Cronulla Sharks (12th) v St George-Illawarra Dragons (1st)
The Sharks headed to Townsville last week and took a hit prior to KO when Luke Lewis withdrew from their line up; from that point onward, they were always going to struggle. It wasn’t as one-sided as expected though, the Sharks eventually went down by 6-points after the Cowboys sealed the victory with an unconverted try in the 77th minute. The visitors didn’t play to their potential, they committed 15 total errors and completed at just 63%; the Cowboys were not much better, yet with just 46% share of possession, they were always going to struggle. Combine these factors with the 38 missed tackles and losing by a converted try to one of the favourites for 2018 doesn’t appear to be too bad. The Dragons had no such issues in their convincing win over the Broncos 34-12. It was an impressive display that saw them dictate the terms of the match and forcing their opponents into mistakes, while allowing their defence to limit the Broncos attacking opportunities. The weight of possession (60%) assisted the Dragons, although there are still areas that they can improve on. Surprisingly, the Dragons only completed at 71% and they will want to make the most of their chances in future matches, as opponents may make them pay for their mistakes. As mentioned earlier, the Dragons defensive structure was impressive and the scrambling on the edges saved them on more than one occasion. The inclusion of Ben Hunt added stability to their attack and they made the most of positive field position (and possession). Now, they will look to make it consecutive wins, with this match against a cross-town rival bound to intensify the circumstances ahead of this contest.
Sharks = Aaron Gray is named on the wing for Sione Katoa (injured). Paul Gallen is named to start at lock after coming off the bench last week, swapping roles with Kurt Capewell.
Dragons = Hame Sele is named on the bench, with Jeremy Latimore shifting back to the reserves.
Overall = Sharks 19 Dragons 20
Last 5 Matches = Sharks 3 Dragons 2
At Southern Cross Group Stadium = Sharks 55% Dragons 39%
Form = Sharks 1 loss – Dragons 1 win
Given the results of last week, it is surprising to see the Sharks slight favourites in this contest. Aside from the Dragons having a poor record at this ground, not much consideration is given to their dominating victory over the Broncos, while in equal measure, many believe the Sharks performance against the Cowboys was better than it looked. This is somewhat correct, except the win of the visitors should not be overlooked; their forwards aimed up in the middle of the field and their halves controlled the matched with poise. The main difference in this game will be the matchup in the middle; the Dragons dominated this last week, yet the Sharks will have more quality and display this consistently over 80 minutes. They have a strong forward pack that relishes the opportunity to have a battle in the middle of the field. This match will be no different and with a hungry pack of forwards, the platform they create may just be enough to get them over the line. The home team also possesses more quality and speed in the outside backs to cause their opponents concern on the edges; the Dragons defence aimed up last week and they will need to prove themselves yet again. There is no doubt that both teams are in need of more game time before we see their best and at this early stage of the season, home ground advantage is very important (in Round 1 – 6 out of 8 home teams won). With the Sharks holding a slight edge in a few areas, they are the ideal selection. Interestingly, the last two matches have been decided by less than a converted try and this game is heading down a similar path, albeit, with the Sharks edging out the Dragons in an exciting game.
Either Team Under 6.5 Points @ $2.60
Feeling greedy? = Sharks 1-12 @ $2.80 – If you want slightly more value and believe the Sharks will win, then take this option with confidence. Last week’s match would’ve taken plenty out of the Sharks and that may limit just how effective they are here for the duration of the contest. Furthermore, the Dragons appear to have a renewed attitude towards defence that will serve them well in tight matches.
Sydney Roosters (11th) v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (15th)
The Roosters were upset last week by the Tigers, failing to live up to the hype that surrounded their team heading into 2018. It was always going to take time for them to gel together as a team; not too many people saw that loss coming, especially with the Tigers expecting to struggle this season. It did take some luck in the 77th minute in the lead up to their try and a sideline conversion to get them over the line. That being said, the Roosters only completed at 68% and committed 13 errors for the match. It isn’t anything to worry about at this stage and if anything, it makes them more difficult to face this week. The Bulldogs have that task, forced to back up quickly from a road trip to Perth that resulted in a loss. The final score of 36-18 was not a true reflection of how well they played; it was an improved performance from a team that was aiming to improve their attacked and it could have been a different outcome had a few other things gone their way. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs have a responsibility to improve after only completing at 68% with just 46% possession, 12 errors and 24 missed tackles. If they can manage this side of their game, they are going to be a difficult opponent for any team to face in the competition. With both teams desperate to win their first game of the season, the rivalry between these two sides will only increase the passion and intensity ahead of this game.
