Brisbane Broncos (2nd) v Parramatta Eels (5th)
The Broncos lifted to another level last week against the Dragons and in winning, kept their spot at 2nd on the ladder. With home ground advantage a key asset during the Finals, the Broncos are playing the right level of intensity to stay at this level. They always appeared in control of the result, with the Broncos having to make the most of limited opportunities with just 45% possession. The Dragons built pressure and the home team demonstrated their ability to handle it; despite not performing at their best either, they completed at just 71%, made 11 errors and missed 41 tackles. These two teams face one another within a month of their first meeting and the Broncos will want to make amends on home soil for their 28-14 loss to the Eels in Round 21. The visitors will take plenty of momentum into this game, coming off a 30-8 win over the Titans that erased most of the thoughts of their embarrassing loss to the Knights in Round 23. Their attitude and application was much improved, resembling a team that belongs in the Top 8. Despite only have 43% possession, the Eels made the most of positive field position and only allowed their opponents to score points with 20 minutes remaining. Committing 15 errors limited their effectiveness at times, yet their superior class was the overall difference between the two sides. If they were to make the same mistakes against a better team, there is no doubt that they would be made to pay for their actions. With players suffering injuries and still unavailable, the Eels appear as though they will have a far difficult time this time around against their opponents.
Broncos = Jaydn Su’A comes onto the bench to replace Tevita Pangai Junior (injured).
Eels = Will Smith starts at fullback for Bevan French (injured), with Kenny Edwards named in the second row for Manu Ma’u. This allows David Gower and Frank Pritchard to fill the vacant spots on the bench.
Overall = Broncos 19 Eels 18
Last 5 Matches = Broncos 3 Eels 2
At Suncorp Stadium = Broncos 62% Eels 46%
Form = Broncos 3 wins – Eels 1 win
The Broncos started strongly last time against the Eels and were unable to hold onto their lead; one thing that has changed since that loss, which was their most recent, is their maturity when closing out matches. It seems as though the Broncos are also capable of improving further, especially at home; they have a great record at this ground this season, winning 9 out of 11 matches compared with the Eels 7 wins from 11 away from home reads better. To add more momentum to their home performance, the Broncos average 32 points in their past 3 home matches, with 2 of those against teams contending for the Finals. There is no doubt that there is a clear divide this year between the leading teams in the NRL and the rest of the competition. The Eels have continually proven their worth and are capable of winning this match, just like they did 4 weeks ago. However the task of winning this game is becoming more difficult with the improving form of their opponents. The Broncos score more points (24.7 per game) than the Eels (19.2 per game) and concede far less (16.9 v 18.5 points per game); the forced move of Ben Hunt to hooker appears to be working in their favor and increases their attacking threat on numerous areas of the field. For the Eels to win, they would have to go back to the Round 21 game plan of dominating the middle and relying upon their forwards to nullify the power of the Broncos; times when the Broncos have lost this season, they have been targeted in this area. If the Eels were to win, it would sound a large statement that they are to be taken seriously heading towards the Finals, nevertheless, the Broncos appear as though they will be too strong. With the business end of the season only 2 weeks away, the intensity in this game will be high and the Eels will keep things closer than the various line options that are available, which suggest the Broncos will dominate this match.
Eels +10.5 @ $1.90
A numbers game = Broncos 1-12 @ $2.90 – With the Finals approaching, the Broncos and Eels are expected to lift their intensity to another level. This suggests that with only 2 weeks remaining of the regular season, it would be surprising to see a blowout score line by a team featuring beyond this period. Considering the Broncos decisions to take penalty goals to stretch their lead, taking this option covers the potential 12-point win (if it were to eventuate).
The right man (on the left wing) = Corey Oates FTS and/or LTS @ $8 – Oates has been on fire since returning from injury, scoring 4 tries in the past 3 matches. He saluted as last scorer in the match last week and was unlucky not to do the same the week before. The try he scored last week was a great showing of strength and he is only getting better the fitter he gets.
