Round 19 marks the celebration and support to a person struggling with recovery from an injury suffered in a match earlier this season, Alex McKinnon. Not only does it put into perspective the important things in life, but it serves as a reminder that this game which we are often caught up in, is just that, a game. In a great move, the NRL will donate $1 for every fan that attends a match this weekend towards a fund to support Alex through his treatment and rehab. If there was every a reason to make your way to a game this season, this would be it! The “Rise for Alex” round will be filled with great emotion and pride, while at the same time teams will be reminded that time is running out to reaffirm or improve their standing on the competition ladder. There are now no more representative games or weekends with the bye, teams are now on a level playing field and with 10 teams within 4-competition points of one another, an exciting conclusion to the regular season is sure to be on the cards.
Parramatta Eels v South Sydney Rabbitohs
The Sydney match this Friday night heads out to Pirtek Stadium, as the battered Eels host a well-rested Rabbitohs team. Both teams head into this contest of an embarrassing defeat and will want to turn around their efforts in the closing rounds of the competition. Luckily for the travelling team, the Rabbitohs sit inside the Top 8 in 4th on 22 points (+112), 2-points ahead of the Eels in 11th (-82). That demonstrates how close this competition is at this stage of the season, to the point where one loss could force the Rabbitohs to drop out of the Top 8. They are a team that has been delivering consistent performances, but failing to create hype around their efforts. They are always going to be a consistent team due to the quality of players they have in their team, although now it is time for this side to stand and assert their dominance over the competition. Their loss against the Titans suggested the complete opposite, failing to finish off attacking sets and unable to build pressure on their opponents. A few decisions did go against them, but it is no excuse as to why they lost that match. The Eels also have no excuses from their loss to the Warriors, unable to score a point on the road while the home side racked up 48 of their own. It wasn’t pretty for the blue and gold, to the point where it was a quick reminder of just how poorly they have played in recent seasons. They have a short turn around to contend with hear, nevertheless a quick chance to erase the memories of that defeat. It will not be an easy task by any means, but Jarryd Hayne’s inclusion in the team is undoubtedly going to lift those players around him. Then again, this is a team game and the Eels will have to rely on 17 players rather than 1 if they are going to win this match.
The Eels are boosted by the return of Jarryd Hayne to their team this week, as he is slotted straight back into the fullback role. This shifts Chris Sandow back to halfback and Luke Kelly out of the team altogether. If last weeks performance demonstrated anything, the Eels certainly need a fit Hayne as part of their team. They have a new second row pairing this week, as Kenny Edwards returns from injury to feature alongside rookie Tepai Moeroa. Fuifui Moimoi earns himself a starting spot, while Pauli Pauli and Joseph Paulo move back to the bench. They have a lot to prove after last week, but perhaps the toughness of a long season is beginning to wear them down. They have done themselves no harm up to this point and need to consolidate, if not improve, their position on the table.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Just like their opponents, the Rabbitohs are also welcoming back their star fullback to their team. Greg Inglis slots straight back into the starting team, while Nathan Merritt vacates the team altogether. After starting last week, Luke Keary is moved back to the bench and John Sutton takes his place at 5/8. This could change again in the lead up to kickoff and one would think so, considering the hype that was around Keary at the beginning of the season. This means that Ben Lowe will start at lock, while at hooker, Issac Luke comes back into the starting team for Apisai Koroisau. He moves back to the bench, along with Joe Picker, Jason Clark and Joel Reddy. 3 players have to make way and after a disappointing loss, there is no clear indication on which way Maguire will go in the lead up to this match.
Overall = Eels 50 Draw 3 Rabbitohs 64
Last 5 games = Eels 0 Rabbitohs 5
At Pirtek Stadium = Eels 9 Draw 1 Rabbitohs 4
TAB Sportsbet = Eels $2.85 Rabbitohs $1.45
Centrebet = Eels $2.70 Rabbitohs $1.48
Sportsbet = Eels $2.85 Rabbitohs $1.45
Betfair = Eels $3.05 Rabbitohs $1.47
As both teams are heading into this match off a disappointing loss, it will come down to which team is able to turn around their efforts early on. Look for both the Eels and Rabbitohs to attempt to start this match strongly and break down their opponent by forcing them into timely mistakes. The Rabbitohs appear as though they will be too strong for their opponents, continuing on their record that has seen them win the past 5 matches against the Eels. Their forward pack is superior and should be too strong in the middle of the field, at the same time their halves will be controlling the speed of the game and making amends for their last outing. As for the margin, there were signs last week that despite a strong start to the season, a long campaign is wearing the Eels players down. It doesn’t get any easier and if they’re not careful, the Rabbitohs could run up quite a margin.
