North Queensland Cowboys (7th) v Brisbane Broncos (3rd)
The Cowboys kept their season alive last week, breaking a 4-game losing streak when coming from behind to beat the Tigers on the road. The win couldn’t have come at a better time for them and they have just about assured themselves of a spot in the Finals. With 20-minutes remaining in the match, the Cowboys were under pressure; they were down 14-6 and in real danger of losing the match. 3 tries in the remaining 15 minutes changed the course of the match, while completing at 79% with 53% possession meant they were capable of winning the contest. They will still be annoyed that they committed 11 errors and 26 tackles, although the fight and passion displayed when the game was on the line and players missing through injury was inspiring. They will need the same level of application here, as they return home and face their Queensland rival, the Broncos. The visitors will be out for revenge, beaten 21-20 by the Cowboys at home in Round 2; not only that, the Broncos will want to quickly erase any memory of the 52-34 loss to the Eels in Round 25. It was clearly a different Broncos team that had taken the field compared to recent weeks and 12 errors, majority of them early on in the contest, allowed the visitors to gather momentum following an unusual start. The trend was set in the opening play, with poor ball security allowed the Eels to score from the kick off; from that point onwards, while the Broncos were expected to fight their way back into the match, they were unable to build enough pressure to break their opponents. The Eels dominated them in the middle of the field and if it were not for 2 late tries to the home team, the margin could’ve been far greater and a more accurate indication of the difference in execution between the two teams. The Broncos can finish as low as 5th, so keeping their spot in the Top 4 following this week and reestablishing momentum will undoubtedly be a major focus ahead of this match.
Cowboys = Unchanged.
Broncos = Sam Thaiday is named at prop for Korbin Sims (injured), while Jordan Kahu (injury) returns on the wing, pushing David Mead to the reserves. Benji Marshall, Tevita Pangai Jr and Joe Ofahengaue are named on the bench, seeing Jaydn Su’A and Jai Arrow to the reserves.
Overall = Cowboys 15 Draw 1 Broncos 27
Last 5 Matches = Cowboys 4 Broncos 1
At 1300Smiles Stadium = Cowboys 74% Broncos 17%
Form = Cowboys 1 win – Broncos 1 loss
The Cowboys have won the past 3 matches against the Broncos and they have a fantastic record over their opponents at home, the only problem is they are now without their star playmaker, Johnathan Thurston, as well as a few other stars. The absences from this game dramatically reduce the chances of the home team, just as it has impacted their run towards the Finals. A constant feature of their play has been desire and passion, mixed with a high level of execution aimed at building pressure on their opponents. You can expect the same here from the Cowboys, with the Eels demonstrating last week that you can beat the Broncos by dominating the middle of the field. They are capable enough to do this, yet will need to use the platform that is created to their advantage. Whether or not they are capable enough against a strong Broncos team is debatable; they couldn’t face their opponents at a worse time either, as they are coming off a devastating loss and want to ensure that they are still a chance at a home Final. Worse case scenario is that the Broncos lose their position in the Top 4 and most agree that this in unlikely to happen. The Broncos were clearly away from their best performance last week and they will be out to make amends; despite the quality being down in their opponents, the Cowboys still possess a team capable of causing an upset. The situation for them is far worse if they lose; ultimately, they could miss the Finals altogether and the best way to avoid this will be for them to win here. There is enough doubt around the Broncos to suggest that this is possible and while last week was an “off night” for them, there is little to suggest that it will dramatically improve. The history between these two sides since their semi-final in 2015 has been thrilling to say the least, with all matches decided by 6 points or less at an average of 2.2 points; 4 of those games have had a FG as the difference between the two teams. This leads to thinking that while the Broncos appear capable of bouncing back in this game, the line on offer for the Cowboys is too good to move past when they arguably, have much more to play for.