Canberra Raiders (10th) v Newcastle Knights (16th)
The season just about ended for the Raiders at home last Sunday, beaten 26-22 by the Panthers with everything to play for. It was a disappointing way for them to bow out of contention, yet only have themselves to blame for their execution throughout 2017. It is no surprise that this was also their downfall in this match, unable to hold onto a second half lead with under 10 minutes remaining. In the end, completing at 68%, committing 15 errors and missing 40 tackles was enough to hand momentum to their opponents. Their motivation is sure to be questioned leading into this game, as they were embarrassed by the Knights 34-20 back in Round 10. It has been a tough year for the Raiders and that result may well be the difference between featuring in the Finals and finishing the season early. The Knights were unable to build on their 3-game winning streak that was increasing confidence and moral; they were comprehensively beaten 44-12 by the Storm in a brutal reminder of how much improvement they must undergo before competing with the leading teams in the NRL. Limited to just 2 tries over 80 minutes, the Knights started positively by grabbing the opening try, but once the Storm clicked into gear, it was a different story altogether. Nevertheless, the fight within this team is evident and they will again be out to make a contest against a team they have proven capable of beating already once this season.
Raiders = Unchanged.
Knights = Nathan Ross (injury) returns at fullback, pushing Dane Gagai back to the centres and Joe Wardle to the bench. Jack Cogger replaces Brock Lamb (injured) at 5/8, with Danny Levi promoted to hooker and Jamie Buhrer moving to the second row for Sione Mata’utia (injured). Micky Paea comes onto the bench for Luke Yates (injured).
Overall = Raiders 17 Draw 2 Knights 16
Last 5 Matches = Raiders 3 Draw 1 Knights 1
At GIO Stadium = Raiders 51% Knights 25%
Form = Raiders 1 loss – Knights 1 loss
The Raiders are strong favorites to take out this game, with many guilty of underestimating the quality of their opponents and the circumstances surrounding this match. For starters, their motivation towards this match is certain to be questioned with their Finals aspirations all but done; on top of that, the Knights already have one win over their opponents this season. Unfortunately for the visitors, their record at this ground does not read well and they will have to quickly find the confidence and momentum that was built on their 3-game winning streak. The loss for the Raiders last week was mainly through poor execution, another major reason for why they are sitting outside the Top 8. If a similar effort is displayed, there is no doubt that the Knights will look to pounce and record their 6th win of the season and be an outside chance of missing the wooden spoon. Averaging just 17.4 points per game in attack, scoring points is their major limiting factor yet they averaged 25.3 points in the 3 weeks prior to last week’s loss to the Storm. In equal measure, the Raiders have been impressive in attack averaging 32.7 points per game on their 3-game winning steak and managing 23 points per game for the season. If the Knights can pressure their opponents in the middle like last game, thus keeping their metres per carry low and completion rate below 70%, they are a chance of winning this game. Playing with motivation has been an ongoing challenge for the Knights throughout this season and with the end of the season approaching, they are improving with each match. There is no doubt that the Raiders are the stronger of the two sides across the park but there is something building in Newcastle to suggest that this game will be a lot closer than the odds and line markets are suggesting.
Knights +15.5 @ $1.90
Wests Tigers (15th) v North Queensland Cowboys (7th)
It was another brave effort from the Tigers last week, proving that there has been a shift in attitude since Ivan Cleary has arrived at the club. They went down 22-18 against the Roosters, forcing their opponents to produce a 71st minute converted try to overcome them in horrendous conditions. It was a pleasing display for a club aiming to improve their application moving into 2018 and managed to produce 3 unanswered tries either side of HT to cause concern within their opponents. They still have a way to go before they are at their best, with 76% completion rate, 12 errors and 41 tackles evidence enough of this. The Cowboys will be out to use their opponent’s lack of application against them as they desperately fight to keep their spot in the Finals. It was another brave effort last week against the Sharks, from a team that is struggling with injuries prior to and during matches. Going down 26-16 at home was painful for their team, yet they are motivated by failure of missing a spot in the Top 8. They were positive when they had possession (47%), managing to complete at 78% and commit 9 errors; with their opponents continually pressuring their line, they can be excused to some extent for missing 44 tackles as the match was slipping away. They must win one of their two remaining matches to even be considered for the Finals and with a match against the Broncos in Round 26; a winning result in this match is vital to their chances moving forward.
