North Queensland Cowboys (12th) v Penrith Panthers (5th)
The Cowboys suffered back-to-back losses after leaving Melbourne following an unsuccessful road trip. It was a tense affair that was riddled with penalties, with the Cowboys forced to play from behind very early on. They struggled for momentum throughout and when they managed to get themselves back into the game, the Storm would withhold any pressure they would offer and counteract with points. Surprisingly, they completed at 76% and had 51% share of possession, with the Cowboys unable to crack their opponents defensive line. They were their own worst enemy at times too; they missed 39 total tackles and committed 15 errors over the contest. If the trend of losing continues, pressure will quickly grow on one of the favourites to take out the competition. The Panthers also head into this game with losing form, unable to claw back a 14-nil deficit for the third consecutive week. The Bulldogs were better at closing out the match and overcoming the late charge of the Panthers. A mountain of possession (59%) and a completion rate of 79% meant that they had every chance to win the match but were let down on the other side of the ball. Despite keeping their opponents scoreless from the 35th minute, they still missed 51 total tackles. This will be an area they wish to address this week, with majority of the damage already done with their opponents racing to an early lead. Regardless of how quickly they can finish matches, they will need to learn to play for 80 minutes if they are hoping to make the Finals and push beyond that. Things are about to become a lot tougher too, with Nathan Cleary set for an extended stay on the sidelines.
Cowboys = Unchanged.
Panthers = Tyrone Peachey comes into 5/8, allowing James Maloney to move to halfback to cover for Nathan Cleary (injured). Jarome Luai fills the vacant bench spot.
Overall = Cowboys 16 Panthers 16
Last 5 Matches = Cowboys 3 Panthers 2
At 130Smiles Stadium = Cowboys 55% Panthers 47%
Form = Cowboys 2 losses – Panthers 1 loss
All signs point towards the Cowboys winning this match and the odds strongly support this theory. The biggest concern for the visitors is that they are without their halfback; this can often drive teams towards success but it will take a monumental effort for that to happen against a team, like the Cowboys, that is on a 2-game losing streak. Furthermore, the habit that the Panthers are getting into of allowing their opponents to build a strong lead before trying to run them down with time running out, will be exposed against a team with the quality of that the Cowboys have. The most difficult decision ahead of this game is settling on a margin and all signs suggest that the Cowboys could be about to vent some frustration on their opponents. The fact that Cleary is absent points towards the Panthers struggling to score points; they are a team that relies heavily on their halfback and while Maloney is a capable replacement, Peachey doesn’t offer the suitable support to allow him to play his natural game. In terms of a margin, the last 5 margins between these two sides is 7.2 points, while the Cowboys have an average winning margin of 11.5 points over the Panthers at home. After 3 difficult weeks of finding momentum and playing tough opponents, this could be the match where the Cowboys find their feet and put on a dazzling display.
Cowboys -10.5 @ $1.85
#Ridemcowboys = Cowboys 13+ @ $2.05 – The reasons are mentioned above and there is plenty to suggest that the attacking shackles are about to break free from one of the most exciting teams in the competition. Many people are of the same thought, hence the short odds on offer.
South Sydney Rabbitohs (10th) v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (13th)
The Rabbitohs grabbed their first win of the season on the weekend with a commanding 34-6 win over the Sea Eagles. It put behind them a poor start to the season and silenced many that were beginning to question just how capable they are as a team. All of a sudden, many are saying that they have regained the form and confidence they promised ahead of this season. They dominated possession (58%) and didn’t let their opponents find much momentum with their play; they will be pleased with their 78% completion rate, 11 errors and just 22 missed tackles. Similar to their opponents, the Bulldogs also broke their losing streak, getting home with a 2-point win over the Panthers. It was far from a comprehensive performance, with the Bulldogs finishing the weaker of the two teams. The last points they scored in the match came in the 33rd minute, with their strong start establishing victory for them. Their performance reads very well on paper, as they completed at 87% with just 41% possession, committing just 6 errors over the match and missing 30 tackles. The challenge ahead for both sides is maintaining the standard that delivered them victory in their previous matches. This contest has proven to be a thrilling one in the past and is sure to deliver a high-quality game that may also be feature some controversy.
Rabbitohs = Unchanged.
Bulldogs = Unchanged.