Cowboys +5.5 @ $1.90
Parramatta Eels (4th) v South Sydney Rabbitohs (11th)
The Eels proved their doubters wrong for the second time this year with a strong performance over the Broncos. Prevailing 52-34 was pleasing to say the least, as the Eels literally dominated the match from the opening minutes; conceding 34 points, including 2 late tries, would be disappointing for them, especially considering their points difference only sits at +33. It was a near flawless display from a team hoping to extend their run well into the Finals; they completed at 88% and made just 4 errors, while their defensive line allowed 32 missed tackles to keep some momentum for their opponents towards the end of the match. Nevertheless, they made a large statement with their play and are a team that most will fear due to their unpredictability. The Rabbitohs will look to salvage one last win out of their season following their most disappointing performance of 2017, a 64-6 loss to the Storm on the road. It was lesson for the Rabbitohs in enthusiasm and application, with only a few players from the visitors worthy of holding their heads high as they left the field. It was a scoring onslaught from the 2nd minute onwards, with the Storm only allowing their opponents 40% share of possession; they were denied several times with players held up over the line and this was no surprise given the class of their opponents. The playing squad will be desperate to finish the season on a positive, especially considering how well the Rabbitohs were playing prior to Round 25, winning their 3-prior matches.
Eels = Manu Ma’u (injury) returns in the second row, pushing Kenny Edwards to the bench and Frank Pritchard to the reserves.
Rabbitohs = Dean Britt is named on the bench in place of Zane Musgrove (suspended).
Overall = Eels 15 Draw 1 Rabbitohs 12
Last 5 Matches = Eels 3 Rabbitohs 2
At ANZ Stadium = Eels 49% Rabbitohs 52%
Form = Eels 2 wins – Rabbitohs 1 loss
Momentum is definitely with the Eels leading into this game and it is a worry as to where the Rabbitohs motivation sits following a poor effort last week. Generally speaking, you would expect a team to come out and perform better following a 58-point loss; yet, with the season concluding for them at the sounding of the full-time whistle, perhaps just getting through this game will cloud their thoughts. Working in the visitors favor is the fact that they have plenty of youngsters within their team eager to prove a point leading into next season; the talk of potential contracts and increased salaries is definitely enough to motivate a player to perform. For the Eels, their motivation is holding onto a spot in the Top 4, even if it does mean heading down to Melbourne in Week 1 of the Finals; they have to look at the positives of this as facing the Storm first up means that they avoid them again until the GF (providing they make it that far!). The ability of the Eels last week to build pressure was great and the confidence levels of the playing group were having a positive affect on the end to their attacking sets. The likes of this play from the Eels has not been viewed for a long time and it is a major reason why they are so short leading into this match. The odds offered are almost ridiculous, given the fact that the Rabbitohs had some positives to take away from their match last week. It was a matter of the best team in the competition clicking together at the right time. The Eels average winning margin over their opponents in their past 3 victories sits at 12.3 points and they proved last week that they perhaps can switch off during matches and concede more points than needed; in the past 5 matches, the average winning margin for either team is 8.2 points. There is no doubt that if the Eels were to lose this match, it would be due to a lack of application and poor performance on their part; however the line on offer towards the visitors is too good to overlook in a contest that is traditionally tight.
Rabbitohs +13.5 @ $1.90
Sydney Roosters (2nd) v Gold Coast Titans (14th)
The Roosters outlasted the Sharks last week in a fantastic game, with credit given to both teams for how well they were playing. In the end, it was an 80th minute penalty goal that handed the Roosters a 16-14 win. Despite the Roosters winning, it was credit more to their fight within the contest rather than superior execution, with patience leaving their play at crucial times. This left the Roosters with a 65% completion rate, 15 total errors and 34 missed tackles. Nevertheless, they have jumped into 2nd on the ladder following that victory and will want to maintain home ground advantage throughout the Finals; the opportunity for that to happen is ideal considering the woes of the Titans in recent weeks. Following the sacking of Neil Henry at the beginning of last week, many were hopeful that the Titans could halt a 5-game losing streak that has been disappointing to say the least. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the Titans players about the unique opportunity and they stand a genuine chance of finishing the season with 7-losses, with their last win coming back in Round 19. As the Bulldogs jumped out to a 16-nil lead, signs were ominous for the home team that they were going to struggle; completing at 71% with 45% possession wasn’t helpful to their chances, nor was their 12 errors and 27 missed tackles. Motivation is bound to be questioned for the Titans and as they play one of the leading teams in the competition, there really only appears one possible outcome to this game.
Roosters = Unchanged.