Tigers = Matt McIlwrick is named at hooker to cover for Elijah Taylor (injured), allowing Bayley Sironen and Jack Littlejohn to come onto the bench, with Joel Edwards dropping to the reserves.
Cowboys = Kayln Ponga (injured) is replaced on the wing by Antonio Winterstein (injury), while Shaun Fensom (injury) retuns on the bench for Enari Tuala.
Overall = Tigers 18 Cowboys 15
Last 5 Matches = Tigers 3 Cowboys 2
At Campbelltown Stadium = Tigers 45% Cowboys 50%
Form = Tigers 1 loss – Cowboys 4 losses
With the Cowboys desperate to win this game, there is word around that they could rush both Gavin Cooper and Lachlan Coote back into their squad after being included on the reserves list. Given the improvement in the Tigers in recent weeks, the visitors could be pushed hard in order to gain victory. For a variety of reasons, the Tigers form has improved recently and if they haven’t won, they’ve been very close to causing an upset. The Cowboys are on a slide that requires them to win this match to keep themselves within the Top 8 and they will not want to let this game slip away; they were already embarrassed 26-16 by the Tigers back in Round 6, the first game in charge for Ivan Cleary. The issue for the home team in that game was their mistakes and with quality missing from their team, they are playing a far more measured brand of rugby league. This continues to be displayed despite their negative results and they will want to make amends for their loss earlier this year. If Cooper and Coote are included, there is no doubt that the Cowboys chances dramatically increase and without those players in the team, the two sides are difficult to split (just check the odds). Home ground advantage generally improves a team, yet the Tigers have recorded just the 2 wins in 10 matches this season at home, with the Cowboys winning 6 out of 11 matches on the road; it must be mentioned that they have only won 2 out of their 5 matches this season in Sydney. Given that the Cowboys have plenty more to play for at this late stage of the season and that their attitude has been fantastic through this difficult time, they should have what it takes to beat the Tigers. It will be tight though, 4 out of the past 5 meetings between these two sides have been decided by less than 2 converted tries with a similar outcome expected here.
Cowboys 1-12 @ $3.10
Gold Coast Titans (14th) v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (12th)
The Titans losing streak extended to 5 games last week following a 30-8 loss to the Eels on the road. With news of disharmony between the coach and star player, Jarryd Hayne, it was always going to be interesting viewing to see how the rest of the squad performed. Considering many suggested that Henry had lost majority of the playing group, it is no surprise to see the result; they completed at 82% with 57% possession and just 8 errors, yet they lack potency when it mattered in attack. Subsequently, Henry was sacked early in the week, leaving the Titans searching for a new coach. It is ironic they face the Bulldogs at this time of the year, as they too are a team that has had their fair share of issues with coaches and underperforming from players. They will take winning form into this match, following a much-improved performance resulting in a 30-16 win over the Sea Eagles. Aside from snapping a 4-game losing streak, it was the first time the Bulldogs had scored more than 24 points this year, with their attack benefitting from positive field position. In the end, they completed at 77% with 10 errors and only 20 missed tackles; finally, the Bulldogs had received some reward for their measured play, outlasting their opponents. Nevertheless, the reality is that they are still an underperforming team that has only won 4 out of the past 15 matches. Coach Hasler needs similar performances from his team if he is to salvage his job, although he may fall on his sword and take up other offers in the NRL that may have or will appear in the future.
Titans = Jarryd Hayne (injury) returns at fullback, as does Jarrod Wallace (injury) at prop. Will Zillman shifts to the wing to cover for John Olive (injured). Agnatius Paasi comes into the starting team for Ryan James (injured), with Max King named at lock, relegating Laivaha Pulu to the bench.
Bulldogs = Unchanged.