Overall = Rabbitohs 12 Draw 1 Bulldogs 21
Last 5 Matches = Rabbitohs 2 Bulldogs 2
At ANZ Stadium = Rabbitohs 52% Bulldogs 57%
Form = Rabbitohs 1 win – Bulldogs 1 win
The Rabbitohs head into this game as favourties and this is largely due to the convincing nature of their performance in Round 3. In perspective, the Bulldogs win over the Panthers is strong form ahead of this fixture, as they beat the Rabbitohs in Round 2. Nevertheless, it was the growth within the home team that ensures that they are in a strong position ahead of this match. These two teams enjoy a healthy rivalry between one another and tension are set to be high again ahead of this fixture. The development of Foran in the halves is coming along nicely for the Bulldogs, while the Rabbitohs are also waiting for greater cohesion from a pairing that is missing Reynolds. As important as these areas are to win a rugby league match, the most fascinating battle will occur in the forwards, with each pack possessing a host of talent that will want to dominate their opponent. The speed which Damien Cook offers out of hooker is difficult for teams to combat and the Rabbitohs will undoubtedly look to use this to their advantage; he has the ability to take attention away from the halves and release pressure at crucial times. That being said, it is important not to get caught in the hype of the Rabbitohs victory last week. As good as they were, their opponents were well away from their best and almost surrendered the game once they knew they were out of the match. Tread carefully in this match at the form in the NRL is yet to be classified as genuine and more is needed from both teams before you can invest on them with confidence. The history between these two sides during the Good Friday match is also worth consideration; 3 out of the 5 matches have been decided by 5-points or less, with an average winning margin of 10.4 points. The last 2 matches have been 15-point and 30-point wins to the Bulldogs but that aside, this game appears as though it is going to be a tight contest. Neither side has a weak defensive structure that suggests their opponents can blow them away on the scoreboard; the Rabbitohs are the preferred selection but only slightly, with this game possibly decided by less than a converted try.
Either Team Under 6.5 Points @ $2.90
Cronulla Sharks (11th) v Melbourne Storm (4th)
The Sharks were another team that were able to break their losing start to the season, with a 14-4 win over the Eels on the road. It wasn’t a convincing victory by any means but they managed to do the little things right to ensure they had the best chance at winning the match. With a greater share of possession (59%), they completed at 76% and made just 7 errors along the way. Their defence was much improved on last week too, missing 24 tackles on their way to victory. It is a cause for concern that the Sharks only managed 1-try in their victory, yet, the victory will give them much needed confidence ahead of this match. The Storm were back to their best with a 30-14 win over the Cowboys at home. Once they found their flow in attack, they were always going to be difficult to stop and they continually pressured their opponents in the middle of the field. Some of the tries created from the ruck were dynamic, reminiscent of the Storm at their best. Even with an inferior completion rate (70%) and committing 13 errors, they made the most of their opportunities when they were given them. On the other side of the ball, their defence was at its best as they missed only 19 tackles and defended with pressure continually directed to the Cowboys playmakers. They will need to produce a similar effort here, with the Sharks certain to desire a win on home turf against a bitter rival. Expect plenty of passion in this game and the quality will only increase with the Sharks returning back to their best.
Sharks = Matt Moylan (injury) returns at 5/8, pushing Trent Hodkinson back to the reserves. Luke Lewis (injury) returns to replace Jayson Bukuya (injured) in the second row.
Storm = Kenny Bromwich (injury) returns on the bench at the expense of Brandon Smith.
Overall = Sharks 12 Storm 22
Last 5 Matches = Sharks 3 Storm 2
At Southern Cross Group Stadium = Sharks 55% Storm 57%
Form = Sharks 1 win – Storm 1 win
The Storm are strong favourites to win this match away from home and it is little surprise given the recent efforts of the Sharks. They are far from convincing after the signs in their loss over the Cowboys appeared promising. There are a number of reasons for this, with the most obvious being that coach Shane Flanagan is still developing the combination between players in his team and he hasn’t settled on the best one yet for success. The fact that they won last week without Moylan in their side will create an imbalance when he returns for this match. The Storm will go about their business in their usual way, controlling the speed of the ruck and suffocating their opponents attacking options. There is a healthy rivalry between these two sides which suggests this will be another bruising encounter; the last 3 matches have been decided by 9-points or less, with the Sharks holding a slight edge in recent meetings between these two sides. How much this counts for ahead of this game is unknown; the Sharks players that once terrorised the Storm are further on in their careers, while on the other hand, the Storm are yet to face such pressure in the halves with Croft leading the way. Considering the Storm easily accounted for the Cowboys last week, a team that beat the Sharks in Round 1, the odds offered on this match appear to be right. That being said, the Sharks always lift to another level when they play their bitter rivals in the Storm, yet, they are another team that needs to demonstrate improvement before they can be taken with confidence. This doesn’t mean the outcome of this game is a forgone conclusion; the Storm will have to work extremely hard to win this game and you can expect plenty of pressure to be directed towards the Storms halves, increasing the burden on Smith and Slater. This could mean, like the previous 3 meetings, this game is a tight one and isn’t decided until the closing minutes of the contest.