Rabbitohs -6.5 @ $1.90
Cronulla Sharks v North Queensland Cowboys
The match for the Queensland viewers on Friday will also take place in Sydney, yet feature the travelling Cowboys against a battle Sharks outfit at Remondis Stadium. Just 5 days ago, this ground was the site where the Sharks looked so promising, but gave up a lead to the Knights to record a defeat. It was a resurgence for them in recent weeks, causing upsets against more fancied opponents in the Broncos and Roosters. That run of form came to an end, with the home team unable to produce an 80-minute performance. For the Sharks, they will just want to finish this season on the right note, as they are now only a mathematical chance of extending their season beyond Round 26. Perhaps a better direction would be to develop, foster and strengthen players and combinations for beyond 2014. The Cowboys are in the hunt for the Finals, but surprisingly for their standing on the table, they are yet to win on the road this season. They are on 18-points with a +60 difference working in their favor. Still, unless they are able to produce consecutive successful performances on the road, they will gain nothing and again fall short of the Finals. The quality is present in their lineup, but the execution is lacking. They are one team that is disrupted heavily through the Origin period and now that it has concluded, they can refocus towards club football. The Sharks will be not be an easy opponent to move past, taking pride in their performances at home, they will sense a chance to continue the Cowboys woes on the road.
The Sharks feared the worst last week as Paul Gallen left the field with a biceps injury midway through their clash against the Knights. He was able to return to the field, although it was feared that after the match, he would be ruled out for the season. Luckily, it should only be a 2-week injury for him. Anthony Tupou comes into the team to start at lock, while Siosaia Vave fills his place on the bench. Tim Robinson and Tupou Sopoaga also feature in the team, but they are added to the extended bench and are likely to miss out. Finally, after being included last week, Andrew Fifita is named to start the match in the front row. His contribution to the team is always valuable, yet it will take a few weeks for him to find his feet and regain full fitness.
North Queensland Cowboys
The Cowboys are boosted by the return of several big name players this week, namely Origin stars JT and James Tamou. Their inclusion forces a reshuffle, along with the inclusion of hookers Rory Kostjasyn and Ray Thompson, with Kostjasyn starting and Thompson relegated to the bench. In a mark of respect, Thurston will play this match in jersey 16, in honor of Alex McKinnon. Michael Morgan shifts from halfback and back to his customary position this year of fullback. This forces Matthew Wright back to the wing and Curtis Rona out of the team altogether. Slipping by somewhat is the fact that Ethan Lowe is out of this match with suspension, after being found to be investing on several NRL matches. His place on the bench is filled by John Asiata, with Anthony Mitchell, Zac Santo and Ben Spina out of the team altogether.
Overall = Sharks 21 Cowboys 12
Last 5 games = Sharks 2 Cowboys 3
At Remondis Stadium = Sharks 10 Cowboys 4
TAB Sportsbet = Sharks $2.60 Cowboys $1.52
Centrebet = Sharks $2.40 Cowboys $1.60
Sportsbet = Sharks $2.48 Cowboys $1.57
Betfair = Sharks $2.60 Cowboys $1.60
Looking at the odds, it is surprising to see the Cowboys favored so much in this contest. The Sharks arguably have their problems within their team, ensuring that capturing victory is going to be difficult for them. In saying that, they are a team that is yet to win on the road in 2014 and Remondis Stadium against the Sharks isn’t exactly a walk in the park. They will put up a fight, just like they did last week against the Knights. The Cowboys also have their problems, thanks largely to injury and suspension. Despite those issues, they should be able to produce a performance that will grab them their first win away from home. The margin should be close though, with the Sharks again producing a spirited performance that will keep them in this contest right up until the end.