Roosters = Luke Keary (injury) returns at 5/8, with Mitchell Cornish dropping back to the reserves. Boyd Cordner is named to start, after coming off the bench last week, pushing Ryan Matterson back to the bench.
Bulldogs = Unchanged.
Overall = Roosters 18 Bulldogs 21
Last 5 Matches = Roosters 3 Bulldogs 2
At Allianz Stadium = Roosters 64% Bulldogs 51%
Form = Roosters 1 loss – Bulldogs 1 loss
Many were surprised with the efforts of the Roosters last week and each loss, ahead of their first win, will increase the pressure and intensity surrounding this team. This game will be no different and many people will wonder whether or not they are the real deal; this is the ideal opportunity to silence doubters. Despite losing, there was plenty to like about the Bulldogs performance and they are only going to get better. The difficulty for them will be contending with a short turnaround and the long travel to Perth and back. With doubt around the improving efforts of both teams and when they will reach their best, the level of fatigue may ultimately separate these two sides at the end of 80 minutes. The inclusion of Luke Keary is also an underrated factor for the Roosters; he will take attention away from Cronk and allow the superstar halfback to play more of his natural game. This also strengthens the spine and leads to greater direction in the middle of the field. The Roosters forward pack has plenty of questions lingering over their 2018 campaign; regardless of how well they have recruited, this will count for nothing if they do not dominate the opposition pack each week. The Bulldogs pack will be aware of their opponent’s fragilities and undoubtedly, they will attempt to make this contest a physical one from the opening moments. This early on in the season, the decision isn’t as clear as it should be and with that in mind, the Rooster are preferred selection in a head-to-head market. It is unclear as to why the home team is such strong favourites for this game and only time will tell if this is justifiable. That being said, with the last 4 meetings between these two sides decided by an average of 6.5 points, the Bulldogs come into calculations with a large line in their favour.
Bulldogs +8.5 @ $1.95
Brisbane Broncos (16th) v North Queensland Cowboys (5th)
The Broncos find themselves at the bottom of the competition ladder following a disappointing 34-12 loss to the Dragons. That performance was concerning for a number of reason; they didn’t score their first try until the 46th minutes (only managed 2 tries) and missed 35 total tackles. On top of this, they completed at 64% with just 40% share of possession and made 14 errors. Interestingly, it appears as though a solution may need to come from the current team as only Jack Bird is to return to the squad; some of the players that were recovering from injuries in the off-season will benefit from that fixture and should improve also. The task ahead doesn’t become easier, they face the Cowboys in a grudge match that reminds fans of the 2015 Grand Final. The Cowboys were strong in their 20-14 win over the Sharks at home, overcoming the loss of Michael Morgan before KO to seal the game with 3 minutes remaining. Despite the scores being close, the Cowboys always appeared to be in control of the result, yet, they will need to improve on several areas if they are to become consistent. With 54% possession, they completed at 66% and made 15 errors, hardly areas to get excited about and they will relish the opportunity to improve ahead of this match. One area that was impressive was the defence of the Cowboys, they missed just 19 tackles and managed to slow down the momentum of their opponents in the ruck speed. They will be out to target this area of the Broncos and will need to maintain similar intensity if they are to live up to the hype of Premiership favourites.
Broncos = Andrew McCullough is named to start at hooker with Sam Thaiday moving to the bench. Jaydn Su’a (suspended) is replaced on the bench by Tom Opacic.
Cowboys = Unchanged, expcept that Michael Morgan is named on the reserves and is an outside chance of playing.