Either Team Under 6.5 Points @ $2.80
Sydney Roosters (3rd) v New Zealand Warriors (2nd)
The Roosters flexed their muscle in an impressive manner with a commanding 38-8 victory over the Knights. Moving past the hype surrounding the contest, the Roosters quickly went about their task and gave their opponents little opportunity to change the course of the match. It is evident that despite all of the talent the Roosters possess, Luke Keary is a major factor in successful performance as he created and scored some impressive tries. Despite their strong display, the Roosters are still aware of what they need to improve on; they only completed at 67% and made 16 errors with the ball. Conditions were somewhat to blame, although they will not want this trend to continue. While they piled on the points, their defence was a highlight, missing just 21 tackles and limiting a previously strong attacking team, to just 1-try and they have conceded the second-least amount of points of any team this year. The Warriors head into this game on the back of a 3-game winning streak to start the season, the first in the clubs history. If winning 3-games was difficult, winning here is another tough task; the Warriors have proven themselves to be a different team in 2018, playing with poise, measure and surprising consistency (for the first 3 weeks anyway). They beat the Raiders in dramatic fashion last week, coming from behind to score 8-points in 3 minutes to steal a 1-point victory. It took until the season half for the Warriors to combat the Raiders in the middle of the field and this flowed onto other areas of the match. When they did gather control, they were able to create greater pressure on their opponents and dominate possession (53%). Again, their completion rate was pleasing (80%) and committing 10 errors ensured that their attacking momentum wasn’t overly interrupted. The cause for concern, especially ahead of this match, is the fact that they missed 45 tackles; while it may not be true to their play, they appear to be trusting their attack to power over their opponents rather than grinding out a tight victory. Nevertheless, this is another opportunity for them to prove themselves worthy of their high standing on the ladder against another top side in the competition.
Roosters = Unchanged.
Warriors = Agnatius Paasi moves to prop, swapping with Adam Blair, who moves to lock. Tevita Satae comes onto the bench in place of Sam Lisone (suspended).
Overall = Roosters 15 Draw 1 Warriors 20
Last 5 Matches = Roosters Warriors
At Allianz Stadium = Roosters 64% Warriors 57%
Form = Roosters 2 wins – Warriors 3 wins
The odds for this game are suggesting that the Roosters are going to dictate the terms of this match. Surprisingly, the team that is undefeated find themselves as large outsiders, as if they were on a losing streak. This is also suggesting that the home side are at their peak early on in the season, rather, some perspective is needed ahead of this game. As good as the Roosters were, they benefitted from their opponents being emotionally and physically fatigued from two draining matches to start the season. While this is expected in the NRL, the Knights are a team that is still developing and the Roosters caught them out after having an extra 2-days to prepare for this match. On the other side of things, the Warriors fatigue levels will be tested as travel has been draining for them; already this season they have been to Perth, back to New Zealand, to Canberra and now to Sydney. This is the toughest test they have had to face and it will be a good measure of how they are developing as team. There is enough to suggest that the Warriors will be competitive with their opponents and keep the margin closer than betting markets are suggesting. Their forwards are producing on a different level and this is one question mark that is still lingering over the Roosters. They have been able to perform well in their previous two matches, although, there is concern that if they fail to win the battle in the middle, their talented backline will have little say in the outcome of the match. The home team are still the preferred selection ahead of this match, yet, the Warriors are offering much more in line markets and are pointing towards being the ideal investment for this exciting encounter.
Warriors +9.5 @ $1.90
Silly to overlook = Roosters 1-12 @ $3 – If the above bet means anything, then taking the Roosters to win by less than 2 converted tries surely counts for something. As dazzling as their attack was last week, they will be tested on a different level here. The Warriors ability to score points cannot be overlooked and should keep this margin tight.