Either team under 6.5 points @ $3
Sydney Roosters v Penrith Panthers
Normality is return to Saturday this weekend, with 3 games taking place from 3pm onwards. The first will begin with arguably the match of the week, as the Roosters host the Panthers in what could be a preview towards a potential Finals clash in September. The Roosters were expected to be in this position, although many would’ve expected them to be sitting a higher than they currently are. Things have been difficult at times, yet they have still benefitted from a lack of injuries and increased player availabilities. Fortunate enough to have the bye last week, they set off for some improvement out of town following consecutive losses. Their fans will be hoping that they have found form again, with the Panthers proving that they are going to put up a fight against any opponent this season. Just when things were looking up for them, they suffered several injuries that is stretching the depth of their squad. The latest blows for them on MNF only served as a cruel reminder of how things can unravel very quickly in this competition. Still, they will take confidence away from their standing on the table, after all they are in 2nd position, as well as winning 4 of their past 5 matches. Having to back up from MNF will make things difficult for them, yet it will be interesting to see just how far they have come. Many people around the league are yet to believe in the hype that they are generating, choosing to focus on the fact that they have had an “easier” draw than most other teams this season. Aside from that, they have still won matches in commanding fashion and this game will only serve as another test in their progress through 2014.
The Roosters welcome back two of their Origin stars for this match, with Boyd Cordner and Aidan Guerra slotting straight back into the back row. Their inclusion forces Isaav Liu and Dylan Napa back to the bench, where Heath L’Estrange is included as 18th man. Unfortunately, they are also without Daniel Tupou, who has suffered an injury and will be out for around 4-6 weeks. This means that rookie Brendan Elliot will start again, aiming to build upon his exciting start at the top grade. The Roosters enjoyed a week away with the bye last week and travelled as a team out of Sydney, attempting to escape the embarrassment of their loss to the Sharks. No doubt that it would also serve as a building exercise as this talented team strengthens their position on the table with the run into the finals.
After featuring in MNF, the Panthers had little time to completely assess the fatigue and injuries on their squad. This rushed team is certainly different but is expected to change dramatically in the lead up to kick off. Matt Moylan is named at 5/8 for Tyrone Peachey, who has appeared to have suffered a season ending injury. Rookie Dallin Watene-Zelezniak is named to play fullback, while at the same time Josh Mansour appears on the wing. He was sighted on crutches at Panthers training and is almost certain to miss out. Just in case, Isaah Yeo is named as 18th man and may find his way into the team.
Overall = Roosters 50 Draw 1 Panthers 30
Last 5 games = Roosters 3 Panthers 2
At Allianz Stadium = Roosters 10 Panthers 7
TAB Sportsbet = Roosters $1.30 Panthers $3.60
Centrebet = Roosters $1.28 Panthers $3.85
Sportsbet = Roosters $1.29 Panthers $3.75
Betfair = Roosters $1.29 Panthers $3.85
Several factors are swaying this game in favor of the home team and judging by the odds, they are going to be a hard team to beat. The Panthers are plagued by injures and fatigue from MNF, while the Roosters have enjoyed a week off with a bye. On top of that, the home side is hoping to make amends for a 2-game losing streak that peaked in Round 17 with an embarrassing loss to the last-placed Sharks. There are a few things to recognize before investing on this match, with the Panthers not completely out of the contest as the odds would suggest. When the Roosters win, they generally win big by piling on points. Out of their 9 wins this season, 7 have been by 13 or more points. Of the 5 Panthers losses, only 2 have been by the same margin. They should be able to keep this game close for majority of the contest, showing the rest of the competition that the hype around them is to be believed. This brings the line into play, but also the smaller margin in favor of the home team. No doubt it will be tight and hopefully it will go down to the wire, decided only in the closing minutes of this match.
Panthers +8.5 @ $2
Home to roost = Roosters 1-12 @ $2.90 – As stated above, this match should be close. If you believe that the Roosters will certainly win, then consider adding more value to your bet by selecting a margin. They are always a tough team to overcome, but so too are the Panthers, who are out to prove that they are worthy of their standing on the competition ladder.
Melbourne Storm v Canberra Raiders
At 5:30pm on Saturday, rugby league action will head south of the boarder, with the Storm out for revenge against the Raiders at AAMI Park. In Round 7, it was the Raiders who were victorious against the Storm down in the nations capital, a result that was an upset to say the least. Prior to that, the Raiders were struggling for consistency and no one thought that they would be able to beat one of the leaders in the competition. Fast-forward to this week and not too much has changed for the travelling team, as they are still struggling for consistency and sit in 15th position on the competition ladder. Unless something drastically changes, they are heading for another year where they miss out on the Finals. Now, they are trying to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon, where Ricky Stuart would become the first coach in the history of the game to obtain this unwanted prize in consecutive years, at two different clubs. As for the Storm, they are on the boarder of the Top 8 and can be thankful that there are a few teams below them with a worse point’s difference. They are coming off a narrow loss last week to the Bulldogs on their home turf, suggesting that while they are improving, they are now vulnerable against the top teams in the competition. They need to improve in numerous ways to ensure that they are at a level where they are a genuine threat. Then again, this is generally the stage of the season where their star players step up to another level and place the pressure on other teams. Hopefully they can build confidence against the Raiders here, while almost assuring a premature end to the Raiders season.