Overall = Broncos 28 Cowboys 15
Last 5 Matches = Broncos 2 Cowboys 3
At Suncorp Stadium = Broncos 62% Cowboys 39%
Form = Broncos 1 loss – Cowboys 1 win
The Broncos are in desperate need of a different performance to last week, otherwise they risk losing confidence of a playing squad. The job isn’t easy for them, with betting markets suggesting that the Cowboys are going to be able to handle what the Broncos throw their way. The start of the season for the Cowboys was promising and the class that they possess across the park means that they are deserving favourites ahead of this match. The Broncos home record does count for something, as does the struggle the Cowboys have had at this ground. Nevertheless, this Broncos team has a lot more questions to answer before they can be compared to other teams that have held a strong record here. The halves of the Broncos will need their forwards to dominate the Cowboys pack and this outcome appears beyond them. Even if they were to prevail, the halves demonstrated last week, mainly with their kicking at the end of sets, that they need more experience to build pressure on their opponents each week. The other question on everyone’s mind ahead of this game is what the final margin will be and whether or not this game will go to Golden Point; 4 out of the past 6 matches between these two teams has been decided by a single point, while the average margin in the past 7 meetings (back to Round 20, 2015) is 3.4 points. There is too much to like about the Cowboys ahead of this match and given the bounce-back factor of the Broncos, this game could end up being tighter than the efforts of the home team last week suggests.
Cowboys 1-12 @ $2.80
Remember me? = Kyle Fedlt FTS and/or LTS @ $8 – Fedlt was the man who scored the try that send the game to Golden Point in the 2015 decider. He is a favourite attacking weapon of the Cowboys and he opened his account last week in style. Fedlt has a .62 strike rate and the smarter Cowboy play makers will want to expose the Broncos edges as much as possible.
New Zealand Warriors (3rd) v Gold Coast Titans (7th)
The Warriors broke a 9-year drought in Perth with a convincing win over the Rabbitohs 32-20; immediately after fulltime Warriors fans were quick to remind everyone that they were not becoming caught in the hype surrounding their team. Everyone has been through this before with the Warriors, yet it was pleasing to see them start off in exciting fashion. They completed their sets well (80%) and were able to transform this into points, building scoreboard pressure on their opponents in the second half. One area that they will need to improve on is their defence, they missed 44 total tackles and cannot expect to win each week by allowing their opponents to score an average of 20-points. The better teams will use this against them, nevertheless, they will head home confident and ready for this week. The Titans head across to New Zealand following a come-from-behind win against the Raiders at home, overcoming a 24-6 deficit in the 26th minute of play. A win was looking unlikely early on as they were being dominated up the middle of the field, with the Raiders creating holes in the Titans defensive line with ease. Eventually, with 60% possession, the Titans powered past their opponents with a 74% completion rate proving little issue. The fact that they allowed their opponents to score 28 points and miss 46 tackles is cause for concern, yet, an area they will undoubtedly aim to improve upon ahead of this fixture.
Warriors = Unchanged.
Titans = Unchanged.
Overall = Warriors 15 Titans 7
Last 5 Matches = Warriors 5 Titans 0
At Mt Smart Stadium = Warriors 58% Titans 38%
Form = Warriors 1 win – Titans 1 win
After a solid win last week, the Titans will need to quickly back up for this fixture at a ground they struggle at; they have just 3 wins here, with the last coming back in Round 8, 2015. This is equalled somewhat by the travel the Warriors have to endure from Perth and the readjustment that will take following the change of time zones. This factor cannot be overlooked and may be the difference between the two teams at the end of 80 minutes. The Warriors are promising so much and the inclusion of Green at 5/8 has allowed other players to assuming individual roles on the field, none more so that Shaun Johnson, who is at his best when he is running with the ball. The Titans have their halves pairing firing, with Ash Taylor quickly becoming the form half of the competition; what he has been able to do with this team and the way he can change a game is amazing for a player of his age. This is just another test for him in his NRL career and he will need the support of those around him to reach his best. The odds offered on this game have the Warriors as strong favourites, however, even the most passionate Warriors fan will tell you that you need not get excited by one winning performance by this team. Like most other sides this weekend, they need to demonstrate consistency in such efforts and need to back it up with a win here. It will take a brave person to invest on them with confidence and while there is a lot to like about them, the Titans have plenty of positives as well. The line on offer is the preferred option, only for a small investment, as a few more weeks are needed before a clearer competition picture emerges.
