Canberra Raiders (15th) v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (13th)
The Raiders are in dangerous territory too early on in the season, they are currently winless and face another tough test here. Hopes were high that they could open their winning account, as they faced the Sea Eagles on the road. They started the match well, scoring the first try in the 6th minute; it unravelled for them from there, allowing the Sea Eagles to score 28 unanswered points. Rather than losing close matches, the Raiders never figured in this contest as the pressure the Sea Eagles generated through the middle flowed onto other areas of the field. Possession was against them (42%), yet they didn’t do themselves any favours as they completed at 69%, made 12 total errors and missed 33 total tackles. Fatigue has been an issue for them in their opening 3 matches and it showed again as they were forced to make 60 more tackles than their opponents. The Bulldogs didn’t experience as many issues as the Raiders but ended up with the same result, losing to the Rabbitohs 20-16 in a heated contest. The Bulldogs gave themselves plenty of opportunities to win the match, completing at 77%, making 8 errors and missing 31 tackles. In the end, their lack of success came down to an inability to build pressure when it mattered. There were several times when they were given the ball in positive field position off the back of their opponent’s mistake; they were just not good enough to capitalise and failed to build score board pressure. Another problem is highlighted in this area, scoring two tries in within 22 minutes and unable to score any for the rest of the match. They also crumbled on defence when it mattered, allowing the Rabbitohs to score 2 tries in the final 6 minutes to steal away victory. In reality, with only one win more than the Raiders, perhaps it is time for them to make some changes to emulate the winning performance that was displayed in Round 3.
Raiders = Luke Bateman moves to lock and Elliott Whitehead to the second row, with Josh Papalii dropped to the reserves. Liam Knight is the new face on the bench.
Bulldogs = Aiden Tolman (injured) is replaced by Adam Elliott at lock, with Kerrod Holland joining the bench.
Overall = Raiders 15 Bulldogs 18
Last 5 Matches = Raiders Bulldogs
At GIO Stadium = Raiders 50% Bulldogs 75%
Form = Raiders 4 losses – Bulldogs 1 loss
Staring a 5-game losing streak in the face, the Raiders will need to upset the momentum of their opponents from the opening stages of this contest. They have hardly filled many with confidence that they can turn around their fortunes either, with immature play and a lack of fitness causing them major issues. Despite losing last week, there was plenty to like about that effort. They only went down by 4-points and played majority of the match with 15 men, with their strike playmaker at fullback and a key forward injured. While Tolman is still absent, Mbye will return to add some much-needed attacking spark. The Bulldogs have also demonstrated that they have the ability to control the middle when needed, forcing mistakes from their opponents. It is no secret that this is a vulnerable area for the Raiders and they will need to be at their best; their best may not be good enough to win this game. The press conference that Ricky Stuart gave last week suggests that drastic changes may happen this week. Whether or not that translates into a winning performance for the home side is another factor altogether. Fact is, they have allowed an average 28 points per game on defence and that isn’t going to completely turn around after 4 poor weeks. The Bulldogs look to have the edge, providing they turn up for this contest, and will have the added advantage of the line to assist their cause.
Bulldogs +2.5 @ $1.90
Cronulla Sharks (9th) v Sydney Roosters (7th)
The Sharks did what they needed to do against the Storm last week, improving their recent performance to grab a much-needed that now makes it consecutive victories. In a dull match that was littered with penalties, the Sharks managed to keep the Storm tryless, as penalty goals dominated scoring for both teams. The pleasing thing for the Sharks is that they will be relying on their returning stars to boost their performances, providing hope that this run can continue. They are aware that they need to improve, with a 73% completion rate and 12 mistakes nowhere near the standard they aim to set for their team. Their defence was a cornerstone of their success when they won the competition in 2016 and it was at its best again as they missed just 12 total tackles. This game shapes as an interesting contest, with the Roosters suffering an upset loss to the Warriors last week. They were strong favourites ahead of the clash, strengthened by the withdrawal of Warriors playmaker, Shaun Johnson, prior to KO. A 3rd minute try to the home side look to set a standard but that is where the Roosters scoring stopped, as the Warriors controlled the speed of play extremely well. It was always going to be difficult with just 38% possession, yet, they did themselves no favours with just a 59% completion rate and 13 errors halting their momentum. In defence, 35 missed tackles served as a reminder that there is plenty the Roosters need to improve upon if they are going to live up to the hype that has them as Premiership favourites.