Titans = Jarrod Wallace (suspended) is replaced at prop by Morgan Boyle, while Leivaha Pulu shifts out to the centres for Dale Copley (injured). Kane Elgey is named at 5/8 for Tyrone Roberts (injured), with Pat Politoni named at hooker for Nathan Peats (injured) and Joe Greenwood in the second row for Pat Vaivai (injured).
Overall = Roosters 7 Titans 8
Last 5 Matches = Roosters 3 Titans 2
At Allianz Stadium = Roosters 64% Titans 57%
Form = Roosters 2 wins – Titans 6 losses
The Roosters have a simple equation in front of them, win this game and host a Top 4 Finals match next week. The performance of the Titans last week was poor to say the least and the motivation is definitely escaping them. This has impacted the execution of their key players and affecting the entire squad. The challenge for the Roosters is to play above the level of their opponents and develop their confidence for next week. There is no doubt that they could’ve benefitted from greater patience last week and while the Titans will probably not make them pay for their mistakes as much as others, it will be important to the Roosters in a week or so. It is surprising that the Titans perform well at this ground, winning 4 matches from 7 attempts; however, betting markets accurately reflect the chance of the Titans, having them as vast outsiders for this match. If they were to win, it would be one of the upsets of the season and the Roosters have only lost 2 matches to teams outside the Top 8 this season; they are a team that performs strongly against all teams and will want to gather energy for the coming weeks. The Roosters made light work of the Titans back in Round 1 and while that was a long time ago, the Roosters have gotten better since then and the Titans have declined. Missing more players from their squad only hampers their chances further and this game is not a matter of if the home team wins, but a case of by how much. On their 6-game losing streak, the Titans have lost by an average margin of 24-points, with 4 being by 22 points or more. This spells trouble for the visitors, especially considering the Roosters average 20.9 points per game and want to also limit their opponents attacking chances; in the end, this could be the major separating factor between the two sides.
Roosters 30+ @ $2.80
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (8th) v Penrith Panthers (6th)
The Sea Eagles left their run late but were able to capture a 1-point win over the Warriors in New Zealand in Golden Point. A lucky try with 4 minutes remaining, followed by an error off the kick-off from the Warriors allowed DCE to slot the equaling FG off one foot and then the other in extra time. As thrilling as it was, the Sea Eagles will be disappointed that they let the game get to this stage; taking nothing away from the Warriors, they came to play at a level far greater than they have produced in recent weeks. They are on the verge of making the Finals and if they want to maintain their standing, they will have to improve on a 79% completion rate and 12 errors produced last week. It is a thrilling conclusion to the season with this game featuring 2 teams that are in the Top 8, but a loss could spell the end of their season. The Panthers had the chance to assure themselves of a spot in the Finals last week at home to the Dragons, yet were unable to close out the match when it mattered most. Injuries didn’t aid their cause, going down 16-14 in an exciting match. They can also look towards their 74% completion rate, 12 errors and 46 missed tackles for excuses as to why they lost; with players unavailable for this match and the task ahead of the Panthers winning becomes more difficult. They are a team that has been playing sudden-death football for a number of weeks now and they will be wary of the intensity that is needed for this match. Given the Panthers beat the Sea Eagles back in Round 18 16-8, they will be confident they can repeat the result and extend their season for another week.
Sea Eagles = Curtis Sironen (injury) returns in the second row, pushing Shaun Lane to the reserves.
Panthers = Dean Whare is named at fullback to replace Dylan Walker (injured).
Overall = Sea Eagles 13 Panthers 15
Last 5 Matches = Sea Eagles 0 Panthers 5
At Lottoland = Sea Eagles 64% Panthers 35%
Form = Sea Eagles 1 win – Panthers 1 loss
A fair bit has changed since these two teams last met, although with injuries impacting the Panthers, they are going to find it difficult to win here. The withdrawals in this match has the higher placed Panthers as outsiders for this match, with many perhaps overlooking that the last time the Sea Eagles beat their opponents was back in Round 25, 2014; furthermore, they have only beaten them 3 times in 10 attempts. Thankfully, the match will be played at Lottoland, a ground where the Panthers have a shocking record, winning just 6 times from 17 attempts. Each team will be impacted by their turnaround from last week, with the Sea Eagles bound to be affected by the travel to New Zealand. There is arguably more for them to play for, as the Panthers can afford to lose this match without missing the Finals (unless they are thrashed by 27 or more points). The concern within the Sea Eagles is their ability within the halves to build pressure on their opponents; in recent weeks, their forwards have been beaten in the middle of the field and this has impacted their end to attacking sets. If they can address and overcome this issue, they can consider themselves a good chance of winning; up against one of the most improved packs in the league in recent weeks, the Sea Eagles will have another tough challenge ahead of them. Last week, the Panthers looked vulnerable without Moylan in the team as the pressure increased on Cleary to generate momentum for his team. With another member of the spine in Dylan Edwards out, the Panthers are set to struggle in attack. In the end, this could all be too much for them; yet, they will aim to keep it tight. Losing heavily could mean missing the Finals and with the earlier meeting between these two teams suggesting that this game will also be a tight one.