Titans +8.5 @ $1.85
Penrith Panthers (4th) v South Sydney Rabbitohs (14th)
The Panthers appeared as two different teams in their win over the Eels, one that was not up to NRL standard and one that could easily finish inside the Top 8 and give the competition a real shake. In the first half, there were dire signs for the Panthers as at one stage, they were completing well below 30%. Once they managed some positive field position and possession, they began to show what they were capable of. The fact that they were able to score points in the first half was an achievement within itself. Overall, they were still quite poor though and had their opponents not fatigued, they may have lost the match. The Panthers still only completed at 68% for the match, made 10 total errors and missed 34 total tackles. They will need to lift to another level if they are to compete with the Rabbitohs, a team that is coming off a losing trip to Perth. Things definitely didn’t go according to plan for them, finding themselves playing “catch up” from the 31st minute onwards. The Warriors provided some brilliant attacking play in the middle and combined with the “home” team’s errors, they were never going to be competitive. Over 80 minutes, they completed at just 66%, made 14 errors and missed 33 total tackles; this was highlighted by their coach in the post-match press conference and it is an area of concern moving forward. The score was somewhat flattering too, they scored 2 tries in the final 20 minutes to narrow the margin. Like many other teams in the competition, they were in need of another week to come together and will be better for the experience. What they hadn’t counted on was spending the next few weeks without Adam Reynolds, a challenging scenario to say the least.
Panthers = Unchanged, with Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Viliame Kikau named to start, despite being named here last week and coming off the bench.
Rabbitohs = Adam Doueihi is named at halfback for Adam Reynolds (injured). Sam Burgess moves to prop, Cameron Murray to lock and Mark Nicholls moves to the bench. Tyrell Fuimaono comes onto the bench in place of Hymel Hunt.
Overall = Panthers 14 Rabbitohs 14
Last 5 Matches = Panthers 2 Rabbitohs 3
At Panthers Stadium = Panthers 54% Rabbitohs 34%
Form = Panthers 1 win – Rabbitohs 1 loss
The momentum is definitely with the Panthers, however, like a few other teams this weekend, the Rabbitohs will be set on bouncing back as winners. The home ground advantage assisted the Panthers last week and it will again be crucial, with teams expected to struggle in 35+ degree heat. On the back of a road trip from Perth, fatigue may get the better of the Rabbitohs. Siebold has made a few changes aimed at strengthening their pack and it will be needed in this game; the Panthers demonstrated last week that their forward pack is dynamic and will take some strong defence to hold them out. The loss of Reynolds is also a major factor in this match and while not to forget the talent that Doueihi possesses, it will need to be of a high calibre for the entire match if it will positively influence the outcome. There are just too many limiting factors on the Rabbitohs that will impact upon their performance and ultimately, swing the game towards the home team. It should be a tight game though, the Panthers proved last week that they are a team that is still developing and 80 minute performances were a difficult thing to produce. This keeps the Rabbitohs in with a chance and make the line markets very attractive; as a side not, 3 out of the past 4 meetings between these two sides has been decided by 4 points or less. With this in mind, take the visitors with the added advantage, on the hope that they are capable of improving their performance from last week.
Rabbitohs +8.5 @ $1.85
Melbourne Storm (2nd) v Wests Tigers (6th)
The Storm picked up from where they left off in 2017, making a strong statement that supports their tilt at back-to-back titles. The Bulldogs were on the receiving end of result, with the final score of 36-18 perhaps a lot closer than the margins suggest. They dominated with 54% possession, with the loss of Slater ahead of this match proving no issue. The first start at regular halfback from Brodie Croft was also impressive, with the early signs demonstrating that he is a perfect fit for the Storm and the structure they maintain. It not all positive though, with the Storm only completing at 72%, committing 11 errors and missing 27 tackles. Craig Bellamy highlighted the poor defence in his press conference and the Storm will be out to improve that here. The Tigers also head to Melbourne as winners, prevailing 10-8 in the upset of the round against the Roosters. That performance was a sign that the Tigers are a renewed team and their effort did not go unnoticed around the competition. Over 80 minutes, they completed at 84% with only 49% possession, made 9 errors and missed just 21 tackles. It took until the 78th minute for them to prevail, yet it was the determination that they displayed over the contest that kept them in the match with a fighting chance. They will need to lift to another level ahead of this game, with the Storm having the extra motivation of winning for Billy Slater’s 300thmatch.