Overall = Titans 7 Bulldogs 7
Last 5 Matches = Titans 3 Bulldogs 2
At Cbus Super Stadium = Titans 48% Bulldogs 20%
Form = Titans 5 losses – Bulldogs 1 win
It is ironic that these two teams face off with one another given the respective pressure surround their current or former coaches. Nevertheless, each will be out to salvage something out of their season with time quickly running out. Given the Bulldogs were somewhat impressive in their win last week and the Titans are on a 5-game losing streak, it is surprising to see the home team listed as favorites. Obviously, the Bulldogs have only won the solitary match from 5 attempts at this ground and also have to contend with a short turnaround from Sunday compared with the Titans 9-days to prepare for this match. It is difficult to read whether the Bulldogs victory was a result of their dramatic improvement in their execution or a completely poor performance from their opponents. Many believe that the change of coaching staff will stimulate the Titans performances, although you cannot be so sure; the problems that they experienced last week do not dramatically disappear unless there is a major shift in attitude following the change at the top. Compare this effort with the confidence that was returned to the Bulldogs and perhaps each team will be out to prove that they are better than their current standing on the ladder suggests. The glaring statistic separating these two sides is the amount of points each team averages on both sides of the ball; the Bulldogs have the worst attack in the league (14 points per game) compared with the Titans, who have the worse defence in the league (26.9 points per game). On the other side of things, the Bulldogs allow 19.1 points per game and the Titans average 19 points per game in attack (5th lowest in the NRL). With the pressure of playing Finals lifted from each team and a willingness to prove themselves worthy of a position and their club in the future, the players may be inclined to chance their hand on more than one occasion. It is hard to make a selection on either with confidence, so invest around this match being decided by less than a converted try.
Either Team Under 6.5 Points @ $2.80
Melbourne Storm (1st) v South Sydney Rabbitohs (11th)
The Storm flexed their muscle and won as expected against the Knights in commanding fashion, 44-12. Giving minimal opportunities to their opponents, the Storm dictated the terms of the match and were unafraid to try their hand with some dazzling attacking displays. Completing at just 72% with 12 errors was below their high standards, yet defence was again a strong feature of their play. Craig Bellamy took the opportunity to rest players, with Cooper Cronk given the weekend off to freshen them up heading into the Finals. They may very well take a similar option here, after already accounting for the Rabbitohs 14-6 back in Round 11. Taking their opponents lightly could be their downfall though, with their opponents on a 3-game winning streak with their Finals chances over prior to this run. With little to play for, Michael Maguire has taken the opportunity to blood some younger players and it is paying dividends; their 36-18 win last week against the Warriors was impressive as they never panicked when behind on the scoreboard and scored 4 unanswered tries in the closing 25 minutes to seal victory. On top of their impressive attacking display, the Rabbitohs completed at 82%, made just 8 errors and missed 20 tackles. Of course, the lack of quality in their opponents allowed for such an effort, although the execution and attitude was good from a side that could easily do the opposite at this stage of the season. This game will be another test altogether, however the younger squad will see it as a great opportunity to compete with the best in the competition.
Storm = Cooper Cronk (rested) returns at halfback, pushing Brodie Croft out of the team.
Rabbitohs = Bryson Goodwin shifts to fullback to cover for Alex Johnston (injured), with Robert Jennings named on the wing. Sam Burgess (injury) returns at prop, pushing Zane Musgrove to the bench and Jack Gosiewski to the reserves.
Overall = Storm 23 Rabbitohs 4
Last 5 Matches = Storm 4 Rabbitohs 1
At AAMI Park = Storm 74% Rabbitohs 0%
Form = Storm 5 wins – Rabbitohs 3 wins
The Storm are strong favorites for this match, with many giving the visitors little chance of winning this game. Even before they take the field, the visitors are going to have a difficult time winning this match; the Rabbitohs are winless at this ground in 6 attempts and have suffered more injuries forcing some players out of position. A willingness from coach Craig Bellamy to rest his key players in the lead up to the Finals will probably again be displayed, although this should have little impact on his teams overall performance. If anything, it could reduce the margin of victory, as the Rabbitohs have found a new level of motivation with youngsters stepping up to the top grade. The inclusion of Burgess will assist the younger players on the field and if the Rabbitohs forwards can play as well as they have in recent weeks, their halves are going to benefit from a strong platform. This has been an area they have turned around recently, coinciding with an improvement in performance. That being said, the Storm are clearly the best team in the competition and a class above most other sides. It has been a long time since we have experienced a team that is so dominant over their opponents, yet, are capable of lifting to another level in a few weeks time. They should encounter minimal issues in this match; considering what lies ahead, this week was perhaps the last one where Bellamy could really pressure his team in training before reducing the intensity. This leads many to thinking the line on offer is too good to refuse; the largest victory by the Storm in their past 4 meetings sits at 13 points. The average over this same period of time sits at 6.5 points, with 2 of those 4 victories in Melbourne; the Storm should have minimal issues winning this game, albeit, by a closer margin than most are expecting.