The Storm have chosen to maintain the same 17 from last week, option to reshuffle their lineup rather than cause any major disruption. This week though, Ryan Hoffman and Ryan Hinchcliffe are named to start, with Tohu Harris and Jordan McLean relegated back to the bench. That was a late change decided by Bellamy to combat the strong Bulldogs pack. It is a decision which is not needed this week, rather the Storm will aim to dominate and set the game up for the “Big 3” to control. When you have such a combination at your disposal, it would be foolish not to use it to your advantage over 80-minutes.
The Raiders suffered a setback last week; with an injury to rookie back Brenko Lee. He was one player that had the Raiders holding high hopes for his development but will have to bide his time on the sidelines for now. Jarrad Kennedy, with Joel Edwards starting in his place in the second row, takes Lee’s place at centre. Brett White returns to the starting at prop, while Paul Vaughan moves back to the bench to accommodate this. Matt Allwood has been added to the team as 18th man, but will be likely to miss out on selection if all players are fit. The Raiders saw Anthony Milford at his best last week but time is running out for the talented fullback to make his mark in the nations capital.
Overall = Storm 24 Raiders 10
Last 5 games = Storm 2 Raiders 3
At AAMI Park = Storm 1 Raiders 3
TAB Sportsbet = Storm $1.20 Raiders $4.75
Centrebet = Storm $1.20 Raiders $4.65
Sportsbet = Storm $1.22 Raiders $4.50
Betfair = Storm $1.24 Raiders $4.60
Despite losing last week and their opponents impressive in their win, it is almost impossible to go against the Storm. They are in the unusual position of being at the bottom end of the Top 8, aiming to nail down a Finals position with consecutive victories. It will not be easy for them, as they will have memories of their last loss to the Raiders fresh in their minds. Interestingly, the Raiders have won 3 of the past 5 matches between the two sides, as well as a 75% strike rate at AAMI Park. Still, they have been inconsistent this season and will probably struggle with a shorter turn around that is compounded by two consecutive away games. Melbourne has not set the world alight recently, suggesting that this margin may be smaller than expected. This has greater support considering that of their 8 wins, 6 have been by the 1-12 margin. Considering this, the line in favor of the Raiders comes into play, hoping that they are able to continue on from where they left off last week.
Raiders +12.5 @ $1.90
He’s the Mann = Kurt Mann FTS and/or LTS @ $13 – He is a greater chance of crossing the line last more than anything, but the odds offered for this talented rookie is too good to refuse. He knows how to find the try line and can hopefully continue on his form, scoring the last try for the Storm in 3 of their past 5 matches.
Brisbane Broncos v New Zealand Warriors
The concluding match on Super Saturday heads to Brisbane, for a replay of the Round 15 clash between the Broncos and Warriors at Suncorp Stadium. This time, there is a different set of circumstances, with the Warriors the team that now has to produce a complete performance on the road. They were successful at home 19-10 last time, but with the Broncos now closely back to full-fitness and having their Origin players at their disposal, anything is possible. For the home team, they will be desperate to avenge for that loss, as well as the one they suffered on MNF to the Panthers. The match was there for the taking at several stages, yet they were unable to land the killer blow. They had to twice fight back from a large deficit, with a field goal ultimately sinking them to a loss. There were no such issues for their opponents last week, with the Warriors completely demolishing the Eels in New Zealand. It was a performance that quickly reminded fans of their capabilities and how difficult they can be to stop. As the competition approaches the business end, this is the time that the Warriors need to take a stand and there is no better time for them to announce themselves than with a win over the Broncos in Brisbane. They generally struggle to perform on the road but will have to learn to overcome that if they are to continue on their winning ways and have a chance at higher honors later this season. The Broncos can be vulnerable, backing up from MNF and having a few players absent through injury. At the end of this match, we should have a clearer picture of which team is going to be able to extend their season strongly, as opposed to just scraping into the Top 8.
The Broncos had minimal time between their MNF match and naming this side to completely assess the fitness of their squad. They have chosen to name the same team that featured in that match, with David Stagg added to the bench as 18th man. There shouldn’t be too much disruption to their team though, with Anthony Griffin probably opting to keep together a team that promised so much throughout their last match. Hopefully this time they will be able to make the most of their possession and field position, using it to build pressure against their opponent. Perhaps the spark missing form their team is due to the reduced performance from Ben Barba. The former Dally M Medal winner has had a quiet season to say the least. You only have to look at the contribution from the fullbacks in the contending teams to see what the Broncos are missing.