Sharks = Josh Dugan (injury) returns at fullback, pushing Valentine Holmes back to the wing and Edrick Lee to the reserves. Matt Moylan (injury) is also named at 5/8, with Trent Hodkinson moving back to the reserves.
Roosters = Unchanged.
Overall = Sharks 16 Draw 1 Roosters 21
Last 5 Matches = Sharks 4 Roosters 1
At Southern Cross Group Stadium = Sharks 55% Roosters 53%
Form = Sharks 2 wins – Roosters 1 loss
This game is evenly poised with each team taking indifferent form into this match; it is no surprise that the Roosters have been installed as favourites, they will head into majority of matches in this position and their chances are only enhanced by their desire to turn around their performance from last week. The Sharks have factors working in their favour and their chances are increased by the impending return of Dugan and Moylan to their team. While this appears to be a positive, it may also create a negative, with time still needed for these players to build combinations at a new club. They will be relying heavily upon their forwards dominating the middle of the field, as this appear to be a potential weakness of the Roosters early on in the season. The more chances they are given with the ball, the more dangerous the Roosters become; the Sharks need to slow down the ruck and demonstrated last week just how capable they are at doing this. Another factor that cannot be overlooked, is how well the Sharks have managed to combat Cooper Cronk and all of his attacking ability in previous encounters. Now, Cronk finds himself in a different setup that can make him more vulnerable at times. The only time the Roosters have looked at their best has been against a tired Knights outfit and teams are aware of their weaknesses. This game is still expected to be a very tight contest and the Roosters will undoubtedly make the Sharks work for victor; this isn’t to suggest that the Sharks will win the match, rather, that the Roosters will have a far more difficult time of winning this match than most think. Interestingly, 3 out of the past 4 matches between these two sides at this ground have been decided by 6-points or less. While slightly leaning towards the Sharks with the home field advantage, the eventual margin falling between these range, regardless of who wins, is too good to go past.
Either Team Under 6.5 Points @ $2.60
St George-Illawarrra Dragons (1st) v South Sydney Rabbitohs (8th)
The Dragons are flying high at the moment, undefeated and demoralising opponents along the way. Their latest victim was the Knights, winning 30-12 and setting a standard early on in the season that has many excited. This situation is all too familiar for their fans; however, they appear to have the balance right this season with the injection of Hunt and Graham into their team. Their win on the weekend was stylish, completing at 86% with a 59% share of possession, committing just 6 errors and missing only 23 tackles. This alone is enough to get excited about with a chance to start the season 5-0 in front of them in this match. The Rabbitohs will head into this game with confidence following a 20-16 win over the Bulldogs. Leaving their run until late in the game, the Rabbitohs kept themselves in contention for victory with an improved defensive structure (missing only 23 tackles). With a 52% share of possession, the Rabbitohs completed at 73%, while 13 total errors halted their momentum at various stages of the match. Despite their pitfalls, they finish the game off strongly by scoring two tries in the final 6 minutes of the match. The quality of the Bulldogs at this stage of the season isn’t anything to get excited about, nevertheless, the Rabbitohs will be pleased where that victory places them as they reach the Top 8 for the first time this year.
Dragons = Hame Sele is named on the interchange in place of Jeremy Latimore, who shifts to the reserves.
Rabbitohs = Adam Reynolds (injury) is named to return at halfback, with Adam Doueihi shifting back to the bench and Braidon Burns back to the reserves. Dane Gagai swaps roles and starts on the wing, this means Hymel Hunt will play in the centres. SAM BURGESS IS OUT AND A REPLACEMENT IS YET TO BE NAMED.