Sea Eagles 1-12 @ $3
Melbourne Storm (1st) v Canberra Raiders (10th)
The Storm flexed their muscle last week against the Rabbitohs, handing their opponents an embarrassing 64-6 loss. Turning it on in front of their home fans, the Storm looked a class above and the gap only appears to be widening the closer they get to the Finals. They dominated from start to finish, completing at 82% with 60% possession, committing 8 errors and missing just 22 tackles; this included several try saving tackles. Already assured of the Minor Premiership, the Storm face a new rival in the Raiders, after they beat their opponents 20-14 in Round 20 amid controversial circumstances. Since then, the Finals aspirations of the Raiders have faded and they are left to ponder what might have been; at the end of the day, they are solely responsible for their current predicament, as there were several matches this year that they let slip away. Last week, they hammered the Knights 46-28 and played as freely as a team with no spot in September should. If they need any more reason as to why they are not in the Top 8, they need look no further than allowing their opponents 28-points last week; ironically enough, it was one of the Raiders better performances as they completed at 88%, made just 6 errors and missed just 24 tackles. They will find it hard to draw motivation ahead of this match but ever the hard task master and focused on building into next season, Ricky Stuart will want his squad to play to their potential an disrupt the momentum of their opponents leading into next week.
Storm = Unchanged.
Raiders = Sia Soliola (suspension) returns in the second row, pushing Joseph Tapine back to the bench and Clay Priest to the reserves.
Overall = Storm 28 Raiders 11
Last 5 Matches = Storm 4 Raiders 1
At AAMI Park = Storm 74% Raiders 50%
Form = Storm 6 wins – Raiders 1 win
With nothing to play for, this is just the type of game the Raiders can find themselves motivated for at the end of the season. Regardless of how motivated the visitors are, it will still depend on the Storm and whether or not they are prepare to win this match. Given how things have played out in recent weeks, the Storm are expected to maintain their lofty standards; forget the talk around teams needing to lose a game or two leading into the Finals, this team sets high standards that other teams aim to meet. The Storm are also the team that will not want to lose this game given the previous history this season with the Raiders; one of their key players was injured in a horrific tackle and it ironic that the player responsible returns from suspension in this game. The Storm are strong favorites for this game and it is no surprise based on their performance against the Rabbitohs; for a variety of reasons, winning a game against the Knights and allowing their opponents to score 28-points isn’t great preparation for a match against the Minor Premiers on the road. The Raiders record at this ground reads well, although their last win was back in Round 8, 2013. The most difficult decision is deciding on a margin of victory towards the home team; the average margin of victory in the past 5 matches is 8-points and their Round 20 meeting suggests that this game will also be close. Even if the Storm choose to rest a player or two, they have willing replacements filling their void. They have shown on numerous occasions this year that their future is bright and the culture promotes players taking responsibility and performing well on the field.