New Zealand Warriors
After turning out such a commanding performance last week, there is little need for the Warriors to change their team. However there are a few minor adjustments to the 17, with the starting 13 the same as last week. Utility Thomas Leuluai returns to the fold for the Warriors, following a 3-month stint on the sidelines due to injury. Prior to that, he was thought to be the only player to offer stable support to the Warriors and Shaun Johnson. Things have changed though and it will be interesting to see if he is included in the final team. Alongside Leuluai will be debutant Agnatius Paasi, a talented back-rower that has been producing strong performances in the lower grades. Look to him to leave a mark on the Broncos when he takes the field.
Overall = Broncos 19 Warriors 15
Last 5 games = Broncos 1 Warriors 4
At Suncorp Stadium = Broncos 6 Warriors 3
TAB Sportsbet = Broncos $1.67 Warriors $2.25
Centrebet = Broncos $1.70 Warriors $2.20
Sportsbet = Broncos $1.67 Warriors $2.25
Betfair = Broncos $1.75 Warriors $2.26
Taking a brief look at the different betting markets available, it is surprising to see such value around a team that is coming off a 48-point victory the previous week. Sure, the Warriors do not have the best record on the road this season, but they are going to be more than competitive in this match. They are quickly becoming one of the teams to watch in this league, with each win driving them further up the table. The Broncos will carry fatigue into this match, with several of their players playing their 3rd game within 11 days. That is never ideal and they are going to be feeling tired, bringing their opponents further into this match. This game is set to be a close contest, with neither team wanting to suffer a loss at this stage of the season. Still, the Warriors have demonstrated far more in recent weeks to suggest that they are going to be able to handle anything that is thrown their way over 80-minutes.
Warriors @ $2.25
Newcastle Knights v Gold Coast Titans
The focal point of the weekend will kick off at 2pm at Hunter Stadium this Sunday, with another emotional day attributed towards Alex McKinnon expected to take place. Aside from that, there is a game of rugby league that will take place between two teams who would be disappointed with their efforts so far this season. The Titans are still missing Greg Bird, on top of Will Zillman and David Mead after last week. It is not an ideal situation for them to be in, but it could be worse. The Knights carry the same 17 from a successful match last week against the Sharks, hoping to pay tribute to their teammate and continue on from that effort. After losing to the Raiders last week, beating the Knights on a day like this one and on their home turf appears to be a task beyond the travelling side. Take the Knights to win this match comfortably, while riding a wave of emotion at the same time.
Wests Tigers v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
The 3pm “match of the day” heads to ANZ Stadium this week, with the battling Tigers hosting the Bulldogs aiming to continue on a pleasing winning streak. Last week, the Tigers were shut out of the game thanks to several dodgy decision by the men with the whistle. That put them behind early on and in a position they were unable to recover from. It was a different story for the Bulldogs though, even with Josh Reynolds out of their team, they proved too strong for the Storm. Their power lies within their forwards and at the moment, it is proving very difficult for their opponents to hold. They will again play to that strength, with the Tigers looking like a tired team at this stage of the season. They will still be competitive in this match, but ultimately the Bulldogs will be too strong for them, especially in the middle of the field.
St George-Illawarra Dragons v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
MNF what has been an exciting round to date, with a trip to Kograh Oval as the Dragons host the Sea Eagles. On the line for the visiting team, is a chance to sit alone at the top of the competition ladder, following losing performances by the Panthers and Bulldogs. They have the class across the field to push for the 2014 Premiership and at this stage; they are emerging as the team to beat. Luckily for them, it comes together nicely thanks to their experienced, yet very young, halves pairing. The Dragons will be difficult on their home turf, drawing confidence from the fact that they are on a 3-game winning streak. They appeared to be out of Finals contention heading into their Round 16 match, but have been fortunate enough to turn around their early season form slump. Their halves pairing is also beginning to fire, as Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop have worked out a game plan that compliments their strengths. It will be a tough as for the Dragons to overcome the Sea Eagles here, but they should make it a close enough match. The Sea Eagles have a terrible habit of playing down to an opponent and this may give the home side an early chance that they will need to capitalise if they want a chance of winning this match.
Sea Eagles 1-12
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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