Overall = Dragons 16 Rabbitohs 12
Last 5 Matches = Dragons 1 Rabbitohs 4
At Jubilee Oval = Dragons 64% Rabbitohs 25%
Form = Dragons 4 wins – Rabbitohs 2 wins
Each win allows the Dragons to grow in confidence and so too does the belief that this is a team that has improved upon last season. Whereas they started the season strong in 2017 before reality hit, the Dragons appear to have the right balance of experience, flair and tenacity to make it work. The odds are heavily favouring the home side and rightly so given their form. Aside from a 4-point win over the Sharks in Round 2, their closest winning margin has been 18-points (last week) and they average 34.5 points per game in attack. The Rabbitohs are not without their hope, on a 2-game winning streak that has proven they have plenty of potential to offer. That being said, the loss of Sam Burgess is a major dent to their chances; the work which he gets through over 80 minutes is almost the work of two men and other players will be required to take the step to fill his role. Even with Reynolds returning to their side, the visitors will need someone offering power in the middle to create playing space for the halves and outside backs. The Rabbitohs may take winning form into this game, yet, the loss of two key players last week for the Bulldogs aided their cause. The respective winning records at this ground makes the task of winning this game for the Rabbitohs increasingly difficult. With this being a matter of how much the home team wins rather than if they are able to, history has to come into consideration. Aside from winning 4 out of the past 5 meetings between these two sides, the margin of victory sits at 6-points in their past 6 meetings. This may about to change though, with the Dragons displaying confidence in their play that has the leading teams in the competition wondering how they will stop the high-flying outfit. You may as well ride a team when they are performing to the level that the home team is and with that in mind, look for the Dragons to finish this game as comfortable winners.
Dragons 13+ @ $2.20
Wests Tigers (4th) v Melbourne Storm (6th)
The Tigers continued their run of strong performances with a 30-20 win over the Eels on Easter Monday. The victory was established in the first half, overcoming a 5th minute try to the Eels to score 30-unanswered points and then allowing their opponents to close the margin, flattering their overall performance. The proof of quality lies within their statistics, completing at 88% with 58% possession and committing just 4 overall errors. It was a bounce-back effort after their Golden Point loss the week earlier and yet again, their defence was strong. The attitude shift at this club is amazing to witness and it is set to be tested again; it was only back in Round 2 that the Tigers headed south to Melbourne to upset the Storm 10-8, crashing Billy Slater’s milestone celebration. Revenge will be on the minds of the visitors, yet home ground advantage is removed, with the Tigers deciding to take this game over the Auckland for a New Zealand double-header. Not only will the “visitors” want to make amends for that loss, but also the one they suffered last week at the hands of the Sharks. In a game that was best remembered for penalties and infringements, the Storm were kept tryless in a 10-point loss. It was a typical un-Storm like performance as well, completing at just 64% with 15 errors continually halting the momentum they were trying to build. Each time they attempted to create pressure on the Sharks, they were let down by the sound of the referee’s whistle for one reason or another. Pride in their performance is a characteristic of the Storm and they will be desperate to turn around their fortunes.
Tigers = Unchanged.
Storm = Will Chambers (suspended) is replaced by Young Tonumaipea in the centres. Kenny Bromwich is named at lock for Dale Finucane (injured & suspended).
Overall = Tigers 11 Storm 19
Last 5 Matches = Tigers 2 Storm 3
At Mt Smart Stadium = Tigers 45% Storm 53%
Form = Tigers 1 win – Storm 1 loss
The Tigers have already ruined one milestone match against the Storm this season and have the same opportunity again here, with Craig Bellamy celebrating 400 matches in charge as coach. That aside, the Tigers will be quietly confident that they can again shock the Storm. They are relying on their defence to get them through matches and so far, it has worked well; this chance last week, as they found an attacking groove that generated 30-points for them. It will be a lot more difficult for them to achieve that this week, especially with the Storm desperate to bounce back from a poor effort last week. The odds support a dominating performance from the Storm, although the Tigers have worn the underdog tag with pride this season. The Storm were ambushed by the intensity and tenacity of their opponents in Round 2 and it would be surprising to see the same occurrence here. They have not built a winning culture at their club by failing to learn from previous matches and allowing teams to dictate what will happen, week after week. Nevertheless, the margin of victory will be similar to their opening encounter. The resilience of the Tigers at this stage of the season is something to be admired and they are going to push their opponents to do everything possible if they want to win. They have already made several statements about their season but this is undoubtedly the biggest test they have faced to date and have the opportunity to send a real message to the rest of the competition that they are genuine contenders and will give nothing away on either side of the ball.
Tigers +7.5 @ $1.90