Storm 1-12 @ $2.80
Newcastle Knights (16th) v Cronulla Sharks (5th)
It has been a very long season for the Knights and it showed last week as they were beaten 46-28 by the Raiders on the road. Winning 3-consecutive matches appeared a distant memory as the Knights were clearly out of the contest; only 2 converted tries late in the match could narrow the margin, serving to flatter the visitors somewhat. Completing at 73% and committing 9 errors with just 46% possession limited what they could do with the ball and they were always going to struggle without Brock Lamb in the team; however, their 42 missed tackles in defence showed where improvement is still to be made. This young team can still be proud of their play in 2017 and will want to finish the season on a high and reward their loyal home fans for sticking with them through yet another tough campaign. The Sharks plan to secure a Top 4 spot came undone last week at the hands of the Roosters, with the home team conceding a late penalty to lose 16-14. The Sharks appeared the better team for majority of the contest; they completed at 80%, committed 8 errors and missed only 23 tackles. It was a case of not doing enough down the right end of the field that would build pressure on their opponents and capitalising when they made mistakes. There is a slight chance they could sneak into the Top 4, providing other results go their way; either way, this game is a great opportunity to regain some confidence ahead of next week and perhaps win more comfortably than their 19-18 victory back in Round 5.
Knights = Daniel Saifiti (injured) is replaced by brother Jacob, at prop. Tyrone Amey comes onto the bench.
Sharks = Sam Tagateaese (injured) is replaced on the bench by Jeremy Latimore.
Overall = Knights 20 Sharks 15
Last 5 Matches = Knights 0 Sharks 5
At McDonald Jones Stadium = Knights 56% Sharks 35%
Form = Knights 2 losses – Sharks 1 loss
The Knights looked like a tired team last week and with one game remaining in 2017, they are desperate for their season to end. Playing at home will motivated them to some extend and it can work in their favor; the Sharks do not like travelling north, winning just 6 matches from 17 attempts. This aside, the home team will still need something special to beat their opponents; they are winless in 5 matches against them and their last win came back in Round 18, 2014. The Sharks need to regain some attacking momentum following their effort last week and that will start with the performance of the halves. They have quality across the park but for a variety of reasons, it wasn’t working for them last week when it mattered and we have come to expect better from the Premiers. Unfortunately for the Knights, this game is a matter of how much the Sharks will win by and the signs are not good; the average winning margin for the Sharks in the past 5 matches sits at 22.6 points, while the Knights are a team that has the worse defensive record in the league and allows 27 points per game. The Sharks are strong favorites for this game, yet many believe the Knights will keep this game tight. A few weeks ago, such thoughts were valid as the fatigue levels had not peaked. It is a different story now and once the Sharks cover the line, there is no telling just how much they can win by as they aim to restore confidence moving forward into the Finals.
Sharks -10.5 @ $2
St George-Illawarra Dragons (9th) v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (12th)
In a game that could shape the eventual make up of the Top 8, the Dragons need to win this game if they are to extend their season beyond this week. They have had the perfect preparation in terms of on field performance last week, halting the winning streak of the Panthers in their upset 16-14 win in Penrith. In a spirited display, the Dragons got the better of their opponents in the end, using their 81% completion rate and 8 errors to their advantage. For the first time in a few weeks, their defence held their own, limiting the Panthers to 14-points was a great achievement, as was missing just 24 tackles. Ironically, they face the Bulldogs, the team that knocked them out of the 2015 Finals and a team that has found a new level of performance in the closing weeks of the competition. In what has been a disappointing season for the Bulldogs, they have managed to win 2-consecutive matches with the latter against the Titans on the road. The 26-14 score line doesn’t accurately depict how dominant the Bulldogs were, they jumped to a 16-nil lead and a 78th minute try only flattered their opponents. For the first time in a long time, the Bulldogs attack found a spark that has been missing for majority of 2017; they completed at 86%, committed just 6 errors and missed only 17 tackles. It shows just what they are capable of, although many have suggested that the improvement in play has coincided with the movement away from the game plan of coach Hasler; players who were previously underperforming have looked fantastic. While the reason behind their improvement may not be known for some time, they will want to finish the season off on the right note and perhaps disrupt the chances of their opponents in the same instance.
Dragons = Josh Dugan (stood down) returns at centre, pushing Kalifa Faifai Loa back to the reserves. Kurt Mann will start at halfback, swapping with Josh McCrone, who starts from the bench.
Bulldogs = Chase Stanley replaces Brett Morris (injured) on the wing.