Storm = Billy Slater (injury) returns at fullback, allowing Cameron Munster to move to 5/8, while Riley Jacks drops out of the team.
Tigers = Ben Matulino comes into the starting side for Matt Eisenhuth, who shifts to the bench.
Overall = Storm 19 Tigers 10
Last 5 Matches = Storm 4 Tigers 1
At AAMI Park = Storm 75% Tigers 33%
Form = Storm 1 win – Tigers 1 win
The stage is set for the Storm to deliver a strong performance and it appears as though the Tigers are walking into an ambush. For starters, this is the first NRL game since they won the Premiership and when mixed with the milestone for Billy Slater, the Storm are unlikely to want to lose this match. They have a superb winning record at this ground, while the Tigers have just the one win from three attempts. This is why the Storm are strong favourites for this game and the odds offered on the Tigers are the largest of the round, with prices of $5.50+ available for them to win this game. As motivated at the Tigers will be for this match, unfortunately they will not possess the quality across the field to mix it with their opponents. Enthusiasm and attitude is a unique thing on rugby league and there is no doubt that this will be at the forefront of the Tigers play; that will only count for so much though and may keep scores closer than expected. That being said, the Storm were relentless against the Bulldogs last week and showed how they can quickly pull away from opponents when given minimal opportunities. That suggests that the margin in this game will be beyond 13 points, although you need to be careful with such a selection. Interestingly, the last time the Storm beat the Tigers by such a margin was Round 21 in 2014. If you do not want to take the line on and need some value, consider investing on the home team to win by a specific margin (below). Perhaps the ideal option in this match is sitting back and enjoying everything this contest has to offer.
Storm 13-18 @ $5.25
Milestone Man = Billy Slater FTS and/or LTS @ $9 – There are more fancied players on the field but with the circumstances around the match, the Storm will want their Number 1 to get over the line at any stage. His quality assures investors that he will be around the ball in any attacking movement and providing any chance that he can cross the line first.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (9th) v Parramatta Eels (13th)
The Sea Eagles headed to Newcastle last week, with many underrating their chances for the 2018 and they left winless, with their opponents prevailing in Golden Point. It wasn’t an ideal outcome for a team that is attempting to prove people wrong with their play, nevertheless, there was plenty to like about the Sea Eagles performance. The individual stars stepped up, with the likes of the Trbojevic brothers and DCE dominating; it will need the other players in the team to support these players if the Sea Eagles are able to turn around their fortunes. By no means is it time to panic just yet, yet they will be aware of what they need to improve on; they only completed at 67% for the match (despite having 52% possession), made 17 total errors and missed 41 tackles. It was a different story with a similar outcome for the Eels, as they went down to the Panthers on the road 24-14. They were two different teams over 80 minutes; in the first half, they piled on 14-points via 3-tries and looked unstoppable with a high completion rate and strong defensive structure. They were the opposite in the second half and quickly fell out of contention as fatigue and poor performance took hold. In the end, missing 41 tackles and committing 12 errors with a 73% completion rate suggests that each team has similar areas to improve upon. Interestingly, the Eels halves dominated the first half and couldn’t do much wrong; however, this changed in the second half as they lacked direction and failed to add the finishing touches to the end of their attacking sets. This game promises to be another exciting contest with both desperate to collect their first win for the season.
Sea Eagles = Brad Parker comes into the team in the centres to replace Matthew Wright; Jackson Hastings and Lloyd Perrett are named on the bench for Lewis Brown and Frank Winterstein.
Eels = Unchanged.
