowboys -4.5 @ $1.90