Overall = Dragons 11 Bulldogs 22
Last 5 Matches = Dragons 0 Bulldogs 5
At ANZ Stadium = Dragons 47% Bulldogs 57%
Form = Dragons 1 win – Bulldogs 2 wins
The Dragons are strong favorites to win this match and rightly so, based largely on their efforts last week. While the Bulldogs recent form has been pleasing for their fans, winning against lowly placed or underperforming teams late in the season has only served to provide false hope. The only chance the Bulldogs have of winning this game is if their players are given a free reign to do as they wish in matches. There is cause for concern based on the Dragons record against the Bulldogs, they have only beaten them twice in the past 12 matches and were 14-point losers back in Round 14. The inclusion of Josh Reynolds in his last game for the club is bound to motivated the visitors also, yet they will still need to play for 80 minutes to be a chance. The desire shown by the Dragons last week was impressive, with their season on the line they lifted and played accordingly. No doubt, the same will be expected from their coach and they will again need their forwards to dominate. It was a key feature of their play last week, pounding the middle of the field and allowing greater room for their halves to direct their plays. With the Bulldogs experiencing difficulties in attack in terms of scoring points, the questions remains as to whether or not they can score enough points to be competitive in this game. The Dragons are bound to do enough to win this game and if their match last week is any indication, they are going to throw everything at the Bulldogs. They have averaged 22.3 points per game in attack while allowing 18.4 PPG and compared with the Bulldogs, they are miles ahead; the visitors score 14.5 PPG and concede 18.9 PPG. This is enough to suggest that, with so much to play for, the home team can win this game comfortably. Rather than make a call by how much, focus on them covering the line and building their attack from there.
Dragons -7.5 @ $2
Wests Tigers (15th) v New Zealand Warriors (13th)
There is little interest in this game given their respective standings on the ladder, nevertheless, this game is an opportunity for punters to win money and finish their regular season on the right note. The Cowboys beat the Tigers last week, with the home team giving up a 14-6 lead with 15 minutes remaining. As deflating as it appeared, the difference between the two teams was inevitably the desire to win the contest. Completing at 76% wasn’t a major issue, yet turning the ball over at crucial stages meant their errors amounted to 10 over 80 minutes. The Tigers will sense a chance to grab their last win of the season on their spiritual home ground, as the Warriors are arguably the worst team in the competition this season. Possessing a host of stars, they are winless since Round 16 when they beat the Bulldogs 21-14; last week was a little different, forcing the Sea Eagles to kick 2 FG’s in the dying stages to win the contest. It was one of their better efforts this season, yet it was not enough to grab victory and halt their horror, losing streak. If their form throughout 2017 is anything to go by, the Warriors are desperate for their season to end and will find it extremely difficult to be motivated for a game that matters little. Then again, it is amazing the effect that winning form can have on a club moving forward into 2018.
Tigers = Elijah Taylor (injury) returns at hooker to cover for Matt McIlwrick (suspended), while Kevin Naiqama (suspension) returns to the centres. His return pushes Michael Chee-Kam back to the bench, along with Jack Littlejohn, who accommodates the return of Luke Brooks (injury) at halfback.
Warriors = Unchanged.
Overall = Tigers 14 Warriors 13
Last 5 Matches = Tigers 3 Warriors 2
At Leichhardt Oval = Tigers 58% Warriors 33%
Form = Tigers 2 losses – Warriors 8 losses
It is hard to get motivated for this meaningless match and with that attitude present, just image how the players feel towards this contest. The Tigers are installed as strong favorites for this game and it appears as though they are primed to win this match. The Warriors have just the solitary win this season on the road from 11 attempts and travelling to Sydney for this match is hardly going to excite their playing squad. The improvement in their effort last week wasn’t surprising, as it was their teams last home game of the season and they were motivated by sending their suffering fans out on a positive note. The Tigers will probably be motivated by the same factor here and if they can produce an 80-minute performance similar to their first half against the Cowboys, they should comfortably win this game. It has been a difficult season for the Tigers and it will be emotional for many as they farewell some of their better players as they leave the club. It is likely that Cleary will have his team primed to finish the season off properly and build towards 2018; their entire season since he has taken over has been about this. With no confidence in the Warriors and unsure of which team (mentally) will travel from New Zealand, the ideal bet is taken the home team to win this game by more than a converted try. Their average winning margin over the Warriors in the past 5 wins sits at 12-points and facing an unstructured defensive line like the Warriors will probably encourage them to play with freedom throughout this contest.
Tigers -5.5 @ $1.90