Overall = Sea Eagles 14 Eels 17
Last 5 Matches = Sea Eagles 0 Eels 5
At Lottoland = Sea Eagles 64% Eels 44%
Form = Sea Eagles 1 loss – Eels 1 loss
Both teams will be desperate to win this match, with the Sea Eagles only too familiar with the trouble that a 2-game losing streak can cause to start the season. The recent record between these two sides suggests that the Sea Eagles are going to have a difficult time against their opponents, as they have not beaten them since Round 3, 2014. While that win did come at this ground, the Eels will hold no fear after their recent efforts here. If the Eels produce what they did in the opening half last week, they are going to be a difficult team to beat. There was a lot to like about that effort and it brings them into calculating in this contest. However, the Sea Eagles look to have a slight edge on their opponents in a few areas. The efforts of their individuals last week was a highlight and after a losing performance, there is no doubt that the players around them will be increasingly aware of their job in this side. If they can get this balance right, then they will prevail over 80 minutes. Many must have the same opinion because the Sea Eagles are slight favourites to win this match. In all honesty, this is the type of game that you are best avoiding in the opening weeks of the competition because there are too many variables surrounding this game that could swing the match in one direction or another. For the safe of making a selection, the Sea Eagles are the preferred team. If you need to have a bet in this game, then take either team to prevail by less than a converted try; for extra support, the average winning margin in the past 4 meetings between these two sides sits at 6.25 points. This promises to be an exciting match and we will have a better understand of each at the end of this contest.
Either Team Under 6.5 points @ $2.85
Canberra Raiders (10th) v Newcastle Knights (8th)
The Raiders jumped out of the gates in impressive fashion last week against the Titans, however they were unable to maintain this intensity and eventually gave up an 18-point lead to lose 30-28. There are a number of areas of concern for them and aside from the amount of points they conceded, they managed a 69% completion rate, 12 errors and 36 missed tackles. It has been suggested that the Raiders fatigued out of the contest and while they have a big pack of forwards, the initial intensity was unable to be maintain by the bench players. This was a dangerous pattern of play in 2017 and Ricky Stuart will have a difficult task of eradicating this from his teams play before it comes a greater issue. The Knights had no such issues in their 1-point win over the Sea Eagles in Golden Point, putting 2017 behind them to close out the match in exciting style. These were matches that they struggled to win in 2017, yet, this team held no fears and played freely when the game was on the line. The Knights are cautious not to get too far ahead of themselves so early on in the season, although there is plenty to be excited about. Over 80 minutes, they controlled the ball very well, completing at 87% with just 6 errors limiting their output in attack. They will be disappointed that they missed 35 tackles, however, their scrambling defence ensured that the Sea Eagles were kept scoreless for certain parts of this match. It will be difficult for them to maintain this level of commitment throughout the entire season, nevertheless, Nathan Brown has this team moving in the right direction.
Raiders = Elliott Whitehead is named to start in the second row for Joseph Tapine (injured), with Luke Bateman starting at lock. Charlie Gubb is the new face on the bench.
Knights = Unchanged.
Overall = Raiders 18 Knights 16
Last 5 Matches = Raiders 3 Draw 1 Knights 1
At GIO Stadium = Raiders 52% Knights 20%
Form = Raiders 1 loss – Knights 1 win
There is no shortage of support for the Knights around the league, with many adopting them as their “second favourite” team to support given their recent run of wooden spoons. Regardless, they still find themselves as outsiders ahead of this game, with many believing that the Raiders have too much forward power for the Knights to prevail. That may be the case, but there is a lot of doubt around whether or not they can maintain this standard for the entire duration of the match. The Knights will not need an invitation to take control and if the Raiders are not careful, they may lose their second consecutive match. The other factor that hasn’t been highlighted as much is the role that the halves and Blake Austin will play in the Raiders team. Last week, it appeared as though the attacking momentum of the team was disrupted when Austin came onto the field; he is an immense talent and will contribute strongly to any winning performance but Stuart has to find the right role for him in this team. The Knights are going to be in with a chance of winning this game for a large portion of this contest and that will keep the scores tight. Like the match before it, there are too many uncertainties to invest with confidence. The home team should have the edge, however, the preferred option would be to sit back and watch this game.
Raiders 1-12 @ $3.10