Rabbitohs +14.5 @ $1.90
Not so stormy = Storm 1-12 @ $3.10 – As mentioned above, there is reason to believe that the Storm may take the opportunity to increase their training intensity. No doubt that they could also rest some players, leading many to think that the Storm may not win this game as comfortable as many think.
Cronulla Sharks (4th) v Sydney Roosters (3rd)
The Sharks broke a 2-game losing streak that was threatening to have them drop out of the Top 4 with a strong win over the Cowboys 26-16 in Townsville. While winning form reads well and it keeps them in the right part of the Top 8, Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan was clearly agitated with his teams effort; this is no surprise given they missed 34 tackles and allowed the Cowboys to score 2 late tries in the match. In a positive, they completed at 84% and limited their mistakes to just 7, far better than their season average of 11.2 per game heading into the match. This was also the second week back for James Maloney and his presence was welcome; it was evident that his match-fitness was returning. The inclusion of Jayden Brailey at hooker following a lengthy lay-off also worked for the Sharks, with the rookie providing a great platform for his team to build on. The Roosters head into this game with winning form also, although their 22-18 win was far less convincing against the Tigers. Leaving their run late, the Roosters were forced to score a converted try to retake the lead in the 71st minute; this came after they were leading 16-nil after 30 minutes, with 2 late tries to end the first half sending them into the break narrowly ahead 16-12. The Roosters failed to show their class early on in the second and the Tigers took the lead with 20 minutes remaining; this all came amid the Roosters dominating possession (54%) and having a strong completion rate (81%) and missing just 16 tackles. Unfortunately for them, they were their own worst enemies when it came to errors (13), as the continual release of pressure on their opponents gave them good attacking position. The win does wonders for the confidence of their halves, as well as their forward pack, who both needed to improve following a 3-point loss to the Storm in Round 23. This is yet another match which provides fans with a preview of what lies ahead in the NRL Finals and one that lovers of rugby league will all be interested in.
Sharks = Unchanged.
Roosters = Unchanged.
Overall = Sharks 16 Draw 1 Roosters 20
Last 5 Matches = Sharks 5 Roosters 0
At Southern Cross Group Stadium = Sharks 55% Roosters 50%
Form = Sharks 1 win – Roosters 1 win
In the most anticipated match of the weekend, each team will be out to not only cement a spot in the Top 4, but also make a statement against a team they could face in a sudden-death match in a few weeks time. Normally, a home ground advantage would be vital in this scenario, however as it stands, the Sharks have won just 5 out of 11 matches at home in 2017 (5th worst in the competition). Nevertheless, the Sharks have been listed as slight favorites for this game, with many believing that they are another team improving sharply running into the Finals. While this is the case, they also have a fantastic record against their opponents; the Roosters haven’t beaten the Sharks in the past 6 matches (Round 7, 2014) and have won just once in the past 8 meetings. Ironically enough, despite sitting high on the ladder, both teams will need to improve their discipline in errors and missed tackles; the team that is able to adjust to this game the quickest, will have the best chance of winning this game. It is worrying that the Roosters were unable to close out their match a few weeks ago against the Storm; defence was an issue when it mattered most and that ultimately lead to the soft, match-winning try to their opponents. They will undoubtedly have learned a valuable lesson from that loss and need to take it into this match; whether or not it will be enough to win this game is another question altogether. The Sharks have been building for some time and despite concerns that they are a team that has “lost the desire” since their Premiership last year, they will be up for this match. They have had a few difficult weeks of training and playing, the inclusion of Maloney and Brailey to their team has offered stability and strengthen them on both sides of the ball. Despite the past 2 Sharks victories being by an average of 28.5 points, it would be surprising to see the Roosters beaten by a large margin so close to the Finals, by a fellow contender. An upset victory to the visitors would also not be a shock, however there is too much to like about the Premiers to overlook them in this match.
Sharks 1-12 @ $2.90
New Zealand Warriors (13th) v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (8th)
The Warriors losing streak extended to 7 matches with a loss to the Rabbitohs at ANZ stadium 36-18; the loss also means that they have just the one win on the road to their name in 2017. The Warriors appeared as they were going to push their opponents early on, jumping to a 12-4 lead with a possession favoring them in good field position. That is where their good fortune ended, with poor ends to attacking sets and a lack of momentum through the middle nullifying their 83% completion rate and 8 errors. The Warriors are a basket case at the moment and with the talent at their disposal, disappointment is an understatement as to how they have performed. It will be another tough task this week, as the Sea Eagles head into this game on the back on a 2-game losing streak that also has them winning just 2 of their past 7 matches. Their most recent loss was against the Bulldogs 30-16, a team that was averaging just 13.2 points per game heading into the match. Just like their Round 24 loss to the Tigers, the Sea Eagles failed to perform in the second half, rather, allowed their opponents to score 3 unanswered tries. A 79th minute try to the visitors narrowed the final score line but only served to flatter, what was a disappointing effort. Completing at 82% with 7 errors and just 26 missed tackles, execution wasn’t the issue; the reason the Sea Eagles lost this match was their inability to produce quality when it mattered. They could’ve benefitted from playmaker DCE taking greater control of some attacking sets rather than not touching the ball at all. The embarrassing defeat, coupled with their loss to the Tigers last week, means they drop to 8th on the ladder and are a danger of missing the Finals altogether after being entrenched in the Top 4 just over a month ago.
Warriors = Shaun Johnson (injury) returns at halfback, pushing Ata Hingano to the bench and Mason Lino to the reserves. Ben Matulino (injury) returns at prop for Jacob Lillyman (injured), allowing Isaiah Papalii to come onto the bench and Tevita Satae back to the reserves.
Sea Eagles = Unchanged.
Overall = Warriors 8 Sea Eagles 20
Last 5 Matches = Warriors 0 Sea Eagles 5
At Mt Smart Stadium = Warriors 58% Sea Eagles 75%
Form = Warriors 7 losses – Sea Eagles 2 losses
The Warriors are a very poor team at this late stage of the season and their record against the Sea Eagles is matched by their late-season attitude. They have just one victory over their opponents in the past 11 meetings, with that coming back in Round 13, 2013. It is no surprise that the Sea Eagles also have a good record at this ground, winning 9 of the past 12 matches here at 75%. The fact that both teams carrying losing form into this game is a cause for concern and it is a genuine reality that the Warriors may not win another game this season. On the other hand, the Sea Eagles have plenty to play for; they need to win in order to make the Finals and cannot afford to wait to see how other results work out for them. The performance of their halves last week was a cause for concern and with their forwards underperforming in both of their previous 2 losses, this team needs a drastic change in motivation and execution. Thankfully, it should be a short turnaround if anything; the Sea Eagles average the least errors of any team in the competition (9.2 per game) and have the most try assist (3.4 per game). If they can secure enough possession early on in this game and limit the Warriors attacking opportunities, they should be convincing winners. The inclusion of Shaun Johnson from injury is an interesting one; he will obviously need a week or two to adjust back to the intensity of matches. If he is at his best, he has the ability the alter the outcome of this game; there is no doubt that Johnson has returned in order to prepare for the upcoming RLWC at the end of the year and his combination with the other players in the “spine” is vital. The Sea Eagles are not as heavily favored as you would expect a team that is inside the Top 8 against a team plagued by poor form and they should be capable of returning to form and grabbing victory. As for the margin, the Sea Eagles have won their past 5 matches against the Warriors by an average of 10.2 points, while their past 4 victories at this ground have been by an average of 13-points. Combine this with their try scoring and try assist statistics and they should be capable of covering the line and going on from there.
Sea Eagles -5.5 @ $1.95
Penrith Panthers (6th) v St George-Illawarra Dragons (9th)
The Panthers kept their momentum rolling and just about assured themselves of a spot in the Finals with a stirring 26-22 win over the Raiders in Canberra. For the second time this season, the Panthers have defeated the Raiders by scoring late points and this time was no different; the Raiders were looking strong in the second half after fighting their way back into the contest, but were unable to close out the match with the Panthers leading 20-10 at HT. This was perhaps the most convincing of the Panthers victories, as they completed at 88% and made just 5 errors; the most damaging statistic was the 50 missed tackles over the match that allowed the Raiders to gather momentum. For the second week in a row, the Panthers face off against a fellow Top 8 contender with everything on the line; in many ways, they are a team that has been playing “do or die” football since Round 18. The Dragons are getting very desperate with 2-matches remaining, following a 24-12 loss to the Broncos last Friday. It was perhaps their most pleasing effort in recent weeks, completing at 84% and making 9 errors, yet were unable to use this, combined with their 55% possession, to their advantage. When it mattered, the Dragons failed to crack the Broncos defensive line and now must win their remain 2 matches to have a chance of featuring in the Finals. That loss has them sitting 9th on the ladder, with 3 wins from their past 10 matches; if there was ever a time for this team to make a stand, it is now. They need to get back to their early season form whereby the forwards dominated the middle of the field and created a strong platform for their halves to work off. A lot has changed since these two teams met back in Round 1 and with the Panthers suffering a 42-10 loss back then, they will be willing to make amends for the poor effort.
Panthers = Tyrone May returns at 5/8 for Matt Moylan (injured). Peter Wallace (injury) returns at hooker, with Sione Katoa dropping back to the bench.
Dragons = Nene Macdonald returns in the centres to cover for Euan Aitken (injured). Hame Sele comes onto the bench in place of Will Matthews, who moves back to the reserves.
Overall = Panthers 12 Dragons 19
Last 5 Matches = Panthers 3 Dragons 2
At Pepper Stadium = Panthers 55% Dragons 43%
Form = Panthers 7 wins – Dragons 1 loss
On the back of a 7-game winning streak, the most of any team in the NRL, the Panthers lead into this game as the more fancied team. They are playing a pleasing brand of rugby league that is transferring into success; yet they are still 2nd for missed tackles (35.5 per game) and 3rd for errors (10.9 per game), proving that they are making the most of attacking opportunities when they get them. The Dragons need to be wary of this and develop scoreboard pressure by scoring points of their own. The loss of Moylan will direct more attention to Cleary, although that has proven difficult to manage already this season. At their best, the Dragons can easily match it with the Panthers and it is a matter of calming their opponent’s confidence in defence. The key for them is dominating the middle and having Wallace return strengthens the Panthers play in this area; what the Dragons don’t need is for the Panthers to gather too much momentum in the first half. It is noted that the Panthers finish games strongly, perhaps a sign of the inexperience within their squad. Nevertheless, the Dragons cannot afford them to lead at HT otherwise it could all be over very quickly for them. The fact that they couldn’t beat the Broncos with a heavy weight of possession in their favour and quality possession at that is a cause for concern. They have come out since then stating that the squad was suffering from illness and have now overcome it, however the Panthers form, combined with the questionable execution of the Dragons cannot lead to investing in them with confidence. The Raiders were a tough test for the Panthers last week and this match will be another level on that. Doubt was once lingering for this team but it is quickly silenced with impressive play. Given there is so much to play for, the result of this game could come down to the final few plays; prior to the Dragons win earlier in the season, the average margin of victory between these two sides in the past 5 meetings sits at 8-points, with three of those decided by 7-points or less.
Either Team Under 6.5 Points @ $2.90
On the Prowl! = Panthers 1-12 @ $2.80 – The Panthers have won just the solitary match by 13 points or more on their 7-game winning streak; of their 13 wins this season, just 4 have been by more than this margin with 3 coming prior to Round 13. With the Dragons willing to win this contest, perhaps the margin of victory may not be as comfortable as the home team was hoping for.